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represents the great object of their missions to be the same, Matt. xxi. 33-37. The preceding prophets are, indeed, compared to servants, and himself to the son of the householder; but they were all sent to receive for him the fruits of the vineyard.*
6. As to the sufferings of Christ, not only is his patience in bearing them proposed as an example to us, but in the passage quoted in a former Letter, Christians are represented as both suffering and reigning with Christ.
Let us not, then, look for mysteries where no mystery is, and obscure the beautiful simplicity of the gospel, which represents the Divine Being as always disposed to receive returning penitents, as having sent his Son, as well as other prophets, for the benevolent purpose of reclaiming the world from sin, and to promise eternal life and happiness to all that hearken to them.
I must likewise add a few observations on what seems to have been the source of your ideas of the necessity of Christ's incarnation, and the efficacy of his death. "The whole Christian scheme," you say, "is founded on the supposition of a calamity in which our race had been involved, and which has been generally termed the FALL of man. At the same time," you say, "what the true and full account of this event is, it is probably impossible for us to discover, or even to understand, were it communicated to us. It is recorded in the third chapter of Genesis, but in a manner so mixed with emblems, (derived, perhaps, from the ancient hieroglyphical manner of writing,) and consequently so veiled and obscure, that I think little more can be learnt from it, than that there was a transaction, at the origin of our race, and the commencement of this world, which degraded us to our present state, and subjected us to death, and all its concomitant evils."+
On this subject I would observe that, if the fall of man, whatever it was, had been an event on which the whole Christian scheme is founded," we might have expected a more express declaration, from sufficient authority, that it was so. But in none of the prophecies in which the Messiah is announced, is there the least reference to this catastrophe, which you suppose to have made his incarnation necessary. Neither John the Baptist, nor our Saviour himself, ever said any thing that could lead our thoughts to it. And notwithstanding the frequent mention that is made of
* See, on ver. 39, Vol. XIII. p. 286. + Sermons, p. 170. (P.). 1 Ibid.
the love of God in the gift of his Son, by the apostles, it is never said to have been to undo any thing that had been done at the fall, some passages of Paul, alone excepted, who calls Christ "the last Adam,"* and makes use of terms which imply that death was introduced by Adam, as eternal life is the gift of God by Christ. But you know that the writings of this apostle abound with analogies and antitheses, on which no very serious stress is to be laid.
Allowing, however, all the authority that you possibly can to the observations of Paul, it is far from carrying you to the whole extent of your hypothesis. All mankind, the wicked as well as the righteous, are to rise again, and nothing is said by him that can possibly be construed to signify that the availableness of repentance to` pardon was ever lost, or that it was recovered by Christ.
Besides, all that Paul himself could know about Adam, and the effects of his sin, he must have learned from the books of Moses, which are as open to us as they were to him. What Moses says on the subject, you acknowledge to be very obscure, and therefore it will not authorize implicit confidence in any particular interpretation.
"There are some," you say, "who give such interpretations of the account in the third chapter of Genesis, and the subsequent references to it in the Sacred Writingsas make them no evidence of any such event (introductory of death) as is commonly understood by the FALL. But these interpretations, and the opinion grounded upon them, are so singular, that I have not thought them worth particular notice." +
The interpretations on which you pass this censure, are pretty generally known to be mine. They are advanced in the Theological Repository, with the evidence on which they are founded; and instead of this unqualified censure, it would have given myself, and many other persons, great satisfaction, if you had thought them worthy of a serious examination. The opinion that I have advanced concerning the history of the fall of man, cannot, I am confident, be refuted, but on principles which suppose the plenary inspiration of Moses, and that of all the writers of the Old and New Testament, with respect to every thing they wrote, whether they expressly say that they were inspired or not; a position at which I suspect your mind will revolt as much as mine does.
* 1 Cor. xv. 45. See Vol. XIV. p. 118.
↑ Sermons, pp. 73, 74, Note. (P.)
As Moses himself, who seems particularly careful to distinguish what God said to him, and what came from himself, does not say that he received the account that he has given us of the creation, and fall of man, from God, I think myself at liberty to consider it as the best that be could collect from tradition. In my opinion also, there are many marks of its being a very lame* account. And, as I have observed, it is far from solving the difficulty it seems to have been intended to answer, viz. the introduction of death and calamity into the world. Among other things I have remarked, that the fact of the human race being originally formed male and female, and consequently their being intended to increase and multiply, is a proof that they were also originally intended to be mortal; and that immortality is reserved for that state, in which there shall be neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but where men shall be as the angels that are in heaven.
You consider the devil as the tempter of Adam in the form of a serpent.† But this could not have been the idea of Moses, according to whom, the sentence passed upon the serpent has no relation to any thing but to the animal so called. And would there be any justice in punishing the serpent, the mere passive instrument, and letting the proper agent in the business go free? Moses had no idea of any thing beyond the mere serpent, and I cannot allow any authority to the interpretation of the author of the apocryphal book of Wisdom. ‡
That our Saviour alludes to the agency of the devil in the first introduction of sin into the world, is, I think, by no means probable. He says, (John viii. 44,) "The devil -was a murderer from the beginning."§ But this refers to the murder of Abel by Cain. And as to what John says, (1 Ep. iii. 8,) of "the Son of God" being "manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil," it may well be supposed to mean that he came to put an end to sin, or moral evil, which is referred to the Devil, or Satan, as its principle, as all other evil is. On this account Peter is called Satan, (Matt. xvi. 23,) || when he suggested an unworthy proposal, and Judas is called the devil, (John vi. 70,) on account of his bad designs.¶
As to "that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, in Rev. xii. 9, xx. 2, on which you lay some stress,** I really
* Corrected by the Author to imperfect. See Let. VII. to Dr. Price, infra.
+ Sermons, p. 178, Note. (P.)
§ See Vol. XIII. p. 225.
See ibid. p. 162.
↑ Ch. ii. 24. See ibid.
See ibid. p. 185.
It is the language of
do not pretend to understand it. prophecy perhaps not yet fulfilled. served, that this same old serpent is likewise called (Rev. xii. 9) the great dragon," and this dragon is farther described [ver. 3] as being red, and having "seven heads, and ten horns," with "seven crowns upon his heads." He has also [ver. 4] a tail, by which he "drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." according to most interpreters, this "red dragon," with “seven heads,-seven crowns, and ten horns," is not the devil, (admitting the existence of so extraordinary a being,) but represents some earthly potentate, the enemy of Christianity." But whatever be the meaning of this prophecy, we are not to look into so mysterious a book as the Revelation, for a plain account of either the introduction of evil into the world, or the remedy of that evil. It seems to have been written for a very different purpose.
I am, &c.
I HAVE now troubled you with animadversions on every thing that I think most open to objection in your truly excellent Sermons, and especially in the Notes, in which you chiefly quote what has been advanced by myself, either in works that bear my name, or in the Theological Repo'sitory. Let the arguments I have there advanced, and to which you have not directly replied, answer for themselves. You justly observe, that I do not shrink from any consequences of what I have advanced. Indeed, if a proposition be true, so must every corollary fairly drawn from it; and I have not yet seen any reason to be afraid of truth.
Some of the opinions on which you have slightly descanted are, I believe, novel, and a step, as you may say, beyond what other Socinians have gone; and yourself, and others of my best friends,† are a good deal staggered at them. But in a short time this alarm, which is already much abated, will be entirely gone off, and then I shall expect a calm discussion of what I have advanced; and that doctrine will, no doubt, be established which shall appear to be
See Vol. XIV. pp. 472, 473, 500, 501.
+ See Mem. of Lindsey, p. 223.
most agreeable to reason, and the true sense of scripture. May whatever will not stand this test, whether advanced by myself or others, soon fall to the ground; but let no sentiment, however alarming at the first proposal, be condemned unheard and unexamined.
Many of our common friends express some surprise that you and I, connected as we are by friendship, and a variety of other common circumstances; equally, I hope, ardent and equally unwearied in the pursuit of truth; and having given perhaps equal attention to the subject of these Letters, should, notwithstanding, differ so much as we do with respect to it. Many persons who know this, and who have not the leisure, or the opportunity, to study this question, that we have, may be led to think, that it will be in vain for them to attempt to arrive at any certainty with respect to it; and, out of despair, abandon the examination. But neither you nor myself shall think this inference a just one; since each of us may be under the influence of prejudices, unknown to ourselves, but sufficiently conspicuous to others. Nay, with a beam in our own eye, we may fancy that we can discover a mote in that of each other.
You will, I doubt not, be able to account to yourself for what you will think my obstinacy in defending principles which to you appear evidently contrary to reason and the Scriptures, under the idea of their being important truths. And I also must have some method of satisfying myself how you may be as ingenuous, and as candid, as I, of course, think myself to be, and yet persist in opinions which I cannot help considering as wrong, and of the erroneousness of which there seems to be the most abundant evidence.
Speaking of the Socinian interpretations of scripture, you say, "I must own to you, that I am inclined to wonder that wise and good men can satisfy themselves with such explanations." But you candidly add, "But I correct myself. I know that Christians, amidst their differences of opinion, are too apt to wonder at one another; and to forget the allowances which ought to be made for the darkness in which we are all involved."
You are too much of a philosopher to think that there can be any effect without an adequate cause; and you know that wonder is nothing more than the state of mind into which our ignorance of the causes of the events throws us. And, therefore, whenever we think we can account for any appearance, all wonder ceases.
* Sermons, p. 135. (P.)