LETTER XXV: EXTRACTS AND REPLIES
[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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]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,
What you say in regard to the danger and folly of examining into other systems of faith than those which we have already embraced, though, in my view, a singular and unsound opinion, is, I am well aware, by no means an uncommon one. You will find it in almost every orthodox controversial work that has ever been written. But allow me to quote from your letter a sentence or two. The first remark I shall notice is this: “Educated as you have been from early childhood in the doctrine of the Trinity, you may have been led to suppose that your belief therein has been wholly owing to the accident of your birth and education, and the bias given to your youthful mind; and, impressed with this thought, you may have considered it right and proper to examine into all the arguments urged in favor of an opposite belief.” I will interrupt the quotation here, merely to say, that I examined into no arguments in favor of an opposite belief, till I had examined the Bible. I endeavored to read the New Testament as I had never seen it before, and it was there I found the arguments that established me in my present belief; it was from thence that I was obliged to avow myself a Unitarian. But to proceed: “This course,” you observe, “however seemingly wise, is not only fraught with the greatest danger, but it is really characteristic of the deepest folly. It is, I believe, the most subtle of all Satan’s schemes to mislead the sincere inquirer after truth. Nay, he sometimes does proceed a step further, and is willing to allow the inquirer to pray for Divine Guidance, and to hold the Bible in one hand if he can only plant heresy in the other. There is no way to see the truth but in the light of the truth; and when the truth is once established, no counter arguments can have any form or validity. This is a fundamental principle in all reasoning, else nothing can be established or relied on. Now if I can prove the Divinity of Jesus Christ from the Scriptures, I will hail it as a truth, embrace and rely upon it as a truth, nor care a straw for all the arguments that can be raised in opposition, knowing, that two opposite doctrines cannot be substantiated from the same premises.”
I grant, my dear Sir, the correctness of one of your remarks, which appears to me to be a self-evident proposition. The remark to which I allude is this, “There is no way to see the truth but in the light of the truth.” But the conclusions to which you come from such correct premises are by no means, it appears to me, correct or legitimate ones. The reason is very obvious. Conclusions depend, in a measure, upon the meaning and the sense which we give to the terms of our starting proposition. Now, by the expression, “the light of the truth,” I should understand that light which shines from the whole Bible. I regard the Bible as a harmonious whole, and, as such, it is a light for our feet, and a lamp to our paths. In the light which shines from the Bible—as from one undivided source, as from a central sun—I expect to discover truth. But by the same expression “the light of the truth,” you seem to indicate the light of some one truth, and that a truth acknowledged not to be explicitly stated in direct terms anywhere in the Bible—in terms, I mean, such as these, Jesus Christ is the infinite God. The truth to which you allude is only inferential. To this inferred, obscurely stated truth, taken alone, you would make everything else bend. But this method, I should imagine, will prove too much ever to make it a favorite one with you. Do you not see, that, in this way, you can most effectually overturn your own faith in the Trinity? Take the certainly revealed—explicitly stated—and firmly established truth that “Jehovah is one”—and the light of such a truth as this is a very different one from that of the inferred truth to which you have alluded, as different as the light of the sun is from that of a feeble, flickering taper; take, I say, the truth that “Jehovah is one,” and how can you ever consistently prove, according to your own showing, that he is three? Take also the certain truth that Jesus Christ was a finite man, capable of suffering, and how can you prove, from your premises, that he is the infinite God? In fact, you can prove, or disprove anything from any book, by following, in all its parts, the method you propose. Therefore, though we both agree to the proposition that “there is no way to see the truth but in the light of the truth,” we give the terms of the proposition an entirely different meaning; and there can be no argument between two or more persons till they agree in their premises; nor can they be said to agree till they understand in the same sense the terms of those premises.
You next proceed, my dear Sir, to question me thus: “And why need you, Madam, `lay again the foundation of your faith?’ Have you been charmed by the seductive voice of a vain philosophy? Why then are you wavering and unestablished in the faith ‘as you have been taught?’“ These interrogations do not appear to me to require any specific answer, since they are merely founded on your individual sentiments in regard to matters about which there is a vast difference of opinion. I will therefore pass on.
You now call my attention to Colossians, 2d chapter, and 8th verse, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,” and you say, “Now it is remarkable that the Apostle, in this and the preceding chapter, had been teaching the Doctrine of the Divinity of Jesus Christ—that he is God over all—the Creator of the Universe;—and that by him all things consist.”
I am far from admitting that the first and second chapters of the Epistle to the Colossians teach anything like the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ, in the Trinitarian sense. Let us pause for a while, and examine them together. In the second and third verses God and Christ are spoken of as distinct beings. So they are in the 12th and 13th verses, where the Father is said to have translated believers into the kingdom of his dear Son. In the 15th verse this Son is declared to be the image of God,” and “the firstborn of every creature.” Now the “image” of anything cannot be the thing itself, and a “creature” cannot be the Supreme Creator. In the two succeeding verses, the 16th and 17th, I presume you find your chief and irresistible argument. Let us therefore give them a special, and earnest, and candid examination.
But first let me make a simple remark. It should be borne in mind that the Apostle was writing this Epistle to the Colossians, to assure them of the fact that they were under a new dispensation introduced by Christ, who had full power and authority for this end. He was opposing, on the one hand, the Judaizing teachers, who were endeavoring to impose upon the Christian Church the ritual law;—and, on the other hand, the philosophizing converts from heathenism, who were aiming to incorporate with the new religion the subtleties of their old philosophy. Paul is writing to remind them of the fact that the simple religion introduced by Jesus Christ was the true faith—that which they had been taught—and in which they were to continue. Now let us examine the 16th and 17th verses, with this idea—namely, that he was writing about Christ’s new dispensation—strongly impressed upon our minds.
You will observe that he does not say that by him were heaven and earth created, but only “all things which are in heaven and in earth.” Now, if the expression “all things” can be proved to refer to the new spiritual creation Christ came to effect, your argument, which makes it prove his divinity only on the supposition that it refers to the natural creation, falls entirely to the ground.
The effects produced by the Gospel, the new and radically different state of things which had followed and were still to follow its introduction—are very often spoken of under the figure of a creation. Turn to Ephesians ii. 10, and you will find that believers are spoken of as created in or through Christ Jesus, unto good works. In remarking upon this verse, Priestley says, “We see here in what sense Paul sometimes uses the term creation; viz. as denoting the renovation of the world by the Gospel; and when we elsewhere in the Epistles read of the creation of all things by Jesus Christ, the meaning is defined and explained by such passages as these.”
Again, see Eph. i. 10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, which are in Heaven, and which are on earth.” Here we have the very same expression “all things,” certainly applied to spiritual existence alone. 
The Apostle then goes on to specify what he meant by the term “all things.” “Whether,” says he, “they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers;” these expressions seem plainly to show that he does not refer to the material creation. Turn to Eph. i. 21, and you will observe that these expressions “principalities and powers,” refer to different degrees of spiritual existence. Some understand these titles to have relation to the “various orders of angelic beings,” and suppose this text asserts “Christ’s dominion over the angelic world.” Schleusner thinks that they refer to human magistrates. Others think that they “most aptly denote the several ranks of dignity and authority in the Church, viz., priests, prophets, apostles, over all of whom Jesus is elevated, as the head of this new dispensation.” Imp. V. Priestly says that this verse is explained by the next one, where Christ is said to be “head over all things to the Church.”
Norton, in commenting on Col. i. 16, says: “But what is meant by the Apostle when he speaks of Christ as creating things heavenly and unseen, thrones, principalities, governments, and powers? I answer, that Christ is here spoken of by him as the founder and monarch of the Kingdom of Heaven; and that this kingdom is conceived of, not as confined to earth, but as extending to the blessed in Heaven, to those who have entered, or may enter, on their reward. Christ being represented under the figure of a king, and his followers being those who constituted the subjects of his kingdom, their highest honors and rewards are spoken of, in figurative language, as thrones, principalities, governments, and powers. He himself said to his Apostles, ‘In the regeneration,’ that is, in the new creation, for the terms are equivalent—’In the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ But the Kingdom of Heaven, including the seen as well as the unseen, the earthly as well as the heavenly, the terms in question are to be understood, not merely as referring to the rewards of the blessed in Heaven, but as denoting likewise the highest offices and dignities of this kingdom on earth; the offices of those who were ministers of Christ, its king, his apostles and teachers. The purpose of St. Paul is to declare, that Christ is the former and master of the whole Church on earth and in Heaven; of the whole community of the holy; that he is the author of all their blessings; that all authority among them is from him; that all are ruled by his laws; that the whole kingdom on earth and in heaven exists through him, and, figuratively speaking, `for him,’ as its monarch.” Now, my dear Sir, does it not seem certain that the creation spoken of in the verses we have been considering, is entirely a spiritual creation, and not the natural one; and, if not, those verses do not support your argument.
But, further, let this creation have been either a natural or a spiritual one, we see that in Ephesians iii. 9, it is ascribed to God, through Christ. Paul there speaks of “the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” Pitkin says, that, “In regard to those passages which represent Christ as being engaged in the works of Creation and Preservation, it is the opinion of many distinguished Theologians that they refer to the new Spiritual Creation which was to be formed and perpetuated through the influences of the religion which he established; and not to the formation and upholding the world of matter. They contend, that `by him were all things created,’ and `by him all things consist,’ which relate to his Mediatorial Kingdom merely, he being ‘Head over all things to the Church.’“
“But,” says he, “whether they are correct or not in these opinions, does not in the least affect the decision of the question now before us. It matters not whether our Lord is engaged in the works of creating and upholding the material, or merely the moral world. The only point which in this connexion demands our attention, is, does he create and uphold as the Eternal God, or only as a qualified instrument of Divine Power? In reference to this, hear his own express declaration: `I can of mine own self do nothing.’ John v. 30. And again, John v. 19, 20, `The Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do.’ `The Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth.’ And again, John v. 26, 27, ‘The Father hath given to the Son authority.’ Again, Matt. xxviii. 18, `All power is given unto me.’ Such is the explicit testimony of Jesus himself. Much more of a like character might be added, but more is not needed. Comment upon these texts seems to be superfluous. They most obviously show, that whatever Christ performs, is in consequence, not of his own underived power, but by authority and power delegated to him as the highest Agent of the Deity.”
I believe, my dear Sir, we have now examined all the texts preceding the verse to which you especially directed my attention, namely, “Beware lest any man spoil you,” and I think it has been abundantly proved that they do not teach the divinity of Jesus Christ.
But I will quote again from your letter. After asserting that Paul had, in the 1st and 2d chapters of the Epistle to the Colossians, been “teaching the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ,” you say, “He speaks also of the union of Christ with the flesh, and with believers, as a mystery; and we are particularly admonished `to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God and the Father and of Christ,’ and further to be rooted and built up in him, (Christ,) and stablished in the faith, `as ye have been taught.’ Now Paul had just been teaching the Divinity—the Almighty power—the inherent power—(for the work of creation by proxy is a downright absurdity)—of Jesus Christ; and then, seemingly aware of the danger to which the Colossians would be exposed, he warns them, in the most solemn and energetic manner, to continue in the faith which they had been taught.”
I have searched diligently to find, in the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Colossians, anything about the “mystery” of “the union of Christ with the flesh;”  but it has entirely escaped my notice. In the 25th and 26th verses of the 1st chapter, Paul speaks of the “dispensation of God” which had been given him and this dispensation he calls a mystery, or secret, which, says he, “hath been hid from ages and from generations, but is now made manifest to his saints,” and thus he declares the mystery, or secret, to exist no longer, as a secret. Again, in the 27th verse, he says, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles;” and how does he make it known? What does he declare that mystery to be? He declares it to be, not, as you say, “the union of Christ with the flesh,” but, says he, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And while you are upon this part of the subject, I wish you would read the third chapter of Ephesians, where Paul often speaks of a mystery, by which he means the new, and, to the Jews, strange doctrine of the reception of the Gentiles into the same covenant with the Jews; and this mystery, he says, may be understood, when it is read. Ephes. iii. 4.
Again, in Col. ii. 2, instead of exhorting them, as you have expressed it, to the acknowledgment of a mystery, he prays for as many as had not seen his face in the flesh, “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God;”—Griesbach, high Trinitarian authority, omits the rest of the verse.
This, my dear Sir, is all the mystery I can discover, after the most diligent search, in the portion of Scripture to which you have turned my attention; namely, God’s design to bestow salvation, through Christ, upon both Jews and Gentiles; which had been a mystery, or what is the same thing, had been “hid from ages and generations,” but now, in the fulness of time, “is made manifest,” and is constantly spoken of as a mystery, or secret, which had been revealed.
I will only touch upon your remark that “the work of creation by proxy is a downright absurdity,” and observe that then you certainly make this charge, namely, that of teaching an absurdity, against the Scriptures. For whatever the creation was which is there ascribed to Christ—whether a natural or a moral creation was intended, it is certainly ascribed to Christ as the Agent of another. See Ephes. iii. 9. “God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” Heb. i. 2. “By whom he (that is, God) made the worlds.”
You give great prominence to the idea that I have not continued in the faith, as I have been taught. Now do you mean as I have been taught by St. Paul, or any other inspired writer, or as I have been taught by my human teachers and guides? The latter must be your meaning, for you are complaining of me because I have changed, and given up the faith in which I had been educated. But I assert, that I have altered my opinion on certain points because I find that the inspired writers taught a different doctrine from that in which I had been educated. Yet it is under these circumstances, when I now profess to abide entirely by the teaching of inspired men, that you complain of me. You must therefore mean, that I ought to continue in the faith which I derived from uninspired human teachers. 
Now, as I think your application of that text a very different one from that intended by St. Paul, who was speaking of his own teaching, with a knowledge of his own special inspiration, and not of the teachings of those who should live hundreds of years after him, it does not by any means produce the effect you intended. A Roman Catholic, teaching the doctrines of transubstantiation and the worship of saints and saintly relics, might with just as much propriety take that ground with one who was about retracting his Roman Catholic sentiments. Aye, he could do it with vastly more propriety; for it is an essential part of his system that the Scriptures are to be interpreted for individuals by the Church. But this idea is manifestly at war with the fundamental principles of Protestantism, and I feel only sorrow and surprise when I hear such sentiments from the Protestants of the nineteenth century.
But it is time to make another quotation from your letter. You proceed to say, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” “And why?” you ask, “How were they in danger of being spoiled through philosophy and vain deceit? What is the point? What the danger? The 9th verse answers the question, ‘For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.’ This was a fact,” you say, “which they were warned not to assail with human reasonings.”
And who, my dear Sir, has assailed the fact? No Unitarian, that I am aware of, has stricken that verse out of his Bible. I am very sure I have not. I only believe that it does not teach what you assert it teaches—namely, that because the fulness of God dwelt in Christ, he was God himself. But you go on to say, “Could language be more clear and precise? God who declares that he will not give his honor to another, and who claims universal and undivided homage, here affirms that the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus Christ; and in Phil. 2d chapter, that universal homage shall be paid to him. To suppose that Jesus Christ, as a mere human, or created Being, is a proper object of Divine worship, is an absurdity too great for even Unitarians. They therefore very modestly deny the declarations of God in toto regarding the honor due to Christ, and in the adorations to God the Father, sometimes allude to the Son of Mary, for whose good example’s sake God is well pleased to bestow blessings upon mankind. My soul sickens to hear my blessed Saviour so dishonored.”
And do you think that Unitarians feel no sickening of soul when they see that men will not believe the words of Christ himself, when he asserts, as he does incessantly, his inferiority to his Father? Do they not feel pained when they hear men insisting that Supreme worship and homage belong to him who said to his disciples, “In that day ye shall ask me nothing;” who said to his importunate tempter, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;” who, when his disciples requested to be taught how to pray, said, “When ye pray, say, Our Father, who art in Heaven,”? You have alluded to the 2d chapter of Philippians, where universal homage is promised to Christ. But does it follow that universal homage should be Supreme homage? And why have you overlooked the most important words in the whole passage—the crowning sentence—the climax; namely, that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER?”
But I have done. Your remark concerning the terms in which Unitarians speak of Christ in their adorations to God the Father, scarcely merits notice. I can only say I have never heard such terms used. Unitarians do not believe that for the sake of Christ’s good example, God bestows blessings upon mankind. We believe that it is only when we follow that good example that God will bless us. And supposing you had heard Jesus called “the Son of Mary?” Was he not Mary’s son? Was he not born in Bethlehem, and was he not subject to his parents until he commenced his Heavenly Father’s work? Until you can find no more heavy charges against Unitarians than that they call Jesus Christ the Son of Mary, you cannot justly reproach them, much less condemn them.
[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. Since writing the above, I have met with some remarks of Professor Norton upon the passage we are considering; perhaps they will interest you, and serve to strengthen my position. “In this passage,” he says, “there are some expressions which require explanation. God, says St. Paul, ‘has transferred us from the empire of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son.’ To this metaphor much of the following language corresponds. It was this kingdom which had been newly created, that is, had been newly formed: for it is thus that the word rendered created is to be understood. We find it, and its correlatives, repeatedly used in a similar sense by St. Paul, namely, to denote the moral renovation of men by Christianity. Thus he says:—
‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.’ 2 Cor. v. 17.
‘For in Christ Jesus neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.’ Gal. vi. 15.
‘For we are God’s workmanship, created through Christ Jesus unto good works.’ Ephes. ii. 10.
‘Put on the new man, who is created in the likeness of God, with the righteousness and holiness of the true faith.’ Ephes. iv. 24.
The language from the Epistle to the Colossians, in which Christ is said to have created all things, is to be explained in a corresponding manner. He created all things in the new dispensation, in the kingdom of Heaven. It has been understood as declaring, that the natural creation was the work of Christ. But it is obvious at first sight, that the words used are not such as properly designate the objects of the natural world; and not such, therefore, as we should expect to be employed, if these were intended. In speaking of the natural creation, the same Apostle refers it to God in different terms—to `the living God, who made Heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them.’ Acts, xiv. 15.” Back to top
2. Even according to Trinitarian views, Christ, which is not a proper name, but only means the Anointed—could never be properly said to be united with the flesh, for it was only “the flesh” which could be “the Anointed.” Back to top
3. See Appendix W. Back to top