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ject of our controversy, we have no objection. We leave it to choice, whether we are to discuss the theory of verbal inspiration whether we are to discuss the meaning of the original Scriptures. ascertained by the acknowledged principles of interpretation.
We confess to not a little surprise that three clergymen, coming fo ward to discuss Unitarianism, should be found to express themselves inaccurately, or from such defective information, as to speak of “
= Unitarian or Improved Version,” and to represent the work, thus falsa described, as acknowledged by Unitarians generally to contain the N
ew Testament as inspired by God. The theory of verbal inspiration, wh o we deny altogether, we are not likely to claim in favour of a Unitar
Zan translator. We have repeatedly stated, that the “Improved Version is not the “Unitarian Version;" nor is it “ commonly” so “ called And now we say, once more, that our controversy is not about the I n proved Version, but about the Greek Testament.
When you accepted our invitation, with its terms, it was underston that all the preliminaries of our controversy were to be arranged K mutual agreement. You were aware, and we have in our letters di tinctly stated, that the theory of verbal inspiration stood as a part o that controversy ; you knew, also, that in a few days a distinct stat ment of our opinions upon the nature of the Bible, in the form o f printed lecture, would be before the public. We therefore look a your letter, in the Courier of Wednesday last, as altogether unnecessa and we answer, thus publicly, what ought to have been matter of
Private communication, only because we are resolved not to allow any formalities, on your parts, to prevent our coming to a public discuss an. of our respective views of Christianity.
We are, Gentlemen,
dividuals, you d revert to it,
it is not “the
To the Rev. J. Martineau, J. H. Thom, and H. Giles. Gentlemen,-In our last letter we gave up the “ Improved Vers so far as you, as individuals, are concerned, because, as individuaż disclaimed it. We are surprised, therefore, that you should rever and the more so, because you have now ventured to say, not onl to it, you disclaim it, but also, in the face of known facts, that it is not that Unitarian version," nor is it “commonly so called.” When von claimed it for yourselves, we did not demur. But when you go disclaim it for the Unitarian body, (for which, by the way, you h. authority,) we strenuously deny your assertion, and call in evidence no language of all the best writers upon the controversy.
You have misstated our question. We did not ask, “Is our di. sion to be upon the meaning of a mutually-acknowledged stand Scripture ?" We did ask, “ Is it to be upon the meaning of a mut
you have no l'in evidence the
Is our discusEdged standard of
acknowledged standard of truth?” We receive the Scripture as a standard of truth. The substitution of the one word for the other, in this question, has mystified your whole letter.
We collect, however, from your letter, and from Mr. Martineau's ser. mon, to which you refer us, (and which we consequently conclude contains the sentiments of you all,)
1. That you do not believe in a written and infallibly-accurate Revelation from God to man.
2. That Paul the apostle may have “ reasoned inaccurately," and “ speculated falsely." *
3. And that, consequently, you feel yourselves at liberty to judge his statements (and all the statements of Scripture) as you do those of any other books.
You seem to think that this is of little consequence, and say that “the process of interpretation may go on, undisturbed by any reference to the theory of verbal inspiration.”
We reply that such a process can lead to nothing but waste of time. For when we shall have proved some great truth, or condemned some fatal error, upon the authority of Paul, or some other inspired writer, you have kept an open door for yourselves to escape from the whole force of our demonstration, by saying that, in the words on which we rely, the sacred writers“ reasoned inaccurately,” or “ speculated falsely,”—while, if any passages in those writers seem to favour your views, you have adroitly retained the privilege of ascribing to them a sort of inspiration.t
No, gentlemen, we are not to be deceived so, into an attempt to fix the cameleon's colour. If the apostles may “ reason inaccurately," and “ speculate falsely,” if the inspiration under which they wrote did not infallibly preserve them from error, then there is no standard of truth upon earth. Of what avail is it, then, to refer to the Greek Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures ? The Scripture, instead of being (what David called it, speaking as he was moved by the Holy Ghost) “ a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path,” degenerates into a mixture of light and darkness, which we dare not implicitly follow, but of which we must judge by some superior light in ourselves.
We observe, further, that, according to the light that is in you, historical proof of miracles having been wrought in attestation of what the writers of Scripture say, would not be proof against inaccuracy in their reasonings, or falsehood in their speculations.
* To grant that Paul reasons, and be startled at the idea that he may reason incorrectly
to admit that he speculates, and yet be shocked at the surmise that he may speculate falsely, -to praise his skill in illustration, yet shrink in horror when something less apposite is pointed out,-is an obvious inconsistency. The human understanding cannot perform its functions without taking its share of the chances of error; nor can a critic of its productions have any perception of their truth and excellence, without conceding the possibility of fallacies and faults. We must give up our admiration of the apostles as men, if we are to listen to them always as oracles of God.-Martineau's Sermon, pp. 34, 35.
f I believe St, Matthew to have been inspired; but I do not believe him to have been infallible.-Sermon, p. 27.
This notable conclusion you come to, by elevating nature into the m i raculous, and thus depressing the miraculous into the natural; since you say that the whole force of the impression made by proofs from miracles arises from a "SUPPOSED contrast” between miracle and nature. *
You have thus advanced a step beyond common Deism, and rendered yourselves inaccessible even by miracles. This is conclusive, and de mands the serious attention of all who have hitherto been disposed receive instruction from you. We confess that we can go no further for, if there be only a supposed contrast between miracles and nature, w e cannot prove the attesting interposition of God on behalf of the state ments of Scripture, and must give up as worthless the appeal whics Jesus makes to his miracles, in answer to the inquiry of John's disciples “Go,” said he, “and show John again those things which ye do see ai hear; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleanse a and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”—Luke vii, 22. Upon your principles, gentlemen this appeal is worthless ; for even if the wonderful things here stated be established as historical facts, still they contain no proof, because between these wonders and the course of nature there is only “a sus posed contrast."
Thus then, by your avowal, that even miracles cannot prove inspis ration, you are left in undisputed possession of the field of infidelit We have no common property of reason with you, and without dete miping whether men who reject the evidence of miracles are of an ordo of beings above or below ourselves, we feel that discussion with the is impracticable.
While, therefore, we shall continue to use all lawful methods of arga ment and persuasion, in the hope of being useful to those who, thong called Unitarians, are not so entirely separated from our common b e manity as you seem to be, we have no hesitation in saying that, vi regard to yourselves as individuals, there appears to be a more insi mountable obstacle in the way of discussion than would be offered ignorance of one another's language ; because the want of a como medium of language could be supplied by an interpreter, but the want a common medium of reason cannot be supplied at all. We remain, gentlemen, yours respectfully,
FIELDING OULD. March 18th, 1839.
a common the want of
To the Revs. H. M'Neile, F. Ould, and T. Byrth. Gentlemen,- We regret the misstatement of your question, wh appeared at the commencement of our letter of the 13th instant. " regret still more that it did not occur to you to attribute it to its
te it to its real
etwo, that the whole
• All peculiar consecration of miracle is obtained by a precisely proportioned cration of nature ; it is out of a supposed contrast between the two, that the force of the impression arises.-Sermon, p. 24.
cause,--the carelessness of a printer or transcriber. In the autograph manuscript which remains in our hands, your question is correctly stated thus—“ Ís our discussion to be upon a mutually acknowledged standard of truth?" How the word “ truth” became changed into “ scripture,” we cannot tell; and not having read our letter after it was in print, we were unaware of the mistake until you pointed it out. Whatever “ mystification” it introduced, you will consider as now removed.
Your letter announces your retirement from the promised controversy. Knowing that in taking this step you could not put yourselves in the right, it is only natural perhaps that you should resolve to set your opponents in the wrong, and to cover your own retreat by throwing scorn on their religious character. Theology appears in this instance to have borrowed a hint from the “ laws of honour;” and as in the world a «« passage of arms" is sometimes evaded, under the pretence that the antagonist is too little of a gentleman, so in the church a polemical collision may be declined, because the opponent is too little of a believer.
You refuse to fulfil your pledge to the public and ourselves on two grounds :
I. Because we do not acknowledge the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures.
II. Because we think it impossible to infer from miracles the mental infallibility of the performer. It is of no use, you say, to argue about divine truth with those who do not believe in “ a written and infallibly accurate revelation from God to man.”
We will concede, for the moment, and under protest, vour narrow meaning of the words “ inspiration" and “revelation ;” and without disturbing your usage of them, we submit that the reasons advanced by you afford not even a plausible pretext for having violated your pledge. First, as to the plea that we are put out of the controversy by our unexpected denial of the intellectual infallibility of the sacred writers; and that to argue about the meaning of the Bible is a waste of time, till its verbal inspiration is established. We reply,
1. That it was you yourselves who started this very question of inspiration for argument between us. In his letter of February 18th, Mr. Ould gives this account of our projected controversy : “ We proposed to discuss with you the EVIDENCE of the genuineness, authenticity, and INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES ;" he taunts us with reluctance to take up this “ greatest of testimonial questions," with“ refusing to come forward boldly, and debate it fairly before the church.”* We have come forward boldly, and this is now the alleged reason why there is to be no debate at all before the church. Moreover, at the time when you said “we accept your terms,” you regarded us as holding the very opinions which are now made the excuse for a retreat ; in your first lecture they are made a chief ground of indictment against us, and pages are crowded with citations from Unitarian writers, expressing those same sentiments, which, when avowed by your own opponents, are to make them unfit to be addressed, and to exempt you from the duty of reply.
* Rev. F. Ould's Letter of February 11.
Of the spirit of this proceeding, observers of honourable mind must judge; they, as well as you, are well aware, that to pronounce men un worthy of attack, is itself an attack of the last degree of bitterness.
II. Your refusal to settle with us the meaning of Scripture till the plenary inspiration is acknowledged, is in plain contradiction to your own principles. You fix the imputation of deception on our statement, that “ the process of interpretation may go on undisturbed by any reference to the theory of verbal inspiration.” Yet is this only a repetition of what Mr. Byrth himself says, “In whatever light the Christian Scriptures are regarded, whether as the result of plenary inspiration, as we Trinitarians believe, or as the uninspired productions of the first teachers of Christianity, or even as the forgeries of imposture, the meaning of their contents is a question apart from all others.”*
Dr. Tattershall, in common with all sound divines, makes it the first step of scriptural inquiry to “ examine the contents” of the books under the guidance of the following principle : that “any message coming from God must be consistent with the character of the same holy being, as exhibited in his works,” and must have “consistency with itself :” † and he justly states, that whether we ought to take the last step, of admitting the divine authority of the doctrines, must still be contingent on those doctrines,“ being themselves wise and holy,"_" lessons worthy of God." These principles are violated, unless our investigation into your doctrines is taken in the following order :
1. Are your doctrines true to the sense of Scripture? If not, the controversy ends here ; if they are, then,
II. Are they self-consistent; reconcileable with the teachings of God's works, pure and holy? If not, the controversy ends here; if they are
III. Do they come to us, clothed with divine authority, and conveyed in the language of plenary inspiration ?
Your system, then, must establish its existence in the Bible (which is a matter of interpretation), and its credibility in itself (which we presume there must be some criterion to determine), before the question of inspi. ration is capable of being discussed. We deny both these preliminaries protesting that we cannot find your system in the Scriptures; and tha: If we could, it appears to us so far from “self-consistent,” “ wise ar holy," and " worthy of God," as exceedingly to embarrass the claims divine authority, of any writings which contain it. It was then in im plicit obedience to your own rules that we proposed to let the questio of interpretation take the lead ; and no less so, that we presume to for a judgment respecting the internal character of doctrines professing be scriptural. Permit us to ask how, but by some " light in ourselves
* Rev. T. Byrth's Lecture, Part I, p. 114.
1" Whatever lessons of instruction or doctrines they teach us, these doctrines bei themselves wise and holy, must have been delivered under a divine sanction, therefore possess divine authority.
" If he (that is, the person who performs miracles) also teach lessons,-less tooriky of God,--these lessons undoubtedly come to us clothed with divine authoriti
thority,'s --Dr. Tattershall's Lecture, pp. 70, 71.