John Wilson.

Unitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches online

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1855, by IIenrt A. Miles, Sejee-
TART OF THE AMERICAN UNITARIAN AssocuTiON, In the Clcrk's Office of the District
Court of the District of Massachusetts.

C A 5113 K 1 D G E :


About thirteen years ago, the author published in England
a work entitled " The Concessions of Trinitarians," the object
of which was to prove, from the comments and criticisms of
distinguished divines belonging to Orthodox churches, the
truth of Unitarianism in regard to the teachings of Scripture
on the subject of the personality and relations of God, Christ,
and the Holy Spirit. Judging, shortly after his arrival in
this country, in 1846, that, from the kind reception which it
had met with, and the small number of copies on hand, the
book would soon be out of print, he thought it desirable to
republish it on an enlarged scale; and, accordingly, since
that time, he has devoted a considerable portion of his leisure
hours to the examination of theological works, with the view
of making such extracts as seemed best suited to effect his

The " Concessions " consisted of a selection of remarks on
texts taken up according to the order in which they occur in
the authorized version of the Bible, with an Introduction
of seventy-six pages of miscellaneous matter. That Intro-
duction forms the basis of the present volume, but has been
subjected to so many changes in arrangement, and expanded
so much in its character and plan, that it has been deemed
advisable to designate this publication by a new title.



It is intended to print, at some future time, the remain-
der of tlie work, comprising two or three additional volumes.
Each of these, though related to the others, and upholding
with them one great presumptive argument for the soundness
of the principles of interpretation adopted by Unitarians, will
embrace the consideration of a certain number of the Sacred
Books, and be issued by itself.

On the mode in which the writer has executed his task,
BO far as it may be judged of by this volume, it is not for him
to pronounce an opinion ; but he may be allowed to say, that,
while he has sometimes omitted, in his quotations, sentencea
which seemed to him irrelevant, and, for want of room, has
abridged others which he thought appropriate, he has been
careful to do no injustice to his authors, and, to avoid even
the appearance of unfairness, has not unfrequently length-
ened his extracts beyond the measure required by the object
he had in view. In noticing, therefore, errors or imperfec-
tions, it is hoped that readers will attribute them to any
motive but that of a wish, on the part of the transcriber, to
pervert the sentiments of others for the purpose of making
them coincide with his own ; feeling assured, as he does, that
no object, however excellent in itself, or however well adapted
to advance the well-being of man, should be promoted by any
means but those of candor, simphcity, justice, and directness
of aim.

If it be thought that the author has failed in the treatment
of his subject, let the responsibility rest on himself, and not
on the cause which he advocates, or on that section of the
Christian church of which he is but an individual member.
He has tried, through the assistance afforded him by his
brethren of a different faith, to express and disseminate
his own conceptions of biblical and Christian truth ; but,
though writing as a Unitarian, and agreeing essentially with


the opinions entertained in general by the Unitarian body,
he does not presume to act as its representative. It is the
glory of this denomination that it recognizes no standard but
reason and Scripture ; no leader but Christ ; no human au-
thority as its representative, even though he were a Milton
or a Locke, a Priestley or a Price, a Channing or a Norton.
With one heart and one voice, its collective members pro-
claim to the world their conviction of the great truth, that
there is but one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
— two distinct and unequal persons or beings : the first of
whom stands in the relation of Parent of all intelligences;
the second, in that of Son and Servant of God, by whom he
was sent into the world to be the Teacher, the Guide, and the
Saviour of mankind.

As to the precise rank in the scale of creation to which
Christ belonged, Unitarians differ in opinion, as they do in
their modes of speaking of him ; and on this point the author
may be found to disagree with many of his brethren in this
country. It is frankly acknowledged that there are several
passages in the New Testament which seem to imply that
Jesus existed before his birth as an intelligence inferior only
to God ; but, without wishing to be dogmatical on a subject
which is not altogether free from indistinctness and difficulty,
the writer would express his strong conviction, that, whatever
Jesus was in a pre-existent state, the Scriptures represent him
to have entered into this world, to have lived and labored,
suffered and died, as a proper human being, — to have gone
about his work of holy love and heavenly instruction, with
all the instincts, affections, and properties of humanity ; but
distinguished above the greatest, the wisest, and the best of
men, by his more copious reception of the divine spirit ; by
his higher acquaintance with the counsels and purposes of
Heaven ; by his more intimate communion and oneness with


God ; by his profounder obedience and submission to the will
of the Father ; and by his brighter, his more express, manifes-
tation of the love and tenderness of the Deity towards sinful

and suffering men.

While preparing materials for his work, the author received
proposals from the American Unitarian Association, offering
to adopt it as one of their publications. It will, of course, bo
understood that this is an approval only of the general spirit
and aim of the book, not as an indorsement of all its opinions.
Grateful for the encouragement thus extended to his labors,
he hopes that he may have contributed something, by these
pages, to the cause of liberal Christianity, which the publica-
tions of that Association are so well calculated to promote.

22, School Street, Boston,
Oct. 15, 1855.



Chapter I.


1. 4- The Religion of Jesus that of Love 25

fl. — True Zeal accompanied by a Spirit of Wisdom, Love, and
Humility ; False Zeal, by an Ignorant, Uncharitable, Domi-
neering, and Persecuting Spirit 84

in. — Not Uniformity of Opinion, but Piety, Mutual Forbearance
and Affection, — Love to God, Christ, and Man, — the Ba-
ses of Christian Union 40

IV. — The Duty of holding Intercourse and Communion with Chris-
tians of all Denominations, and of Loving all Mankind . . 48
V. — The Nature and Evils of an Intolerant or a Persecuting Spi-
rit 56

VI. — Faith, Orthodoxy, Heresy, Schism, and other Terms, often used

as Watchwords of Party Warfare 67

§ 1. Faith and Orthodoxy 67

§ 2. Heresy and Schism 71

VII. — The Constituents of the Christian Church ; Wise and Good

Men in all Denominations *6

V III. — Unitarians distinguished for their Worth, Piety, Intelligence,

and Learning 86

§ 1. Individual Unitarians •• ^6

§ 2. Unitarians in General 100

IX. — Unitarians entitled to the Christian Name 108

x contents.

Chapter IL

the preciousness of theological truth, and the
unrestricted means of acquiring it.

Eection. Page

I. — The Importance of Just Conceptions of Eeligion ..... 125

n. — The Right and Duty of Free Inquiry 131

III. — Dispositions and Means requisite in the Search after Truth . 13S

IV. — Hindrances to Free Inquiry, and to the Spread of Truth . . 14.3

§ 1. Early Prejudices 143

§ 2. Prostration of tlie Judgment to Authority 145

§ 3. Blind Attachment to Received Opinions 148

§ 4. Predilections for the Mysterious 151

§ 5. Impatience of Doubt, and Aversion to Trouble ...... 153

§ 6. Party Spirit and Personal Interest 155

^ 7. The Speculations of Vanity and the Love of Singularity . . 156

§ 8. The Dread of Contempt and Ridicule 158

§ 9. The Influence of a Proud, Empty, Sectarian Criticism . . . 160

§ 10. The Seductions of Feeling and Imagination 161

§ 11. Hindrances in General 164

Chapter m.


I. — The Obligation to use the Intellect in Matters of Religion . . 165

II. — Reason and Revelation consistent with each other 172

III. — Holy Writ sufficient, without the Dicta of Churches or of Indi-

viduals, to be a Rule of Faith and Communion 177

§ 1. Sufficiency of the Sacred Scriptui'es 177

§ 2. Inefficacy and Pernicious Results of requiring an Assent or a

Subscription to Ci'eeds and Articles of Faith 180

IV. — Need of Revising the Authorized Version of the Bible, and

Correcting it from a Pure Text 185

V. — The Sacred Books not Inspired Records, but Records of Reve-
lation 188

§ 1. The Dogma of the Verbal or the Plenary Inspiration of the

Bible not supported by Evidence 188


Section. Pa<ge.

V. (continued.)
§ 2. The Denial of Verbal or of Plenary Inspiration not a Denial

of Revelation 199

§ 3. The Dogma of the Infallibility of all Parts of the Bible inju-
rious to the Interests of Christianity 206

VI. — The Improper Treatment of Sci'ipture 213

VII. — Principles of Criticism and Interpretation, applicable chiefly

to the New Testament 217

4 1. Criticism ' 217

§ 2. Interpretation 221

General Eemarks 226

Chapter IV.


I. — The Teachings of the Saviour distinguished for their Clearness

and Simplicity 227

n. — The Principles of Christianity suitable to all Capacities . . . 234

III. — Christianity not a Eeligion of Speculative or Theoretical Pro-

positions, but of Vital Facts and Practical Principles . . . 239

IV. — The Creeds and Mysteries of the New Testament Simple and

Comprehensible 243

§ 1. Creeds of the New Testament 243

§ 2. Mysteries of the New Testament 247

V. — Belief in Unintelligible Mysteries and Metaphysical Creeds not

essential to Salvation 250

Chapter V.


I. — Various and Opposite Statements or Definitions of the Doc-
trine of the Trinity 257

§ 1. The Apostolic or Unitarian Trinity 260

Eemarks 230

§ 2. The original Nicene Trinity 263

Eemarks and Animadversions 263

§ 3. The Constantinopolitan Trinity 264


Section Page.

I. (continued.)

§ 4. The Trinity of Unequal Persons or Gods ...... . 265

Remarks and Animadversions 266

§ 5. The Athanasian Trinity, or the Trinity of Co-equal Persons . 268

Remarks and Animadversions 2V0

§ 6. The Westminster Trinity 273

Remarks and Animadversions 273

Remarks on the Ancient and Modern Theories of Eternal Gene-
ration and Procession 274

The Tendency of a Denial of Christ's Eternal Sonship , . . 276

^ 7. The Trinity of Self-existent and Independent Persons ... 277

Remarks and Animadversions 279

\ 8. The Trinity of Distinct, Eternal, and Infinite Minds or Beings . 280

Remarks and Animadversions 284

§ 9. The Trinity of Distinct Persons, Subsistences, or Agents . . 289

Remarks and Animadversions 292

§ 10. The Trinity of the Ipseity, the Alterity, and the Community » 295

Remarks and Animadversions 296

§ 11. The Trinity of Distinctions, or Mysterious Persons .... 297

Remarks and Animadversions SCO

^ 12. The Trinity of Names, Modes, Relations, or Characters; of

Impersonations, Developments, or Manifestations .... 301

Remarks and Animadversions 308

§13. Summary of Trinities 311

Synonymes, Definitions, and Descriptions of the Phrase, " Three

Persons " in One Godhead 312

Titles, Attributes, and Functions of the Three Persons in the

Godhead 314

^ 14. The Apostolic or Unitarian Trinity (resumed) 315

II. — The Doctrine of a Triune God Incomprehensible and Irrational 317
{, 1. This Dogma, no less than Transubstantiation, opposed to Com-
mon Sense 817

§ 2. The Dogma of a Triune God utterly Incomprehensible, and

repugnant to Reason 318

III. — Theological Terms either Unintelligible and Useless, if not Per
nicious; or Expressive of Ideas, and should therefore be

clearly Defined i'M


Chapter VI.

Becfcion. Page.

L — The Terms "Trinity," "Triune God," "Person," "Hypos-
tasis," " Homoousion," &c., Unscriptural and Improper . 331
II. — The Doctrine of a Triune God, or of the Deity of Christ, not

revealed in the Old Testament, or known to the Jews . . 334

§ 1. Not revealed in the Old Testament 334

§ 2. A Triune God and the Deity of Christ unknown to the Ancient

Jews 839

Explanation of the Phrase, " Word of the Lord," occurring in
the Old Testament and in other Jewish Writings .... 845
in. — The Doctrine of a Triune God, or of the Deity of Christ, not

revealed to the Disciples before the day of Pentecost . . 851
IV. — The Doctrine of a Triune God, or of the Deity of Christ, not

divulged in the Acts of the Apostles 356

V. — No Doctrines additional to those previously taught by Christ,
or communicated on the day of Pentecost by the Holy

Spirit, inctilcated in the Epistles 362

VI. — A Triune God, and the Deity of Christ, not Doctrines of Ex-
press Revelation 866

VII. — The Doctrine of a Triune God, and of the Deity of Christ,

cannot be proved from Holy Scripture ....... 374

Chapter VH.


I. — The Existence of a Triune God not discernible by the Light

of Nature 377

n. — The Unity of God a Fundamental Principle of both Natural

and Revealed Religion 381

\ 1. Importance of the Doctrine of the Divine Unity 381

^ 2. The Unity of God proved by Reason, and manifested in the

Works of Creation 384

^ 3. The Unity of God revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and

the New Testament 388


Section. Page

III. — God, the Father, the only Person or Being who is Underived or

Self-existent and Supreme 392

IV. — The One Supreme Person or Being, the Father, the Only Object

of Primary and Unceasing Adoration 397

§ 1. The Worship of a Trinity Unscriptural and Improper — God

to be addressed as One 397

§ 2. The Father entitled to Supreme Worship . 399

§ 3. The Son rarely, the Holy Ghost (as a Person dilGferent from the

Father) never, in the Bible, addressed in Prayer .... 400
§ 4. The Father, almost to the entire Exclusion of the Son and Holy

Ghost, worshipped by the Trinitarian Congregationalists, or

Independents, of England 402

Chapter Vm


I. — In his Nature and his Attributes, Christ Inferior to God . . 407

§ 1. As a Divine Being, Christ Inferior to the Father 408

^ 2. As a Pre-existent Being, or even as the Creator of the World,

Christ not necessarily God " 413

n. — Deficiency of Proof for Christ's Existence before his Appear-
ance on Earth 414

§ 1 Christ not the Lord God, or the Angel of Jehovah, who ap-
peared to the Patriarchs and the Prophets 414

§ 2. Christ's being "sent" or "proceeding from God," and his

" coming down from Heaven," Phrases signifying that ho

had received the fullest Instruction and Authority from God 417

111. — Christ's Sonship not implying an essentially Divine Nature,

but his being the Messiah, his Moral Resemblance to God,

and God's Love towards him 419

IV — Christ not called " God," in the highest Sense of the Term . 425

V. — Christ trained by Divine Providence to act as the Messiah . 434

V^. — In his Offices and Qualifications, Christ Subordinate to God - 438

^ 1. Christ as a Divine Teacher, and a Worker of Miracles . . . 438

4 2. Christ as Lord while on Earth 442

^ 3. Christ as Saviour or Redeemer 443

^ 4. Christ as Mediator 444


Section. Page.

Vn. — The Moral Character of Christ, that of a Finite and Dependent

Being 446

§ 1. As exhibited in his Habitual Piety 446

§ 2. As exhibited amid Temptations 450

§ 3. As exhibited ia his Last Sufferings 454

\^in. — Clirist not God, but the Eepresentative, the Manifestation, the

Moral Image, of God 458

IX. — As Head of the Church, and" as Judge of Mankind, Christ

derived his Power and Glory from God 464

X. — Christ not to be worshipped with Supreme Veneration, but
with the Honor due to one who faithfully performed the
WiU of God, and died for the Salvation of Men .... 469
§ 1. Civil, not Divine, Homage paid to Jesus whUe on Earth . . 469
^ 2. Secondary, not Supreme, Homage paid, or required to be paid,

to Christ, after his Exaltation to Heaven 471

Chapter IX.


I. — Deficiency of Evidence for the Deity of the Holy Spirit, as a

Third Person in the Godhead 477

II. — The Holy Spirit, either God, the Father, or the Divine Power,

Influences, or Gifts 481

§ 1. God, without Distinction of Persons 481

§ 2. The Power, Influence, or Gifts of God 482

III. — The Holy Spirit, if a Person different from the Father, Inferior

to Him and Christ 485


I. — Texts quoted or referred to 487

II. — Early Christian Writers referred to 493

ni. — Trinitarians quoted or referred to 494

IV. — Unitarians referred to..,.. 603


It is well kncwn* that for many ages th.e Christian church has been
divided into two great classes, disthigmshed from each other by the
names of Unitarian and Trinitarian.

L According to the former class, the Almighty and Infinite Being,
to whom universal natme, both material and sphitual, owes its exist-
ence and preservation, is strictly One, — one in a sense similar to that
in which the word is employed when men speak of an individual
belonging to any order or species of intelligent natures, — one Mind,
one Spirit, one Person, one Agent. This Being, and he alone, is
self-existent, underived, independent; the only absolute Possessor
of every perfection; the single and original Source of all existence,
of all might, of all wisdom, of all goodness ; the God and Father of
all intelligences, whether celestial or terrestrial, human or divine;
the God and Father even of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though
immeasurably superior, in moral and spiritual grandeur, to all other
beings of whom we have any knowledge, was and is dependent on the
One Supreme and Universal Parent for his existence, his powers, and
his offices, — for his authority and qualifications as the Messiah ; as
the Kepresentative or Vicegerent of God ; as the Teacher, the Saviour,
the King, and the Judge of men.

Some Unitarians are of opinion, that Christ was, in his entire nature,
a man, raised up by the Almighty, and endowed with an inspu-ation
fer sm-passing that of any other Heaven-taught Prophet; others,



that, before his appearance on the earth, he had existed in heaven as a
created, superhuman, if not superangelic, being. Some have thought
that the Holy Ghost, the Holy Sphit, or the Spirit of God, particularly
as shown by Jesus and the apostles, had also a personal though derived
existence ; while others, the majority, have considered the di\ine spuit,
flowing throughout the Sacred Hecords, to be either God himself, or
his gifts, agency, and influence, whether physical, moral, or spiritual,
— whether natural or supernatural. They all, however, beheve in the
strict or simple Unity and the unrivalled perfections of Him who is
God and Fa,ther, and in the derivation of Christ's natm'e, power, and
glory, and of the existence and attributes of all other persons or beings,
from the one Creator, the one Parent, the one God.

"Whatever differences of opinion, then, may exist among Unitarians
concerning the particular rank in the scale of creation to which our
Lord or any other intelligence belongs, there is no difference whatever
respecting the great doctrine which contradistinguishes them from
their Trinitarian brethren. On this subject there is among them no
contrariety of sentiment ; and the doctrine, whether true or false, is so
simple as to be incapable of being misunderstood.

n. According to the second of the above-mentioned classes, — the
Trinitarian, — the Deity is One, and yet Three ; one God, but three
hypostases, or Persons, — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost j
each of whom is the micreated, incomprehensible, eternal, and ahnighty
God, though they do not by any means constitute three imcreated,
incomprehensible, eternal, and almighty Gods ; each being different in
some respect from the others, though they are one in essence, and
equal in attributes. The second of these persons — God the Son,
the Son of God, the Logos, or the "Word — assumed human natm-e
in the womb of the blessed Virgin, and, after a lapse of thirty years
from his bnth, entered upon his office as the long-expected Messiah ;
uniting in his person two natm-es, one of which was truly human, and
the other truly di\ane. In other words, the second person of the
Trinity became God-man.


This, so far as we can judge from the authorized statements of
Triiiitarianism that we have seen, is the professed belief of all, or
nearly all, Trinitarians ; and yet, strangely enough, either the langimge
used is so difficult of comprehension, or the ideas involved in the terms
are so contradictory, that the supporters of this doctrine, whenever
they ventm*e to describe or explain what they mean, and sometimes
even in then' briefest definitions, affirm or concede some particular
point which is fatal to the j)rinciple itself on which their behef is
founded. Thus, many Trinitarians — adoptiag the Athanasian Creed
so called — declare the uncreated and eternal Son to have been
begotten of the Father, and the uncreated and eternal Holy Ghost
to have proceeded from the Father and the Son; but it is fi-eely
acknowledged by not a few theologians of high eminence, some of
whom have been distinguished for their opposition to Unitarianism,
that the doctrines of eternal generation and procession clash with the
idea of self-existence and independence, — an idea involved in the verj''
conception of a first Supreme Cause. According to the same train
of thought, a host of learned Trinitarians have not scrupled to affirm,
that a pre-eminence and a subordination obtain among the thi'ee persons
in the Godhead ; — tlmt the Father is the Som'ce, the Fountain, the
Head, the Principle of being ; and that the Son and the Holy Ghost
derived their existence and their attributes fi-om the Father; —
language than which none can more clearly imply sujseriority, infe-
riority, and inequahty ; or, in other words, that the Father, and he
only, is the true God. On the other hand, some have boldly affio^med,
that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are as distinct from each other
as Peter, James, and John, — that they are three distuict, infinite
Beings or Miads; thus virtually giving up the notion of a Triune
Deity, and adojDting, though with a vague unconsciousness and without
profession, tlmt of three Gods : while others, again, have defined the
word " person " to signify, not a distinct, intelligent agent, but a men
rektion in the Godhead, as if only one divine agent acted in the seve*
ral characters of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


Thus, as it appears to us, and as in the following pages mil be de-
monstrated, is Trinitarianism inconsistent with itself. Thus, in its very

Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 1 of 55)