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power of their own. Neither, therefore, are we authorized, from the language of scripture, to infer that Christ will hereafter exercise any more power than he did on earth, which was no more than any other man, aided as he was by God, might have exercised.
I am, &c.
Of the Hypothesis which makes Christ to be a mere Man,
naturally as fallible and as peccable as other Men.
DEAR FRIEND, You express much surprise at iny supposing Christ to be naturally peccable and fallible. But the maxims on which this is advanced with respect to him, you must admit to be just, when applied to any other mau appearing in the character of a prophet ; and, therefore, till it be proved that he is more than man, they must apply to him also. They are these, viz. that no man claiming a divine mission is to be considered as inspired farther than he himself professes to be so, than the object of his mission requires, and than he proves that he is by the working of miracles; and that, with regard to other things, not connected withi the object of his mission, and which he does not assert to be parts of the revelation communicated to him, there is no ground to suppose him to have more knowledge than any other man, who is, in other respects, in the same circunstances.
The doctrine of universal inspiration, or that of any man being possessed of all knowledge, is manifestly extravagant, and would never have been supposed' of Christ any more than of Moses, if it had not been imagined that he was naturally superior to Moses, and, therefore, had means of knowledge which Moses' had not.
If you consider the object of the finission of Christ, you must, I should think, be sensible, that it did not require more natural power, physical or moral, than that of other men, and, therefore, nothing is gained by supposing him to have more ; and much will be lost, if any marks of ignorance or of infirmity should be discovered in him. In that case, we should load the defence of Christianity with needless difficulties.
Again, if other prophets might be ignorant of many things relating to themselves,' why might not Christ also? As to his understanding all preceding prophecies, we are no where told that he was inspired with that knowledge, and, therefore, he might apply them as his countrymen of that age generally did, and as we perceive that the apostles, wbo were likewise prophets, did afterwards. But this subject is pretty largely discussed in the Theological Repository, and I cannot help wishing that you had not only quoted the sentiments there advanced, which, at the first proposal, cannot but appear offensive and alarming, but had also examined the arguments there albeged in defence of them.
You lay the greatest stress on the immaculateness of Christ's character, as an argument for his superior nature. But though you profess to be determined by the language of Scripture, you produce no passage in which his sinlessness is expressed in stronger terms than that of other good men, before and after him. If his nature was so immaculate, as that no temptation could have any effect upon him, why was he exposed to temptation ? This would then have been as absurd as for God himself to have been tempted with evil.
That Christ had all the natural weaknesses of human nature, both of body and mind, is evident from the whole of his history; and if so, it was impossible that he should have been naturally impeccable. In this case there would have been no-merit in his resisting temptation ; and his example is very improperly urged upon us, except in the same sense as that in which the example of God himself is proposed to us; whereas it is evident, that the sacred writers had very different ideas of the nature and use of these two examples.
Was it possible that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews should have had the idea that you have of the natural strength of Christ's mind, when he said of him, (Heb. v. 7, 8,)“ Who, in the days of his flesh-offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared. Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered."* What can be more evident from this description, than that the writer considered Christ to have been naturally as weak, as other men, and that he felt himself to be so?
Was this strong crying and tears, in the view of approaching death, what might be expected from the Creator and Governor of the world? The history of the agony in the garden, though it does infinite honour to Christ as a
man, is certainly an abundant confutation of any opinion concerning his superior nature and pre-existent dignity.
You likewise make the miraculous conception of Jesus, as well as his immaculate nature, an argument for his pre-existent dignity. These two circumstances are, indeed, generally urged as proofs of each other. For my own part, I scruple not to say, that I consider them both as equally destitute of proper evidence; and, moreover, that neither of them would be of any advantage to the Christian scheme, if they could be proved. With respect to the miraculous conception, I shall only observe here, as I have done elsewhere, that if the circumstance of having no human father be an argument for a superior and immaculate nature in Christ, the same thing, with the addition of having no human mother, must be allowed to be as good an argument for a superior and immaculate nature in Adam. And yet he was a mere man, and naturally as liable to sin as any of his posterity.
You ask, and very justly, of this absolute “ immaculateness of character, 66 Is it conceivable that it could have belonged to a mere man ?" * And this you well illustrate in the Note. But if you reflect that your Logos is a created, and therefore an imperfect being, you must allow that, strictly speaking, even he cannot be immaculate, any more than he can be omnipotent, or omniscient. It is the prerogative of God only, that great Being, who only is holy, and who charges his angels with folly.
If absolute perfection of moral character be necessary to that of our Redeemer, we must both of us go back to Athanasianism. But if that be impossible, why should we acquiesce in an imperfect angelic being, rather than in an imperfect man; especially as it may easily be conceived, that a man like ourselves, incident to the imperfections of other men, is, in several respects, better adapted to be an example to us, than any being of a nature superior to ours?
Sermons, pp. 127, 128. (P.) t“Christ, it impeccable and infallible, (as Socinians as well as other Christians have hitherto believed,) must have been vot simply a man like ourselves, but (supposing him not to have pre-existed) an angelic being created on purpose at the time of bis conception, and endowed immediately with the powers and knowledge of a superior being, without any of those previous acquisitions and gradual advances, which the natures of things, as well as the usual course of the Divine government, seem to require.
" What can be less probable than a creation so extraordinary? The creation of an uniqne amongst men; and for a purpose too which a man, fallible and peccable like ourselves, might have answered as well; and, in some respects, eyen better!". Ibid. p. 128.
You acknowledge that there is some advantage in that hypothesis which represents Christ as a man, who had not naturally any advantage over other men.
"Some,” you say, “ have lowered him into a man, ignorant and peccable, and no way distinguished from the common men of his time, except by being inspired. And this, I am sensible, by bringing him down more to our own level, makes his example, in some respects, more an encouragement to us, and more fit to be proposed to our imitation."* Now it is certain that the example of Christ, especially in his humiliation and sufferings, is frequently proposed to us. It cannot, therefore, be any disadvantage to a scheme that gives so important an exhortation its greatest force.
That Socinus himself, and others who have been called after his name, should have held an opinion concerning Christ
different from that wbich I have adopted, is as easily accounted for, as that Dr. Clarke should have adopted an opinion concerning the Logos much higher than that which you contend for. After Christ had for several ages been generally considered as the supreme God, and the proper object of worship, it might be discovered that he was a created being, and even a man, and yet it might be thought going too far, not to admit that this created being, or this man, might be the appointed medium through whom our prayers were to be presented to the almighty Father, especially as he is called a mediator, and a high priest.
In the same manner, after admitting that Christ was a mere man, and not the object of any worship, it might be thought too degrading to him not to suppose, that a man so distinguished by God as he was, and brought into the world in so extraordinary a manner, as he was believed to be, had not some peculiar privileges above those of other men, and other prophets, as those of his being naturally infallible and impeccable. It is no wonder that it should be some time before even Socinians began to think that there was nothing in the Christian scheme that required this unique of a man,t and that they should have embarrassed their hypothesis, rather than pursue it to its proper consequences, when they appeared so very alarming.
But now, finding this alarm to be founded on mere prejudice, and that the cause of it has no existence in reason or the Scriptures, Unitarians in general will, I doubt not, acquiesce in that opinion concerning Christ which makes
Sermons, p. 152, Note. (P.)
+ See supra, p. 405, Note .
their hypothesis truly uniform, consistent, and abundantly less exceptionable, viz. that which you hold out as an object of astonishment in the notes to your Sermons. In the Theological Repository, this hypothesis is fairly proposed and defended ; and there I wish to see it dispassionately discussed.
I am, &c.
LETTER XI. Of the Design of Christ's Mission. Dear FRIEND, I do not choose to consider largely what you call the other part of the Socinian hypothesis, viz. that which relates to the end of Christ's mission, with respect to which you say, that he “ not only declared, but obtained the availableness of repentance to pardon,” * having already advanced all that is in my power on this subject, in my “ History of the Corruptions of Christianity.”+ I shall, therefore, content myself with making a very few observations.
1. If what you lay down above be true, if Christ came to obtain the availableness of repentance to pardon, is it not rather extraordinary that this, which must have been the great and principal end of his coming, should not have been announced by any of the ancient prophets ?
2. If this had been the great end of Christ's mission, would it not have been declared to be so by John the Baptist, by our Saviour himself, or at least by some of the apostles, and in such language as could not have been misunderstood ?
3. If such, indeed, was the true cause of Christ's incarnation, is it not extraordinary that it should not have been thought of by any of the Christian fathers, or heretics; and that the idea should never have been started till a late period, as I have shewn in my “ History of the Corruptions of Christianity”?
4. The Divine Being is declared to be as merciful to repenting sinners in the Old Testament as in the New, and without reference to any future event.
5. Our Saviour, giving an account of the mission of the preceding prophets, and of his own, in their order, certainly
• Sermons, p. 86. (P.)
+ Vol. V. pp. 95-97.