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DIVINITY OF CHRIST.
OBJECTIONS TO THE MODE
IN WHICH THE
UNITARIANS CONDUCT THE CONTROVERSY.
1 CORINTHIANS iii. 20.
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
last discourse I proposed several Objections against the Doctrine of the Unitarians. I shall now allege some Objections against their Conduct in the Management of the controversy.
Before I proceed to the execution of this design, I shall premise the following general doctrines concerning the Scriptures.
That the Old and New Testament were revealed to the several Writers of them by the Spirit of God.
That, although the several Writers were left to use their own characteristical style, or manner of writing, yet they have always written such words, as the Holy Ghost taught, and not such as are taught by the wisdom of Man.
That these Scriptures contain all things, pertaining to life and to godliness.
That they were written for the use of mankind; the learned and unlearned alike; and therefore were written in the usual language of men, with the usual signification of that language ; as being that only, which such men can understand.
That, therefore, they express true ideas of God, of Christ, of human nature, of human duty, and of the way of salvation, in such a manner, that unlearned men, as are ninety-nine hundredths of those for whom they were written, can, and, if sincerely disposed, will, understand them, so far as is necessary to enable them to perform their duty, and obtain their salvation.
Every one of these doctrines I believe not only to be strictly true, but capable of the most satisfactory proof; and proof, of which I feel myself satisfactorily possessed. Occasional remarks I shall make on this subject in the present discourse; but a fuller discussion of it must be left to a future time. I have mentioned these doctrines here, because they are in my view just, important, and necessary to enable those, who hear me, to understand the real import of the following observations.
1st. The Uniturians, to a great extent, have interpreted the Scriptures according to pre-conceived opinions of their own, and not according to the obvious meaning of the passages themselves.
That I may not be thought to charge this upon the Unitarians without ground; I will recite some of the opinions, which they themselves have expressed concerning the Scriptures. You may remember, that in my last discourse, I mentioned, that Dr. Priestley pronounces Christ to be fallible; the Scriptures not to be written by particular inspiration; and the writers to make no pretensions to such inspiration. The contrary notion, also, he asserts to be destitute of all proofs and to have done great injury to the evidence of Christianity. He declares the writers of the New Testament to have improperly quoted some texts from the Old; and to have been sometimes misled by Jewish prejudices. Another Unitarian writer says, “ it is not the nature and design of the Scriptures to decide upon speculative, controverted questions, even in religion and morality; not to solve the doubts, but rather to inake us obey the dictates, of our consciences.” Mr. Belsham, says, “ The Beræans are commended for not taking the word even of an Apostle ;” and pleads this as an example for us. Steinbart, a foreign Unitarian, speaking of the narrations in the New Testament, says, “ These narrations, true or false, are only suited to ignorant, uncultivated minds." Semler, another, says that “ Peter speaks according to the conception of the Jews. when he says, Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost ;"' and adds, that “ the prophets may have delivered the offspring of their own brains, as divine revelation.” Concerning the reasoning of the Apostles, Dr. Priestley says, “ We are tɔ judge of it, as of that of other men, by a due consideration of the propositions they advance, and the arguments they allege.” That men, who entertain such views concerning the Scriptures, will not, and according to their own opinions ought not, to receive the declara. tions of the Scriptures, in any other manner than that, in which they receive the declarations, contained in every other book, is obvious to the least consideration. If the Scriptures were not written and the writers do not pretend that they wrote, by par.' , ticular divine inspiration ; then they, certainly stand on the same footing with all other books; and the writers are undoubtedly to be regarded, as Dr. Priestley says, merely in the character of Historians and witnesses.
If Christ and the Apostles were fallible men, and St. Paul has actually reasoned fallaciously; then undoubtedly their reasonings, and all their doctrines, are to be examined in the same manner, as those of other men. If the Scriptures were not designed to settle speculative opinions or doctrines, even in morality and religion; then it is plain, that they must be settled, if settled at all, by some other tribunal: and there is no other tribunal, but our own reason. If the doubts of conscience were not intended to be solved by the Scriptures, then, certainly, the mind must solve them, so far as it can, for itself. These Gentlemen have, therefore, prescribed a rule for themselves, which every man may certainly know beforehand, even without reading their works, they could not fail to follow : for no man ever believed the Scriptures not to be an infallible rule of direction in these things, who did not also make his own reason his directory; unless he, indeed, implicitly submitted to the dictates of his fellowmen. In truth it would be difficult to find a man, who does not distinctly perceive, that there is no other directory.
Accordingly, every reader of Unitarian books must have observed, that the writers evidently refer the interpretation of the Scriptures to their own pre-conceived opinions, or the previous
decisions of their own reason. That is, they form their system of Theology, and then make use of the Scriptures to support, or countenance, it. Wherever they find passages, whose obvious meaning will countenance their own opinions, they make the most of them, by admitting this meaning. Wherever the obvious meaning, that is, the meaning derived from the language, according to customary use, or according to the tenour of the discourse of which it is a part, will not countenance their opinions, they contrive for it some other meaning, which will better suit those opinions.
That the Unitarians have actually conducted in this manner, can be made abundantly evident by an appeal to their writings. One strong proof of this conduct is found in the Arian notion, that Christ is a delegated god. The present occasion will permit me to exhibit but one, out of several modes, in which the truth of this declaration may be evinced. Christ is undeniably many times asserted in the Scriptures to be God. These assertions are as unqualified, and absolute, as those, in which the Father is declared to be God. They are also accompanied with a great variety of declarations, in which are ascribed to him, without any qualification, all the attributes, actions, and relations, attributable to God, exclusively of those which belong to the Father as such ; and are also followed by the very same worship, unconditionally required, and actually rendered to him by inspired men, and by the host of Heaven. Now from all these assertions I will withdraw the name of Christ, and substitute that of the Father. Let me ask, Would any of the Arians have ever thought of denying, that the name God, in any one of these passages, did not mean the true and real God, but only a God by delegation ? To this question there can be no answer, but a negative. Whence, then, do they refuse to acknowledge the same passages to mean the same thing, as they now stand ? Plainly for this undeniable reason, that they have beforehand determined, that God is not, and cannot be Tri-personal, or Triune. In this determination, however, they are unhappy, as being unwarranted, not only by the Scriptures, but also by that very Reason, to which they make so confident an appeal: for nothing is more opposed to both, than that a finite, dependent being can have these things ascribed to him with truth.
On the same grounds do the Socinians declare Christ to be a mere man; not because he is not abundantly declared to be God in the Scriptures; but because they pre-determine by their reason, that a person cannot exist by the Union of God with man; and that God cannot be Triune. Let any man read their comments on the Scriptures, relative to Christ; and he will see this to be abundantly shown by the nature of the comments, and the words in which they are uttered.
I have observed, that the Arians are unhappy in choosing this position as the basis of their distinguishing doctrine ; because it is unwarranted either by Reason, or Revelation. Both they, and the Socinians, are unhappy on other accounts. They know not, and cannot know, by any dictates of Reason, that God is not Triune. The Nature and Manner of his Existence, so far as this subject is concerned, lie wholly beyond their reach, and beyond that of all other men. We cannot even begin to form ideas concerning them. It is, therefore, idle and fruitless to form propositions about them; still more idle to reason and conclude; and still more idle to make such conclusions the basis of our Faith in a case of such magnitude. All that we know, or can know, is just that, and that only, which God has been pleased immediately to reveal.
The same observations are, with the same force, applicable to the Doctrine of the Union of the divine and human nature in the person of Christ. Of this subject we literally know nothing, beside what is revealed.
That a mere man, also, can have these names, attributes, actions, and relations, and this worship, ascribed to him, with truth, is not only unaccordant with reason, but common sobriety, or decency. A few more instances of this nature ; which, because I have not the means of multiplying examples, nor time for such a purpose ; I shall select wholly from Dr. Priestley's Notes on the books of Scripture.
In his notes on the first chapter of John, Dr. Priestley informs us, that the word Ayos, which, you know, is translated the Word, is nothing more than the power of God, by which all things were