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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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teachings of the Saviour, but his life and his character, his labors and his
sufferings, his death and his resurrection — was a revelation, designed, not
for particular persons or families, or for a peculiar nation, but for all man-
kind; and the impress of universality and legibility are therefore stamped
on its divine lineaments. By a few simple strokes from the pens of tha
evangelists, Jesus is still seen, as he was some eighteen or nineteen hundred
years ago, walking on the hills and the plains, or by the rivers and the
lakes, of Palestine; mixing with his countrymen in their lofty temple and
humbler synagogues, in their cities and villages, in their streets and roads,
in their houses and in their fishing-boats ; familiar with seamen, with publi-
cans, witli the erring and abandoned, with the pious and the gentle-hearted;
telling them, in no equivocal terms, of the care and providence of their all-
bountiful Father, of their solemn responsibleuess to God for all they think
and feel and say and do, and of their various duties to themselves and their
brethren of mankind; speaking words of comfort and hope to the penitent,
but of warning and woe to the self-righteous ; imparting health and energy
and life to the sick, the feeble, the dying, and the dead; and pronouncing
benedictions on little children, on the humble-minded, on the mourners, on
the meek, on the hungerers and thirsters after righteousness, on the merciful,
on the pure in heart, and on those who sufier for the name of Christ. We
see this good being murdered for his goodness by the proud priests of his
nation. We see his body taken from the cruel cross, put into a tomb, and
in a few hours rising again with renewed life. We see him, " from the
mount caEed Olivet," ascending to that Being who commissioned him, and
leaving, as a sacred legacy, the image and remembrances of himself, and tho
spirit of his benign religion, not to the narrow-minded Jews, but to the world
at large. This great Revealer of the will of God — this best Eepresentative
and Manifestation of Immortal Goodness — spoke not, indeed, in the Anglo-
Saxon or in any other modern tongnie, but in the now-obsolete Syro-Chaldaic ;
yet its translated tones of love and righteousness sound on the ear, and
address the heart, of our common humanity. Though he wore a Jewish

20



230 SIMPLICITY OF OUR LORD'S TEACHINGS.

garb, aliuded to local and temporary usages, accommodated his -words to
unphilosophical ideas, and spoke in Oriental parables and paradoxes, he
stands before us, in the pages of the simple evangelists, as the clearest
expounder of God's messages and the most perfect teacher of eternal truth.
No corruption of the Greek text, and no false rendering, have obscured, or
can obscure, the import of the term " Father," -which, -with so profound yet
so clear and expressive a meaning, Jesus applied to God in his discourses;
"which he uttei-ed in his prayers and in his thanksgivings ; and -which he
taught his disciples to use in their daily petitions to Heaven. It contains
•within itself a universal revelation, — a revelation intelligible to the capaci-
ties of the human mhid and to the afiections of the human heart in all stages
of development, and gro-wing more significant and luminous as men and
■women advance in the scale of intelligence, virtue, and holiness.

It -R'^ould be easy to pursue the same strain of remark, by exhibiting the
perspicuity and the practicability of other principles which our Lord taught
and exemplified; and by showing that he avoided the presentation and
discussion of topics, -n^hich, from their inherent obscurity or mysteriousness,
could not generally be understood, or be brought home to the minds and
hearts of all men. But the sentiments of eminent Trmitariaus on this sub-
ject, -which v,'e are about to introduce, -will render any further observatious
on our part unnecessary.



He delighted not to discourse of sublime mysteries (although his
deep -vvisdom comprehended them all), nor of subtle speculations and
intiicate questions, such as might amuse and perplex rather than
instruct and profit liis auditors, but usually did feed liis auditors -with
the most common and usefid truths, and that in the most familiar and
intelHgible language. — Dr. Is.\.\c B.irrow : Works, vol. i. p. 404.

Surely, the -way to heaven, that Christ hath taught us, is plam and
easy, if we have but honest hearts : we need not many criticisms, many
school distinctions, to come to a right understanding of it. Sm-ely,
Christ came not to ensnare us and entangle us with captious niceties,
or to puzzle oiu' heads -with deep speculations, and lead us through
hard and craggy notions into the kingdom of heaven. I persuade
myself tliat no man shall ever be kept out of heaven for not compre-
hending mysteries, that were beyond the reach of his shallow undesr-
standing, if he had but an honest and good heart, that was ready to
comply with Christ's commandments. " Say not in thy heart. Who
shall ascend into heaven ? " that is, vdth. high speculations to bring
dov/n Christ from thence ; or, " Who shall descend into the abyss
beneath ? " that is, with deep-searching thoughts to fetch up Christ
from thence ; but, lo ! " the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and
in thy heart." .... I speak not here against a free and ingenuous



SIMPLICITY OF OUR LORD'S TEACHINGS. 231

inquiry into all truth, according to our several abilities and opportuni-
ties. I plead not for the captivating and enthralling of our judgments
to the dictates of men. I do not disparage the natm-al improvement
of our understanding faculties by true knowledge, which is so noble
and gallant a perfection of the mind. But the thing which I aim
against is the dispiriting of the life and vigor of our religion by dry
speculations, and making it nothing but a mere dead skeleton of opi-
nions, — a few dry bones, without any flesh and sinews, tied up
together ; and the misplacing of all our zeal upon an eager prosecution
of these, which should be spent to better purpose upon other objects. —
Dr. Ralph Cudworth : Sermon 1, appended to Intellectual System
of the Universe, vol. ii. ]3p. 554, 556.

The Lord Jesus, in wisdom and tender mercy, estabHshed a law of
grace, and rule of Hfe, pm-e and perfect, but simple and plain ; la;ying
the condition of man's salvation more in the honesty of the believing
heart than in the strength of wit, and subtlety of a knowing head.
He comprised the truths which were of necessity to salvation in a
narrow room ; so that the Christian faith was a matter of great plain-
ness and simplicity. ... By the occasion of heretics' quarrel and
errors, the serpent steps in, and will needs be a spuit of zeal in the
church; and he will so overdo against heretics, that he persuades
them they must enlarge their creed, and add this clause against one,
and that against another, and all was but for the perfecting and pre-
serving of the Chi-istian faith. . . . He had got them, with a religious,
zealous cruelty to their own and others' souls, to lay all their salvation,
and the peace of the chm'ch, upon some unsearchable mysteries about
the Trinity, which God either never revealed, or never clearly revealed,
or never laid so great a stress upon. Yet he per'^uades them, that
there was Scripture-proof enough for these ; only the Scripture spoke
it but in the premises or in darker terms, and they must but gather
into their creed the consequences, and put it into plainer expressions,
which heretics might not so easily corrupt, pervert, or evade. —
Richard Baxter : TTie Right Method ; in Practical Works, vol. ix.
pp. 192-3.

Of the divine Founder of our religion, it is impossible to peruse
the evangehcal histories, without observing how little ke favored the
vanity of inquisitiveness ; how much more rarely he condescended to
satisfy curiosity than to relieve distress ; and how much he desired that
his followers should rather excel in goodness than in knowledge. —
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Rambler, No. 81.



232 SIMPLICITY OF OUR LORD'S TEACHINGS.

Christianity is a religion intended for general use : it ajDpeals to the
common leehngs of om* natm-e, and never clashes %nth the unbiased
dictates of our reason. AYe may therefore ranlv it amons: the bene-
ficial tendencies, as well as the peculiar evidences, of such a rehgion,
that the Author of it abstained from all abstruse speculations, 8zc. —
Dr. Samuel Parr : Works, vol. v. p. 507.

While Jesus requires us to beheve in the Father, Son, and Koly
Spu'it, he has nowhere taught us or requii-ed us to believe the learned
distinctions respecting this doctrine which have been introduced
since the fom-th century. The mideserved benefits which they had
received from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, were the great svibjects to
wliich Jesus pointed his followers in the passage above cited [Matt.
xx-siii. 19], and in others; that they Avere now able to understand and
worsliip God in a more perfect manner, to approach him as their
Father and Benefactor in spirit and in truth ; that their minds were
now enlightened by the instructions given them by the Son of God,
who had been sent into the world to be their Teacher, and that their
souls were redeemed by his death ; that, in consequence of what Christ
had ah'eady done and would yet do, they might be ad\-anced in moral
perfection, and made holy, — a work specially ascribed to the aids and
influence of the Holy Spirit. . . . He did not reveal tliis doctrine to men
to furnish them \\\t\\ matter for speculation and dispute, and did not,
therefore, prescribe any formulas by which the one or the other could
have been excited. — G. C. Knapp : Christ. TlieoL, sect, xxxiii. 2.

Jesus is not the author of a dogmatic theology, but the author and
finisher of faith, Heb. xii. 2 ; not the founder of a school, but empha-
tically the founder of religion and of the chm'ch. On this account he
did not propound dogmas di'essed in a scientific garb ; but he taught
the word of God in a simply human and popular manner, for the most
part in parables and sentences. — K. R. Hagenbach : Compendium
of the History of Doctrines, vol. i. § 17.

There is something most highly interesting and instructive in the
manner in v.'liich the Saviour adapted his communications to the occa-
sions on which they were to be m.ide, and to the jDurposes which he
endeavored to effect by them. A modern preacher would have carried
the metaphysics of theology all over the tillages of Gahlee, and would
have puzzled the vfoman of Samaria, or the inquiring ruler, with ques-
tions about the nature of the Godhead, or the distinction between
moral and natural inabihty. But Jesus Clirist pressed simple duty.
The two great elementary principles of religion are these, —



SUVIPLICITY 0? our. LORD'S TEACHINGS. 233

tli(^ duty of strong benevolent interest in every fellov.-being, and of
submission and gratitude towards the Supreme. Jesus Christ has
said, that these constftute the foundation on which all revealed rehgion
rests. — Jacob Abbott: The Corner-stone^ pp. 187, 339.

Christ was the divinest of theologians, because he taught not in
abstraction, but exemplification ; not in dogmas merely, but deeds ;
in the ardor of his heart, as well as the energy of his mind ; in the
gentleness of his demeanor, and the beneficent industry of his life.

His ambition was to teach, not so much the new as the true,

and the true not as a logical formula or dogmatical proposition, but as
a transparent and comprehensive religious sentiment, enhghtening the
conscience, spirituaHzing the heart, elevating the soul, and regenerating
the entire family of man, as it swept outward mth infinite expansive-

ness to embrace the world He knew that the fundamental

principles of rehgion which he taught lay so near to the reason and
conscience of mankind, that they needed only to have their attention
directed towards them, in order to secure assent. For this reason,
Jesus dehvered his instructions with such a clearness and simphcity,
such an energy and power, that they commended themselves imme-
diately to every ingenuous heart. . . . He reahzed, in the presence of
the human race, an ideal of human perfection level to popidar com-
prehension and within the reach of all. In his person, his demeanor,
and his speech, the world saw the infinite brought down to our stand-
ard, so realized that we can easily understand it, and feel the majesty
and beauty of that love to Christ which is nothing but the imitation
of God brought near to the roused intellect and heart. . . . The doc-
trines of Christ were at the same time the most practical and profound.
His precepts Vv'ere level to the capacities of a child, and yet they con-
tained principles which the most matured and soaring intellect could

never outrun By the representation which Jesus gave of the

doctrine of the one only and Supreme God, and of the nature of
acceptable worship, very important objects were to be accompHshed.
He exhibited true religion with such clearness and simphcity, that
those of the humblest capacities, even children, might comprehend
it. . . . Christ would teach man, that there is no spiritual progress for
him till he discovers that truth is as much a thing to be felt as a thing
to be perceived ; and that it is only a very small portion of truth that
the philosopher's analysis, the logician's syllogisms, theological dogmas,
and sectarian creeds, can impart to the immortal soul. — E. L. MagOON :
Republican Christianity, pp. 58, 93, 97-9, 240-1.

20*



234 INTELLIGIBILITT OF CHRISTIAN PFINCIPLES.



SECT. II. — THE PEINCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY SUITABLE TO ALL

CAPACITIES.

My gracious God, how plain
Are thy directions giren I
Oh, may I never read in vain,
But find the path to heaven !

Isaac Watts.

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alilce
clear unto aU; yet those things which are necessary to be known,
believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and
opened in some place of Scriptm-e or other, that not only the learned,
but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain
unto a sufficient understanding of them. — Westminster Divines :
Confession of Faith, chap. i. 7.

The Christian rehgion is, as GREGORY Nazianzen says, simplex et
nuda, nisi prave in artem difficillimam conveHeretur : it is a plain, an
easy, a perspicuous truth. — John Dontst; : Sermons, No. VII.

S. T. Coleridge, by whom we borrow this extract, beautifully says in
his note on it (Literary Remains, in Works, vol. v. p. 90), that " a religion
of ideas, spiritual truths, or truth-powers, — not of notions and conceptions,
the manufacture of the understanding, — is therefore simplex et nuda, that
is, immediate; like the clear blue heaven of Italy, deep and transparent, an
ocean unfathomable in its depth, and yet ground all the way." Seeing,
however, that the representation of Christianity as a religion which may
easily be understood by all will naturally lead to Unitarianism, Colekidge
exclaims, *' Oh, let not the simplex et nuda of Gregory be perverted to the
Socinian, * plain and easy for the meanest understandings ' ! "

Because [the] Christian religion was intended and instituted for
the good of mankind, whether poor or rich, learned or imlearned,
simple or prudent, vnse or weak, it was fitted with such plain, easy,
and e^ident directions, both for things to be known and things to be
done, in order to the attainment of the end for which it v/as designed,
that might be understood by any capacity that had the ordinary and
common use of reason or human understanding, and by the common
assistance of the di-sine grace might be practised by them. The ere-
denda, or things to be kno^ni or believed, as simj)ly necessary to those
ends, are but few and intelligible, briefly dehvered in that summary of
[the] Christian rehgion usually called the Apostles' Creed. — Sm
Matthew Hale : A Discourse of Relip;ion, p. 4.



INTELLIGIBTLTTT OF CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES. 235

Considering the wisdom and goodness of Almighty God, I cannot
possibly believe but that all things necessary to be believed and prac-
tised by Christians, in order to their eternal salvation, are pkinly con-
tained in the Holy Scriptm-es. God surely hath not dealt so hardly
with m.anliind as to make any thing necessary to be believed or
practised by us which he hath not made sufficiently plain to the
capacity of the unlearned as well as of the learned. God forbid that
it should be impossible for any man to be saved and to get to heaven
without a great deal of learning to direct and carry him thither, when
the far greatest part of manlund have no learning at all ! It was well
Baid by ERASMUS, that " it was never vf ell with the Christian world
since it began to be a matter of so much subtilty and wit for a mau
to be a true Christian." — Ap.CHBiSHOP TiLLOTSON : Sermon 4:4: ; in
Works, vol. iii. p. 219.

I know not whence it comes to pass, that men love to make plain
things obscure, and like nothing in rehgion but riddles and mysteries.
God, indeed, was pleased to institute a great many ceremonies (and
many of them of very obscure signification) in the Jewish worship, to
awe their childish minds into a greater veneration for his dhane
majesty. But, in these last days, God hath sent his ovfn Son into the
world to make a plain and easy and perfect revelation of his will, to
publish such a religion as may approve itself to our reason, and capti-
vate our affections by its natural charms and beauties. And there
cannot be a greater injury to the Christian religion than to render it
obsciu'e and xmintelligible ; and yet too many there are who despise
every thing which they understand, and think nothing a sufficient trial
of their faith but what contradicts the sense and reason of mankind. —
Dr. William Sherlock : Discourse concerning the Knowledge of
Christ, chap. iv. sect. 2.

Whence is it, that, amidst all the obscurities that surround us, God
has placed practical duties in a fight so remarkably clear ? Whence
is it that doctrines most clearly revealed are, however, so expressed as
to furnish difficulties, if not substantial and real, yet fikely and appa-
rent ; and that the practical part is so clearly revealed that it is not
fiable to any objections which have any show or color of argument ?
My brethren, either we must deny the wisdom of the Creator, or we
must infer this consequence, that what is most necessary to be known,
what will be most fatal to man to neglect, what we ought most invio-
lably to preserve, is practical refigion. — James Saurin : Semwmt,
vol u. pp. 106-7.



236 INTELLIGIBILITY OF CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES.

The Christian religion, according to my mind, is a very simple
thing, intelligible to the meanest capacity, aiid what, if we are at jjains
to join practice to knowledge, we may make om'selves thoroughly
acquainted with, \^■ithout turning over many books. It is the distin-
guishing excellence of this religion, that it is entirely popular, and
fitted, both in its doctrines and in its e^idences, to all conditions and
capacities of reasonable creatm-es, — a character Avliich does not belong
to any other religious or philosophical system that ever appeared in the
world. I wonder to see so many men, eminent both for then- piety
and for their capacity, laboring to make a mystery of this divine insti-
tution. If God vouchsafes to reveal himself to mankind, can W"e
suppose that he chooses to do so in such a manner as that none but
tlie learned and contemplative can understand him ? The generality
of mankind can never, in any possible cii'cumstances, have leisure or
capacity for learning, or profound contemplation. If, therefore, we
make Christianity a m}'stery, we exclude the greater part of mankind
from the knowledge of it ; which is directly contrary to the intention
of its Author, as is plain from his explicit and reiterated declarations.
In a word, I am perfectly convinced, that an intimate acquaintance
with the Sciiptm-e, particularly the Gospels, is all that is necessary
to om' accompKshment in true Christian knowledge. — -^Dr. James
Beattie : Letters, pp. 67-8.

Every truth contained in di\'ine revelation, or deducible from it, is
not conveyed \sith equal perspicuity, nor is in itself of equal impor-
tance. There are some things so often and so clearly laid down in
Scripture, that hardly any who profess the belief of revealed religion
pretend to question them. About these there is no controversy in
the church. Such are the doctrines of the unity, the spiiituality, the
natural and moral atti'ibutes, of God ; the creation, preservation, and
government of the world by liim ; the principal events in the life of
Jesus Christ, as well as his crucifixion, resm-rection, and ascension^
the doctrine of a future judgment, heaven and hell ; together with
aU those moral truths which exliibit the great outlines of our duty tc
God, our neighbor, and ourselves. In general, it vaW be found, that
what is of most importance to us to be acquainted with and believed,
is oftenest and most clearly inculcated ; and tliat, as we find there are
degrees in behef as well as in evidence, it is a very natural and just
conclusion, that our belief in those points is most rigorously required

wliich are notified to us in Scripture with the clearest evidence

Is . . . the doctrine of revelation abstruse and metaphysical, and



INTELLIGIBILITY OF CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES. 237

therefore not to be apprehended by any who have not been accus«
tomed to the most profound and abstract researches ? By no means.
The character which Holy Writ gives of its own doctrine is the very
reverse of this. It is pure and plain, such as " enKghteneth the ej'es,
and maketh wise the simple." . . . The most essential truths are ever
the most perspicuous. — Dr. George Campbell : Lectures on Sys-
tematic Theology and Pulpit Eloquence, pp. 16, 17 ; 137, 139.

It may be reckoned a necessary characteristic of di%ine revelation,
that it shall be delivered in a manner the most adapted to what are
vulgarly called the meanest caj)acities ; and by this perspicuity, both
of precept and of doctrme, the whole Bible is remarkably distinguished.
. . . Obscurities undoubtedly have arisen jfrom the great antiquity of
the Sacred Writmgs, from the changes which time makes in language,
and from some points "bf ancient history, become dark or doubtful;
but these affect only particular passages, and bring no difficulty at all
upon the general doctrine of revelation, which is the only thing of
universal and perpetual importance. — Bishop Horsley : Sermons,
No. VII. p. 76.

It has been an opinion invariably received in all Protestant coun-
tries, that whatever is necessary to be believed is mtelHgible to aU
persons who read the Scriptures with no other view than to investigate
and embrace the truth. It would be easy to produce a cloud of au-
thorities to this pm'pose. — Dr. John Sytvionds : Ohservations upon
the Expediency of Revising the Present English Version of the Epis'
ties in the jYew Testament, p. xv.

While there are many things which God conceals, and thereby
advances his glory, he has made manifest whatever is essential for man
to know. Whatever is intimately connected with our duty is most
plainly taught : whatever is important to om' welfare and happiness is
fully revealed. — Robert Hall : Sermon on Prov. xxv. 2 ; in Woi'ks,
vol. iii. p. 328.

It has been repeatedly and most justly noticed, both as matter of
fedmiration and of gratitude, as at once among the strongest evidences
and the most valuable characteristics of our Christian faith, that, under
the covenant and dispensation of grace, the things most essentially
necessary to man's salvation are revealed in the plainest and most
unequivocal terms, are made (wheresoever the perversity of the human
will does not oppose itself to the teaching of the Spirit of God) clear
and intelKgible to aU men. — J. J. Conybeare : Bampton Lectures,
page 1.



238 INTELLIGIBILITY OF CHRISTIAN PHINCIPLES.

The dubious twilight of mystical devotion, and the vague appre-
hension of unrevealed mysteries, surely cannot but seem greatly at
variance "snth the very nature of Clnistianity, to those who regard it
as fully and finally chsclosed in the wTitten word. . . . That wliich is
disclosed is perspicuous and undisguised ; and with this alone it is that
we are concerned : ^nth what may be liidden from us, we have nothing
to do. Kehgion to us exists only so far as it is clearly revealed. The
acknowledgment of this, upon its proper evidence, is faith : the sus-



Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 26 of 55)