Letters from Mary Dana (1845) Letter 1

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[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

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MY KIND AND VENERATED PARENTS:

It has become my solemn duty to make you an announcement, which, I fear, will fill your hearts with sorrow. Would to God, that I could save you from the pain, which, from my knowledge of your views and feelings, I am sure awaits you; but I believe, as God is my Judge, that truth is dearer to me than life itself, and I dare no longer disavow the sentiments, which, after thorough, and honest, and prayerful deliberation, I have at length adopted.

I will keep you no longer in suspense, but will proceed to declare, that I do not now believe that my blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the Supreme God. I believe that there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things. I believe that “all power” was given unto him in Heaven and on earth; [1] that he was the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament writers, who, in the fullness of time, came into the world with a commission from God, and full power and authority to do the work which God had given him to do. In other words, after long and earnest deliberation, much diligent study of the Holy Scriptures, and fervent prayer to God for the assistance of his spirit, I conscientiously and firmly reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

This doctrine was part of my education. I received it, as many others do, without thorough investigation, though, I must confess, it has often perplexed me beyond measure. Still I held it, as it seems to me all must do, as a strange mystery, which I must not attempt to comprehend; not considering, that a mystery does not necessarily suppose an incomprehensibility; and losing sight of the danger of admitting, what now appears to me to be an impossibility. It is impossible for me, and I now perceive that it has always been impossible to make one of three, or three of one,—one perfect and infinite being equal to three perfect and infinite beings. There may be gifted minds capable of comprehending this doctrine, but such is not mine. It is plain to me now, that I have all my life been worshipping three distinct beings; never having been able, with the most strenuous efforts, to combine the three in my own mind so as to form a simple idea. But now I bow to the divine authority, when I hear Jehovah saying, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord.”

But to return. So anxious have I been for clearer views on this point, that I have eagerly read everything upon the Trinitarian side of the question which came my way; yet always without the satisfaction so desirable to an honest and inquisitive mind, and always with the same melancholy feeling, that it was a strange mystery; though still I felt bound to receive it. And now I will relate to you the process through which my mind has passed. For many years, I have not been able to believe, that faith in the Trinity was necessary to salvation, because I saw a great many exemplary Christians who did not hold the doctrine, but who nevertheless believed that Jesus was “the Christ,” and “the Son of God;” and because the Apostle John has said, that whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and that whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

I have often been startled, by hearing passages of Scripture wrested from what appeared to me to be their legitimate meaning, and forced to an agreement with some favorite hypothesis. Not long ago, in a bible class which I attended, the first part of the gospel by John was examined, and then many doubts found their way into my mind, but not with so much force, or in so tangible a form, as they have recently assumed. But, had I ever been disposed to give the subject a thorough examination, I have never had access to the arguments in favor of Unitarianism, nor have I ever in my life before read upon that side of the question.

Not very long ago, while conversing with a much loved friend, (you will know to whom I allude,) I found that my impressions with regard to Unitarians and to their system were extremely erroneous; and I expressed a wish to know a little more about their faith and practice. Was this desire wrong? Was it not in accordance with that Christian charity, which “hopeth all things,” and “thinketh no evil?”

And here let me exonerate from blame the two individuals from whom, entirely at my own request, I have procured the information which I wanted. In both instances, they expressed a hesitation in complying with my request, fearing to be considered obtrusive, if not by myself, at least by my friends. I cannot but believe, that this feeling arose from a confidence in the strength of their position, and a foresight of the consequences which have actually ensued.

Now what was I to do? Shut my eyes resolutely, and blindly cherish the faith in which I had been educated, or sift the matter for myself? What kind of faith is that, which fears to stand the test of impartial inquiry? Would not an ingenuous mind lose all confidence in itself, and its received opinions, while there remained a consciousness of this fear and dread of investigation? Was it not my sacred duty to “prove all things,” and “hold fast” only to that which I have found to be good?

Under these circumstances I insisted upon having access to some writings on the subject, and such as I wished were accordingly granted me. Now I know too well the candor and nobleness of my dear parents to fear that they will impute blame where none is deserved, unless indeed they carry the doctrine of imputation further than I think they do. Yet, in the first overflow of feeling, they may not view the matter as temperately and fairly as they will do hereafter, and this is why I enlarge upon the point.

Now suppose that a Unitarian of my age and mental capacities—one, in fact, situated just as I am—should come to you, and ask you what the Trinitarian faith really was; would you withhold from such a person the means of information? I am very sure you would not. Be generous then, and if there be any blame in the matter, let it rest upon the guilty, and not upon the innocent,—and then it certainly will fall upon no human agent, but upon a system which will not bear investigation.

Perhaps you will say, “Why did you not bring your doubts to us? Perhaps we could have solved them.” For an opposite course I had several reasons. First, I knew perfectly well what your views were, and I had access to Trinitarian systems of divinity, which were considered standard works; secondly, I wished to examine the subject with an unbiased, unfettered mind; in short, to forget everything but the truth itself; and thirdly, I did not wish to give my friends unnecessary pain. When the subject first presented itself fully and distinctly before my mind, in connection with a desire and a determination to give it a complete investigation, I felt an instinctive fear, almost a horror, at my presumption. I took Dr. Dwight’s sermons on the divinity of Christ, and tried to be convinced that I had all my life been in the right—I read them over and over again—I had anxious days and sleepless nights; and even in my dreams my visions were of three distinct Gods, entangled together in dreadful and inextricable confusion. Thus I was driven to the examination of the subject with a power which I could not withstand.

My chief source of information has been the New Testament, and especially the gospel by John. I endeavored to read with an unprejudiced mind, and a teachable spirit, and to explain passages of doubtful import by those which could admit of no possible mistake. While thus reading, the doctrines of the absolute unity of God, and of the derived power and authority of his Son, shone forth from every page of the blessed volume with a brightness and a clearness perfectly convincing to my wondering mind. I could no longer resist the mass of evidence which seemed fully to establish the superiority of the Father to the Son. I found that Christ always spoke of himself as inferior to his Father, of his power and authority as derived from his Father,—and it seemed to me that, if the case were otherwise, (with humility let me say it,) our blessed Lord had studiously endeavored to mislead us.

I also found that the vast number of texts which directly and explicitly asserted Christ’s inferiority, could only be set aside by an assumption of the doctrine of two natures in Christ Jesus; and even on this assumption, such words could not have been used without apparent equivocation. On the other hand, the small number of texts which are brought forward as evidence of the deity of our Lord, can be explained without doing such violence to our reason, as the doctrine of the two complete natures in one person—one infinite and the other finite—always must.

It seemed strange to me, that our compassionate Heavenly Father, who so well knew the weakness of human nature, should require us to receive a doctrine, violating the common laws of that very reason which he has given us, without such an explicit statement of it, and such an authoritative command for its reception, as would leave no possible chance for human reason to gainsay or resist it. But I could find no such statement, and no such command in the Bible. Now, I had always read the Scriptures with this doctrine pervading my mind, and thus preoccupied, every passage of holy writ was made, if possible, to harmonize with my opinions.

I now found that our blessed Lord had given us a very different clue to the right understanding of the Scriptures when he declared, that all power was given to him in Heaven and on earth. With this, his own declaration, constantly in view, I found that I could understand many things which were dark before; that I had, in fact, got possession of the most prominent idea,—the current doctrine of the New Testament. This declaration of our Saviour is, to me, a most satisfactory comment on those passages brought forward in support of the deity of the Son of God. Now what are inferences, and what are metaphysical arguments to the unequivocal and oft repeated declarations of Christ himself, and of his apostles? With these for my guide, the Bible becomes plain. And I remember that many of the passages relied upon by the Trinitarians, under the auspices of that pedantic bigot, James I., I feel that the Trinitarian side of the question has had every possible advantage, and am perfectly satisfied with the views which I have adopted.

And now, when I sit down seriously to compare the system of doctrines with which I have so long been fettered, with those under the influence of which my freed spirit now joyfully springs to meet its benevolent Creator, I cannot but exclaim, “thanks be to God, who hath given me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ!” My mind is disenthralled, disenchanted, awakened as from a deathlike stupor,—all mists are cleared away,—and this feeling of light, and life, and liberty, arises from a delightful consciousness that I have learned to give the Scriptures a rational and simple interpretation, and that, on the most important of all subjects, I have learned to think for myself.

My views of the Lord and Master are dearer to me than ever before, because they are more definite. He is still my Saviour, and the Saviour of the world—the instrument chosen by his Father through whom to bestow his unmerited mercy; a willing instrument, for he delighted to do his Father’s will; an all-sufficient instrument, for all power was given unto him. I believe that a living faith that will lead us to imitate him, is the only ground of our Salvation; but, while I fully believe in the divinity of his character and of his mission, I do not believe he was the Supreme God himself. I believe in the efficacy of his death,—the most striking circumstance of his history,—for it was the seal of a new and better covenant,—an evidence of his divine commission, and of his devotion to his Father’s will; without which he would not have given us such an assurance of the glorious certainty of a resurrection, by being himself the first-born from the dead; without which his work would have been incomplete, and much less calculated to affect our hearts, to bring us to repentance, to lead us to God, and to save our souls.

You cannot suppose, my beloved Parents, that I have embraced these opinions hastily or carelessly. It is painful to expose oneself to the charge of fickleness, and it is very painful to separate oneself from those who are near and dear; but God is to be my Judge; to Him alone I must answer for my opinions; to my own master I must stand or fall; and I dare not disavow what, upon mature deliberation, I believe to be the truth. I love you, God knows how well! But I love the truth better; and your blessed Saviour and mine has said, “He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me.” If I then embrace in my heart the doctrine which appears to me to be taught by Christ himself, must I not avow it?

With an anxious mind, an honest, tender conscience, and a prayerful spirit, I have searched the New Testament, and the result is what I have told you. My mind is open to conviction, though I do not believe that any views can be presented with which I am not already familiar. Mourn not over me, my beloved Parents, as over one lost to you forever. If you think me in error, rest assured it is not a fatal one. I am firmly convinced that no doctrine can be necessary to salvation which is not so plainly revealed that the conscientious inquirer after truth cannot possibly mistake it. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” “He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,”—about these plain statements there can be no mistake. Here is a glorious platform [2] on which sincere Christians of every name can meet, and exchange the right hand of fellowship, exclaiming in sweet accord, “thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!”

That our Heavenly Father may enable us all the more perfectly to know him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent; that we may increase in faith, and love, and good works; and especially that I may show in all my future life, that there is indeed the same mind in me which was also in Christ Jesus, is the earnest prayer of your affectionate daughter.

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


Endnotes:

1. I would remark, that I suppose these terms to be applied to Christ as the Messiah, and that the expression, “all power,” relates to his Messiahship, and to the offices he was to perform in Heaven and on earth, in conjunction with the redemption of mankind, which glorious object was what his Father sent him to accomplish. It does not seem natural to use any of these terms in an unlimited sense. Jerome, one of the early Fathers, supposes that this term, “all power,” had reference to the great power which came upon him when the Spirit of God descended upon him at his baptism. Back to top

2. “It will appear,” says Dr. Gibson, Bishop of London, in his “Second Pastoral Letter,” pp. 24, 25, “that the several denominations of Christians agree both in the substance of religion, and in the necessary enforcements of the practice of it; that the world and all things were created by God, and are under the direction and government of his all-powerful hand, and all-seeing eye; that there is an essential difference between good and evil, virtue and vice; that there will be a state of future rewards and punishments, according to our behavior in this life; that Christ was a teacher sent from God, and that his Apostles were divinely inspired; that all Christians are bound to declare and profess themselves to be his disciples; that not only the exercise of the several virtues, but also a belief in Christ, is necessary in order to their obtaining the pardon of sin, the favor of God, and eternal life; that the worship of God is to be performed chiefly by the heart, in prayers, praises, and thanksgiving, and, as to all other points, that they are bound to live by the rule which Christ and his Apostles have left them in the Holy Scriptures. Here then is a fixed, certain, and uniform rule of faith and practice, containing all the most necessary points of religion established by a divine sanction, embraced as such by all denominations of Christians.” Back to top

To all which I heartily subscribe, and I therefore claim the name of Christian.