Thomas Smyth.

Complete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D online

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Upon it and its abettors the withering scorn, contempt and
anathema with which he denounces it* — when he represents
the Presbyterian church, "as it sits with its eyes dazzled by the
awful oriflame of divine right waving over its head, with noth-
ing to gainsay or control it," — when he declares that "serious
fears" have been entertained "that the Presbyterian church in
this country was making rapid strides to usurp the control of
the government," — when he implies that views similar to
those of the Church and State champions of other lands, are
furtively held by our churches in the United States," — when
he afiirms that "the degree of freedom aimed at,' and in some
cases obtained by the Presbyterian polity, extends to an exor-
bitant and tyrannical degree, detrimental to the interests of reli-
gion, and dangerous to the peace and happiness of civil society,"
— ^when he charges upon the Calvinistic theology "contradic-
tion and perplexity," and "as leading to the existence in its
neighborhood of a bitterer, more defiant, and more hostile infi-
delity" than any other system, — ^and when he avers that "the
liberty of thought and speech, which she claimed from Rome,
she refused to indulge to others," — in these, and in all similar
cases, does not Dr. Gilman exhibit the working of this spirit
within him?

He introduces Servetus for the sole purpose of throwing
obloquy upon the character of Calvin. To do so he represents
Servetus as ''unoffending'' though in every way he made him-
self amenable to the existing laws of Christendom, whose
utmost vengeance he braved by blasphemies of the most fearful
kind, uttered in presence of his judges, and by an audacity of
conduct to which he was actuated by the party of the Liber-
tines, which finally alienated every kindly feeling, and secured
his condemnation. He calls Servetus "as good a man as Cal-
vin," though guilty of avowed deception, — ^though ungovern-
able in his furious temper, — ^though when under solemn oath
to speak the truth, "he spoke scarcely any thing but falsehoods,
"and at every new examination there was a fresh oath and
another instance of perjury," — though he recanted at Vienne,
all his principles, and solemnly abjured the authorship of his
own works — and though he betfayed the greatest pusillanimity,
rancour and malevolence. He calls Servetus a "Unitarian,"

•The "piety of gratitude," he says in another place, "ma3r be as strongly
elicited by the thought that God never did overwhelm us with an arbitrary
and terrific condemnation, when it was in his sovereign power to do so,
as by the thought that he adopted certain incredible measures to redeem
us from such condemnation after it was once inflicted."

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though he declared that "he himself believed in the Trinity, and
did not object to the term persons as applied to it," but only to
"those who make a real distinction in the being of God," —
though he also "believed in the eternal Godhead of Jesus Christ,
who was begotten in eternity but conceived in time by the Holy
Ghost," and though he constantly, in his works and in his
prayers, even at the stake, prayed to Christ as God. And he
makes his execution "the initial victim" of Calvinism, whereas
Calvin had, for years, endeavored to shake off all intercourse
and controversy with him — ^had with extreme difficulty been
induced to give up two of his letters to be used as evidence in
his trial at Vienne, where he was condemned and burned in
effigy,t and though he and the other ministers had used every
influence to have his sentence conmiuted.

But to pass from Dr. Gilman, do we not find this spirit of
illiberality and intolerance in the President of Harvard College,
the man of "no denomination," who would proscribe men of all
denominations from the government of a state institution, next,
in Dr. Dewey, who in his Berry street address, declares that he
"would rather be an infidel than a Calvinist, a strict Calvinist
of the old school ;" and yet withholds the christian name from
Rationalists? Do we not find this spirit in that Unitarian
clergyman who, not long since, published anonymously in the
Christian Raster, of Boston, articles in which the ministerial
and christian character of the clergyman is assailed, and the
moral character of his church as a church is impeached. To
Dr. Spring of New York, he imputes a neglect of duty incon-
sistent with the standing of a christian pastor, and to his people
as a whole, "covetousness, extortion, oppression of the poor
and all sorts of shaving operations to acquire wealth;" and
these sins are charged as the legitimate fruits of Dr. Spring's
ministry of thirty-four years. J

Dr. Gilman claims for Unitarianism the present Rationalistic
Unitarianism of the European Continent. Now when, I ask,
has greater illiberality, intolerance and even persecution been
displayed, than against Orthodox Evangelical ministers and
churches in Geneva and the Canton de Vaud?§

tSee Life and Times of Calyin by Paul Henry, of Berlin. See Cole-
ridge's Justification of Calvin in this matter — not of the penalty which all
now condemn — ^in his Literary Remains, VoL 3, p. 7.

tSee the discussion of this subject, not long since, in the New York

iThe goyernment of the Canton de Vaud has added now to all its other
persecuting, acts, that of a law prohibiting all religious meetings, except
those of the State Church, under pains and penalties. The law is so rigor-

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At two periods Unitarianism had the opportunity afforded
by the possession of power, to discover what is its true charac-
ter. One was in the States of Poland and Transylvania, where
it had great prevalence during a considerable part of the six-
teenth century. Being divided among themselves by numerous
shades of opinions, and some thirty sects, Faustus Socinus
employed every effort to reduce them to one harmonious body.
As however he still considered the worship of Christ as an
essential part of christian truth and worship, and in other
points retained views now abandoned by Unitarians, he was not
prepared to tolerate the introduction of the heretical opinion
advocated and preached by Davidis, that Christ was a mere
man and had no more claim to divine worship than any other
saint. After vainly endeavoring to convince him of his error,
the young prince of Transylvania was induced to cast Davidis
into prison, simply on account of his pertinacious adherence
to his opinion. Here the persecuted man died. We think
that this case may fairly be placed as a parallel to that of Cal-
vin. Socinus not only never changed his opinions respecting
the worship of Christ, but he would hold no communion with
any one who denied that Christ should be worshipped, and
publicly taught and published the opinion that those who
received the doctrine of Davidis, had no just claim to the name
of christians.

ouB, that meetings cannot be held, except by men having the spirit of
martyrs. The Dissenters, against whom this law is levelled, are what
would here be called Evangelical men. And the National church and

fovemment is in the hands of what would here be called Unitarians,
'hey are called Rationalists in Europe. But the Unitarian Almanac, pub-
lished in Boston, claims half of the Protestants in Europe, as Unitarians.
And we are not aware that any of the Protestants of the continent are
Unitarians of any other school than the rationalistic — Here, then, is a
work of cruel persecution, now in progress by a Unitarian national church ;
and our inference is, not that any of our American Unitarians are per*
secutors, or that they approve of those acts, (God forbid,) but simply
this — ^that what is called the liberal creed is not sufficient to ensure liberal
conduct. And the abettors of the liberal creed are persecuting, after those
of most other creeds have become ashamed of persecution. We would
advise those American Unitarians, who have so many regrets that Calvin
burnt Servetus, to send over to the land of Calvin and Servetus, some
friendly counsel to their co-religionists, to entreat them not to enact, in
the nineteenth century, a work of persecution that would throw in the
shade the Servetian tragedy of the sixteenth century. They are already
in the habit of speaking denominationally and fraternally to governments
at home, and to people beyond the seas, and of giving advice about gov-
ernmental and social abuses. And now, in the name of our persecuted
brethren in Switzerland, we entreat our Unitarian neighbors to favor them
with their merciful interference, and set forth to that Unitarian and per-
secuting government, such reasons as shall induce them to change their
course. — For it is an outrage on human language, to say nothing of justice,
that liberal christians, and a liberal government, should thus have gathered
up the broken implements of the inquisition, and gone to work with them. —
AT. £. Puritan,

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It is also a fact that Unitarianism, or as it was then called
Arianism,|| took its rise in the fourth century, and under the
royal patronage of Emperors and their wives, became for a
time, by means of very terrible persecutions, the religion of the
Roman Empire, and was embraced by the Vandals under
Genserie, in the East, in Spain and in Italy. "Dissimulation,"
says Spanheim, "and craft were qualities notorious with the
Arians. This fact was chiefly visible in their formularies, and
in their pretended, but not real consent and agreement with the
Trinitarians. Their perfidy, inconsistency and calumnies
against the Trinitarians were extraordinary, and their ambition
of the principal bishoprics, and their flattery of the Emperor
and great men at court excessive. Their rage against Athana-
sius, who almost alone opposed their attempts and sustained
their fury, was terrible. They disseminated incredible slanders
against him, and laid to his charge rape, murder, adultery, and
other notorious crimes, but he was an innocent and pious man."

Every where we find churches desolated and every species of
cruelty and rage was exercised towards bishops and their flocks.
Vast numbers continued faithful, and suffered according to the
Apostle's expression, "the loss of all things," and endured the
horrors of death itself for their faith.

If in addition to the facts now mentioned we allow Unitarian-
ism to claim as we are told they do, "that the Jews, before the
time of our Saviour, were strict Unitarians as they still
remain,"* then the system is chargeable with an incredible
amount of bigotry, intolerance and persecution, both towards
all the prophets whose blood they shed, but above all in the hor-
rible and illegal crucifixion of the Son of God himself, whom
they put to death on a charge of blasphemy, because He called
himself the Son of God, thus as they interpreted it making
himself equal with God.

But not to dwell on this painful and invidious point, I would
only further mention the fact that Mohammedanism is regarded
by Unitarians as "a christian influence," and "a religion which
recognizes and is based upon the Old Testament."t The
English Unitarians^ conveyed in an address to the Mahom-
medan embassador of Morocco, in the reig^ of Charles the

IIThey are claimed by Dr. Lamson in his Tract, What is Unitarianism,
p. 21 — Unitarian TracU No. 202.

•Sec Unitarian Tracts No. 202 — What is Unitarianism?

tUnitarian Tracts No. 197, p. 07, by Rev. G. E. Ellis.

tSee for the facts Whitaker's origin of Arianism, p. 309. Leslie's
Works, ▼ol. 1, pp. 207, 209, 337, 216, 217. Magee on the Atonement, vol.
1, pp. 132, 133 ; Eng. ed.

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second, a cordial approbation of Mahomet and of the Koran.
The one is said to be raised up by God, to scourge the idolizing
christians, whilst the other is spoken of as a precious record of
the true faith. Mahomet they represent to be "a preacher of
the gospel of Christ," and they describe themselves to be "his
fellow champions for the truth." The mode of warfare they
admit indeed to be diflferent, but the object contended for they
admit to be the same. "We with our Unitarian brethren, have
been in all ages exercised to defend with our pens the faith of
one supreme God ; as he has raised your Mahomet to do the
same with the sword, as a scourge on those idolizing chris-

From what I have said, — ^and were I to go to the works of
English .Unitarians, I might quote largely to shew the intolerant
spirit in which they speak of the Trinitarian, and especially of
the Calvinistic faith, — it is more than apparent that the spirit
of intolerance is confined to no sect or party of men, be they
philosophers, or religionists, political or literary, and whether
their association be secret or avowed, and to no age or period
of the world. It is the development of that inward pride, hate,
revenge and ambition which are characteristic of unrenewed
human nature.

Our comparative deliverance from this intolerant spirit, we
owe to the separation of Church and State, which Presbyterians
mainly secured in this country§ — ^the establishment of the great
truth of man's responsibility to God, and to God only for all
religious opinions and practices, which are not incompatible
with the maintenance of public morals, or with the security of
life; — to the existence of those numerous sects and denomina-
tions who exert a most powerful restraining and correcting
influence on one another, and render a consolidation into one
spiritual despotism impossible, while they stimulate thought
and investigation and lead to conviction and faith, instead of a
mere nominal and groundless belief — and to a growing intelli-
gence, soundness, discretion and capacity of judging, in that
great tribunal of a free country, I mean public opinion. No
church in this country, except the Romish, either retains in its
creed or avows in its journals, the principle of intolerance or
persecution. And we may hope that they will all come practi-
cally to act upon the belief that candor, liberality and charity
are as essential to the defence and diffusion of the gospel as

iSee the author's Ecclesiastical Republicanism, and Foote's History of
Presbyterian Church in Virginia.

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they are to a perfect christian character. "Let what is by-gone
be by-gone. Only let us not dress up, in the present day, a
picture entirely on one side, and hold that partial delineation
forth as specifically characteristic of any contemporary denomi-

A second remark which I shall make, and which may also be
regarded as general, is that the system of Unitarianism is so
indefinite and indeterminate as to be past finding out, by any
inquirer after its truth.

"What is Unitarianism? The name is no guide to what the
system is," for, says Dr. Putnam of Boston, himself a Uni-
tarian, "Unitarian is a name which refers to a single doctrine,
and one that has become less and less subject to controversial
interest ; a doctrine, too, which all other denominations profess
to hold, and which some do clearly hold, as positively as we
do."*t Mr. Gamett in one of the Tracts of the Unitarian
Association, is very strongly of the same opinion.**

"What then makes a Unitarian ? The denial of the divinity
and the atonement of Christ; the rejection of the doctrines of
depravity, regeneration and justification by faith? But these
negations are common to almost all unbelievers, and they can-
not therefore be made the peculiarities of any one denomina-

"Does the denomination include all who agree in this — that
they have no positive faith ; all who can not or will not tell what
they believe; all who reject the dogmas of 'Orthodoxy?' Is
it a promiscuous gathering of those who can find no other local
habitation in the christian world?" How then shall they be
distinguished? Of late they have styled themselves "liberal
christians." "We do not concede the name, and Dr. Putnam
says that there is a tone of arrogance about it," and Mr. W. H.
Channing affirmed at an anniversary of the Unitarian Associa-
tion, that "there is more bigotry at Cambridge than anywhere
else in the land, and that Unitarians cannot adopt, with pro-
priety, a single term of their triune motto. Liberty, Holiness
and Love."

What then, I ask, is Unitarianism? "The time has fully
come" says Dr. Putnam "when it is incumbent on the Unitarian
denomination so called, either to draw some boimdary lines for
itself, and agree upon some sort of standard, and so become

•tSee Unitarian Tracts No. 184, pp. 23 and 24.

••Until the time of Biddle, in England, Socinians retained much of the
christian religion, for example redemption by the Cross and the omni-
presence of Christ.

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really and intelligibly a denomination or a sect, or else to
remove, as soon and as entirely as we may, what little show
there still is of boundaries and standards and cease absolutely
to be, or appear to be, a denomination at all/'

What Unitarianism is who then can tell? I have inquired
with some diligence, and have been obliged to come to the con-
clusion that Unitarianism, as a system of doctrine to be
believed, is simply the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity
in Unity of the Godhead and whatever else every individual
may believe and assert. Among the Tracts of the Unitarian
Association, I find that except on this one article of faith,
"they avowedly differ more or less among themselves," and that
different views on what we would consider essential doctrines,
are expressed in its various tracts. The faith of Arius differed
from that of Servetus. Socinus made essential to his system
what "staggers the common reason and moral sense" of mod-
ern Unitarians. tt And now among those called by this name,
we find diversities of faith varying from the spiritual views of
Dr. Oilman to those of Theodore Parker "who (with abilities
and attainments not inferior to those of Mr. Newman) has
reached the point of universal scepticism, as the latter has
reached that of implicit reliance upon authority, by simply fol-
lowing out, with logical consistency, the principles in which he
was educated." We cannot, therefore, receive as the system
of doctrine revealed in the word of God, a system which is a
chaos of conflicting opinions, containing among them those
which are so unscriptural that even the organ of the body called
christians, and who are claimed as Unitarians, "frankly
acknowledge we are not prepared to pursue a course that will
identify the christians with any people whose discipline is so
lax that it cannot be strained up to a point high enough to
excommunicate an infidel."

A third reason why I cannot receive as the gospel the system
of Unitarianism is, because it leaves me without a Bible as a
divinely inspired and certain rule of my faith and practice.

Unitarians have indeed boasted that the Bible is their creed,
but there is a fallacy in the popular motto, "the Bible only,"
which deserves to be exposed. To say that I believe the Bible,
may be a very faint indication of my religious sentiments. It
may mean nothing more than what a Mahommedan might say,
or nothing more than that I am not an infidel.

tt'They regard the several books which comprise the volume as THg
RECORDS OF A DiviNS REVELATION.*' — Unitarian Tracts No. 202, p. 17.

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**What sort of a Bible do I believe in ? An Oriental fiction —
A collection of scriptures introductory to the Koran? An
ethical treatise? Or a Revelation from God, attested by the
oppropriate singns ? How much of the Bible do I believe, and
how do I believe it ? By what system of hermeneutics or phi-
losophy do I interpret the Bible, and which do I seek to con-
form to the other?"

"Do you say," asks Dr. Putnam himself, "the Bible only is our
standard, and therein we are distinguished and marked off as a
denomination? That is a plausible idea, and it has answered
pretty well in quiet times; but it is unsound, and does not
answer in all emergencies. There is no such thing as the Bible
only, either for us or other christians. We, like all others,
must take with the Bible some means or principles of interpret-
ing it, ascertaining its purport and requirements. That, there-
fore, which we have usually held forth as our denominational
test — the Bible only — is not sufficiently definite or distinctive
to serve as a real test."

An inspired, infallible, definite and intelligible rule of faith,
is the very pillar and ground of all revealed authoritative truth,
— ^the adamantine base on which it stands. Now that God has
revealed the doctrines which are essential to salvation, and that
this truth is in the Bible both parties agree. "But how has this
revelation been made? Have we any infallible record of it?"
The orthodox christian answers, yes ; the Unitarian, no. The one
believes the Bible to be a revelation — ^the other that it merely
contains a revelation. Observe the difference. One regards
the Bible as an inspired book ; the other as the bare depository
of some inspired things; one as an authoritative rule in all
duty ; the other as having no authority whatever. The contrast
is perfect. The Orthodox christian has but one step to take to
ascertain the truth; the Unitarian has another more difficult
task, namely, to determine whether the particular text is
inspired, or whether the sentiment which it embodies is true.

Dr. Gilman speaks of the four gospels of the New Testa-
ment as "replete with inspiration." But to what extent it is
inspired, and whether the Old Testament is inspired, we are

We do know, however, that on this subject there exist among
Unitarians, the most varying opinions. Probably the most
general is, that the Bible is the depository of a revelation but

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that it is not itself plenarily inspired, so far as that it is infalli-
bly true in whatever it makes laiown.*

''But what, we ask, is a book containing a revelation, but not
one itself, worth to a man ? What knowledge does it convey ?
What new ideas ? We can confide in none of its declarations,
unless we can verify them from independent sources of infor-

And "it comes, therefore, to this, that the Bible contains an
infallible revelation, from God, of those truths only which the
light of nature discloses. Other doctrines of Christianity can-
not be tested and established from natural sources of informa-
tion. It amounts to nothing that they are contained in the
Bible — ^they may be the errors of the writers. In short, the
Unitarian hypothesis is reduced to this absurdity, that the Bible
does not even contain a revelation — for that part of its contents
only which the light of nature first reveals, can be known to be

Such also is their peculiar mode of interpreting the Bible,
that the doctrines which other christians, equally sagacious and
equally good, can find in it, which appear to them as if written
with a sun beam, and which they also consider as of the utmost
importance to man's salvation, they cannot find in it. The
devil and hell, and everlasting punishment many of them,
therefore, reject as nonentities.

Dr. Priestley, who is claimed by them in the Tract above
referred to, says : "Not that I consider the books of scripture
as inspired, and on that account entitled to this high degree of
respect, but as authentic records of the dispensations of God
to mankind, with every particular of which we cannot be too
well acquainted." "The writers of the books of scripture were,"
he says, **fnen, and therefore fallible; but all we have to do with
them is in the character of historians and witnesses of what
they heard and saw."

Mr. Lindley, also claimed by them, says: "The scriptures
themselves, which might mislead us, are full of heathen preju-
dices, and so left, it should seem, on purpose to whet human
industry and the spirit of inquiry into the things of God."

Some of their ranks, however, following the lead of Strauss,
have of late subtracted so much from the history, authority and
instruction of Jesus Christ, as in the opinion of Dr. Norton, not
to leave enough to constitute any consistent and well grounded
Christianity at all. Still professing to believe in Christ they

Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 33 of 68)