British and Foreign Unitarian Association.

A review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah online

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who is here chargjeable with giving an unusual, far-fetched, and forced in-
terpretation. We will now offer one or two remarks on the statements of
truth which he finds included in the passages under consideration, and
first as to the perfect reciprocity of the knowledge of the Father and the
knowledge of Christ.

*' Is it conceivable," asks Dr. S., "that a wise and good teacher, con-
scious of no dignity above that which was strictly and merely human, would
select, for the purpose of conveying what might have been expressed in
plain words, language which unquestionably describes himself and the Eter-
nal Being by equivalent and convertible terms?"

We answer, all Christians believe their Lord to have been conscious of a
dignity not merely human, though we understand it to have been a dig-
nity of office and powers, not of nature. Nevertheless, we insist that the
meaning we ascribe to the words of Christ, could not have been well ex-
pressed more plainly according to the idiom of his country, and is by no
means difficult to be discerned in our times. Precisely in the same manner
as when the disciples were exhorted to he perfect as their Father in heaven
is perfect, they and the Eternal are described in equivalent and convertible
terms ; our Lord and the God who sent him are certainly here so spoken
of; but no conclusion can be drawn in the one case which would not be
equally just in the other, and the attempt to infer the identity of the know-
ledge spoken of in kind and extent, is altogether unreasonable and extra-
vagant.

It is perfectly true that the knowledge here spoken of is represented as
not attainable by the ordinary means of human investigation : it is the
subject of Revelation : but when Dr. S. says, that *' it is here affirmed to be
a special communication of Divine influence,^'' he affirms that for which
he has no warrant in the fair interpretation of the passage. Jesus spoke of
the actual state of things. Certain knowledge respecting the Messiah's
office and the Father's plans, was not then possessed at all justly and cor-
rectly by those who made great pretensions to it. The Father had reserved
to himself the exact knowledge of the nature of the Son's mission : the Son
alone was admitted to the full understanding of the Father's designs, and
this he was to communicate to whom he pleased, to his chosen followers ;
but being: communicated, and the communication recorded for the benefit
of mankind at large, no farther revelation to individuals is to be expected,
or is at all hinted at in our Lord's words. Again, in reference to our
author's fourth position, it was the actual knowledge respecting the true
character of the gospel dispensation, which had hitherto been kept secret,
which our Lord undertook to reveal to such as he should choose for that
purpose. Dr. S., who had just before been contending for a perfect reci-
procity and co-extension of the knowledge of God and Christ, now finds
room for differences in degree and extent, according to the different capa-
cities of the instructed and instructor. Of course, the truths communicated
would not be equally well apprehended by all, but the plain sense of the
passage is, that it was the very knowledge, and the whole of it, respecting
the true nature of the Messiah's office, and the Divine purposes in his
mission for the salvation of men, which had not before been possessed,



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which Christ undertook now to communicate to his disciples, and which
they afterwards gave proofs of their having received and fully understood.
Lastly, if the clause respecting the Son, as the object of knowleda:e, were
removed, and, of course^ the passage were taken entirely out of its con-
nexion. Dr. S. thinks it would be understood, " that the Infinite Majesty
and perfection of the adorable Supreme, as distinguished from the imaginary
deities of the Heathen world, were revealed and demonstrated by the
Christian religion alone ;" and, therefore, he argues, when the clause
respecting the knowledge of the Son is inserted, the passage must be taken
" as equally attributing to him the same Infinite Majesty and Perfection.'*
Now leaving out the clause respecting the Father's knowledge of the Son,
the kind of knowledge of God intended, would be to be inferred, in a con-
siderable degree, from the connexion, and the words being addressed to
Jews, and spoken in reference to Jews, could not certainly be explained of
the knowledge of the Great Supreme as distinguished from Heathen deities,
but must have been interpreted of the real and correct knowledge of his
character and dispensations in op})Osition to errors prevailing among those
who supposed that they understood these subjects ; but granting Dr. S.'s
interpretation in the supposed case, what sort of logic is it which argues
that because, leaving out an important member of a sentence, and consi-
dering what remains, independently of its context, it might be supposed to
have a certain meaning, therefore that is the true meaning, and must be
applied to explain the very member, without removing which it could not
have been found out? We are astonished that any man can pretend, by
such a mockery of reasoning, to afford support to a doctrine so manifestly
requiring the clearest and most direct evidence to overcome our justifiable
scruples, so stupendous in itself, and so important in all its consequences.

We will nov/ turn to the 6th section of the same chapter, John x. 24 —
38, including the words, "I and my Father are one." We will first en-
deavour correctly to represent the nature of Dr. S.'s argument, and to note
his concessions, after which but few remarks from us will be needed.

" In this portion of the doctrine of Jesus we find the following parti-
culars : 1. The avowal, so often made, on other occasions, of \\\'s official
subordination to the Father."— [We do not find any such expression as
official subordination in Scripture : to our apprehension the language of
the New Testament expresses real and complete subordination, the sense
of authority which was only derived, powers which v/ere only communi-
cated, and of a course of prescribed duty which must be accomplished.
We have read of a feudal prince doing homage for a portion of his terri-
tories to a sovereign whom he equalled or exceeded in real power, and
whom he shewed that he considered himself at least to equal, even whilst
rendering to him a formal act of obeisance ; this is our idea of merely
official subordination, but it is not our understanding of the words of
Christ, when he ascribes all his works to his Father, declares that he can
do nothing of himself, and expressly affirms that his Father is greater than
he. If it were, we could hardly retain our reverence for his character or
our confidence in his instructions.] " 2. The assertion of his own power

to confer the blessings of salvation the bestowment of which implies

the attribute of All-sufficiency in the donor." — [We deny that there is here
any assertion of our Lord's own, i. e. his independent, power to communi-
cate any blessings, at least we find ourselves utterly incapable of perceiving
any such meaning of what seem to us very plain words : The works which
I do IN THE NAME OF MY Fathek, they testify concerning me. But



6S

ye believe not : for ye are not of my sheep. As I said unto you, my sheep
hear my voice, and I knoio them, and they follow me ; and I give unto
them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them
out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than
ALL ; and no one is able to snatch them out of the hand of my Father.
It is surely evident that Christ gives as the ground of his confidence, that
his sheep should never perish, that his Father is greater than all. He felt
that he could give a positive assurance, for he knew that he was supported
by the power of God himself. This is the natural and sufficient meaning
of the words j and to suppose that he claims independent power, is arbi-
trary with respect to this passage, as it is directly opposed to others.] —
" 3. This assurance of security is repeated, with a confirmatory declaration
that the Omnipotence of the Almighty Father is pledged to the same
object." — [As there can be nothing stronger than omnipotence, Christ's
ovyn omnipotence was abundantly sufficient, had he claimed or possessed
this attribute.] — " 4. These two assurances are consolidated into the pro-
position, I and my Father are one."

Dr. S. here joins himself with those who take this expression as implying
at least the co-equality and union of nature of Christ and the Father. He
concedes, indeed, that in every other passage of the New Testament, where
the expression " to be one" is used, (there are two distinct passages, in
one of which it occurs several times,) union of affection, or of design and
co-operation, is intended. He even grants that if we were to argue from
the spurious passage, 1 John v. 7, we should interpret it of consent or
union of testimony, but he thinks "that the grammatical sense of the
phrase will not, of itself, determine the precise import; and that the
meaning must be ascertained in every instance, by our attention to the
nature and circumstances of the given case." The mode of expression in
John xvii. 21, &c., and all the circumstances of the case, are so very similar
to those in the passage before us, that we can hardly help considering the
one as a key to the other : That they all may be one, AS thou. Father, art in
me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us* • « • • -THAT they may
BE one as we are ONE : and the only other instance, 1 Cor. iii. 8,
He that planteth and he that watereth are one, is a case of exactly the
same kind ; yet we have no objection to decide the question by attention
merely to the nature and connexion of the words immediately under our
consideration. Dr. S. goes on,

** WTiat then is the kind of union which the nature and circumstances of
the case point out ? It is a union for the bestovvraent of the most important
blessings, for the averting of the greatest evils, for a sovereign and effectual
preservation from spiritual danger and eternal ruin. Tkes^e are the plain
facts of the case. It is, therefore, a union of power. A^o one shall snatch
them out of my hand— No one can snatch them out of my Father's hand—
I and the Father are one. The argumentative connexion of the clause re-
quires also to be attended to. Jesus had affirmed the adequacy of his own
power for the certain salvation of his sincere followers, as well as that of
God his Father. Therefore, to shew that he had not exceeded the bounds
of truth in the assertion, and to furnish a sufficient ground of reason for it,
he adds, / and the Father are one. The union of power is thus shewn to be
a real identity of power."

Our author's argument is pretty exactly expressed by Euthymius : —

kyu Koi I TvaT'/jp eV eV/x.£V Tccvro'bvvafxoi, it he ev Kara t>)v tvva[xiv, h apa y.a)
Kara, r-^v daoTrjra, kcu eaLav, Ka\ (pvaiv — I and the Father are one, equal in



69

power, and if one in power, then one also in godhead, and essence, and
nature. The answer is, that Jesus himself denies his having the same
power with the Father, and describes himself as exercising a communicated
and dependent power. His reasoning is, No one shall snatch them out of
my hand, for no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand ; but I and
the Father are one. I know his will ; I act entirely by his direction ; I
have reason fully to depend on his support in all that I do.

It is affirmed, that the acts here attributed to Christ require " a power
which could be neither communicated to, nor exercised by, any beino-
merely a creature ;" but this is mere assumption. Jesus simply declares
that, whilst those who were not of his sheep, could not be convinced by
any evidence offered to them, those who were, would receive and adhere to
his religion, and would surely enjoy its eternal blessings, and his confidence
in this is expressly founded on his Father's power.

It is farther argued, from the accusation immediately brought by the Jews
and our Lord's answer to it, that he must have made some extraordinary
assertion of the divinity of his nature. " The hearers of Jesus instantly
accused him of assuming Divine honours — whether their alarm was sincere
or affected, it is clear that there must have been an apparent ground for it."
The hearers of Jesus took up stones threatening to stone him, and, on beino-
asked the reason, answered, for blasphemy, and because, thou, being a
man, makest thyself God. Now, considering the character of those who
brought it, there can be no doubt that sufficient ground would have been
afforded for this charge by our Lord speaking of God as his Father in such
a manner as to imply that he was pre-eminently the Son of God. The
reply of Jesus shews that he understood this to be the sole ground of the
accusation ; and had it not been so, his enemies would not have failed to
remind him that he had offered no defence of his most offensive ex-
pression.

" But," says Dr. S., ** upon the Unitarian hypothesis, no motive can be
imagined why [our Lord] should not have met the accusation with the
clearest and most pointed denial. Though he saw it not to be proper, as
yet, to avow himself pubficly to be the Messiah, there could be no reason
why he should omit to protest that he was merely a man such as other men ;
and every consideration of piety and veracity and all other good principles,
demanded the most prompt and unambiouous declaration against the blas-
phemv with which he was charged. This course, however, he did not
take."'

We shall reply to this, by calling attention to the course which Jesus did
take. He was unwarrantably, maliciously, and notwithstanding that his
expressions might easily have been understood, accused of blasphemy,
because his calling God his Father was represented as a sort of assumption
of divinity. The sum of his defence is, " Judges and magistrates are
called gods in Scripture, because the word of God was with them, or was
addressed to them — because they had to administer justice in his name,
or because he had commanded them to plead the cause of the destitute
and fatherless, and to govern and protect the poor ; this would be allowed
to be certainly right, for the Scriptures cannot be made void ; how, then,
should he, whom the Father had selected as his chosen servant, and sent
forth on a mission of grace and truth, which was proved by so many
miracles, be accused of impiety for only calling himself the Son of God?''
The defence clearly shews that he had called himself no more than the Son
of God, and knew this expression to be the cause of offence, and it justi-



70

fies the use of it by an eminent servant of God on the supposition of his
being, like the magistrates who had been of old called Gods, a human
being, in the most satisfactory manner. Since, then, his exculpation was
complete, and included a disclaimer of any pretensions founded on any
other grounds than having been chosen, authorized, and peculiarly employed
by God, it would be great presumption in us to say that it ought to have
been made in any terms which might seem to us more precise. It an-
swered its purpose at the time, and if we give it our candid attention we
shall not now mistake its meaning. We will notice one more attempt
which our author has made to strengthen his case :

*' He (Jesus) then appeals to his unquestionable miracles, as the attesta-
tion of his truth in again affirming the very thmg which had created the
offence ; in terms different, indeed, but clearly of the same import, and most
strongly expressive, not of a nnion of power merely^ though that involved a
claim of omnipotence, [precisely as an officer who arrests a man in the
king's name claims for himself the royal authority,] but of a union in the
very nature and manner of existence : in me is the Father and I in him."

Dr. S. is right, that this expression is of the same import with the
other, and he has himself brought forward the unanswerable and irresisti-
ble objection to his interpretation of it, in the examples of its use in
other places. In that day, says our Lord, John xiv. 20, ye shall know
that 1 am in my Father, and YE IN ME and I in you. That they all
may be one ; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may

be one in us I in them, and thou in me, that they may be completed

into one. John xvii. 21, 23. By this we know that we abide in him,

and he in us, that he hath cjiven us of his spirit* God is love ; and

he who abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him^ 1 John iv. 13,
16. Our author attempts to resist this objection, by an appeal to the
circumstances of the particular case in which " a oneness of power for the
performance of works which imply omnipotence," is the subject. We
have already shewn that the circumstances of the case imply nothing of
this kind. Our Lord is establishing his authority, and he proves it by an
appeal to his miracles ; but if we interpret the words in which he declares
his knowledge of the Divine counsels, and the extraordinary aid he receives
from God, of a union of nature, we must in consistency beheve also in a
nnion of nature between Christ and his followers, and even between the
all-perfect God himself and some of his creatures.

We are astonished at the hardihood with which, in the face of such
declarations as tliese, As the Father gave me commandment even so I do ;
The Son can do nothing of himself ; I can of mine own self do nothing ;
The Father that dwelleth in me He doeth the works ; Dr. S. asserts that
" Jesus Christ constantly speaks of himself as being, not an instrument
only, but the agent, in works of miraculous power." Again, " The
apostles ascribed the hnal agency," in the miracles which sanctioned their
ministry, " to Christ as readily as to God the Father," which is justified
only by the words of Paul, in Rom. xv. 18, "Christ wrought them through
me ;" although it is expressly declared that Christ, in his exalted state,
had received of God the power of communicating miraculous gifts to his
disciples, which gifts might, therefore, be in a certain sense properly
ascribed to him, though known to be manifestations of the power of God
his Father. We must not repeat the evidence, that all who saw the mira-
cles of our Lord considered them as proofs only that God ivas with him,
and that his disciples ascribed his and their own powers ultimately to God



71

alone, but we cannot suppress the expression of unfeigned wonder, that
statements should be made in opposition, as it appears to'^us, to the plainest
facts, and yet almost without the appearance of otiering any thing in their
justification ; and that on no better grounds, that we can'^perceive, than bold
and unsupported assertion. Dr. S. sliould oppose himself to that interpreta-
tion of the passage we have been considering, which has been approved,
not by Unitarians only, but by Erasmus, Calvin, Bucer, and the ^reat
majority of learned commentators, however sincere in their attachment to
the doctrines of reputed orthodoxy.

We select one more passage, and it is all that our limits will allow,
from the volume now before us. It is the first section respecting Christ's
descent from heaven, on John iii. 13, " No one hath ascended into heaven,
except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in hea-
ven." These words, together with the preceding verse, are thus para-
phrased by Dr. S. :

** If ye are so averse from apprehending and embracing my testimony
with respect to those suhjects of religion which refer to your own reason
and conscience in the present state, how will ye be capahle 'of understanding
those more sublime truths, the knowledge of which is entirely dependent on
a revelation from the Deity himself? Yet doubt not my ability to give you
correct information even on these exalted themes. No human being, in-
deed, has ever been, or could be, admitted to that most immediate and per-
fect manifestation of the Divine Presence, which would communicate to
him that knowledge. But the Messiah, whose superior nature is Eternal,
Omniscient, and in every respect Divine, has assumed the nature of man for
the express purpose of bringing this knowledge and all other divine bless-
ings to your enjoyment."

Here it will be observed, that the first clause is made to contain an abso-
lute assertion, admitting of no exception, to which the remaining part is
opposed in the way of contrast. No merely human being hath ascended
into heaven, i. e. hath had the opportunity of obtaining divine knowledge.
On the contrary, the Messiah, who, as to one part of his nature, is not
human, who is in heaven, hath descended from heaven, i. e. hath mani-
fested himself in the flesh on earth to bring this knowledge : but the
construction of the original requires that the latter part should be considered
as an exception to the general declaration in the first clause, and ovl^q (no
one) cannot have the emphatic sense, " no human being," forced upon it.
We must take it, " No one hath ascended to heaven, except he who
came down from heaven." Since, therefore, he who came down, first
ascended, was enabled by some means to attain to " that most immediate
and perfect manifestation of the Divine Presence, which would communi-
cate to him (divine) knowledge," he could not have possessed it naturally
and originally, consequently could not be in nature " Eternal, Omniscient,
and Divine," Dr. S. appears to consider the phrases as expressing a real
being in heaven, and coming from heaven, but as including and implying
the possessing and communicating divine truths. The obvious defect of
his interpretation is, that, as he cannot allow Christ to have ascended to
the place where his divine nature always existed, or to have acquired know-
ledge which inherently belonged to him, he is obliged to refer the first
clause exclusively to others, whereas the original clearly expresses, that
though no other ascended to heaven, Christ did ascend ; that whatever is
meant by being in heaven, whether it is to be taken hterally or figuratively,
the state it expresses did not always belong to him, but he was enabled to



72

reach it, and having first ascended, he then descended. This objection,
we apprehend, to be fatal to Dr. S.'s pecuHar view of the subject ; we must,
however, consider other modes of explaining the passage, and endeavour
to estimate the force of his objections to that generally adopted by Unita-
rians. We can conceive it possible that all three clauses might be intended
literally, all three figuratively, or part literally and part figuratively. Dr.
S.'s hypothesis, which we have just considered, takes them all literally so
far as supposing them to express an actual heincj in heaven, though as
connoting the possession of that divine knowledge which is there obtained.
The Unitarian explanation takes them all figuratively, supposing the ascent
into heaven merely to express being admitted to the knowledge of divine
things ; the descent from heaven, going forth into the world as an autho-
rized divine messenger to communicate heavenly truths ; and being in
heaven, the continued reception of divine communications and powers.
Most commentators interpret the first clause figuratively in the same man-
ner as the Unitarians do, many take the second, and many the third, lite-
rally. The mixture of the literal and figurative senses, though not altoge-
ther impossible, is harsh, and not to be resorted to without very strong
reasons. In describing the Unitarian scheme, Dr. S. very needlessly in-
troduces the objections made by some to the notion of a local heaven,
which objections he answers in a manner satisfactory to us ; but the ques-
tion has no more than an accidental connexion with the present subject,
and the acknowledgment that there may probably exist a place designated
peculiarly as heaven, will not be supposed to imply that that place must
be always literally meant whenever the word is used. But Dr. S. says,

" The statement of the Calm Inquirer is not correct when he says, * To
ascend to heaven is a Hebrew form of expression, to denote the knowledge
of things mysterious and remote from common apprehension.' The four
passages referred to by bim and other writers, evidently signify a real and
local ascent, with a view to obtain the knowledge, or other blessing, adverted
to in the connexion of each."

The first of these passages is Deut. xxx. 11 — 13 :

*' This commandment is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is


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Online LibraryBritish and Foreign Unitarian AssociationA review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah → online text (page 11 of 15)