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Discourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy online

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a prejudice, deeply rooted in the breast, against whatever
is, in any form, humbling to human pride : — a prejudice
against whatever is mortifying to human corrnption, in any



one of its various branches. These, anil such as these, are
the prejudices, by which the reception of gospel truth into
the mind is most vigorously and successfully opposed.
But of these I may have occasion to take more particular
notice at a future opportunity.

From prejudice, of every description, it ought, as 1 have
said, to be our most earnest prayer that we may be deliv-
ered, in our investigation of the Scriptures of truth : — that
we may search them, not with a proud and refractory, but
with an huml)le and teachable disposition ; looking for di-
rection and illumination to Him who hath said, that " the
meek he will guide in judgment, that to the meek he
will teach his way." It is thus only, that we can *• grow
in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ.''

Let the following brief remarks, then, sura up what I
have to say on the important duty inculcated in the text,
of " jprovins; all tliings.^^

ist, The Holy Scriptures, of the Old and New Testa-
ments, are the Test by which "a// things'' are to be

2dl}j, These Scriptures must be received as an inspired
whole : — because if we are to take tiiem only partially,
without previously fixing what portion of them is to be
held as inspired, and what not, we are as completely des-
titute of any certain test of religious truth, as if we had no
revelation at all. Far more must this evidently be the
case, if, while the Scriptnres arc acknowledged to con-
tain truth from God, their proper inspiration is, notwith-
standing, entirely denied: For in that case, whatever de-
gree of deference we may think reasonably due to them,
yet as the productions of fallible men, no part of them
whatever can be an infallible criterion. You have heard
how loose and vague are the sentiments of our opponents,
respecting these important points ; — points which immedi


ately regard the very ground on which all controversy, on
such subjects as the one which has been under discussion,
must of necessity be conducted ; — there being no other ac-
cessible source of information.

36?/^, In making our appeal to the Scriptures, we should
beware, on all occasions, of secretly indulging a wish to
discover any part of tliem, however small, to be spurious.
From a lowly sense of the deceitfulness of our hearts, and
on account of the degree in which such a wish is in danger
of Massing and perverting our judgments, we should be
the more especially jealous of ourselves, in those instances,
in which the particular passages in question contain, or
seem to contain, any thing that is inconsistent witli the
opinions which we may previously have formed : — and no
word, or text, or passage, should be pronounced an inter-
polation, without the clearest critical evidence of its hav-
iug formed no part of the original record, as dictated by
the Spirit of God. The truth is, such words, and texts,
and passages, are so very few in number, and in every re-
spect of such a nature, that the unlearned reader of the
English translation needs not to be under the slightest
apprehension of being led, from this cause, into any erro-
neous sentiment : — for I question if there be any one sen-
timent, or principle, contained in the Scriptures, of which
the truth depends on a solitary text.

On this part of my subject, what is to be said for the-
candour of our opponents, in rejecting, as they do, from
the canon of Scripture the first two chapters, (except the
introduction) of the gospel by Luke, and the first two (ex-
cept the genealogy of our Lord) of the gospel by Mat-
thew ? There can hardly be conceived, (I put it seriously
to their own consciences) a more shameless violation of
all the established rules of sacred criticism, than their con-
duct as to these portions of Scripture exhibits. For, on
what authority do they proceed in their rejection of them ?


Not, as they thciuselvcs admit, on the authority of any vei -
sions or manuscripts ; for the passages are found in all
the manuscripts and versions that have yet been discovered.
But the gospel of Matthew used by the sect of the Ebion-
ites, wanted, it seems, according to the testimony of two
of the ancient Fatliers,* the first two chapters ; and the
first two chapters of Luke's gospel were wanting in the
copy of that gospel used by Marcion, a heretic of the sec-
ond century. "What, tlien, is the nature and amount of
this authority ? It is, in the first place, as already notic-
ed, an authority directly opposed to that of all versions
and manuscripts, without a single exception, that have yet
been discovered. It is, tlierefore, M//, an authority, the
admission of which, in these circumstances, is a flagrant
departure from the canons of Biblical criticism laid down,
as the result of long experience, by the most eminent crit-
ics, and recognised, and sanctioned, and professedly ad-
hered to by our opponents themselves, j But it is also,
Sdly, an authority, even with regard to the passages in
question, in itself inconsistent and contradictory. The
Ebionites, they admit, on the authority of one of the an-
cient Fathers before alluded to, J mutilated the copy which

* Epiphanius and Jerome. Even this, however, has been shown to
be unfounded. Dr. Laurence, in his " critical reflections on some im-
portant misrepresentations contained in the Unitarian Version of the
New Testament ," (a work which will well repay the (rouble of a
careful perusal) has shown, by reference to preceding critics, and by
quotations adduced by himself, that the latter of these Fathers, in-
stead of asserting the absence of the first two chapters of the Hebrew
gospel, used by the Ebionites, has asserted the very reverse : — and
that the former, instead of considcrlns; that gospel as '• the origin-
al gospel of Matthew written in the Hebrew language for the use of
the Jewish believers," pointedly stigmatized it, as an imperfect, spu-
rious, and mutilated copy. See the work of Dr. Laurence referred
(o, pages 21', 2.'5, 41 — \4'', and pages 19 — 21.

r See introduction to the Improved Version of ihc New nVstam'Mit
I Epiphanius.


they used of the gospel according to Matthew, by taking
away the genealogy. They therefore think proper to re-
tain the genealogy : — and yet, on the sole authority of
these same acknowledged mutilators, they reject the re-
mainder of the first two chapters. Mareion, in like man-
ner, rejected, according to their own statement, the whole
of the first two chapters of the gospel by Luke ; and yet, in
ojpposition to that aiitliority, and without assigning a reason,
they retain the introductory verses to Luke's gospel, while,
in compliance with it, tliey repudiate all that remains of
these chapters. 4f/t/^, It is an authority,which if consistent-
ly followed, (and why it should be followed in this instance,
and not in others, no good reason can be assigned) would
lead to the immediate rejection of the whole of the Old Tes-
tament, and at least almost the ichole of the JSTew. For by
the same autliority on which the Editors of the Improved
Version of the New Testament, and Unitarians in general,
build, respecting the omissions in question, we are inform-
ed, that the Ebionite canon of the New Testament reject-
ed the last three gospels, and all the epistles of Paul : and
as to Mareion^ that he rejected the Old Testament, and
every part of the New which contained quotations from
the Old ; and that the only gospel he used was that of
Luke, from which, too, he expunged whatever he did not

Such is the authority, which, in defiance of all Versions,
and of all Manuscripts, as well as of all the critics, and
among the rest Griesbach himself, who not only admits
the passages in question, but never gives the slightest hint
of their ever having been doubted ; — such is the authority
which is brought forward to set aside these portions of
the sacred volume ! And such being the nature of the au-
thority, is it possible to avoid a suspicion — is it a breach
of charity to entertain it — that there must have been in the
minds of those who reject these chapters, a secret wish to


find them spurious P — a predisposition to leud a willing
ear to whatever could be adduced, with even the remotest
semblance of plausibility, to bring them into discredit ? —
They contain, you all know, accounts of the incarna-
tion of our Saviour, which cannot be made to comport
with the Unitarian creed : and this seems to aftbrd the
only key to the mystery (for when this is left out of view
it really is a mystery) of their being rejected as iuterpola-
tions, or even branded as doubtful, on such authority.
They are, on universally acknowledged principles, criti-
colly right; but they are, unhappily, .systematically

^thly. When Ave examine any Mord, or text, or passage,
our sole desire should be, to discover, not the sense which
it may hear, or which we may imagine it ought to bear ;
but the sense in which it was originally used by the writer
himself; — the sentiment or sentiments which the Holy
Spirit designed to convey by it : — and, in general, the

* The reader, who wishes to see the subject of the authenticity of
these portions of Matthew's and Luke's Gospels, fully and ably dis-
cussed, will find ample satisfaction in the second and third chapters
of Dr. Laurence's work, before referred to ; — in Mr. Nares' Remarks
on the Improved Version, pa^cs 4 — 33 ; — and in the Appendix to the
3d edition of Dr. Magee's Work on Atonement and Sacrifice, vol. IL
pages 451 — tSl, Notes. — Dr. Laurence concludes his Dissertation on
both these passages, with the following words : "Upon the whole, then,
taking a retrospective view of what has been advanced on both top-
ics, will Unitarian candour act unworthy of itself, if, instead of reject-
ing any part of Tt. Matthew's Gospel upon the credit of the Ebion-
ites, or any parts of St. Luke's Gospel upon the credit of the Mar-
cionites, it be disposed to give a due weight to that text, the authori-
ty of which no biblical critic of eminence has ever yet attempted \o
sliake ; if it put the concurrent testimony of antiquity, supported by
the accurate collation of Manuscripts, Fathers, and Versions, into one
scale, and, throwing the spurious Gospel of Ebiou, and the more spu-
rious Gospel of Marcion, into the other, behold them ignominiously
kiek the beam." — See Note K.


meaning that is the most plain and obvious is most likely
to be the true one. To the violation of this reasonable
maxim, we are all, at times, under strong temptations.
How far it is adhered to by our opponents, I must leave it
to yourselves to judge, from their interpretations of the va-
rious texts, adduced and illustrated in former Discourses.
dtJily, To the dictates of the inspired volume, our minds
should be prepared humbly and implicitly to bow: —
whatever it plainly declares, we must receive, without
gainsaying. The reasonableness of this has been former-
ly pointed out. Without it, it is obvious, our appeal to
the Bible, as a standard and test of truth, is utterly hypo-
critical and vain. As an illustration of what I mean, I
shall present you with a specimen of the opposite temper
of mind. — On the text, John vi. 63. " What and if ye
shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he w^as be-
fore ?" — a celebrated Unitarian writer, more than once
referred to in this Discourse, thus expresses himself : — ■
" Though not satisfied with any interpretation that has
been given of this extraordinary passage, yet rather than
believe our Saviour to have existed in any other state be-
fore the creation of the world, or to have left some state
of great dignity and happiness when he came hither, 1
would have recourse to the old and exploded Socinian
idea of Christ's actual ascent into heaven, or of his imag-
ining that he had been carried up thither in a vision,
which, like that of St. Paul, he had not been able to dis-
tinguish from a reality : — nay, I would not build an arti-
cle of faith of such magnitude on the correctness of John's
recollection and representation of our Lord's language : —
and so strange and incredible does the hypothesis of a pre^
existent state appear, that, sooner than admit it, I would
suppose the Avhole verse to be an interpolation ; or that
the old apostle dictated one thing, and his amanuensis


Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 15 of 36)