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of Jesus Christ; some admitting and others rejecting the circumstance of his miraculous conception : and these primitive believers, having received the christian doctrine from the apostles and their immediate successors, must have had the best means of interpreting that obscure phraseology which in later ages has been applied to the support of those unscriptural opinions with which the vanity of heathen philosophy has corrupted and debased the purity and simplicity of the christian faith 1.
Against the Unitarian doctrine it is objected that our inquiries are to be directed not into the opinions of the early christians, whether converts from judaism or heathenism, for they were men fallible and prejudiced like our. selves, but into the natural and obvious meaning of the Scriptures ;-that the Scriptures were written for the use of plain illiterate men, and are therefore to be understood in their most obvious and popular sense ;--that, although it might not fall in with the design of every one of the sacred writers to discourse upon the pre-existence or di. rinity of Jesus Christ, nevertheless, this doctrine is taught in various passages of the New Testament in the clearest and most unambiguous language, such as cannot be wrested to any other meaning but by a mode of interpretation which would reduce every thing to uncertainty, and make all language useless ;--that this great doctrine is taught not in one or two passages only, or left to be inferred
See, upon this subject, Haynes on the Attributes of God. Lardner on the Logos. Cardale's True Doctrine concerning Christ. Lind. sey's Apology and Sequel. Conversations on Christian Idolatry. Dr. Priestley's History of Corruptions of Christianity, History of Early Opinions, and Defences of Unitarianism. Cappe's Critical Remarks on Scripture, 2 vols. Simpson's Essays on the Language of Scripture. Belsham's Reply to Wilberforce, and Letters on Arianism. Dr. Carpenter's Unitarianism the Doctrine of the Gospel. The Notes to the Improved Version of the New Testament are intended chiefly to ex, hibit the most approved interpretations of the Unitarian expositors.
from an equivocal expression here and there, but that it is expressly asserted in a great number of texts in the New Testament, and in a great variety of phraseology, and that it is frequently alluded to and reasoned upon as an unquestionable fact ; that, one positive assertion of Jesus, or of his apostles inspired, or informed by him, is sufficient to overthrow every objection which may be urged from the antecedent improbability of the fact, or from its contrariety to the general analogy of nature and course of events, an objection which is equally applicable to all other miracles ;-that, it is gratuitous assumption to affirm that the only object of the mission of Christ was to teach the doctrine of a future life, a doctrine which was so generally acknowledged, and which is so easily proved by rational deduction, as almost to supersede the necessity of divine revelaticn for this purpose alone ;-that, the mind revolts at the idea of a human creature being appointed to the high office o vaising the dead and judging the world, while the obvious propriety of assigning the offices of redeemer and judge to him who was the maker of the world, who supports and governs it, and who was the medium of all the moral dispensations of God to mankind, forms a strong presumptive argument in favour of the pre existent state and dignity, and of the superior nature of Jesus Christ;--and finally, that this doctrine is so plainly revealed in the Scriptures, that although it may have been called in question by a few speculative or interested men at different periods, from very early times, it has ne: vertheless commanded the belief of the great body of professing christians from the first promulgation of the christian religion to the present day.
It is further objected, that it is very arbitrary and unwarrantable in the Unitarians to strike out of the Scrip. tures whatever they find in it which is inconsistent with their own principles and hypotheses, and which they can.
not explain away, and particularly the history of the miraculous conception in Matthew and Luke ;--that it is very derogatory from the respect and veneration which is due to Christ to represent his character as liable to frailty and infirmity, to restrict his inspiration, and to charge him with prejudice and error :-that to deny the plenary inspiration of the apostles, and of the other writers of the New Testament, is to make revelation useless, by invol. ving it in ambiguity and uncertainty :--and that as to the circumstance of saints being assessors with Christ in the high office of judging the world, both men and angels, whatever may be intended by these declarations, it is very evident from the slight and incidental manner in which one of these events is mentioned, and from the great solemnity and frequency with which the other is announced, that they are to be understood in different senses; and that in one case the expressions are to be taken literally, and in the other figuratively.
It is also represented as great arrogance in the advo. cates for the simple humanity of Jesus Christ to appropriate to themselves the title of Unitarians, an honourable name, to which it is contended that all christians have a just claim, the Trinitarians asserting a unity of essence in a trinity of persons; the highest Arians pleading that they contend for the existence of one God alone, from whom the Logos, who created and supports the universe, derives all his attributes and powers, and in whom all the respect and homage which is paid to this divine person ultimately terminates; and the lower Arians vindicating their claim to the title of Unitarians, because though they admit that the world is made and governed by Christ, who was in. vested with power and authority for this purpose by the Father, yet they regard the Father as the sole object of all religious worship and homage.
The Unitarians reply, that though they do not contend for the infallibility of the primitive christians, they never. theless think, that as it has been proved that a majority of the unlearned christians in the two first centuries were believers in the proper humanity of Jesus Christ, this fact forms a very strong presumption that such was the doctrine taught by the apostles. The believers in the christian religion could be under no temptation to derogate from the honour of their master, and we know that they had very strong inducements to magnify his rank and dignity beyond the limits of truth, the disciples of Christ having from the beginning been exposed to disgrace and ridicule, as the followers of a crucified Nazarene. It is also much more probable that learned and philosophizing christians would introduce new and refined speculations concerning the person of Christ, than unlettered men in low circumstances, who commonly content themselves with plain facts, and adhere stiffly to old opinions.
That they reject with indignation the charge so often and so unjustly alleged, of mutilating or corrupting the Sacred Text in order to render it subservient to their views and principles: they affirm that their only aim is to distinguish the genuine text from apocryphal interpolation ; and that whenever they mark a passage as spurious or doubtful, the grounds of their objection to it are fairly stated : and they are willing to rest the validity of their conclusion upon the evidence produced.
That they acknowledge that the Scriptures were written for the instruction of the illiterate as well as of the learned ; and they believe that all which is essential either to doctrine or practice is sufficiently intelligible even to the meanest capacity: .
That, nevertheless, there is a degree of obscurity necessarily attached to ancient writings, and that a phraseology which is familiar and perfectly intelligible in one age and
country, may be extremely ambiguous and obscure in another, where the habits of thinking and modes of expression may be very different:
That many of those passages upon which the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ, of his superior nature, and of his voluntary incarnation, as it is called, is founded, were not intended to be readily understood even by the persons to whom they were immediately addressed; our Lord himself upon various occasions in his public discourses, and particularly in those recorded by John, adopting a mystical language in order to conceal his true meaning from the Jews, who accompanied him from secular and unworthy motives, to disgust them with his doctrine, and to drive them from his presence: and it is highly probable that the language of Jesus upon these occasions was understood by his disciples in a sense perfectly consistent with his proper humanity. The apostle Paul likewise, in his epistles, frequently makes use of a highly figurative phra. seology in order to insinuate a doctrine, viz. the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, which he did not always think it prudent to mention in direct and unequivocal terms, lest he should give unnecessary offence. The truth of this observation is well known to all who are conversant with that apostle's writings :
That to object to an interpretation as unnatural and far-fetched, is only, in other words, to say that to the objectors the interpretation is unusual ; for the meaning of language being perfectly arbitrary, a sense which may be very familiar, and appear perfectly natural, to one, may to another seem harsh and forced :
That the Unitarians deny that they are justly chargeable with attempting to wrest and to distort the sense of the Scriptures, in order to adapt them to their own sya stem ; but on the contrary they contend, and they produce evidence to prove, that, according to the rules of fair and