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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chief proofs have been conceded to be weak, irrelevant, or nugatory,
can afford no reason for supposing that arguments of a more shadowy
and obscure nature are sufficient evidence for the truth of the dog-
mas themselves.

The character and force of the argument here employed, in sup-
porting the doctrine of the simple Unity of God, will, no doubt, be
estimated very differently by different minds j but that it is of no
inconsiderable weight may be evinced by the feet, that Christians of
ill denominations most readily and gladly wield it, when, in combating



THE "AEGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM." 15

Viiih. unbelievers, they adduce from the works of eminent Deists
testimonies favorable to the supreme excellence of Jesus' character,
to the special divinity of his mission, or to the umivalled holiness and
benign influences of his religion. And that this mode of reasoning is
universally admitted to be legitimate, except perhaps by those against
whom it is urged, may also be shown from the practice of orators,
philosophers, prophets, and apostles, ay, and of Christ himself, who
have not scrupled to defend the cause of truth and righteousness by
appealing to the principles of their adversaries, by arraying against
them the inconsistencies and contradictions into which they may have
fallen, and using the concessions which they may have made either
spontaneously or with reluctance.

We have dwelt at some length on this point, because desirous
of exhibiting to the reader the principal aim and nature of the
following work. But we have had in view another object, which,
though in some respects only subsidiary to the argument spoken of, is
of higher importance to the interests of truth; namely, that of pre-
senting the grounds on which rest the criticisms and expositions that
are deemed favorable to the principles of Unitarianism ; of assigniag
the reasons which have led members of orthodox chm-ches to abandon,
one after another, the proof-texts once so commonly adduced in sup-
port of Truiitarianism. Here the appeal to the bare concessions
of opponents may be laid aside ; for it is evident timt the argument
drawn fr'om the authority of orthodox writers, however eminent they
may have been for their talents and their learning, — fr-om their
acknowledgment of doubts and difficulties in regard to the true
import of passages which have been often pronounced as ahen to
Unitarianism, and from their approval or appKcation of modes of
exposition destructive to the alleged evidence for the doctrine of a
Triune God, — that this argument — the argumentum ad hominem,
pertinent as we have seen it to be in other cases, and consistent with
the highest aims of a truth-loving spmt — should not be deemed as
of the same importance, or be urged with the same amount of zeal»



16 INTRODUCTION.

as when it is accompamed by evidence for the justness of the admis-
sions. Singly wielded, though tending to unsettle the fomidations of
what is regarded as error, it is perhaps too antagonistic, withdrawing
the muid from the true state of the question, and the conditions on
which it is to be settled ; perplexing, rather than enhghtening, the
understanding in its search after truth j and not altogether satisfactory
to a soul longing for the possession of what is real and positive in
matters of rehgion.

It is therefore natural and proper to ask, Why is any particular
interpretation of a passage to be preferred to others ? "Why are the
testimonies which have so generally been relied on as worthy of trust
to be no longer entitled to credence and respect ? "I am astonished,"
it may be said by one who has been brought up in " the straitest sect "
of the Trinitarian theology, and been duly furnished with the proof-
texts in its fevor, but who has had only shght opportunities of judging
of the discrepancies of opinion and interpretation existmg among
orthodox writers, — "I am astonished beyond measm'e when you lay
before me the names of a host of Triniterians, who have, in one way
or another, been sapj)ing the very foundations of then- o^vn behef ;
who, for example, in opposition to my Catechism and my Creed, agree
with Unitarians in saying in the strongest terms, that the title * Son
of God,' used of Jesus Christ, does not imply his participation or his
possession of the divine essence. I know not what to tliink of it ;
but, though I have been led to esteem many of these as among the
ablest friends of the Trinitarian doctrine, they seem to be snatching
from me one of the main supports of my hope and confidence in the
Redeemer. Reasons conclusive to their mmds must have existed for
their thus yielding up the old positions, and adopting the views which
I, and many of my brethren, have regarded as new and heretical.
Now, tell me what these reasons are, that my own mind may be
satisfied whetlier they are false or true."

To a request so amply justified by the duty of individual examina-
tion, answers will be given, whenever practicable, by the authors who



PLAN OF THE WORK. 17

have made the concessions; sometimes colored, indeed, as may be
expected, by the hues of a peculiar phraseology, but agreeing in the
main -with the interpretations or the arguments which have been
proposed and m^ged by Unitarians. In some cases, however, they
will be presented without any formal statement of reasons, either be-
cause they are not assigned by the writers from whom we quote;
because they are so evidently just as to reqmre no proof; or because,
having been already stated by one or more of the witnesses cited, it
will be unnecessary to reiterate them, as it may well be supposed,
that others, in propounding similar interpretations, were influenced by
similar reasons.

To afford the reader a more comprehensive idea of the plan we
mean to pursue in conducting our argument, it may not be improper
to exhibit the order in which the subjects wiH be treated : —

1. We wiU, in the first place, exhibit the sentiments of distinguished
Trinitarians, to show that the spirit of sectarianism is inconsistent with
the spirit of Giristianity ; meaning, by the term " sectarianism," not
an honest preference of one form of Christian faith to another ; not a
weU-gromided attachment to a peirticular denomination, as better
adapted than others to promote the principles of piety, benevolence,
and truth ; not a calm and continuous effort to diffuse such opinions
as, after due inquiry, we think best calculated to advance the glory of
God and the good of man, — but an absorbing interest in the pettiest
of theologic peculiarities; a fiery zeal for externals and ceremonies,
mysteries and mysticisms; a fond predilection for the differences
which separate Christians from one another, and a supreme unconcern
for the agreements which unite them ; a punctihous payment of " tithe
and anise and cummin," with a non-observance of the "weightier
matters of the law " and the gospel, — " justice, mercy, and fidehty ; ''
a demoniac desire to bmn the bodies and to damn the souls of those
who will not bow down before the idols of then' vain and narroTir
imagination.

2*



18 INTRODUCTION.

2. Having quoted sentiments fraught with the purest spirit of
Christianit)' and of Catholicism, — some of them glowing with love
to Christian disciples of every name, and others with good-will to the
universal family of God, whatever religion they may profess ; some of
them giving expression to a righteous mdignation at the gross forms
of bigotry, of personal hate and destruction, which marked the darker
times of our forefathers, and others rebuking the more subdued and
refined, but not less galling, species of persecution which is sometimes
seen at the present day, and which consists of the denial of Christian
intercourse and Christian commmiion to those who, though sincerely
aiming to worship the God and Father of all, to reverence his beloved
Son and Messenger, and to cherish, in all their thoughts and pursuits,
the holy and benignant spirit of their Master, have dared to differ
from the opinions which are generally received j — having cited these
golden sentiments, as set forth in the writings of orthodox beHevers,
we win proceed, in tTie second place, to state the views of the same
authors, or of others belonging to the same churches, in respect to the
right and duty of every man to employ his powers in the attainment
of rehgious truth ; to be animated by such dispositions, and to adopt
such means, as are most conducive to this end ; and to avoid, as far as
in him Kes, those tendencies of his nature, and those influences aromid
him, which are calculated to impede his progress, or to lead him into
error.

3. As immediately and intimately connected with this department of
our work, we will next prove, by the aid of a few of the most eminent
Trinitarian Protestants, i;hat reason and revelation are the only legiti-
mate standards of religious doctrine j that they are perfectly consistent
with, and never antagonistic to, each other; that the disparagement
of the intellectual powers is followed by the most pernicious results j
that, if interpreted by the Kghts which can be thro^svn over it, Holy
Writ is sufficient, without the decrees of sjoiods and councils, the
authority of popes and chm'ches, or the dicta of fathers, priests, and
reformers, to be a rule of faith and commmiion for all the discijiles



PLAN OF THE WOKK. 10

of Jesus ; but tliat, on the other hand, the exercise of private judgment
will not guard us against many errors of behef and practice, unless we
be careful to study the Bible with the simple view of learning the
sense intended by the writers, or by the speakers whose sentiments
they report ; and to discriminate, in that collection of most holy books,
between the local and the universal, the temporary and the eternal, the
human and tlKe divme, — between the words and thoughts of man and
the wisdom and revelation of God.

4. We shall then be prepared to inquire whether the Christianity
of the New Testament be a simple or a mysterious rehgion, —
whether, m its essence and character, it be speculative or active,
theoretical or practical; a system of dogmas, or a development of
principles ; a series of unknown and uninteUigible propositions which
must be subscribed to and believed in, or a revelation of truths which
common minds may understand, sincere and honest hearts appreciate,
and all men reduce to practice. And the result of this inquiry will
he fomid to be, according to the excellent observations of some dis-
tinguished Truiitarians, that the rehgion of Christ is, in its sublime
simpHcity, and in its conformity with the highest reason, adapted alike
to the capacity of the many and the few, — of the peasant and the
philosopher.

5. Christianity is therefore simple, consistent with itself, and easUy
understood; while, on the contrary, Trinitarianism is a system of
dogmas which are either uninteUigible or self-contradictory. The
"Trinity" of the New Testament and of the ApostoHc Church —
if we may use a term unknown to Scripture — consists of a moral
and not a metaphysical union ; a miion of will and purpose between
the universal Father, his best-beloved Son, and (to complete the
figure) the spuit of power and wisdom which God imparted to Christ,
and, through Christ, to the apostles. But the Trinity of creeds, —
the Trinity which has no place in the New Testament, — the Trinity
which would either identify the Son and Servant of God with his
Father and Proprietor, and the Holy Ghost, as a separate person, with



20 INTRODUCTION.

the Father and the Son ; or would represent three conscious persons
as only one conscious Being ; or three infinite beings as only one God;
or three names or characters of the Deity, the one as sending, and the
others as sent, — the one as inspu'ing, and the others as inspired, —
the one as a Petitioner, the other as a person or being to whom
petitions are presented, and the thhd as neither praying nor being
prayed to, — this Trinity of human creeds, in whatever banner it may
have been exhibited, is a doctrine which shocks the imperverted mind,
and is as much repugnant to reason and common sense as is the tenet
of Transubstantiation itself. This conclusion may be fairly deduced
from, if it is not always expressed in, the language made use of by
the Roman Catholics and Protestants, all professed Trinitarians, from
whom we mean to quote.

6. Happily for the consistency of God's ways, or for the faith of his
human family, the doctrine of a Triune God is not only abhorrent to
the principles of our nature, but it is not a doctrine of revelation.
It is not expressly disclosed in the Bible, if, indeed, it can be proved
at aR from the records by any just principles of interpretation. Some
Roman CathoHcs say that it cannot be demonstrated from Scripture,
but must be received on the authority of the chm'chj and many
orthodox Protestants grant, that, so far from being clearly revealed,
it can only be inferred from the comparison of one passage with
another. It is reasoned out of Sacred Scripture. But reason recoils
at the doctrine, and Scripture does not reveal it.

7. The Unity of God, however, is the basis of all rehgion, natm-al
or revealed. It is the express doctrine of the Bible, and harmonizes
with the highest conceptions which we can form of the great First
Cause. From the one Self-existent have aU other beings had their
origin and their powers, fr'om the worm up to the archangel, including
Christ himself. So say the most enlightened Trinitarians, however
inconsistent they may be in their speculations ; and hence probably
the painftd emotions of their hearts and the scepticism of their under-
standings as to the propriety of paying supreme homage to any other



PLAN OF THE WORK. 21

than the Infinite One, without regard to a distinction of persons in the
Deity, — to any other than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ.

8. The best-beloved Son of God, the unrivalled Teacher, the highest
Image of the di^dne glory and goodness, the destmed Redeemer of
a world fettered by sia, was, in his nature and his attributes, in his
offices on earth and his functions in heaven, inferior to the Father, the
only Self-existent and the single original Cause of all things. The
true grandem* of Christ's character, the chief dignity of his person, so
far as it has been taught in the records concerning him, Hes not in
his having assumed to himself perfect equality with his Maker and his
God, - f<>rsuch a notion could never have entered for a moment into
his humble and devout mind, — but in accompKshing the great and
benevolent work to which he was appointed, ui perfect, unqualified
dej)endence on, and submission to, that Being whom in his prayers
and thanksgivings he addressed as " the Father " and " the only true
God." Many Trinitarians have acknowledged, either expHcitly or
implicitly, and in every variety of form, the enth'e subordination of
the Lord Jesus to Ahnighty God, and his essential as well as oflicial
inferiority to him. How they can reconcile such notions with their
professed behef in the equaHty of Christ with God, it is not for us to
Bay ; for we cannot tell. But we know that all error is inconsistent
with itself, and we thank them for the admissions which they have
made. We rejoice that they thus yield, though involuntarily and
imperfectly, to the Unitarianism of the Gospels, and, indeed, of the
whole New Testament.

9. Among the numerous significations of the word " Spirit " in the
Bible, it is an acknowledged fact, that in a host of passages this term,
which is sometimes intensified in its import by being changed into
the phrases " Holy Spirit " and " Sj)mt of God," denotes the various
iufluences and gifts which God imparted to his chosen servants;
and, in a few cases, signifies God himself, without any reference to
hypostatical or personal distinctions in the Deity. Al Trinitarians



22 INTRODUCTION.

■will grant these facts j and some have openly confessed that there are
certain deficiencies in the Scripture evidence for a third person in the
Godhead; while others have represented the Holy Ghost, though
according to them entitled to all the attributes of the Divinity, as
deriving his existence and his powers either from the Father, or from
the Father and the Son.

In thus presenting the order of the subjects discussed in this
volume, we have mentioned only a few of the most prominent points ;
but they are all intimately related to each other, and contain the gist
of what seems to us a strong presumptive argument against the
doctrine of the Trinity. To unfold and apply this argument, — to
take up, according to the order in which they occur in the Bible, all
the texts which have been adduced on behalf of the doctrine of a
Triune God, or of the Supreme Divinity of Christ and the Holy
Ghost ; and, by the assistance of the most learned and distinguished
writers in orthodox churches, to show that these passages, whether
regarded singly or in combination with others, afford no just grounds
for beheving in the mysteries of Trinitarianism ; that the principles
of criticism and interpretation adopted by scholars and divines are,
at least in particular instances and apphcations, essentially the same
as those employed by Unitarians, and lead, if consistently followed
up, to a recognition, in the strictest sense of the terms, of the great
Scripture truths, that " Jehovah is One," and that the Father is
" the only true God," — to do this would be a work requiring several
additional volumes, which are in course of preparation, and which we
intend, at some future time, by the divine blessing, to lay before the
public* As setting forth the general principles on which the whole
argument rests, the present voliune may be regarded as complete,
and is therefore pubhshed by itself.



* In the " Concessions of Trinitarians," which the writer published in 1842, this
has been partially done ; but, that work being out of print, he is now occupied in
increasing it to such an extent as to justify the remark made above.



PLAN OF THE WORK. 23

We greatly misteke if the lessons -inculcated in this Yolume by so
many good and learned men, and the criticisms and comments on
certain passages of Scriptm-e which will be quoted in the other por-
tions of the work from their writings, wiU not tend to prove, that in
the human heart of Christendom, though choked up by the rubbish of
man's device, there are springs of pure feeling and generous thought
which now and then bubble up and flow into the great channel of
love and truth, diffusing, wherever they spread, fertility and happiness
on all around ; — that, notmthstanding the walls of partition which
have been erected by bigotry and narrow-minded creeds between the
followers of the same Lord and Master, there are in the soul, affec-
tions, cherished and warmed by the gospel, which overleap these
barriers, and attract men and Christians together ; — that among the
corruptions of Christianity and the diversities of sectaries, there stiU
exist the stamina of evangelical truth; that there are principles of
rehgion which are held in common by all denominations, however
obscured for a time by the mists of error and the fumes of strife ; that
these principles are the chief glory of Christianity and of Unitarianism ;
and that the day is arriving, though in the eyes of the present genera-
tion it may be slow in its approach, when the dominion of bigotry
wiU wholly cease ; when the prayer of Jesus for cathoKc union among
his disciples will be answered ; and when, instead of attributing imalli-
bility to erring men. Supreme Divinity to the holy but humble Son
and Servant of the Most High, and eternal glory and honor to a
Trinity in Unity or a Unity in Truiit}'-, universal Christendom vnR say,
in the language of the Apocalypse, " We give thee thanks, O
Lord God Almighty, who art, and wast, and art to co]vie!
because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and
hast reigned."



UNITARIAN PEINCIPLES

CONPIBMED BY ■ ) ' , '

TRINITARIAN TESTIMONIES.



CHAPTER I.

THE SPIRIT OF SECTARIANISM INCONSISTENT WITH THE
SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANITY.



SECT. I. — THE RELIGION OF JESUS THAT OF LO^TI.

The new religion — final, perfect, piire —

"Was that of Christ and loTe. His great command,

His all-sufiScing precept, — was't not love ?

P. J. Bailet.

Christianity is a gospel of peace and charity. It commands us to
love and to do good to all men, even our very enemies ; to bless them
that curse us, to do good to them that hate us, and to pray for those
that despitefully use us and persecute us. And can those be its
disciples who scatter nothing but hatred and mahce, confusion and
disorder, wherever they come, and make it a matter of conscience to
root out and destroy from off the earth aU those that differ from

them ? As to the business of charity, God forbid that any

differences in religion whatever . . . should ever make us deny that to
our feUow-Christians. . . . There is no honest, sincere Christian, how
erroneous soever he may be, but what at least is persuaded that he
is m. the right; and looks upon us to be as far from the truth by
differing from him, as we esteem liim for not agreeing with us. Now
if, upon the sole account of such differences, it be lavvdPul for us to hate
another, Ave must for the very same reason allow it to be as lawful for
him also to hate us. Thus shah we at once invert the characteristic
of ovu: religion, " By this shall aU men know that ye are my disciples,

a



26 THE EELIGION OF JESUS THAT OF LOVE.

if ye have love one to another." . . . How much radier ought we to
consider, vfith. our apostle, the love of our dear Master to us, even
whilst we were yet his enemies, and love those whom we ought to
hope, notwithstanduig all then' errors, are yet still his friends ; and not
think those unworthy of om- charity whom we piously presume God
will not tliink luiwortliy of Ms lavor ? ... If they are mistaken, I am
sm-e om* uncharitableness is not the way to convince them of their
error, but may rather indispose them to consider the weight of our
arguments as they ought, whilst they see so little regard in om' affec-
tions towards them O blessed state of the church miHtant here

on earth ! — the glorious antepast of that peace and piety wliich God
has prepared for his chm-ch triimiphant in heaven ! Who woidd not
Mish to see those days when a general reformation, and a true zeal,
and a perfect charity, passing through the world, we slioidd all be
united in the same faith, the same worship, the same communion and
fellowship one mth another? — when, all pride and prejudice, all
interests and designs, being submitted to the honor of God and the
discharge of our duty, the Holy Scriptm-es shall again triumph over
the vain traditions of men, and religion no longer take its denomina-
tion from Httle sects and factions, but we shall all be content v>ith the
same common primitive names of Clnistians and brethren, and live
together as becomes om' character, in brotherly love and Christian
charity mth one another ? — Archbishop Wake : Sei-mons and
Discourses, pp. 102, 191-4, 202.

I must hasten to recommend to you another tiling of unspeakable
importance to the well-being of Cliristian society, — a spirit of uni-
versal love. Let not bigotry or party-zeal be so much as once named
amongst you ; for it becometh not saints. Our Lord was a stranger
to it. Whosoever did the mil of his Father, the same was liis
brother, his sister, his mother. Wherever he saw the marks of true
faith, though in a centmion or a SjTophenician, who were ahens to the
commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise,
how did he publish and commend it ! Be followers, then, of him, my
brethren, as dear childi-en ; and love all who love our Lord Jesus m
sincerity and truth, although they should not in all things follow with
us. . . . Why should not the chikfren of God, notwithstanding thefr
httle differences, unite in one common interest against spiritual mcked-
nesses in high places ? Oh that all who call themselves Christians
were thus minded ! — George Whitefield : Letter to the Religious
Societies of England ; in Works, vol. iv. pp. 29, 30.



TBDE RELIGION OE JESUS THAT 05 LOVE. 27

It is impossible to conceive a greater contrast between the spirit
which his [Clirist's] instructions breathe, and that spirit of pride and
domination which, not many centuries afterwards, became the pre-
dominant sphit of what then came to be denomuiated the chm'ch.



Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 3 of 55)