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I have no doubt but that, if this writer himself could clearly prove, from independent evidence, that the common people among the early Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, were such Trinitarians as he is, he would make no small account of the fact, as being nearly decisive in proof of the apostles having been Trinitarians, and that the doctrine of the Trinity is contained in their writings. I think that I can prove that the Christians of the early ages were Unitarians; and this is one reason, independent of my own interpretation of their writings, why I conclude that the apostles
Surely," says this writer," it must be acknowledged, that the divinity of Christ is a doctrine which the sacred Scriptures seem to maintain; and Dr. Priestley himself will not wonder that a plain, unlettered Christian, who has borrowed but little light from philosophy, should imagine he reads it there."* So, I own, the case did appear to myself formerly. But as I read them now, the Scriptures do not seem to teach any such doctrine, but, in the plainest of all language, such as the most unlettered Christian must understand, they uniformly and emphatically teach the contrary doctrine, viz. that the Father is the only true God, and Christ the creature, the messenger, and the servant of that God.
Without entering particularly into the argument at present, I appeal to the general tenor of the Scriptures, in which God and Christ are constantly mentioned as beings, or persons, of a quite different rank, much more so than man and beast. They are never once confounded; and in no sense whatever, not even in the lowest of all, is Christ so much as called God in all the New Testament. I beg my candid antagonist only to read over the few following plain passages, and let him say, if he does not find great difficulty in accommodating them to his system. And these are only a very few of what I might have produced, as containing, in the plainest words, the same great doctrine.
Exod. xx. 3: "Thou shalt have no other God besides me." Deut. vi. 4: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord," which is called, (Mark xii. 29,) by our Saviour himself, "the first of all the commandments." 1 Cor. viii. 6: "To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." Eph. iv. 5, 6: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."§ 1 Tim. ii. 5: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." ||
With respect to that one text, which this writer selects,¶ as, no doubt, thinking it to be particularly favourable to his purpose, viz. 1 John v. 20: "And we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life:" I take the liberty to refer him to my "Illustration of certain Passages of Scripture, "** where he may learn that by the phrases, viz. him that
is true, and the true God, we are to understand God the Father only, the same whom our Saviour himself expressly styles the only true God, when, in his solemn prayer, (John xvii. 3,) he said, "That they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." This alone should make us consider any interpretation of a passage which should make it say that there was another true God, as necessarily wrong, whatever other meaning should be put upon it. Supposing that in some part of the English Old Testament (in which the doctrine of the unity of God is so fully taught) it should be said that Moses was the true God; would any man, on that account, believe him to be so? He would immediately say that it must either be a wrong translation, that something else was intended besides what the words seemed to import, or that the passage was an interpolation.
If we be influenced by what only seems to be contained in the Scriptures, without using our reason in the interpretation of them, we may as well at once admit the doctrine of Transubstantiation; for nothing can be more directly taught in the words of scripture. Does not our Saviour himself say, (Matt. xxvi. 26,) "Take eat, this is my body;" and likewise, vers. 27, 28, " Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood"? Did he not also say, "in the synagogue" of Capernaum, [John vi. 53, 55,] Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.-He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him;" with much more to the same purpose? There is no maxim of criticism clearer than this, viz. that no man of common understanding could mean to say either what was manifestly absurd, or what should be a flat contradiction to what he had expressly and repeatedly asserted. Now, nothing can be more absurd than the doctrine of three divine persons making only one God; nor can any writers more expressly contradict themselves, than by first teaching the doctrine of one God, calling that God the Father, and even the God and Father of Christ, and then saying, that this Christ is himself God, equal to his own God and Father. If I could make no sense at all of any particular passages, that might be found in any of the sacred writings, I should say, without scruple, that this could not be their sense.
It is usual with zealous Trinitarians to alarm their hearers and readers with the danger of denying the divinity of Christ, and the dread they ought to entertain of disbelieving so great a truth, degrading their God and their Maker to the condition of a mortal man. But, on the contrary, on the supposition that the Father is the only true God, (which is clearly the doctrine of the Scriptures,) is there no danger in making and worshipping another God, and of exalting to this high rank a mere man like ourselves? Should we entertain no dread of infringing so great and fundamental a principle of revealed religion, as that of the Divine Unity; especially considering that the Scriptures abound with cautions, and the strongest admonitions on this subject; whereas it cannot be pretended that we are any where cautioned against not admitting the divinity of
Christ. There are numberless passages in the Scriptures, in which the one God, the Father, denounces the severest judgments against those who give his glory to another, but none in which Christ threatens any punishment to those who will not honour him as God.
Let the two cases, then, be calmly considered, and let not Trinitarians think their doctrine, if erroneous, a less dangerous one than ours; and let them be more careful how they pass their sentences of damnation upon those who, though they should be mistaken, are so in consequence of being concerned to maintain the unrivalled honour of the one true God, against any infringement of it, by Heathens or Christians; especially while their tempers and conduct are as exemplary as their own. The time is approaching which will shew who they are that are now contending for truth, and who for error, and also from what motives, and with what kind of spirit they engage in the controversy. It is with satisfaction that I look forward towards that time.
My candid antagonist asks, when " the system of gospel doctrine -has been reformed" according to my plan, "what advantage hath the Christian, and what profit is there of the gospel? Compared with philosophy it can boast but of little superiority; compared with Judaism, scarce any superiority at all." But I would ask him, in my turn, is there no advantage in the certain knowledge of a resurrection and of a state of retribution to come, which is the only great and powerful sanction of virtue, and which alone can enable a man to bear the trials of life, and to die with hope and joy?
By what standard of value and worth must that man judge, who can say, that this consideration weighs nothing, and such doctrines as the Trinity and Atonement weigh much? Let us judge of principles as our Saviour teaches us to judge of men, viz. by their fruits. Now what fruits are the mysterious doctrines which this writer rates so high, in their nature, capable of producing, compared with those of that one great doctrine which he seems to have overlooked? An experienced physician, considering the ingredients of an approved family medicine, will easily distinguish those drugs that are operative from those that are insignificant, or that counteract the effects of the rest. Now let a man who only understands human nature, examine my creed, and that of my antagonist, admitting that we both of us live as becomes Christians, and have some common principles that assist us in doing so. Is it the doctrine of three persons in one God, or the belief of one simple, intelligent Being, the maker and governor of all things? Is it the doctrine of Atonement, which supposes that God never forgives any sin till a full satisfaction has been made to his offended justice, (a dangerous pattern for man to follow,) or the belief that he requires no satisfaction at all besides repentance on the part of the offender? Which of these doctrines is naturally better calculated to ensure our love, reverence, and obedience to God? My own opinion is known, and therefore also what I must suppose an impartial judge would determine in the case. But still these are small ingredients in the medi
cine that I am speaking of. The great and effective one is the firm belief of a future life, which is common to us both.
Did Christians attend more to the consideration of that life and immortality which is brought to light by the gospel, the knowledge of which it has extended to all mankind, we should make less account of all other matters. Agreeing in the belief and expectation of a resurrection and a future immortal life, we agree in every thing that is of real efficacy to elevate the mind, to warm the heart, and to reform the life. This is that one noble tree of life, which has been too long concealed by timber of an ignoble kind, with which it has been crowded, and which I wish to lend a hand to extirpate and remove. And (to use a comparison similar to a very fine one made use of by a writer in the Theological Repository) if, in my zeal to clear away these incumbrances, I should happen to touch the bark of the tree itself, I hope it will be forgiven me. My meaning was good, and the blow was honestly directed to favour the tree, and make it appear to proper advantage.
AN ADDITION TO THE LETTERS RELATING TO MR. HOWES.
(See supra, p. 562.)
ON expressing my surprise that Mr. Howes should ascribe the Extracts from Theodotus in Clemens Alexandrinus to Theodotus the Tanner, (by which means he makes one of the ancient Unitarians a believer in the pre-existence, and, as he also thought, in the divinity of Christ,) he said, "In regard to Theodotus, this will be discussed afterwards," and as I had observed,† that the learned editors of Clemens Alexandrinus, viz. Sylburgius and Potter, were not of his opinion, he adds, " At present I shall only observe, that if modern authority were capable to decide the question, I can produce as good authority on my side, that of Cave and M. Simon; but I form my judgment from internal evidence in those extracts themselves."
As Mr. Howes, in his last publication, has said nothing on this subject, though, according to the arrangement of his materials, I think he ought to have done it, I shall content myself with giving an extract from Dr. Lardner's account of the different persons of the name of Theodotus in his History of Heretics.
"First, a Valentinian. Cave, in his account of Theodotus the Tanner, ascribes to him all the opinions which he has collected out of the oriental doctrine, subjoined to the works of Clement of Alexandria. But that is confounding things as different and opposite as can well be. Theodotus the Tanner is reckoned among those who did not allow Jesus to have existed before his nativity of Mary, which is very different from the sentiments represented by Cave from the above-named work. And yet Fabricius seems to have been of the same opinion with Cave. Tillemont perceived that the Theodotus
mentioned in these extracts, was a Valentinian. Beausobre had no doubt of it, and says he flourished about the year of our Lord, 130.1
I quote Dr. Lardner, because Mr. Howes seems to have some respect for his judgment and impartiality. In his last publication he says, (p. 44,) "It may be observed as truly wonderful, that Dr. Lardner, if inclined to Unitarianism, should have left no accounts. behind him of the Ebionites, Nazarenes, or Elcesaites. One should have thought that those pretended founders of his own system would have been the first to claim his attention. I cannot, then, but suspect that they have been suppressed, because they proved too plainly the belief of the Ebionites in the divinity of Christ. For Lardner was of too inquisitive and too rational a turn of mind, to have thus neglected altogether the important heresies of the first centuries, while he treated minutely of several inconsiderable ones; and he was apparently too honest to have misled his readers with respect to the real tenets of the Ebionites and Nazarenes. Hinc ille hiatus. This is the more strange, because he does give some account of those sects in his other works, but nothing any way favourable to their being the founders of Humanism."
What Dr. Lardner would have done if he had lived to have published his own work, no man can tell. That he considered the doctrine of the Nazarenes as no proper heresy, and yet totally different from that of the Trinitarians or Arians, is evident from his four posthumous discourses, in which, after treating of these two schemes, he considers and recommends "the doctrine of the Unitarians or the Nazareans;"† his account of which corresponds exactly to what is commonly called Socinianism, of which it is well known that he was a zealous advocate, as Dr. Price observes. Let Mr. Howes read his Letters on the Logos, which led me to adopt his opinion. But I should not much wonder if Mr. Howes should hereafter express some doubt of my being an Unitarian. Indeed, of the two, it appears to me quite as easy to prove that there are no Unitarians at present, as that there were none in the primitive ages of Christianity.
* Hist. of Heretics, p. 370. (P.) Lardner's Works, IX. p. 471.
END OF VOLUME XVIII.