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apostles and evangelists spake of him ; the conduct of the three former evangelists, in saying nothing that can be construed into a declaration of his divinity or pre-existence; and the term God being always used in contradistinction to Christ, no reasonable doubt can remain of the general tenour of Scripture being in favour of the doctrine of the divine unity, in opposition to that of the Trinity, and even to that of the pre-existence, as well as the divinity of Christ.
SECTION II. An Argument for the late Origin of the Doctrines of the
Divinity and Pre-existence of Christ, from the Difficulty of tracing the Time in which they were first divulged.
Having shewn that the general tenour of the Scriptures, and several considerations obviously deducible from them, are highly unfavourable to the doctrine of the Trinity, or to those of the divinity or pre-existence of Christ, I shall proceed to urge another consideration, which has been little attended to, but which seems to conclude very strongly against either of these doctrines having been known in the time of the apostles, and therefore against their being the doctrine of the Scriptures.
As the Jews expected that their Messiah would be a mere man, and even be born as other men are, the doctrine of his having had any existence, or sphere of action, before he came into the world, (as that of his having been the maker of the world, the giver of the law, and the medium of all the divine communications to the patriarchs, and especially the doctrine of his being equal to God the Father himself,) must have been quite new and extraordinary doctrines ; and, therefore, must have been received as such, whenever they were first divulged. Like all other new and extraordinary doctrines, they must have been first heard with great surprise, and they would probably be received with some doubt and hesitation. The preaching of such doctrines could not but excite much speculation and debate, and they would certainly be much exclaimed against, and would be urged as a most serious objection to Christianity, by those who did not become Christians. These have always been the consequences of the promulgation of new and extraordinary opinions, the minds of men not having been previously prepared to receive them. Let us now see whether we can perceive any of these natural marks of the teaching of doctrines so new and extraordinary, within the compass of the gospel history.
It cannot be said that John the Baptist preached any such doctrine; and when the apostles first attached themselves to Jesus, it is evident they only considered him as being such a Messiah as the rest of the Jews expected, viz. a man and a king. When Nathanael was introduced to him, it was evidently in that light. John i. 45: “ Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, we have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” He had then, we may suppose, no knowledge of the miraculous conception.
That Jesus was even the Messiah, was divulged with the greatest caution, both to the apostles and to the body of the Jews. For a long time our Lord said nothing explicit on this subject, but left his disciples, as well as the Jews at large, to judge of him from what they saw. In this manner oply, he replied to the messengers that John the Baptist sent to him.
If the high-priest expressed his horror, by rending his clothes, on Jesus avowing himself to be the Messiah, what would he have done if he had heard or suspected, that he had made any higher pretensions? And if he had made them, they must have transpired. When the people in general saw his miraculous works, they only wondered that God should have given such power unto a man.
Matt. ix. 8: “When the multitude saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.' And yet this was on the occasion of his pronouncing the cure of a paralytic person, by saying, Thy sins be forgiven thee, which the Pharisees thought to be a blasphemous presumption.
At the time that Herod heard of him, it was conjectured by some that he was Elias, by others that he was the prophet, and by some that he was John risen from the dead; but none of them imagined that he was either the most high God himself, or the maker of the world under God. not so much as supposed by any person that Jesus performed his mighty works by any power of his own; so far were they from suspecting that he was the God who had spoken to them by Moses, as many now suppose him to have been.
If he was known to be a God at all before his death, it could only have been revealed to his disciples, perhaps the apostles, or only his chief confidants among them, Peter, James and John, suppose on the mount of transfiguration,
though nothing is said concerning it in the history of that transaction. Certainly what they saw in the garden of Gethsemane could not have led them to suspect any such thing. But if it had ever been known to Peter, can we suppose that he could have denied him as he did ? Besides, as our Lord told the apostles that there were many things which he could not inform them of before his death, and that they should know afterwards, this was a thing so very wonderful and unsuspected, that if any articles of information were kept from them at that time, this must certainly have been one of them.
If it be supposed that Thomas was acquainted with this most extraordinary part of his master's character, which led him to cry, My Lord and my God, when he was convinced of his resurrection, as he was not one of the three who had been entrusted with any secrets, it must have been known to all the twelve, and to Judas Iscariot among the rest. And suppose him to have known, and to have believed, that Jesus was his God and maker, was it possible for him, or for any man, to have formed a deliberate purpose to betray him,(Peter, it may be said, was taken by surprise, and was in personal danger,) or if he had only heard of the pretension, and had not believed it, would he not have made some advantage of that imposition, and have made the discovery of this, as well as of every thing else that he knew to his prejudice?
If it be supposed that the divinity of Christ was unknown to the apostles till the day of Pentecost, besides losing the benefit of several arguments for this great doctrine, which are now carefully collected from the four evangelists, we have no account of any such discovery having been made at that time, or at any subsequent one. And of all other articles of illumination, of much less consequence than this, we have distinct information, and also of the manner in which they were impressed by them. This is particularly the case with respect to the extension of the blessings of the gospel to uncircumcised Gentiles. But what was this article to the knowledge of their master being the most high God, or the maker of the world under God?
It might have been expected, also, that the information that a person whom the apostles first conversed with as a man, was either God himself, or the maker of the world under God, should have been received with some degree of doubt and hesitation, by some or other of them; especially as they had been so very hard to be persuaded of the truth of his resurrection, though they had been so fully apprized of it
before-hand. And yet, in all the history of the apostles, there is the same profound silence concerning this circumstance, and every other depending on the whole scheme, as if no such thing had ever had any existence.
If the doctrine of the divinity of Christ had been actually preached by the apostles, and the Jewish converts in general had adopted it, it could not but have been well known to the unbelieving Jews. And would they, who were at that time, and have been ever since, so exceedingly zealous with respect to the doctrine of the divine unity, not have taken the alarm, and have urged this objection to Christianity, as teaching the belief of more Gods than one in the apostolic age? And yet no trace of any thing of this nature can be perceived in the whole history of the book of Acts, or any where else in the New Testament. As soon as ever the Jews had any pretence for it, we find them sufficiently quick and vehement in urging this their great objection to Christianity. To answer the charge of holding two or three Gods, is a very considerable article in the writings of several of the ancient christian fathers. Why, then, do we find nothing of this kind in the age of the apostles ? The only answer is, that then there was no occasion for it, the doctrine of the divinity of Christ not having been started.
If we consider the charge that was advanced against Peter and John at the first promulgation of the gospel, we shall find it amounts to nothing but their being disturbers of the people, by preaching in the name of Jesus. What was the accusation against Stephen, (Acts vi. 13,) but his speaking blasphemous words against the temple and the law? If we accompany the apostle Paul in all his travels, and attend to his discourses with the Jews in their synagogues, and their perpetual and inveterate persecution of him, we shall find no trace of their so much as suspecting that he preached a new divinity, as the godhead of Christ must have appeared, and always has appeared to them.
In A.D.58, Paul tells the elders of the church of Ephesus, (Acts xx. 27,) that he had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God. We may be confident, therefore, that if he had any such doctrine to divulge, he must have taught it in the three years that he spent in that city, from 54 to 57; and as the unbelieving Jews were well apprized of all his motions, having laid wait for him on this very journey to Jerusalem, they must have been informed of his having taught this doctrine, and would certainly have carried the news of it to Jerusalem, where many of them attended as well as he, at the ensuing feast of Pentecost. But if, we attend Paul thither, where we have a very particular account of all the proceedings against him, for the space of two years, we shall find no trace of any thing of the kind. All their complaints against him fell far short of this.
What was the occasion of the first clamour against him? Was it not, (Acts xxi. 28,) that he taught “ all men, every where, against the people, and the law," and the temple, and that he had brought Greeks also into it?
Is it not plain that they had no more serious charges against him? If we read his speech to the people, his defence before Felix, and again before Agrippa, we shall find no trace of his having taught any doctrine so offensive to the Jews as that of the divinity of Christ must have been. Considering the known prejudices, and the inveteracy of the Jews, no reasonable man need desire any clearer proof than this, that neither Paul, nor any of the apostles, had ever taught the doctrine of the divinity of Christ at that time; and this was so near the time of the wars of the Jews, and the dispersion of that people, that there was no opportunity of preaching it with effect afterwards.
Is it possible to give due attention to these considerations, and not be sensible, that the apostles had never been in. structed in any such doctrines as those of the divinity or pre-existence of Christ? If they had, as the doctrines were quite new, and must have appeared extraordinary, we should certainly have been able to trace the time when they were communicated to them. They would naturally have expressed some surprise, if they had intimated no doubt of the truth of the information. If they received them with unshaken faith themselves, they would have taught them to others, who would not have received them so readily. They would have had the doubts of some to encounter, and the objections of others to answer. And yet, in all their history, and copious writings, we perceive no trace of their own surprise or doubts, or of the surprise, doubts or objections of others.
Arians will think that the observations in this Section do not apply with much force, except to the doctrine of the proper divinity of Christ; their own doctrine of the preexistence of Christ, and of his having been the maker of the world under God, being familiar to their minds.
But they should consider that the Jews in our Saviour's time had never heard of any such being as they suppose Christ to be; and therefore they would have received the account of it