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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


I perfectly agree with you when you remark that “the world is uneasy,” that “the spirit of God moves upon the troubled waters of life.” It is even so. The world is indeed uneasy, and I am glad of it. We ought to be uneasy, there is cause enough for it. Light has been breaking in upon us, every science has been advancing, the civilized world has made rapid strides in every kind of knowledge, the all-important science of biblical criticism has received special attention, and new light has been thrown upon various passages of the sacred word, and yet our minds are to be fettered and tied down to the creeds and formularies given to our ancestors long, long ago. An alarm is sounded the moment men begin to interpret the Bible for themselves. Let them be ever so conscientious, let them be ever so anxious to avoid error, let them love the Bible ever so well, they are denounced the moment they presume to read the Bible with their own eyes. In what respect does this differ from that religion which entirely withholds the Bible from the people? I do not want the Bible, unless I can read and understand it for myself. Why should I take the trouble to “search the Scriptures,” when others are to decide for me just what they mean, and just as they please? But it is too late in the day for this. People will think for themselves, let it be ever so dangerous to themselves, let it be ever so disagreeable or alarming to others. And whenever a disposition is shown to curb this spirit of free inquiry, it is time to be uneasy.

I am rejoiced that the human mind is awaking from the sleep of ages. Very gradually has it been arousing itself from its lethargy; like the sluggard it has said, “a little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep;” but now, to some extent, it seems thoroughly awake. Let us all strive to give this awakened intellect a right direction. Let those who value the Bible as the greatest of their blessings, teach others to value it also. Let us all go to that fountain of truth, and earnestly endeavor to fill ourselves with its spirit and with its truth. Let us cling to that blessed book as to our only hope. But Oh, let us not endeavor to lull the human mind to sleep again by that old monotonous cry which you are sounding even now in my ears—the cry of mystery—mystery. You remark that, “the minds of few persons are unexercised; those whom God has chosen are strengthened and built up in the great mystery of godliness; God manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” Now, I say, let each mind judge for itself what is that mystery of godliness, of which the Bible speaks. Let each one gather from the Bible how it was that God was manifested in the flesh. That this was the fact, we all alike believe.

You are perhaps aware, that the text just quoted should not read “God manifest in the flesh,” but that Griesbach, whose authority is universally acknowledged by Trinitarians as well as others, has decided that the word God, in this passage, is not to be found in the best ancient manuscripts. In his edition of the New Testament, he expresses it, “great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifest in the flesh.” In regard to this text, Sir Isaac Newton says, “what the Latins have done to the foregoing, [1] the Greeks have done to that of St. Paul. 1 Tim. iii. 16. For by changing into *, the abbreviation of *εοs, they now read, ‘Great is the mystery of godliness; God manifested in the flesh.’ Whereas all the churches for the first four or five hundred years, and the authors of all the ancient versions, Jerome, as well as the rest, read, ‘Great is the mystery of godliness, which was manifested in the flesh.’ * * * With the ancienter versions agree the writers of the first five centuries, both Greeks and Latins. For they, in all their discourses to prove the deity of the Son, never allege this text, that I can find, as they would all have done, and some of them frequently, had they read ‘God manifested in the flesh,’ and therefore they read . * * * In all the times of the hot and lasting Arian controversy, it never came into play; though now those disputes are over, they that read ‘God manifested in the flesh,’ think it one of the most obvious and pertinent texts for the business.” (Sir Isaac Newton’s History of Two Corruptions of Scripture.)

But why, my dear Sir, are you such a friend to mystery? Why do you not endeavor to enforce it upon the minds of all that the religion of the gospel is so plain and simple, that the “wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein?” It is because men have not been contented with what is plain and simple in religion, but have constructed an elaborate system of perplexities which they wish to force upon all mankind, upon the peril of losing their title to the name of Christian. Religion, as it is taught by Orthodox creeds, is anything but plain and simple. It cannot be understood; and the only remedy I ever heard prescribed for those whose perplexities have made them sick at heart, is to receive it all as a sacred mystery, not to be rashly inquired into, or rather, not to be inquired into at all. [2] Orthodox Christianity is full of perplexities and metaphysical distinctions, utterly incomprehensible to plain unlettered men; this, it appears to me, is not the religion of the Bible.

I have scarcely received a letter in which this text concerning the mystery of godliness, incorrectly translated as it is, has not been strenuously urged upon me; and after quoting it yourself, you thus proceed: “But there are those who will not believe that God has any mystery which cannot be fathomed by their finite reason, and who plunge without compass or rudder into that ocean which is boundless, and where, losing all landmarks, they are driven either to the abject submission of the Romanists, or else abandon themselves to the delusive fancies of the German Neologists, and the thousand forms of skepticism which are as various as the human countenance; in fact, to that natural religion, which is indeed no religion at all, but the mere fancies of unguided imagination, or the borrowed light of gospel morality.”

This is severe enough. But because I cannot believe some things which you call mysteries, and which you say are revealed in the Bible, but which I call contradictions, and which I think are not revealed in the Bible, why should you take it for granted that I am not willing to receive anything which my finite understanding cannot perfectly fathom? I protest also against the common method of confounding contradictory propositions with mysteries, which only mean secret things—things which we, from some cause or other, do not or cannot know. I am very willing to admit, that there are mysteries—secret things—which I cannot comprehend, and which yet, as matters of fact, I fully believe. It has been revealed to me that my soul is to exist hereafter; in this fact I fully believe. Even the fact was once a mystery, but the secret is revealed; as a matter of fact, it is a mystery no longer. What became of the soul after death, we well know was a most perplexing mystery till life and immortality were brought to light in the gospel. But the exact mode of its existence—where it will be, how it will be engaged—is still a mystery. Because it has not been revealed, it must therefore remain a mystery till experience or some further revelation teaches each individual soul how and where it will exist hereafter.

Now, so far as God has revealed anything to us concerning his Son, so far the mystery is removed. What he has not revealed, we should not attempt to explain. It is revealed to us that Jesus Christ was sent into the world to save sinners; that he was sent by the Father; and that he was the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person. But it is not revealed that he who sent and he who was sent are the same Being; that there are three distinct persons in one God; that one of these persons possessed two distinct natures; none of these things are told us in the Bible, and they are directly opposed to all our ideas of individual identity. They are something more than mysteries; to us, they are contradictions; and they ought to be distinctly laid down in the Bible before we can be expected to believe them. But such a thing, I believe, cannot be; for a revelation from God cannot contain contradictions.

It is very much the practice of Trinitarians, when pressed with the consequences of their doctrines, constantly to place things which are above human comprehension, and things contrary to human reason and experience exactly on the same level. It is the never failing resort; but it must be a weak and credulous mind, indeed, which cannot perceive the difference. I do not think this is right, I do not think it fair. In this way you strive to narrow down my mind, to restrain it within the limits of your creed, when it seeks enlargement, and longs to feed itself upon the word of God, to attain to one degree of light after another.

On the subject of mysteries, the excellent Robert Robinson, who wrote towards the close of the last century, thus remarks: “Christianity, say some, is often called a mystery, or a secret; even the text calls it so. (Eph. iii. 4.) True, but the same text says, Paul knew this secret, and the Ephesians might understand what he knew of it, if they would read what he wrote to them. When ye read, he says, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.”

So Paul, in speaking of the mystery of godliness, in the text on which we have been commenting, was conferring with Timothy in regard to the great secret, the good news, the mystery of the faith, which they both knew, and which Timothy was to reveal to those to whom he was sent to preach. But this great secret was simple, was plain, when it was revealed—so plain, that he who runs may read; the gospel was for the poor, the ignorant, as well as the learned.

But, says Robinson, “we perceive a wonderful inclination in Christians towards something in religion, so sublime as not to be understood; whereas the true sublimity of religion lies in its plainness, as the true excellence and dignity of man consist in his becoming such a plain man as Jesus Christ was. This inclination is a remnant of the old education given by monks and priests, whose majesty stood in the credulousness of their followers. They made creeds, or articles to be believed, and gave them to our forefathers to say over. You do not understand them, said they, but we do; and, while they were doing that, the creed-makers ran away with their houses and lands. Let us renounce this disposition, and let us believe nothing but what we understand.”

“Alas!” he exclaims, “we are not employed now-a-days in examining and choosing religious principles for ourselves, but in subscribing and defending those of our ancestors.”

[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. Alluding to that well known interpolation, 1st John v. 7. Back to top

2. See Dehon’s Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 99, 100. See also Appendix P. Back to top

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