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preceding reasonings, the controversy respecting the Trinitarian exposition of those passages is decided. Whatever may be their true sense, the Trinitarian exposition must be false.
But I will now recur to the essential character of the Trinitarian doctrines, for the purpose of showing, that, though there are words in the New Testament which, abstractly considered, will bear some one or other Trinitarian sense, yet that this sense can be ascribed to them only in violation of a fundamental principle of interpretation.
FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF INTERPRETATION VIOLATED BY TRINITARIAN EXPOSITORS.- - NO PROPOSITION CAN BE INCOMPREHENSIBLE, IN ITSELF CONSIDERED, FROM THE NATURE OF THE IDEAS EXPRESSED BY IT.
THE principle of interpretation to which I refer is so constantly present to the mind of every one, and is acted upon so unconsciously in reading all other books but the Scriptures, that, except in refer ence to them, it is scarcely necessary to announce it or advert to it. It has been already mentioned. In many cases, as I have said, we at once reject the literal meaning of words, and understand them as figurative, because if we did not do this they would convey some meaning which contradicts common sense; and it would be inconsistent with our notions of the writer to suppose him to intend such a meaning. Men's minds being constituted alike, so that, when a subject is clearly understood, what appears an absurdity to one will appear an absurdity to another, we do not ascribe an absurd meaning to the language of any writer, except upon the special consideration of some well-known peculiarity of belief, or defect or cloudiness of intellect. Yet a great part of all language diverted in any way from its literal sense will bear an ab
surd meaning, that is, admits of being so interpreted when the words alone are regarded.
We may take as instances of this the examples of the use of language quoted in the preceding section. But I will produce a few more passages, from which it may appear to those not familiar with the subject how absurd or false the literal meaning of language often is, and how instantly and unconsciously it is rejected upon the principle I have stated. I give them without comment, for none is required. My purpose is merely to call attention to a fact respecting the use of language, which, though frequently overlooked, must be acknowledged as soon as it is pointed out.
Speaking of the conciliatory measures toward the American colonies adopted by the Rockingham administration just before its dissolution, Mr. Burke says: "The question of the repeal [of the Stamp Act] was brought on by ministry in the committee of this house, in the very instant when it was known that more than one court negotiation was carrying on with the heads of the opposition. Everything upon every side was full of traps and mines. Earth below shook; heaven above menaced."
Speaking of the rapid increase of numbers in these colonies, he says: "Such is the strength with which population shoots in that part of the world, that, state the number as high as we will, whilst the dispute continues, the exaggeration
[Speech on American Taxation.]
Whilst we are discussing any given magnitude, they are grown to it."*
"A strong and habitually indulged imagination," says Foster, "has incantations to dissolve the rigid laws of time and distance, and to place a man in something so like the presence of his object, that he seems half to possess it; and it is hard, while occupying the verge of paradise, to be flung far back in order to find or make a path to it, with the slow and toilsome steps of reality."†
Remarking upon the responsibility of writers of fictitious narratives, in regard to the characters they delineate, the same author has the following passage: They create a new person; and in sending him into society, they can choose whether his example shall tend to improve or pervert the minds that will be compelled to admire him."‡
I will quote a few more sentences, from Young.§
"The death-bed of the just....
Is it his death-bed? No; it is his shrine:
"Shall we this moment gaze on God in man;
"A Christian dwells, like Uriel, in the sun."
Speaking of the beauty of the material world, as relative to our perceptions, and existing only so far as it is perceived by the eye of man:
[Speech on Conciliation with America.]
[Essay on the Application of the Epithet Romantic, Letter III.] [On the Aversion of Men of Taste to Evangelical Religion, Letter VIII.]
§ [Night Thoughts, II. 629; VII. 222, 1354; VI. 429.]
"But for the magic organ's powerful charm,
When Heaven makes him the soul of all he sees?"
Any person in his common reading may find numberless similar passages, of which we reject without hesitation the verbal meaning, simply because it is absurd or evidently false. But this principle has not been regarded in the interpretation of Scripture. The believer in transubstantiation contends that we are to understand verbally the declaration: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have not life within you."* The sect of the Antinomians would have us take to the letter the words of St. Paul, as rendered in the Common Version: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." And of the believers in the doctrine of Atonement, some contend, that, when the Apostle speaks of the church as being "purchased by the blood of Christ," or, as they would have it read, "by the blood of God," we are to regard the blood of the Son as being paid, as it were, to the .Father to deliver us from his wrath. All the errors connected with Christianity have appealed for support to such verbal misinterpretations of particular
[John vi. 53.]
† [Romans iv. 5.]