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recommended to the early christians.
And, in order to
this preparation, we need often, and in detail, to contemplate the elements and evidences of our faith. We have the more need to do this, because our principles have not, like the doctrines of the popular theology, been inculcated upon us in catechisms; they have not been frequently exhibited in sermons; they have not been interwoven with the mass of what is called religious reading. The creeds of orthodoxy have been our teachers, in the nursery, the school, the sanctuary, and the closet. It is the distinction of our faith from the orthodox, that is, the general faith, that it has made its way through all the barriers and defences of prejudice and authority. It is the distinction of our preaching, in general, that confident as we are in the natural and unaided strength of the simple doctrine we profess, mainly concerned about what is spiritual and practical in religion,-about the application and adaptation of religion to the character and wants of society, we have been less inclined to engage in the matters of speculative and unfruitful controversy. This, though it evinces the justice and the real strength of our cause, does not favour the proper understanding of it.
It is the object, therefore, of the following tract, to present a brief summary of plain reasons, such as plain men may comprehend, themselves, and may offer to others, for the faith that we have in the general system of unitarianism, and for our preference of it over all other systems. These reasons may all be reduced under two general heads; viz. that the system which we have embraced is, in our judgment, more TRUE and more USEFUL, than the systems which prevail around us.
I. The first and great reason, then, why we value the Unitarian system of belief, is, that in our apprehension it is TRUER than any other system.
The doctrine of the simple unity of God, which most distinctively separates our views from the views of other christians, we are persuaded, is most accordant with scripture and most agreeable to reason. We do not deny that other christians maintain the unity of God, but we think they must allow that it is in their view, a modified, complex unity, made up of parts, consisting of persons, divided according to the actual conceptions of its defenders, into three individual minds. We say according to their actual conceptions so divided. For, we desire our orthodox brethren to carry back their thoughts to the time previous to the advent of Jesus Christ upon the earth. And furthermore, in regard to this, we desire them to consider not their language only, but their actual thoughts. Here is represented, according to their views, God the Father sending God the Son into the world. Now, we say, that in this representation, they must unavoidably conceive of two minds, two agents, two beings. He that sends cannot be he that is sent. He that commands cannot be he who obeys. Let them not say, that this is a matter above their comprehension. They do to a certain extent, bring it within their comprehension. They do actually and necessarily conceive of two distinct minds in this transaction, and thus they do violate the simple unity of God, and in fact every other conceivable unity of an intelligent being. We wonder not that the missionary in Calcutta, who has lately embraced unitarian christianity, should have been 1*
staggered, as he tells us he was, by the answers and evasions of the Hindoo idolaters. For what did they say to him? "Your Trinity as much violates the Unity of God as our Idolatry; your worshipping three persons in the Godhead is as inconsistent with the doctrine of one God, as our worshipping three hundred millions. Nor do our sacred books any more fail to teach the unity than yours, nor are they any more at variance with our practices. For it is as much a departure from the unity to worship three beings, as to worship thirty, or three millions. It is not the multiplication, but the bare diversity of objects of worship, that constitutes polytheism.” And we are compelled to say, with no desire of giving provocation, but in calm sincerity, that we see not what the trinitarian can reply to this argument.
But although the popular doctrine of the trinity seems to us to be encumbered with insuperable difficulties, we would believe in it, or would believe in some kind of trinity, in the modal or Sabellian form of it-that is, one God acting in three characters, if we could find any evidence or trace of it in the scriptures. But it is in the scriptures, that we find every where, the most irresistible arguments for the unitarian views of this subject; and these arguments in the most unobjectionable form.
1. For, first, it is the simple doctrine of the Bible. God is one ;-one Being, one Mind, one Ruler; one King of kings and Lord of lords, the blessed and only Potentate," "the only wise God," "the only true God," "one God the Father," "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." "To us there is but one God, the Father,-and one Lord Jesus Christ." For although "there are gods
many, and lords many," yet, "the Lord our God is one Lord." "There is none other God but He". '-"there is no God with Him." Now, if we are not to receive this simply as it is said; if the unity of God may consist with such a strange and unaccountable multiplication of his being as the popular theology teaches; if his unity may be something so different from the natural and unavoidable sense of it, which this language conveys, how do we know but his justice and mercy differ as widely from the simple representations of scripture? And what security can we feel that all our knowledge of God's attributes and ways may not be just as far from the truth? What can save us from a scepticism that will be as chilling to devotion as the doctrine of the trinity is perplexing to it? These questions seem to us to have a great weight, and we desire that their importance may be apprehended. We read in the scriptures that God is good. But how do we know, admitting the trinitarian latitude of interpretation, how do we know that we understand what this means? If we do not interpret this language simply; if we deviate from the pervading, the constitutional sense which men have of goodness; if goodness in God may be as different from men's natural conceptions of it, as "three" is from "one," where, we ask, are the principles of piety? where are the exercises of devotion? We should tremble, indeed, if the same liberty were taken with the scriptural account of the moral perfections of God, as is taken with the far more abstruse and difficult subject of his metaphysical nature and mode of existence. Yet we have reason to think that the same liberty is taken. We ask if it is not becoming more and more common
among the most intelligent trinitarians to say, that we have no idea of goodness in God but as something which does us good, that we have no proper idea of it as a moral quality, that his goodness may, not only in degree, but in kind, very widely differ from the best conceptions we can form of it? At any rate, with regard to the general fact, we think that we need not ask. We are deeply and painfully impressed with the conviction, that the prevailing representations of God are far and wide from the simple, scriptural views of his benevolent and paternal character. On this subject we know it is difficult to speak without giving offence, and we would gladly avoid it; but we do solemnly believe, and we must assert our belief, and might do so, “even weeping," that in more than half the pulpits of this land, representations of God are constantly made ;—or, to be more explicit, that every time the doctrines of election and reprobation, of man's native depravity and impotence, and helpless exposure in consequence to eternal torments,--that every time these doctrines are preached, there is given a representation of God which every generous and honourable man in the community would shudder to have applied to himself!
The observations we have made tend to this point; it is dangerous to depart from the simple and rational sense of scripture. The doctrine, that we know nothing of God's goodness, that it is a "somewhat," as undefinable as the trinity itself, (a legitimate consequence, let it be remembered, of trinitarian reasonings,) the doctrine that his goodness may differ as much from all our natural, affectionate, and reverent conceptions of it, as a trinity does from unity, strikes fatally to the very heart of devotions