[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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]
In regard to the different senses in which the term God may be used, I have recently met with testimony, which, to some persons, may be rather new and startling. I will introduce this testimony by a short extract from a published sermon recently preached by the Rev. Dr. Gilman in the Unitarian church of Charleston, S. C. It is entitled “Unitarian Christianity no Novel Device.” “Nearly a hundred years ago,” says he, “the Pastor of a Baptist Church in this city, with his congregation, adopted Arian sentiments, which he publicly defended in his discourses, and explained in a printed catechism still extant, and of which a copy may be seen in the library of your speaker.” In an Appendix, he says: “The Baptist Catechism, referred to in this page, is a curious document, dated Charleston, and is dedicated to Mrs. Amarantha Farr, Mrs. Francis Elliott, Mrs. Elizabeth Elliott, and Mrs. Elizabeth Williamson, all descendants, by blood or marriage, of Mr. William Elliott. The following extracts will sufficiently illustrate the assertion made in the discourse:
“‘Qu. What are we then to believe of Christ Jesus? It is commonly said we allow him to be no more than a mere man, such as ourselves.
Ans. But this is untrue. For we confess Jesus Christ was in the beginning of the world, with God and was God. And after his Resurrection, he was made and appointed Lord and God over all, the Father only excepted, who put all things under him.
Qu. Whence came this Calumny?
Ans. Why hence; we say, though Jesus Christ was God above all other Beings but the Father, he was not the Most High God: but the Father only was greater than Christ, and his God and Head.
Qu. You seem to make two Gods, but the Scripture declares there are no more Gods than one?
Ans. The Scripture uses the word God in two different significations, first, to denote the Supreme or Most High, who is so called by Way of Eminence. And in this sense the Scriptures use the Word, when they assert there is but one God: There being but one supreme God, and no more. But at other Times, the Word God denotes any Person of Power and Authority; and so Angels, Magistrates, and Prophets, whom God invests with Authority and Power by his Commission, are called Gods, and in this sense, there are Lords many and Gods many.
Qu. What worship is due to Christ?
Ans. We are to give Glory to God, and offer our Prayers to God, thro’ him.
Qu. May we not give Glory and Praise, and offer up prayers to him?
Ans. There are some instances of giving Glory to Christ, and some short ejaculatory Prayers offered to him; and both may be done, provided we remember we give him Glory out of Reverence to God’s Command, and pray to him as God’s Vicegerent, and not as the supreme God himself; but the praising and praying to God thro’ him, is both the most common and exact form of Worship, and least liable to Mistakes.
Qu. What other Worship is due to Him?
Ans. We ought to be baptized in his Name, and to commemorate his Sufferings in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Qu. Can we be guilty of Idolatry in worshipping Jesus Christ?
Ans. Yes, the Majority of Christians are guilty of it, by giving him the Worship proper to the Father alone. They exceed the Limit of God’s Command in this Particular, whereby Jesus Christ, who came to abolish Idolatry is made the greatest Idol in the world.’”
This passage, “he called them Gods, to whom the word of God came,” appears to me to throw great light upon that much contested passage which forms the proem to St. John’s Gospel. St. John seems to have been writing against those who believed as did Philo, the Jewish Plato, and the Alexandrian Jews, that the Logos was an emanation from the Deity, and a different person from God himself. He tells them that the Word or Wisdom, or Reason of God, as it is called by most of the Greek Fathers,—that this Word, or Wisdom, or Reason which created all things, and in which was Life, and which was manifested in the flesh, or was “made flesh”—was, as the acute philosopher Thomas Brown expresses it, “not any thing different from God himself.” Now this “Word” came to Christ, in an especial manner, through him God manifested himself to the world as he never had done before. But if those were called Gods to whom the word of God came, then, in this sense, Christ can be called a God. Le Clerc, who was a Trinitarian, does not apply the first verse of John’s Gospel to the second person in the Trinity, but says, “The meaning of the Evangelist is, that philosophers spoke agreeably to truth when they said, that, at the beginning of the world, there was Reason, or Divine Intelligence, which had created all things.”
Some Trinitarians think that the phrase “the Word” was used by John to denote the Messiah, because it was thus used in the Chaldee paraphrases or Targums, but other learned Trinitarians think there is no foundation for such a supposition. Michaelis says, “Though they (the Rabbins) frequently used the expression ‘the word of God,’ especially in their Targums or paraphrases, they did not mean to express a separate and distinct being from Jehovah himself, or, as we should say, the second person of the Trinity.” Introd. to the New Test. vol. iii. pp. 280, 281. Dr. Burton says, “It has been proved satisfactorily that Memra, (or, the Word,) is never used in the Targums for a distinct and separate person; it is, in fact, only another form for the pronoun himself.” Theol. Works. vol. iii. Bampt. Lect. pp. 221, 222. It appears clear to me that John was teaching only that the Logos, which was manifested to the world, through Christ, was God himself. And John keeps up this idea through the passage. “All things were made by it,” for Dr. Campbell says, “every version which preceded it, (that is, the common translation,) as far as I have been able to discover, uniformly employed the neuter pronoun it. Mitford, likewise a Trinitarian, says, “The original (nor is the observation new) would equally hear the version ‘all things were made through it,’ “We learn that “by the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” “he spake and it was done.”\
The following are the remarks of Trinitarian writers concerning the passage, “Thy throne, O God,” as it occurs in the Psalms, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews. They are taken from a remarkable volume entitled, “The Concessions of Trinitarians;” from which volume I have elsewhere quoted largely. Of the verse, as it occurs in the 45th Psalm, the following interpretations are given:
“Thy throne may God establish forever.”—Dr. Geddes.
“Thy throne, O divine Prince! is forever and ever.”—Mudge.
“Thy throne, O Solomon! by the blessing of God, is to last for many generations.”—Dr. Wells.
Calmet says, the Hebrew word, here translated God, “designates the rank of a judge and sovereign; as if the Psalmist in connecting it with that of the throne of the Messiah, meant to say, that Jesus should be appointed by his Father the judge of the living and the dead, possess the throne of David, his ancestor, and reign over the true Israel . . . . . during all eternity.” Limborch says, the title God, “is attributed to Solomon, by reason of his regal dignity, which was supreme in Israel, and in the same sense as kings and magistrates are called gods and children of the Most High. Ps. lxxxii. 6. But in a more sublime sense it is spoken of Christ, the antitype of Solomon, on account of his kingly dignity, by which he had all power in heaven and in earth, all things being subject unto him, except He alone who put all things under him.”
The remarks which follow are upon the same text as it occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Wielif renders it, “God thy throne is into the world of world.” Tyndal, “God thy seat shall be forever and ever.” Griesbach, “God (is) thy throne forever and ever.” A writer in the Biblical Repository for Jan. 1839, says, “Here the Son is addressed by the title God; but the contest shows it is an official title, which designates him as a king; he has a kingdom, a throne, a sceptre; and in verse 9, he is compared with other kings, who are called his fellows; but God can have no fellows. As the Son, therefore, he is classed with the kings of the earth; and his superiority over them consists in this, that he is anointed with the oil of gladness above them, inasmuch as their thrones are temporary, but his shall be everlasting.” See Concessions of Trinitarians, pp. 166, 167, 529, 530.
I copy from the Concessions of Trinitarians, the following remarks upon this passage, abridged from ERASMUS. “This passage may be pointed and rendered in three different ways: First, ‘Of whom, according to the flesh, is Christ, who is over all. God be blessed forever.’ Second, ‘Of whom, according to the flesh, is Christ, who, being God over all, is blessed forever.’ And, third, which is perfectly suitable to the purport of the discourse, ‘Of whom is Christ according to the flesh,’ finishing the sentence here, and subjoining what follows—’God, who is over all, be blessed forever,’—as an ascription of praise for our having received the law, the covenant, and the prophecies, and lastly, Christ sent in human nature; privileges which God, by his unspeakable counsels, had bestowed for the redemption of mankind. And here, if the word God be understood to mean the whole Sacred Trinity, (as is frequently done in Scripture, where, for example, we are commanded to worship God, and to serve him only,) then will Christ not be excluded; but, if it be explained to denote the person of the Father, (which is a common signification of the term God, as used by St. Paul, when Christ or the Spirit is mentioned in conjunction,) then, though clear as noon-day that, in other places, Christ, as well as the Father and the Holy Ghost, is called truly God, this passage will not be valid to confute the Arians; there being nothing whatever to prevent its application to the Father. Those, therefore, who content that in this text Christ is clearly termed God, either place little confidence in other passages of Scripture,—deny all understanding to the Arians,—or pay scarcely any attention to the style of the Apostle. A similar passage occurs in 2 Cor. xi. 31: ‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who is blessed forever;’ the latter clause being undeniably restricted to the Father. If, however, the church teaches that Rom. ix. 5, must be interpreted of the deity of the Son, the church must be obeyed; though this is not sufficient to convince heretics, or those who will listen only to the words of Sacred Writ; but, if she were to say, that that passage cannot be otherwise explained in conformity with the Greek, she would assert what is confuted by the thing itself.”
Vater says, that the passage we are considering “is a parenthesis and a doxology, which refers either to Christ, the nearest antecedent, or to God the Father, but to which it is scarcely possible to determine. The words ó ων ευλογ cannot be construed as in 2 Cor. xi. 31; for the verb be must, in Rom. ix. 5, be supplied. Those words may, indeed, be easily connected with the preceding; but Paul could begin a new proposition with the same expression, ó ων, as in John iii. 31; viii. 47. On the other hand, since the words ó επι πυντων *εοs; are elsewhere said only of God the Father, is it not what is termed a petitio principii to assert that they are here applied to the Messiah?”
Wilson, the compiler of the book from which the foregoing extracts have been taken, goes on to remark: “Without taking into account the conjectural criticism by which some Unitarians would alter the reading ó ων into ων ó, ‘of whom, or whose, is the God over all,’ in accordance with a principle which, ERNESTI says, is ‘not to be entirely neglected,’ though he does not apply it to Rom. ix. 5;—and without also placing undue stress on the fact, that not a little doubt existed in the minds of ERASMUS, GROTIUS, and others, as to the propriety of retaining the word God, which seems to have been omitted in manuscripts used by some of the Fathers; it may be remarked, that the quotations here made from many of the most acute critics in the “orthodox” body, forbid any reliance on the passage as a proof that Christ is Almighty God. For it is admitted, that the punctuation may be changed; that the latter clause of the original, either after σαρχα or παντων, may be rendered as a doxology to the Father;—that, even according to those modes of pointing and translating which appear most favorable to Trinitarian theology, Christ is not called the Supreme God, but Lord over all, in his human nature;—and that he may be termed God over all, as being merely the God of the Jews and Gentiles, in the lower sense of the word; the Mediator, the head of the church, and the Judge of the world, by the Father’s appointment. Similar to these are the renderings and expositions which have proceeded from the lips and pens of Unitarians, but which have subjected them to the opprobrious names of mere sciolists and God-deniers!”—Concessions of Trinitarians, pp. 421–427.
“Above all, it is worthy of remark, that, as humility and obedience are here the subject of discourse, we ought to understand what St. Paul says, of Christ’s humanity; for his divine nature, being the same as that of the Father, is not susceptible of humility and obedience. These are excellencies, not of the Creator, but of created being.—LE CLERC: Le Nouv. Test.
“Though he was in a divine form.—LUTHER. Though he was like God, and was his image.—J. D. MICHAELIS. Though he was the visible image of God.—SEILER. Though he had it in his power to be in the lofty station of God.—STORR.
“The form of God here signifies majesty. . . . I acknowledge, indeed, that Paul does not make mention of Christ’s divine essence.—CALVIN.
“From this place, indeed, the Fathers used to prove the Divinity of Christ; but the form of God is not God himself.—JAN HEERBRAND.
“Thought it not robbery to be as God.—DODDRIDGE and WYNNE. Did not think it robbery to be like God.—MACKNIGHT.
“Did not covet to appear as God.—DR. WHITBY. Was not fond, or tenacious, of appearing as God; did not eagerly insist to be equal with God.—BISHOP SHERLOCK.
“Was not tenacious of this equality with God, did not consider it as a thing to be eagerly grasped.—PRINCIPAL HILL. Did not think equality with God a thing to be seized with violence.—S. T. COLERIDGE. He regarded not the being equal with God as a thing to be eagerly coveted.—PROFESSOR STUART. Did not esteem it an object to be caught at to be on a parity with God.—DR. J. P. SMITH.
“The Apostle,” says Erasmus, “speaks of Christ as man. . . . . He did not usurp to himself equality with God, but ‘humbled himself.’. . . . What is here rendered, He did not think it robbery,AMBROSE explains, ‘He did not assert, or arrogate to himself, equality with God; so that he might show us an example of humility; but subjected himself, that he might be exalted by the Father.’. . . . But what excellence did Paul attribute to Christ, by saying, that, though God by nature, he thought it not robbery—that is, knew himself to be God? Now, it is certain that never is greater violence done to the Holy Scriptures, than when, in contending with heretics, we wrest everything for the sake of victory. Yet I cannot see with what propriety this text makes against the Arians, who deny not that Christ is a God, and acknowledge him to be even a great God, blessed forever; but who believe that the Father is called God, in a manner peculiarly distinguished above the Son and the Holy Spirit. St. Paul does not here treat of what Christ was, but how he acted, namely, by giving to us an example. He was both God and man; but he concealed his divinity, whilst he exhibited his human nature to the very tomb; for even others have been eminent for the miracles which they performed; and if incidentally he did throw out scintillations of his divine nature, he referred them at all times to the Father, and arrogated nothing to himself. The whole passage, therefore, seems to me to be most violently misapplied to the nature of Christ; since Paul is treating only of his appearance as manifested to us.” Annot. in Op. tom. vi. pp. 867, 868.
In regard to this passage, Professor Stuart says, “Our common version . . . . seems to render nugatory, or at least irrelevant, a part of the Apostle’s reasoning in this passage. He is enforcing the principle of Christian humility upon the Philippians. . . . . But how was it any proof or example of humility, that he did not think it robbery to be equal with God?” Ans. to Channing, Let. iii. II. p. 84.
The above extracts are taken from the Concessions of Trinitarians, pp. 476–480.
“Our author takes for granted,” says Pitkin, “what is by no means admitted, that Jesus in calling himself the root of David meant that he was the ‘source of David’s being.’ In several instances in the Sacred Scriptures, he is spoken of under the figure of a ROOT, but no where, we believe, in connexions which should induce us to regard him as the prime source of all being. In Isa. liii. 2, he is spoken of as ‘a ROOT out of a dry ground,’ and the same prophet, as quoted by Paul, Rom. xv. 12, says in respect to him, ‘There shall be a ROOT of Jesse, and he shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in him shall the Gentiles trust.’ Here it is declared, that ‘there shall be a root of Jesse,’ not that there was from all eternity a root from which Jesse was to spring, the source of Jesse’s being. No, the evident meaning is, that from the seed of Jesse there shall be a root, which root is Christ, in whom the Gentiles were to trust. So the obvious meaning of the declaration of our Lord, ‘I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star,’ appears to be this; that as a lineal descendant, in a legal point of view, from the seed of David, he was his offspring, and that in his official capacity as the Messiah, he became the ROOT of the choicest hopes and expectations of David, and of the chief glory of his house and people. In a like sense many a child has been exalted to official stations, which rendered him his father’s lord, and a fruitful root of his prosperity and honor.” From Pitkin’s Reply to Baker, as reprinted in Charleston, 1843, pp. 63, 64.
The extracts which follow are from the Concessions of Trinitarians, p. 579.
“A great lord is termed Lord of lords, because he possesses authority over many other Lords. The title King of kings is used of him who rules over a number of kings; and was formerly employed of the sovereigns of Persia, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt.”—DRUSIUS.
“King of kings, or God’s vicegerent over the whole earth; a title belonging to him alone whom God hath anointed his king, Ps. ii. 2, 6.”—PYLE. (Similarly interpreted by Grotius and the Assembly’s Annotator.)
“On account of his exaltation to heaven, at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus is called the King of kings and Lord of Lords.—LIMBORCH: Theol. Christ. lib. ii. cap. 2, § 16. (To the same purport, Archbishop SECKER, Lect. vii. vol. i. pp. 102, 103.)
“Even as man, Christ is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.”—CALMET on chap. xix. 16.
“King of kings, according to the style of the oriental languages, answers to great, as if it was the great king, which was the style of the Greeks when they spoke of the Persian monarchy. But such reduplications were not so proper to the oriental style, but that, to show the excellency of any thing, the Greeks and Romans used them too; of which many instances might be given out of the best author.”—DAUBUZ on chap. xix. 16.
“No text of the New Testament has been more frequently cited, perhaps, in proof of the Trinity, than the last verse of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians. It is a benediction. ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the participation of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.’ Here, it is said, are the three persons of the Trinity, brought together, made equal, and more than this, made the objects of worship. But all appearance of intimating such a doctrine, is instantly dissipated by a consideration, which seems to have been strangely overlooked. The second person of this Trinity is God, the whole Deity, without any distinction of person. ‘The love of God.’ So far then from supporting the doctrine of the Trinity, this passage contains a strong argument against it. Divinity is by implication denied to Christ, for he is spoken of in connexion with God, but as distinct from him. ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God.’ There is no intimation that these two persons are one being, or that they are both God, or constitute one God. One is God, in the most unlimited sense, comprehending the three persons, if the word God ever can be supposed to do so. The other is the Lord Jesus Christ, connected with God by the particle and, proving, if any thing can prove, that the Lord Jesus Christ is out of the Deity, and not in it.
“In the last clause the word ‘fellowship’ serves to mystify this passage. In common language, this word is nearly synonymous with the word ‘companionship,’ and would seem to intimate that the Apostle wished the early Christians the companionship of the Holy spirit. But the English word, which comes nearest to it, is ‘participation.’ We have fellowship with a person, but participation in a thing. It is only by a figure of speech, that we can participate in a person. We participate in a thing without a figure. The meaning, therefore, evidently is, ‘May you be partakers of the Holy Spirit.’
“The phrase, ‘the Holy spirit.’ so far from indicating a person, is in the original in the neuter gender, signifying that it is not a person, but a thing. There are doubts then, suggested by the very language, not only whether the Holy Spirit be a Person of the Trinity, but whether it be a person at all. Those doubts are much strengthened, when we compare such parallel passages as these: ‘Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.’ The same writer expresses the same meaning in another place; ‘I send the promise of my Father upon you—ye shall be endued with power from on high.’ To be baptized with a person, hardly makes sense. Besides, what is called the ‘Holy Ghost,’ in one passage, is evidently called the ‘Holy Ghost,’ in one passage, is evidently called ‘power from on high’ in the other. Power from on high is evidently not a person.”—Burnap’s Expository Lectures, pp. 13 15.
It is a frequent complaint of Trinitarians against Unitarians, that they love to bring forward great names in support of their system. It is certainly very pleasant to find ourselves in good company; yet if all the great men in the world had embraced a certain opinion, however such a circumstance might add weight and dignity to that opinion, it would be no certain evidence of the truth. But when Trinitarians stoutly deny what Unitarians believe to be a fact, it becomes the duty of the latter to give the reasons for their belief of the fact. In regard to the religious opinions of Sir Isaac Newton, I will make a few extracts from Spark’s Inquiry. “Sir Isaac Newton,” says he, “was one of the first who formally engaged in proving the spuriousness of the famous text of the three heavenly witnesses, I John, v. 7; and also in showing that the received reading of I Tim. iii. 16, is a corruption. This subject was discussed in two letters said to have been written to Le Clerc. The language and arguments are precisely such as would be used by Unitarians, and such as Trinitarians of that day, before the controversy touching those passages had been much agitated, could not be supposed to have employed., In adverting to the testimony of Cyprian, Newton observes, that ‘he does not say, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, as in I John v. 7, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as it is in Baptism, the place from which they at first TRIED to derive the Trinity.’ Do you believe,” inquires Mr. Sparks, “this language ever escaped from a Trinitarian? Instead of indicating any confidence in the doctrine of the Trinity, does it not strongly imply that the advocates of this doctrine have TRIED in vain to find it in a text to which they have universally resorted as a strong hold? The person who can read these Letters with an unshaken conviction that the author was not an anti-trinitarian, must have a rule of deciding the meaning of a writer from his language, which few will apprehend. . . . . It is known, that Erasmus received the text of the three witnesses into his Testament on the authority of a single manuscript in England. He doubted the value of this manuscript, and wrote much against it. Newton says, that his adversaries in England never answered his accusations, ‘but, on the contrary, when they had got the Trinity into his edition, they threw by their manuscript, if they had one, as an almanac out of date.’ “It may be doubted,” Mr. Sparks quaintly observes, “whether a Trinitarian would thus have spoken.”
“When Sir Isaac Newton was Master of the Mint, the office of Assay Master was filled by Mr. Hopton Haynes. This gentleman was a Unitarian, and wrote with much ability and learning a treatise on the subject, which has recently been several times republished.  Mr. Haynes, who was long and intimately acquainted with Newton, declared to a friend,  that ‘he did not believe our Lord’s pre-existence, being a Socinian, as we call it, in that article; and that Sir Isaac much lamented Dr. Clarke’s embracing Arianism, which opinion he feared had been, and still would be, if maintained by learned men, a great obstruction to the progress of Christianity.’ . . . . There is yet another argument directly in point, and in my mind an unanswerable one. It is well known, that Newton left several papers on theological subjects, which have never been permitted to come before the world. They were cautiously excluded from Horsley’s large edition of his works. These papers have been said to contain more at large the author’s views of the Unitarian system; nor has this report been contradicted by the persons who hold the papers in their possession. It was not contradicted by Horsley, who examined the papers, and declared them unsuitable for publication. What could Horsley find in any theological writings of Sir Isaac Newton, which he deemed proper to keep in the dark? This question has been answered in conformity with the common sense of mankind, by a writer, who cannot be supposed to have spoken from interested motives. ‘Newton’s religious opinions were not orthodox. For example, he did not believe in the Trinity. This gives me the reason why Horsley, the champion of the Trinity, found Newton’s papers unfit for publication. But it is much to be regretted, that they have never seen the light.’  . . . . I will only add, that Dr. Chalmers has confessed his belief in the Unitarian sentiments of Newton—awkwardly enough, to be sure, but still it is a confession—and this, after making him not only the greatest and wisest philosopher, but the acutest and profoundest theologian, whom the world has seen.”  —Sparks’s Inquiry, pp. 367–374.
Speaking of Unitarian tenets LORD JEFFREY said, “to which there is reason to believe neither Milton nor Newton were disinclined.”—Concessions of Trinitarians, p. 6.
(There is no appendix J)
If I am in error, my error has cost me dear. In proclaiming my adherence to another faith than that in which I was educated, I have had very little to gain, and a vast deal—almost everything—to lose. The excellent John Hales, in his Letter to Archbishop Land, has some remarks which so exactly suit my views, that I cannot forbear quoting them. “If they be errors which I have here vented,” says he, “as perchance they are, yet my will hath no part in them, and they are but the issues of unfortunate inquiry. Galen, that great physician, speaks thus of himself, ‘I know not how,’ says that worthy person, ‘even from my youth up, in a wonderful manner, whether by divine inspiration, or by fury and possession, or whatever you may please to style it, I have much contemned the opinion of the many; but truth and knowledge, I have above measure affected, verily persuading myself, that a fairer, more divine fortune could never befal a man.’ Some title, some claim,” says Hales, “I may justly lay to the words of this excellent person; for the pursuit of truth has been my only care; ever since I first understood the meaning of the word. For this, I have forsaken all hopes, all friends, all desires, which might bias me, and hinder me from driving right at what I aimed. For this, I have spent my money, my means, my youth, my age, and all I have; that I might remove from myself that censure of Tertullian,—Suo vitio quis quid ignorat? If, with all this cost and pains, my purchase is but error, I may safely say, to err hath cost me more, than it has many to find the truth; and truth itself shall give me this testimony, that if I have missed of her, it is not my fault, by my misfortune.
In regard to the high tone of morality among Unitarians, Bishop Burnet says, “I must also do this right to the Unitarians as to own, that their rules in morality are exact and severe; that they are generally men of probity, justice, and charity, and seem to be very much in earnest in pressing the obligations to very high degrees in virtue.”—BISHOP BURNET; apud Field’s letters, p. 26. See also life of Burnet, prefixed to the “History of His Own time,” vol. i, pp. 8, 9. Lond. 1818.
DR. ADAMS says, “with regard to their moral code, the principles of the Unitarians do not seem to admit of their loosening, in the last, the bonds of duty; on the contrary, they appear to be actuated by an earnest desire to promote practical religion. Love is, with them, the fulfilling of the law; and the habitual practice of virtue, from a principle of love to God, and benevolence to man, is, in their judgment, the sum and substance of Christianity.”—Religious World Displayed; apud Field’s letters, p. 25.
The above testimonies are taken from “Concessions of Trinitarians,” p. 4.
“The meaning of this charge,” says Dr. Gannett, namely, that Unitarianism is a negative system, “may be that our faith embraces few positive or affirmative propositions. This is doubtless the sense in which we should take the remark, that ‘it is a system of negations.’ It has been said, with an attempt at smartness, that it ‘consists in not believing.’ The ground of this assertion is the fact, that the Unitarian Christian does not receive certain doctrines of the Calvinistic or Orthodox theology. With equal reason therefore might the Calvinistic faith be said to consist in not believing, because the disciple of this school rejects the peculiar dogmas of other still larger divisions of the Christian Church. . . . . A cursory survey of what we do believe, may show how far the assertion is correct, that our faith is of a negative character in respect to its doctrines.
“We do then believe in the existence of a God; a Being of infinite perfection—a pure Spirit—the Author, Sovereign, and Father of the Universe—the spring of peace and joy. We believe in a moral government of the universe; by which all intelligent creatures are made subject to wise and immutable laws. We believe in a righteous providence; within which all things are included. We believe in the moral nature of man; in his freedom of choice, his capacity of improvement, and his liability to err. We believe in the divine mission of Jesus Christ; in his miracles, his perfect character, his authoritative teaching, his voluntary death, and his triumphant resurrection. We believe in the necessity of obedience to the will of God, and of repentance for sin; and in the inseparable connexion between goodness and happiness on the one hand, and wickedness and misery on the other. We believe in the immortality and accountableness of man; in spiritual judgment and future retribution. We believe in the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures in respect both to faith and to practice. We believe in the forgiveness of sins, in the efficacy of prayer, and in the importance of a deep and permanent change in them who lead vicious or careless lives. To sum up in one line, we believe in God, in Christ, in duty here, and in recompense hereafter.
“Now if this exposition of our belief does not contain enough which is affirmative or positive in its character, it would be useless to collect any further evidence to the same effect. We are neither atheists nor infidels. We disbelieve a great deal that has been believed; and we thank God that we have escaped the contagion of many errors which have prevailed in the world. But we also believe a great deal; nothing which is unintelligible or contradictory to sound reason, but much which reason alone would not have taught us. What we do believe, we find in the Bible. What we find in the Bible, as a revelation from God, we believe.”—Christian Unitarianism not a negative system. Tract No. 94, 1st series. pp. 4, 5, 6.
It is very clear that many of the harsh features of the Calvinistic system have been softened down—some of its absurdities abandoned, and a milder and more rational faith substituted—chiefly through the influence, as I confidently believe, of Unitarianism. Where is the clergyman of the present day who dares preach the doctrine of the damnation of infants? And how few are there among those who call themselves Orthodox, who now venture to preach the doctrines of absolute and unconditional election and reprobation?
Some remarks which I have met with in the Christian Examiner for September and October, 1826, are appropriate, and will give additional illustration to my meaning. The writer is asserting that the Calvinistic doctrine of atonement is essentially opposed to the glorious and perfect character of God; and he says, “Here, perhaps, it will be said, that I have only marshalled in array the natural sentiments of an evil and shortsighted man, against what is said of an infinite Being, whose designs are too vast for him to comprehend, and therefore such as he is not to sit in judgment upon, by his notions of what is right, or his notions of what is wrong. But to this it may be replied, as has often been replied before now, that it is one thing, and a very presumptuous thing, for unassisted reason to say what God will do; but quite another, and a very allowable thing, to say what he does not do, and never will.  But since I believe all his communications to mankind have had respect to the measure of their capacities, and that he will never, by his conduct, shock the moral feelings, or contradict the natural judgments of men, I am not anxious to repel this charge. Nay, more; as I also believe the doctrine in question has the support of no such authority as its supporters plead, I am not only not anxious to repel it, but conceive the fact its full admission establishes, affords a ground to stand on with an advantage not readily to be yielded. For, if these natural sentiments do revolt against it, there rises a clear and unquestionable right to demand, that the opinion in question be shown to have for its evidence, the clear, explicit, and not to be mistaken language of those writings in which alone I acknowledge any authority over my faith. But in these there is nothing which compels me to think God is anything like the unmerciful being this doctrine would make him. On the contrary, it appears in strong lines of light, from Moses to St. John, that he requires only repentance, nothing but repentance,  to remove the punishment of sin, and restore offenders to his favor.—”
“—Though we are finite, and cannot perceive all relations, the marks of benevolent design so prevail in all we do perceive, that no mind can reasonably doubt that the whole constitution of things, the course of providence, nay, the ministering of every accident, tends to the shaping, and finishing of GOOD. And it is hence reason perceives, when an Apostle said, ‘God is Love,’ with how much truth he spoke.
In the commencement of the year 1839, several of the orthodox clergymen of Liverpool felt themselves called upon to preach a course of sermons against the dangerous and deadly errors of Unitarians. They accordingly gave an affectionate invitation “To those who called themselves Unitarians in the town and neighborhood of Liverpool,” to attend the proposed course of lectures. The Unitarian clergymen, rejoiced at what they considered an opportunity for a candid and fair discussion of both sides of the question, wrote to the orthodox clergy, and proposed several methods by which they “might contribute their portion of truth and argument towards the correction of public sentiment on the great questions at issue between them.” “Deeply aware,” said they, “of our human liability to form and to convey false impressions of views and systems from which we dissent, we shall be anxious to pay a calm and respectful attention to your defence of the doctrines of your church. We will give notice of your lectures, as they succeed each other, to our congregations, and exhort them to hear you in the spirit of Christian justice and affection, presuming that, in a like spirit, you will recommend your hearers to listen to such reply as we may think it right to offer.”
It seems to me that all persons must pronounce such a proposition perfectly fair, and such an expectation perfectly natural. But the very clergyman who had made the call upon the Unitarians of the town and neighborhood of Liverpool to hear what he had to say, answered thus to the proposition. “I am compelled to reply in the negative. Were I to consent to this proposal, I should thereby admit that we stood on the terms of a religious equality, which is, in limine, denied. . . . . Being unable, (you will excuse my necessary plainness of speech,) to recognize you as Christians, I cannot consent to meet you in a way which would imply that we occupy the same religious level. To you, there will be no sacrifice of principle or compromise of feeling, in entering our churches; to us, there would be such a surrender of both in entering yours, as would peremptorily prohibit any such engagement.” This singular refusal was replied to in mild, yet sufficiently spirited language. I should like to quote passages from various parts of the preliminary correspondence, but must forbear. It may be found in the volume entitled Unitarianism Defended, published at Liverpool in 1839. I have quoted the foregoing extracts to show the unwillingness of some of the orthodox clergy to countenance fair and honest investigation. I could mention many other instances where the same spirit has been manifested, and many orthodox theological works in which people are advised not to listen to the arguments of Unitarians, nor to read their books; but not having them at present by me, I cannot tell the exact places where such advice is to be found.
In looking over an old number of the Christian Examiner for 1826, I have met with a case in point, to show how impossible it is for an honest mind to pursue the course you recommend, and keep concealed what he is aware would cause his expulsion from an Orthodox Church, if it were known. A physician in the State of Georgia, who in early life had given some attention to the subject without having obtained very definite views, connected himself finally with the Methodist Church. The cause of his avowal of Unitarian sentiments is thus stated. “In all this time,” he says, “I had arrived at no definite conclusion in regard to the Trinity, but considered it one of those obscure points, which, having no reference to practice, might be allowed to remain undisturbed. My opinions were rather favorable to the deity of the Saviour than otherwise. I continued in this state for nearly two years, when an observation made by Mr. C. in his sermon aroused me from my state of indifference. He said that Unitarians no more deserved the name of Christians, than infidels.” A remark exactly tantamount to the one contained in the letter under consideration. “This remark,” the writer goes on to say, “the first of such a kind that I had heard, except from Mr. W. of Philadelphia, induced me to think that I ought to state explicitly to Mr. C. my own doubts, that he might adopt such measures with regard to me as he thought proper. Thus I accordingly did, almost immediately after the meeting was dissolved. I told him that I could not say I believed Jesus Christ to be God, equal to the Father, though I could not deny it; that the evidence of Scripture upon that point was not clear to my mind; that hitherto I had considered its determination a matter of but little moment, since the wisest men had differed in opinion upon it, and assured him that I knew many Unitarians who were as eminent for piety and learning as any with whom I was acquainted. After some conversation, which failed to convince me, he cited me to appear before a select number of the church, with a view to my expulsion, solely in consequence of what he considered my erroneous opinions.
“At the commencement of the meeting convened for that purpose, I presented to Mr. C. the first hymn of the West Boston Society, beginning with
‘All-seeing God, ‘tis thine to know
The springs whence wrong opinions flow,’
remarking that I hoped he would not consider it irrelevant to the occasion to sing that hymn. It was done. After the prayer I inquired with great seriousness, whether, at the time the citation was issued, he thought I believed the Bible. He replied, that he had no reason to think otherwise, or in words tantamount. I assured them that I believed it most firmly, but that I could not accept that interpretation which men, fallible as myself, gave of it, if it did not coincide with my own reason, because that would, virtually, be to place my faith in the opinion of men, rather than on the word of God. I explained the origin of the Apostolic, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds, and told them that I assented to the Apostolic in great part, and intimated the absurdity of requiring assent to a creed originating in an era of so much mental debasement as the Athanasian. I adduced passages from Scripture to prove the inferiority of Christ to the Father; that he was not omniscient, nor omnipresent. I then stated the awkwardness of the predicament in which they were about to place themselves by expelling from the church one who thus believed, and whose moral conduct had not been in the slightest degree impeached; quoted that article in the `Discipline’ which declares the `Holy Scriptures to contain all things necessary to salvation, so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as any article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation;’ told them, that if there were any defect in my mental powers, which incapacitated me from seeing the proof of the contested doctrines, they were not proved to me, and therefore, by that article, were not required to be believed.
“The result was as I anticipated. They expelled from a church professedly Christian, one who believed Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, and whose moral conduct was confessedly without the shadow of a suspicion, solely because he could not do what was as impossible as to move the sun from the firmament; viz., believe what appeared unsupported by Scripture, and contrary to reason.”
I will close this note with a fact mentioned by the writer of the above quotations, because it shows how little is gained, and how much is lost by those who employ denunciation instead of argument, and hard words instead of solid reason. “Until the recent denunciations,” he says, “of Mr. C., nothing was known, I presume, of the opinions of Unitarians, by the generality of the people. The cause of rational Christianity is unquestionably promoted by the anathemas which are fulminated by the Orthodox. A spirit of inquiry is awakened, which would otherwise have lain dormant, and which must produce a favorable result ultimately.”
This is perfectly in accordance with my opinion on the subject. This “spirit of inquiry,” of which the Georgia physician speaks, is all that we ask for—all that we want. Give but a free and proper scope to that spirit, and the interests of liberal, rational Christianity must be speedily and universally advanced.
I rejoice to know that there are some Trinitarians who are not willing thus to shut their Unitarian brethren out of Heaven. Bishop Watson says: “If different men, in carefully and conscientiously examining the Scriptures, should arrive at different conclusions, even on points of the last importance, we trust that God, who alone knows what every man is capable of, will be merciful to him that is in error. We trust that he will pardon the Unitarian, if he be in an error, because he has fallen into it from the dread of becoming an Idolater,—of giving that glory to another which he conceives to be due to God alone. If the worshipper of Jesus Christ be in an error, we trust that God will pardon his mistake, because he has fallen into it from a dread of disobeying what he conceives to be revealed concerning the nature of the Son, or commanded concerning the honor to be given to him. Both are actuated by the same principle—the fear of God; and though that principle impels them into different roads, it is our hope and belief, that, if they add to their faith charity, they will meet in heaven.”—Theol. Tracts, vol. i. pp. xvii, xviii.
I have recently been very much struck with the singularly belligerent tone of the popular orthodoxy phraseology. It seems to me that Christians are assuming an attitude far too warlike for those who profess to be the meek and lowly followers of the “Prince of Peace.” Most of the orthodox presses teem with articles calculated to fire the imagination and fill it with pictures of bannered hosts, and armies marching to battle. The Editor of the Christian Register, in a recent number giving an account of an anniversary meeting of the `Christian Alliance,’ held at Boston, thus writes: “We must be permitted again to express our surprise that eminent Christian teachers, who we know deprecate war from their inmost souls, should allow themselves to indulge in a manner of speaking, which cannot fail to kindle its spirit in the hearts of the excited crowds inflamed to enthusiasm by their eloquence. After listening to such language as the following, the audience were, doubtless, ready to rush to arms. ‘Our object now is,’ says Dr. ———, ‘reconnoitering, pioneering, and adopting measures for bringing all parts of Protestant Christendom to join in an united, simultaneous attack upon the common enemy. Let the Methodists make an assault on one side, the Baptists on another; let the Congregationalists charge on one flank, and the Episcopalians on the other, until a breach is made in the walls of Babylon, and then rush in and take possession.’
“Again Dr. ——— says:
‘Passing events portend a crisis at no distant day. A battle is to be fought. Ere long there will be a conflict of nations—a war of revolution.’ “If our Orthodox brethren,” continues the Editor, “do not really wish to have the question between Romanists and Protestants settled by the sword, why indulge in such fierce and warlike imagery? We protest against it in the name of the Peace Society.”
I cannot forbear to quote a few remarks from the same paper in regard to the manner in which Protestants are carrying on the warfare against Romanism. The same speaker quoted above, had, in the course of his very fine address, spoken as follows:—”We propose,” he says, “secondly, to unite the minds of Protestant Christians in a simultaneous assault on Rome, and to render the Reformation again aggressive. Since the Reformation has ceased to be aggressive, it has ceased to progress. It is time then for Protestant Christendom to act against the enemy—to take a position of-fensive as well as de-fensive. The result of our inquiries is , that union is practicable. Protestant Christians can be united in carrying the war to Rome. We propose, therefore, to make an assault on Rome itself.”
“3d. By propagating the idea of religious freedom, by bringing this doctrine in contact with the mind of Italy.” “The doctrine of religious freedom is a fundamental one. It lies at the foundation of society. It is one of the first that commends itself to our judgment in childhood—it is so interwoven with all our thoughts and feelings, that to us it seems impossible it should not be universally understood and appreciated. The doctrine of religious freedom, i. e. that every man has a right to think and act under a sense of his responsibility to God, that he has in his hands the Book of God,—His revelation, pointing out to him the way of life, prescribing to him his duty, and that he has a right to read, and think, and ascertain what God would have him to do. It is the doctrine which lies at the basis of the Reformation. There is no other judgment but private judgment. The Reformation rests on it. It was this doctrine which began and carried it on, though it has not been carried out in full in any other country but this. In England there was an approximation to it, and a partial approximation in France.”
“It moreover lies at the foundation of Christianity, and the Pope knows it. How was Christianity introduced to Rome. He will say, Peter preached it; but I say, no. Turn to the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul will tell you how it came there. But, granting it was first preached at Rome by Peter, how was it introduced? By a course of procedure similar to what we propose to adopt now. If he went there, he went in the exercise of his private judgment—all that received it, embraced it in the exercise of their private judgment. No man can act otherwise, and act rationally. The right to breathe the vital air, to walk on God’s earth, to use our arms and our feet, is not more obvious than the right to use the reason with which God has endowed us. If by disseminating this doctrine in Italy, we should blow up the Pope’s powder magazine, if we should overturn his throne, we cannot help it,—he should have kept out of the way. We are proclaiming God’s truth,—we are doing God’s work, and we are not concerned about the results which may follow. Such is the work before us.”
The Editor then remarks: “If our Orthodox brethren would but carry out these sentiments, they might form a `Christian Alliance,’ which would amount to something more than mere boasting. Dr. —— has justly defined the principle of the Reformation. If all who act on that principle were combined together, if they were all admitted into the ranks—to adopt the fashionable evangelical imagery—then perhaps the Pope might be in danger of having `his powder magazine blown up.’ But for a few self-selected sects to form an exclusive combination, and denounce all who do not surrender the right which Dr. ——so forcibly maintains, and adopt a creed imposed by the clique, to undertake to overthrow the Roman Catholic religion by such a narrow policy, is perfectly ridiculous. If they are in earnest in their apprehensions of the spread of Popery, let them summon the entire hosts of Protestantism to the rescue, and not betray the cause by dividing and distracting the forces of its friends. As it is, these self-complacent sectaries who denominate themselves the `Christian Alliance,’ are placing themselves between two fires, and provoking the hostility of the two great elemental principles of the Church and of Society. They are battling against uniformity, implicit faith, and Church authority, as they are embodied in the Papal system, and against the right of private judgment, and free inquiry, in the entire mass of liberal Christians, whom they exclude from co-operation with them, and excommunicate with an intolerance and arrogated infallibility as glaring and offensive as that of Rome herself. 
If the movement against Popery were placed upon a footing, on which all Protestants could rally, we should promptly and earnestly engage in it. But conducted in the narrow spirit, in which it is by the Presbyterians and Orthodox generally, what rational and reflecting person can wonder that the Romanists are increasing with fearful rapidity!”
In regard to the popular warlike phraseology, I would remark, that it is true that the great Apostle of the Gentiles sometimes made use of such expressions, but they were generally used in allusion to the Christian’s internal conflicts, which are indeed perpetual. But it ought especially to be remembered that he lived in an age when the world’s position was essentially different from what it is at present. The Romans nation was a nation of soldiers, and all the civilized world was under the Roman government. Paul himself was a Roman citizen. It was necessary, before any man could be a candidate for office, that he should serve ten years as a soldier. “At the age of seventeen,” says Burnap, in his Lectures on the History of Christianity, “every Roman citizen was liable to be enrolled and sent to the wars. When he arrived at the camp, he entered on a course of life, in which ease and indulgence were altogether unknown. He commenced a discipline of hardship and endurance, which, were it not made certain by historic records, would at this period of the world be utterly incredible. He was there furnished with a shield of sufficient size to protect his whole body, and thick and strong enough to resist the force of arrows, swords, and spears; two javelins of some four feet in length, armed at the end with a three-cornered blade of about eighteen inches. To these was added a two edged sword, sharp at the point, equally calculated to strike or to thrust, as occasion might need. Boots for the defence of the legs, a breastplate of brass, a cap of the same, surmounted by a lofty plume, completed his panoply, and made him an object at once beautiful and terrible to the beholder. In addition to his heavy armor, the Roman soldier was compelled to march under the furniture of his tent, a burden which the puny men of our times would find themselves altogether unable to sustain. When they had arrived at the end of a fatiguing day’s march, not an eye could be closed in sleep, nor a limb composed to rest, till their camp was surrounded by a trench twelve feet wide and twelve feet deep, surmounted by a breastwork of the same dimensions. When they were stationary, not a day nor an hour was lost. Their whole time was taken up in military and athletic exercises, which either gave strength and vigor to their bodies, or skill and dexterity to the use of their weapons. Such for nine centuries was the Roman army, not a day for the whole time that it did not exist and perform its various functions.”
Under such circumstances, it was exceedingly natural that the sagacious Apostle should clothe his thoughts in such language as would be most readily understood. For many centuries men had constantly lived in a state of warfare, and their ideas would naturally take their hue from the complexion of the times.
But now, under the influence of the gospel, there is, to a great extent, “peace on earth,” and there ought to be, and there must be, before Christ’s kingdom can universally come, “good will to man,” from his brother man. That there will be an increasing conflict of opinions, the more men learn to think for themselves, and to throw off the shackles of human authority and tradition, there can be no doubt; but the weapons for this warfare are spiritual, not carnal; the victory is to be gained by a firm and open adherence to truth and duty, and not by denunciation, and the array of hostile forces.
An Orthodox clergyman of very high standing, recently, in a letter to me, objected to the use of the term “Supreme God,” as applied to Christ. “That is a phrase,” said he, “which I have never, that I know of, once employed myself; for which I have never felt any predilection; which I regard as unscriptural and improper, because it seems to make the Son even superior to the Father.” To this I replied: “I begin to think you are somewhat of a Unitarian yourself, when you say that you regard the phrase `the supreme God,’ as applied to Christ, as `unscriptural and improper.’ You would not, I presume, be unwilling to apply the same phrase to the Father. It would not, I imagine, be unscriptural and improper to call him the supreme God. There certainly is a supreme God, and if the Father is not that Being, who is? But if Christ is equal with the Father, `the same in substance, equal in power and glory,’ as the Catechism says, why is he not the supreme God too? Why has he not just as good a right to the title as the Father? Look at it candidly, and tell me, what possible difference can there be between two equal beings? If the title `supreme God,’ applied to Christ, makes him `superior to the Father,’ then the same title, applied to the Father, makes him superior to the Son. Is not this a logical inference? But if you believe the Father to be superior to the Son, you are no Trinitarian, in the present sense of that term; for the Confession of Faith asserts that they are equal; and if they are equal, one cannot be superior to the other. Perhaps you believe that, in the Son and Spirit, we see only different manifestations of the same God; in that case, you are only a modal Trinitarian; in other words, a Unitarian.”
I have just met with a very fine argument on this very point in Professor Norton’s Statement of Reasons, which I will here introduce for the same reasons which have made me draw so largely upon Professor Sparks; while I would as heartily recommend the perusal of the whole work to those who feel an interest in this matter. Professor Norton says: “It is evident from the Scriptures, that none of those effects were produced, which would necessarily have resulted from its first annunciation by Christ, and its consequent communication by his Apostles. The disciples of our Saviour must, at some period, have considered him merely as a man. Such he was, to all appearance, and such, therefore, they must have believed him to be. Before he commence his ministry, his relations and fellow townsmen certainly regarded him as nothing more than a man. `Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph, and of Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us all?’ At some particular period, the communication must have been made by our Saviour to his disciples, that he was not a mere man, but that he was, properly speaking, and in the highest sense, God himself. The doctrines with which we are contending, and other doctrines of a similar character, have so obscured and confused the whole of Christianity, that even its historical facts appear to be regarded by many scarcely in the light of real occurrences. But we may carry ourselves back in imagination to the time when Christ was on earth, and place ourselves in the situation of the first believers. Let us then reflect for a moment on what would be the state of our own feelings, if some one with whom we had associated as a man, were to declare to us that he was really God himself. If his character and works had been such as to command any attention to such an assertion, still through what an agony of incredulity, and doubt, and amazement, and consternation, must the mind pass, before it could settle down into a conviction of the truth of his declaration. And when convinced of its truth, with what unspeakable astonishment should we be overwhelmed. With what extreme awe, and entire prostration of every faculty, should we approach and contemplate such a being; if indeed man, in his present tenement of clay, could endure such intercourse with his Maker. With what a strong and unrelaxing grasp would the idea seize upon our minds. How continually would it be expressed in the most forcible language, whenever we had occasion to speak of him. What a deep and indelible coloring would it give to every thought and sentiment, in the remotest degree connected with an agent so mysterious and so awful. But we perceive nothing of this state of mind in the disciples of our Saviour; but much that gives evidence of a very different state of mind. One may read over the first three Evangelists, and it must be by a more than ordinary exercise of ingenuity, if he discover what may pass for an argument, that either the writers, or the numerous individuals of whom they speak, regarded our Saviour as their Maker and God; or that he ever assumed that character. Can we believe, that if such a most extraordinary annunciation, as has been supposed, had ever actually been made by him, no particular record of its circumstances, and immediate effects, would have been preserved? That the Evangelists, in their accounts of their Master, would have omitted the most remarkable event in his history and their own? and that three of them, at least, (for so much must be conceded,) would have made no direct mention of far the most astonishing fact in relation to his character? Read over the account of the conduct and conversations of his disciples with their Master, and put it to your own feelings, whether they ever thought that they were conversing with their God? Read over these accounts attentively, and ask yourself, if this supposition do not appear to you the most incongruous that ever entered the human mind? Take only the facts and conversation, which occurred before our Saviour’s crucifixion, as related by St. John. Did Judas believe that he was betraying his God? Their Master washed the feet of his Apostles. Did the Apostles believe—but the question is too shocking to be stated in plain words. Did they then believe their Master to be God, when, surprised at his taking notice of an inquiry which they wished to make, but which they had not in fact proposed,  they thus addressed him? `Now we are sure that thou knowest all things, and that there is no need for any man to question thee. By this we know that thou camest from God.’  Could they imagine, that he, who, throughout his conversation, spoke of himself only as the minister of God, and who in their presence prayed to God, was himself the Almighty? Did they believe it was the Maker of Heaven and Earth whom they were deserting, when they left him upon his apprehension? But there is hardly a fact or conversation recorded in the history of our Saviour’s ministry, which may not afford ground for such questions as have been proposed. He who maintains that the first disciples of our Saviour did ever really believe that they were in the immediate presence of their God, must maintain at the same time, that they were a class of men by themselves, and that all their feelings and conduct was immeasurably and inconceivably different, from what those of any other human beings would have been, under the same belief.
“But beside the entire absence of that state of mind, which must have been produced by this belief, there are other continual indications, direct and indirect, of their opinions and feelings respecting their Master, wholly irreconcilable with the supposition of its existence during any period of his ministry or their own. Throughout the New Testament we find nothing which implies that such a most extraordinary change of feeling ever took place in the disciples of Christ, as must have been produced by the communication that their Master was God himself upon earth. Nowhere do we find the expression of those irresistible and absorbing sentiments, which must have possessed their minds under the conviction of this fact. With this conviction, in what terms would they have spoken of his crucifixion, and of the circumstances with which it was attended? The power of language would have sunk under them in the attempt to express their feelings. Their words, when they approached the subject, would have been little more than a thrilling cry of horror and indignation. On this subject, they did indeed feel most deeply; but can we think that St. Peter regarded his Master as God incarnate, when he thus addressed the Jews by whom Christ had been crucified? `ye men of Israel hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, proved to you to be A MAN FROM GOD, by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves know, him, delivered up to you in conformity to the fixed will and foreknowledge of God, ye have crucified and slain by the hands of the heathen. Him has God raised to life.’”
Professor Norton then goes on to show how difficult it would have been to persuade the Jews to receive this doctrine, so opposed to the fundamental principle of their faith, the unity of God; how often it would have to be explicitly stated, explained, defended, and reinforced; and he plainly shows, as any one who looks into the Bible can see, that we can find there nothing of the kind.
Mr. French, a Roman Catholic Barrister, in a discussion between himself and the Rev. J. Cumming, at Hammersmith, in 1840, page 482, makes these cutting remarks on those Protestants who denounce Unitarians for interpreting the Bible for themselves. “If the Unitarian be not a Christian,” he says, “it is in consequence of that prerogative with which my learned friend gratuitously invests him, namely, the right of interpreting the Bible for himself, spurning the authority of the Church of Ages, which teaches us that Christ is both God and man. It is utterly useless for my friend to tell me the Unitarian is not sincere and Christian. What! proscribe all the Unitarians in England; men of splendid and commanding genius; men of conscience and honor; men of integrity and truth; men who live and die—die actually with the persuasion that Christ is mere man, and ‘Intercessor’—who believe in God most firmly! Is it just, is it honorable, to say, they are not Christians, when it is his very system, the system which he himself recommends, that has caused their unchristianization? Oh it is really unfair! it is decidedly unkind, ungenerous, and unfair on the part of my learned friend, or on the part of any clergyman of the Church of England or Scotland.”
To continue in the faith, as we have been taught it in the Bible, is one thing, and to continue in the faith as we have been taught by human interpretations, is another. To continue in the faith of the Bible, we must first find out what there is taught. And here, at once, opinions are formed as various as the human mind. Dr. Campbell remarks, “As to orthodox, I should be glad to know the meaning of the epithet. Nothing, you say, can be plainer. The orthodox are those, who, in religious matters, entertain right opinions. Be it so. How, then, is it possible I should know who they are that entertain right opinions, before I know what opinions are right? I must therefore unquestionably know orthodoxy, before I can know or judge who are orthodox. Now, to know the truths of religion, which you call orthodox, is the very end of my inquiries: and am I to begin these inquiries on the presumption that without any inquiry I know it already? . . . . There is nothing about which men have been, and still are, more divided. It has been accounted orthodox divinity in one age, which hath been branded as ridiculous fanaticism in the next. It is at this day deemed the perfection of orthodoxy in one country, which in an adjacent country is looked upon as a damnable heresy. Nay, in the same country, hath not every sect a standard of its own? Accordingly, when any person seriously uses the word, before we can understand his meaning, we must know to what communion be belongs. When that is known, we comprehend him perfectly. By the orthodox he means always those who agree in opinion with him and his party; and by the heterodox, those who differ from him. When one says, then, of any teacher whatever, that all the orthodox acknowledge his orthodoxy, he says neither more nor less than this: `All who are of the same opinion with him, of which number I am one, believe him to be in the right.’ And is this anything more than what may be asserted by some person or other, of every teacher that ever did, or ever will exist? . . . . To say the truth, we have but too many ecclesiastic terms and phrases which savor grossly of the arts of a crafty priesthood, who meant to keep the world in ignorance, to secure an implicit faith in their own dogmas, and to intimidate men from an impartial inquiry into holy writ.”—Letters on Systematic Theology, pp. 112–115.
[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.]
1. This work is called a Scripture Account of the Attributes and Worship of God, and of the character and Offices of Jesus Christ. Back to top
2. The Rev. Richard Baron, “a person of great probity and public spirit, and known by many valuable publications.” Back to top
3. Thomson’s History of Royal Society, p. 283; Annals of Philosophy, vol. ii. p. 322; as quoted by Mardon. Back to top
4. Compare the Preface to Dr. Chalmer’s Discourses with the second sermon in the course. See likewise Unitarian Miscellany, vol. i. p. 167. For further information respecting the sentiments of Newton, consult Mardon’s Letter to the Rev. Dr. Chalmer’s; and Carpenter’s Examination of Magee’s Charges against Unitarians and Unitarianism, p. 102. Back to top
5. For instance; it would be presumptuous indeed to make out a series of propositions, and say, that the Deity intended at some future day to adopt them as the rules of his government; but the humblest need not hesitate to say, that he does not act the tyrant, and never will. Back to top
6. The word ‘repentance’ is used in its most comprehensive sense, denoting both sorrow for sin, and reformation of life. Back to top
7. In proof of this I have only to refer to the extracts from the letters to which I am now replying.—M. S. B. D. Back to top
8. See John xvi. 17, 18, 19. Back to top
9. John xvi 30. Back to top