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“ authority, as a writer, is just equivalent to that of a short-hand writer or reporter, of modern times."---“ Inspiration has nothing to do with the composition of his" (Matthew's) “history."
The following quotations are from Le Clerc on Inspiration, a work published, a few years since, under the editorial inspection of Professor Norton of Harvard University. The learned Professor does not “ vouch for the correctness of every opinion and expression," but adds, that “the general views are believed to be correct.” “ It may be doubted,” says he, “whether there is anywhere to be found a more perspicuous and satisfactory statement on the subject in question," (inspiration,) “ than what this tract presents." Let us, then, give attention, for a moment, to the very 5 satisfactory” views of Mr. Le Clerc.
“ The apostles had no need of inspiration to tell what they had seen, and what they had heard Christ say." p. 63. “ It is very plain that the historians of Scripture were not inspired, by the CONTRADICTIONS that are found in the several circumstances of their histories.” p. 66. “Neither the words nor the things have been inspired into those who have given us the sacred history; although, in the main, that history is very true, in the principal facts." p. 70. “There is no proof that what is contained in the Proverbs was inspired to Solomon.” “There are very many of them that are but vulgar proverbs." p. 102. “ There was no inspiration in this book,” (Job,) “ more than in the three foregoing.” “ It is likely there was such an one as Job, and that he met with great afflictions, which afforded subject to some Jew of the captivity to exercise his wit upon.” pp. 108, 109. “ There are other things which the apostles speak of their own heads, or which they draw by divers consequences from the Old Testament ;" because, “having no extraordinary inspiration for writing their epistles, they insert in them divers things that concern their own designs, or their particular affairs." “ An inspiration is attributed to the apostles to which they never pretended, and whereof there is not the least mark left in their writings.” pp. 121, 123.
So much for what Professor Norton thinks the “ satisfactory statement” of Le Clerc, on the subject of inspiration. I shall now present some extracts directly froin American writers.
Dr. Ware. “We must distinguish between the doctrines delivered by the apostles and primitive teachers, and the arguments, illustrations, and topics of persuasion, which they employed to enforce them. The former we are to consider as given them by inspiration; the latter were THE SUGGESTIONS OF THEIR OWN Minds, in the exercise of their respective talents, and the kinds and degrees of knowledge they possessed."*
* Sermon at the Ordination of Mr. Lamson.
PROFESSOR NORTON. “The writings thus characterized ” (as given by inspiration of God,)“ may have been the works of prophets who received direct, miraculous communications from God; or they may have been nothing more than the works of men, whose minds were acted upon by the motives which he presents, and who had that sense of religion and duty which his dispensations to the Jewish nation were adapted to produce ;" i. e. a part of the sacred writings (how great a part we are not told) is nothing more than the work of good men, without any special divine assistance. Professor Norton represents it as doubiful, whether even so much as this can be said for the Song of Solomon.*
In an article in “ the General Repository," of which Professor Norton has avowed himself the author, he says, “ Those are to be considered as liberal Christians, (Unitarians,] who believe that Christianity, in respeci to its main design, is a revelation from God.” He mentions it as one of the “ characteristic differences" between Unitarians and the Orthodox, that “the Orthodox believe the writings of the evangelists and apostles to have been composed under God's immediate and miraculous superintendence ;" and “ that no allowance is to be made for the inadvertence of the writer, and none for the exaggeration produced by strong feelings.”+ Unitarians then, in the recorded judgement of Professor Norton, “believe the writings of the evangelists and apostles not to have been composed under God's immediate and miraculous superintendence,” and that allowance is to be made for the inadvertence of the writers,” and “ for the exaggeration produced by strong feclings.”
CHRISTIAN EXAMINER. A writer in this work, baving represented the Bible “ as containing a revelation from God,” adds, “ It is also to be regarded in another light, as consisting wholly of HUMAN COMPOSITions, like other writings of equal antiquity, the fair subjects of criticism,” &c. I
Another writer tells us, that “the sacred documents of our faith” were “ prepared for temporary use," and are “ filled with subjects of local interest, or popular accommodation.” “ The scheme of preparation which led the way to Christianity” (in the Old Testament) “is, for the most part, but dimly discerned, and unsatisfactory even in what is plainly to be perceived, mixed with the doubtfulness of old traditions, and with systems of SUPERANNUATED ERRORS.” “They” (the Scriptures) “ contain the treasures of a various wisdom, which are to be estimated according to their respective values ; according as they are in harmony with
* Norton's Edition of Locke and Le Clerc, pp. 128, 129. + Vol. i, pp. 1, 2.
Vol. i. p. 6.
that supreme and original law of reason and the soul,* which is not so much a written, as an inbred law.”+
• There was a time, in the dark ages and afterwards, when it was maintained, we cannot say believed, for the proposition does not admit of being believed, that the whole Bible, including the historical books of the Old Testament, was a revelation.”I
“The words of Christ were reported from memory by the evangelists, and not always with perfect accuracy. This is evident from the fact, that in recording the same discourse, or saying, the first three evangelists differ from each other, not unfrequently as to the words themselves, and occasionally also as to their sense and bearing ;" i. e. the evangelists occasionally contradict one another. “ Now all the evangelists being themselves allegorists”—which term the writer defines to mean those who quote the scriptures in “ imaginary, secondary senses,” which are in their nature arbitrary and fanciful”—“ALL the evangelists being,” in this sense, “allegorists, it would not have been strange, if, unconsciously, and through inadvertence, they had given an allegorical turn to words, which were used by our Saviour only by way of application." In plain English, the evangelists have probably misrepresented their Master !!
“ The reasoning of St. Paul will not always bear a philosophical scrutiny."'S
“The canonical books of the new Testament are not the revelation which God made by Christ.” “They are nothing more than the best records which remain to us of the revelation.” “ Neither the teaching of our Saviour, nor the influence of God's Spirit in enlightening the minds of the Apostles, preserved them from all the errors of their age, from the influence of all human prejudices and feelings, from all inconclusive reasoning, or from all ambiguity, impropriety, and insufficiency in the use of language."||
CHRISTIAN REGISTER. “ The parenthesis, ' I speak as a man, is very often to be understood in the sacred writings, especially in those parts which do not profess to be a revelation.”
MR. DABney. “The opinion that Paul and the Apostles generally cherished the belief” that the second coming of Christ was near at hand “ does not at all affect their inspiration, which secured them from error only on what belonged to the system of Christian doctrine."**
At the close of this array of quotations, which might be enlarged almost indefinitely, I feel as though little need be said. I have previously pointed out the distinction between a believer and an in
* Reason, then, is the standard by which the Scriptures are to be tried; and not the Scriptures the standard by which our reasonings are to be tried. So said Robinson, an English Unitarian: “ The sufficiency of reason is the soul of our system." History of Baptism, p. 47. And so say all the Deists. Vol. iii. pp. 19, 106.
Vol. iv. p. 347.
Vol. v. pp. 59,69. | New Series, vol. i. pp. 344, 315. November, 4, 1826. ** Annotations, p. 322.
fidel, and the only distinction which, as it seems to me, the nature of the case admits. The true believer receives the canonical Scriptures as a revelation from God-as of binding authority-as the standard of his faith, and the rule of his conduct. Produce any passage, satisfy him that it belongs to the canon, and is properly interpreted and applied, and he bows to it and receives it. The infidel, on the contrary, rejects the canonical Scriptures, in whole or in part, as being themselves a revelation, and does not hesitate to charge the sacred writers with inconclusive reasoning, with inaccurate statements, with mistakes, errors and contradictions, or with recording, in place of divine revelation, the mere suggestions of their own minds.
Such is the proper distinction between a believer and an infidel; and in view of it, who can hesitate where to class those leading, standard Unitarians, whose writings have been quoted ? For we hear them denying, almost with one mouth, the inspiration of the sacred writings. We hear them asserting, that “the canonical books are not a revelation"_" are not the word of God.” We hear them speaking of these holy books, or portions of them, as “ human compositions," as " unsatisfactory,” as “ mixed with the doubtfulness of old traditions, and with systems of superannuated errors.” We hear them charging the writers of these books with “ superstition,” “ prejudice,''° “ inadvertence,” o exaggeration,” fiction, inaccuracy, with “ the errors of their age,” with "inconclusive reasoning," with “ambiguity, impropriety, and insufficiency in the use of language,” with being inconsistent with themselves, and with one another, with “ irreconcilable contradictions," with making “improper quotations,” with “ speaking of their own heads," with publishing “ lame accounts,” “the suggestions of their own minds," " the offspring of their own brains !!” But I am shocked, as I am sure my readers must be, at bringing these representations together, and exhibiting them in a single view. And yet I have not presented the strongest expressions which might be fairly gathered from the quotations which have been made. Is it an abuse of language to call such writers infidels? Is it an offence against the rules of propriety, to charge them with holding and teaching principles which amount to infidelity ?
Formerly, it has been complained of, if American Unitarians have been ranked in the same class with those of Europe. But this complaint cannot, with any show of reason, be longer urged. The conductors of the Christian Examiner, it will be seen, go all lengths with the English Unitarians, and if, as yet, they fall behind the Germans in extravagance, it is not because their principles are materially dissimilar.
I only add in conclusion, and I do it with sorrow and alarm, that the infidelity of leading Unitarians in this region is not, with them, mere philosophical speculation. It has been poured out upon this
community, in conversation, in the lecture room, from the pulpit, and the press, till the whole moral atmosphere is in a degree infected. In almost all circles, the man of God is liable more or less to encounter it. Wherever the evangelical preacher brings forward the plain doctrines of the Gospel, and enforces them by an appeal to the Scriptures, he is exposed to meet-not only those who will wbisper in secret, You mistake the meaning of the Bible ; you do not interpret the passage correctly'—but those who will say, in bolder accents, “To be sure, the sacred writers teach thus and so, but they were not unfrequently mistaken ; they were sometimes in error; and sometimes they do not mean what they seem to say,-as they intentionally accommodate themselves to the superstitions around them. Now this is practical infidelity, destroying, in multitudes of minds, all the force of evidence derived from the Scriptures. And I am grieved to say that I think it prevalent infidelity. It has rolled over this portion of our fair land like a destroying deluge, and unless the Lord list up a standard against it, where shall its proud waves be stayed ? It certainly is high time that things were called by their right names, and that the public were loudly and solemnly warned of the dangers, that surround them.
To the Editor of the Christian Examiner and Theological
Patience has doubtless been mutually tried by delay : mine, in waiting upon the reviewer till I could wait no longer, and assumed engagements which until now could not be fulfilled ; and his, in waiting for my reply, until hope deferred may have made his heart sick, and the gratification of it now operate as a disappointment. It is probable that all the facts and arguments in the case are before the public, and that, the smoke of the conflict having passed away, nothing remains, but to traverse the field of battle, and ascertain the result.
Whatever the effect may be upon ourselves, the Public, I have no doubt, will reap advantage from the controversy. The truth will be ascertained and admitted ; and in respect to those who have any character to lose, rumor and falsehood will be stopped.
The note which led to the controversy was occasioned by the consideration, that Unitarians of distinction charged the living Calvinistic party, with holding the doctrine that infants are damned, and that the Unitarian community generally, were led to believe the charge true. Knowing it to be untrue, and in its effect slanderous,
VOL. III.-NO. I.