Lectures on The Principles of Unitarianism
Lecture 4 – (By J. S. Hyndman, 1824)
[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]
The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
Before proceeding, my brethren, to prove the truth of our sentiments from Scripture, I shall suggest some general considerations, which I believe sufficient of themselves to shew the erroneousness of the orthodox system.
It is certainly rational to conclude that so stupendous and singularly important a doctrine as the Trinity should be clearly revealed in the book which alone can make it known. We shall then, in the first place, turn our attention to the five books of Moses, to see if the Deity of Christ is to be discovered there. The only declaration of Moses that appears to have reference to Christ is the following: “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me, &c.” Does this predict the wonderful event of God taking on him the nature of man for our salvation? But had such an event been to happen, is it not highly reasonable to think that Moses would have been commissioned to foretell it? Was not his dispensation intended to usher in the more spiritual one of Christ? Was it not intended to prepare the church for the Messiah’s appearance? And was it not typical in some measure of the glories of the age that was to come? Under what institute, then, could we have more rationally looked for some striking figurative displays of the glory of the God-man Messiah, or some express intimations of the supreme majesty of him to the bringing in of whose kingdom that dispensation was subservient?
Under the antediluvian age, the only promise given to mankind supposed to have relation to the redemption from the evils of the fall, is that which God uttered to Adam. “The seed of the woman, &c.” But had the incarnation of Jehovah the Son been the intended means of accomplishing our salvation, is it not highly probable that God would have given some knowledge of it to our first parents? And yet who can say that in these words there is the slightest intimation of any thing of the kind?
Under the patriarchal age we find a similar deficiency of information on the subject. And is not all this exceeding strange and unaccountable?
We advance then to the prophets, and here our wonder is raised very much. The most minute, and perhaps the only full and complete prophecy of Christ is in Isaiah liii. and do you find any thing of Christ’s Godhead and compound nature there? Not at all. “The man of sorrows” is the only appellation given to him. The relation he was to sustain with regard to our salvation is distinctly and beautifully stated. But as, according to Trinitarians, he could have done nothing for us had he not been God as well as man, how can it be accounted for on any principle that on such an occasion as this, when the subject required the introduction of his Deity and his twofold nature, that the prophet should not even have alluded to these in the most distant manner, but have spoken of the Messiah’s performing his part in the economy of grace under the exclusive character of man? As to the other prophets, it is not contended that there are above a few scattered passages to be found in them that have any reference to his divine nature. Those passages, we are firmly convinced, have not the meaning the Trinitarians attach to them, and several of the most learned Trinitarians, both at home and abroad, have candidly allowed this. Some of them, indeed, are at complete variance with the doctrine of Christ’s Deity. To advert to this, however, belongs not to the present argument, which is founded merely on the confessedly few intimations that are given of the common theology.
Surely an event that held so prominent and special a place in the divine intentions, and to which all the three dispensations preceding Christianity were only preparatory, had it been known, would have been the frequent theme and most rapturous topic of Moses and the prophets. Is it at all consistent with the truth of the doctrine, that in all the prophetic strains confessedly almost nothing should be said on the incarnation of God Jehovah? Can we suppose it possible that this overwhelming wonder, Jehovah in human nature for the salvation of the world, the grand, the only foundation of human hope for eternity, should not have inspired and even been the burden of their song, and that their faith in this inconceivably singular event should not have frequently burst forth in the effusions of wonder, love, and praise? Upon this we should have thought they would have with delight and ecstasy expatiated unceasingly—upon this expended all the language of loftiness and sublimity of which they were possessed. But no. On other subjects they do dwell in warm and animated strain, and upon the work and salvation of the Messiah they are not deficient in elevated and triumphant praise; but not once are their compositions inflamed with what, had they known of it, must have highly exalted them—the Deity of Jesus Christ. On this they are silent.
Go forward next to the New Testament, where all must be clear and effulgent. The Gospel of Matthew was for about thirty years after Christ the only one in existence. The writer must have intended it as an independent history of the doctrines of Jesus, and no other means of information on those subjects existed. And how many passages in it are thought to have any reference to the Deity of Christ? Only two, from which it is contended that it may be inferred, while it is directly opposed by the tenor of the whole. Now here is a Gospel professing to contain a record of the principles of Christian faith—professing to teach the doctrines of Christianity; the Deity of Jesus is supposed to be the soul and substance, the very foundation stone of the Christian religion; and yet what is the information we have on the subject? Suppose that a modern Trinitarian wrote a history of Christianity for the use of some brethren tribe who had no other means of knowing the truths of our religion, would he, think you, neglect stating the doctrines of the Trinity, the compound nature of Christ, and other points connected with them?
It is remarkable also that in the Gospel of Mark there is only one passage claimed by Trinitarians; and in that of Luke there are only two. Here, then, is a most singular case. Three of the Messiah’s disciples write an account of the doctrines he taught respecting the terms of our acceptance with God—belief in the supreme divinity of Christ is the condition of salvation, and these Gospels are ushered into the world for the purpose of teaching men all that is necessary to be believed, each independently professing to give all saving knowledge; and yet it seems they contain confessedly nothing on the grand points of Christian doctrine, except a few incidental detached passages, from which the details of orthodoxy can be deduced. Is this not a plain and decisive proof that the Deity of Jesus was a doctrine totally unknown to the writers, and consequently that Jesus never taught anything of the kind respecting himself? And since these Gospels were written under the divine inspiration, how much stronger does the argument become. How should God have allowed them to neglect that very part of the teaching of Jesus which was of the greatest importance to all generations, for whom the books were designed?
Even in the Gospel of John, which was probably written to supply the deficiencies of the other Gospels, there are not avowedly above a few passages that Trinitarians can bring into their service. The sun of the Gospel firmament does not shine even here, though John wrote his Gospel to supply the light which the others failed to communicate. I shall hereafter shew that the few passages adduced in support of orthodoxy from that Gospel are not only insufficient to prove it, but that they are all reconcilable with the general tenor of Scripture, as it relates to the sentiments maintained by us; that some of them may be brought with greater reason into the service of our cause, and are absolutely inconsistent with any other. I shall also shew not only that the general voice of Revelation supports Unitarianism, and that our doctrines are stated in the very terms; but also that in many different points of view the erroneousness of the current theology may be deduced, while in various classes of passages it is directly contradicted.
We next advert to the preaching of the Apostles, in which, if the Deity of Christ and the Trinity be doctrines of Christianity, we shall find them blazing forth in meridian splendour. Only examine, then, the sermon of Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost, and those of Paul on various occasions. See Acts ii. 22—37. iii. 12—23. iv. 10. v. 29. x. 34—44. xiii. 32—42. xiv. 11—17. xvii. 22—32. xviii. 4—7. xxiv. 14—25. xxvi. 22—24. Now Peter and Paul must have known what Christianity was, and is there any thing in their discourses that has the smallest connexion with that popular faith which is now preached? Do the Trinitarian missionaries among the heathen preach in the manner Paul and Peter did? Are they content with stating simply that ‘Jesus was a man sent to bless mankind by turning them from iniquity,’ that he was raised from the dead as a pledge of our future life, and that he was appointed judge of the world? Do they not press upon the attention of their auditors the doctrine of Christ’s Godhead, his wonderful incarnation and the grand purposes of it? Do they not make these topics the beginning and the end of their sermons? Do they not dwell upon them with the most solemn and pathetic emotions? Do they not earnestly beseech the heathen tribes to acquiesce in the plan of salvation accomplished by the second person in the Trinity, and threaten them with damnation if they reject their Trinitarian dogmas? All this is a decisive proof that they believe their system to be true; and so, by parity of reason, Paul, Peter, and Philip’s not having preached a system similar to theirs, is an equal proof that they had no knowledge and no belief of such a system. The Apostles preached no God but the Father; and unless we suppose they were unfaithful to their trust, how can that be the Gospel which is commonly preached among us? This difficulty, no Trinitarian that I know of has ever attempted to solve, and I am confidently persuaded no one can.
Let us next look into the Epistles. The state of the case with respect to them is as follows. In the Epistles addressed to the Thessalonians and the Galatians, and in those of Philemon, James, and 2d Timothy, it is not pretended that there is a single passage that supports the orthodox opinions. And in the rest it is not contended that there are not more than a few incidental scattered passages that countenance those doctrines. An obscure inference favours them in one Epistle, and a text or two are claimed for them in another, but nothing more. Among those Epistles, I of course include those addressed to the Romans and the Hebrews. The former is the only one that contains a methodical and systematic account of the principles of the Christian faith; and in it how many texts are there that have been adduced as favourable to Trinitarianism? Merely two, and these wholly of an incidental occurrence. It is much the same in the Epistle to the Hebrews, though there, as the value and importance of Christ’s death are dwelt on, we should naturally have expected that account of the economy of redemption in which, according to the current theology, the Deity of Christ enters as an essential article, and from which the value of his death is absurdly conceived to arise.
Suppose a Christian were writing an epistle to a heathen nation with the view of giving them a definite and comprehensive view of the Christian religion, would he just incidentally allude to its grand and essential doctrines? Would he not, on the contrary, give a distinct, precise, and perspicuous account of the person of Christ as constituted both of God and man? Would he not dwell on the incarnation? Would he not make this the foundation stone of all his spiritual structure? Would he not place it in various lights? Would he not expatiate at large on the infinite condescension and glory of Immanuel, and endeavour by every possible means in his power to produce faith in the mysterious principles of his creed? That this is not the case in the New Testament Epistles, some of which are addressed to large bodies of Christians and dwell at great length on the doctrines Unitarians exclusively receive, which, if the orthodox system be correct, are of little importance compared with the others that are neglected, is to me a clear and indisputable proof that those doctrines were unknown to the Apostles.
There is one additional circumstance that of itself bears very strongly against the truth of the orthodox opinions. It is the acknowledged want of a single passage in all Scripture together that states the doctrine of the Trinity, or the incarnation and compound nature of Christ. In no passage is it said that there are three equal infinite beings, each possessed of the attributes of Deity, and yet constituting one God. In no passage is it said that Jesus took the human nature into union with the divine, and that both made one person.
Now, that God would communicate to the world doctrines like these, so strange, so difficult, so incomprehensible, so apparently contradictory, and at the same time, so utterly unimportant,—in a manner so indirect and obscure, so cold and unprotected, in such scantiness and seeming inconsistency of statement, in a manner so unbecoming the nature of the subject and its infinite moment, is so contrary to every idea we can form of what is fit, and reasonable, and proper, and so opposed to the best ideas we can form of the wisdom and goodness of the Author of revelation, that no one, I believe, who weighs the matter impartially can see any reason whatever to suppose that it could ever have been the will of God that we should receive the mysteries of orthodoxy as essential truths.
The Bible was intended to suit every diversity of intellectual capacity. Its truths were designed to come within the cognizance of the savage as well as of the sage, within the embrace of the uncultivated peasant’s understanding as well as the grasp of those who by habits of mental application and the energy of innate powers of intellect are able to understand subjects of depth and difficulty. The principle, you are aware, on which we found the present argument is this, that a doctrine of so much importance as the Trinity must be stated with great plainness and perspicuity, guarded with great care, and that it must be both with great frequency. The Trinity, then, to say less than could be said, is a most abstruse and incomprehensible tenet. It confessedly baffles research, mocks investigation, and devours human thought. It bids defiance to the most strenuous efforts of the mightiest and most gigantic mind, ranking among the inscrutabilities of the universe, and of the highest class of the wonders of infinitude. It is allowed too that revelation is the only foundation upon which our faith in this mystery can be built. In proportion to its obscurity is the danger of mistaking it, and according to the measure in which this is the case should be the precision and frequency with which it is made known.
The consistency of the claims of Trinitarians will appear much more striking, when we contrast the nature and extent of the alleged evidence for Trinitarianism with the manner in which those very doctrines are revealed, the acknowledged truth of which creates the difficulty of believing the others that Unitarians reject; which also are not only discoverable by the light of nature, and perfectly reasonable, simple, and obvious in themselves, but which it would be absurd to deny. Take, for instance, the existence and unity of God, the Deity of the Father, and the humanity and inferiority of Jesus Christ. The former are embraced by the understanding from the contemplation of the works and ways of God after the shortest course of the plainest reasoning, and the authority of the conclusions from the premises afforded in nature appears stamped before the eye of the mind with little less than the decision and incontrovertibleness of intuition. The premises are few and simple, the conclusion is evident.
The case is altogether different as it respects our means of ascertaining the truth and existence of the Trinity. Now in proportion to the number and the nature of the sources of information and the grounds of belief which we have for the being and unity of God, and which we have not for the peculiar constitution of Deity for which Trinitarians contend, should be the degree of plainness and commanding force and perspicuity which attends the revelation of each. To satisfy and convince us of the existence of the Great Original and of his unity, He himself has made a simple process of argumentation go on in our minds, which directly ends in the conclusion, that he is, and that he is one. By the operation of the principles of reason he has established in our mental constitution, we arrive at the belief of his existence and unity, and we cannot but rest in it with the utmost confidence and satisfaction; we clearly see that to adopt any other hypothesis than that to which we are thus led would be most irrational and inconsistent. Now the declaration of Scripture being the sole and exclusive authority upon which any one professes to found his belief of the Trinity, and it seeming to contradict not only the very nature of things, but what are acknowledged first principles of natural religion, and the plainest testimonies to the divine unity which are contained in the same sacred word, the case is altogether different as it respects it and the doctrines of orthodoxy.
The clearness and frequency, I repeat, with which the Bible states these respective doctrines must correspond to the nature and degree of evidence in support of each with which nature and reason furnish us. Now, we may learn the existence of a Supreme Intelligence and his unity by induction from the works of creation; from the data which observation and experience supply, we may arrive at the utmost satisfaction respecting his existence and unity. The proofs of these are easy and plain to the meanest capacity; we have demonstration of their truth independently of revelation, and to resist their authority is impossible; and yet he has been pleased to make them known by revelation in the most explicit and repeated manner. How much more plainly and how much more frequently, then, must not be the statements of that doctrine which is so apparently contradictory and absurd, so mysterious and unfathomable, which has so much appearance of opposition to the doctrines of natural religion and the explicit annunciations of the Divine unity, and concerning which we have no other means of information or sources of knowledge than the Scriptures. Since the former are revealed to us in terms very clear and unequivocal, are we not reasonably led to conclude that God’s intimations of his mode of subsistence in Trinity and Unity will be very much more clear, express, and frequent.
Is it not reasonable to expect that the New Testament would guard us against the danger of rejecting the Trinity? The doctrine looks like an absurdity to any mind. There is much in the very nature of it which bears with peculiar force against the probability of its being believed; it is but natural to reject it. The mind finds it altogether out of the sphere of comprehension, and opposed to all that comes within the bounds of possibility. Might we not then have expected that something should be said on the nature of it, and in defence of its consistency with reason; something calculated to shew us that it is not, as we suppose, a contradiction? Should we not have been frequently and solemnly warned of the impropriety of alleging its opposition to reason as a ground of objection to it? Should we not have had numerous reasons assigned to shew the folly and the inconsistency of such a conduct of the understanding? Should we not have been reminded of the weakness and futility of the human mind, and its total incompetency to judge of propositions connected in any way with the nature of the Infinite? Should not our anticipated objections have been met by the replication, that many difficulties and incomprehensibilities are contained in nature, and from this consideration should we not have been called upon to hush our doubts and to check our soarings? and would not the dangerous consequences of rejecting the Trinity have been pointed out in the most serious and solemn way?
Further, let us take into view the nature of the doctrine of the Father’s Deity with the intimations that are given of it by Christ, compared with the nature of the doctrine of the Deity of Jesus and the kind and degree of evidence upon which it is conceived to be founded. Now the bodily form of Jesus, his being subject to the feelings and sufferings of humanity, his mode of life, his habit of speaking of himself as a man, as a being distinct from God and wholly inferior to him, his various indications of a sense of dependence upon his Father, his attributing to him all his knowledge, authority, and powers, his ascribing to the Father the names and titles, the perfections, works, and worship of the Deity, must all have impressed the minds of the Jews with the notion that he was nothing else than what his usual declarations concerning himself clearly implied.
They believed in the exclusive Deity of the Father, and the language of Christ was in perfect unison with their ideas. Now, though the Deity of the Father, and Christ’s humanity and his real inferiority to God, are doctrines which needed no confirmation, Christ nevertheless used language which would be understood to state and imply the truth of these, how much more fitted should his language have been to convey to their minds the notion of his Deity also, of which they had never dreamed. Should not his language have been cast into the mould of this doctrine? Should not his intimations of his being God have at least been as frequent as are those respecting the Deity of the Father? ‘God the Son’ would have been as familiar a phrase with him and his apostles as ‘God the Father;’ the assertion of his necessary equality with Jehovah as frequent as those which imply his subordination; and his claims to unity of essence with the Deity as numerous as those declarations which would seem to imply, in correspondence with the notions of the Jews, that God is personally one, and that he himself was of the nature of man. And in the New Testament in general should the ascription to him of the names and titles, the attributes, works, and worship of the true God have been usual and express, as is the ascription of these to the Father.
The Jews could not conceive that two natures could constitute but one being; that one mind or person could be constituted of two minds, or that the same mind or person could possess both the qualities of man and the perfections of God. They knew nothing of the mysterious economy in which one divine person becomes the servant of another divine person, while at the same time these persons are equal in majesty; nor could they comprehend how these persons subsisting in equality could yet be one, supposing any thing in our Lord’s discourses had given rise to such problems.
How much care, therefore, should have been taken to counteract the influence of his general language respecting himself, to explain the possibility of his being God as well as man, to obviate the objections and to ward off the danger of prejudice? But no indications do we find of any such concern having been shewn;—a clear and simple proof that he wished his language to be understood without modification, that he neither made himself God nor wished to be so regarded.
Christianity, it must be remembered, was planted and grew up amidst sharp-sighted enemies, who overlooked no objectionable part of the system, and who must have fastened with great earnestness on a doctrine involving such apparent contradictions as the Trinity. We cannot conceive an opinion against which the Jews, who prided themselves on their adherence to God’s unity, would have raised an equal clamour. Now, how happens it, that in the apostolic writings, which relate so much to objections against Christianity and to the controversies which grew out of this religion, not one word is said, implying that objections were brought against the Gospel from the doctrine of the Trinity; not one word is uttered in its defence and explanation; not a word to rescue it from reproach and mistake? This argument has almost the force of demonstration. We are persuaded, that had three divine persons been announced by the first preachers of Christianity, all equal, and all infinite, one of whom was the very Jesus who had lately died on the cross, this peculiarity of Christianity would have almost absorbed every other, and the great labour of the apostles would have been to repel the continual assaults which it would have awakened. But the fact is, that not a whisper of objection to Christianity, on that account, reaches our ears from the apostolic age. In the epistles we see not a trace of controversy called forth by the Trinity. 
Further, it is allowed that during the life of Christ, his disciples were ignorant of his Deity, and it may be true as is contended, that, after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, their minds became enlightened with the knowledge of his character. But that no change of sentiment took place in them on this point, I think evident from the following general considerations. Supposing that they became believers in the Deity of their master, could the discovery of this most extraordinary fact beam upon their minds without an overwhelming amazement? When first the conviction of it entered their minds, must it not have absorbed all their faculties in astonishment and awe? When they came to discover that a being who had every appearance and property of a man; with whom they had always associated as such; whom they had seen hungry and athirst; whose weary steps, as he traveled from place to place on the business of benevolence, they had often accompanied; whose slumbers they had watched, and to the wants of whose nature they had often ministered; when they came to discover that this being was not what he appeared, and what they had hitherto supposed; that he was not a man, but the self-existent and immortal God,—what a moment must that have been! What amazement, what awe, must have seized them! With what sensations must they ever after have contemplated him! With what reverence must they have approached him! When in future they saw him kneeling down to pray; when they watched him wrapt in devotion,—how must they have looked one upon the other! How must that extraordinary being, have impressed their minds! Is it possible that it should never have caused a single expression of surprise to escape them? Or that, when they were commissioned by this wonderful personage, to disclose these astonishing facts to the world, they should never speak of the error into which they at first fell; of the manner in which it was removed; of the sensations that overwhelmed them on the discovery of the stupendous truth; that, on the contrary, they should continue to speak to him, and of him, as if none of these things had ever happened; that they should represent him in all manner of situations but that one which must have been infinitely more memorable and interesting to them than any other, and should give him all manner of high and dignified appellations, but that one which is the most exalted of all, and the most descriptive of his nature? The term God-man, essential to the hypothesis that Jesus Christ possesses a human and divine nature, was invented as soon as the doctrine was conceived; but being altogether absent from the minds of the writers of the New Testament, the term which is descriptive of it is no where to be found in their records of his life and doctrine. 
On the supposition that the sentiments of the disciples underwent the change contended for, how strangely does their conduct appear when compared with that of Paul and Cornelius after they became converts to the belief of the Messiahship of Jesus. How minutely do they describe the particular circumstances which led to their conversion, and how unhesitatingly do they speak of their former sentiments and the revolution that their views had undergone!
Again, it is observable that Christ corrected the notions of his disciples respecting his nature. Their erroneous conceptions concerning the doctrine of the resurrection, the nature of his kingdom, and the ends of his death, he distinctly noticed, and attempted to remove; but what were these things in importance compared with the knowledge of his Deity, which, according to Trinitarians, lies at the very foundation of all saving truth. His not having given the most distant hint of their being mistaken in their apprehensions respecting his person and dignity, is a clear and obvious proof that in regarding him as a man they did rightly.
Further, it is maintained by Protestants that the errors and corruption of the Romish church, for instance, are foretold very particularly. But our faith, if wrong, must be a fundamental error,—not only bad, but fatal. And that no prediction of the rise of our sentiments under the character of error is to be found in the Old or New Testament, seems a proof that they are falsely regarded as erroneous or dangerous. There is, moreover, a prophecy of Scripture, which, we conceive, cannot have its due accomplishment till Unitarianism generally prevail, “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.”
Nothing, I think, can be plainer than that belief in Jesus as “God the Son” is not stated as the condition of salvation. All that is necessary is faith in Christ as the Messiah. Thus, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” And the professed object of John in writing his Gospel is expressly stated to be “That men might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” 
The doctrine of the Trinity is indeed from its nature impossible to be believed, and cannot therefore be a revelation from God. What we can form no conceptions of, we cannot, in the very nature of things, believe; where there are no ideas, there can be no such thing as belief. Faith is an act of the understanding, and must have intelligible propositions for its basis.
[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]
1. See Dr. Channing’s Sermon, &c. Back to top
2. See Dr. T. S. Smith’s Appeal in behalf of Unitarian Christians. Back to top
3. See Locke on this point in his work on Paul’s Epistles. Back to top