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than those propositions express the meaning, that there are three existences of whom the attributes of God may be predicated, and yet that there is only one existence of whom the attributes of God may be predicated. But this is not an incomprehensible mystery; it is plain nonsense.
It seems to me in one respect a most futile, and in another a most irreverent, sort of discussion, to inquire, what would be, or what ought to be, our state of mind, if such propositions were found in revelation; or had been taught us by any being performing miracles in evidence of his mission from God. It is a thing impossible, and not to be imagined. When we have once settled the real nature of those propositions, all controversy about their making a part of Christianity is at an end; unless, indeed, we urge this controversy, not as Christians, but as unbelievers.
The propositions, then, of which we speak, are altogether intelligible, and are not mysteries. It is only in violation of that fundamental rule of criticism, which continually prevents us from misunderstanding the words of other books in an irrational or absurd meaning, that any support has been found for them in the writings of the New Testament. These writings have been explained in a manner, in which if any other work were explained, we should think that its author was regarded by his expositor as destitute of common sense; unless we ascribed this character to the expositor himself. It may give us some idea of the extent to which the misinterpretation of the
Scriptures has been carried, and of the degree to which the religion of Christians has been corrupted, to recollect that the creed attributed to Athanasius, but which is in fact a spurious work of some unknown author, which Athanasius himself would have regarded with abhorrence, a creed which seems to have been formed in a delirium of folly, -was for ages the professed faith of the whole Western Church; and is still the professed faith of a great portion of Protestants.
I have said, "the professed faith"; for although the propositions which it embodies, considered in themselves, may have one or more distinct meanings, they have no meaning in the mind of him who proposes them as religious truths. The words cannot be understood in any sense which he will acknowledge to be what he intends to express. He may have obscure, unsettled, and irrational notions, which appear to him to answer in some sort to the proposition affirmed; but he can have no belief that really corresponds to it; for though men may, and often do, believe contradictory propositions which they have never compared together, yet no man can believe an obvious contradiction. While he is maintaining these propositions, he may, perhaps, hold a doctrine which might properly be expressed in different words; and which does not in fact differ from the doctrine of those to whom he fancies himself most opposed. But whatever he does in fact believe, that he may express distinctly and fully, in words which carry no contradiction upon their face. The
obscurity of the subject cannot be made a plea for the want of the utmost propriety and perspicuity of language; for it is not the subject which he is required to explain, but only his own belief concerning it. But what one man believes may be made perfectly intelligible to another of equal capacity and information.
ARCHBISHOP TILLOTSON said of the Athanasian creed, that he wished the Church of England" were well rid of it." * There are other parts of her service which it is even more desirable that church should be well rid of. Familiarity may reconcile us to what is most offensive. But let us imagine it as possible that one should be ignorant of the errors prevailing among Christians, and, at the same time, penetrated with just conceptions of the Divinity. With what inexpressible astonishment and horror would he listen for the first time to an assembly of Christian worshippers, thus addressing their God:
"By the mystery of thy holy incarnation, by thy holy nativity and circumcision, by thy baptism, fasting, and temptation,- Good Lord, deliver us.
"By thine agony and bloody sweat, by thy cross and passion, by thy precious death and burial, by thy glorious resurrection and ascension,
Good Lord, deliver us."
How many join in these petitions with an intelligent belief of the propositions implied in them?
* In a letter to Bishop Burnet, about a month before Tillotson's death. See Birch's Life of Tillotson.
I answer, Not one; for when understood, they cannot be believed. How many fancy that they believe them, having some obscure notions, which they think answer to what is intended? Certainly not a majority of those listeners who have at all exercised their reason upon the subject. But the doctrines implied are not doctrines of the Church of England alone. Other churches and sects are equally responsible for their promulgation. And what must we think of the public sanction thus given to such representations of God and Christianity? What, in the present state of the world, will be the effect upon the religious sentiments of men, if absurdities so revolting are presented to their minds as essential doctrines of our faith? If there be any honor due to God, if Christianity be not a mere vulgar superstition, if there be any worth in religion, if any respect is to be paid to that reason which God gave us when he formed us in his own likeness, if any concern is to be felt for man who has been insulted and degraded, it is a matter of the most serious importance, that this solemn mockery of all that is most venerable, and most essential to human happiness, should cease.
EXPLANATIONS OF PARTICULAR PASSAGES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, ADDUCED BY TRINITARIANS.
I WILL now proceed to examine the principal passages urged by Trinitarians. I do this, not chiefly for the purpose of showing that they do not support their doctrines, - that point, I trust, is already settled, but in order to assist those who may wish to attain a correct notion of their meaning, and particularly such as are familiar only with the Trinitarian application of them. Most of them present more or less difficulty to a modern reader; otherwise they could not, with any appearance of reason, have been perverted to the support of such doctrines; and one may reasonably desire to know how they are probably to be understood.
But it is to be remarked, that the case is the same with some of these as with many other passages in the New Testament. We may confidently reject a particular sense, as not having been intended by the speaker or writer, while, at the same time, we doubt whether we have ascertained his true meaning. Of different expositions we may sometimes hesitate which to prefer, or question whether any one be correct, though no other that seems preferable occur to us. In the study of ancient authors, we must often content ourselves with an approxima