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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Father. — Dr. W. S. Powell: Charge III.; in Discourses, p. 215.

I know that I have you [the grave Unitarian of the older school]
on my side, because you are the principal e^idence for what I have
been maintaining. You never have made up your mind to abandon
the name " Son of God." You find it in the Gospels. Your desire
to assert the letter of them, against what you suppose our figurative
and mystical interpretations, forces you to admit the phrase. You
not only do so, but you make the most of it. You quote all the
passages in which Christ declares that the Son can do nothing of
himself, that the Father is greater than he, as decisive against the
doctrine of our creeds. You do a vast ser\ice by msisting upon them,
by compelling us to take notice of them. They are not merely chance
sentences, carelessly thrown out, inconsistent with others which occur
m the same books. You are right in affirming that they contam the
key to the life of Christ on earth. You have suggested the thought
to us, — you could not, consistently with your scheme, bring it for-
ward, but it was latent in your argument, — that what he was on
«»rth must be the explanation of what he is. Never can I thank you
enough for these hints, for the help they have been to me m appre-
nending the sense and comiection of those words which you cast aside.
If the idea of subordination in the Son to the Father, which you so
strongly urge, is once lost sight of, or considered an idle and unimpor-
tant school-tenet, the morahty of the gospel and its divinity disappear
together. You have helped to keejj ahve in our minds the distinction
of the persons ; and that, I believe, is absolutely necessary, that we
may confess the unity of substance. — F. D. Maurice : Theological
Essays, No. V. pp. 70-1.

We have quoted more than is essential to our purpose, to avoid any
appearance of injustice to our author. But the small side-thrusts at the
"grave Unitarian" will scarcely ruffle his skin; and the position, that,
because Christ is inferior to and distinct from the Father, he must possess a
unity of substance with him, tends certainly to give no finishing blow to the
life of Unitarianism. But this is to our purpose: Mr. Maurice, emphati-
cally agreeing with Antitrinitarians on this point, confesses the doctrine of
the gospel to be, that Christ, the Son of God, is subordinate to the Father.
If tliis language has any meaning, it will follow, as a truisiu, that the Son


of God is a different being from God, and cannot be put on a perfect equa-
lity with Him who is his Superior.

In his next paragraph, Mr. Maurice talves in good part the " very strong
and earnest protest" of the Unitarian "against idolatry; "^and, if we mis-
take not, he implies that, without that protest, Trinitarians would have been
liable to worship three Gods, instead of thi-ee distinct persons, the first of
whom properly ranks, in his conception, as Supreme ; but he quietly and
good-naturedly turns round, and tells the Unitarian that he, too, needs to be
on his guard, lest, from the sincerity and fervency of his admiration, he sets
the man Jesus Christ " above God." To every friendly suggestion, let us
all, whether Trinitarian or Unitarian, give heed !

When our Lord adds, owklg dyadog, el firj elg 6 '&Ebg [" There is none
good but one, that is, God "], we are to understand, with Bishops
Peahson and Bull, the sense to be, that there is no being originally,
essentially, and independently good, but God. Thus the Father, being
the Fountain of the whole Deity, must, in some sense, be the Foun-
tain of the goodness of the Son. Accordingly, the Antenicene fathers
were generally agreed that uyaQog ["good"] essentially and strictly
applied only to God the Father ; and to Christ only by reason of the
goodness derived to him as being " very God of very God." — Dr.
S. T. Bloomfield, in his Greek Testament ; note on Matt. xix. 17.

Similarly, Makesius, quoted with approbation by Dr. Whitby, and
followed by William Tkollope.

" My Father is greater than I." He who imparts omnipotence
from himself must stand thus, in internal relation, to him who receives
that omnipotence, Avithout derogating from the equality of the power
imparted ; as, even in the capacity of human paternity, there is an
essential relation to sonship, which can only be expressed by " greater."
The Father is still the " God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,"
M'hether in time or in eternity ; whether in our Lord's assumed human
nature, or in the mystery of his eternally generated divine nature.
Though " the Father has put all things under the feet of the feon, yet
it is manifest," as St. Paul reasons, " that He is excepted who did put
all things under him." These, therefore, are " the great God, and our
Saviour," described in Tit. ii. 13. — Granville Penn on John xiv. 28 j
in Suppl. Annotations to the Book of the JVew Covenant, p. 66.

A volume of extracts of a similar character might easily be made ; but
the above, with those previously given in pp. 392-6, will suffice to show,
that, even granting the antiscriptural doctrine of Christ's possessing a truly
divine nature and most of the divine attributes, we must, on the showing of
many learned Trinitarians, regard him as inferior to the universal Fathei'.


§ 2. As A PIiE-EXISTE^'T Beixg, or even as the Creator of thb
WoRiD, Christ JsXit kecessarilt God.

The most &f liis [Dr. Bushxell's] proofs [of the Divinity of
Christ] do not reach the point at all. They merely prove that oui
Sa^iour was superhuman, perhaps superangelic, but not that he was
properly divine. For example, he fii-st argues the Divinity of Christ
from his pre-existence. But this ob^iously does not prove it. An
Ai'ian vrould say that our Saviour was pre-existent. If he had been nc
more than an Incarnate aeon or angel, he must have existed previous
to his incarnation. — Dr. Enoch Pond : Review of Dr. BushnelVs
« God in Christ," p. 15.

The remark of this writer, that pre-existence does not prove Divinity,
is evidently and undeniably con-ect. But, if so acute and liberal a reasoner
as Dr. Bushxell loses sight of this simple truth, we may expect that others
of stronger prejudices and less judgment will regard all texts which seem
to imply Clu-ist's existence before his appearance on earth as equivalent to
proofs of his divine nature.

It appears to me upon all occasions most unbecoming and pre-
sumptuous for us to say what God can do, and what he cannot do ;
and I shall never think that the truth or the importance of a conclu-
sion warrants any degree of irreverence in the method of attaining
it. The power exerted in making the most insignificant object out
of nothing by a word is manifestly so unlike the greatest human
exertions, that we have no hesitation in pronouncing that it could
not proceed from the strength of man ; and when we take into view
the immense extent and magnificence and beauty of the things thus
created, the different orders of spirits, as well as the frame of the
material world, our conceptions of the power exerted in creation are
infinitely exalted. But we have no means of judging whether this
power must be exerted immediately by God, or whether it may be
delegated by him to a creature. It is certain that God has no need
of any minister to fulfil his pleasm'e. He may do by himself every
thing that is done throughout the universe. Yet we see that in the
ordinary course of providence he withdraws himself, and employs the
3iinistry of other beings ; and we beheve, that, at the first appearance
of the gospel, men were enabled, by the divine power residing in them,
io perform miracles, i.e. such works as man cannot do, — to cure the
most ir Vetera te diseases by a word, without any application of human
art; a.'.d to raise the dead. Although none of these acts imply a


power equal to creation, yet, as all of them imply a power more than
himian, they destroy the general principle of that argument upon
which creation is made an unequivocal proof of Deity in him who
creates ; and it becomes a very uncertain conjecture, whether reasons
perfectly unknown to us might not induce the Almighty to exert, by
the ministry of a creature, powers exceeding in any given degree
those by which the apostles of Jesus raised the dead. — Dr. George
Hill : Lectures in Diviniti/, pp. 333-4.

We perfectly coincide in these sentiments, but, with the writer, think
" there is a strong probability," as will be shown in a futui'e volume, " that
the work of creation was not accomplished by any creature." If, however,
it be necessary to understand the Introduction to John's Gospel, and other
passages, to refer personally to Jesus Christ as the Creator of the material
univei'se, we are led to think, from the general acceptation of the Greek
preposition dia, " through," in the New Testament, and from numberless
places which represent our Lord as the agent or instrument of the Almighty,
that he must have acted in this work as indeed a being extraordinary in
power, but still infinitely subordinate to his God and Father, whom he uni-
formly exhibited in the character of a Superior, and of whom he was the
Servant and the Messenger. See " Scripture Proofs and Scriptui'al Blustra-
tions of Unitarianism," part i. chap. 2, sect. 1 (8), and sect. 2 (10-13).

I think I have a right to demand, that, unless you can show cause
to the contrary, you should adopt the translation of 6ta as the instru-
mental cause in John i. 3, Heb. i. 2, and Col. i. 16 ; and, if so, confess
that Christ was instrumental in the creation of the world, and therefore
that he pre-existed at least. — Bishop Longley : The Brotliers'
Controversy, p. 49.

This passage [Col. i. 16, 17] is somewhat stronger than the others
[1 Cor. viii. 6, and Heb. i. 3]. Yet not any of them seem decisive as
to the question whether full and supreme Divinity, like that of the
Father, belongs to the Son ; for it is certainly not impossible to con-
ceive of the power to create and to govern being conferred, and
exercised mstrumentally ; an idea which the form of expression Sid,
[" through "] seems to indicate. — Joseph Haven, Jun., in JVeio
Englander for February, 1850, vol. viii. (new series, vol. ii.) p. 9.

The passages of Scripture referred to above, and others supposed to
teach or to imply the agency of Christ as the Creator of the universe, or as
ft pre-existent being, will be afterwards treated of in the order in which
they occur in the Bible.




God, ■who in various methods told
His mind and vdll to those of old,
Hath sent his Son, -with truth and grace,
To teach us in these latter days.

Isaac "Watts.

§ 1. Christ not the Lord God, or the Angel of Jehovah, who


The question as to the pre-existence of our Lord has but little bearing
on the inquiry, whether he be an infinite being, and one of the persons in
tiic- oudhead; for, however high in rank, nature, or qualifications, no one
could be underived, or be absohite in his perfections, unless he had been
prior to all creation, or to production of any kind. But, when texts of
Scripture that are thought to imply the existence of Christ prior to his birth
are read and explained as if they involved the dogma of his divine nature,
it may be well to show, that some, if not all, of them are susceptible of an
interpretation which hai-monizes better with the unequivocal language of
Peter and Paul, and of Jesus himself, that he was, not only in appearance,
but in reality, a " man."

Whenever it is said that God appeared to Jacob, or redeemed him,
the meaning is, that God operates, not immediately, but by the instru-
mentahty of an angel. . . . Some, who look very supei-ficially on Sacred
Scripture, assert that this is to be understood of the Messiah. —
Abridged from Bishop Tostat on Gen. xlviii. 15, 16.

When God is said to " appear " to any of the patriarchs, we are not
so to understand it as if they had, or could have, a visible representation
of him ; but only that he signified his will unto them either in a vision,
or by some sign, or by an angel. If they understood that the message
was from heaven, the " Lord God " was said to have " appeared " to
them ; but that appellation respects not the appearance itself, the visible
representation, but is the title of the Supreme Being, whose will was
revealed unto them. Or, if the [Arian] translation may be admitted,
then " the Jehovah of God " can mean only the angel of the Lord,
without any foundation for supposing it to mean the Lord Christ. —
Dr. Benjamin DA^YS0N : Illustration of Texts, p. 8.

It is often said, that the Lord, the Most High God, " appeared " to
the patriarchs, to Moses, and to- the prophets, the ancestors of the


Jews; but, according to Jesus Christ's rule [John v. 37], the appear-
ance, form, or shape which they saw was not the appearance of the
Lord God himself; for never, at any time, did they see his shape.
Again, it is often said that the Most High God spake to the patriarchs,
to Moses, and to the prophets ; but our Lord affirms that they never
heard his voice at any time. How shall we reconcile this seeming
inconsistency ? The true solution, according to the Scriptures, is this ;
tliat the Lord God never spake or appeared in person, but always by
a proxy, nuncius, or messenger, who represented him, and spake in
his name and authority. It was this messenger of Jehovah, or angel
of Jehovah, who appeared unto Moses, Exod. iii. 2, and who is called,
in ver. 4, " Jehovah " or Lord (Avhence it is evident that he was no
created human being) ; and who spake to Moses, in ver. 5, saying,
" Draw not nigh hither," &c. ; " I am the God of Abraham," ver. 6 ;
and " I am that I am," ver. 14. All which words were pronounced
by an angel, but are true, not of the angel, but of God, whom h6
represented. So a herald reads a proclamation in the king's name
and words, as if the king himself were speaking. The word " Angel,"
both in the Greek language and in the Hebrew, signifies " a messen-
ger," or nuncius, " an ambassador ; " one who acts and speaks, not in
his own name or behalf, but in the name, person, and behalf of him
who sends him. Thus the word is frequently rendered in our autho-
rized translation ; and if it had always been rendered " the messenger
of the Lord," instead of " the angel of the Lord," the case would have
been very plain. — Db. T. HAiiT\VELL Horne : Introduction to the
Study of the Holy Scriptures, part ii. book ii. chap. 7, sect. 6, 12.

Many of the Christian fathers, who mifortunately caught the pas-
sion of allegorizing the Holy Scriptures, or of converting them on all
occasions into spiritual mysteries, from the later Platonists, the example
of Philo, and the practice of the Jewish Rabbis, have considered " the
angel," in this remarkable passage [Exod. iii. 2], as the second person
of the Holy Trinity ; and this opinion seems to have been too hastily
adopted by some of our best commentators and old divines. On a
critical examination of the text, it will appear perhaps that there is
nothing to lavor this mode of interpretation but the zealous desire of
provmg, on all possible occasions, the pre-existent state of the ever-
sacred Messiah. To the usual interpretation of this passage, there are,
among others, the following objections : 1. The prepositive article, or
emphatic prefix, tj, in Hebrew is omitted before Tti^''p'^ 2. Li refer-
ring to this remarkable incident, the proto-martjT Stephen says. Acts


vii. 30, " There appeared to him," i.e. Moses, " in the wilderness of
Mount Sina, an angel of the Lord." The definite article " the," there-
fore, has, on this and other occasions, been improperly used in our
ta'anslation. — 3. Much stress has been laid on the words of the
original, flitT^ '^^^''^j "^■ii angel of Jehovah;" but it is used also to
denote the angel that " smote the Assyrians," 2 Kings xix. 35, whose
destruction all commentators now ascribe to the operation of a phy-
sical cause in the hand of God ; and it is employed to designate the
angel " that came up from Gilgal to Bochim," Judg. ii. 1, where our
translators have properly rendered it " an angel of the Lord," and .
put " messenger " in the margin, — o. A more powerful objection
arises from the reference which our blessed Lord himself makes to this
very passage, where he tells the Jews, that the declaration, " I am the
God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob," was
sj)oken by God, that is, by divine communication, ^vithout precisely
defining the manner in which the Jews understood that form of
expression. Now, had the Messiah himself been the speaker on this
occasion, in his pre-existent state, would he have said to the Saddu-
cees, " Have ye not read that which was spoken unto yow by God ? "
Matt. xxii. 3 1 ; and would he thus have identified himself in name
and character with the Father ? Those who think this jjrobable will
not find a similar example throughout the whole of the Bible. — It
has been said in favor of the usual interpretation of this and other
divine appearances in the Old Testament, that the ancient Jewish
Rabbis explained them by a reference to their expected Messiah. But
it should be recollected, that the oldest of their comments on the
Hebrew Scriptures are comparatively of very modern date, and, with
respect to doctrines, are of no authority. They imported from
Babylon, and the regions of their captivity, many notions respecting
appearances, angels, demons, and other matters, which belonged not
to their ancient Scriptures. On many points of doctrine, therefore,
they were prone to error and superstition, but more particularly on
ill occasions that related to their promised Messiah. — It is not the
••bject of these remarks to controvert in the least the acknowledged
loctrine of the pre-existence of the heavenly Messiah. The reahty of
'jhis doctrine forms no part of the present question ; which is, whether
our blessed Lord, as the second person of the Holy Trinity, appeared
m liis individual and appropriate character to Moses on the present
occasion, or to any of the patriarchs before him. Those who thinlc
there is no sufficient ground for believing this will feel their opinion ,


strengthened perhaps by the consideration, that it is not recognized in
the Liturgy or Articles of our church, and that there is no trace of
any such doctrine to be found throughout the writmgs of the evan-
gehsts and apostles. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews,
indeed, says (chap. i. 1, 2), " God, who at sundry times and in divers
manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, liath
in these last days spoken unto us by his Son." Now, as the " last
days" meant that period which commenced 'wdth the advent of the
Messiah, it is an intimation by the apostle, that he had not spoken
to men before : otherwise, the nature of the subject required that
he should have mentioned it. — Abridged from John Hewlett :
Commentaries, vol. i. pp. 286-8, 561-2.

A great number of authorities of a similar nature might he cited ; hut
the passages in which divine or angelic appearances are spoken of in the
Old Testament will be taken up in their order, and explained, in the next

§ 2. Christ's being " sent " or " proceeding from God," and his
" coming down from Heaven," Phrases signifying that he
had received the fullest Instruction and Authority from
THE Father.

Whatever we receive by the special gift of God is said " to descend
from heaven." Thus, John vi. 58 : " This is that bread which came
down from heaven." James i. 17 : " Every good gift is from above,
and Cometh down from the Father of lights." Chap. iii. 15-17 :
" This wisdom descendeth not from above," &c. In accordance with
this sense, our Lord asked the Pharisees, concerning the baptism of
John, " Whence was it ? From heaven, or of men ? " Matt. xxi. 25 ;
and the new Jerusalem is said to " come down out of heaven, from
God," Rev. iii. 12. — Philip Limborch : Theologia Christiana,
lib. iii. cap. 15, § 4.

When the Scriptures speak of Jesus Christ being " sent " into the
world, they always refer to his commission from God to minister to
the world, that is, to men ; and respect not the time either of his
birth or conception. In like manner, John the Baptist is said to be
" sent from God," when he came to preach the baptism of repentance.

It is very common with our Lord to distinguish himself as

the Messiah by such hke expressions as these, — of having " seen
God," " learned of God," " proceeded forth from God," " come down
from heaven," &c. &c. Which manner of spealdng has given occasion,


to divines to busy themselves about the metaphysical nature and
existence of Christ. But it is very plain that these expressions can
have no manner of reference thereto, and that from these two con-
siderations, — 1. Because, wherever they occur, the context is sure to
determine that om' Lord speaks in reference to his office on earth ;
2. Because, to suppose these expressions to relate to his metaphysical
nature and existence, we must be forced to interpret them literally;
which would moke the greatest confusion among our ideas, and lay
the foundation of the most absurd, impious, and contradictory opinions
and tenets. Our Lord, therefore, must mean by them to assert, that
he alone had a perfect knowledge of the will and counsels of God,
which no man before him ever had ; that God committed to him the
full revelation of himself, and enabled him to declare and manifest
the one true God to the world, as clearly as if the Son of man had
actually ascended up into heaven, and there seen God and the things
of the heavenly world, and then had come down from heaven with
grace and truth, as Moses from the mount with the law. Jesus
Christ, ha\ing such knowledge and revelation of the will of God as
this, together with all power and judgment, doth %\ith the utmost
propriety use these expressions concerning himself, and that by way
of appropriation and prerogative not belonging to Moses, John the
Baptist, or any of the prophets ; who, though true prophets, were still
not from heaven, but of the earth, — brought not that heavenly hght
which was the hfe of men. In God only was this hfe, and with him
was it hid from the foundation of the world ; neither did it shine forth
to the world till the coming of Christ, or the manifestation of God in
the flesh. — Benjamin Dawson : Illustration of Texts of Scripture,
pp. 6, 7 ; 104-6.

The work from which we have just quoted forms the substance of eight
sermons preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, in the years 1764
and 1765, by permission of the Lord Bishop of London, for the Lecture
founded by Lady Moyer. Dr. Dawson was a zealous but liberal adherent
of the church of England, who in his own way defended this her dogma,
that " in unity of the Godhead there be three persons of one substance,
power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." But,
though throughout the work he strenuously, opposes the opinions held by
Arians and Socinians as to the nature of Christ and the Holy Spirit, his
interpretations of texts adduced in the controversy on this subject are, in
general, Unitarian; and, with the exception sometimes of a peculiar phra-
seology, might well be followed by a believer in the simple humanity of
our Lo':4.


SECT. III. — Christ's sonship not implying an essentialli


Behold the Prince of Peace!

The chosen of the Lord,
God's well-beloved Son, fulfils

The sure prophetic word.


Is the appellation " Son of God," by itself, an evident and irrefra-
gable argument that the Son is truly a partaker of the same di^^ne
nature with the Father? We answer: If this appellation alone be
considered, and no regard had to other Scripture passages by which
the Deity of the Son is established, it may be clearly showTi to be
insufficient to prove this doctrine; for it is certain, that,. on account
of the gracious communication of the di%ine majesty, the title " Son of
God " is attributed to our Lord Jesus Christ in respect to his human

Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 46 of 55)