Letters from Mary Dana (1845) Letter 10

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L E T T E R X
UNITARIANS DO NOT DENY CHRIST

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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

MY DEAR SIR,

You profess to have taken your pen in hand out of personal regard and concern for me; in this assertion I certainly believe you sincere, and therefore I thank you for your kind intentions. But your letter has been, on many accounts, very unsatisfactory and unpleasant. You take the broad ground that Trinitarians are the only believers in Christ’s divinity and atonement. Now the truth or falsehood of this assertion depends entirely upon the ideas which are attached to the terms divinity and atonement. You use them in one sense, Unitarians in another; and their sense is as correct to them as yours is to you. And you go on to say—”Some, it is clear, were foretold as to be distinguished by this trait—denial of the Lord; and denial of Him as having bought them. Can you think of a party to whom such a phrase is equally applicable as that of the Unitarians, if their leading tenets be false? It does not say what men shall affirm, but only what they shall deny. Unitarianism is particularly distinguished, as you know, for its negations. It is not technically nor commonly used to express what any body does believe, so much as what they do not believe. It, by the usage of all religious society, (?) means those who reject evangelical doctrine. [1] Here then is something of a prima facie reason to suspect that you may be going wrong in joining them.”

If, my dear Sir, Unitarians believe as much as the Bible reveals, they believe enough. This they profess to do. All additions to the doctrines taught in the word of God, are errors which ought to be abandoned; and Unitarians cannot find the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, nor the doctrine of legal substitution, nor the other doctrines peculiar to Calvanism. So far as their system, in comparison with yours, is a system of negations, they rejoice in the fact; because they believe that your faith is encumbered with doctrines of human invention, not sanctioned by the word of God. Bear in mind then, that their system is one of negations only when compared with your creed, and not when compared with the Bible. They have as much right to assert that their system is the scriptural one as you have; and, as no human being is infallible, the question still remains a question, which each individual must decide for himself, according to his opportunity and ability to examine and understand the infallible word of God.

But Unitarians by no means admit that they do not believe in Christ’s divinity and atonement. It is true that their belief on these points is different from yours, but it is just as real and valuable. They believe in the divinity of the Son of God, because God gave to his Anointed his Spirit without measure. [2] They believe in his atonement, because it is declared that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Nor do they deny the Lord as having bought them, any more than they deny that God redeemed the Israelites out of the hand of Pharaoh by providing the means for their escape. They believe that they are “bought with a price”—even the precious blood of Christ, as a Lamb without blemish and without spot. They believe that the sinner is “reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” And they believe with St. Paul, that if, when they were enemies, they were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, they shall be saved by his life. I will give an illustration of my meaning. Suppose a civil community to be in a state of rebellion against their lawful sovereign. It would be just in that King to visit them with summary vengeance; but he is a compassionate King, and is not willing that any should perish. After trying various means to reconcile them to his government, last of all he sends his Son; saying, “They will reverence my Son.” The Son willingly undertakes this mission of mercy. It is the aim and object of his life to persuade the rebellious subjects of his kind and gracious Father to be reconciled to him, and submit themselves to his just and reasonable authority. Many and various are the proofs he gives them of his Father’s long suffering and tender love; and in his own person he gives them a wonderful example of filial veneration and obedience. Such an example of filial devotion, of patience under suffering, and of unwearied compassion, the world has never seen. The same untiring love which fills the bosom of the King, his Father, dwells in his own. To these rebellious subjects he represents his Father as their Father, long suffering, slow to anger, ready, upon certain reasonable conditions, to forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin.

Some are touched by this exhibition of his own and his Father’s love, and willingly resign themselves to his authority, and follow his guidance; for he comes with “all power” to fulfill the objects of his mission. But the great majority reject his authority, and will not even credit the genuineness of his credentials. The more he presses his claims upon them, the more violent becomes their opposition. Finally, their madness and fury rise to its height, and they put to death, in the most shameful and painful manner, the only and well beloved Son of their merciful King—him who came only to do them good, and reconcile them to his Father’s kind and reasonable rule. This bitter cup he drinks; this dreadful death he meekly endures for the enemies of his Father and himself, crying in his agony, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

At this wonderful consummation, men stand amazed. One exclaims, “truly this was a righteous man;” and all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things that are done, smite their breasts, and return. Those who would not listen to him in life, now become reconciled by his death. And, being reconciled, they will naturally remember his wonderful example, his precepts, his commands, and thus be saved by his life. In after ages the story of his death will be read with wonder and gratitude, and will still be efficacious for the reconciliation and salvation of mankind.

Those who had been appointed by the Son to spread the glad tidings of pardon, and to carry on the Father’s benevolent design—the work of reconciliation—would now naturally preach the cross; would know nothing among men, but the Son and Him crucified. This would be, emphatically, their theme. In this would they glory. For this, in imitation of their Master, would they rejoice to suffer and to die. By believing in the cross, as held up to view by its ministers, all could still be rescued who are willing to be saved on the terms proposed by their sovereign.

Other foundation can no man lay. This is to save us. The death of Christ reconciles us to God, and his life teaches us how to live. Therefore we, Unitarians as well as Trinitarians, belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has bought us with his blood. Eternal life is the gift of the Father, through him. Oh, what a price He paid for us! Herein is love! Now hath the Father given Him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as he hath given him. [3] If Christ, under God, hath given to us eternal life, to Christ, under God, we belong. We are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Christ says to his Father, “all mine are thine, and thine are mine.” Now, my dear Sir, is it correct to say that Unitarians reject the atonement, only because they do not admit your view of it? If they believe that the death of Christ is efficacious in procuring their salvation, in this sense they believe that it was thereby purchased. They believe that his death was necessary to produce such a change in us, that our Heavenly Father could pardon our sins according to his promise. Without the death of Christ we should not be so likely to be wrought upon to repent and reform, and without repentance and reformation we could not be pardoned. Thus is our redemption purchased by the blood of Christ, who, in a sense, and by a figure, bore our sins in his own body on the tree; just as, in a sense, and by a figure, he took the infirmities, and bore the sicknesses of those whose maladies he removed while he sojourned among men.

Thus, my dear Sir, I have answered your question by affirming, that, whether the leading tenets of Unitarianism be true or false, they cannot be characterized by the fact of denying the Lord that bought them. Nor can they be said to reject Christ’s divinity and atonement. Though you and they entertain very different views about these matters, they rejoice in the belief that their system is by far the most Scriptural and rational one.

[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. See Appendix M. Back to top

2. On this point one of them, the Rev. A. B. Muzzey, thus writes: “The popular theology tells us that Jesus Christ is ‘both God and man,’ that he has accordingly ‘two distinct natures.’ In one aspect, this representation is correct. It is true, that two natures, a human and a divine, met in our Saviour. But it is not true, that they constituted one being. Christ, the man, was not united with a Christ, who is God, but with God, a separate, independent being, one who, unlike himself, is eternal, omniscient, and almighty. He was in God, and God was in him. The apostle Paul incites the Christian to become a partaker of the divine nature. Christ, in this sense, did partake of the divine nature. God was manifested in him; he was gifted with his Spirit without measure; it is his connection with God that makes him our Saviour; destroy that, and we have no Saviour left. So is it that two natures met in Christ.” The following remarks are from an article from the pen of Dr. Channing, entitled, “Objections to Unitarian Christianity considered.” He says: “It is objected to us that we deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. Now what does this objection mean? What are we to understand by the divinity of Christ? In the sense in which many Christians, and perhaps a majority, interpret it, we do not deny it, but believe it as firmly as themselves. We believe firmly in the divinity of Christ’s mission and office; that he spoke with divine authority, and was a bright image of the divine perfections. We believe that God dwelt in him, manifested himself through him, and communicated to him his Spirit without measure. We believe that Jesus Christ was the most glorious display, expression, and representative of God to mankind, so that in seeing and knowing him, we see and know the invisible Father; so that when Christ came, GOD visited the world, and dwelt with men more conspicuously than at any former period. In Christ’s words we hear God speaking; in his miracles we behold God acting; in his character and life we see an unsullied image of God’s purity and love. We believe, then, in the divinity of Christ, as this term is often and properly used.” Back to top

3. John xvii. 2. Back to top