« ForrigeFortsæt »
very imperfect general knowledge which we possess is nevertheless enough to induce our trust, to excite our love, and to wake our praise, we must not be debarred from this also, which, however sterile and uncompromising to the superficial observer, may yet prove not unconnected with devotional feeling, nor without its influence upon some of the warmest affections of the human heart.
One objection remains; and that, in the judgment of many, the weightiest of all. It is founded in the dread of controversy; a feeling which, when held within due bounds, is highly salutary, and merits the utmost respect. But in the present instance, the fault, if fault there be, is not ours. Assuming those who urge this objection, or indeed either of the two preceding, to be sincere, they have quite mistaken the parties with whom they have to treat. We commend their attention to those who, with an anxiety sometimes even ludicrously restless, seize every opportunity, needlessly and without the slightest provocation, to decry the doctrine of our Lord's Eternal Sonship ;--to those who are continually attacking, routing, slaying, triumphing, and who seem to suppose that enough can never be done to erase from the minds of men this article of faith ;-to those who cater for the vitiated taste of the lowest class of the so called religious reading public, by raking together from the remains of the illustrious dead scraps of correspondence and the like on this subject, so imbued with the spirit of the polemic as to make the best friends of their thus dishonoured memories to blush in shame, or weep in sorrow.
In the meantime we ask, To what limit are we to forbear these attacks ? Is the press to teem with them, and that under the sanction of the highest names which can be commanded, and are we to sit by in mute and
patient apathy, providing no antidote for the error which we are certain is gaining ground among us? Are we to bestow no notice, beyond that of an occasional critique, on the commentaries, memoirs, letters, and other publications of this class, which take their places on the shelves of thousands of our fellow-Christians, and which, with the reference here supposed, cannot in general be the subjects of repeated perusal without pernicious effect?
Already, thus it is triumphantly announced by one of the writers just referred to, the mass of Christians out of the Establishment deny that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of God! A startling representation truly, and one, it is hoped, grossly exaggerated. Yet, if there be any foundation for it in fact, as the writer of these pages for one confesses he is strongly disposed to fear, the evil which we have to dread is not the stirring up of needless controversy, but the criminal connivance at extensive and extending error.
The defence of truth, thus put into jeopardy, is a first duty, and that at every risk. Yet, after all, it is not controversy that we have to dread so much as the spirit of controversy; the fierce and bitter odium theologicum which has made the Christian church a reproach among the most godless. Truth does not need such a temper. It demands no deviation from the courtesies of humanity, or the benignity of religion. It does not condescend to accept the aid of garbled quotation, or misrepresentation of an opponent's language or purpose. It is best promoted by a calm and lofty superiority to mean artifice, to acrimony of spirit, or incivility of expression. Controversy thus carried on is really not so seriously to be dreaded as some well-meaning, but mistrustful, spirits suppose.
How far, in these respects, the author of this treatise has attained to his own standard he does not take upon himself to decide. It were too much to suppose that he had in no case mistaken the sense of an antagonist; but certainly he has never wilfully perverted it. He has never given to a citation any meaning which the strictest impartiality did not seem to warrant.
He has never intentionally employed an irritating mode of speech, or used expressions which, supposing them appropriate, he is not willing to have retorted upon himself. Protestations of this kind would ordinarily be worse than impertinent, and the only apology for their employment here is the unusual sensitiveness with which a recurrence to the present subject is regarded by many devout minds.
Two circumstances there are, however, which may require some explanation. A very prolific cause of the irritation common in controversies is the imputing of consequences to an opponent personally, which he expressly or tacitly disavows. This unquestionably is inequitable: yet it is extremely difficult to avoid the appearance of such a design, even where a writer's motive is really upright and honourable. . Justice cannot be done to erroneous opinions without showing their proper tendencies, and the conclusions to which, according to legitimate reasoning, they unavoidably lead. And although the advocate of such opinions may personally hold himself at the utmost distance from these results, and may reject them with the most cordial abhorrence, yet even for these he cannot be wholly irresponsible. Conceding the utmost to his individual orthodoxy, still, if he pa
onizes such error as will frequently issue in the most lamentable depravation of the entire evangelical scheme, he must not be surprised if to a degree he is held accountable for the consequences of his conduct.
And if any
The writer of these pages, however, has not the presumption to pass sentence upon any one in such circumstances. It is far too solemn and too intricate a question to be judged of man's judgment. Nor has he in a single instance made an attack upon personal orthodoxy. Should any remarks wear such an aspect, it results merely from an unhappily ambiguous mode of expression; and in this respect he entreats the candid interpretation of his readers. Still it were irrational to require that, under the apprehension of waking a feeling of irritation, or out of tenderness to individual theologians, however in other respects worthy of reverence and admiration, he should neglect to show the mischievous tendencies of the theories with which he has had to contend. one gratuitously stake his reputation on the fate of such theories, he must not be angry should the results of his choice prove less agreeable than he had anticipated.
In the controversial parts of the following treatise, it may possibly be thought that an inequitable and uncourteous prominence has been given to the name of Mr. Moses Stuart, of Andover, United States. Such an allegation is not likely to come from those who are conversant with the writings of that gentleman ; but to others it is proper to say, that among the moderns, to whom English readers have access,—and it may
questioned whether even this restriction is necessary,--Professor Stuart is the most acute, consistent, and unvarying opponent of the doctrine here investigated. He never allows an opportunity for assault to pass unemployed, and will even step out of his way for the prosecution of
He never forgets himself; is never betrayed into an admission fatal to his own views; he has an interpretation ready for every text in which the divine filiation of our Lord appears to be asserted; he is
the expositor of the Epistle to the Hebrews; but even here he finds no difficulty in avoiding the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship, and in giving a different turn to all the emphatic passages which bear upon the subject. All this, too, is done with such perfect urbanity, and generally in such good taste, and is borne out by so large an amount of ripe and scholarly criticism as to win men's assent almost in spite of themselves.
With such a writer collision was unavoidable. Yet it is freely acknowledged, that the examination of his views would not have taken place so frequently, nor have been prosecuted so much at large, had it not been for an ulterior purpose ; one, in some respects, of even higher importance than the direct subject of our inquiry; the setting forth, namely, of the spirit of that theological school of which, with sufficient reason, Mr. Stuart is considered a member. Upon the specimens supplied in the following pages, further comment, it is apprehended, is unnecessary. Yet, in general, it may be remarked, that it is scarcely possible to rise from the study of such passages in Mr. Stuart's theological works, without an unhappy impression as to the flexibility of language and the extreme uncertainty of scriptural interpretation. It is the characteristic of writers of this class to propound expositions the most remote from any thing which a common understanding would conceive, and that with so much apparent good faith, impartiality, and erudition, that an ordinary reader becomes disquieted and confounded, loses all confidence in the decisions of common sense upon questions of theology, and is thus prepared for an established scepticism, subtle it may be, yet not on that account the less real or pernicious.
The work of Professor Stuart on the Epistle to the Romans,—the last of his productions which has appeared