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For it may be supposed that, in your serious opinion, the belief of Christianity itself is incompatible with my idea
Indeed, my friend, we are not qualified to judge for one another in this case. Otherwise, considering how incredible your doctrine appears to me, viz. that of a created being, in the form of a man, and not at all distinguishable from other men by any visible property or circumstance whatever, (one who was born and died; who ate, drank, and slept, like other men, and who did nothing that any other man, equally aided by God, might not have done,) being the creator of the world, I might be tempted to say that no scheme can be true which supposes it: for it is not possible that your mind should more revolt at my opinion, than mine does at yours.
But I check myself before I draw any such conclusion. For the plain historical evidence of the certainty of those facts which establish the truth of Christianity, is so very clear and strong, that though I should see that the belief of them would draw after it the belief of that doctrine, I should not hesitate to embrace it; so that I should very contentedly, and thankfully, be an Arian rather than no Christian. Indeed, so unspeakably valuable is the great hope of the gospel, the revelation of a future life, that I would admit almost the whole system of Popery, and shut my eyes to every thing that only appeared incomprehensible, and not an absolute contradiction, rather than abandon it. And, notwithstanding what you have here and elsewhere incautiously dropped, I am confident, you would consent to be not only almost, but altogether, what I am, an Unitarian, a Necessarian, and even a Materialist, rather than no Christian at all. By this time you must have seen that I am far from being singular in my opinions; and you cannot say that as yet there appears any ground of apprehension from them. Of the dead we may speak, and where was there a better Christian than Dr. Jebb?
But though with myself, and some others, who were both educated Christians, and have given particular attention to the evidences of Christianity, they will preponderate against these difficulties, it may not be the case with all. Many persons will very naturally first consider what is proposed to them, before they give any attention to the evidence for it at all; and when they are told, that if they embrace Christianity they must believe that the world was made by an inhabitant of Judea. (for in that light, however the thing
may be disguised and softened to your mind, it will appear to them,) it is very possible the business may end there, and they may inquire no farther about it. If this be made a necessary preliminary, I am satisfied, from my own observations, that we must for ever despair of the conversion of the Jews.
This was not the case with Arianism when it was started; for it found the world in the belief of pre-existence and incarnation; so that neither philosophers nor the vulgar saw any thing to object to it on that account. But the case is widely different now.
I am, &c.
Of the Meaning of John vi. 62, and of Christ divesting himself of the Power of working Miracles.
Does this offend you?
You say, that "John vi. 62, What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?" is "as decisive a declaration of Christ's pre-existence by himself as words can well express."* But the phrases "this is my body," and "except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you," [John vi. 53,] are as express declarations of the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Also what our Lord says of the Comforter, literally interpreted, is as express a declaration of the personality of the Holy Spirit. And yet you receive neither of these doctrines. He says, (John xvi. 7, 13, 14,)" If I depart, I will send him unto you," and "he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." On your principle, of literal interpretation, we have here an account of a person clearly distinct from God, or Christ.
If we will allow of no figures of speech in such books as those of scripture, we must admit the greatest absurdities. And you cannot feel more reluctance to admit the figurative interpretation of this passage in John than Luther felt to give a similar interpretation to those passages which seem to assert the real presence of Christ in the eucharist; as you
Appendix, p. 392. (P.)
+ Matt. xxvi. 26. See Vol. XIII. p. 310.
may see in "The History of the Reformation" by Beausobre, a work which I have just perused with the greatest satisfaction.
On Carolstadt's defending the doctrine of Zuinglius on the subject of the eucharist, he said, "Two persons wrote to me on the same subject, and even treated it with more ability than Carolstadt, not torturing the words of scripture as he did; but I find that I am taken, and have no way to escape. For the text of the evangelist is too plain, and too express, to admit of any other sense." And when the Landgrave proposed a conference at Marpurg between the German and Swiss divines on the subject, "Luther premised that he would not depart from the literal sense of the words, This is my body, because they appeared too clear and express to admit any other, and that he would not hear sense or reason, when God had spoken."‡
The whole discourse in which this expression, on which you lay so much stress, occurs, is full of the strongest figures.§ For good reasons, no doubt, our Lord seems to have intended by it to stagger and confound his hearers. All the dis
ciples, except the twelve, absolutely left him upon it, and even they were in great danger of being offended, And it is an expression in this very enigmatical discourse, (continued indeed, but in the same strain, after the multitude had left him,) a discourse in which nothing is expressed in a natural manner, that you insist must be interpreted literally.
Besides, the literal interpretation of this very passage, does not in reality accord with the sentiments of Arians, or of any sect of Christians, except those of the Polish Socinians: for it would imply that the human nature of Christ had been in heaven; because it is said, not that the Son of God but that the Son of Man had been there. || Besides, the phrase, where he was before, is not synonymous to heaven, nor is the time when the Son of Man was there, or any where else, mentioned in this passage; so that much must be supplied before it can be made to say much to your purpose.
Though I reject your interpretation of this text, I do not pretend to be quite satisfied with any other interpretation of it. I am, however, abundantly satisfied that yours is not the true one. And this is far from being the only text about which the best critics cannot entirely please themselves.
For my part, I should much sooner have recourse to the idea of Christ's actual ascent into heaven, or of his imagining that he had been carried up thither, in a vision, which (like that of Paul) he had not been able to distinguish from a reality, at the time that he received his commission, than to yours, of his having existed in an unembodied state before the creation of the world, and his having left some state of great dignity and happiness, when he came hither.
That this hypothesis is no proper clue to our Lord's real meaning, is, I think, sufficiently evident, from the utter impossibility of the apostles understanding him to mean any such thing. For, no doubt, they, at that time, considered their Master, though the Messiah, as a mere man, who had no more pre-existed than they themselves had.
I cannot help observing, on this occasion, that neither yourself, nor any other person, has attempted any solution of the difficulty I suggested, from the silence of the writers of the New Testament with respect to the discovery of the pre-existent dignity of Christ, whenever it was made to them. To have been informed that Jesus, with whom they had lived in the greatest intimacy as a brother, was their maker, must have astonished them as much as if they had been told that John the Baptist had been that great superangelic Being; because they were no more prepared to receive the one than the other. But what traces do you perceive of the apostles being impressed, as they must necessarily have been, upon the discovery of a thing of so extraordinary a nature? How must such an opinion have been ridiculed by the unbelieving Jews! And what marks do we find, in the Acts of the Apostles, of their having so much as heard of such an opinion being advanced by any Christians? It is as evident from this consideration as any negative can be, that no such opinion as that of Christ having been the maker of the world, was ever taught by the apostles; and therefore any interpretation of their writings, which implies. their teaching it, must be wrong, whether we be able to hit upon the true sense of them or not.
To be explicit with you, I would not, as you say, build "an article of faith of such magnitude, on the correctness of John's recollection and representation of our Lord's language."* So strange and incredible does your hypothesis appear to me, that rather than admit it, I would suppose the whole verse to be an interpolation, or that the old apostle
Appendix, p. 394. (P.)
dictated one thing, and his amanuensis wrote another; for you would not scruple to say as much if you had found any passage, in which it was said that Moses, or any of the old prophets, had been the maker of the world.
As to the difficulty which you suggest about Christ "divesting himself of the power of working miracles,"* when he never properly had any such power, (which in your excellent Sermon on" the resurrection of Lazarus," you yourself admit,) † it is, in my apprehension, no difficulty at all. Had Jesus (to suppose an impossibility) been inclined to exert a miraculous power of an improper kind, or at an improper season, I have no doubt but that his inclination would have been over-ruled, by that great Being by whose power alone he acknowledged that the miracles were wrought. But when his will perfectly coincided with that of his Father, it is not at all extraordinary, that he should be said to renounce a power which he had exercised, when he only ceased to request the farther use of it, from a full conviction that it ought not to be exercised any longer. You say of" Christ, with respect to his power of working miracles," that "the gospel history gives us reason for believing that he possessed it more permanently, as well as in a higher degree, through that spirit which was given him without measure."+ But still, if it was "through that spirit which was given him," it was no power of his own, and is therefore no argument for his pre-existent dignity and superior nature, but the contrary; for the same might have been imparted to any other man. Nay, he himself does virtually assert as much, when he says, that when he should be removed from them, his apostles would do greater things than he had done; for if they did greater things, they must have had greater power. If one passage must be interpreted literally, why not another? Have Arians the exclusive privilege of choosing what texts to interpret literally, and what figuratively? I am, &c.
Appendix, p. 396. (P.)
+ "After the stone was taken away, he made, we are told, a solemn address to God; and, lifting up his eyes, said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. This implies, that his ability to work this miracle was the consequence of his having prayed for it." Sermons, p. 381. Yet Bishop Hall adduces even the raising of Lazarus among his proofs that Christ" hath abundantly convinced the world of his Godhead by miraculous works, so transcending the possibility of nature, that they could not be wrought by any lesse then the God of nature; as ejecting of devils by command; raising the dead after degrees of putrefaction; giving eyes to the borne blind," &c. Satan's Fiery Darts Quenched, 1647, pp. 9, 10. See Christian Reformer, 18 8, IV. pp. 267, 268.
Appendix, p. 396. (P.)