LETTER XXIV: MENTAL SUFFERING
[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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]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,
Your supposition, that my mind must be “deeply exercised—perhaps harassed and jaded—perhaps distracted”—is partly correct and partly incorrect. It certainly is, and has been “deeply exercised,” and I hope will continue to be so to the end of my life, while I am striving to “forget the things that are behind, and to reach forward to those that are before;” but I cannot say that it is now “harassed”—”jaded”—or “distracted.” God has given me strength to bear all that has come upon me in connection with my change of opinions. As regards the change itself, I never was so wedded to my own opinions that I could not rejoice to resign them when I believed them to be erroneous. I have, from my earliest years, cherished with jealous care that honesty of mind and purpose, which would render me ever ready to acknowledge the right, and repudiate the wrong, let the consequences to myself be what they might.
You inquire, “how can a separation from a faith, so cherished and fully confided in from infancy, be made without those deep pangs which nearly resemble the sundering of the heartstrings? I will say nothing,” you remark, “of associations, of relatives, or of friends. In a step so momentous, I presume you have considered, mainly, the one—the paramount question—what is truth? What is duty?”
In reply to your inquiry, I answer, that it is because I have not separated myself from the faith I have “confided in, and cherished from infancy,” that I have felt no “pangs” like “the sundering of the heartstrings.” It is because I feel that I still retain all that was valuable about that faith, and have only cast off what, in my view, clouded my understanding, and fettered my spirit, that I have no feeling in regard to my present position—I mean, so far as concerns myself—save that of deep thankfulness and sacred joy. What I have suffered in being the innocent and unwilling instrument of pain and anguish to those whom I love better than life, the omniscient Father of us all can only know.
You proceed to say, “my object in addressing you is not to argue the question, whether our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is truly God as well as man, or not. I am not so vain as to suppose that anything I can say would produce a convincing effect upon your mind, after the arguments of your pious parents had been in vain exhausted. But I did hope, that a word might be dropped, which, by the grace of God, might arrest your attention, and lead you to pause, ere you made that fearful leap, which in its consequences must be grievous, if not ruinous.”
It appears to me, my dear Sir, that, among most of those who are styled Orthodox, there is a most singular mixture of meek humility and overbearing pride. It would seem by the paragraph last quoted, that you have a very humble opinion of your own powers; and yet you pronounce yourself to be right, and declare me to be wrong, with the most oracular air. You do not imagine, you say, that anything you could offer would produce a convincing effect upon my mind. Then one of three things must be true; either you can give no satisfactory reasons for your belief—or I cannot comprehend them—or I am determined not to receive them, whether they be true or false. Now, if I cannot comprehend them, of course I cannot be convinced by them; and you will hardly be prepared to aver, either that you have no satisfactory or convincing reasons for your faith, or that I am determined not to be influenced by evidence. But, if you have good and satisfying reasons to offer, and you think I am capable of appreciating them, and you believe that I am an honest and sincere inquirer after truth, I cannot imagine why you should suppose that nothing you can say would produce “a convincing effect upon my mind.”
In regard to that mysterious “word” which you hoped might be “dropped,” and which, by the grace of God, might arrest my attention, you were indulging a vain expectation. I think we abuse the grace of God when we expect from it such effects as these;—effects without a cause. If a word is dropped which causes me to ponder, and leads to desirable results, it is the grace of God which sent me that word, but it is made effectual because I ponder upon it, and thus it produces its effect in a natural way. But, remember, if you drop any “word” from which you can hope for good results, it must be a reasonable word, addressed as if to a reasonable being. I believe that the grace of God comes to us as to reasonable creatures, and not in any mysterious way—leading us to Heaven without our knowledge or consent.
Your letter proceeds, “I would not grieve nor offend you by the utterance of a single unkind word; but I have no hesitation in pronouncing Unitarianism—much as I respect many of the learned divines and statesmen who have embraced that faith—to be a damnable heresy—an unscriptural dogma—an utter rejection of the Saviour, in all the affairs and relations in which he can be properly termed a Saviour.” Soft and kind words these are, truly! I acquit you, my dear Sir, of any intention to wound my feelings, but when you use such language concerning the faith which I have embraced, from a sober conviction of its agreement with the revealed word of God, I cannot think you have shown that mildness which is so highly recommended by our divine Master, or that “moderation” which St. Paul advises us to show to “all men.” What useful purpose do such denunciations serve? They can but frighten the weak and credulous, but have no effect upon a mind that is searching for truth, and asks a reason for every opinion. You might easily have given me your reasons for believing Unitarianism to be so pernicious and dangerous a system, without calling it by such hard names; and such a course would have a far greater effect upon a reasonable mind than the one you have pursued.
It is a striking proof to many persons of the untenableness and unreasonableness of orthodox theology, that its advocates so generally resort to denunciation and invective. It would be far better, my dear Sir, for you and your cause if you could persuade yourself and others to exhibit more of the calmness and courtesy which are usually the accompaniments of conscious strength and rectitude. When I hear Unitarian Christianity thus furiously attacked, I am inclined to apply to it the remark made by M. Cheneviere in regard to the Genevan churches. “Geneva,” says he, “is attacked because it is in advance of the other churches in the nineteenth century, as it was in the sixteenth; the time will come, when it will receive as many commendations and blessings for its present conduct, as of late it has experienced insults.” This is my candid opinion and belief in regard to Unitarianism in general.
A most beautiful exhibition and definition of Christian charity was given by Frederic Augustus, the late Duke of Sussex, and brother to George the Fourth, in a letter to the venerable Dr. Robbins, Librarian of the Historical Society’s Library at Hartford, on the occasion of his presenting him with a copy of the first edition of the Bishop’s Bible, printed in London in 1568. Speaking of the Bible, he says: “That holy book is the one I consult most. Although I believe I read it differently from most people, I do so with great humility, but with equal circumspection, not taking the dictum of any man, and endeavoring to make out the real meaning and intention of the inspired writer, which I fear is not so particularly attended to as should be the case; but I do this in charity with all men, respecting the opinions and prejudices of every one; provided he be honest, but adhering steadily to my own, without forcing them upon others; and this I believe to be the true Christian principle, CHARITY TO ALL.” Oh divine and beautiful charity, called by St. Paul the greatest of the Christian virtues, I rejoice to believe that thou hast not quite departed from our world!
Now I admire and love Unitarianism because one of its most distinguishing features is this same heaven-born Charity. In my reading of Unitarian works, and in my personal intercourse with Unitarians, I always find them ready and willing to give credit to others for the same virtues of sincerity and conscientiousness which they assume for themselves, and to allow to others the same rights and privileges which they claim for themselves.  This willingness, I am sorry to confess, I do not find among the Orthodox, though to this general remark I would make some delightful and honorable exceptions. But, with all their charity, Unitarians are by no means indifferent to the truth. Far from it. It is because they prize the truth so highly that they are not willing to take it second-handed, but insist upon receiving it only as it came from God himself, that they are thus abused. It is because they will not subscribe to the words of man, that those who do subscribe to them thus denounce and unchurch them. They think that it is of the utmost consequence what a man believes, for they are obliged to mourn over the effects produced by what they deem erroneous views. But while they assert, and maintain, and defend, what they believe to be truth, they do not denounce and frown upon those who hold different views. They think them in great error, and they tell them so; but they do not feel themselves called upon to dictate to others as to what they shall or shall not believe.
After all, when you call Unitarianism “a damnable heresy—an unscriptural dogma—an utter rejection of the Saviour,”—it amounts to no more than an individual opinion; and all that I have to say is, that my opinion is a very different one. But when you shall attempt, in the calmness of Christian love, to prove your assertions, I will listen to you with the greatest pleasure, and give to your arguments the best consideration of which I am capable. You may oppose my opinions as much as you please, if you will only do it in the right way. Argue me out of them if you can; if they are erroneous, the sooner I am convinced of it, the better; but personal reproach or harsh invective against a man or his opinions, will do nobody any good. There is a vast deal of religious intolerance in the Protestant world, and though, upon the whole, true Christian light and liberty are making progress, there are some sects, which, alarmed for their ecclesiastical power, are drawing tighter and tighter the cords which bind them together, to the exclusion of all others. We all have a stake in this great matter; and if God will give me strength, I hope to do my part in exposing and resisting intolerance in all its forms and under all its disguises.
Religious controversy is always useful when it is conducted in a proper spirit; but, alas! how seldom do we find this the case! The Apostle Paul is a safe model for every man. He was constantly engaged in controversy; he contended “earnestly” for the faith, but his weapons were those of sound argument and affectionate persuasion, and not those of invective and reproach. And granting that St. Paul sometimes used strong expressions, you must remember that he was an inspired man, and that you are not; and you must likewise remember that expressions in common use at that period are not in common use now, and ought not to be applied as our language to our contemporaries.
But I am ready to admit that anything is better than a dead calm. Give us a storm rather than a calm; there is more danger, but there is generally some progress. A calm lulls us to sleep; while a storm awakens us, quickens us, calls forth our energies, and gives us the teachings of experience. There was no controversy, worthy the name of controversy, in the dark ages; and who would wish again to see such times as those? Who would wish that gloomy night—that blackness of darkness—to return?
But I proceed to notice another portion of your letter; and, to do this, I must introduce topics which have been more than once noticed before. You say: “Rob Him (that is, Christ) of his divinity,—He who `thought it not robbery to be equal with God,’ and what, oh what in mercy’s name, in reason’s too, becomes of atonement, of expiation, of mediation, of his gracious, invisible presence amid all the assemblies of his worshippers on earth, and the efficacy of his intercession in Heaven? You may think it harsh and uncharitable, as well as bold, thus unqualifiedly to make so sweeping an assertion. But I am confident—I hope with no vain confidence—upon this subject. My own salvation depends upon the fact, that Jesus Christ is omnipotent to save—omnipotent in his own undelegated, underived merits, to save to the uttermost. I have, I trust, committed the keeping of my soul to his hands, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have delivered to him.”
I shall not have a great deal to say in reply to this quotation. The ideas are so exactly those which were contained in other letters, that I have become somewhat wearied with their repetition. I am a little surprised that you should bring forward the clause “thought it not robbery,” when, as a proof text for the divinity of Christ, it has been given up by so many Trinitarians. The following remarks from “Emlyn’s Humble Inquiry,” may never have met your eyes. “As to that place,” he says, “which is corruptly rendered in our translation, `he thought it no robbery to be equal with God,’ Phil. ii. 6, it is confessed by adversaries themselves, that it should be read thus, viz. that he did not assume, or arrogate, or snatch at an equality with God, or covet to appear in the likeness of God; the words are never known to be used in any other sense, as is shown by Dr. Tillotson in his Discourses against the Socinians; also by Dr. Whitby in his exposition on that place; and others. So that this rather denies than asserts Christ’s equality to God, though he was in the form of God, as that notes the outward resemblance of him in his mighty power and works, which is the constant meaning of the word form in the New Testament.”
Pitkin, in his reply to Baker, after proving that the text, even as it now stands in our common version is entirely in accordance with Unitarian views, and utterly at war with those of Mr. Baker, goes on to say, “But it seems, that he (Mr. Baker) was fully aware that this passage is condemned as a mistranslation. He says, `I am aware that those who reject our doctrine give another rendering to this passage, and indeed to every passage which we have quoted, or shall yet quote, numerous as they are! Now, is it not marvellous that so many passages have been wrongly translated?’ But why,” continues Mr. Pitkin, “does he say that those who reject our doctrine give another rendering to this passage? Dr. Adam Clarke renders it thus: `Who being in the form of God, did not think it a matter to be earnestly desired to appear equal with God, but made himself of no reputation.’ Tillotson, a distinguished Archbishop of the Episcopal Church, renders it, ‘Did not arrogate to himself to be equal with God.’ The celebrated Whiston translates it thus: `Who being in the form of God, did not think this likeness to God a thing to be eagerly retained, but humbled himself.’ Another rendering is, `did not think of the robbery, the being equal to God.’“Burnap
says, in the preface to his excellent Expository Lectures: “So much is the Trinity a matter of inference, even from them, (alluding to the passages brought in its support,) that it is said, and I believe justly, that there is not one of them, which has not been given up, as proving nothing to the point, by some one of the ablest defenders of the doctrine.” 
But I proceed to another point. If by robbing Christ, as you term it, of his essential divinity, we blotted God entirely out of the universe, there would be good and great reason for your pathetic interrogation, “oh what in mercy’s name, in reason’s too, becomes of atonement, of expiation, of mediation, and of his gracious, invisible presence amid all the assemblies of his worshippers on earth, and the efficacy of his intercession in Heaven?” The atonement in which I believe, does not require an infinite sacrifice—an Almighty victim—the death of a God! I am aware that I am using contradictory terms, but I cannot avoid it under the circumstances. To meet Trinitarians on their own ground, contradictory propositions are unavoidable. If God saw fit to provide the means of atonement, or reconciliation, I do not see why he could not choose just what instrument he pleased. Its efficacy would be abundantly guaranteed from the fact that it was provided by our Almighty Father. And even on the supposition that Christ died as an “expiation” or substitute, which, of course, I do not admit, I cannot see any reason why the substitute might not be just what the Supreme Ruler chose to provide. The old idea that because sin is an infinite evil, as it is alleged to be by some, it requires an infinite atonement, is, I believe, nearly exploded. I now and then hear it advanced, by those who are somewhat behind the times, but I have likewise heard it pronounced by Trinitarian divines, a fallacious argument. Neither sin, nor the atonement for sin, can be infinite, for sin is committed by finite beings, and it is not pretended by those who hold the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, that the infinite part of Christ’s nature died upon the cross.
In regard to the necessity of an infinite mediator, Emlyn says: “I judge, that to assert Jesus Christ to be the Supreme God, subverts the Gospel doctrine of his mediation; for if I must have one, who is Supreme God and man, for my mediator with God, then, when I address Jesus Christ as the Supreme God, where is the God-man that must be my mediator with him? To say he mediates with himself, is the same as to say that I must go to him without a mediator; and turns the whole business of mediation into a metaphor, contrary to the common sense of things, as well as against the Scripture.”
Now, I ask, is he mediator in his divine or in his human nature? If in his human, he cannot, according to your ideas, know what all God’s creatures want and pray for. If he mediates in his divine nature, or in both united, then, as Emlyn says, he mediates with himself. But St. Paul says, 1 Tim. ii. 5, “There is but one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” “Never let us fear,” says Emlyn, “but St. Paul knew how to describe the mediator between God and men, without leaving out the better half of him, or the principal nature. Our mediator, according to him, was only called a `man;’ who also is by office a God, or ruler over all, made so by him who puts all things under him.”
In regard to your remark concerning “his gracious, invisible presence amid all the assemblies of his worshippers on earth,” I believe in it as firmly as you do, though in a different sense. I believe that he is with them by his recorded words, by the Spirit of his Gospel, by the influence of that religion which he came to establish. Emlyn shows that Baxter, and many others reputed orthodox, believed that an inherently divine nature was not necessary to the possession of such knowledge of earthly affairs as Christ has ascribed to himself. “The reverend Mr. Baxter,” he says, “in his notes on Eph. iv. 16, plainly intimates, that he conceives an angel might be made capable of ruling the Universal Church on earth by legislation, judgment, and execution; for having said this task was impossible to any power but divine, he corrects himself by adding, or angelical at least; and sure the man Christ’s ability is far superior to angels; besides that, he has them ministering to him, and giving him notice of matters, if there be any occasion; for he has seven principal spirits, who are the `eyes of the Lamb sent forth through all the earth,’ as the same writer interprets Rev. v. 6.”
“So,” continues Emlyn, “the author of the little book, called, The Future State, the same who wrote The Good Samaritan, a worthy divine of the Church of England, says many very rational things concerning the large extent of Christ’s human knowledge; that probably ‘he can as easily inspect the whole globe of this earth, and the heavens that compass it, as we can view a globe of an inch diameter!’ p. 46, 47. `That he intercedes as man, and can he intercede in a case he knows not?’ So again, p. 150. The like says Limborch in his Theol. Christ. lib. 5, c. 18.”
He next adds the testimony of Dr. Thomas Goodwin, “where he says, ‘the human understanding of Christ takes in all occurrences which concern his Church.’ And that, as he said, `All power in heaven and earth is given me of my Father,’ so might he say, `All knowledge in heaven and earth is given me,’—that ‘his beams pierce into every corner’—that `he knows the sore of every heart.’ And he concludes with these remarkable words, ‘that as a looking glass wrought in the form of a globe, represents the images of all that is in the room, so the enlarged human understanding of Christ takes in all things in heaven and earth at once.’ It seems,” says Mr. Emlyn, “these men did not take it to be the peculiar perfection of the divine nature to know the hearts, so as that no creature could partake of it by divine assistance and revelation.” I believe these are the sentiments of men whose orthodoxy was never called in question.
There are a great many ways in which this promise we have been considering, and that other promise, “Lo, I am with you always,” can be fulfilled, without supposing Christ to be an omnipresent being. If we abide in him, and his words abide in us, is he not with us always? Do we not say of the good man who hath left the legacy of his pure spirit behind him, “He being dead, yet speaketh?” Is not, in a sense, the spirit of WASHINGTON with us still? And is it not our earnest hope and prayer that his spirit may burn and glow in the hearts of his countrymen, even to the end of the world? If then Christ “is the true vine, and we are the branches”—if, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, so no more can we, except we abide in Christ, is he not always with those thus united to him? Are not his commands always with us? And here let me pause, and entreat you to ponder with me those significant words, in his last address to his disciples before his crucifixion, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another.”
But further, are not Christ’s promises always with us? Is not his wonderful example always before us? Who is the Christian’s companion but him whom he has chosen as his guide to Heaven? Is he not “the good Shepherd,” and do not his sheep hear his voice, and follow him as they will not follow a stranger?
But I pass on to another topic. I certainly do, as you seem to apprehend I may, “think it harsh and uncharitable, as well as bold,” to make use of the epithets with which you have denounced Unitarianism; viz. “a damnable heresy—an unscriptural dogma—an utter rejection of the Saviour.” These are certainly very hard names. I not only think them harsh and uncharitable, but I think still further, that by such a course you seriously injure yourself, and the cause you are endeavoring to advocate. To use the language of a writer in the Christian Examiner for March and April, 1826, “It is not the way to conciliate, and increase converts; but it drives some away in disgust and sorrow, and it feeds the worst passions of those who remain behind. How childish, moreover,” says he, “to be calling names, and dooming this one and that one to hell! Does it not at least reveal a woful poverty of argument? Unitarian churches have been filled rather than emptied by these bitter denunciations from abroad; for, after all, men will venture to such places, with the curiosity that leads youth to creep to the brink of precipices, to see what is there. A glorious prospect, on a safe footing, often rewards both kinds of adventurers.”
No, Sir, you are not aware how much you lose by an indulgence in such expressions as those you have unhesitatingly used. As for me, I will always endeavor to speak what I regard to be “the truth, in love;” and it shall be my aim, as it is now my desire and my intention, to follow the direction of the Apostle Peter, “Be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  And I call upon all those who love candor and fair dealing to examine and decide for themselves whether the ground taken by the orthodox, against Unitarians and Unitarianism, is, or is not, unfair and incorrect; and whether the anathemas which are so lavishly thundered against them, are, or are not, deserved.
But I am tired of this style of controversy, and will therefore bring this long letter to a close by congratulating you upon the “confidence” you feel in regard to your salvation, and by earnestly expressing the hope that it may indeed be “no vain confidence.”
[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. Archbishop Tillotson has rendered this testimony to the gentle spirit maintained, in controversy, by Unitarians. “To do right,” he says, “to the writers on that side, I must own, that generally they are a pattern of the fair way of disputing, and of debating matters of religion without heat and unseemly reflections on their adversaries. . . . . . They generally argue matters with that temper and gravity, and with that freedom from passion and transport, which becomes a serious and weighty argument, and, for the most part, they reason closely and clearly, with extraordinary guard and caution, with great dexterity and decency, and yet with smartness and subtilty enough; with a very gentle heat, and few hard words—virtues to be praised wherever they are found, yea, even in an enemy, and very worthy our imitation.”—Archbishop Tillotson: Works, as published by himself, Serm. xliv. p. 537. Back to top
2. For proof of this, see a remarkable work called Concessions of Trinitarians Back to top
3. Paul, too, gives excellent advice on the subject. In his last letter to Timothy, after speaking of those questions which “gender strifes,” he says, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” Now, even if you class me with those who “oppose themselves,” though verily I think I am more opposed then opposing, for I only ask to judge for myself, and have no desire to thrust my opinions upon any body,—you must perceive that you have not, in reproving me, followed St. Paul’s most excellent advice. Back to top