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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


If I held, as you do, the Calvinistic views of the doctrine of Election, I should consider any strenuous efforts for the spiritual welfare of my friends as a useless waste of time, and a profitless expenditure of strength. I cannot but believe that those who hold the doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation, are inconsistent, when they mourn over, labor, and pray for those whose fate is irrevocably fixed. But on this point, as on many others, the Orthodox theory and practice are essentially different. The doctrine too, of the final perseverance of the saints, as it is called, seems to give you, as well as some others among my friends, a good deal of comfort. My mother says, that she is consoled by the thought that I “have heretofore given good evidence of piety;” and therefore she believes that I will be recovered from what she deems my backslidden state. She thus expresses herself; “while I am writing I am comforted by the reflection that you have given evidence that you were born of God. If so, and God grant it, he will bring you safely to his kingdom of glory.” And you also remark, “if you are one of his children, he will yet pluck you out of the miry clay, and out of the horrible pit; and, if not, all we dare say is to pray earnestly that he may yet make you the real recipient of his gracious gift. I will not, cannot believe he will abandon one of the offspring of his children to the deceitful delusions of human reason, and I cannot think a descendant of that holy man who has just gone to his rest will be left to perish.”

I can easily perceive, my dear Sir, how the habit of depending for salvation entirely upon the merits of another, without regard to any actions of our own, has tinctured your whole mind. You evidently place much dependence upon the fact of my pious ancestry, which, in my view, so far from being any safeguard to me, adds fearfully to my responsibility. Their dedication of me to God in infancy, their prayers, their efforts, can do nothing for me unless I exert myself. All piety is strictly personal; and my anxious friends, while they pray for me, must persuade me to live a holy Christian life, or all their prayers will be of no avail. I thank them for their solicitude, and I hope they will ever set me such an example of love to God and love to man, of charity, meekness, and forbearance, that I may be perfectly safe in following their footsteps closely, as they follow Christ.

But what example of meekness is there in the extracts from your letter which follow? I can see nothing but a self-righteous spirit, mingled with a great degree of zeal against what you deem error. You call yourself, and those who agree with you in merely metaphysical and speculative opinions—”God’s own people,” and all others you specify as belonging to “Anti-Christ.” This is what you say: “I am deeply and fearfully impressed with the dreadful truth of that prophecy which denounces a woe upon those who deny their Saviour as God, [1] and seek in by-paths to avoid the simple way of salvation, so opposed to their carnal natures only because it is the way of God’s appointment. Anti-Christ totters to her fall; but, alas! her declining years are too truly gilded with the blood of many erring souls, and her final ruin will bury numbers dear to God’s own people; so that the very triumph of their Master will be a heavy cross to their natural affections. But God’s ways are not as our ways. Once I read the inspired book with unalloyed pleasure at the evident promise of his coming; little did I then think the foretold precursors would be among kindred and friends. I thought to see Anti-Christ triumphing in the distance, gathering a short-lived strength from abroad, and finally yielding to the mighty hand stretched out against it, with a struggle we might see from afar, but never feel. But his strides are hitherward, and we have the wormwood and the gall as well as the high consolations and hopes they may embitter and tarnish, but cannot overthrow.” All this is very glowing, and would be quite alarming to me if I were conscious that I had gone over to the enemies of Christ; but my conscience acquits me of the charge, so your arrows fall harmless to the ground.

The next quotation I shall make is, if possible, in still stronger language; and you include in your anathemas the whole body of those who hold Arminian sentiments. Speaking of Arminianism, you say, that “he who would add an iota to the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement, detracts from the fulness of his Godhead; and I have long believed all of that creed (that is, all Arminians) practically Unitarians, except the self-deceived theorists who always become thorough Calvinists on their knees. You can imagine my uneasiness and distress concerning you; for you know that I cannot separate the very and absolute divinity of Jesus from religion. It is without Christ, the Infinite God, a form without substance—a body soulless—a puerility—an absurdity. Satisfy me that Jesus is not Jehovah, and I am convinced that the Bible is a fable, and Christ an Impostor; [2] for his Godhead is the light and life of every page; and considering his audience, and their familiarity with the phrase, and the sense they invariably attached to it, I can never doubt he designed to declare himself Jehovah when he said, ‘before Abraham was, I am.’ With these views you must know what I think of your present position; and yet I do not design to argue with you; it is useless, for you will soon abandon it yourself, and will have to be followed elsewhere. You are at the first step of most Unitarians; you believe Jesus created, and yet possessed by delegation of ‘all the powers of the Godhead bodily;’ in short, a Deputy God. Now if one possess all the powers and attributes of God, he is God; for we can only conceive of God by his attributes. But there is only one God, therefore by your creed God created or re-created himself. This is absurd; no one ever held it long or ever will; you must go on, reject the atonement, deprive Jesus of all divine attributes, and make him a mere man with wonderful virtue, and divinely sustained in his mission of example and precept. Here most of that branch of Anti-Christ’s followers theoretically arrive; practically they are Deists, and at heart reject revelation; for no human reason can swallow the mass of absurdity their creed contains. Belief in the Gospel involves the consent to many unexplainable mysteries, but no absurdities; any departure to either flank of the grand army does. [3] I trust God will direct you; these things are in his hands; if you are his child, he will lead or force you back to his fold; if not, his will be done; though it is hard to say it with a submissive spirit, while the heart is still bound up by the earth ties that will not sunder until eternity discloses their comparative unimportance.”

I have made a very long extract, my dear Sir, but I could not well divide it. I will now take occasion to remark upon several of its points, though, in substance, I may have done so before. Line upon line is sometimes necessary when we are called upon to defend ourselves; as we find the attack upon the same point is often repeated, though perhaps in a different form, and with a variety of weapons.

But let me first inquire whether it has never occurred to you, that a positive and dogmatical assumption of superior orthodoxy is often indicative of conscious weakness of position, as excessive blustering is generally a sign of cowardice? And as no man will so watchfully and jealously guard the rights of his fellow men as he who rightly guards his own, so no man will be more ready to encroach upon the rights of others, than he who has, perhaps unconsciously, surrendered his own. An old writer has somewhere said, that “no one is so anxious to impose his opinions on others as he who has imposed upon himself;” and general observation and experience will convince every reflecting man of the truth and sagacity of the remark. Therefore, with most minds, a mild, firm, yet humble expression of opinion has much more weight than a positive assertion of right; and if good reasons can be assigned, why, so much the better, of course. Let those who are inclined to dictate and dogmatize, think seriously of this; they will find that they sometimes unconsciously defeat their own ends by the exhibition of a spirit which sometimes betrays the weakness of their cause. [4]

I am amazed at your sweeping assertion concerning Arminians. I wonder that you are willing to consign them all over to the ranks of the enemy—to place them with infidels and Deists;—for you perceive that in the latter part of the long extract I have made, you call Unitarians deists and infidels, and in the first part of it you say that you have long regarded Arminians as Unitarians. Taking the two assertions together, therefore, you would make it out that all Arminians are also deists and infidels. Is this Christian charity? Is it the spirit of the gospel? That it is the spirit of Calvinism I do not doubt; but that it is the mild, delightful spirit of the Christian religion—the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus—I do not believe. It is the spirit that enacted the scenes which disgraced the synod of Dort, which afterwards kindled and fanned the flames of persecution, which sent Benevelt to the scaffold, which consigned the learned Grotius to a dungeon, which hurried Michael Servetus to the stake.

You say you cannot separate the very and absolute divinity of Jesus from religion. I really suppose, that, with your present views, you cannot; but is that any reason why others may not be able to do it? I could not do it once; but the idea of the absolute divinity of my Master forms no part of my religion now. “Without Christ, the infinite God,” you say, it is to you “a form without substance, a body soulless, a puerility, an absurdity.” But it is not so to me. I can conceive of only one infinite God, not three. If Jesus be, as you say he is, the “infinite God,” then so is the Father the infinite God; and so is the Holy Spirit; and it follows that there are three infinite Gods. But I cannot conceive of three infinite Beings in the universe. If the Son, the second person in the Trinity, be the “infinite God” you must either blot out from the universe the other persons of the Trinity, the infinite and universal Father, and the Holy Spirit,—or you must, of necessity, believe in three infinite Beings, which you yourself will probably acknowledge to be an “absurdity.” Nothing can be added to what is infinite; and if the Son of God be “infinite,” he, the Son, is the only God. But how different is this doctrine from that which Jesus taught us. “The Son,” he tells us, “can do nothing of himself,”—”The Father which sent me, he doeth the works.” He bids us pray to the Father, not to God,—which term Trinitarians would understand as including the Whole Trinity; but the term he uses is the Father, plainly showing that he did not mean himself, for he certainly, even if God, is not the Father. And if he was the “infinite God,” and equal with the Father, it seems passing strange, that, when his disciples expressly besought him to teach them how to pray, he should have made no mention of himself at all. If the doctrine of the Trinity be true, I do not see how Christ could have directed us to pray to the Father, and why he did not use the more comprehensive term, God. The Father, according to that doctrine, is only the third part of the Godhead, and therefore is not the whole God. If you are shocked at this, and say he is the whole and perfect God, then, according to your hypothesis, so is the Son, and so is the Spirit, and you make three whole and perfect Gods. If you say they cannot be thus separated, and when you pray to one you pray to the whole, then, I say, you make your Master teach a very great error; for he always speaks of the Son as being distinct from the Father. Again, if the Son is only the third part of the Godhead, he is not the infinite God. If, again, you say that he, the Son, is God, then again I say that so is the Father, and so is the Spirit, and once more there are three Gods. If you still say that it is only when taken together that they are God, then I say, that, taken separately, they cannot be Gods; the Son, the second person, is not God, because the other persons are left out; the Spirit, the third person, is not God, for the same reason; and you take from us also the first person, the Father—the God of the Bible.

But how different is your idea of the divinity of the Son from the ideas held by the Trinitarians of the early ages. They did not regard the Son as the infinite God. Origin certainly taught his inferiority to the Father. But this point you will see more fully discussed in the 3rd and 22nd letters. In regard to your assertion that without Christ, the infinite God, religion is an “absurdity,” I will remark, that, to me, the absurdity appears to be all the other way. To believe that Christ, “the infinite God,” was sent into the world by the infinite God, while he was all the time sounding in our ears the fact that he did not come of himself—that he was sent to do the will of another, which other, according to your hypothesis, was himself—for there can be but one infinite God—seems, to me, much more like an absurdity than anything in the Unitarian faith. Christ is indeed, as you say, the “life and light of every page of the New Testament,” but it is not as the infinite God that he there lives and shines. It is as the Messiah—the Son of God—who was sent by the compassionate Father, that all who believe might have eternal life.

[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. If by Saviour you mean Christ—for God is sometimes in the Bible called our Saviour—you will tell me where the prophecy to which you have alluded may be found? Back to top

2. The celebrated Thomas Emlyn says, “I wish they who are adversaries to my persuasion, would learn at least the modesty of one of the earliest writers for Christianity since the Apostles, I mean Justin Martyr.” Then after giving his views in regard to Christ, he says: “And as for those Christians, who denied the above said things, and held him to be only a man, born in the ordinary way, he only says of them, to whom I accord not. He does not damn them, who differed from him, nor say the Christian religion is subverted, and Christ but an impostor, and a broken reed to trust on, if he be not the very Supreme God, (the ranting dialect of some in our age;) no, but still he was sure he was the true Christ, (that is, the Messiah), whatever else he might be mistaken in. It is desparate wickedness in men to hazard the reputation of the truth and holiness of the blessed Jesus upon a difficult and disputable opinion, to dare to say, that if they are mistaken in their opinion, which I verily believe they are, then Jesus Christ is a liar and a deceiver, a mock Saviour, and the like. What is this but to expose him to the scorn of infidels?” Back to top

3. See Appendix S. Back to top

4. “As Plutarch,” says Hales, “reports of a painter, who having unskillfully painted a cock, chased away all cocks and hens, that so the imperfection of his art might not appear in comparison with nature; so men willing for ends to admit of no fancy but their own, endeavor to hinder an inquiry into it.” Men who are in earnest in their search after truth, it will not be very easy to “chase away” by arbitrary assertions and alarming representations. Back to top

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