Ralph Wardlaw.

Discourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy online

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^' W HY publish a uew Volume, on a subject which
has ah'eady produced so many ?" Were I to answer
this question by pleading the solicitations of friends, I
should speak the truth ; for such solicitations have been
numerous, and some of them entitled to my highest def-
erence. Yet I should present an apology, neither satis-
fying to the Public, nor to myself. For if an author is
not convinced in liis own judgment, that his work is
either called for by particular circumstances, or likely
to be serviceable to tlie cause of truth, he ought to pos-
sess sufficient fortitude to resist the wislies of others ;
and if he professes to publish in compliance with these
wishes alone, he will find very few possessed of suffi-
cient charity to give him credit.

When the Unitarian Chapel in this City was open-
ed, and the Sermon "On the Grounds of Unitarian
Dissent," which Mr. Yates had preached on that oc-
casion, was given to the public, I happened, from an


entirely diflercnt cause, to have my thoughts directed
towards the principal points of the Socinian Controver-
sy ; and, in revolving various subjects for a series of
monthly Sabbath-evening Discourses, it occurred to
me, that, at such a time, when the leading doctrines
of Christianity were openly impugned and denied, and
the sentiments of those who held them in many par-
ticulars grossly misrepresented, a short course on these
points might be seasonable and useful.

Satisfied that we pay no compliment to our own
sentiments, when we are startled by any apprehension
of discussion possibly making proselytes to those of,
our opponents, — I could not acquiesce in the opinion,
that the best way on such occasions is, to suffer error
to pass in silence, and to fall of itself. 1 thought,
and still think, that this procedure is giving to such
error an undue advantage. It is putting it in the
power of its advocates to say, that we dread invest!-
gation, and find it our wisdom to be quiet : — it is leav-
ing the weak, the wavering, and the ill-informed, to
be the dupes of misrepresentation, or a prey to the
wiles of sophistry, and the imposing influence of high
pretensions to learning and candour : — it is lulling
the multitude of nominal professors of the truth in sat-
isfaction with a vague and unexamined assent to a
system, respecting which they hardly know " what
they say, or whereof they affirm :" — and to the far
greater multitude of persons, who do not think on
these matters at all, it is furnishing a plausible ex-


cuse for continued carelessness. They will not take
the trouble to examine what its professed adherents
are not at the pains to defend ; and they pursue their
wonted course of thoughtless impiety, with one vacant
reflection, suggested by what they see and hear, that
^^ after all, these heretics, as they are called, must
surely have a good deal to say for themselves."

These Discourses were favoured, in the delivery of
them, with a measure of public countenance, as grati-
fying as it was unexpected : — and the same reasons,
which suggested the idea of preaching them, after-
wards induced me to consent to their publication. I
hope they may, in however small a degree, contribute,
by the Divine blessing, to promote the reception and
the influence of that truth, with the establishment and
progress of which are connected the glory of God, and
the salvation of men.

Local circumstances frequently procure a reading
to new works, when old ones on the same subject,
even although of superior merit, would continue to
lie neglected. Should no new views or new argu-
ments be advanced, still it is needful, as different
times and different places have their peculiar prevail-
ing tastes, to present what is old in new and various

But besides this consideration, (although of itself
sufficient) — it has frequently struck me as a defect
of considerable magnitude, in some of the treatises,
which have been published on the subjects handled


in this volume, particularly the Divinity of Christy
that the ^^l•iters have lessened the effect uhich their
works are designed to produce, by attempting mare
than enough. Instead of confining themselves to those
passages of scripture, in which the argument is prom-
inent and palpable, resting their cause on these, and
leaving it to their readers to apply the genereal prin-
ciple, when thus successfully established, to the inter-
pretation of other passages ; — they have with the
laudable view of showing how full the Bible is of
the particular doctrine they defend, exerted their inge-
nuity, w itli various success, in bringing texts to bear,
upon it, of which the application is dubious, or, even
when satisfactorily ascertained, by no means impres-
sive. I need not point out the various ways in which
this mode of conducting the argument is iltted to hurt
the cause in which it is employed, and to afford an
advantage to its adversaries. It is just as if a person,
wishing to present a view of the evidence of the truth
of Christianity from the fulfilment of prophecy, instead
of selecting those grand and leading predictions, of
Avhich the accomplishment has been notorious and un-
questionable, should occupy his pages in explaining
and supporting, however ingeniously, his own inter-
pretation of particular passages in the prophets, respect-
ing which the wisest commentators have hitherto differ-
ed in judgment. It. has been my aim, in the follow-
ing Discourses, to avoid this defect. Whether I have
at all succeeded, it is not mine to determine.


I have only further to observe, that, in defending
what 1 conceive to be the essential articles of scriptural
truth, I have confined myself entirely to the Scriptures
themselves. Those, who wish to trace the history of
early opinions on these subjects, may satiate themselves
with the copious works which have been written on
both sides. For my own part, although satisfied of
the propriety of not allowing the opposers of the truth
to occupy even this ground, 1 yet cannot help consider-
ing it as a monstrous insult to the Divine author of rev-
elation, to admit the supposition for a moment, that, on
such subjects as these, it should be necessary to wade
through the multifarious opinions of antiquity, in order
to understand his meaning. I say, on such subjects as
these : for if on these points there is such a want of ex-
plicitness, — points that regard the object of worship,
the state and prospects of man, and the foundation of
his hopes for eternity, — on what subjects shall we 190k
for clearness and precision ? If it were indeed the case,
that, on such topics as these, the Bible is indeterminate,
requiring, for the explanation of its language, the com-
mentary of ancient opinion, the infidel would be fur-
nished with an argument against its Divine origin, more
powerful than any he has ever been able to produce.

In the following Discourses, additions, omissions,
and other alterations, have been occasionally, but spar-
ingly, made. In general, they are printed very nearly
as they were delivered. I once had thoughts of divid-
ing them anew, into sections of as nearly equal lengths


as possible ; but, upon reconsideration, gave up the
plan. The chief difference in the arrangement is, that
the recapitulations and the conclusion, on the subject
of the Divinity of Christ, are here thrown into a distinct
Discourse ; Avhich increases the number from eleven to

I commend the work to the blessing of God, and
to the candid judgment of men.

R. W,

Glasgow^ djfril BOth, 1814.




On the Unity of God, and the Trinity cf Persons
in the Godhead ..... 1


On the Supreme Divinity of Jesus Christ . S7

Same Subject continued .... S6

Same Subject continued . . ; . 95

Same Subject concluded 139


On the Test of Truth in Matters of Religion 156


On the Doctrine ofMonement . . . 181


On the Practical Influence of the Doctrine of
Atonement ...... S33



On the JDimnity and Personality of the Holy
Sjjint 266


On the Injlaencesofthe Hohj Sjjirit . . 290


j^ame Suhject continued . . . . 327


On the Christian Character . - . 360

Notes ..... 397



Deut. vi. 4.


Deists have often contemptuously smiled at tlie diver-
sity of sentiment, which exists among professed believers
in revelation. It is no part of my present purpose, to
examine into the causes of this diversity. It ought not,
however, to be unnoticed, that among Deists themselves,
the differences, in proportion to the extent of their creed,
and the nature and number of the topics which it embraces,
are neither fewer, nor less considerable. No two of them
seem to be agreed, as to Avhat are, strictly speaking, the
articles of faith, in the system o^JVatiwal Religion. There
are few phrases, indeed, of which the proper import is
more undefined.

Various circumstances may be considered as contribut-
ing to account for this important and curious fact.

In the first place. In a country where Divine revelation
is possessed, and where its truths are in general currency,
there will always be found, among those who reject its
authority, a great deal of unacknowledged obligation to it.
Truths are brought forward by persons of this description,
as the result of their own unassisted investigation, which,
without the aid of revelation, w^ere never discovered by
philosophers of the most sagacious and comprehensive
minds ; and for the knowledge of which, they are, in real-
ity, indebted to that very revelation which they disbelieve


and contemn. They thus bonow from the armoury of God
the very weapons with which they oppose his cause. They
pilfer fire from the altar of Jeliovah, to burn the sacrifice
at the shrine of their own w isdom. They abstract the coin
of Heaven, and proudly stamp it with the image and su-
perscription of Reason. — The variety of degrees in which
this kind of secret sacrilege is practised, contributes, of
course, to the diversity of sentiment among the professed
opposcrs of revelation, respecting the true extent of the
natural powers of discovery, on such sul)jects, possessed
by the human mind.

2tZ/^. Another consideration, conducing to tlie same ef-
fect, is, that in the speculations and reasonings of such
men, theory is resorted to more than/acf. Now to the
variety of theoretical speculation there are liardly any as-
signable limits. — But surely men who, on sucii a subject
as that before us, are content to deal in theory, are miser-
ably inconsistent with themselves. In science and philoso-
phy tiiey are accustomed to insist on facts, and on experi-
mental induction, as the only basis on which theory sliould
rest. Yet here, although facts without number present
themselves, in the history of every age and of every nation
in which revelation has been unknown, theory is still per-
tinaciously adhered to ; and human reason has been most
ingeniously and plausibly shown to be eminently capable
of ellccting, what in fact it has never done. The truth is,
that of the air-built speculations of such philosophers the
whole fabric is at once overthrown by a single glanee into
the state and history of the heathen world. It is a case
determined by au extent of practical evidence, such as
hardly ever bore on any other (luestion. One great experi-
ment was made, for tiie low; space of fuuv tJionsand ?/cars,
during which the world in general was left to itself, with
full oppmiunity to try its powers. The experiment was on
a large scale ; it was tried with every possible variety of


circumstances ; and the unvarying and undeniable result
was, that " the world by wisdom knew not God.^'^

Bdly. An important distinction, although in itself very
obvious, lias, on this subject, been frequently overlooked :
I mean the distinction between any truth being agreeable
to reason ivhen made known, and the same truth being dis-
coverable by reason without supernatural illumination. — ■
Some of the tiiiths of revelation are so strikingly conso-
nant to right reason, and, even when the hearts of men are
at variance with them, commend themselves so instantly
to their judgments, that we are apt to be seduced into the
belief that mankind could never possibly be ignorant of
them. When once revealed, the proof of which they are
susceptible is so plain and so conclusive, that Reason gets
the credit of their discovery, although uniform fact pro-
nounces the credit to be undeserved.

Some, indeed, have gone so far on the other side, as to
express a doubt whether mankind, entirely apart from rev-
elation, could ever have attained to any conceptions at all
of the being and perfections of God. If in the term reve-
lation we include original and traditionary, as well as writ-
ten revelation, it is obvious that this is a question, which
hardly admits of any certain determination : for, on the
supposition of original revelation having been possessed
by men, (and of this there cannot surely be a doubt, on
any ground, either of reason, or of scripture) it becomes
quite impossible to say what proportion even of the ideas
which have prevailed in the world, should be considered
as the remnants of sadly corrupted tradition : especially
when we take into account the resemblance which has, in
various instances, been discovered, and which, in some
cases, indeed, forces itself upon our observation, between
what is recorded in the beginning of the scripture revelation
respecting the great object of w orship, and the most fan-
tastic notions and monstrous rites of Heathen superstition.
* 1 Cor. i. 21.


Let me now apply these general remarks to the great
doctrine of the Divine Unity.

This, it is olnious, is the prominent truth in our text. —

It is a doctrine in the liighcst degree agreeal^le to reason,
when propounded and explained. Yet if natural religion
comprehends those views only of " the things of God,"
which men hava actually attained without revelation, it
may admit of serious doubt, whether tiie Unity of tlic
Godhead should be nundjered among the articles of its
creed. The general aspect of the Heathen world seems
decidedly to affirm the contrary : for polytheism, in one
form or otlier, has been universally prevalent in the public
profession and worship of mankind. And even with re-
gard to tlie two or three individual philosophers, who ap-
pear to have arrived at more rational views on this impor-
tant point, it may be observed — in the first place, tliat what
they say consists more of shrewd conjecture than of any
thing like certain knowledge : and is, besides, mingled
with much ignorance and much falsehood : — and secondly,
that even as to those notions, which approach nearest to tlie
truth, it has been matter of question, whether they might not
have obtained them, mediately or immediately, from in-
tercourse with that people to whom liad been committed
the oracles of God.

If, again, by the articles of Natural Religion we are to
understand those truths, which, whether men have actually
discovered them without revelation or not, are capable of
being proved by sufficient natural arguments^ the question
assumes quite a different aspect ; for it is very plain, that
a truth may be perfectly susceptiljle of such evidence, while
from inconsideration, or from Avorse causes, mankind may
have failed to discern it.

Attempts have been made to prove tlie Unity of God, in
the way of demonstration a priori., as philosophers speak ;
that is, from the necessity and eternity of his existence. It


has been found very difficult, however, even by minds of
singular acuteness, to frame an argument of this kind, that
shall at once be easily intelligible, and productive of clear
and firm conviction. At least, to any demonstrations that
have been constructed on this principle, strong objections
have been opposed. And the reasonings for and against are
much too subtile and metaphysical for public discussion.

The argument in support of the Divine Unity, derived
from the visible works of Deity, is founded chiefly on the
uniformity of plan which these works appear to exhibit.
This uniformity indicates unity of design, and from unity
of design, is inferred tlie operation of one designer.

That there are indications, strong and convincing, of
harmony of plan, and unity of counsel, in the material uni-
verse, is beyond all question. In every department of
Nature we perceive the application of certain general
principles and laws of procedure ; so that, to use tlie words
of an admirable writer, " we never get among such original
" or totally different modes of existence, as to indicate that
^^ we are come into the province of a different creator, or
" under the direction of a different will.''

I am fully satisfied, that the true cause of that melan-
choly ignorance of God, which has all along prevailed
throughout the Heathen world, has not consisted in any
deficiency as to the means of knowledge, nor in any want,
of natural capacity to discern and to judge. Were either
of these the case, the ignorance would have a valid excuse.
The cause is to be found in the want of a right disposition
of mind. This is the great original sin of our nature, that
blinds the understanding to the beauty of truth, and the
deformity of error. And the powerful influence which it
exerts upon the mind is most forcibly expressed by Paul,
when he says respecting mankind, that " tliey did not like
(or chiise) to retain God in their knowledge. ^^* The mere
remembrance of what is already known, is a much easier
* Rom. i. 28.


matter than the discovery of what is previously imknown ;
especially if the memory is assisted l)y frequent repetitions,
and multiplied manifestations, of the same truth. Men
were oris^inally possessed of the true knowledge of God.
However inexcusable they might have been, had they been
left, in a state of entire ignorance, to gather this knowledge,
in the way of discovery, from the works of God, this was
not, in fact, their situation. All that was to be effected by
the numberless displays of the Divine power and Godhead,
was only to keep them in remembrance of what they al-
ready knew. Yet even with these advantages, " ivhen they
Jcneio God, they glorified liim not as God ;'^ they did not
" retain him in their knowledge ;" but '• changed the truth
of God into a lie.^' They received, at the first, a lesson
from God himself: — they had this lesson written before
their eyes on every thing around them : — every thing in
heaven above and in earth beneath ; every part of the ani-
mate and inanimate creation, repeated it to their eyes, and
to all their senses, had they l)ut kept them open to obser-
vation : — Yet they not only did not learn, but rejected and
forgot what they had been taught ; not only did not dis-
cover what was unknown, but lost what was known ; and,
instead of being led by the creature to the Creator, put
the creature in the Creator's place !

These observations are applicable to the Unity of God,
as well as to his existence and various perfections: — And
if the want of a right disposition of mind operated thus
positively to the loss of what was known, we cannot be
surprised, that the same cause should operate negatively,
to the prevention of the recovery of what was lost.

With regard to the Divine Unity, besides, althougli there
are no difficulties that could stand in the way of a rightly
disposed mind, there arc some considerations, which, on a
mind otherwise disposed, may easily be conceived to have
their iniluence, in confirming it in ignorance.


The most obvious of these is, the mixture of good and
tvil, which prevails in our own world, and which forces
itself on observation every day, and every moment. — This
state of thini^s, considered in itself, apart from any sup-
posed traditionary knowledge of its origin, is not, on prin-
ciples merely natural, very easily explicable. — It gave rise,
accordingly, to the ancient Manichean doctrine, of two
distinct eternal Beings, one good and the other evil, super-
intending the operations of two principles, corresponding
to their respective natures ; the good Being, supremely
happy in himself, and the author of all the happiness that
exists among creatures; the evil Being, in himself unhappy,
and, from the malignity of his nature, the cause of all mis-
ery. — The variety of good and evil Deities, also, which is
to be found in the mythology of every Heathen nation, in-
dicates the operation of the very same j)rinciple of reason-
ing. If, in general, the sentiment prevails in these nations,
of ONE of these Deities being superior to all the rest, in-
stead of supposing this sentiment to be deduced from the
observation of unity of design in the appearances of nature,
the more probable supposition seems to be, that it is the re-
mains of the original and right belief respecting the Divine
Unity, which, although so fearfully corrupted, other and
opposite notions have not been able entirely to obliterate.

It may be further observed, that the evidence of uniti) of
design is necessarily less obvious to a superficial observer,
than the evidence of design itself. — The marks of design
are discernible in each of the individual objects, that come
within the reach of our observation : and every separate
instance is a distinct and conclusive proof, of the existence
and operation of a designing Cause. — ^Unity of design, on
the contrary, must be discovered, not in each of the parts
considered separately, but in the system of nature as a
connected whole : in the harmonious relation of the parts
to one another, and their joint influence in the production


of a common defect. — It by no means follows from this,
that the ari;ument cannot be conclusive without a perfect
knowledge of the whole creation. The case is the same as
in tlie proof from nature of the Divine wisdom. In both
instances we reason from analogy ; and the reasoning is,
in each, fair and conclusive. Finding the clearest and
most astonishing indications of wisdom and skill, in all
the productions of nature tliat come within our observation,
we infer, that the same skill and wisdom would be found
to pervade, and to characterize, those parts of the universe,
that are beyond the range of our actual knowledge. — On
the same reasonable principle of inference, we conclude,
that harmony of plan exists throughout the material nni-
verse, from the marks of such unity in that portion of it,-
w hich the sphere of our observation embraces. The infer-
ence is, in both cases, greatly strengthened by the fact,
that uniformly, in proportion as the inventive ingenuity of
man has extended the range of his acquaintance with na-
ture, the marks of design, on the one hand, and of harmony
of design, on the other, have been found progressively to
multiply. — But although the evidence is, in both cases,
satisfactory, it is not, I repeat, in both ccpialU^ obvious.
The proof of unity of design is, from its nature, more com-
plex than the proof simply of intelligence and skill ; re-
quiring a greater extent of knowledge, and a greater power
of comparison and combination ; so that, viewing the evi-
dence abstractly, and supposing ignorance of both, we
should expect the discovery of the latter to precede that of
the former. — This observation is much strengthened, in
reference to the ruder states of human society, when we
rellect, how^ many appearances there are in nature, of more
or less fre((uent occurrence, of wiiich modern science has

Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 1 of 36)