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REVIEW OF NEW PUBLICATIONS.
I. Observations on the Doctrines of Christianity, in reference to Arianism,
fc. and on the Athanasian Creed, fc. By GEORGE MILLER, D. D.
M. R. I. A. London: Rivingtons. 1825. 8vo. pp. 233. II. The Uses of the Athanasian Creed Explained and Vindicated : a
Sermon, preached at the Visitation of the Archdeacon of Worcester. By Henry CARD, D.D. F.R.S. F.A.S. F.R.S.L. Vicar of Great Malvern. 8vo. pp. 59.
Worcester : 1825. III. The Athanasian Creed Vindicated, fc. By the Rev. James
RICHARDSON, M. A. one of the Vicars Choral of York, Vicar of
Huntington, fc. York: 1822. 8vo. pp. 138. IV. The Athanasian Creed, with Short Notes, for the Use of
Members of the Church of England. Rivingtons. 1824. 12mo.
We have selected the works before us chiefly with the view of calling the attention of the public to the subject of the Athanasian Creed. It has been remarked, as a singular circumstance, that Protestants should now be debating with Roman Catholies the leading principles of the Reformation. It is still more singular, we think, that in this age of the Gospel, the cause of scriptural theology should need to be defended against the cavils of sceptical assailants. Now that the field has so long been won, and in the secure possession of the champions of Revelation, it is strange that we should be called upon in this age to fight over again
the battles of our forefathers, and re-assert our right to the vantage ground which we occupy.
The work of Dr. Miller was called forth in consequence of some sermons recently published by a Dr. Bruce; who, it seems, is a leading minister among a body of the Irish Presbyterians, seceding from the established Presbyterian communion (whose doctrines are Calvinistic), and professing Arian tenets. Our author's design is to combat the principal points of Arian doctrine maintained in Dr. B.'s discourses, which he does in a very sound and able manner. The whole subject, indeed, of his work is so deserving of consideration, that we cannot pass over the preliminary part, in our haste to come to the discussion respecting the Athanasian Creed, without some notice. And this,
indeed, is rendered the more necessary; as the author himself has not furnished his reader with the ordinary helps for collecting and understanding his train of arguments, by breaking his discussion into chapters or sections, or giving any kind of analysis, or even a table of contents. We shall, accordingly, give such a brief outline of the contents, as may assist the general reader in more readily understanding the author's object as he proceeds.
After mentioning the occasion on which the work was undertaken, the author comments on the moderation of the Church in her doctrinal system, as conciliating the various extremes of error (p 3). He shews the tendency of these various extremes to centre in the same point. (p. 7.) He then proceeds to discuss the general grounds on which Dr. B. establishes his system. The four Gospels, which it seems Dr. B. looks upon as the only genuine source of doctrinal truths, are pointed out to have been by no means designed as comprising a complete doctrinal scheme : and it is argued that it is no derogation to their fulness and authority to require the addition of the Epistles in order to deduce the complete body of Christian truth. (pp. 11–20.) Dr. B. wishes to make out the principal doctrines, as usually received, to be entirely abstract and speculative, and therefore unimportant, and not to be insisted upon as essentials : on which points he is fully refuted. (p. 21, &c.)
The author next proceeds to examine Dr. B.'s particular tenets in detail. (p. 25.) The belief in Mysteries, and the scripture doctrines of Election, &c. are abiy discussed (pp. 27—36). The doctrine of Original Sin is carefully distinguished from the opposing extremes to which it is carried by Calvinism and Arianism. (p. 37.) This leads to the scheme of Redemption through Christ. (p. 45). The fundamental question respecting the eternal divinity of Christ, is treated with considerable learning and acumen; and the Arian tenets are refuted with moderation and firmness. (p. 46, &c.) The subject of Divine worship addressed to Christ, is next treated (p. 97). The Intercession is not denied by Dr. Bruce. The Sufferings of Christ, and their design, are clearly and scripturally illustrated (p. 103), and their representation, under the Sacrifices of old, satisfactorily defended (p. 113). The conditions of salvation thus wrought out are well stated, and the extremes of opposing systems, which virtually agree in depreciating the real justifying principle, ably exposed. (p. 118.)
The subject of future Punishment is then adverted to (p. 124). Dr. B.'s opinion is, that the wicked, after a limited period of misery, proportioned to their wickedness, shall be finally annihilated. This is refuted, as unsanctioned by any scriptural authority, and directly contrary to the literal import of Scripture. (p. 125.)
Dr. B.'s system is then compared with that of the Unitarians, and shewn to verge very much towards it (p. 133). And the author concludes with some very good remarks on the various species of error to which the opposite extremes of fanaticism lead.
Upon the whole, if no great novelty or originality of discussion is to be found in the development of these several topics of argument, that want is fully compensated in sound sense and cogent reasoning, employed in the maintenance and defence of pure, scriptural, and orthodox Christianity. With these remarks, we shall leave the former portion of this volume to the careful perusal of our readers; and proceed to the consideration of the second part, which we propose to view in conjunction with the other productions above mentioned, in reference to the same important subject.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity forms, as it were, the sun and the centre of the whole system of Christian truth; and being the most elevated of all mysteries, it has, on this account, been, more than any other doctrine, the subject of most presumptuous speculation to every self-conceited theoretic religionist. Those who have been deterred by the difficulties of laborious research on topics within the reach of human ability, have here boldly launched into the most adventurous depths of speculation, because the difficulties were too great to be appreciated by their narrow apprehensions. Hence, the multiplied discussion which has arisen, and the occasion which has been furnished to the champions of orthodoxy to enter the lists of arduous controversy, on this awful mystery of their faith. Fearfully, indeed, should even the advocates of the Catholic doctrine address themselves to such an inquiry; anxiously should they guard every step which they make in their laudable zeal for the defence of the truth, lest they be found over-stepping those bounds which the scriptures have fixed to check the extravagances of human opinion. The grand truth of a Trinity in the Unity of the Godhead appears to us to stand like some gigantic rock, vast in its magnitude and solidity, yet poised in such delicate equilibrium, that the slightest and often most unintentional touch may produce a declination from scriptural rectitude. Thus it is not without some solicitude, that we open the work even of a professed supporter of the orthodox faith.
Now, the defence of the Athanasian Creed is identified, in our judgment, with a defence of the doctrine itself of the Trinity; for, if we trace to their source the objections which have been made against the creed, we shall find them to originate for the most part in objections to the doctrine itself which it inculcates. It is sufficiently illustrative of this remark, that, with the increased currency of Socinianism, the attacks are revived against the particular formulary of this creed.
Several causes have concurred to bring the Athanasian Creed into peculiar discussion at the present day. The plan proposed by the late Duke of Grafton and Bishop Watson, [by the one as Chancellor, and the other as Divinity Professor of Cambridge,] for bringing in a bill to expunge this Creed from the PrayerBook, is well known. It appears that there is at present an unusually strong desire among the London Unitarians to revive this project. The anonymous author of a recent publication, entitled "Free Thoughts upon the Three Creeds," (referred to by Dr. Card, in his Sermon before us,) has expressed his earnest wish for bringing the plan forward; and another luminary of the sect has pronounced the present times peculiarly favourable for getting rid of “ this scholastic jargon and metaphysical non
The Unitarians at large, and their numerous allies the self-styled “ liberal” and “ rational” believers, are labouring to get up some sort of application to the Legislature to carry the project into execution. And when we consider the tendency of many sentiments and expressions which have of late dropped even from Members of Parliament who are reputed as the friends of religion, we cannot sit down quietly as if all were safe, when one of our bulwarks is thus assailed both from within and without.
The dislike of this creed among friends of the Established Church will be found attributable to th want of a due consideration of its nature and design. It was nothing else than mere ignorance which gave rise to the sarcastic sneers of Gibbon (alluded to by Dr. Miller) against “this famous creed, which so clearly expounds the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation;" as if it in the slightest degree pretended to give any such exposition. Nor can we consider it otherwise than one of those instances of mistake and want of consideration, from which even men of the highest ability are not always exempt, that an eminent prelate, in a work expressly intended as a manual for candidates for holy orders, should have unhappily described the “damnatory clauses” to be " unnecessary and presumptuous.” (See Bishop Tomline's Elements, Vol. II. p. 223.)
In reference to all such objections against this creed, it would be well if an admirable remark from one of our most eminent living divines were attended to. “ However lightly,” observes Bishop Van Mildert, “it may be regarded by persons of little discernment, or tinctured with false notions of liberality on religious subjects, it is, in truth, a composition, which, to those especially who are conversant with the history of opinions in former times, furnishes matter of admiration, from the extraordinary accuracy and precision with which it is framed, and by which the doctrine it contains is guarded on all sides against misinterpretation.” (Bampt. Lect. p. 275.) To oppose the various perversions of truth by early heretics was in fact its design, and not to offer explanations of what is, and ever must be, inexplicable. Yet this is the light in which the indolent and fastidious spirit of modern scepticism misapprehends the design of this and all other creeds. The objector is too blindly led by his own theory to give the subject a fair investigation; and too ignorant of the history of religious opinions to understand the import of the formulary he is criticising, Hence he sets it down for a mass of confusion and contradiction, or at best a presumptuous attempt to explain the mysteries of heaven. The right way to perceive the real intention of this creed, and to see the objections against it in their proper light, is obviously to take into account the state of opinions at the time when it was framed, and to examine the nature of those heresies which it was designed to oppose. The Sabellians confounded the persons. The Arians and Macedonians divided the subsistence, and denied the divinity of the Son and the Spirit. The Apollinarians denied the humanity of Christ; and a host of inferior sects distracted the truth into every sort of extravagance. Whilst the true and simple faith of the Church was thus being misrepresented, perverted, and refined away, by every species of sophistry and subtilty, what could be more reasonable and necessary, than that the watchful guardians of the truth should endeavour to preserve its integrity uncorrupt, by framing creeds and formularies more precise in proportion to the multiplication of error, and worded so as to oppose every particular innovation by a counter-statement. This is, in fact, exactly the light in which the various articles of the Athanasian Creed are to be viewed. There is in them no attempt whatever to explain what is incomprehensible, or to define what is incapable of definition, as some ignorantly suppose; but simply the imposition of a strong negative upon each opposing extravagance of heresy. Viewed in this light, the whole is plain and intelligible, and free from any possible charge of presumption; its very object being to repress presumptuous speculation. As heresy increased, and multiplied its arrogant subtilties upon the plain truths of scripture, it became necessary to meet it at every point with new articles, framed to oppose each of the peculiarities of error; and to make various affirmations of truth, not so much for the purpose of defining what men ought, as of excluding what they ought not, to believe.
In fact, we have long regarded the remark of Bishop Gastrell on this point, as one of peculiar force and excellence:---" A threefold distinction in the Godhead," says he, "consistent with the unity of God, is as plainly revealed in scripture as any other article of faith. Nor are those general abstracted terms we find in our creeds to be condemned as useless and perplexing niceties;