On the Book of Revelation (Part 2)

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Lectures on The Principles of Unitarianism
Lecture 9 – (By J. S. Hyndman, 1824)

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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

Revelation 3:14
…the beginning of the creation of God;

Having already seen that the names and titles and the worship belonging to the Deity are given to the Father throughout this book, and not only are confined to him, but given to him in distinction from the Lamb, when Christ is spoken of confessedly in his highest character, whatsoever it be, and consequently in that capacity in which, according to the principles of Trinitarianism, they might have been applied. And having seen also that the attributes of omnipotence and infinite holiness are thus given to the Father alone, I now proceed to remark that the Father is frequently distinguished from the Lamb by the ascription to him of the attribute of eternal existence. He is the being “who liveth for ever and ever—who is, and who was, and who is to come.”

It has indeed been said that it is Jesus who speaketh thus in chap. i. 8, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, which was, and which is to come, the Almighty,” and against the analogy of the whole book, in which the perfections of eternity and almighty power are always given to the Father in distinction from the Son, it has been contended from this single passage that Christ is the Almighty and Eternal Jehovah. But certainly against a mere supposition it must be abundantly sufficient to satisfy any candid mind on the subject to reply, that as in every other passage in Revelation in which the attributes of eternity and omnipotence and the title ‘Lord God’ occur they are confined in their application to God in distinction from the Lamb, it must naturally be supposed that in this verse God the Father is the speaker.

It has further been argued that as the terms ‘Alpha and Omega’ are applied to God, they must denote something exclusively applicable to the Deity, and that consequently when used by Christ in reference to himself, he asserts his absolute eternity of existence. To this it cannot but be sufficient to reply that there are many terms and epithets applied to God that are also applied to men. The Father may be ‘the Alpha and Omega,’ and Jesus may be also, and yet the former only may be God. If indeed the words ‘Alpha and Omega’ did really import eternal being, the case would be different. But that they do not denote this, is obvious from the following considerations. 1. The words are evidently figurative. Taken literally they would state that Jesus was the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The other phrase that is synonymous with Alpha and Omega, viz. ‘the first and last, the beginning and the end,’ would make God to have had a beginning or to have originally commenced existence, and would imply that both God and Christ will have an end or termination of being, that all creation shall cease to be, and that finally the creator and Christ will do the same. Taken literally, instead of conveying the idea of eternal being, they convey the reverse.

2. The connection in which the use of the phrase ‘Alpha and Omega’ occurs in chap. i. 8, is sufficient to show that Trinitarians mistake its meaning. The verse runs thus, “I am the Alpha and Omega, saith he who is, and who was, and who is to come.” Now if the expression ‘Alpha and Omega’ imply the same idea as the following phrase, ‘who is, who was, and who is to come,’ which does certainly denote eternity of existence, is there not a certain tautology in the declaration? And will not the sentence be made to run thus? “I am the Eternal, saith the Lord who is the Eternal.”

3. It is worthy of remark that the expression ‘Alpha and Omega’ is never used in the language of ascription to God in all the book of Revelation. When the characters of the visions ascribe eternal existence to Jehovah, it is always by the use of the phrases, ‘who is, who was, and who is to come—who liveth for ever and ever.’ This is a circumstance which, on the supposition that ‘Alpha and Omega’ denote eternal existence, cannot be accounted for. It cannot be shown how, in the language of ascription to God, the expressions ‘who is, who was, and who is to come,’ and ‘who is to live for ever and ever,’ are always used to denote his eternal existence, and yet that the phrase ‘Alpha and Omega,’ which is never thus applied, is also expressive of eternal existence.

Expressions of similar import with ‘Alpha and Omega’ are applied to God in several parts of the prophecy of Isaiah relating to the deliverance of the Jews from captivity by means of Cyrus and the Persians. These passages, as has been observed by a prominent Trinitarian, are intended to denote the superintending providence of God, which comprehends the past, the present, and the future. He is contemporary with the earliest and latest events in that chain of causes and effects by which he accomplishes his stupendous counsels. When applied to Jesus, the meaning plainly is, that he is contemporary with the earliest and latest events in that dispensation over which he is ordained by the Almighty to preside. Jesus is the institutor of the Christian dispensation, and he will be the finisher of it. He is the “author and finisher of our faith.”

It has been contended also that in chap. iii. 2. Jesus challenges to himself the attribute of omniscience when he says, “I am he that searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men.” But do not the very first words of the book distinctly imply that his knowledge is limited and derived? “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him,” the subjects of this book are denominated; which would not be the case if Jesus had possessed in himself the attribute of omniscience, or the knowledge of every thing in the universe, whether past, present, or future.

It is very evident from the passage that Christ’s knowledge of the human heart is connected with his office as judge, and is the necessary qualification for it. Is it not the universal doctrine of Scripture that he is judge by delegation and divine authority? And is it not hence rational to suppose that the necessary qualifications were imparted to him? If he had not an original and sovereign right to the office of judge; if it be evident that sustaining the office of judge is a part of that exaltation that is the reward of his service and labors; it is equally clear that the qualifications for that office are finite and limited, since omniscience cannot exist but in conjunction with sovereign and underived dignity, dominion, and authority, which Christ’s are not. If he is judge by appointment, by the will and authority of God, he is qualified for the office by the power of God.

The verse preceding the words we are considering distinctly implies that all his authority as the governor and judge of the world is derived from the independent Jehovah. “To him that overcometh will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, &c. even as I have received power from my Father.” Now if he received the power of this dominion over the nations, why not also the power of searching the hearts? If he was not possessed of absolute authority, neither was he possessed of omniscience; for the one cannot be the attribute of a being who has not the other. If he received one thing from God, he must have received all; but God can receive nothing from another. If he could not give power by his own pleasure, neither could he search the hearts by his own power of searching.

It is said, however, that the power of searching the hearts cannot be imparted, and that as Christ possesses it, he is infinite in his nature. But by what principle of reasoning can the power of searching the hearts of this world’s race be identified with absolute omniscience? Is our world anything but a speck in the vast and immeasurable immensity of the dominions of the Eternal? And does the supposition that Jesus is qualified to judge the world, imply anything more than that God imparts to his Son an inconceivably small portion of his own knowledge?

Was not Elisha empowered to know the thoughts and heart of Gehazi when at a distance from him, and also to know what the king of Assyria did even in his bedchamber? And the same Great Being who thus enabled him to know the thoughts of two persons could unquestionably have enabled him to know the thoughts of as many others as he pleased; nay, if such was his sovereign will, of the whole human race. And cannot the Almighty enable the blessed Savior in a glorified state, with all his mental powers enlarged and improved beyond all we can conceive, to know the thoughts and read the hearts of the whole human race, if this should be necessary to qualify him to pass sentence upon every one of them either at the same time or within a given space of longer or shorter duration, as shall appear best to his wisdom. To deny this, is to rob God of his power with a view to exalting his knowledge.

Can a man do this? or, can a man do that? is not the question. But can God enable Jesus to perform the work of judgment? And who is he that can have the presumption and confidence to say, no?

How is it, I may ask, that persons who believe in the existence of a malignant being of the most extensive powers and, so far as this globe is concerned, of almost absolute ubiquity—of an indweller and corrupter, if not a searcher of hearts—of a created author of sin and misery—should yet find so much difficulty in conceiving the existence of a created Son of God, invested by him, for the highest and most benevolent purposes, with power and authority to administer justice and judgment in his name among men?

The inferiority of Jesus to his Father is repeatedly stated in chap. iii. 12. where Jesus speaks of the Father as his God, which he is also called in the introduction to the book. In some parts, Christ is denominated “the Word of God,” in others “the Christ of God,” and the “Son of man;” and his common designation is “the Lamb.”

Upon the whole, then, upon what side of the question does the evidence of this book bear? How is it, I ask, that the title, the attributes, the works, and the worship of Jehovah are given to the Father, yet not to the Son; but to the Father in distinction from the Son; that in his highest character not one of them is given him, though they are given to the Father?

If distinction of being and the relations of superior and inferior can be inferred from one being called “the Word, the Christ, the Lamb of God, and the Son of man,” and another, “the Lord, God, and the Lord God;” by one being said “to live for ever and ever,” and addressed as “he who is, who was, and who is to come,” and the other being spoken of as “he that liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore;” by one being called, as in our text, “the chief of the creation of God,” a designation clearly implying that he is one of that creation, and by the other being said to have “created all things;” by one being called “the Almighty,” and its being said with respect to the other that “he received power of the Father;” by one only being worshipped in distinction from the other, and by the other; by one being addressed by the other as “the only holy;” by one being represented as sitting on the throne, and the other in the middle space between the throne and the elders; by one being called the God of another, and that by the other; by one being represented as supreme in glory, and the other being exalted by the Father as the reward of his obedience;—then is Unitarianism the doctrine of the Gospel.

It may also be observed, that no mention is made in this book of the third person in the Trinity. Nothing is said of his condescension and love; no glory is given him, neither worship or praise. If he be God, if an intelligent being at all, how is it that he does not rank in such declarations as this? “I will confess his name before my Father and his holy angels.” Indeed the truth is, that there are not above three or four detached passages throughout all the Scriptures that can be brought forward to countenance the doctrine of the Deity of the Holy Spirit.

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