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The original and leading object of the controversy was, whether or not it could be proved, from the ancient fathers, or any other respectable evidence, that the sentiments of the Christian church, in the times immediately succeeding the apostolical, were unitarian. Few controversies have been 10 managed, as not to involve in their progress a considerable quantity of extrançous matter. And this was least of all to be expected in a controversy, where Dr. Priestley was one of the disputants. The exemplary zeal by which he is actuated, for what he esteems to be pure Chriftianity, and the easy and rapid manner in which his publications are composed, both of them afforded a strong presumption, that we ihould have much, perhaps not uninteresting digression. But, if we foresee aright, the limits of our undertaking will barely fuffice for an accurate statement of the main topic of debate. We must therefore, however reluctantly, refuse our attention to any fortuitous subjects of investigation. We shall even exclude all reasoning in regard to the more comprehenfive inferences, that may be drawn from the several authorities. We shall fimply extract the authorities themselves, and the leading arguments of the respective disputants, in regard to the sense to be put upon their language. Inferences the mind of every intelligent reader is capable of suggesting to itself. An entire mastery of the subject in debate, an easy recourse to the volumes that are cited, and a superior skill in the original languages, would be necessary to the suggesting authorities and their construction. These narrow limitations on one side, will, we hope, obtain for us a certain degree of liberty on the other. The disputants in the present case are men of undoubted genius, and, as will sufficiently appear in the course of our examination, no strangers upon certain occasions, to the nobler ornaments of composition. We shall therefore endeavour to relieve the severity of controversy, by alternately laying before our readers such passages, as shall appear best calculated to gratify the moralift, or excite the pleafures of the imagination.
The business of the present article shall be to select the authorities, upon which Dr. Priestley's hypothesis of the unitarianism of the primitive church is founded: in reviewing the reply of Dr. Horsley, we will state the arguments, by which the value of these authorities is attempted to be undermined, as well as the positive evidence, that has been adduced on the orthodox party: and, in the last place, we shall sum up the merits of the debate, and state such miscellaneons observations as have occurred to us in the progress of it. In filling up this outline we hope, not only to furnish the general reader, who goes no farther than reviews for his
information, with a tolerable idea of the controversy; but also to present those, who have accompanied the disputants in their enquiry, with a scheme, by which they may arfange the materials that have been collected, and form a more accurate and regular deduction from the whole.
The value of the point in debate is, we believe, pretty generally understood. If the primitive church were Socinian, this circumstance undoubtedly affords a very favourable plea to the advocate of the proper humanity of Christ, for putting that allegorical construction upon certain passages of scripture, which he may presume to have been affixed to them by the contemporaries of the apostles. If, on the contrary, the sentiments of the first Christians of whom we have any account, were such as are now esteemed orthodox, he must at leaft upon his hypothesis confess, that the propagators of our holy religion were the moft obscure and cabbá. listical of all writers, since the persons, to whom their works were immediately addressed, and who cannot be proved tà have had any prepoffeflions on this fide to mislead them, understood their expressions in a senfe the most remote from that which was intended." It must be acknowledged that the first question is, what is the apparent meaning of the books themselves, to which every body has access. But on whichever side the affair now in question be decided, it inuft semain an unanswerable difficulty to the opposite party: It is possible for it to be preponderated by the mass of less indirect evidence; nor will it be unexampled for the decision of a question to be upon the whole satisfactory, in the face of invincible objections. But, if the original subject be left in any important degree of suspence, the historical difquisition will then advance its claim to be heard, and may determine the balance.
The points asserted by Dr. Priestley in the course of the debate are as follow : that the first Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, of which ecclefiaftical history has transmitted to us any account, were Unitarians; that many, probably the majority of them, disbelieyed even the miraculous conception; that the Unitarians continued to be the majority, particularly of the unlearned Christians, for some centuries; that the Jewish church never abandoned their original fentiments ; that the first persons among txe orthodox, that corrupted the doctrine of the proper humanity of Christ, derived their corrupt opinions from the Platonic school; that they taught the doctrine, of the logos, or rationality of God occasionally becoming a person, and being again absorbed into the divinity; that Justin Martyr first taught the permanent personality of the logos; that this father and his fol
lowers represented the logos, as being made a person by the power and will of God, a little before, and in order to the creation of the world ; that the Arian fyftem, representing the suprahumane nature of Christ as a creature, the creator of the world, was a posterior invention ; and that the Athanafian doctrine, which makes our Saviour and the Holy Spirit necessarily exiftent, property eternal, and in all respects equal to the Father, was fubfequent to every one of these.
The question, respecting the time in which tlie - Arian hypothesis was invented, though it be estential to Dr. Priestley's original scheme, has not been agitated in the
prefent controversy. The author of the History of the Cors ruptions of Christianity has hitherto found no adversaries, but among the orthodox. The points, which have under gone the feverest examination, have been those, which respect the numbers of the ancient Unitarians, and the character of those persons in the bosom of the church, who first in their writings taught the pre-existence of Christ.
The evidences, adduced by Dr. Priestley under the first head, are brought to show, i. That the more ancient Unitarians were not treated as heretics. 2. That they are either implicitly or directly acknowledged to have been the majority of unlearned Christians. 3. That the ancient fathers were so conscious of this, that they have invented a particular hypothesis respecting the preaching of the apostles to account for it. 4. That the ancient Jewish church was universally Unitarian.
I. 1. Our author argues, that the ancient Unitarians were not treated as heretics, from the language of the general epistle of St. John. By the confent of all ecclefiaftical hifa tory, there were two fedts among the first Chriftians, whose creed disagreed with that of modern orthodoxy, the Gnoftics and the Ebionites. But, by the description of such as de nied that Christ was come in the flesh,” St. John pronounc, ed the severest censure upon the Gnoftics, while he has passed over the system of the Ebionites, equally ancient, in entire filence.
2. Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian, who flourished about the year of our Lord 170, has left us a list of heretics, confisting of eleven articles, and inserted by Eufebius in his Ecclefiaftical History, in which he not only makes no mention of the Ebionites, but says, that in his travels to Rome, where he spent some time, and visited several other fees, he found they all held the same doctrine that was taught in the law, by the prophets, and by our Lord. 3. The Ebionįtes are not reckoned heretics by Irenæus,
A. D. 192.
who wrote a large treatise on the subject of heresies. A. D. 167.
4. They are not stigmatised by Clemens Alexandrinus, who has treated frequently and copiously of the same point.
5. Epiphanius allows that the Gentile Unitarians were contemporary with the apostles, and that they received no peculiar appellation till he himself bestowed upon them that, of Alogi. A, D. 368.
JI. 6. “ For there are some of our race who acknowledge him “s to be the Christ, and yet maintain him to be a man born « of a man. To whom I do not affent, though the majo
rity should have told me that they were of the same opi" nion. For we are commanded by Christ himself, not to «s receive the doctrines of men,
those which were de" clared by the holy prophets, and inculcated by himself.” Justin Martyr, Dialogus cum Tryphone. A. D. 140.
7. “ For the fimple, not to ityle them the ignorant and runlearned, who always make the majority of believers,
because the rule of faith itself carries us away, from the many Gods of the heathen, to the one true God, not understanding thạt the unity of God is indeed to be believed, but with an aconomy, startle (expavescunt) at the economy. They take it for granted, that the number • and disposition of the trinity is a division of the Unity, • They pretend, that two, and even three are preached by * us, and imagine that they themselves are the worshippers * of one God. We, fay they, hold the monarchy. Latins • have caught up the word monarchia; Grecks will not understand economia." Tertullian, ad Praxeam. A.D. 192. 8. There are who partake of the word, which was in the beginning, the word that was with God, and the word • that was God; such were Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and • all who assert, that he was the word of the Lord, and the ! word that was with the Lord, But there are others, who i know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, the
word that was made flesh ; thinking that they have every I thing of the word, when they acknowledge Christ after i tlie tesh. Such is the multitude of those who are called Chriftians.' Origen, Commentaria, A. D. 230.
9. • It is a subject of grief to the defenders of our holy • faith even at this day, that in condemning the blasphe• mies of these persons (the Unitarians) they give offence to
the many, (+45 Tonnes) chiefly those of the lowest under• standing. For things, that are sublime and difficult, must be received by faith in God. And upon this account, ig
norant people neceffarily fall, unless they can be persuaded
to rest in faith, and to avoid curious questions. Athanafius de Incarnatione. A. D. 326.
III. “Will they affirm that the apostles held the doctrine of Arius, " because they lay Christ was a man of Nazareth, and suffered on có the cross ? Or because they used these words were the apostles of
opinion that Christ was only a man, and nothing else? By no. means: this is not to be imagined. But this they did as zvije
master builders, and stewards of the mysteries of God; and they “ had this specious pretence for it. For the Jews of that age, being “ deceived themselves, and having deceived the Gentiles, thought " that Christ was a mere man, only that he came of the feed of " David, resembling other descendants of David, and did not believe - either that he was God, or that the word was made flesh. On " this account the blessed apostles, with great prudence, in the firit
place, taught what related to the humanity of our Saviour to the “ Jews; that having fully persuaded them, from his miraculous “works, that Chrif. was come, they might afterwards bring them
to the belief of his divinity, thewing that his works were not o those of a man, but of God. For example, Peter having said " that Christ was a man who had fuffered, immediately added, he is " the prince of life. In the gospel he confesses, Thou art the Christ, " the son of the living God ; and in his epistle he calls him the " bishop of fouls.” Athanafius de fententia Dionyfiii. A. D. 326.
11. “ One reason,” says Chryfoftom, " why Christ said so $6 little of his own divinity, was account of the weak, “ ness of his auditors, Whenever he spake of himself as any
thing more than man, they were tumultuous, and offended; " but when he fpake with humility, and as a man, they (ran to “ him, and received his words,” of this he gives inany, examples, ** Our Saviour,” he fays, never taught his own divinity in ex" press words, but only by actions, leaving the fuller explication of
it to his disciples. if," says he, “they (meaning the Jews) were " so much offended at the addition of another law to their former, “ much more must they have been with the doctrine of his divi. nity.”
Chryfoftom ascribes the same caution to the apostles on this subject. He says that they concealed the doctrine of the miraculous conception, on account of the incredulity of the Jews with respect to it; and that when they began to preach the gospel, they infifted chiefly on the resurrection of Christ. With respect to the for mer (and the fame may, no doubt, be applied to the latter) he says, he did not give " his own opinion only, but that which came by " tradition from the fathers, and eminent men. He therefore would
not have his hearers to be alarmed, or think his account of it exstraordinary."
Thus, he says, that “it was not to give offence to the Jews, so that Peter, in his first speech to them, did not say that Christ did " the wonderful works of which he fpake, but that God did them “ by him ; that by speaking more modestly he might conciliate 146 them to himself.”. The same caution he attributes to him, in
not saying that Christ, but that God spake by the mouth of his