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ligent and sincere inquirers being well known to us, we were anxious to satisfy ourselves respecting a laboured attack upon it coming from an individual who stands so high both as to character and attainments as Dr. Smith : and having long since fully satisfied ourselves, we think it seasonable at this time, when our venerated friend has been taken from among us, and his work, in consequence of the very small number of copies remaining, may perhaps for the present have its circulation somewhat restrained, to call the attention of our readers to the true state of the controversy, and assist them in judging how far Dr. Smith has succeeded in invalidating Mr. Belsham's arguments, or in otherwise defending the prevailing doctrine respecting the person of our Lord.
Dr. Smith's work is divided into four books, of which the first is occupied with preliminary considerations; the second is “ On the Information to be obtained concerning the Person of the Messiah from the Prophetic Descriptions of the Old Testament;" the third, “ On the Information to be obtained concerning the Person of the Christ from the Narratives of the Evangelical History, and from our Lord's own Assertions and Intimations ;” and the fourth, “On the Doctrine taught by the Apostles in their Inspired Ministry concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This distribution of the subject may probably be the most natural and useful for the impartial student, who, as he meets with each passage which may have a possible bearing on the point he is investigating, will refer to lexicographers, scholiasts
, and commentators, without distinction of party or opinion, and having obtained all the aids he can, will form his own independent judgment. But where the object proposed is to set before our readers the results of our inquiries, and to compare these results with those obtained by others, we cannot help thinking that such an arrangement as Mr. Belsham's (who collects and examines in order the texts which have been adduced in support of each point of disputed doctrine) is more clear and satisfactory, as well as more favourable to conciseness. We do not think it the best method for the instruction of students, yet we were hardly prepared for the following remarks from any one possessing the least share of judgment or candour :
“ The selection and arrangement of texts was certainly, so far as it went, a suitable means; provided a due regard were had to the studying of each in its proper place and connexion. But to throw down before a company of inexperienced youths a regular set of rival and discordant expositions, in general without any additional, or at least doctrinal, comment of the compiler's own,' appears to me to have been a method not well calculated to lead into the path of convincing evidence and well-ascertained truth. It might excite party feeling, wordy disputation, unholy levity, and rash decision : but so far as either from the theory of the case or from experience I am able to form a judgment, I could not expect a better result, except in rare instances indeed.”-Scripture Testimony, Vol. I. Chap. vi. p. 160, second edition.
On what grounds is it here insinuated that, under Mr. Belsham's guidance, a due regard was not had to the connexion of texts, in defiance of his own rule on the subject : “ In order to judge of the true sense of a disputed text, it is necessary to consider the connexion in which it stands”? (Calm Inquiry, Introd. p. 3, 2d ed.) So long as important passages of Scripture are differently understood by men of learning, who are able each to give some plausible reasons in favour of his own interpretation, what can the honest and impartial instructor do but lay before his pupils, or, in Dr. S.'s phraseology, “throw down before a company of inexperienced youths,” a set of rival and discordant expositions ? Or how would this be avoided by changing the plan of treating the subject from Mr. B.'s to Dr. Smith's, or to any other that may be suggested? A theological lecturer is certainly not bound to suppress the expression of his own opinions in his class; and provided that his pupils are prepared not to be the passive recipients of his sentiments, but to reflect on all that is laid before them, and draw conclusions for themselves, it is reasonable and natural that they should have the benefit of his thoughts on the subject before them, as well as those of others: but whilst he faithfully executes the duty of opening to them the existing sources of information, his own opinion cannot be essential, and there may be circumstances in which it is much better for him not to bring it forward at all. If Mr. Belsham had added doctrinal comments of his own, we may be sure that he would now be accused of having attempted unduly to bias the minds of his pupils. If the fair statement of whatever has been said most important on each side of a disputed question, be not “a method well calculated to lead into the path of convincing evidence and well-ascertained truth,” we must presume that the plan preferred is making known only what has been said on one side; or, if they cannot be concealed, accompanying the arguments on the other side with such depreciating comments as may effectually prevent their receiving any real attention. Why the demand for profound and impartial thought on the most important topics of human inquiry, that which might be supposed to have, of all possible employments, most tendency to sober the mind and impress it with a feeling of solemn responsibility, should be judged likely to excite“ party feeling, wordy disputation, unholy levity, and rash decision," is what we cannot understand, nor can we conceive how the prerequisites for the successful study of the Scriptures demanded by Dr. Smith in the passage immediately following that which we have quoted, should appear to him to be opposed to the views of his rival, or to be any thing different from what every theological instructor, whatever might be his peculiar opinions, must desire to find amongst those whose studies he is called upon to direct.
Guided by the arrangement of Dr. Smith's work, we shall now apply ourselves to notice such portions of it as the limits within which this article must necessarily be confined, will allow us to select for animadversion; and we must begin by exposing the sophistry of the first chapter, entitled, the Evidence proper to this Inquiry :”
“ We cannot,” says Dr. S., “reasonably doubt of the Unity of God, in every sense in which unity is a perfection : but to the exact determination of that sense we are not competent. A manifest unity of intelligence, design, and active power, does not warrant the inference that unity in all respects, without modification, is to be attributed to the Deity. For any thing that we know, or are entitled to presume, there may be a sense of the term unity which implies restriction, and would be incompatible with the possession of all possible perfection."-P. 10.
We ascribe-unity to the Deity. Unity is a word—a significant sound a sound significant (like all words) only from the power of association, and having no sense inherent in itself which may remain unknown to those acquainted with its ordinary usage. It is not like many words, the notions corresponding to which in different minds are very different : on the contrary, the meaning it conveys, on all other subjects besides the one now under consideration, is definite, clear, and universally agreed upon. Why then do we employ it upon this subject ? Either our meaning is the same as when we apply the same lerm to other subjects, or we use the word in a
loose sense to express some resemblance or approximation to the usual one, or we use it without any distinct meaning at all. It is very possible to use a word without meaning, as part of a formula which we have been early laught, and which, without having been reflected upon, is associated, as a whole, with certain notions of sanctity and duty; but we manifestly cannot so use a word as the result of our own observations or inquiries : it cannot, therefore, be in this manner that we ascribe unity to the Deity from the study of his works. Neither is it in the loose sense, for when we reason from unity of intelligence, design, and active power, to unity of mind, and therefore of being, the argument may or may not be conclusive ; but it has no meaning, no existence whatever, if we change the sense of the term. It is plain, ihen, that the unity of the Deity, as a doctrine of natural religion, (u hether established by sufficient evidence or not,) is vnity in the obvious sense of the term, and is opposed to plurality of persons, hypostases, or distinctions, of whatsoever kind, in the Divine Nature.
After some farther argument on our ignorance of the essence and mode of existence of the Deity, Dr. Smith proceeds to say,
“ These remarks have been made with a view to shew that there is no antecedent incredibility in the supposition, that the infinite and unknown essence of the Deity may comprise a plurality-not of separate beings-but of hypostases, subsistencies, persons; or, since many wise and good men deem it safest and most becoming to use no specific term for this ineffable subject,-of distinctions; always remembering that such distinctions alter not the unity of the Divine Nature: For any thing that we know, or have a right to assume, this may be one of the unique properties of the Divine Essence; a necessary part of that Sole Perfection which must include every real, every possible excellence; a circumstance peculiar to the Deity, and distinguishing the mode of His existence from that of the existence of all slependent beings."
Now we have shewn that so far as the argument from Nature for the Divine Unity is good for any thing, (we will not press it as conclusive,) it is an argument for Unity, in the obvious and usual sense of that term, excluding and opposed to all plurality. No one can say that any appearance of Nature sanctions the doctrine which is contended for; and from the philosopher to the savage, no one possessing the use of his reason, ever heard it proposed for the first time, or first applied himself to study it, without feelings of surprise and of repugnance. It is hardly then too much to say, that there must exist in every unprejudiced mind a justifiable indisposition towards its reception – an indisposition which may indeed be overcome by evidence, but which must require to overcome it evidence clear, direct, consistent, and abundant. We are called upon to admit this notion of plurality in unity on the authority of revelation, whilst, inconsistently enough, we are told in the same breath that it cannot be understood. It is represented that we may conceive it possible that there may be a sense of the term Unity consistent with such plurality as exists in the Divine Nature, though the term Unity is an arbitrary sign, unmeaning, except as it excites by association a certain notion in the minds of those who bear it; and the notion which it thus represents is, with equal correctness, represented by the phrase "absence of plurality;" that is to say, we might as consistently affirm existence and nonexistence of the same thing, at the same time, as unity and plurality : yet every attempt at rendering the ideas at all compatible is proscribed as heresy. We cannot even know what to call the distinctions in the Divine Nature : ‘if we use the common term persons, we must consider that term as having a special but inexplicable sense ; if we substitute any other word, we must equally remember that it is the sign of an idea, never possessed by any human mind, and is to us an unmeaning sound, or only reminds us at most of the existence of a mystery which we can never hope to penetrate. All this of a doctrine of revelation, a doctrine revealed, i. e. made known. What made known? Is it the necessity of using a certain form of words ? Even thus the principal orthodox terms are not Scriptural—but no! prescription of words is not revelation. There must be something for the understanding to embrace, and by meditation on which the practical benefits of truth or knowledge may be obtained. It is senseless to talk of that being revealed, which does not even remain unintelligible, but in respect to which we are obliged to substitute language which excites inconsistent and utterly irreconcilable ideas for the confession of ignorance. It is vain to refer us to the mysteries of Nature and Providence, and the incomprehensibility of all the Divine perfections. We are, indeed, blind and feeble-minded, and it would be strange if finite beings could fully comprehend the attributes or works of Him who is intinite ; but on all these subjects what we think that we know is intelligible and practically useful, what remains mysterious is so confessedly, and does not mock us with the pretence of being revealed in language which is either unmeaning or contradictory.
It cannot then be thought unreasonable to insist that there is a strong antecedent improbability attending the doctrine of the Trinity. For our own parts, so completely are we convinced of the sufficiency of the evidence for the Jewish and Christian revelations, and so deeply are we impressed with a sense of the importance of these dispensations to mankind, that whatever is proved from the records to be a genuine part of them we will submissively receive, and if we cannot understand it, we will believe that our profession of it is to do some good; but we neither can nor ought to resist the feeling that peculiarly strong and clear evidence is necessary to support a doctrine such as this: nor, if persons who were fully satisfied that no trace of it is to be found in the records of the Divine communications have spoken of its absurdity and utter impossibility, can such language with any appearance of justice be attributed to impiety or contempt of revelation.
We do not, however, justify such language; what we have said has been merely in reply to Dr. Smith's aitempt to set aside all antecedent improbability. We are persuaded that Unitarian Christians act most wisely in meeting the question simply as a Scriptural question. Other views of the subject may appear to them very striking, but they acknow ledge the Sacred Records as the guides of their faith, and, firmly con: inced that the Trinity is not taught or implied in them, they are anxious, in the first place, fairly and candidly to discuss that point with those who maintain the contrary position.
The next passage upon which we feel ourselves compelled to remark, and which is an example of the treatment Mr. Belsham uniforınly receives from Dr. Smith, is the note (A) to Chapter III. which we must quote at length:
“ No writer can be more prompt to appeal to the original text than the author of the Calm Inguiry; and for this, when reason and truth warrant the appeal, let him be commended. But a case happens in which the error of the Authorized Version affords a semblance of support to the Unitarian cause : and then he can argue from the very inaccurucy of the translation, with as comfortable a confidence as could be felt by the most illiterate of those laypreachers, upon whom, on another occasion, he has poured unsparing contempt. (See a Letter to Lord Sidmouth, by the Rev. Thomas Belsham, 1811.)
This case is one in which, with a view to neutralize the passage, • In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,' (Col. ii. 9,) le brings an alleged instance of the application of similar language to Christians generally: *In the Epistle to the Ephesians, chap. iii. 19, the Apostle prays that they may be filled with all the fulness of God, i. e. with knowledge of the Divine will, and conformity to the Divine image. P. 252.-But the Apostle's expression is, ' that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God;' suggesting the sublime conception of an approximation to the Supreme perfection, which is begun by religion now, and shall be ever growing in the holiness and bliss of the future state ; while the infinity of distance must for ever remain between Deity and the creature. This palpable error is retained in the text of the • Improved Version, and the true rendering is barely mentioned in a note with this vapid and silly interpretation-i. e. 'that ye inay be admitted into the Christian Church.'' As if the community of Ephesian Christians, which had flourished so many years in full organization (Acts xx.) and eminent stability (Ephes. i. 13-15), was not yet to be regarded as a part of the Christian Church!"
Now it happens, notwithstanding what we must call the bitterness of invective in this note, that the common version of Ephes. ii. 19, is not a palpable error, and was manifestly adhered to by Mr. Belsham, whether rightly or not, from conviction after examination. It will be sufficient for us to quote Dr. Bloomfield's note :
“In the interpretation of these words, the commentators, as on many other occasions, exceedingly differ. But, as often, the most natural, simple, and extensive application will be found the best. Now, as the Apostle had been speaking of the immense and inconceivable love of God and Christ, so here (i assent to Grotius, Whitby, Crellius, and Macknight) he means to say that by thus attaining the Holy Spirit, and having suitable conceptions of the great mystery of Redeeming love, they may be filled with all the spiritual gifts and blessings, both ordinary and extraordinary, that God can and will impart to his faithful worshipers. 'Eiç is put for ev; thun which nothing is more frequent in Scripture. Compare infra iv. 10, and Col. i. 9.”-BI. Recensió Synoptica, Vol. VII. p. 581.
This distinguished scholar, and the eminent critics whom he here follows, will, in the estimation of most persons, at least protect Mr. Belsham from the charges of retaining a palpable error, and ignorantly or unfaithfully arguing from the inaccuracy of a translation. In the Improved Version, it seems, Dr. Smith's true rendering is barely mentioned in a note, (two different translations, however doubtful the case, can hardly be both introduced into the text-one must be placed in a note, or else neglected,) with a vapid and silly interpretation. We will only say this interpretation is that of Schleusner, (in verb. Tampana, No. 7,) to whom Mr. Belsham refers; and no competent judge— no one who examines his references and reflects on what he says—will treat it with contempt, even if he should be induced ultimately to reject it.
We must now quote a paragraph from the fourth chapter, “ On the Errors and Faults, in relation to this Controversy, attributable to Unitarian Writers,” which, for its uncandid and illiberal spirit, we have hardly seen surpassed, even in the course of our attention to the Unitarian controversy :
“ It has appeard to me,” says Dr. S, “that one of the distinguishing failings of the Unitarian theology is a propensity to generalize too soon, and to conclude too hastily, both in criticism and in argumentation. It seems the habit of its advocates to assume a few of the broadest facts in the scheme of Christianity, which are obvious to the most rapid glance: and, with a sweeping hand, they either crush down all the rest, and
leave them unregarded, or they force them into an unnatural and disfiguring subordination to the favourite assumptions. Unlike the cautious and patient spirit of true philoso