« PreviousContinue »
P R E F A C E.
In the second edition of the “ Scripture Proofs and Scriptural Illustrations of Unitarianism,” was an Appendix of extracts from Trinitarian authors, in support of those modes of interpreting Holy Writ, which are adopted by believers in the simple unity of God, with respect to passages generally considered as proving doctrines of an opposite character. That Appendix, though necessarily imperfect, was received with some degree of public favour,; and a wish was expressed by several of his friends, that the compiler should write a work devoted entirely to the subject of such concessions. He was, indeed, aware that a performance of this kind had been contemplated by some members in the Unitarian body, fitted, by their superior learning and critical sagacity, to do it ample justice. But he was himself induced to enter on the task, from an apprehension that no minister would undergo the great amount of labour requisite for consulting, and making suitable extracts from, a large number of polemical and lexicographic works, some of them exceedingly dull and ponderous; — encroaching, as this labour might do, on duties of a holier and more immediately practical nature, connected with the interests of a congregation.
At that time the author was entirely ignorant of the existence of any work devoted to Trinitarian concessions; but, a few months after the commencement of his labours, he was furnished with a copy of a tractate of the kind, entitled Scriptura Sanctoe Trinitatis Revelatrix, written by an eminent Prussian, CHRISTOPHER SANDIUS, and published in the year 1678, under the assumed name of HERMAN Cingal. He did not, however, feel justified in abandoning his undertaking; for, though containing valuable information, SANDIUS'S treatise had become very scarce; and, even if reprinted, could never be generally useful, from its deficiency in method, - from its being composed in Latin, — and from its necessarily wanting the criticisms and comments of those theologians who have flourished in later times. In some respects, however, it proved a serviceable auxiliary, by attracting the attention of the present compiler to the works of writers, some of whom, though fast sinking into oblivion, were held in the highest repute by their contemporaries, and are still worthy of being occasionally consulted, notwithstanding the progress which has since their time been made in the modes of studying and of interpreting Sacred Scripture.
In the present work, the author's chief aim has been to put forth what he conceives to be strong presumptive evidence for the great Biblical truth, that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Sole and Supreme Deity, on whom every other person or being is dependent, and from whom they have derived their existence and
This presumptive evidence is involved in the extraordinary fact of the most distinguished Trinitarians either having distinctly acknowledged, that, apart from each other, the texts commonly adduced in support of a Triune God, and of the Deity of the Son and the Holy Ghost, as a third hypostasis in the Godhead, do not prove these doctrines; or having rendered and interpreted them in such a manner as to show their invalidity for the purpose for which they are brought forward; — thus unintentionally and indirectly, but not the less conclusively, betraying the insufficiency of the foundation on which it is attempted to erect the fabric of Trinitarianism.
That the kind of argument here employed to support the doctrine of the simple unity of the Divine Being is of no inconsiderable weight, will be evinced by the fact, that “orthodox” Christians, as well as others, most readily and gladly wield it, when, in combating with unbelievers, they adduce from the most eminent Deists, testimonies favourable to the supreme excellence of Christ's character, to the special divinity of his mission, or to the unrivalled holiness and beneficial influences of his religion,
Another aim of the author was to present the readers of his work with the criticisms and reasonings employed by Trinitarians in justification of their Unitarianising interpretations. This feature of the work is subsidiary to the argument derived from the bare concessions, but will probably be found the more important to the Biblical student. For the question will naturally and very properly occur, “Why is any particular interpretation preferred? What are the grounds on which it rests for its support?” These criticisms and reasonings might have been considerably augmented; but, for want of room, the compiler was forced to abridge and to omit a vast portion of the extracts which he had accumulated. It is trusted, however, that sufficient has been given to induce any reader who may not have paid attention to the subjects under discussion, to investigate for himself the evidence in favour of Unitarianism, independent of any reference to merely human authority.
It is sad to think of the unhappy contests which have prevailed among those who take upon themselves the name of the mild and beneficent Founder of Christianity — sad, indeed, to think of that intolerant and rancorous spirit which has been manifested by theological disputants towards each other, diametrically opposed as that spirit is to the genius of the religion whose doctrines they have publicly professed to uphold. Though not inimical to controversy when conducted with good temper, and in the pursuit of truth, the writer feels a strong repugnance to the mode in which polemics have been usually carried on. He therefore considers, that, even if his treatise should prove unsuccessful in promulgating what he believes to be the cause of Scriptural truth, his labours would not be altogether in vain, if they were found to promote a spirit of greater amity among Christians; — if Unitarians were led, by the perusal of the work, to appreciate more fully the virtues and learning of the great men who have opposed their views; and if Trinitarians were thereby induced to think less harshly of believers in the personal oneness of God, when they discovered that imputations of ignorance, dishonesty, and perverseness, might, with equal propriety and truth, be brought against some of the best and the most enlightened divines of their 1
own church. For, however desirable it is to approximate to correct notions in regard to the great Object of worship, and to the person of the Saviour, all our knowledge in these matters will be of no avail, unless the heart and the conduct be influenced by the moral and spiritual principles of Christianity.
How far the writer has executed the task which he undertook, it would be improper for him to pronounce an opinion ; but he would endeavour to remove one or two objections which will probably be raised against the nature of the plan pursued in the work. Objections he does anticipate, because history and observation prove, that even the best and wisest of our race who dare to attack the errors of their age, or who attempt to effect a reform in churches, or in society at large, will have their motives impugned, and their characters traduced; and because, in particular, Unitarians have been often accused of falsifying evidence, in order to support their own views.
The writer is aware, that some of the authors quoted have been charged with entertaining heretical opinions; and, in the conventional usage of the term orthodox, this charge is not without foundation; for parties most nearly allied in sentiment have too frequently been prone to vilify each other. But the distinguished and suspected authors alluded to — such as CALVIN, DRUSIUS, GROTIUS, LE CLERC, and others — belonged to Trinitarian churches; and, when accused of being friendly to adverse doctrines, denied the truth of the allegation. Not, therefore, to speak of the passages in their works which evince their belief in the popular theology in relation to this subject, it is conceived unfair, that, on the one hand, Unitarians should occasionally appropriate as their own some of the great and good who belonged to other denominations, because they at times coincide with themselves in their interpretations of Scripture; and, on the other hand, that Trinitarians, should, as individuals, reject from their own body not a few of their ablest commentators, because they frequently expound the Bible without any bias towards dogmas or creeds. From those writers, however, on whom universal