Letters from Mary Dana (1845) Letter 28

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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]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

You speak of the “shock” you experienced when I “announced myself as decidedly constrained to give up all on which your hopes rest for the salvation of your soul.” If you really believe that I have given up all on which the sinner’s hope can hang, I do not wonder you are shocked. But surely you cannot think so. How shall I convince you that I still rely for salvation upon him, who, we are taught, is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus said, “No man commeth to the Father but by me.” It is by him that I go to the Father. What more can you desire, what more can I say? I believe, as fully as you do, in the atonement, though you and I may differ about the philosophy (if I may so speak) of that atonement.

Again, you say, “Would to God that I could, with the Bible in my hand, believe that, as you have expressed it, if you are in an error, it is not a fatal one. . . . I fully believe,” you elsewhere say, “that in renouncing the supreme divinity of the Lord Jesus, you renounce the whole system of salvation by grace, through faith in Him as the atoning sacrifice for sin; and that, dying in your present belief, your soul must be lost; while you profess to think that you have found ‘a glorious platform’ on which sincere Christians of every denomination can meet, and exchange the right hand of fellowship.” You further write, “You or we must be fatally wrong. It seems plain to me that Christ is God—or, with reverence let me write it—a blasphemer; and that if you rob him of his ‘eternal Godhead,’ you rob him of the glory that is his due. How then can you feel hurt that your friends express themselves so strongly?”

When I consider what your professed belief upon this subject is, I really cannot wonder at our strong expressions; but I do wonder that you can believe there is a fatal difference between us. You surely cannot believe that the souls of some whom I could name, who have died in the Unitarian faith, are lost. Show me where either our Master or his apostles declared that a belief in him, as the eternal God, is necessary to salvation, and I will acknowledge that you have good reason for this item of your faith; but all I can see that they ever gave as a test of Christian faith was such a belief in Jesus, as the Messiah, as would cause men to yield implicitly to his authority. They never say it is necessary to our salvation to be certain whether that authority is entirely his own, or is derived from his Father; though, at the same time, they tell us plainly enough from whence it really comes. yet that is never made a prominent and necessary article of belief. The main point of inquiry is, dost thou believe that Jesus is the Christ—that is, the anointed—he who was to come? if we believe that he came commissioned by God, we shall obey him, and thus be his followers; and, of course, entitled to the Christian name. When the belief of Unitarians leads them to reject the authority of Christ, it will be time to deny them the name of Christians; but when they recognize that authority as fully and joyfully as you do, how can you consistently assert that they are not Christians?

I repeat it, we are merely told in the Scriptures, that we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and we shall be saved. And we must see to it that we have such a faith in Christ as will bring forth fruit unto holiness; for we are also informed that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Now, this is all which the Scriptures declare to be necessary to salvation; namely, faith showing itself by works. If you can show me one passage in which it is declared that we must regard him who was sent by God as God himself—the same being by whom he as sent—the case will be radically altered, and I will allow that you are right when you insist that I am in a fatal error. But until you can show me some such passage—for I want no inferences in regard to fundamental doctrines—beware how you judge concerning my future prospects; beware how you add to the word of God.

I wish to make a short quotation from the admirable speech of Sir George Saville before the House of Commons, in 1772, in support of a petition presented by many clergymen of the Church of England for relief in the matter of subscription. “If the things which are necessary to salvation,” says he, “are not plainly revealed, there is no way of salvation revealed to the bulk of mankind. Whatever is obscurely revealed will be always obscure, notwithstanding our decisions. It can never be authoritatively determined by men. The only authority which can explain it, and make the explanation a test of faith, is the authority of God. As to what he has plainly revealed, it needs no articles to ascertain its meaning. We should not then adopt views and measures which are contracted and narrow. We should not set bars in the way of those who are willing to enter and labor in the Church of God. When the disciples came to Christ, and complained that there were some who cast out devils in his name, and said, ‘We forbade the, because they followed not us’—what did our Saviour do? Did he send them tests and articles to be subscribed? Did he ask them whether they believed this, or that, or the other doctrine? whether they were Athanasians, or Arians, or Arminians? No. He delivered that comprehensive maxim—’He that is not against me, is for me.’ Go ye, and say likewise”

But I can bring some names of high authority who did not think as you do upon this subject. DR. DODDRIDGE, it seems, was not willing to deny the name of Christian, nor to refuse “the right hand of fellowship,” to those who could not believe in the Trinity. Dr. Kippis, in the Biographia Britannica, vol. v. p. 307, thus writes: “Once I remember some narrow minded people of his (Dr. Doddridge’s) congregation gave him no small trouble on account of a gentleman in communion with his church, who was a professed Arian, and who otherwise dissented from the common standard of orthodoxy. This gentleman they wished either to be excluded from the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, or to have his attendance upon it prevented; but the doctor declared, that he would sacrifice his place, and even his life, rather than fix any such mark of discouragement upon one, who, whatever his doctrinal sentiments were, appeared to be a true Christian.”

DR. BURTON says: “I would willingly admit, that salvation may be obtained without a knowledge of the Athanasian Creed. Thousands and millions of Christians have gone to their graves, who have either never heard of it, or never understood it; and I would add, that, let a man believe the Scriptures, let him profess his faith in Christ in the plain and simple language of the New Testament, and he may pass through life as piously and happily, he may go to his grave with as quiet a conscience, and, more than this, he may rise again as freely pardoned and forgiven, as if he had dived into the depths of controversy, and traced the nature of the Deity through the highest walks of metaphysics.” Theol. Works, vol. 1, Serm. xii., p. 283.

BISHOP WATSON says, when speaking of the Duke of Grafton, who joined the famous Essex Street Chapel, under the pastoral care of the venerable confessor, the Rev. Theophilus Lindsey,—”I never attempted to discourage his profession of Unitarian principles; for I was happy to see a person of his rank professing, with intelligence and sincerity, Christian principles. [1] If any one thinks that an Unitarian is not a Christian, I plainly say, without being an Unitarian myself, that I think otherwise.” Watson’s Life, vol. i., pp. 75, 76. See also vol. ii., p. 227. See also the remarks of D. Turner of Abingdon, in his Free Thoughts on Free Inquiry, where he says, “We should not deny them the honor of the Christian name.”

.DR. PARR speaks thus: “Undisguisedly and indignantly, I shall ever bear testimony against the uncharitable spirit which excludes the followers of Socinus utterly from the Catholic Church of Christ. . . . . . Without professing any partiality for Unitarians, I hold that they who acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Messiah; to have had a direct and special commission from the Almighty, to have been endowed supernaturally with the Holy Spirit, to have worked miracles, and on the third day to have risen from the dead,—I hold, that men, thus believing, have a sacred claim to be called Christians.” Parr’s Works, vol. vii., pp. 9, 10. Honor be to those liberal hearted mean! There is, of a truth, the true spirit of Christianity. Why can we not all forget our differences, and go to work together for the advancement of our Master’s cause—for the spread of our Master’s kingdom? The enemies of Christ are taking the advantage—an advantage not to be despised—of the want of union and confidence among his professed disciples. And let us all remember the solemn remark of the immortal Baxter, “Whilst we are wrangling here in the dark, we are dying, and passing to the world that will decide all our controversies, and the safest passage thither is by peaceable holiness.”

[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.]


Endnote:

1. This reminds me of a circumstance which recently occurred within my own knowledge. A clergyman visiting a lady who had been brought up in the Presbyterian church, but who was then attending the Episcopal, said to her, “Madam, I hope soon to see you a good Presbyterian.” “Sir,” she replied, “I would much rather be a good Christian. Back to top