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to trouble our readers with any thing more on the subject. Let them compare my observations with your reply. Indeed, I do not know what more to say to any person who can seriously maintain, that the appellation of God, perpetually applied to Christ in the shorter epistles of Ignatius, is no interpolation; such as the example you have produced, " I wish you all happiness in our God Jesus Christ." This, Sir, is neither apostolical language, nor, indeed, that of any writer whatever, in any age of the church.
With respect to the great object of my work, you grant almost all that I contend for, when you say, "There is but too much reason to apprehend what Dr. Priestley, in the course of his work, several times mentions with triumph, to wit, that the bulk of Christians have, in all ages of the church, been inclined to the Unitarian doctrine."† And yet you say," Mr. Howes has justly observed, that the mo dern opinion concerning the humanity of Jesus through life, has not the least countenance in its favour from the tenets of any one of the ancient sectaries." This expresses more confidence on the subject than Mr. Howes himself has done, as you include Photinus among those who were not properly Unitarians. How this very extraordinary position will be supported by Mr. Howes or yourself, time, I suppose, will shew. It must, however, be by another kind of ecclesiastical history than any that I am yet acquainted with.
As to the orthodox Fathers, whose writings I have made use of in tracing the rise and progress of the doctrine of the Trinity, you treat them with a degree of indifference and contempt that really astonishes me. "With regard to the follies of the succeeding Christian writers, whether Greek or Latin, who, neglecting the Hebrew Scriptures, idolized the very imperfect and faulty version of the Septuagint, and yet frequently followed the ignes fatui of their own imaginations, and of the Platonic and other vain philosophy, as to such follies as these, I have no great objection to their being treated with the severity they deserve, though I should not myself choose the office of executioner."
But if there be any truth in the outline only of my History, the doctrine of the Trinity had no existence till it was started by these very Platonizing fathers, so that the folly you ascribe to them must reflect upon the doctrine itself.
* Answer, p. 135. (P.)
Ibid. p. 98. (P.)
† Ibid, p. 9. (P.)
It appears from their own confession, that this doctrine gave the greatest offence to the great body of unlearned Christians, who had not been taught with clearness any other doctrine concerning Christ than that he was a man inspired by God. You yourself produce a passage from Eusebius, in which it is said, that "the divinity of Christ was a doctrine reserved by the Holy Spirit for John, as being more excellent ;" and the earliest date of his gospel is the year 64: consequently, before this time, the Christian church must have been Unitarian.
If I have sufficiently proved the truth of these facts, and others connected with them, it must be in vain to pretend that the Scriptures of the New Testament will admit of any other than an Unitarian interpretation. And the evidence of the facts I refer to does not depend upon writings, the authenticity and purity of which are so questionable as those of the apostolical fathers, but on the uniform, concurrent testimony of all the Christian writers, from the age of the apostles till long after the Council of Nice; and their works have, in general, come down to us as perfect as any ancient writings whatever.
I have also shewn, much at large, that the Unitarians were not considered as heretics till a late period. I said, that even the Ebionites are not directly called heretics by Irenæus. In one passage, however, from this writer, which you produce,† you think that it does appear, that he must have considered them in that light. But admitting this, it amounts to nothing of any consequence, as it is expressly asserted by Jerome, that the Ebionites, who lived in a state of separation from other Christians, were considered as heretics only on account of their observance of the law of Moses.
As you have not even attempted to answer my work itself, I have no occasion to examine any thing that you have advanced; but, having this opportunity of addressing a letter to you, I shall make a few observations on an article which you have laboured the most in your performance, viz. the proof or demonstration, as you call it, of the doctrine of the Trinity, from the plural form of the word which is used to denote God in the Hebrew language, viz. bx, elohim, or, as you write it, aleim.
"Aleim," you say, "regularly and precisely denotes the denouncers of a conditional curse, and by this very important Hebrew name, the ever-blessed Three represent themselves
• Answer. p. 99. (P)
+ Ibid. p. 96. (P.)
as under the obligation of an oath to perform certain conditions."* Taking this for granted, you say, "The doctrine of a plurality in Jehovah is taught in above two thousand places of the Old; and I add, that this plurality is, by a number of passages in both Testaments, fixed to a Trinity."† You likewise find an intimation "of the doctrine of the blessed unity in trinity, and trinity in unity," in the three men who appeared to Abraham.
Few persons, I believe, except those who pretend to find the philosophical discoveries of the present age in the Hebrew words of the Old Testament, will be disposed to lay any stress on this argument or demonstration of yours. Basnage and others, as zealous Trinitarians as yourself, have shewn the futility of it; and till what they have written be answered, I should be abundantly justified in taking no notice at all of it. I shall, however, as the opportunity may never occur again, make a few observations on this subject.
1. Admitting the plural form of the word signifying God to be a just foundation for believing that there is a plurality in the Divine essence, it is only in one particular language, which can no more be proved to be of divine origin thau any other language, and may not even have been the most ancient; so that it might be merely accidental that this word, as well as several others in the same language, and many in all languages, had a plural, and not a singular form.
2. We are no where taught in the Old Testament that this mysterious doctrine of three divine denouncers of a conditional curse (at the idea of which the mind recoils) is to be inferred from the form of the word aleim.
3. As the same word is used to signify the Heathen gods, as well as the God of Israel, it might be expected that all nations had an idea of a plurality in the essence of all their gods. This you in part allow, and endeavour to prove it in the case of Hecate, or Diana; § and you suppose, that the Philistines, who applied this term to their god Dagon, might be used to compound idols." But you ought to have extended this to all the Heathen gods, as well as to Hecate. But really Sir, I wonder you were not struck with horror at this indirect comparison of your holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, to the three-fold form of a Heathen god
Answer, p. 69. (P.) Ibid. p. 16. (P.) | Ibid, p. 156. `(P.)
+ Ibid. p. 82. § Ibid. p. 144.
dess. You might as well have pitched upon the threeheaded monster Cerberus, for your purpose. What would you have said if I had said any thing that could have led the mind to any such comparison?
4. Can you make it appear, that any of the ancient Jews understood the word aleim as you do, or that they drew any such inference from it? This you seem to have taken for granted, and you add, that" a very great majority of the Jews, before our Saviour's coming, had apostatized from the doctrine of the divine Trinity."* But where, Sir, do you find the records of this great apostacy? And where are we to look for the remonstrances on the subject, which would certainly have been made by those who did not apostatize? Of the apostacy of the Israelites from the worship of the true God to that of idols, we have abundant evidence; but of this greater change in the sentiments of a great majority of the nation, we have no account at all.
Of those Jews who had apostatized from the doctrine of the Trinity, you say, “ they could not possibly, at the time he" (Christ)" appeared, have supposed that the Messiah would be the second person in the Trinity." And as to the Jews who were after our Saviour's time, you do not pretend to find among them any trace of the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the divinity of the Messiah. With respect to these, you say, "I must enter my solemn protest against being guided by them, as to the sense of the sacred books, or in any matter of religion whatever; because the blessed Master whom I profess to follow and to obey, has repeatedly called the predecessors and instructors of these modern Jews, fools and blind, i. e. as to religious knowledge, and has said of them, they be blind leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, shall not both fall into the ditch ?"+
But can you, Sir, imagine that, if our Saviour had found in the Jewish teachers so capital a departure from the doctrine concerning God, as this apostacy from the ancient Mosaic doctrine of the Trinity must have been, he would not have distinctly pointed it out, and that he would not have warned the people against the false glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees upon this article of the law, as he did on others of much less importance? He had one fine opportunity, you must acknowledge, of doing this, and of explaining the doctrine concerning the Divine essence, when he was questioned about" the first commandment." (Mark xii. 28.) But both Ibid. p. 33. (P.)
* Answer, p. 36. (P.)
the Scribe and himself, on that remarkable occasion, assert the absolute unity of the Divine nature.
You do maintain, however, that our Lord's own disciples were at least sufficiently prepared, by his discourses, to consider him as God, during their intercourse with him.* But how does this appear when, after his crucifixion, we find two of his disciples, on their way to Emmaus, expressing their highest admiration of him in these words: (Luke xxiv. 19 :) "Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word, before God and all the people"? Is this the natural language of men who had ever considered Christ as properly God, or who were at all prepared so to do?
I shall not enter with you into a discussion of the meaning of particular texts; having, as I think, sufficiently explained all those on which you descant, in my other writings. But I cannot help noticing your very curious interpretation of Christ's saying, (John v. 30,) that he could do nothing of himself. "We see, then," you say, "in what sense only the Son of God, in this passage, disclaims any power of his own, and says, that he can do nothing of himself, viz. as acting distinctly from his Father, with whom he was united."† But would you, Sir, have put the same construction on any similar saying of Moses, or any other prophet? Besides, if in this sense only Christ could do nothing of himself, in the same sense the Father also could do nothing of himself; since, on your hypothesis, he must always act in conjunction with the Son. But where do you find any assertion like this in the Scriptures?
Indeed, Sir, unless you, or your friends, can make a better defence than you have yet done of the doctrine of the Trinity, notwithstanding you say, you consider me "as by no means a formidable opponent on scriptural subjects," the consequence of which you express so much dread, viz. that "the religion of this once Christian land will be reduced to a level with Mahometanism, and even in some respects below it,"§ must follow. In this method of characterizing Unitarianism, you think, no doubt, to bring an odium upon it; but the comparison is now too much hackneyed for that purpose; and you are mistaken if you think that I am ashamed to avow my agreement with the Mahometans, or any other part of the human race, in the doctrine of the Divine Unity, and to worship together with them, the one God and Father of all, the maker of heaven and earth.
, p. 119. (P.)
+ Ibid. p. 62. (P.)