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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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orthodoxy which he has spread, and be conformed to it in length and
breadth; otherwise he must be cast out of the church as a heretic,
and shunned as if infected with leprosy. — Dr. Gavin Struthers :
Party Spirit ; in Essays on Christian Union, p. 420-

§ 2. Heresy and Scjiism.

It is a vain thing to talk of a heretic; for a man for his heart
can think no otherwise than he does think. In the primitive times,
there were many opinions, nothuig scarce but some one or other held.
One of these opinions being embraced by some prince, and received
into liis kingdom, the rest were condemned as heresies; and his
rehgion, which was but one of the several opinions, first is said to
be orthodox, and so have continued ever since the apostles. — John
Selden : Table Talk : art. 4, Opinion.

The word " heresy " is used in Scripture in a good sense, for a sect
or division of opmion ; or sometimes in a bad sense, for a false opinion,
signally condemned. But no heresies are noted in Scripture but such
as are great errors practical, such whose doctrines taught impiety, or
such who denied the coming of Chiist directly or by consequence ;
aot remote or wh-edrawn, but prime and immediate. Heresy is not


an eiTor of the understanding, but an error of the ^yill ; and this is
clearly insinuated in Scriptme, hi the style whereof faith and a good
life are made one duty, and vice is called opposite to faith, and heresy-
opposed to holiness and sanctity. Lideed, if we remember that
St. Paul reckons heresy amongst the works of the flesh, and ranks it
with aU maimer of j^ractical impieties, we shall easily perceive, that,
if a man mingles not a \ice with his opinion, — if he be uinocent
in his life, though deceived in his doctrine, — his error is his misery,
not his crime. Now, every man tliat errs, though in a matter of
consequence, so long as the fomidation is entire, cannot be suspected
justly guilty of a crime to give his error a formahty of heresy. If his
error be not voluntary, and part of an ill hfe, — then, because he lives
a good hfe, he is a good man, and therefore no heretic. A wicked
person m his error becomes heretic, when the good man in the same
error shall have all the rewards of faith. For whatever an ill man
believes, if he therefore beheve it because it serves his own ends, be
his behef true or false, the man hath an heretical mind ; for, to serve
his own ends, his mind is prepared to beheve a he. But a good
man that beheves what, according to liis hght and upon the use of liis
moral industry, he tlhnlis true, whether he liits upon the right or
no, — because he hath a mind desnous of truth, and prepared to
believe every truth, is therefore acceptable to" God, because nothing
hindereth him from it but what he could not help. A man may
maintain an opuiion that is in itself damnable, and yet he — not
knowhig it so, and being invincibly led mto it — may go to heaven r
his opinion shah binn, and himself be saved. However, I find no
opuiions in Scripture called " damnable " but what are impious in
materia pradica, or entnely destructive of the faith or the body of
Christianity, such of which St. Peter speaks, chap. ii. 1. — Abridged
fi'om Jeremy Taylor : Liberty of Prophesying, sect. ii. 2, 8, 12, 22,
36; in 7fbrA:5, vol vii. pp. 456, 461-2, 466, 480, 492.

Deluded people ! that do not consider, that the greatest heresy in
the v/oiid is a vdcked life, because it is so directly and fundamentally
opposite to the whole design of the Clnistian faith and rehgion ; and
that do not consider, that God will sooner forgive a man a hundred
defects of his understanding than one fault of his will. — Archbishop
Tillotson: Sermon 34; in Works, vol. ii. p. 333, Lond. edit, of 1748.

Hear me with that remnant of meekness and humihty which thou
hast left, thou confident, bitter, censorious man! Why must that
man needs be taken for a heretic ; a schismatic ; a refractory, stubborn,


self-willed person ; an antichristian, carnal, formal man, who is not of
thy opinion in point of a controversy, of a form, of an order, of a
circumstance, or subscription, or such like ? It is possible it may be
so ; and it is possible thou mayest be more so thyself. But hast thou
so patiently heard all that he hath to say, and so clearly discerned the
truth on thy own side, and that this truth is made so evident to him
as that nothing but mlful obstinacy can resist it, as mil warrant all
thy censm*es and contempt ? or is it not an overvaluing of thy own
miderstanding vv^hich makes thee so easily condemn all as insufferable

that differ from it.^^ Moreover, your course is contrary to

Christian humiht)', and proclaimeth the most abominable pride of the
dividers. That you should call all the rest of the world scliismatics
and heretics, and say that none are Christians but you, — why, what
are you above other men, that you should say, " Come not near me :
I am holier than you " ? Have none in the world, think you, fiith,
hope, and charity, but you ? Can you indeed believe that none shall
be saved but you ? Alas that you should not only so much overlook
God's graces in your brethren, but also be so insensible of your own
infirmities ! Have you so many errors and sins among you, and yet
are none of the chm-ch but you ? — Richard Baxter : Practical
Works, vol. XV. pp. 116-17 ; and vol. xvi. pp. 323-4.

Why are not ecclesiastical bodies as rigid and severe against heresies
of practice as they are against heresies of speculation ? Certainly there
are heresies in moraHty as well as in theology. Councils and sjiiods
reduce the doctrines of faith to certain propositional points, and thun-
der anathemas against all who refuse to subscribe them. They say,
" Cursed be he who does not beheve the Divinity of Christ ; cursed be
he who does not believe the hj-postatical union, and the mystery of the
cross ; cursed be he who denies the inward operations of grace, and
the irresistible efficacy of the Holy Spirit ! " I wish they would make
a few canons against moral heresies. How many are there of tliis
kind among our people ! — James Saurin : Sermons, vol. ii. p. 17.

How much soever of a schismatical or heretical spuit, in the
apostoHc sense of the terms [" schism " and " heresy "], may have
contributed to the formation of the different sects into which the
Christian world is at present divided, no person who, in the spirit of
candor and charity, adheres to that which, to the best of his judgment,
is right, though in this opinion he should be mistaken, is, in the
Scriptural sense, either schismatic or heretic ; and he, on the contrary,
whatever sect he belong to, is more entitled to these odious appeUa-



tions, who is most apt to throw the imputation upon others. Both
terms, for they denote only different degrees of the same bad quality,
always indicate a disposition and practice unfriendly to peace, harmony,
and love. — Dr. George Campbell : The Four Gospds, Diss. ix.
part iv. sect. 15.

Who authorized either you or the pseudo-Athanasius to interpret
catholic faith by belief, arising out of the apparent predominance of the
grounds for, over those against, the truth of the positions asserted ; much
more, by belief as a mere passive acquiescence of the understanding ?
Were all damned who died during the period when totusfere mundus
f actus est Arianus, as one of the Fathers admits ? Alas ! alas ! how
long will it be ere Christians take the plain middle road between into-
lerance and indifference, by adopting the Kteral sense and Scriptural
import of heresy, that is, wilful error, or behef originating in some
perversion of the will ; and of heretics (for such there are, nay, even
orthodox heretics), that is, men wilfully unconscious of then* own
wilfulness, in their limpet-hlie adhesion to a fiivorite tenet ? — Samuel
Taylor Coleridge : Literary Remains ; in Works, vol. v. p. 386-7,
as eoited by Professor Shedd.

W e Know no greater heresy than mmecessarily to divide good men,
nor any object more worthy of ambition than to conciliate and unite
them. Let the profane calumniate; let the sceptic deride; let the
bigot frown ; let the base and interested partisan seek to cover with
unmerited dishonor all who cannot lend themselves to the support of
his darling peculiarities, or his still more darling emoluments : but the
Christian should endeavor, above all things, to present in his own prac-
tice, and so to win upon his brethren that they may equally present in
theirs, the all-attractive spectacle of fidelity, tempered with goodness,
and blended with humility and love. — Dr. Robert Stephens M'All :
Discourses, vol. i. p. 300.

Dr. M'All was an English Independent, or Orthodox Congregationalist,
whose Discourses were edited after his death by the celebrated Wardlaw.
They are replete with Christian sentiment, expressed in a high tone of

Meantime, I wish to remind you, that one of St. Paul's favorite
notions of heiesy is " a doting about strifes of words." One side may
be right in such a strife, and the other wrong ; but both are heretical
as to Christianity, because they lead men's minds away from the love
of God and of Christ to questions essentially tempting to the intel-
lect, and which tend to no profit towards godliness. And, again, I


think you will find that all the " false doctrines " spoken of by the
apostles are doctrines of sheer wickedness ; that their counterpart in
modern times is to he foimd in the Anabaptists of Munster, or the
Fifth Monarchy men, or in mere secular high churchmen or hypo-
critical evangelicals, — in those who make Christianity minister to lust,
or to covetousness, or to ambition ; not in those who interpret Scripture
to the best of their conscience and ability, be their interpretation ever
so erroneous. . . . Make the church a hving and active society, like
that of the first Clnistians, and then difierences of opinion will either
cease, or will signify nothing. Look tln-ough the Epistles, and you
will find nothing there condemned as heresy but what was mere
wickedness, if you consider the real nature and connection of the
tenets condemned. For such differences of opinion as exist among
Christians now, the fourteenth chapter of the Romans is the applicable
lesson; not such passages as Tit. iii. 10, or 2 John 10, 11, or Jude 3
(that much abused verse), or 19 or 23. There is one anathema which
is, indeed, holy and just, and most profitable for ourselves as well as
for others, 1 Cor. xvi. 22 ; but this is not the anathema of a fond
theology. — Dr. Thomas Arnold: Letters 70, 71 j in Life' and
Correspondence, pp. 221-2.

If persons make then own crotchets articles of faith, and insist
upon a perfect miiformity where it is not insisted upon by Jesus, they
are schismatics of the very worst stamp, while yet they are proclaiming
themselves strenuous advocates for the truth. — Gavin Struthers :
Party Spirit, its Prevalence and Insidiousness ; in Essays on Chris-
tian Union, p. 420.

Such sentiments are honorable alike to the heads and the hearts of those
who penned them. They are the deductions of sound reason, or the out-
bursts of virtuous indignation, against the dicta of a presumptuous and an
impious Infallibility, which decides, by feeling and prejudice and passion,
what are truth and error, saving faith and damnable opinion. They may be
regarded as indirect testimonies to the value of Christian Unitarianism ; for,
attached as the witnesses were to Trinitarian doctrines, they clung still
more devotedly to the principles of Christian charity; and these principles
are surely better promoted by a belief in the doctrine of One Universal
Father, who " is Love," than by that of a Trinity of persons in the Godhead^
with its accompanying tenets. Happily, however, for Christendom, the
wisdom and goodness which are the legitimate fruits of gospel simplicity
have a moi-e powerful influence on the hearts and conduct of many of the
professors of reputed Orthodoxy, than the barren crudities, the metaphysical
absurdities, and infallible dogmas of creeds.



What is a Church? — Let Truth and Reason speak,
They would reply, " The faithful, poor, and meek,
From Christian folds ; the one selected race,
Of all professions, and in every place."


He that fears the Lord of heaven and earth, walks humbly before
him, thankfully lays hold of the message of redemption by Christ
Jesus, strives to express his thankfulness by the sincerity of his obe-
dience, is sorry with all his soul when he comes short of his duty,
wallvs watclifuUy in the denial of himself, and holds no confederacy
with any lust or known sin ; if he falls in the least measm'e, is restless
till he hath made his peace by true repentance, is true to his promise,
just in his actions, charitable to the poor, sincere in his devotions ;
that will not deliberately dishonor God, though with the greatest
security of impmiity ; that hath his hope in heaven, and his conversa-
tion in heaven ; that dare not do an unjust act, though never so much
to his advantage, — and all this because he sees Him that is invisible,
and fears him because he loves him ; fears him as well for his good-
ness as liis greatness, — such a man, whether he be an Episcopal, or
a Presbyterian, or an Independent, or a Baptist ; whether he wears a
surplice, or wears none; whether he hears organs, or hears nonej
whether he kneels at the communion, or for conscience' sake stands or
sits, — he hath the life of religion in him, and that life acts in him,
and will conform his soul to the image of his Saviour, and walk along
with him to eternity, notwithstanding his practice or non-practice of
these indifferents. — Sir Matthew Hale : A Discourse of Religion,
pp. 33-4, Lond. 1684.

It is a hard case that we should think aU Papists and Anabaptists
and Sacramentaries to be fools and Avicked persons. Certainly, among
all these sects, there are very many wise men and good men, as well
as erring. And although some ... do not think their aaversaries
look like other men, yet certainly we find, by the results of their dis-
com'ses and the transactions of their affairs of civil society, that they
are men that speak and make syllogisms, and use reason, and read
Scriptiu-e ; and although they do no more understand all of it than we
do, yet they endeavor to miderstand as much as concerns them, even
all that they can, even all that concerns repentance from dead workSj


and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And, therefore, methinks thia
also should be another consideration distmgiiishing the persons ; for,
if the persons be Christians in their hves, and Christians in their pro-
fession, — if they acknowledge the eternal Son of God for then- Master
and their Lord, and Hve in all relations as becomes persons making
such professions, — why, then, should I hate such persons whom God
loves, and who love God ; who are partakers of Clnist, and Christ hath
a title to them ; who dwell in Christ, and Christ in them, — because
then- understandings have not been brought up like miae, have not
had the same masters ? &c. — Jeremy Taylor : Epist. Dedic. to the
lAberty of Prophesying ; in Works, vol. vii. p. ccccii.

There is but one imiversal chinch of Christians in the world, of
which Christ is the only King and Head, and every Christian is a
member. ... If thou hast faith and love and the Spirit, thou art
certauily a Christian, and a member of Christ and of this universal
church of Christians. . . . Thou art not saved for being a member of
the chm'ch of Rome or Corinth or Ephesus or Philippi or Thessa-
lonica, or of any other church, but for being a member of the universal
chm-ch or body of Christ ; that is, a Chi'istian. — Richard Baxter :
Christian Directory ; in Practical Works, vol. ii. p. 138.

We should be so far from lessening the number of true Christians,
and from confining the church of Christ within a narrow compass, so
as to exclude out of its communion the far greatest part of the profes-
sors of Christianity, that, on the contrary, we should enlarge the
kingdom of Christ as much as we can, and extend om* charity to aU
chm-ches and Christians, of what denomination soever, as far as regard
to truth and to the foundations of the Christian religion will permit
us to believe and hope well of them ; and rather be contented to err a
Kttle on the favorable and charitable part, than to be mistaken on the
censorious and damning side. — ARCHBISHOP TiLLOTSON: Serm. 31;
1*71 Works, vol. ii. p. 266.

Men's different capacities and opportunities and tempers and edu-
cation considered, it is in vain to expect that all good men should
agree in all their notions of rehgion, any more than we see they do in
any other concerns whatsoever. And who am I that I should dare to
pronounce a sentence of reprobation against any one in whom there
appear all the other characters of an hiunble, upright, sincere Crmstian,
only because he has not perhaps met with the same information, or
read the same books, or does not argue the same way ; in a word,
because he is not so wise, or, it may be, is wiser than I am, and sees



farther than I do, and therefore is not exactly of my opinion in every
thing ? . . . Men's -understandings are different, and they will argue
different ways, and entertain different opinions jcrom one another, about
the same things, and yet may nevertheless deserve on all sides to be
esteemed veiy good and wise men for all that. — Aechbishop Waxe :
Sermons and Discourses, pp. 184-5.

It is to be regretted, that, afterwards in the same discourse, this distin-
guished prelate seems disposed to confine his Christian charity, here so
liberally expressed, only to Protestants who are agreed as to the " funda-
mentals of faith."

I think I have but one objection against your proceedings, — your
insistmg only on Presbyterian government, exclusive of aU other ways
of worshipping God. Will not this, dear sir, necessarily lead you,
whenever you get the upper hand, to oppose and persecute aU that
differ from you in their church government, or outward way of wor-
shipping God ? . . . For my own part, though I profess myself a mini-
ster of the chm'ch of England, I am of a cathoHc spirit ; and, if I see
a man who loves the Lord Jesus in sincerity, I am not very solicitous
to what outward communion he belongs. — George Whitefield :
Letter 150 ; in Works, vol. i. p. 140.

Persons may be quite right in then* opinions, and yet have no
religion at all ; and, on the other hand, persons may be truly religious,
who hold many wrong opinions. Can any one possibly doubt of this,
wlule there are Romanists in the world ? For who can deny, not only
that many of them formerly have been truly religious (as Thomas a
Kempis, Gregory Lopez, and the Marquis de E,enty), but that many
of them, even at this day, are real, inward Christians ? And yet what
a heap of erroneous opinions do they hold, delivered by tradition from
their fathers ! Nay, who can doubt of it while there are Calvinists in
the world, — assertors of absolute predestination ? For who wiU dare
to affirm, that none of these are truly rehgious men ? Not only many
of them in the last century were burning and shining lights, but
many of them are now real Christians, losing God and all manldnd.
And yet v/hat are all the absiurd opinions of all the Romanists in the
world, compared to that one, that the God of love, the wise, just,
merciful Father of the spirits of all flesh, has from all eternity fixed an
absolute, unchangeable, irresistible decree, that part of mankind shaU
be saved, do what they will, and the rest damned, do what they can ? —
John Wesley : Sermon 60 ; in Works, vol. ii. p. 20,


To every truly pious and consistent Christian, literate or illiterate,
he [the Author of the " Plea "] would give the right hand of fellow-
ship, and bid him God-speed, in the name of the Lord, wherever he is
found. ... A hberal-mmded and benevolent soul, who embraces every
human being in the arms of his charity; who rises superior to the
superstitious tribe of uifaUible doctors, - the genus irritabile vatum ;
who can pierce through the guise of human distinctions, and trace
religious excellence among all orders and descriptions of men, — he
would clasp to his bosom, make him room in his heart, and give him

a place in the attic story of his affections He that worships

God most spiritually, and obeys him most universally, beHeving in the
name of his only-begotten Son, is the best man, and most acceptable
to the Divine Being, whether he be found in a church, in a Quaker's
meeting-house, in a Dissentmg place of worship of any other descrip-
tion, or upon the top of a momibiin. . ^ . " In every nation," and among
all denominations of men, " he that feareth God and worketh right-
eousness is accepted with liim." And, if God will accept, why should
not man ? — David Simpson : Plea for Religion, pp. xxiii. and 97.

I would educate yoimg men in sentiments of the warmest affection
and the highest reverence to the estabHshed religion of this free and
enhghtened country. I would at the same time endeavor to convince
them, that, in all the various modes of Christian faith, a serious
observer may discover some sound principles and many worthy men,
I would tell them, that the wise and the good cherish within their
own bosom a rehgion yet more pm-e and perfect than any formulary
of speculation they externally profess ; that their agreement upon
points of supreme and indisputable moment is greater perhaps than
they may themselves suspect; and that upon subjects the evidence of
which is doubtful, and the importance of which is secondary, their
differences are nominal rather than real, and often deserve to be
imputed to the excess of vanity or zeal in the controversiaHst, more
than to any defect of sagacity or integrity in the inquirer. — Dr. S.
Parr : Discourse on Education ; in Works, vol. ii. pp. 17 1-2.

Where, after all the heart-burnings and blood-shedding occasioned
by reHgious wars, — where is the true church of Christ but in the
hearts of good men ; the hearts of merciful believers, who from prin-
ciple, in obedience to and for the love of Christ, as well as from
sympathy, labor for peace ; go about doing good ; considting, without
local prejudice, the happiness of all men; and, instead of confining
their good offices to a small part, endeavor to pom: oil into tlie wounds


of suffering human nature ? In the hearts of such men, united in love
to God and his creatm-es, is the chm'ch of Christ. — ViCESlMUS ISJSOX :
Preface to Antipohmus ', in Works, vol. v. p. 418.

If party names must subsist, let us carefully watch against a party
spirit ; let us du'ect our chief attention to what constitutes a Christian,
and learn to prize most highly those great truths in which all good
men are agreed. In a settled persuasion that what is disputed or
obscm'e in the system of Christianity is, in that proportion, of httle
importance, compared to those fundamental truths which are inscribed
on the page of revelation as with a sunbeam ; whenever we see a Chris-
tian, let us esteem, let us love him ; and, though he be weak in faith,

receive him, " not to doubtful disputation." At last the central

prmciple of union [among the genuine disciples of Jesus Christ] begins
to be extensively felt and acknowledged. Amid all the diversities of
external disciphne or subordinate opinion, the seed of God, the princi-
ple of spiritual and immortal Hfe implanted in the soul, is recognized
by the sincere followers of the Lamb as the transcendent point of
mutual attraction in the midst of mmor differences. Even Protestants
and Cathohcs, mlluenced by a kindred piety, can now cordially embrace
each other ; as in the case of that zealous professor of the Romish
church to whom I before referred [Leander Van Ess], who corresponds
in terms of cordial affection with the Protestant secretary of the Bible
Society for its foreign department. The essential spirit of religion
begins to assert its ascendancy over all besides. The most enlightened,
the selectest Chiistians in every denomination are ready to cultivate

Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 9 of 55)