John Wilson.

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

. (page 22 of 55)
Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 22 of 55)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


men were bound to exercise theh o^\^l judgments, and not required
bhndly to receive every thing they said; but, when they spoke as
witnesses, to consider the proofs of their mtegrity ; when they reasoned,
to examine their reasoning ; when they pubhshed revelations, to weigh
well the miracidous evidence of God's speaking in them. — Arch-
bishop AVhately: Cautions for the Times, pp. 111-12.

The greater part of what the apostles wTote was, doubtless, entirely
the suggestion of their own minds, and, properly speaking, uninspired.
It:- authority is not at all diminished by this circumstance, if we grant
(what it would be absm'd to doubt) that every ^n•ong suggestion must
have been checked by the impulse of the Spuit, every deficiency
supplied by actual revelation, and every failm'e or fault of memory
miraculously remedied. The revelation was miraculous ; but it was
recorded just as any man would record any ordinary information
which might be the result of reasoning or of report. The Bible is the
only book in the world which appeals to God for its authority, without

affecting or pretending to the immediate authorship of God

The true notion of inspiration is not that the sacred penman was
inspired while in the act of writing, but that he wrote what he had
beforehand received by extraordinary revelation. It would be impos-
sible else to account for the variety of style and thought, the occasional
introduction of matter foreign to revelation, and wiiatever else belongs
to such writings in common with all mere human compositions. —
Dr. Samuel Hinds, Bishop of Norwich: History of Christianity,
pp. 190, 284-5.



REVELATION, BUT NOT THE BIBLE, INFALLIBLE. 195

Having perused with great attention all that has fallen in my way
from Protestant wiiters on this subject [the inspiration of the Scrip-
tures], I have hardly found one single argument advanced by them
that is not logically incorrect ; so that, if I had not higher grounds on
which to rest my behef, they could not have led me to adopt it. . . .
It is not fair to consider the Sacred Volume ... as forming an indi-
vidual whole. Many of its books stand necessarily on different gromids
from the rest. For instance, learned Protestant divines, especially on
the continent, have excluded from inspiration the writings of St. Luke
and St. Mark, for this reason, that, according to them, the only argu-
ment for inspiration m the Scriptures is the promise of divine assistance
given to the apostles. But these were not apostles ; they Avere not
present at the promise ; and, if you extend that privilege beyond those
who were present, and to whom the promises were personally addressed,
the rule vill have no farther hmit. If you admit disciples to have
partaken of the privilege, on what ground is Barnabas excluded, and
why is not his Epistle held canonical ? . . . Nowhere does our Sa-siom'
tell his apostles, that whatever they may write shall enjoy this privilege
[of insjiiration] ; nor do they anywhere claim it. . . .What internal mark
of insphation can we discover in the thh'd Epistle of St. John to show,
that the inspiration sometimes accorded must have been granted here ?
Is there any tiling in that Epistle wliich a good and vhtuous pastor of
the primitiA'e ages might not have written j any tiling superior in sen-
timent or doctrine to what an Ignatius or a Polycarp might have
indited ? It is unfair in the extreme, as I before intimated, to consider
the New Testament, and still more the enthe Bible, as a whole, and
use internal arguments from one book to another ; to prove that the
Song of Solomon has mternal evidence of insphation, because Jere-
miah, who is m the same volume, contams true prophecies ; or that
the Epistle to Philemon is necessarily insphed, because the Apocalypse,
by its side, is a revelation. Yet such is a common way of argmng. If
internal CAidence has to decide the question, show it me for each book
m that sacred collection. ... As such conversions [those spoken of by
the Rev. Mr. Tottingham, an opponent of the Roman Catholic behef]
do not prove the preacher's sermon to be inspired, but only the doc-
trines which he teaches to be good, and, if you please, di\ine; so
neither can a similar fact prove the Bible inspired, but merely its
doctrines to be holy and salutary. The " Imitation of Chiist " may
be thus proved to be an inspired work. . . . His [Mr. Tottingham's]
second proof is the prophecies recorded in Scripture. These may,



196 REYELATION, BUT NOT THE BIBLE, INFALLIBLE.

indeed, prove any book to be inspired which is composed of tliem,
but not, surely, any wherein they are merely recorded. . . . Show me
where St. Matthew or St. jMark says that they have Amtten their
books under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, or by the command
of God, or for any other than human purposes. Unless you can show
this, the evidence as to their character may prove that whatever they
WTote is true ; but it will never prove that it was -R-ritten under the
guidance of the Holy Ghost. Precisely of a similar form is liis argu-
ment drawn from prophecy. It is never attempted to show how the
prophecies recorded in the Xew Testament were intended to prove
the msphatlon of the books wliich contain them ; how, for mstance,
the truth of our blessed Redeemer's prophecy touching the destruction
of Jerusalem can demonstrate that the Gospel of St. ISIatthew must
be inspired, because it relates it. — QiBDlNAL "\Yisejl\n : Lectures
on the Doctrines of the Catholic Church, pp. 31-6.

I . . . shall attempt to wrench this notion of a verbal inspiration
from the hands of its champions by a reductio ad ahsurdum, viz., by
showng the monstrous consequences to wliich it leads. ... Of what
use is it to a German, to a Swiss, or to a Scotsman, that, tlu-ee thou-
sand }'ears before the Reformation, the author of the Pentateuch was
kept from erring by a divine restraint over his words, if the authors
of this Reformation — Luther, suppose, Zwingle, John Knox — either
making translations themselves, or reljing upon translations made by
others under no such verbal restraint, have been left free to bias his
mind, pretty nearly as much as if the original Hebrew writer had been
resigned to liis own human discretion ? . . . The great ideas of the
Bible protect themselves. The heavenly truths, by then* own im-
perishableness, defeat the mortahty of languages with which for a
moment they are associated. Is the hghtning enfeebled or dimmed,
because for thousands of years it has blended vAt\\ the tarnish of earth
and the steams of earthly graves ^ Or light, wliich so long has tra-
velled in the chambers of our sickly ak, and searched the haunts of
impurity, — is that less pm-e than it was in the first chapter of Gene-
sis? Or that more holy light of truth, — the truth, suppose, -OTitten
from his creation upon the tablets of man's heart, — which truth never
was imprisoned in any Hebrew or Greek, but has ranged for ever
through com'ts and camps, deserts and cities, the origuial lesson of
justice to man and piety to God, — has that become tainted by inter-
course with flesh ? or has it become hard to decipher, because the very
heart, that human heart where it is inscribed, is so often blotted with '



REVELATION, BUT NOT THE BIBLE, INFALLIBLE. 197

falsehoods ? Li neutral points, having no relation to morals oi

religious jjhilosophy, it is not concealed by the scriptural records
themselves, that even insphed persons made grave mistakes. All
the apostles, it is probable, or with the single exception of St. John,
shared in the mistake about the second coming of Cluist, as an event
immediately to be looked for. With respect to diseases, agam, it is
evident that the apostles, m common mth all Jews, were habitually
disposed to read in them distinct manifesta'tions of heavenly wrath. —
Tho]mas De Quincey : Theological Essays, vol. i. pp. 77-8, 80-1,
87, and 175.

In pp. 94-6, Mr. De Quixcey shows that a divine teacher or a sacred
writer could not avoid tlie use of phraseology mvolving scientific errors,
v/ithout frustrating the objects of his mission, which was to teach, not
science, but religion; and says that this "line of argument applies to all the
compliances of Christ with the Jewish prejudices (partly imported from the
Euphrates) as to demouology, witchcraft, &c."

One thing is clear from tliis, and many other Kke passages, viz.,
that the apostles were not uniformly and always guided in all their
thoughts, deshes, and purposes, by an mfaUible Spirit of insphation.
Had this been the case, how could Paul have often pm-posed that
which never came to pass ? Those who plead for such a miiform j)er-
suasion may seem to be zealous for the honor of the apostles and
fomiders of Clmstianity ; but they do in fact cherish a mistaken zeal.
For if we once admit that the apostles were uniformly mspired in all
which they purposed, said, or did ; then we are constrained, of com'se,
to admit that men acting ujider the influence of inspiration may pm*-
pose that which wiU never come to pass or be done ; may say that
which is hasty or incorrect. Acts xxiii. 3, or do that which the gospel
disapproves. Gal. ii. 13, 14. But if this be once fully admitted, then it
would make nothing for the credit due to any man to affirm that he is
inspired ; for what is that inspu'ation to be accounted of, which, even
during its continuance, does not guard the subject of it from mistake
or error ? Consequently, those who maintain the uniform insphation
of the apostles, and yet admit (as they are compelled to do) then*
errors in purpose, word, and action, do in efliect obscure the glory of
inspiration, by reducing msj)ired and uninspired men to the same level.
To my o^\Ti mind, nothing appears more certain than that inspiration,
in any respect whatever, was not abiding and uniform \\dth the apostles
or any of the primitive Christians. To God's only and well-beloved
Son, and to him only, was it given to have the Spirit unerpug or ov en

17*



198 EEVELATION, BUT NOT THE BIBLE, INFALLIBLE.

(lirpov [" not by measure "], John iii. 34. . . . The consequence of thia
was, that Jesus " knew no sm, neither was guile found in liis mouth ; "
but all his followers, whenever they were left without the special and
miraculous guidance of the Spirit, committed more or less of sin and^
error. Tiiis "siew of the subject frees it from many and most formid-
able difficulties. It assigns to the Sa^iour the pre-eminence which is
justly due. It accounts for the mistakes and errors of liis apostles.
At the same time, it does not detract, in the least degree, from the
certamty and vahdity of the sa}ings and doings of the apostles, when
they were under the special influence of the Sphit of God. — MosES
Stuart on Rom. i. 13 j in Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans^
pp. 55-6.

We cannot admit the force of the reasoning [of M. Gaussen, of
the Oratohe] that would exalt aU the writings of the Old and New
Testament to prophetic dignity ; . . . and stiU less can we sympathize
\a\h the rigid uniformity with which he carries out, in httle harmony
as it seems to us with his own ^iews of individuality, the theory of
ah initio dictiition in the case of every sacred wiiter without excep-
tion. — JVorth British Review for jYovejiiber, 1852 ; Amer. edition,
vol xiii. pp. 99, 100.

The author of the article from which we make this extract opposes both
that view of inspiration which would resolve it, with the naturalistic school,
into elevated genius; and the older opinion of some supernaturalists, which
would make all the writers of the Bible, not only in their ideas but in their
style, mere amaimenses of the Holy Spirit. Contrary also to Schleierma-
OHEii, CoLEKiDGE, Neaxdek, and Tholucic, who, in common with a great
aiajority of Unitarians, believe in a partial inspiration of the Sacred Writ-
ings, he regards ail these as being plenarily inspired or infallible, though he
candidly admits (p. 97) that "a discordant aspect" has been given "to
some parts of the Scripture " from " the neglect of chronological details, and
many other circumstances; " " leaving the believer in plenary inspiration in
doubt and perplexity.''

The difficulties [which the Bible offers] never wiU be aU resolved ;

and, even if they w^ere so, they would but give place to fresh ones

"When we look closely into this matter, we shall find . . . that the per-
sonal feelmg of the "vviiters [of the Old and New Testament canons] is
the same ; that then' indi\iduahty has the same scope, and produces the
same effects ; that the influence of chcumstances on their writings is
the same ; and that all — various readings, incorrect translations, the
use of various som'ces of information, documentary and otherwise,
varieties of style, faults in grammar, trifling details, confessions of



REVELATIOX, BUT NOT THE BIBLE, INFALLIBLE. 199

weakness, ignorance, and sin, apparent contradictions and errors, loss
of the authors' names, absence of any formal sanction to the canon, —
aU, in short, which we meet with in the case of the one canon is to be

found also in that of the other With the exception of those

cases in which they transmit to us some matter of direct revelation, . . .
the prophets and apostles alike write under the impulse of their own
pecuHar feelmgs. The prophets who wrote the history of the kings
of Judah and Israel had no more thought of producing oracles of God
than had Mark or LulvC in WTitihg the history of Jesus Christ. — Count
Agenor Gasparin : The Schools of Doubt and the School of Faith,
pp. 212, 287-8, 297.

Let not the reader, if unacquainted with the ahu of Count Gasparin,
suppose, from the extracts we have made from him, that he founds his belief
in revelation on the trustworthiness of the writers of the Bible, or on the
divinity of the principles which they inculcate or record. The object of his
work, on the contrary, is to estabUsh the dogma of the plenary inspiration
of all parts of Scripture ; the absolute infallibility of all the books admitted
into the Protestant canon ; the perfect equality of a canonical book of Moses,
of David, of Solomon, or of an apostle, to the words even of Jesus Christ
himself (pp. 194, 198). But if there be in the Bible so much of difficulty,
error, weakness, apparent contradiction, &c., as he represents, — whatever
may be the causes from which this originates, — we may be permitted to
ask what conceivable value to faith is attributed in the tlieory of inspiration
and infiiUibility for which he so eloquently contends.

§ 2. The Denial of Verbal or of Plenary Inspiration not a
Denial of Revelation.

It is not of necessity to salvation to beheve every book or verse in
Scripture to be canonical, or WTitten by the Spirit of God. For as
the Papists' canon is larger than that which the Protestants own ; so,
if our canon should prove defective of any one book, it would not
follow that we could not be saved for want of a sufficient faith. The
churches immediately after the apostles' time had not each one all
their writmgs ; but they were brought together in time, and received
by degrees, as they had proof of their being wiitten by authorized,
inspired persons. ... A man may be saved w^ho believeth not some
books of Scripture (as Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Revelations) to
be canonical, or the word of God ; so he heartily beheve the rest, or the

essentials Though aU Scripture be of di\iQe authority, yet he

that believeth but some one book w^hich containeth the substance of
the doctrine of salvation may be saved ; much more they that have



200 DENIAL OF THE INEALLIBILITY OE THE BIBLE

doubted but of some particular books. They that take the Scriptiu'e
to be but the writmgs of godly, honest men, and so to be only a
means of making known Clirist, having a gradual precedency to the
WTitmgs of other godly men, and do beheve in Clirist upon those
strong grounds which are dra"«Ti from his doctrine, mu'acles, &c.,
rather than upon the testimony of the MTiting, as bemg purely infal-
hble and divine, may yet have a di\ine and sa^ing faith. Much more
tliose that believe the whole ^n-itmg to be of divine inspiration where
it handleth the substance, but doubt whether God infallibly guide
them in every cu'cumstance. — Richaed Baxter : Christian DireC'
tory, and The Saint's Rest; in Practical Works, vol. v. pp. 523, 561 ;
and vol. xxii. p. 264.

Since the Jews had, at the time of the writing of the New Testa-
ment, a peculiar way of expounding many prophecies and passages in
the Old Testament, it was a very proper way to convince them, to
allege many places according to their key and methods of exposition.
Therefore, when divine craters argue ujion any point, we are always
bound to beheve the conclusions that their reasonings end in, as parts
of di^ine revelation ; but we are not bomid to be able to make out, or
even to assent to, ah the premises made use of by them in their whole
extent, unless it appears plamly that they affirm the premises as
expressly as they do the conclusions proved by them. — Bishop
BimxET: Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, Art. 6, pp. 112-13.

K the fom' evangehsts Avere not rendered mfaUible by the imme-
diate intervention of the Deity, it is hardly possible that their accounts
should be wholly free from error, and therefore in no case contradic-
tory to each other. But even if it be true that their accounts are
sometimes at variance, it by no means follows, that the history itself,
the miracles and the resurrection of Christ, are a forgery; and the
only inference which we can deduce from it, is that the evangelists
were not inspired, at least not in the relation of historical facts. . . .
To speak the truth, I do not believe that the evangehsts were divinely
inspired in matters of history. — J. D. MiCHAELis : Introduction to
the jYew Testamentf vol. iii. part i. pp. 26-7.

He who acquires knowledge, not by the use of any natm-al faculty,
neither by immediate perception, nor by reasoning, nor by instruction,
but in some inexpHcable, miraculous manner, is inspned. He who
sets doAATi in writing the knowledge so obtained composes an inspu-ed
work. There appears to be no intelligible distmction between original
revelation and inspnation ; and yet men seem to have entertamed



NOT A DENIAL OE REVELATION. 201

an obscure notion of something more : otherwise they could not have
been perplexed with so many difficulties concerning the accuracy and
perfection of the Scriptures. They contain some few passages which
appear to have no relation to religion, and many facts which the ^mters
certainly knew in the ordinary way. Nor does there seem any reason
to expect marks of the interposition of Heaven in such matters. The
great truths impressed on their minds neither obHterated their former
knowledge, nor made it perfect. When they speak, for instance, of a
Roman custom or a Jewish tradition, we are not to imagine that these
things were revealed from above, nor to require greater accuracy in
their accomits of them than in other writers who treat of the affahs
of then' own age and their own country. When they relate the won-
derful events which they had seen and heard, it will be no objection
to their credit as human witnesses, that we find in their several histo-
ries of the same fact such a variety of chcumstances or of method as
always occurs in other the most exact narrations. Difficulties of this
Ivind coidd never have arisen, or must have been easily removed, had
either the impugners or defenders of the Sacred Writings formed
precise ideas of the natm-e of inspiration, and attended to its use.
This was not to teach men history or philosophy ; not to instruct them
in the arts of composition, or the ornaments of human learning ; but
to make them understand and beHeve the rehgion of Jesus. — Dr.
William Samuel Powell : Discourses, No. 11. jDp. 41-2.

The views of inspiration so clearly presented by Dr. Powell seem in
the main to be those generally adopted by Unitarians. In his fifteenth Dis-
course, he enters more at large ou the subject, particularly in its bearing on
the Epistles of Paul; — shows that the great apostle had received the doc-
trines of Christianity from Christ himself, but that his natural faculties and
his education enabled him to retain the knowledge he had acquired, and to
impart it to others in a style forcible, but " abounding with broken sentences,
bold figures, and hard, far-fetched metaphors;" — observes, that, though
it were possible to prove the Scriptures to have been dictated verbally by the
Holy Spirit, " it does not appear that any important conclusions would be
deducible from it; " and closes the discussion with a remark, the justness
of which will, we think, be admitted by all true Protestants, — that " that
which " in the Scriptures " is important is also clear; " and " that, whatever
may be thought of the coloring, the substance of these writings was from
heaven."

If we once admit the falhbihty of the apostoHc judgment, v/here
are we to stop, or in what can we rely upon it ? To which question,
• . , as arguing for the substantial truth of the Christian history, and



202 DENIAL OE THE INTALLIBILITY OF THE BIBLE

for that alone, it is competent to the advocate of Christianity to reply,
" Give me the apostles' testimony, and I do not stand in need of their
judgment ; give me the facts, and I have complete security for every
conclusion I want." . . . The two folio wmg cautions . . . will exclude all
uncertainty upon this head which can be attended with danger : Fh-st,
To separate what was the object of the apostoHc mission, and declared
by them to be so, fi'om what was extraneous to it, or only mcidentaUy
comiected vnth. it. . . . Secondly, That, in reading the apostohc writings,
we distinguish between theu* doctrines and their arguments. Their
doctrmes came to them by revelation properly so called ; yet, m pro-
pounding these doctrmes in their "OTitings or discom'ses, they were
wont to illustrate, support, and enibrce them by such analogies, argu-
ments, and considerations, as then' own thoughts suggested. . . . The
doctrine itself must be received ; but it is not necessary, in order to
defend Christianity, to defend the propriety of every comparison, or
the vaHdity of every argument, which the apostle has brought mto the
discussion. — Dr. Wm. P.\ley : Evidences of Chrisiianitij, part iii.
chap. 2; in Works, pp. 412-13.

We have omitted the illustrations by which this clear-headed thmker
supports his reasoning, drawn from the belief of the evangelists in the
reality of demoniacal possession, and from the erroneous opinion attributed
to the apostles, and supposed to be found in their writings, that the day or
judgment was to approach in their own times. But, as Paley's work is
well known, the whole chapter can easily be referred to.

The liistory of the New Testament remains in the main ti'ue,
although the narrator may denate from what actually took place, m
describing immaterial collateral circumstances, or may, through mis-
take, alter or add sometliing in such collateral incidents ; and although
he may adopt words somewhat varying from those actually used by
the characters occurring in the history. It is sufficient if only the
facts themselves are not fabricated, the thoughts and sentiments of
the actors and speakers not perverted, and the truths wliich they
projDound not mixed with falsehood. In this sense we maintain that
the history contained in the New Testament is true. The material

facts are not affected The truth of an event in general depends

not upon single words, nor on tri^ial temporary Hmitations and colla-
teral incidents ; but the question is, whether the fact be true. Each
narrator has recorded it somewhat differently according to his o^vn
observation, and the different way by which he arrived at the know-
ledge o£ it. This very variety confirms the truth of the evangelic



NOT A DENIAL OE REVELATION. 203

history. A suspicion -would naturally arise against them, if each, of
the evangeHsts had narrated every thing to the minutest circumstance
in the very same words. — G. F. Seiler: Biblical Hemieneutics,
§§ 298, 326.

It is my profound conviction that St. John and St. Paul were
di\-inely inspu'ed; but I totally disbeheve the dictation of any one
word, sentence, or argujnent, throughout their writings. Observe,
there was revelation. . . . Revelations of facts were undoubtedly made
to the prophets ; revelations of doctiines were as undoubtedly made to
John and Paul ; — but is it not a mere matter of our very senses



Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 22 of 55)