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

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object ; we require a more splendid and magnificent object ; we despise
the waters of Israel, and pant for Abana and Pharpar, and the mighty
rivers of Damascus. — Sydney Smith : Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 255-6.

Pressed by the arguments urged against fleshly ^iews of the sacra-
ment, mteUigent men, who still cherish such Adews, have, for the most
part, betaken themselves to a place behind the veil of mystery. " The
hoiv and ivliy have nothing to do," they tell us, " mth such a sacred
and awful mystery. UnbeKef in it is profane ; calluig it m question
is presumptuous ; doubting, even when urged to do so by reason and
s>m: senses, is criminal." This, and the like, has been and is still said,



152 IMPEDBIENTS TO THE PUHSUIT OF TRUTH.

until the bare repetition of it has ahnost, of itself, forced it upon the
minds of the greater mass of nominal Chi'istians. . . . Such suggestions
are the usual and the last refuge of those who feel that they are diiven
from the field of reasoning and argument. They have this advantage,
that they are in then- alleged form so indefinite and airy, that you can-
not easily find out their true natm-e, so as to know where or how you
2an brmg forward what is sensible and palpable in opposition to them,
rhey satisfy mystics better than argimient or reason would ; because
they ob%dously suit that trait in then' character which is the pre-
dominatmg and influential one. Hence the final retreat, the sanctum
sanctorum of those who have fled from the battle-fields of reason and
exegesis and argument, is always found to be in mystery. Procul,
procul, esie profani ! ^Meantime, as a Protestant, I must tliinlc that
it becomes us, on such a pomt, to be able to give a reason for the
faith that is in us. No outcry of this natm-e can induce a man of
sober judgment to abandon his position. It is the never-failing resort
of those who have nothing better to say, to betake themselves to cry-
ing out, — " !M}stery ! awful mysterj^ ! It would be profanation to

make even an attempt at investigation or explanation." Faith —

I repeat it, I would God it might sink deep mto every Christian heart !
— faith is beHe\ing what is revealed, not behewg what is unrevealed
and impossible. There may be — there are — mysteries, many and
great, wliich belong to thu:igs and truths connected intimately mth
the gospel. . . . But no true gospel mystery involves a contradiction or
an absm-dity. — Moses Stuart, in Bibliotheca Sacra for May, 1844 ;
vol i. pp. 267-8 and 278-9.

Sentiments such as these, though specially opposed to the doctrine of
Christ's real bodily presence in the Lord's Supper, are well suited to exhibit
the influence, in general, of a love for the mystical or the mysterious in fore-
closing the mind against all appeals to reason, and a rational interpretation
of Scripture.

I should not deem it necessary to say more, did I not know what
is the mournful efiect upon the human mind of being trained for ages
to disregard the most sacred and fimdamental intellectual and moral
intuitions, under the plea of faith and mystery. The mind seems to be
paralyzed and stunned, as if it had been smitten down by a blow, and
caimot again, in that particular, re-act and rally, and recover the use
of its powers. Such an effect has been extensively produced on the
human mind for ages by tliis result of the discussion under Augustine ;
for, when the plea of any great moral or intellectual intuitions has



IMPEDIMENTS TO THE PURSUIT OF TRUTH. 153

6een once heard, and, after long, earnest, and Ml debate, rejected, and
the course of thought has afterwards rolled on in disregard of them
for subsequent centuiies mider the guidance of ecclesiastical authority,
and of the original arguments, in one deep channel, it becomes almost
impossible to restore the human mind to the vantage-ground on which
it stood when the original conflict began. — Dr. Edward Beecher :
Conflict of Ages, pp. 305-6.

§ 5. IMPATIE^'CE OF DoUBT, AKD AVEESIOI^ TO TROUBLE.

Another error is an impatience of doubt, and haste to assertion
without due and mature suspension of judgment. For the two ways
of contemplation are not unlike the two ways of action commonly
spoken of by the ancients : the one plain and smooth in the beginnmg,
and in the end imjDassable ; the other rough and troublesome in the
entrance, but after a wliile fair and even. So it is in contemplation :
if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts ; but, if he
vail be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties. —
Lord Bacon ; Advancement of Learning, book i. ; in Works, vol. i.
p. 173.

Christianity bemg at this time divided into several sects, whereof
some must necessarily be in an error, may we not therefore place in
the number of the lazy those persons who, full of all other things
but the love of the truth, have never carefully examined which of
these sects is most conformable to the sentiments of the apostles?
I own that divers other motives might lead them to remain, without
knowing why themselves, in that party wherem they happened to be
born, and to condemn all others without vouchsafing to examme their
tenets ; but, if you remark it Avell, it will appear that one of the princi-
ples which occasion this conduct is a certain lazy aversion to the trouble
of searching after the truth in matters of this khid. — Le Clerc :
Causes of Incredulity, pp. 101-2, Lond. 1697.

Any serious employment of the understanding is inconsistent with
habitual indolence. Discussion and inqmry are always laborious. Time
and patience and pains are necessary to separate truth from falsehood,
— to collect and to compose the arguments on each side. Prejudices
arising from temper, fr-om education, from interest, and from innu-
merable other causes, are not easily overcome ; and, when a ray of
reason breaks through them, resolution is wanted to follow steadily its
guidance : and yet without this labor we forfeit all the use and benefit



154 IMPEDIMENTS TO THE PURSUIT OF TRUTH.

Df our understanding. If we snatch the first appearances, and sit
down contented with them, to what piu-pose is it that we are able to
investigate hidden truths ? What avails our faculty of judging, if we
suffer each thin pretence to conceal them jfrom us? It might be
expected, that they who entertain every wandering opinion without
examination should dismiss it without regret on the arrival of a new
guest. But the fact is other^vise. This kuid of le\ity is attended
with obstinacy. The same disjDosition which leads men into error
makes them unwilling to coiTect it : a state of doubtfuhiess is a state
of uneasiness. The mind, therefore, hastens to the end of its jom-ney;
but to trace its stejDS back again, and examine all the windhigs by w^hich
the truth may have escaped, is to the indolent an intolerable labor. —
Dr. WiLLLiM Samuel Powell : Discourses, Xo. I. pp. 6, 7.

Some jieople have so strong a propensity to form fixed opinions on
every subject to which they tm-n their thoughts, that their mind wiU
brook no delay. They cannot bear to doubt or hesitate. Su>^,ense
in judgmg is to them more insufferable than the manifest hazard of
judging WTong ; and therefore, when they have not sufficient e\idence,
they will form an opinion from what they have, be it ever so little ; or
even fi'om their own conjectm*es, without any eAidence at all. Now^, to
beHeve without proper endence, and to doubt when we have evidence
sufficient, are equally the effects, not of the strength, but of the W'eak-
ness, of the miderstanding. — Dr. George CAiiPBELL : The Four
Gospels, Diss. xii. jjart v. sect. 9.

There is a strong tendency in human nature to save itself fi'om the
trouble of inquiry and the uneasiness of doubt. We do not like to be
left for a moment in uncertainty or suspense ; we are impatient of the
labor of examiinng thuigs for om'selves ; we are alarmed at the danger
of mistake, and uneasy under the sense of personal responsibiHty ;
and so we are disposed beforehand to accept a guide in religion, w'ho
shall constantly claim the power of conductmg us with imerring skill,
and wiio shall teU us that we have nothing to do but follow him. —
Archbishop Wilitely : Cautions for the Times, p. 103.

We make sweej^ing assertions, disposing of whole classes of subjects
at a word, or we take a general principle w^hich is perhaps true in the
main, and carry it out to extremes, to which it cannot fauiy extend.
We do tliis either fi-om the influence of an almost imiversal tendency
of the human mind to love sweeping generahties, or else because it is
troublesome to pause and reflect, and ascertain exceptions. In fact, a
reflecting man will often detect himself behe\ing a proposition merely



IMPEDIMENTS TO THE PUSSUIT OP TRUTH. 155

because, -when expressed, it sounds antithetic and striking, or because
it is comprehensive and distinct, and, right or "wrong, presents a cori-
veuient solution for whole classes of difficulties. The human mind
will, ia a word, ran into almost any belief, by which it may be saved
the labor of patient thought, and at the same time avoid the mortifica-
tion of acknowledging its ignorance. — Jacob Abbott : The Corner'
fdone, p. 302.

§ 6. Pakty Spikit ajxq Personal biTEREST.

Another great cause of confidence in false conceits is the bias of
some personal interest prevailing mth a corrupted will, and the mix-
ture of sense and passion in the judgment. For as interested men
hardly believe what seemeth against them, and easily beheve that
which they would have to be true ; so sense and passion, or aflFections,
usually so bear down reason that they think it their right to possess
the throne. — Richabd Baxter : Knowledge and Love Compared ;
in Practical Works, vol. xv. pp. 157-8.

Self-conceit . . . promotes indolence and obstinacy. For why should
he toil any longer in the mmes of knowledge who is aheady possessed
of tlieir most valuable treasures ? how can he submit to try his opinions
by the judgment of others who is himself the fittest to decide ? This
tem]:)er, when the mind is conversant ^vith points of the highest nature,
such as relate to religion and govei*nment, will show itself in violent
bigotry. What indeed is this, but an obstinate adherence to iH-
groimded notions ; with a conceit, that we orJy, and those of our own
sect or party, are the favorites of God and the friends of mankind, ar^xl
that ail who differ jfrora us are weak or wicked ? Want of industry to
examine our own tenets, of candor to listen to those of others, and of
modesty in judging of both, lays a sure foundation for this vice ; which
can never be removed but by another thing equally wanted, an exten-
sive acquaintance -with the world. This would certainly convince \is,
that among persons of every denomination some may be found of
excellent understandings and distinguished virtue. — Dr. William
Samuel Powell : Discourses, No. L p. 8.

Y/hen a strong prejudice against any description of persons is
deeply rooted in the general body of a people, and both their xmder-
standirigs and their feelings are inveterately convinced of its justice,
the eradication of it requires length of time : no powers of reason or
eloquence can remove it on a sudden, or even w'thout incessant repe-



156 IKr-EI.IiGSNTS TO TKS PIHISUIT OF TRUTH.

titlon of feff.">it. Tlis is pcU'tic-Jariy the case in all questions of a
compliaited nature, upon ^"-hich the feelings and passions of men have
been long and violently agitated, and both religious and pob'tical par-
ties have been deeply engaged. — Chaele'? Butlee : Iterainiscences,
page 277.

Truth and eri'or, as they are essentially opposite m their nature, so
the causes to which they are indebted for their perpetuity and triumph
are not less so. Whatever retards a spirit of inquiry is favorable to
error ; whatever promotes it, to truth. But nothuig, it will be
acknoAvledged, has a greater tendency to obstruct the exercise of free
inquuy, than the siDU'it and feehng of a party. Let a doctrine, however
erroneous, become a party distinction, and it is at once intrenched
in interests and attachments which make it extremely difficult for the
most powerful artillery of reason to dislodge it. It becomes a point of
honor in the leaders of such parties, which is from thence communicated
to thek followers, to defend :and support then* respective pecuHarities to
the last ; and, as a natural consequence, to shut their ears against aU the
pleas and remonstrances by which they are assailed. Even the wisest
and best of men are seldom aware how much they are susceptible of tliis
sort of influence ; and while the offer of a Avorld would be insufficient to
engage them to recant a Ioioato truth, or to subscribe an acknowleilged
error, they are often retained in a mlling capti^ity to prejudices and
opinions which have no other support, and wliich, if they could lose
sight of party feelings, they would almost instantly abandon. ... It is
this alone which has ensured a sort of immortahty to those hideous
productions of the human mind, the shapeless abortions of right and
darkness, which reason, left to itself, woidd have crushed in the moment
of their bhth. — Robeet Hall : Terms of Communion ; in Works,
voL i. p. 352.

(i 7. The Speculations of Vanity and the Love of Singux^akitt.

Such as reject sentiments generally received, or at least received
Dy a gi'eat number of persons, should take care that the love of si::!ga"
larity, rather than a demonstration that others are mistaken, has made
them quit the beaten road. It is true, indeed, that the multitude of
those who embrace a certain opinion is not a good proof of tiie trath
of it ; but, on the other hand, it is no cogent argument that \ thing
is false because many people beheve it. — Le Clerc : Causes of
liicixdulil}), p. 30.



IMPEDIMENTS TO THE PURSUIT OF TRUTH. 157

Men there are who, in matters of doctrine, suffer themselves to be
carried away by every idle blast ; who catch at this or that opinion,
because it has the gloss of novelty ; who are seduced from the sound
form of religion by artful or ^dolent fanatics, recommending theu' ovm
peculiar dogmas upon the ground of superior sanctity in the teacher
and the taught ; and while from one part of human mfirmity, in the
precipitation with which such notions have been once embraced, v>^e have
another instance of the same infirmity manifested in the pertinacity
with which they are retained. These misguided men are watchful
indeed against the smallest encroachments of common sense. They
stand fast in opposing assumption to argument, and ideal experiences
to the general moral sentiments and habits of their fellow-creatures
and fellow-Christians. They quit themselves like dogmatists too
illuminated to be instructed, and hke zealots too impetuous to be
restrained. . . . Fondness for novelty engenders at first versatihty in
behef ; that versatility is followed by ambition of singularity ; that
ambition is increased by sympathy with other men, whom we consider
not as rivals, but associates in the common pursuit of spiritual dis-
tinction from the bulk of mankind. By the co-operation of these
causes, pride and fanaticism gradually gain an entu-e ascendency over
the affections and the judgment, which soon become ductile to them ;
and by various progressions they ultimately produce an inveterate and
in%incible rigidity in opinion, a contemptuous aversion to farther in-
quiry, a restless impatience of dissent however modest, and discussion
however sober. !Most assuredly such a state of mind has no encourage-
ment from Scripture, where we are directed to prove all things, and
cleave to that which after such proof is perceived to be good ; to be
on the watch against rash and deceitful teachers ; to stand fast in the
sound form of doctrine once delivered to true believers ; to quit our-
selves hke men who disdain to be the blind followers of blind guides ;
to be strong in resisting every attempt to seduce us from those simple
and subHme truths which are alike approved by reason, and sanctioned
by revelation. — Dr. Samuel Parr : Sermon on Resolution ; in
Works, vol. \i. pp. 332-4.

Nor is a mind inflated with vanity more disqualified for right action
than just speculation, or better disposed to the iDm-suit of truth than
the jjractice of virtue. To such a mind the simpKcity of truth is
disgusting. Careless of the improvement of mankind, and intent
only L'pon astonishing with the appearance of novelty, the glare of
paradox wiH he preferred to the light of truth; opinions will be

14



lbs IMPEDIMENTS TO THE PURSUIT OF TRUTH.

embraced, not because they are just, but because they are new : tlie
more flagitious, the more subversive of morals, the more alarming to
the wise and good, the more welcome to men who estimate their
literary powers by the mischief they produce, and who consider the
anxiety and terror they impress as the measm*e of their renowTi. —
Robert Hall : Modern Iiifidelity Considered ; in Works, yoL i.
page 33.

§ 8. The Dkead of Contejipt and Ridicule.

Pride makes men ashamed of the service of God, in a time and
place where it is disgraced by the world ; and, if it have dominion,
Christ and hoHness shall be denied or forsaken by them, rather than
their honor with men shall be forsaken. If they come to Jesus, it is,
as Nicodemus, by night. They are ashamed to ovm. a reproached
truth, or scorned cause, or servant of Clmst. If men will but mock
them with the nicknames or calumnies hatched in hell, they will do as
others, or forbear their duty. — Richard Baxter : Christian Direct-
ory ; in Practical Works, vol. iii. p. 23.

A sj'stem may be thrown into discredit by the fanaticism and folly
of some of its advocates, and it may be long before it emerges from
the contempt of a precipitate and unthinldng pubhc, ever ready to
follow the impulse of her former recollections ; it may be long before
it is reclaimed from obscmity by the eloquence of future defenders ;
and there may be the struggle and the perseverance of many years
before the existing association, v^ith all its train of obloquies and dis-
gusts and prejudices, shall be overthro^A^l. A lover of truth is thus
placed on the right field for the exercise of his principles. It is the
field of his faith and of his patience, and in which he is called to a
manly encomiter with the enemies of his cause. He may have much
to bear, and Httle but the mere force of principle to sustain him. But
what a noble exhibition of mind, when this force is enough for it ;
when, though unsupported by the sjinpathy of other minds, it can
rest on the truth and righteousness of its own principle; when it
can select its object from among the thousand entanglements of error,
and keep by it amidst all the clamors of hostility and contempt;
when all the terrors of disgrace cannot alarm it ; when all the le^ities
of ridicule cannot shame it ; when all the scowl of opposition camiot
overwhelm it ! There are some very fine examples of such a contest,
and of such a triumph, in the history of philosophy. . . . When Sir



IMPEDIMENTS TO THE PURSUIT OP TRUTH. 159

Isaac Newton's theory of gi'a-sitation was announced to the world, if it
had not the persecution of violence, it had at least the persecution of
contempt to struggle mth. . . . This kept it for a time from the chairs
and imiversities of Em-ope ; and for years a kind of obscure and ignoble
sectarianism was annexed to that name which has been carried down
on such a tide of glory to distant ages. Let us think of this, w^hen
philosophers bring their names and their authority to bear upon us,
when they pour contempt on the truth which we love, and on the
system which we defend ; and, as they fasten their epithets upon us,
let us take comfort in thinking that w^e are mider the very ordeal
through which philosophy herself had to pass, before she achieved the
most splendid of her victories. — Dr. Thomas Chalmers ; Select
Works, vol. iv. p. 222.

This, too, is the ordeal through which Unitarianism has passed, and is
still, in some measure, passing. This is the ordeal through which have
passed the adherents of the great doctrine which confessedly lies at the
foundation of all true religion, whether natural or revealed; and which, in
spite of a narrow dogmatism and a crude metaphysics, is more or less
recognized by all Christian churches. The believers in the strict Oneness
of the Divine Being, of the unrivalled Supremacy of the infinite Father,
have been subjected to every species of contempt and persecution. Their
learning has been despised; their characters have been traduced; their
motives maligned; their names associated with irreverence, impiety, and
infidelity. But all this obloquy, though certainly presenting no evidence for
the truth of their doctrme, afibrds, at the same time, as little ground for re-
garding it as en'oneous. It should be tried by its own merits ; judged of by
its harmony or its dissonance with the principles of reason and revelation;
and a decision be made of its truth or of its falsity, uninfluenced by the ful-
minations of bigotry, by the sneers of a cold indifference, or by the clamors
and prejudices of an unthinking people.

Men are often kept in error, not because they have any special
objection to the truth itself, or to the practical consequences, in geneml,
which result from it, but because they are unwilling to acknowledge
that they have been in the wrong. A man who has always been on
one side, and is so universally regarded, cannot admit that he has been
mistaken, without feeling mortification himself, and exciting the ill-will
of others. Light, however, comes in, w^hich he secretly perceives is
sufficient to show him that he has been ^vrong ; but he turns his eye
away from it, because he instinctively feels what must inevitably follow
from its admission. — Jacob Abbott : The Corner-stone ; or, a Fami-
liar Illustration of the Principles of Christian Truth, p. 296,



160 IMPEDIMENTS TO TELE PURSUIT OF TRUTH.

§ 9. The INFLUE^'CE of a Pkoud, Ejipty, Sectarian Criticism.

Men of high station in the church, and of high reputation for know-
ledge, should be cautious in what terms, and before what L^arers, they
pass sentence upon books which they professedly do not deign to read.
A specious criticism, begotten, it may be, by rashness upon prejudice,
and fostered by vanity or ill-natm'e, as soon as it was produced, — a
random conjecture, suddenly struck out in the conflicts of hterary
conversation, — a sprightly effusion of ^Yit, forgotten perhaps by the
speaker the moment after it was uttered, — a sly and impertment sneer,
intended to convey more than was expressed, and more than could be
proved, may have very injurious effects upon the reputation of a writer.
I suspect, too, that these effects are sometimes designedly produced by
critics, who, finding the easy reception given to their own opinions,
prefer the pride of decision to the toil of inquiry. The remarks of such
men are eagerly caught up by hearers who are incapable of forming for
themselves a right judgment, or desirous of supporting an unfavorable
judgment by the sanction of a great name. They are triumphantly
repeated in promiscuous, and sometimes, I fear, even m Hterary assem-
bhes, and, Hke other calumnies, during a long and irregular course
they swell in bulk, mthout losmg any portion of their original mahg-
nity. — Dr. Samuel Parr : Dedication to fVarhuHonian Tracts ; in
Works, vol iii. p. 387.

Our theology may be greatly improved by encouraging among our
scholars more freedom and candor of criticism. We have long been
dissatisfied Avith the manner in which the critical department of our
hterature is conducted. Our theological criticism, especially, ought to
be governed by well-established and sure principles, and to breathe a
spuit of the utmost candor. It ought to love the truth more than the
canons or the symbols. Its reverence for the dead ought not to exceed
the Hmits of sound reason, nor should its tenderness to the h^"ing
hazard the interests of science. It ought to rise above party sympa-
thies, above popular prejudice. But it is only a small part of om*
theological criticism which is regulated by these principles. We have
many parties in theology, and each school is incKned to extol the
writmgs of its o"\\ti partisans, and to depreciate the productions of its
opponents. There is more severity of criticism with us than with the
hard-nerved disputants of Germany ; but it is severity against those
from whom we are separated by party hues. There is more adulation



Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 18 of 55)