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to tell you of the canssages to interpr.
averse to sober and just criticism, in application to the Scriptures. He wishes the canon of Scripture to be investigated and established, and that whatever is included in the canon may be properly explained. He wishes to possess a correct copy, if possible, as the inspired writers lest it; and he wishes this copy to be correctly interpreted, if possible according to the mind of the Spirit. But when all this is done to his satisfaction, he has no further questions to ask. He receives it all. He says, with Chillingworth in his better days, “ No demonstration can be stronger than this : God hath said so, therefore it is true.”
But the infidel is not satisfied with having a correct copy of the Scriptures, and with having it correctly interpreted. He does not then bow to it, as a standard. There is a certain part of it, if not the whole, which, in his estimation, is not the authoritative word of God.
Produce any passage to the believer, satisfy him that it belongs to the canon, and is correctly interpreted, and he receives it. But produce certain passages to the infidel, and if he cannot throw them out of the canon, or explain them away, he will not hesitate to tell you that the writers, in these instances, were mistaken, or that they did not mean what they said, having intentionally accommodated themselves to the prevailing opinions, the superstitious notions, of those around them.
The true believer receives the canonical Scriptures as a revelation from God. He believes, with the apostle, that the prophecy came not, in old time, by the will of man ; but holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' The infidel, on the contrary, does not regard the canonical books as a revelation. Some do not believe that a revelation has been inade. Others admit that there has been a revelation, but the Bible is only a history of it—such a narrative respecting it, as honest, well meaning, but ignorant and prejudiced men have given us; so that in reading it, we must make due allowances, and beware that we do not mistake the ignorance of men for the revelations of God.
The true Christian believes that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. But the infidel, osten, does not believe that any Scripture is the fruit of a supernatural inspiration. At most, he believes that only a part of the sacred volume is entitled to be thus regarded, and in determining what this part is, as it is wholly undefined, every one must consider and judge for himself. Whatever strikes any person agreeably, as reasonable in itself, and worthy of God, he is entitled to regard as the word of God; but whatever strikes him in a different manner, he may properly reject as no part of the revelation.
stit The true be God. He he time, by the the Holy
The true Christian believes, that the inspiration of the sacred writers secured them from all mistakes and errors, and led them to communicate the most important things in the most proper way. But the infidel, if he does not deny the inspiration of these writers altogether, supposes that they have committed frequent blunders, and must be judged of, as to the accuracy of their statements and reasonings, just like any other men.
In endeavoring to establish a point with the Christian, you may, with propriety, adduce proof from the Bible ; for the Bible is to him an acknowledged standard. He will admit the force of any passage, which he can be satisfied belongs to the Bible, and which can be made properly to bear on the subject. But in endeavoring to establish a point with the infidel, to adduce such proof will be of no avail. Suppose you do this. Suppose you quote a passage, confessedly not an interpolation, and which, in its plain, acknowledged meaning, meets the point in debate. He will, perhaps, tell you, that he has no confidence in the Scriptures. Or if he hesitates to say as much as this, he will urge, that the sacred writers were but men—that, like others, they had their prejudices and infirmities—that though honest and competent, in the main, they made frequent mistakes—and consequently, that their statements cannot be received with implicit confidence.
I have endeavored, in these remarks, to point out the distinction between a believer and an infidel, as plainly and accurately as the nature of the case admits. Indeed, I have made the only distinction which seems to me possible. If any insist, that the proper distinction has not been made that in order to make a man an infidel, he must openly and formally abjure Christianity, and pour contempt on the character of the Saviour; then, not one of the old English deists were infidels. Or if, to make a man an infidel, he must deny uniformly that God has made a revelation to man, that the Scriptures contain it, and, consequently, that these are, to some extent, inspired; then Hobbes was not an infidel, and neither was Morgan, Chubb, or Bolingbroke. Or if, to make a man an infidel, he must renounce the Christian name and profession, turn his back continually on the sacraments, and manifest no regard for Christianity, in any shape; then Woolston, Collins, Dodwell, and even Voltaire, will scarcely fall within the ranks of infidelity.
Besides, it follows from the nature of the case, that he who charges any portion of the canonical Scriptures with mistakes and errors, and sets it aside as no part of revelation, may, with scarcely less propriety or injury, set aside the whole. For if this man may reject one part, that may reject another; and who can decide, without a new revelation, what is to be rejected, and what retained ? Here is a passage which contravenes my system of theology ; which seems to me inexplicable and absurd ; and I
VOL. III.-NO. 1.
reject it as no part of revelation. Another man rejects another passage for the same reason, and with the same right. A third does the same; and a fourth the same ;-and what, in this way, is to become of the Bible ?
The design of these remarks is to show, that all, who do not receive the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as a revelation from God-as of binding authority—as the standard of their faith, and the rule of their conduct ;-all who set aside the Bible, in whole or in part, as not of divine origin ;-all who charge the sacred writers with inconclusive reasonings, with inaccurate statements, with mistakes, errors, and contradictions, or with recording, in place of divine revelation, the mere suggestions of their own minds; that all such are properly denominated infidels, notwithstanding they may claim the Christian name, or may come to the sacraments, (as did many of the English deists,) or may even stand in the place of teachers.
We are now prepared for the inquiry, whether, in view of the distinction which has been made, leading Unitarians, in Europe and America, do, or do not, fall fairly and properly within the ranks of infidelity? Do they, or do they not, exhibit those distinguishing traits, which go to constitute a man an infidel?They profess, I know, to respect Christianity; and so did Lord Herbert and Blount. They profess to revere the character of Jesus; and so did Chubb and Morgan. They profess to be Christians, and come to the sacrament; and so did Hobbes and Toland. They would be thought, in some instances, the most consistent believers, and appear zealous in what they deem the cause of Christianity; and so did Woolston and Dodwell. They speak of the Bible as containing a revelation, and probably believe that some parts of it are inspired; and so did Lord Bolingbroke. " Genuine Christianity," says he, “is contained in the Gospel. It is the word of God.”—The claims of Unitarians to be regarded as true Christians cannot, therefore, be settled, on any of these points. They may pretend and profess all these, and yet be infidels ; for infidels have professed them all. The proper question is, How do standard Unitarian writers regard and treat the Bible? Do they receive the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as a revelation from God-as of binding authority—as the standard of their faith, and the rule of their conduct? Or do they set aside the Bible, in whole or in part, as being itself a revelation? Do they charge the sacred writers with inconclusive reasonings, with inaccurate statements, with mistakes, errors, and contradictions, or with recording, in place of divine revelation, the mere suggestions of their own minds? If it shall appear, on examination, that they do treat the Bible in this way, then they are, in effect, infidels. They may not speak out so plainly and decidedly as some of those infidel
writers whose names have been mentioned; but they have adopted the same principles, are driving at the same result, and ought, in all reason, to be classed together. How, then, (to repeat the question,) do leading standard Unitarian writers, in Europe and America, regard and treat the Holy Scriptures ?
One tells us, that “the prophets may have delivered the offspring of their own brains as divine revelations."*
Another says, that “the narrations,” in the New Testament,) “ true or false, are only suited for ignorant, uncultivated minds, who cannot enter into the evidence of natural religion.”+
A third speaks of St. John's portion of the New Testament, as written with “concise and abrupt obscurity, inconsistent with itself, and made up of allegories." I
A fourth glories in having given “a little light to St. Paul's darkness; a darkness, as some think, industriously affected.”||
A fifth represents the history of the fall as a fable ; and though there is much truth in Moses' history, the dress is poetic. In Joshua, the circumstances of the conquest of Canaan are fictitious. The books of Samuel contain a multitude of falsehoods. There are no prophecies in the Psalms. Daniel is full of stories, contrived or exaggerated by superstition. With the other prophets, Christians have no concern."'s
A sixth insists, that “the Godhead could not have required of Abraham so horrible a crime, (the offering of his son,) and there can be no justification, palliation, or excuse, for this pretended command of the Divinity.”
A seventh explains the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost as an electric gust, and the effects which followed, as enthusiasm.**
An eighth suggests, that Peter stabbed Ananias, “ which," says he,“ does not at all disagree with the vehement and easily exasperated temper of Peter.”++
A ninth teaches, “ that the Pentateuch was composed about the time of the captivity; that the Jewish ritual was of gradual formation, accessions being made to it by superstition; and that the book of Chronicles (which is filled with scraps and inconsistences) was foisted into the canon by some of the priesthood, who wished to exalt their own order.”If
Let us next hear some of the English Unitarians, on the same subject.
PRIESTLEY. “I have frequently declared myself not to be a believer in the inspiration of the evangelists and apostles as writers.”_" The Scriptures were written without any particular inspiration, by men who wrote according to the best of their knowledge.”---- Not that I consider the books of Scripture as inspired, and, on that account, entitled to this high degree of respect.”---" That the books of Scripture were written by a particular divine inspiration, is a thing to which the writers themselves make no pretensions. It is a notion destitute of all proof, and that has done great injury to the evidence of Christianity,”---Dr. Priestley also charges the sacred writers with publishing “lame accounts, improper quotations, and inconclusive reasonings."*
* Semler. See Magee on Atonement and Sacrifice, p. 106. + Steinbart; ibid.
Engedin ; ibid. || Gagneius; ibid. Extracted from Danem, in Erskine's Sketches of Church Hist., vol. i. p. 84. 1 Eichhorn. See Stuart's Letters to Channing, p. 163. ** Thiess ; ibid. p. 165. Heinrichs ; ibid., p. 166.
# Do Wette ; ibid. p. 167. * See Letters to Horsely. P. i. p. 132 ; Hist. of Early Opinions, vol. iv. p. 4; Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, Part i. ; Letters to the Philosophers and Politicians of France, p. 38; Twelfth Letter to Mr. Burn. + Review of Wilberforce, p. 19.
Belsham. "The Scriptures contain a very faithful and credible account of the Christian doctrine, which is the true word of God; but they are not themselves the word of God, nor do they ever assume that title; and it is highly improper to speak of them as such, as it leads inattentive readers to suppose they are written under a plenary inspiration, to which they make no pretensions.”+
Evanson. “The evangelical histories contain gross and irreconcileable contradictions."|
Gilbert WAKEFIELD. 'Mr. Wakefield tells us that his Essay on Inspiration was “intended, by a variety of arguments, to prove such a gist,” [inspiration,] “as commonly understood, not resident in the Gospel writers." " Again : “Some qualifications and softenings, in the case of many relations and occurrences in the Bible history, may be very properly applied," " upon the ground of exaggeration, national vanity, and the pride of individuals.”||
IMPROVED VERSION. " The account of the miraculous conception of Jesus was probably the fiction of some early Gentile convert, who hoped, by elevating the dignity of the Founder, to abate the popular prejudice against the sect.” p. 2.
Monthly Repository. “The historical books” [of Scripture]" are to be considered merely as human testimony, as depending for the whole of their authority on the high credibility which we justly ascribe to them, from the approved sanctity and veracity of the writers.” “In favor of this opinion” are urged “the contradictions which not unfrequently occur."'S
Christian PIONEER. T " The evangelists were only the historians of an inspired person, and of a Divine revelation made by him ; they were not, in their capacity of historians, inspired themselves.” “ The idea of the evangelists being inspired writers is quite inconsistent with what Luke says,” chap. i. 3.---Mark's
Dissonance, p. 1. || Memoirs, vol. i. p. 233. vol. ii. p. 28. Ó For 1827, pp. 523, 524.
A Unitarian periodical published in Scotland, and highly esteemed in this country: vol. 1. p. 262.