IT is not intended in the following pages to enter into any general view of so large a subject as Rationalism, nor to attempt any philosophical account of it; but, after defining it sufficiently for the purpose in hand, to direct attention to a very peculiar and subtle form of it existing covertly in the popular religion of this day. With this view two writers, not of our own Church, though of British origin, shall pass under review, Mr. Erskine and Mr. Jacob Abbott.
This is the first time that a discussion of (what may be called) a personal nature has appeared in these Tracts, which have been confined to the delineation and enforcement of principles and doctrines. However, in this case, while it was important to protest against certain views of the day, it was found that this could not be intelligibly done, without referring to the individuals who have inculcated them. Of these the two authors above mentioned seemed at once the most influential and the most original; and Mr. Abbott being a foreigner, and Mr. Erskine having written sixteen years since, there seemed a possibility of introducing their names without seriously encroaching on the province of a Review.
It will be my business first to explain what I mean by Rationalism, and then to illustrate the description given of it from the writings of the two authors in question.
§. 1--The Rationalistic and the Catholic Spirit compared together.
To Rationalize is to ask for reasons out of place; to ask improperly how we are to account for certain things, to be unwilling to believe them unless they can be accounted for, i. e. referred to something else as a cause, to some existing system as harmonizing with them or taking them up into itself. Again, since whatever is assigned as the reason for the original fact canvassed, admits in turn of a like question being raised about itself, unless it be ascertainable by the senses, and be the subject of personal experience, Rationalism is bound properly to pursue onward its course of investigation on this principle, and not to stop till it can directly or ultimately refer to self as a witness, whatever is offered to its acceptance. Thus it is characterised by two peculiarities; its love of systematizing, and its basing its system upon personal experience, on the evidence of sense. In both respects it stands opposed to what is commonly understood by the word Faith, or belief in Testimony; for which it deliberately substitutes System (or what is popularly called Reason,) and Sight.
I have said that to act the Rationalist is to be unduly set upon accounting for what is offered for our acceptance; unduly, for to seek reasons for what is told us, is natural and innocent in itself. When we are informed that this or that event has happened, we are not satisfied to take it as an isolated fact; we are inquisitive about it; we are prompted to refer it, if possible, to something we already know, to incorporate it into the connected family of truths or facts which we have already received. We like to ascertain its position relatively to other things, to view it in connexion with them, to reduce it to a place in the series of what is called cause and effect. There is no harm in all this, until we insist upon receiving this satisfaction as a necessary condition of believing what is presented for our acceptance, until we set up our existing system of knowledge as a legitimate test of the credibility of testimony, until we claim to be told the mode of reconciling alleged truths to other truths already known, the how they are, and why they are; and then we Rationalize.
When the rich lord in Samaria said, "Though God shall make windows in heaven, shall this thing be?" he rationalized, as professing his inability to discover how Elisha's prophecy was to be fulfilled, and thinking in this way to excuse his unbelief. When Naaman objected to bathe in Jordan, it was on the ground of his not seeing the means by which Jordan was to cure his leprosy above the rivers of Damascus. "How can these things be?" was the objection of Nicodemus to the doctrine of regeneration; and when the doctrine of the Holy Communion was first announced "the Jews strove among themselves," in answer to their Divine Informant, "saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" When St. Thomas doubted of our Lord's resurrection, though his reason for so doing is not given, it plainly lay in the astonishing, unaccountable nature of such an event. A like desire of judging for oneself is discernible in the original fall of man. Eve did not believe the Tempter, any more than God's word, till she perceived that "the fruit was good for food."
So again, when infidels ask, how prayer can really influence the course of God's providence, or how everlasting punishment consists with God's infinite mercy, they rationalize.
The same spirit shows itself in the restlessness of others to decide how the sun was stopped at Joshua's word, how the manna was provided, and the like; forgetting what our Saviour suggests to the Sadducees,--"the power of God."
Rationalism then in fact is a forgetfulness of God's power, disbelief of the existence of a First Cause sufficient to account for any events or facts, however marvellous or extraordinary, and a consequent measuring of the credibility of things, not by the power and other attributes of God, but by our own knowledge; a limiting the possible to the actual, and denying the indefinite range of God's operations beyond our means of apprehending them. Mr. Hume openly avows this principle, declaring it to be unphilosophical to suppose that Almighty God can do any thing, but what we see he does. And, though we may not profess it, we too often, it is to be feared, act upon it at the present day. Instead of looking out of ourselves, and trying to catch glimpses of God's workings, from any quarter,--throwing ourselves forward upon Him and waiting on Him, we sit at home bringing everything to ourselves, enthroning ourselves as the centre of all things, and refusing to believe any thing that does not force itself upon our minds as true. Our private judgment is made everything to us,--is contemplated, recognized, and referred to as the arbiter of all questions, and as independent of every thing external to us. Nothing is considered to have an existence except so far forth as our minds discern it. The notion of half views and partial knowledge, of guesses, surmises, hopes and fears, of truths faintly apprehended and not understood, of isolated facts in the great scheme of providence, in a word, of Mystery, is discarded. Hence a distinction is drawn between what is called Objective and Subjective Truth, and Religion is said to consist in a reception of the latter. By Objective Truth is meant the Religious System considered as existing in itself, external to this or that particular mind: by Subjective, is meant that which each mind receives in particular, and considers to be such. To believe in Objective Truth is to throw ourselves forward upon that which we have but partially mastered or made Subjective; to embrace, maintain, and use general propositions which are greater than our own capacity, as if we were contemplating what is real and independent of human judgment. Such a belief seems to the Rationalist superstitious and unmeaning, and he consequently confines faith to the province of Subjective Truth, or to the reception of doctrine, as, and so far as it is met and apprehended by the mind, which will be differently in different persons, in the shape Of orthodoxy in one, heterodoxy in another; that is, he professes to believe in that which he opines, and he avoids the apparent extravagance of such an avowal by maintaining that the moral trial involved in faith does not lie in the submission of the reason to external truths partially disclosed, but in that candid pursuit of truth which ensures the eventual adoption of that opinion on the subject, which is best for us, most natural according to the constitution of our minds, and so divinely intended. In short he owns that faith, viewed with reference to its objects, is nevermore than an opinion, and is pleasing to God, not as an active principle apprehending different doctrines, but as a result and fruit, and therefore an evidence of past diligence, independent inquiry, dispassionateness, and the like. Rationalism takes the words of Scripture as signs of Ideas; Faith, of Things or Realities.
For an illustration of Faith, considered as the reaching forth after and embracing what is beyond the mind or Objective, we may refer to St. Paul's description of it in the Ancient Saints; "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth;" or to St. Peter's; "Of which salvation the Prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them, did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, the glory that should follow; unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have evangelized you." Here the faith of the ancient Saints is described as employed, not on truths so far as mastered by the mind, but truths beyond it, and even to the end withheld from its clear apprehension.
On the other hand, if we would know to what a temper of mind the Rationalistic Theory of subjective Truth really tends, we may study the following passage from a popular review. It will be found to make use of the wonders of nature, not as "declaring the glory of God, and showing His handywork," but in order to exalt and deify the wisdom of man. Of the almost avowed infidelity contained in it, I do not speak.
"For the civil and political historian the past alone has existence, the present he rarely apprehends, the future never. To the historian of science it is permitted, however, to penetrate the depths of past and future with equal clearness and certainty; facts to come are to him as present, and not unfrequently more assured than facts which are past. Although this clear perception of causes and consequences characterizes the whole domain of physical science, and clothes the natural philosopher with powers denied to the political and moral inquirer, yet foreknowledge is eminently the privilege of the astronomer. Nature has raised the curtain of futurity, and displayed before him the succession of her decrees, so far as they affect the physical universe, for countless ages to come; and the revelations of which she has made him the instrument, are supported and verified by a never-ceasing train of predictions fulfilled. He [the astronomer] "shows us the things which will be hereafter;" not obscurely shadowed out in figures and in parables, as must necessarily be the case with other revelations, but attended with the most minute precision of time, place, and circumstance. He converts the hours as they roll into an ever-present miracle, in attestation of those laws which his Creator through him has unfolded; the sun cannot rise, the moon cannot wane, a star cannot twinkle in the firmament without bearing testimony to the truth of his [the astronomer's] prophetic records. It has pleased the "Lord and Governor" of the world, in his inscrutable wisdom, to baffle our inquiries into the nature and proximate cause of that wonderful faculty of intellect,-that image of his own essence which he has conferred upon us, &c. &c......But how nobly is the darkness which envelopes metaphysical inquiries compensated by the flood of light which is shed upon the physical creation! There all is harmony, and order, and majesty, and beauty. From the chaos of social and political phenomena exhibited in human records, phenomena unconnected to our imperfect vision by any discoverable law, a war of passions and prejudices governed by no apparent purpose, tending to no apparent end, and setting all intelligible order at defiance,-how soothing and yet how elevating it is to turn to the splendid spectacle which offers itself to the habitual contemplation of the astronomer! How favourable to the development of all the best and highest feelings of the soul are such objects! The only passion they inspire being the love of truth, and the chiefest pleasure of their votaries arising from excursions through the imposing scenery of the universe, scenery on a scale of grandeur and magnificence compared with which whatever we are accustomed to call sublimity on our planet, dwindles into ridiculous insignificancy. Most justly has it been said, that nature has implanted in our bosoms a craving after the discovery of truth, and assuredly that glorious instinct is never more irresistibly awakened than when our notice is directed to what is going on in the heavens, &c.
Here desire after Truth is considered as irreconcileable with acquiescence in doubt. Now if we do not believe in a First Cause, then indeed we know nothing except so far as we know it clearly, consistency and harmony being the necessary evidence of reality; and so we may reasonably regard doubt as an obstacle in the pursuit of Truth. But, on the other hand, if we assume the existence of an unseen Object of Faith, then we already possess the main truth, and may well be content even with half views as to His operations, for whatever we have is so much gain, and what we do not know does not in that case tend at all to invalidate what we do know.
A few words may be necessary to bring together what has been said. Rationalism then, viewed in its essential character, is a refusal to take for granted the existence of a First Cause, in religious inquiries, which it prosecutes as if commencing in utter ignorance on the subject. Hence it receives only so much as may be strictly drawn out to the satisfaction of the reason, advancing onwards in belief according to the range of the proof; it limits Truth to our comprehension of it, or subjects it to the mind, and admits it only so far as it is subjected. Hence again it considers faith to have reference to a thing or system, far more than to an agent, for an agent may be supposed as acting in unknown ways, whereas a system cannot be supposed to have existence beyond what is ascertained of it. Hence moreover it makes the credibility of any alleged truth to lie solely in its capability of coalescing and combining with what is already known.
Mr. Hume, as has been observed, avowed the principle of Rationalism in its extent of Atheism. The writers, I shall have to notice, have religious sensibilities, and are far less clearsighted. Yet even Mr. Erskine maintains or assumes that the main object of Christian faith is, not Almighty God, but a certain work or course of things which He has accomplished; as will be manifest to any reader either of His Essay on Internal Evidence, or on Faith. He says, for instance, in the latter of these works,
"I may understand many things which I do not believe: but I cannot believe any thing which I do not understand, unless it be something addressed merely to my senses, and not to my thinking faculty. A man may with great propriety say, I understand the Cartesian System of Vortices, though I do not believe in it. But it is absolutely impossible for him to believe in that system without knowing what it is. A man may believe in the ability of the maker of a system without understanding it; but he cannot believe in the system itself without understanding it. Now there is a meaning in the Gospel, and there is declared in it the system of God's dealings with men. This meaning, and this system, must be understood before we can believe the Gospel. We are not called on to believe the Bible merely that we may give a proof of our willingness to submit in all things to God's authority, but that we may be influenced by the objects of our belief, &c."
Every word of this extract tells in illustration of what has been drawn out above. And it is cited here merely in illustration; what judgment is to be formed of it shall be determined in its place. To resume the thread of our discussion.
We shall now perhaps be prepared to understand a very characteristic word, familiarly used by Mr. Erskine among others to designate his view of the Gospel dispensation. It is said to be a Manifestation, as if the system presented to us were such as we could trace and connect into one whole, complete and definite. Let me use this word "Manifestation," as a token of the philosophy under review; and let me contrast it with the word "Mystery" which on the other hand may be regarded as the badge or emblem of orthodoxy. Revelation considered as a Manifestation, is a doctrine variously received by various minds, but nothing more to each than that which it appears to be. Considered as a Mystery, it is a doctrine enunciated by inspiration, in human language, as the only possible medium of it, and suitably according to the capacity of language; a doctrine lying hid in language, to be received in that language from the first by every mind, whatever be its separate power of understanding; entered into more or less by this or that mind, as it may be; and admitting of being apprehended more and more perfectly according to the diligence of the person receiving it. It is one and the same, independent and real, of depth unfathomable, and illimitable in its extent.
This is a fit place to make some remarks on the Scripture sense of the word Mystery. It may seem a contradiction in terms to call Revelation a Mystery; but is not the book of the Revelation of St. John as great a mystery from beginning to end as the most abstruse doctrine the mind ever imagined? yet it is even called a revelation. How is this? The answer is simple. No revelation can be complete and systematic, from the weakness of the human intellect; so far as it is not such, it is mysterious. When nothing is revealed, nothing is known, and there is nothing to contemplate or marvel at; but when something is revealed and only something, for all cannot be, there are forthwith difficulties and perplexities. A Revelation is religious doctrine viewed on its illuminated side; a Mystery is the self-same doctrine viewed on the side unilluminated. Thus Religious Truth is neither light nor darkness, but both together; it is like the dim view of a country seen in the twilight, with forms half extricated from the darkness, with broken lines, and isolated masses. Revelation, in this way of considering it, is not a revealed system, 'but consists of a number of detached and incomplete truths belonging to a vast system unrevealed, of doctrines and injunctions mysteriously connected together, that is, connected by unknown media, and bearing upon unknown portions of the system. And in this sense we see the propriety of calling St. John's prophecies, though highly mysterious, yet a revelation.
And such seems to be the meaning of the word Mystery in Scripture, a point which is sometimes disputed. Campbell, in his work on the Gospels, maintains that the word means a secret, and that, whatever be the subject of it in the New Testament, it is always, when mentioned, associated with the notion of its being now revealed. Thus it is, in his view, a word belonging solely to the Law, which was a system of types and shadows, and is utterly foreign to the Gospel which has brought light instead of darkness. This sense might seem to be supported by our Lord's announcement, for instance, to His disciples that to them was given to know the mysteries of His kingdom; by His command to them at another time to speak abroad what they had heard from Him in secret. And St. Paul in like manner glories in the revelation of mysteries hid from the foundation of the world.
But the sense of Scripture will more truly be represented as follows. What was hidden altogether before Christ came could not be a Mystery; it became a Mystery then, for the first time, by being disclosed at all, at His coming. What had never been dreamed of by "righteous men," before Him, when revealed, as being unexpected, if for no other reason, would be strange and startling. And such unquestionably is the meaning of St. Paul, when he uses the word; for he applies it, not to what was passed and over, but what was the then state of the doctrine revealed. Thus in the 1 Cor. xv. 51, 52, "Behold I show you a Mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump." The resurrection and consequent spiritualizing of the human body, was not dreamed of by the philosophy of the world till Christ came, and, when revealed, was "mocked," as then first becoming a mystery. Reason was just where it was; and, as it could not discover it beforehand, so now it cannot account for it, or reconcile it to experience, or explain the manner of it: the utmost it does is by some faint analogies to show it is not inconceivable. Again, St. Paul, speaking of marriage, says, "This is a great Mystery, I mean, in its reference to Christ and the Church;" that is, the ordinance of marriage has an inward and spiritual meaning, contained in it and revealed through it, a certain bearing, undefined and therefore mysterious, towards the heavenly communion existing between Christ and the Church:--as if for persons to place themselves in that human relation, interested themselves in some secret way in the divine relation of which it is a figure. Again: "Great is the Mystery of piety, God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of Angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." 1 Tim. iii. 16. Now, is the revelation of these truths a Manifestation (as above explained) or a Mystery? Surely the great secret has, by being revealed, only got so far as to be a Mystery, nothing more; nor could become a Manifestation, (i. e. a system connected in its parts by the human mind,) without ceasing to be any thing great at all. It must ever be small and superficial, viewed only as received by man; and is vast only when considered as that external "truth into which each Christian may grow continually, and ever find fresh food for his soul. As to the unknown and marvellous system of things spoken of in the text just quoted, it is described again, in an almost parallel passage, as regards the subject, though differently worded, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of Angels, to the full concourse and assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the perfected just, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." xii. 22--24. In like manner when St. Paul speaks of the election of the Gentiles as a Mystery re-' vealed, the facts of the case show that it was still a Mystery, and therefore but revealed to be a Mystery, not a secret explained. We know that the Jews did stumble at it: why if it was clear and obvious to reason? Certainly it was still a Mystery to them. Will it be objected that it had been plainly predicted? Surely not. The calling indeed of the Gentiles had been predicted, but not their equal participation with the Jews in all the treasures of the covenant of grace, not the destruction of the Mosaic system. The prophets every where speak of the Jews as the head of the Gentiles; it was a new doctrine altogether (at least to the existing generation) that the election henceforth was to have no reference whatever to the Jews as a distinct people. It had hitherto been utterly hidden and unexpected; it emerged into a stumbling block, or Mystery, when the Gospel was preached, as on the other hand it became to all humble minds a marvel or mystery of mercy. Hence St. Paul speaks of the Mystery "which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men .... that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel."
In these remarks on the meaning of the word Mystery, some of the chief doctrines of the Gospel revelation have been enumerated; before entering, however, into the particular subjects to be discussed, it may be right briefly to enumerate the revealed doctrines according to the Catholic, that is the anti-rationalistic notion of them. They are these: the Holy Trinity; the Incarnation of the Eternal Son; His atonement and merits; the Church as the medium and instrument through which He operates on the world in the communication of them; the Sacraments, and Sacramentals, (as Bishop Taylor calls them,) as the principal channels through which His merits are applied to individuals; Regeneration, the Communion of Saints, the Resurrection of the body, consequent upon their administration; and lastly, our faith and works, as a condition of the available-ness and success of these divine appointments. Each of these doctrines is a Mystery; that is, each stands in a certain degree isolated from the rest, unsystematic, connected with the rest by unknown intermediate truths, and bearing upon subjects unknown. Thus the Atonement, why it was necessary, how it operates, is a Mystery; that is, the heavenly truth which is revealed, extends on each side of it into an unknown world. We see but the skirts of GOD'S glory in it. The virtue of the Holy Communion; how it conveys to us the body and blood of the Incarnate Son crucified, and how by partaking it body and soul are made spiritual. The Communion of Saints; in what sense they are knit together into one body of which Christ is the head. Good works; how they, and how prayers again, influence our eternal destiny. In like manner what our relation is to the innumerable company of Angels, some of whom, as we are told, minister to us; what to the dead in Christ, the spirits of the just perfected, who are ever joined to us in a heavenly communion; what bearing the Church has upon the fortunes of the world, or, it may be, the universe.
That there are some such mysterious bearings, not only the incomplete character of the Revelation, but even its documents assure us. For instance. The Christian dispensation was ordained, "to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." Eph. iii. 10. Such is its relation to the Angels. Again to lost spirits: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places." Eph. vi. 12. In like manner our Lord says, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against" the Church, Matt, xvi. 18. implying thereby a contest. Again in writing the following text, had not St. Paul thoughts in his mind, suggested by the unutterable sights of the third heaven, but to us unrevealed and unintelligible? "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us" (that is the Church,) "from the love of God, which is in CHRIST JESUS our LORD." Rom. viii. 38, 39.
The practical inference to be drawn from this view is, first, that we should be very reverent in dealing with revealed truth; next, that we should avoid all theorising and systematising as relates to it, which is pretty much what looking into the ark was under the Law: further, that we should be solicitous to hold it safely and entirely; moreover, that we should be zealous and pertinacious in guarding it; and lastly, which is implied in all these, that we should religiously adhere to the form of words and the ordinances under which it comes to us, through which it is revealed to us, and apart from which the revelation does not exist, there being nothing else given us by which to ascertain or enter into it.
Striking indeed is the contrast presented to this view of the Gospel, by the popular theology of the day! That theology is as follows;--that the Atonement is the chief doctrine of the Gospel;--again, that it is chiefly to be regarded, not as a wonder in heaven, and in its relation to the attributes of God and the unseen world, but in its experienced effects on our minds, in the change it effects where it is believed. On this, as on the horizontal line in a picture, all the portions of the Gospel system are placed and made to converge; as if it might fearlessly be used to regulate, adjust, correct, complete, every thing else. Thus, the doctrine of the Incarnation is viewed as necessary and important to the Gospel, because it gives sacredness to the Atonement; of the Trinity, because it includes the revelation, not only of the Redeemer, but also of the Sanctifier, by whose aid and influence the Gospel message is to be blessed to us. It follows that faith is nearly the whole of religion, for through it the message or Manifestation is received; on the other hand, the scientific language of Catholicism is disparaged, as having no tendency to enforce the operation of the revelation of the Atonement on our minds, and the Sacraments are limited to the office of representing, and promising, and impressing on us the promise of divine influences, in no measure of conveying them. Thus the Dispensation is practically identified with its Revelation or rather Manifestation. Not that the reality of the Atonement is formally denied, but it is cast in the back ground, except so far as it can be discovered to be influential, viz. to show GOD'S hatred of sin, the love of CHRIST and the like; and there is an evident tendency to consider it as a mere Manifestation of the love of CHRIST, to the denial of all real virtue in it as an expiation for sin; as if His death took place, merely to show His love for us, as a sign of GOD'S infinite mercy, to calm and assure us, without any real connexion existing between it and GOD'S forgiveness of our sins. And the dispensation thus being hewn and chiselled into an intelligible human system is represented, when thus mutilated, as affording a remarkable evidence of the truth of the Bible, an evidence level to the reason, and superseding the testimony of the Apostles. That is, according to the above observations, that Rationalism, or want of faith, which has first invented a spurious gospel, next looks complacently on its own offspring, and pronounces it to be the very image of that notion of the Divine Providence according to which it was originally modelled; a procedure, which, besides more serious objections, incurs the logical absurdity of arguing in a circle.
THIS is in fact pretty nearly Mr. Erskine's argument in his Internal Evidence: an author, concerning whom personally I have no wish to use one harsh word, not doubting that he is better than his own doctrine, and is only the organ, eloquent and ingenious, of unfolding a theory, which it has been his unhappiness to mistake for the Catholic faith revealed in the Gospel. Let us now turn to the Essay in question.
Mr. Erskine begins in the following words:
"There is a principle in our nature, which makes us dissatisfied with unexplained and unconnected facts; which leads us to theorize all the particulars of our knowledge, or to form in our minds some system of causes sufficient to explain or produce the effects which we see; and which teaches us to believe or disbelieve in the truth of any system which may be presented to us, just as it appears adequate or inadequate to afford that explanation of which we are in pursuit. We have an intuitive perception, that the appearances of nature are connected by the relation of cause and effect; and we have also an instinctive desire to classify and arrange the seemingly confused mass of facts with which we are surrounded, according to this distinguishing relationship." pp. 1, 2.
He then speaks of two processes of reasoning which the mind uses in searching after truth.
"When we are convinced of the real existence of a cause in nature, and when we find that a class of physical facts is explained by the supposition of this cause, and tallies exactly with its ordinary operation, we resist both reason and instinct when we resist the conviction that this class of facts does result from this cause." p. 2.
"There is another process of reasoning ... by which, instead of ascending from effects to a cause, we descend from a cause to effects. When we are once convinced of the existence of a cause, and are acquainted with its ordinary Diode of operation, we are prepared to give a certain degree of credit to a history of other effects attributed to it, provided we can trace the connexion between them." p. 3.
Presently he says,
"In [all] these processes of reasoning we have examples of conviction, upon an evidence which is, most strictly speaking, internal,--an evidence altogether independent of our confidence in the veracity of the narrator of the facts." p. 8.
Now, before explaining the precise argument he draws from the contents of Scripture, be it observed, that in these passages, he countenances the principle of "believing or disbelieving in the truth of any system which may be presented to us," according as it contains in it or not, a satisfactory adjustment of causes to effects, the question of testimony being altogether superseded. Accordingly he says a little further on of the Apostles; "Their system is true in the nature of things, even were they proved to be impostors." p. 17. And it will appear from other passages of his work, that he does not hesitate to receive the other alternative contained in the original proposition with which he opens it, viz. that that professed revelation is to be rejected, which implies a system of causes and effects incongruous in man's judgment with each other. To proceed:
His argument is as follows:--
"The first faint outline of Christianity" he says, "presents to us a view of GOD operating on the characters of men through a manifestation of His own character, in order that, by leading them to participate in some measure of His moral likeness, they may also in some measure participate of His happiness." p. 12.
"If the actions attributed to God, by any system of religion, be really such objects as, when present to the mind, do not stir the affections at all, that religion cannot influence the character, and is therefore utterly useless." p. 23.
"The object of Christianity is to bring the character of man into harmony with that of God." p. 49.
"The reasonableness of a religion seems to me to consist in there being a direct and natural connexion between a believing the doctrines which it inculcates, and a being formed by these to the character which it recommends. If the belief of the doctrines has no tendency to train the disciple in a more exact and more willing discharge of its moral obligations, there is evidently a very strong probability against the truth of that religion .....What is the history of another world to me, unless it have some intelligible relation to my duties or happiness?" p. 59.
Now in these passages there is, first, this great assumption, that the object of the Christian revelation is ascertainable by us. It is asserted that its object is "to bring the character of man into harmony with that of God." That this is an object, is plain from Scripture, but that it is the object is no where told us; no where is it represented as the object in such sense, that we may take it as a key or rule, whereby to arrange and harmonize the various parts of the revelation,--which is the use to which the author puts it. God's works look many ways; they have objects (to use that mere human word) innumerable; they are full of eyes before and behind, and like the cherubim in the Prophet's vision, advance forward to diverse points at once. But it is plainly unlawful and presumptuous to make one of those points, which happen to be revealed to us, the teloV eleiotaton of His providence, and to subject every thing else to it. It plainly savours of the Rationalism already condemned; for what is it but to resolve, that what is revealed to us, is and shall be a com-.plete system; to reject every thing but what is so complete; and to disallow the notion of revelation as a collection of fragments of a great scheme, the notion under which the most profound human philosophy is accustomed to regard it?
"Christianity," says Bishop Butler, "is a scheme quite beyond our comprehension. The moral government of GOD is exercised by gradually conducting things so in the course of His providence, that every one at length and upon the whole shall receive according to his deserts; and neither fraud nor violence, but truth and right, shall finally prevail. Christianity is a particular scheme under this general plan of providence, and a part of it, conducive to its completion, with regard to mankind; consisting itself also of various parts and a mysterious economy, which has been carrying on from the time the world came into its present wretched state, and is still carrying on for its recovery by a divine person, the Messiah, who is to 'gather together in one the children of GOD, that are scattered abroad,' and establish 'an everlasting kingdom, wherein dwelleth righteousness.' .... Parts likewise of this economy, are the miraculous system of the Holy Ghost, and His ordinary assistance as given to good men; the invisible government which Christ exercises over His Church and His future return to judge the world in righteousness, and completely re-establish the kingdom of GOD..... Now little, surely, need be said to show, that this system or scheme of things is but imperfectly comprehended by us. The Scripture expressly asserts it to be so. And indeed, one cannot read a passage relating to this great mystery of godliness, but what immediately runs up into something which, shows us our ignorance in it, as every thing in nature shows our ignorance in the constitution of nature." [Anal. ii. 4.]
In this passage the great philosopher, though led by his line of argument to speak of the Dispensation entirely in its reference to man, still declares that even then its object is not identical with man's happiness, but that it is justice and truth; while, viewed in itself, every part of it runs up into mystery.
Right reason, then, and faith combine to lead us, instead of measuring a divine revelation by human standards, or systematizing, except so far as it does so itself, to take what is given as we find it, to use it and be content. E. g. Scripture says that Christ died for sinners,--so far we may systematize; that He rose for our justification, that He went that the Spirit might come. Such and such like portions of a scheme are revealed, and we may use them, but no farther. On the other hand the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity is a mere juxtaposition of separate truths, which to our minds involve inconsistency, when viewed together; nothing more being attempted, for nothing more is told us. Arrange and contrast them we may and do; systematize (i.e. reduce them into an intelligible dependence on each other, or harmony with each other) we may not; unless indeed any such oversight of Revelation, such right of subjecting it to our understandings, is committed to us by Revelation itself. What then must be thought of the confident assumption, without proof attempted, contained in the following sentence, already quoted?
"The first faint outline of Christianity presents to us a view of GOD operating on the characters of men through a manifestation of His own character, in order that, by leading them to participate in some measure in His moral likeness, they may also in some measure participate in His happiness.
That GOD intends us to partake in His moral likeness, that He has revealed to us His own moral character, that He has done the latter in order to accomplish the former (to speak as a man) I will grant, for it is in Scripture; bat that it is the leading idea of Christianity, the chief and sovereign principle of it, this I altogether deny. I ask for proof what seems to us an assumption, and (if an assumption) surely an unwarranted and presumptuous one.
Notice was above taken of the selfishness of that philosophy, which resolves to sit at home and make every thing subordinate to the individual. Is not this painfully instanced in one of the foregoing passages? "What is the history of another world to me, unless it have some intelligible relation to my duties and happiness?" Was this Moses' temper, when he turned aside to see the great sight of the fiery bush?
Further, be it observed, the above theory has undeniably a tendency to disparage, if not supersede the mysteries of religion, such as the doctrine of the Trinity. It lays exclusive stress upon the character of GOD, as the substance of the Revelation. It considers Scripture as a Manifestation of GOD'S character, an intentional subjecting of it in an intelligible shape to our minds, and nothing more. The author says:--
"The reasonableness of a religion seems to me to consist in there being a direct and natural connexion between a believing [its] doctrines, and being formed by these to the character which it recommends."
"These terms ["manifestation," and "exhibition,"] suit best with the leading idea which I wish to explain, viz. that the facts [i. e. doctrines, as is just before explained] of revelation are developments of the moral principles of the Deity, and carry an influential address to the feelings of man." p. 26.
Now, is the theological doctrine of the Trinity such a development? Is it influentially addressed to our feelings? Is it "an act of the divine government," as the author expresses himself? Further, does he not also tell us the "reasonableness of a religion seems to consist in there being a direct and natural connexion between a believing the doctrines which it inculcates, and a being formed by these to the character which it recommends?" We need not dwell on the assumption hazarded in this passage; for surely it is conceivable that reasons may exist in the vast scheme of the Dispensation, (of the bearings of which we know nothing perfectly,) for doctrines being revealed, which do not directly and naturally tend to influence the formation of our characters, or at least which we cannot see to do so. We have at least the authority of Bishop Butler to support us in considering that,
"we are wholly ignorant what degree of new knowledge it were to be expect, ed God would give mankind by Revelation, upon supposition of His affording one; or how far, or in what way, he would interpose miraculously, to qualify them to whom He should originally make the Revelation, or communicating the knowledge given by it; and to secure their doing it to the age in which they should live, and to secure its being transmitted to posterity." [Anal. ii. 3.]
But even though Butler, and other deep thinkers, had not said a word on the subject, the immediate and inevitable result, or rather operation of Mr. Erskine's principle, when applied to the matter of the Scripture Revelation, is a sufficient refutation of it. It will be found to mean nothing, or to lead pretty nearly to Socinianism. Let us take an instance: he says that the reasonableness of a religion, and therefore its claim on our acceptance, consists in there being a direct and natural tendency in belief in its doctrines to form that moral character which it recommends. Now, I would ask,--do we never hear it asked,--have we never been tempted to ask ourselves,--"What is the harm of being e. g., a Sabellian?" And is not the habit of thought, from which such questionings proceed, owing to the silent influence of such books as this of Mr. E.'s? Further, do we not hear persons say, "As to the Athanasian doctrine, I do not deny there is a Mystery about the Manifestations of the Divine Nature in Scripture, but this Mystery, whatever it is, as it does not interfere with the practical view of the doctrine, so, on the other, it cannot subserve it. It is among the secret things of GOD, and must be left among them;"--as if we might unthankfully throw back again into the infinite abyss, any of the jewels which GOD has vouchsafed to bring us thence.
The reader may at first sight be tempted to say, "This is an overstrained handling of Mr. Erskine's words. What he does mean, is, not that the want of connexion between doctrine and precept is an objection, (though his words strictly taken may say this,) but, that where such a connexion does exist, as we see it does in Christianity, there is a strong argument in behalf of the divinity of a professed Revelation." Probably this was his original meaning, and it would have been well had he kept to it. But it is the way with men, particularly in this day, to generalize freely, to be impatient of such concrete truth as existing appointments contain, to attempt to disengage it, to hazard sweeping assertions, to lay down principles, to mount up above GOD'S visible doings, and to subject them to tests derived from our own speculations. Doubtless He, in some cases, vouchsafes to us the knowledge of truths more general than those works of His which He has set before us; and when He does so, let us thankfully use the gift. This is not the case in the present instance. Mr. E. has been led on, from the plain fact, that in Christianity there is a certain general bearing of faith in doctrine upon character, and so far a proof of its consistency, which is a token of divine working,--led on, to the general proposition, that "in a genuine Revelation all doctrines revealed must have a direct bearing upon the moral character enjoined by it;" and next to the use of it as a test for rejecting such alleged doctrines of the gospel, e. g. the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, as do not perceptibly come up to it.
That I am not unfair upon Mr. Erskine will appear from the following passages.
"The abstract fact that there is a plurality in the unity of the Godhead, really makes no address either to our understandings, or our feelings, or our consciences But the obscurity of the doctrine, as far as moral purposes are concerned, is dispelled, when it comes in such a form as this,--'GOD so loved the world, &c.' or this 'But the Comforter, which is, &c.'--Our metaphysical ignorance of the Divine Essence is not indeed in the slightest degree removed by this mode of stating the subject; but our moral ignorance of the Divine character is enlightened, and that is the thing with which we have to do." p. 96.
Now I do not say that such a passage as this is a denial of the doctrine of the Athanasian Creed; but I ask, should a man be disposed to deny it, how would the writer refute him? Has he not, if a Trinitarian, cut away the ground from under him? Might not a Socinian or Sabellian convince him of the truth of their doctrine, by his own arguments? Unquestionably. He has laid down the principle, that a Revelation is only so far reasonable as it exhibits a direct and natural connexion between belief in its doctrines and conformity to its precepts. He then says, that in matter of fact the doctrine of the Trinity is only influential as it exhibits the moral character of God; that is, that so far as it does not, so far as it is abstract (as he calls it) and in scientific form, i. e. viewed as the Catholic Doctrine, it is not influential, or reasonable, or by consequence important, or even credible. He has cut off the Doctrine from its roots, and has preserved only that superficial part of it which he denominates a "Manifestation,"--only so much as bears visibly upon another part of the system, the character of man,--so much as is perceptibly connected with it, so far as may be comprehended.
But he speaks so clearly on this subject that comment is perhaps needless.
"In the Bible the Christian doctrines . . . stand as indications of the character of GOD, and as the exciting motives of a corresponding character in man."
This assumption must not pass without notice; often they so stand, not always, as he would imply. When St. Paul bids Timothy hold fast the form of sound words, or St. Jude exhorts us to contend earnestly for the faith, these Apostles seem so to direct for the sake of the faith itself, not for any ulterior reason. When St. John requires us to reject any one who brings not the true doctrine, nothing is said of it as an "exciting motive" of a certain character of mind, though viewed on one side of it, that doctrine certainly is so. St. Paul glories in the doctrine of CHRIST crucified as being a strange doctrine and a stumbling block. St. John states the doctrine of the Incarnation in the first chapter of his gospel, as a heavenly truth, which was too glorious for men, and believed on only by the few, by which, indeed, the Father was declared, but which shone in darkness. But to return:
"In the Bible, the Christian doctrines are always stated in this connexion) they stand as indications of the character of GOD, and as the exciting motives of a corresponding character in man. Forming thus the connecting link between the character of the Creator and the creature, they possess a majesty which it is impossible to despise, and exhibit a form of consistency and truth which it is difficult to disbelieve. Such is Christianity in the Bible; but in creeds and Church articles it is far otherwise. These tests and summaries originated from the introduction of doctrinal errors and metaphysical speculations into religion; and in consequence of this, they are not so much intended to be the repositories of the truth, as barriers against the encroachment of erroneous opinions. The doctrines contained in them, therefore, are not stated with any reference to their great object in the Bible,--the regeneration of the human heart by the knowledge of the Divine character. They appear as detached propositions, indicating no moral cause, and pointing to no moral effect. They do not look to GOD on the one hand as their source; nor to man on the other as the object of their moral urgency. They appear like links severed from the chain to which they belonged; and thus they lose all that evidence which arises from their consistency and all that dignity which is connected with their high design. I do not talk of the propriety or impropriety of having Church Articles, but the evils which spring from receiving impressions of religion exclusively or chiefly from this source." pp. 93, 94.
It is always a point gained to be able to come to issue in a controversy, as I am able to do here with the writer under consideration. He finds fault with that disjoined and isolated character of the doctrines in the old Catholic creed, that want of system, which to the more philosophical mind of Bishop Butler would seem an especial recommendation from its analogy to the course of nature. He continues,
"I may instance the ordinary statements of the doctrine of the Trinity, as an illustration of what I mean. It seems difficult to conceive that any man should read through the New Testament candidly and attentively, without being convinced that this doctrine is essential to, and implied in every part of the system: but it is not so difficult to conceive, that although his mind is perfectly satisfied on this point, he may yet, if his religious knowledge is exclusively derived from the Bible, feel a little surprised and staggered, when he for the first time reads the terms in which it is announced in the articles and confessions of all Protestant Churches. In these summaries, the doctrine in question is stated by itself, divested of all its Scriptural accompaniments, and is made to bear simply on the nature of the Divine essence, and the Mysterious fact of the existence of Three in One. It is evident that this fact, taken by itself, cannot in the smallest degree tend to develope the Divine character, and therefore cannot make any moral impression on our minds." pp. 94, 95.
Now, here, if it were to the purpose, this author might be encountered on his own ground. Surely, if it were religious to do so, it might be asserted, in contradiction to his last remark, that the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity does "tend to develope the Divine character," does "make a moral impression on our minds;" for does not the notion of a Mystery lead to reverence, awe, wonder, and fear? and are these not moral impressions? He proceeds:
"In the Bible it assumes quite a different shape; it is there subservient to the manifestation of the moral character of GOD. The doctrine of GOD'S combined justice and mercy, in the redemption of sinners, and of his continued spiritual watchfulness over the progress of truth through the world, and in each particular heart, could not have been communicated without it, so as to have been distinctly and vividly apprehended; but it is never mentioned, except in connection with these objects; nor is it ever taught as a separate subject of belief. There is a great and important difference between these two modes of statement. In the first, the doctrine stands as an isolated fact of a strange and unintelligible nature, and is apt even to suggest the idea, that Christianity holds out a premium for believing improbabilities. In the other, it stands indissolubly united with an act of Divine holiness and compassion, which radiates to the heart an appeal of tenderness most intelligible in its nature and object, and most constraining in its influence." p. 95, 96.
Here, at length, Rationalism stands confessed, and we hear openly the "mouth speaking great things," described in prophecy. Again:
"The hallowed purpose of restoring men to the lost image of their Creator, is in fact the very soul and spirit of the Bible; and whenever this object does not distinctly appear, the whole system becomes dead and useless."
If so, what judgment are we to pass upon such texts as the following? "We are unto GOD a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other, the savour of life unto life." "What if GOD, willing to show His wrath and to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?" "He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom He hath ordained." "Behold I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be." The glory of GOD, according to Mr. Erskine, and the maintenance of truth and righteousness, are not objects sufficient, were there no other, to prevent "the whole system" of revealed truth from "becoming dead and useless." Does not this philosophy tend to Universalism? can its upholders maintain for any long while the eternity of future punishment? Surely they speak at random, and have no notion what they are saying. He proceeds:
"In Creeds and Confessions this great purpose is not made to stand forth with its real prominency; its intimate connexion with the different articles of faith is not adverted to; the point of the whole argument is thus lost, and Christianity is misapprehended to be a mere list of mysterious facts. One who understands the Bible may read them with profit, because his own mind may fill up the deficiencies, and when their statements are correct, they may assist inquiries in certain stages, by bringing under their eye a concentrated view of all the points of Christian doctrine; and they may serve, according to their contents, either as public invitations to their communion, or as public warnings against it; ... but they have not calculated to impress on the mind of a learner a vivid and useful apprehension of Christianity. Any person who draws his knowledge of the Christian doctrines, exclusively or principally from such sources, must run considerable risk of losing the benefit of them, by overlooking their moral objects; and, in so doing, he may be tempted to reject them altogether, because he will be blind to their strongest evidence, which consists in their perfect adaptation to these objects. The Bible is the only perfectly pure source of Divine knowledge, and the man who is unacquainted with it, is, in fact, ignorant of the doctrines of Christianity, however well read he may be in the schemes, and systems, and controversies, which have been written on the subject. .. The habit of viewing the Christian doctrine and the Christian character as two separate things has a most pernicious tendency. A man who in his scheme of Christianity, says, 'here are so many things to be believed, and here are so many things to be done,' has already made a fundamental mistake. The doctrines are the principles which must excite and animate the performance, &c." pp. 139--141.
It is not the design of this Paper to refute Mr. Erskine's principles, so much as to delineate and contrast them with those of the Church Catholic. Since, however, he has already, in several of these extracts, assumed that Scripture ever speaks of revealed doctrines in a directly practical way,--not as objects of faith merely, but as motives to conduct,--I would call attention to the following passage, in addition to those which have been above pointed out. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Marvel not that I said to thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto Him, Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that We do know, and testify that We have seen; and ye receive not Our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
Some persons, doubtless, are so imbued with modern glosses and the traditions of men, that they will discern in all this but a practical exhortation to conversion, change of heart, and the like; but any one who gets himself fairly to look at the passage in itself, will, I am persuaded, see nothing more or less than this,--that Christ enunciates a solemn Mystery for Nicodemus to receive in faith, that Nicodemus so understands His words, and hesitates at it; that our Lord reproves him for hesitating, tells him that there are even higher Mysteries than that He had set forth, and proceeds to instance that of the Incarnation. In what conceivable way would a supporter of Mr. E.'s views make the last awful verse "subservient to the manifestation of the moral character of GOD," or directly influential upon practice? unless, indeed, he explained its clauses away altogether, as if they meant nothing more than is contained in the next verses, "As Moses, &c." and "God so loved the world, &c." All this is too painful to dwell upon. The latter part, particularly the conclusion, of the sixth chapter of the same Gospel, would afford another instance in point.
Now let us hear what Mr. Erskine says in like manner on the doctrine of the Atonement, which he would exalt, indeed, into the substance of the Gospel, but in his account of which, as well as of the other Mysteries of revelation, he will, I fear, be found wanting.
"The doctrine of the Atonement through Jesus Christ, which is the corner-stone of Christianity, and to which all the other doctrines of Revelation are subservient,"--
Here is the same, (what I must call,) presumptuous assumption,--
"--has had to encounter the misapprehension of the understanding as well as the pride of the heart."
Now let us observe, he is going to show how the understanding of the Church Catholic has misapprehended the doctrine.
"This pride is natural to man, and can only be overcome by the power of truth; but the misapprehension might be removed by the simple process of reading the Bible with attention; because it has arisen from neglecting the record itself, and taking our information from the discourses or the systems of men, who have engrafted the metaphysical subtilties of the schools upon the unperplexed statement of the word of GOD. In order to understand the facts of Revelation, we must (sic) form a system to ourselves; but if any subtilty, of which the application is unintelligible to common sense, or, uninfluential on conduct, enters into our system, we may be sure that it is a wrong one."
The author here alludes to the Catholic teaching in the words "systems of man;" indeed it has been fashionable of late so to speak of it; but let me ask, which teaching has the more of system in it, that which regards the doctrines of revelation as isolated truths, so far as they are not connected in Scripture itself, or that which pares away part, and forcibly deals with the rest, till they are all brought down to an end cognizable by the human mind? It must be observed that the author expressly sanctions the formation of a system, which Catholic believers do not. He proceeds,
"The common-sense system of a religion consists in two connexions,--first the connexion between the doctrines and the character of God which they exhibit; and secondly, the connexion between these same doctrines and the character which they are intended to impress on the mind of man. When, therefore, we are considering a religious doctrine, our questions ought to be, first, What view does this doctrine give of the character of G OD in relation to sinners? And secondly, What influence is the belief of it calculated to exercise on the character of man? . . . . The first of these questions leads us to consider the Atonement as an act necessarily resulting from, and simply developing principles in the Divine mind, altogether independent of its effects on the hearts of those who are interested in it. The second leads us to consider the adaptation of the history of the Atonement, when believed, to the moral wants and capacities of the human mind. ..... There is something very striking and wonderful in this adaptation; and the deeper we search into it, the stronger reason shall we discover for admiration and gratitude, and the more thoroughly shall we be convinced that it is not a lucky coincidence, not an adjustment contrived by the precarious and temporizing wisdom of this world, but that it is stamped with the uncounterfeited seal of the universal Ruter, and carries on it the traces of that same mighty will, which has connected the sun with his planetary train, and fixed the great relations in nature, appointing to each atom its bound that it cannot pass." pp. 97--100.
These last remarks are true of course in their place; so far as we think we see an adaptation, even though Scripture does not expressly mention it, let us praise God and be thankful;--but it is one thing to trace humbly and thankfully what we surmise to be GOD'S handywork, and so far as we think we see it, and quite another thing to propound our surmises dogmatically, not only as true, but as the substance of the revelation, the test of what is important in it, and what not; nay, of what is really part of it, and what not. Presently he says as follows:--
"The doctrine of the Atonement is the great subject of Revelation. GOD is represented as delighting in it, as being glorified by it, and as being most fully manifested by it. All the other doctrines radiate from this as their centre. In subservience to it, the distinction in the unity of the Godhead has been revealed. It is described as the everlasting theme of praise and song amongst the blessed who surround the throne of GOD." pp. 101, 102.
Now that the doctrine of the Atonement is so essential a doctrine that none other is more so, (true as it is,) does not at all hinder other doctrines in their own place being so essential that they may not be moved one inch from it, or made to converge towards that doctrine ever so little, beyond the sanction of Scripture. There is surely a difference between being prominent and being paramount. To take the illustration of the human body: the brain is the noblest organ, but have not the heart, and the lungs their own essential rights (so to express myself,) their own independent claims upon the regard of the physician? Will not he be justly called a theorist who resolves all diseases into one, and refers general healthiness to one organ as its seat and cause?
One additional observation is to be made on Mr. Erskine's view of the Atonement. He considers, in common with many other writers of his general way of thinking, that in that most solemn and wonderful event, we have a Manifestation, not only of GOD'S love, but of His justice. E. g.
"The distinction of persons in the Divine nature we cannot comprehend, but we can easily comprehend the high and engaging morality of that character of GOD, which is developed in the history of the New Testament. GOD gave His equal and well-beloved Son, to suffer in the state of an apostate world: and through this exhibition of awful justice, He publishes the fullest and freest pardon. He thus teaches us, that it forms no part of His scheme of mercy to dissolve the eternal connexion between sin and misery. No; this connexion stands sure; and one of the chief objects of Divine Revelation, is to convince men of this Truth; and Justice does the work of mercy, when it alarms us to a sense of danger, &c." p. 74.
"The design of the Atonement was to make mercy towards this offcast race consistent with the honour and the holiness of the Divine Government. To accomplish this gracious purpose, the Eternal Word, who was God, took on himself the nature of man, and as the elder brother and representative and champion of the guilty family, he solemnly acknowledged the justice of the sentence pronounced against sin, and submitted Himself to its full weight of woe, in the stead of His adopted kindred. God's justice found rest here; His law was magnified and made honourable, &c." pp. 102, 103.
The view maintained in these and other extracts, and by others besides Mr. Erskine, is remarkable for several reasons. First, for the determination it evinces not to leave us any thing in the gospel system unknown, unaccounted for. One might have thought that here at least somewhat of awful Mystery would have been allowed to hang over it; here at least some "depth" of GOD'S counsels would have been acknowledged and accepted on faith. For though the death of Christ manifests GOD'S hatred of sin, as well as His love for man, (inasmuch as it was sin that made His death necessary, and the greater the sacrifice the greater must have been the evil that caused it,) yet how His death expiated our sins, and what satisfaction it was to GOD'S justice, are surely subjects quite above us. It is in no sense a great and glorious Manifestation of His justice, as men speak now-a-days; it is an event ever mysterious on account of its necessity, while it is fearful from the hatred of sin implied in it, and most transporting and elevating from its display of GOD'S love to man. But Rationalism would account for every thing.
Next it must be observed, as to Mr. Erskine himself, that he is of necessity forced by his hypothesis thus to speak of it, however extravagant it may be to do so. For unless GOD'S justice mere manifested to our comprehension in the Atonement, the dispensation would not be a "Manifestation," the revealed scheme would be imperfect, doctrines would be severed from ascertain-able moral effects on the character,--which the Catholic Church indeed has ever considered, but which Mr. E. pronounces in the outset to be contrary to reason, and fatal to the claims of a professed revelation.
An additional remark is in place. The difficulty here pointed out has been felt by writers who agree with Mr. Erskine, and they have contrived to get rid of the remaining Mystery of the Dispensation, resulting from the question of justice, as follows. They refer GOD'S justice to the well-being of His creation, as a final end, as if it might in fact be considered a modification of benevolence. Accordingly, they say GOD'S justice was satisfied by the Atonement, inasmuch as He could then pardon man consistently with the good of His creation; consistently with their salutary terror of His power and strictness; consistently with the due order of His Government. This should be carefully noted, as showing us the tendency of the Rationalistic principle under review towards Utilitarianism. The following passage is given in illustration, from the Essays of Mr. Scott of Aston Sandford.
"The story of Zaleucus, prince of the Locrians, is well-known: to show his abhorrence of adultery, and his determination to execute the law he had enacted, condemning the adulterer to the loss of both his eyes, and at the same time to evince his love to his son who had committed that crime, he willingly submitted to lose one of his own eyes, and ordered at the same time one of his sons to be put out! Now what adulterer could hope to escape, when power was vested in a man whom neither self-love, nor natural affection in its greatest force, could induce to dispense with the law, or relax the rigour of its sentence?" Essay ix.
True, this act would show intense energy of determination to uphold the existing laws, clearly enough; and so did Mucius Scaevola show intense energy in burning off his hand; but what is this to the question of justice?
One more subject of examination, and that not the least important, is suggested by the foregoing passages. Mention has been made in them once or twice of the facts of revelation; the doctrines are said to be facts, and such facts to be all in all. Now according to Catholic teaching, doctrines are divine truths, which are the objects of faith, not of sight; we may call them facts, if we will, so that we recollect that they are sometimes facts of the unseen world, not of this, and that they are not synonymous with actions or works. But Mr. E., by a remarkable assumption, rules it that doctrines are facts of the revealed divine governance, so that a doctrine is made the same as a divine action or work. As Providence has given us a series of moral facts by nature, as in the history of nations or of the individual, from which we deduce the doctrines of natural religion, so Scripture is supposed to reveal a second series of facts, or works, in the course of the three dispensations, especially the Christian, which are the doctrines of religion, or at least, which together with the principle involved in them, are the doctrines. Thus Christ's death upon the cross is an historical fact; the meaning of it is what illustrates and quickens it, and adapts it for influencing the soul. Now if we ask, how on this theory the doctrine of the Trinity is a fact in the divine governance, we are answered that it must be thrown into another shape, if I may so express myself; it must be made subordinate, and separated into parts. The series of Christian facts passes from the birth to the death of Christ, and thence to the mission of the Holy Ghost. We must view the divinity of Christ in His death, the divinity of the Spirit in His mission. That they are therein exhibited, I grant; but the theory requires us to consider this the scriptural mode of their exhibition. This theory is supposed by some of its upholders to be sanctioned by Butler; for they seem to argue, that as the course of nature is a collection of manifested facts, so is the course of grace. But that great divine knew better than to infer, from what he saw, what was to be expected in a Revelation, were it to be granted. He asserts plainly the contrary; his whole argument is merely negative, defending Christianity as far as nature enables him to do so,--not limiting the course of the revelation to the analogy of nature. Accordingly the Church Catholic has ever taught, (as in her Creeds,) that there are facts revealed to us, not of this world, not of time, but of eternity, and that absolutely and independently; not merely embodied and indirectly conveyed in a certain historical course, not subordinate to the display of the Divine character, not revealed merely relatively to us, but primary objects of our faith, and essential in themselves, whatever dependence or influence they may have upon other doctrines, or upon the course of the Dispensation. In a word, it has taught the existence of Mysteries in religion, for such emphatically must truths ever be which are external to this world, and existing in eternity;--whereas this narrow-minded, jejune, officious, and presumptuous human system teaches nothing but a Manifestation, i. e. a series of historical works conveying a representation of the moral character of GOD; and it dishonours our holy faith by the unmeaning reproach of its being metaphysical, abstract, and the like,--a reproach, unmeaning and irreverent, just as much so as it would be on the other hand to call the historical facts earthly or carnal.
I will quote some passages from Mr. E.'s work, to justify my account of his view, and then shall be able, at length, to take leave of him.
"It may be proper to remark, that the acts attributed to the Divine Government are usually termed 'doctrines,' to distinguish them from the moral precepts of a religion." p. 25.
Thus the doctrine of the Trinity, as such, is not a doctrine of the Gospel. Again:
"It is not enough to show, in proof of its authenticity, that the facts which it affirms concerning the dealings of GOD with His creatures, do exhibit His moral perfections in the highest degree, it must also be shown that these facts, when present to the mind of man, do naturally, according to the constitution of his being, tend to excite and suggest that combination of feelings which constitutes his moral perfection. But when we read a history which authoritatively claims, to be an exhibition of the character of GOD in His dealings with men; if we find in it that which fills and overflows our most dilated conceptions of moral worth, &c.; . . . and if our reason farther discovers a system ofpowerful moral stimulants, embodied in the facts of this history; .... if we discern that the spirit of this history gives peace to the conscience, &c.; .... we may then well believe that GOD has been pleased in pity, &c. . . to clothe the eternal laws which K:gulate His spiritual government, in such a form as may be palpable to our conceptions, and adapted to the urgency of our necessities." pp. 18. 19.
"I mean to show that there is an intelligible and necessary connection between the doctrinal facts of revelation and the character of God ..... and farther that the belief of these doctrinal facts has an intelligible and necessary tendency to produce the Christian character, &c." p. 20, 21.
"The object of this dissertation, is to analyse the component parts of the Christian scheme of doctrine, with reference to its bearings both on the character of GOD and on the character of man; and to demonstrate that its facts, not only present an expressive exhibition of all the moral qualities which can be conceived to reside in the divine mind, but also contain all those objects which have a natural tendency to excite and suggest in the human mind, that combination of moral feelings which has been termed moral perfection." p. 16.
"God has been pleased to present to us a most interesting series of actions, in which His moral character, as far as we are concerned, is fully and perspicuously embodied. In this narration, &c." p. 55.
"It [the Gospel] addresses the learned and the unlearned, the savage and the civilized, the decent and the profligate; and to all it speaks precisely the same language? What then is this universal language? It cannot be the language of metaphysical discussion, or what is called abstract moral reasoning......its argument consists in a relation of facts." p. 55.
Now that in these passages, the doctrines of the Gospel are resolved into facts which took place in GOD'S governance, and that its mysteries are admitted, only so far as they are qualities or illustrations of these historical facts, seems to me, not only the true, but the only interpretation to be put upon his words. If they do riot mean this, let this at least be proposed, as an approximation to the real meaning; in the meanwhile, let it be observed that nothing which has been said in the former portions of this discussion is at all affected by any failing, if so, in having fully elicited it.
HERE then we have arrived at a point where we part company with Mr. Erskine, and join Mr. Abbott, who advances further in a most perilous career. The principle with which Mr. E. began has been above discovered to issue in a view of the Gospel, which may be contemplated apart from that principle. That the human mind may criticise and systematise the divine revelation, that it may identify it with the Dispensation, that it may limit the uses of the latter to its workings through our own reason and affections, and such workings as we can ascertain and comprehend, in a word, that the Gospel is a Manifestation, this is the fundamental principle of Mr. Erskine's Essay. Mr. Jacob Abbott seems so fully to take this principle for granted, that it would be idle to do more than notice his doing so; it will he more to the purpose to direct attention to his treatment of the theory, in which Mr. Erskine's principle seems to issue, viz. that the Gospel is a collection of facts. I am now referring to Mr. Abbott's work called "the Corner Stone," which I do not hesitate to say approaches within a hair's breadth of Socinianism; a change which I would by no means urge against Mr. E., whatever be the tendency of his speculations.
In the work in question Mr. Abbott disclaims entering into theological questions, properly so called (Preface, p. vi.); nor is there any necessity for his entering into them, so that the line of discussion which he does take, does not intrude upon them or provoke them.
"I have made this exhibition of the Gospel," he says, "with reference to its moral effect on human hearts, and not for the purpose of taking sides in a controversy between different parties of Christians."
"A system of theology is a map or plan, in which every feature of the country roust be laid down in its proper place and proportion; this work is on the other hand a series of views, as the traveller sees them in passing over a certain road. In this case, the road which I have taken, leads indeed through the heart of the country, but it does not by any means bring to view all which is interesting or important. The reader will perceive that the history of JESUS CHRIST is the clue which I have endeavoured to follow; that is, the work is intended to exhibit religious truth, as it is connected with the various events in the life of our Saviour, in first introducing Him to the scene, I consider His exalted nature as the great moral Manifestation of the Divinity to us. Then follows a view of His personal character, and of His views of religious duty, &c." pp. vi. vii.
Let us observe here the similarity of language between the two writers I am speaking of. They are evidently of the same school. They both direct their view to the Gospel history as a Manifestation of the Divine Character; and though, in the above extracts, Mr. Abbott speaks more guardedly than Mr. Erskine, there will be found to be little or no practical difference between them. But there seems this most important distinction in their respective applications of their theory, though not very distinct or observable at first sight; that Mr. E. admits into the range of divine facts such as are not of this world, as the voluntary descent of Christ from heaven to earth, and his Incarnation, whereas Mr. A. virtually limits it to the witnessed history of Christ upon earth. This, so far as it exists, is all the difference between orthodoxy and Socinianism.
For this encroachment Mr. E. indeed had prepared the way; for he certainly throws the high doctrines of religion into the background; and the word "Manifestation" far more naturally fits on to a history witnessed by human beings, than to dispositions belonging to the unseen world. But Mr. E. certainly has not taught this explicitly.
If we wish to express the sacred Mystery of the Incarnation accurately, we should rather say that GOD is man, than that man is GOD. Not that the latter proposition is not altogether Catholic in its wording, but the former expresses the history of the Economy, (if I may so call it,) and confines our LORD'S personality to His divine nature, making His manhood an adjunct; whereas to say that man is GOD, does the contrary of both of these,--leads us to consider Him a man personally, with some vast and unknown dignity superadded, and that acquired of course after His coming into existence as man. The difference between these two modes of speaking is well illustrated in the recent work of a Socinian writer, whom on account of the truth and importance of his remarks, it is right, with whatever pain, to quote.
"A quick child, though not acquainted with logic, . . . will perceive the absurdity of saying that Edward is John. .... As the young pupil must be prepared to infer from the New Testament, that a perfect man is perfect GOD, he ..... must be imperceptibly led to consider the word GOD as expressing a quality, or an aggregate of qualities, which may be predicted of more than one, as the name of a species; just as when we say John is man, Peter is man, Andrew is man. .... And so it is, with the exception of a few who, in this country, are still acquainted with that ingeniously perverse system of words, by means of which the truly scholastic Trinitarians (such as Bishop Bull and Waterland, who had accurately studied the fathers and the schoolmen,) appear to evade the logical contradictions with which the doctrine of the Trinity abounds; all, as I have observed for many years, take the word GOD, in regard to Christ, as the name of a species, and more frequently of a dignity."--Heresy and Orthodoxy, p. 91.
It will be observed of this passage, that the writer implies that the orthodox mode of speaking of the Incarnation is not exposed to a certain consequence, to which the mode at present popular is exposed, viz. the tendency to explain away Christ's divinity. Man is GOD, is the popular mode of speech; GOD is man, is the Catholic. To return. It seems then that Mr. Erskine proceeds in the orthodox way, illustrating the doctrine that GOD became man; Mr. A. starting with the earthly existence of our LORD does but enlarge upon the doctrine that a man is GOD. Mr. Erskine enforces the Atonement, as a Manifestation of GOD'S moral character; Mr. A. the life of CHRIST with the same purpose,--with but slight reference to the doctrine of the Expiation, for of course he whose life began with his birth from Mary, had given up nothing, and died merely because other men die. Here then is something very like Socinianism at first sight.
But again, let us see how he conducts his argument. Here again he differs from Mr. E. The latter considers the incarnation of the Son of God to be a manifestation of God's mercy. Here then in his view, which so far is correct, there is a double Manifestation,--of the Sonof God personally in human nature, and of God morally in the history and circumstances of His incarnation; though Mr. E/s argument leads him to insist on the latter. Mr. A. assumes the latter as the sole Manifestation, thus bringing out the tendency of Mr. E.'s argument. In other words, he considers our Lord Jesus Christ as a man primarily, not indeed a mere man, any more than the conversion of the world was a mere human work, but not more than a man aided by God, just as the conversion of the world was a human work aided and blessed by God; a man in intimate union, nay in mysterious union with God, as Moses might be on the Mount, but not more than Moses except in degree. He considers that certain attributes of the Godhead were manifested in Jesus Christ, in the sense in which the solar system manifests His power, or the animal economy His wisdom; which is a poorly concealed Socinianism.--So this, it appears, is what really comes of declaiming against "metaphysical" notions of the revelation, and enlarging on its moral character!
That I may not be unfair to Mr. A., I proceed to cite his words:
"In the first place, let us take a survey of the visible universe, that we may see what manifestations of God appear in it. Let us imagine that we can see with the naked eye all that the telescope would show us; and then, in order that we may obtain an uninterrupted view, let us leave this earth, and, ascending from its surface, take a station where we can look, without obstruction, upon all around. As we rise above the summits of the loftiest mountains, the bright and verdant regions of the earth begin to grow dim. City after city, &c. As the last breath of its atmosphere draws off from us, it leaves us in the midst of universal night, with a sky extending without interruption all around us, and bringing out to our view, in every possible direction, innumerable and interminable vistas of stars......Our globe itself cuts off one half of the visible universe at all times, and the air spreads over us a deep canopy of blue, which during the day, shuts out entirely the other half. But were the field open, we should see in every direction the endless perspective of suns and stars, as I have described them ... The conception of childhood, and it is one which clings to us in maturer years, that above the blue sky there is a heaven concealed, where the Deity sits enthroned, is a delusive one. God is everywhere..... The deity is the All-pervading Power, which lives and acts throughout the whole. He is not a separate existence, having a special habitation in a part of it.... The striking and beautiful metaphors of the Bible never were intended to give us this idea. God is a Spirit, it says, in its most emphatic tone. A Spirit; that is, he has no form, no place, no throne. Where He acts, there only can we see Him. He is the wide-spread omnipresent power, which is every where employed, but which we can never see, and never know, except so far as He shall manifest Himself by His doings.
"If we thus succeed in obtaining just conceptions of the Deity, as the invisible and universal power, pervading all space, and existing in all time, we shall at once perceive that the only way by which He can make Himself known to His creatures, is by acting Himself out, as it were, in His works; and of course the nature of the Manifestation which is made will depend upon the nature of the works. In the structure of a solar system, with its blazing centre and revolving worlds, the Deity, invisible itself, acts out its mighty power, and the unerring perfection of its intellectual skill. At the same time, while it is carrying on these mighty movements, it is exercising, in a very different scene, its untiring industry, and unrivalled taste, in clothing a mighty forest with verdure, &c. &c..... And so everywhere this unseen and universal essence acts out its various attributes by its different works. We can learn its nature only by the character of the effects which spring from it ...
"This universal essence, then, must display to us its nature, by acting itself out in a thousand places, by such manifestations of itself as it wishes us to understand. Does God desire to impress us with the idea of His power? He darts the lightning, &c. &c. Does He wish to beam upon us in love? What can be more expressive than the sweet summer sunset, &c.....How can He make us acquainted with His benevolence and skill? Why, by acting them out in some mechanism which exhibits them. He may construct an eye or a hand for man, &c. How can He give us some conception of His intellectual powers? He can plan the motions of the planets, &c. &c....... But the great question, after all, is to come. It is the one to which we have meant that all we have been saying should ultimately tend. How can such a Being exhibit the moral principle by which His mighty energies are all controlled?" pp. 6--14.
It is impossible to do justice to one's feelings of distress and dismay on studying this passage,--to explain what one thinks of it, and why,--to convince a careless reader that one's language about it is not extravagant. Nor is it necessary perhaps, as it does not directly bear upon the subject before us,--to which I will hasten on. I interrupt the course of his exposition merely to put in a protest against the doctrine of it, which, to speak shortly and plainly, is pantheistic, and against the spirit of it, which breathes an irreverence approaching to blasphemy. Should the reader think the tone of this paragraph is out of keeping with the remarks as yet made, he will see in a little time that Mr. Abbott does not allow one to preserve that didactic or critical air, which is commonly appropriate to a discussion such as the present. To proceed, however, with our immediate subject, the author's views, not of natural, but revealed religion:--
"He is an unseen, universal power, utterly invisible to us, and imperceptible, except so far as He shall act out His attributes in what He does. How shall He act out moral principle? It is easy, by his material creation, to make any impression upon us, which material objects can make; but how shall He exhibit to us the moral beauty of justice and benevolence and mercy between man and man? . . . . He might declare His moral attributes as He might have declared His power; but if He would bring home to us the one as vividly and distinctly as the other, He must act out His moral principles by a moral manifestation, in a moral scene; and the great beauty of Christianity is, that it represents Him as doing so. He brings out the purity, and spotlessness, and moral glory of the Divinity, through the workings of a human mind, called into existence for this purpose, and stationed in a most conspicuous attitude among men. Thus the moral perfections of divinity show themselves to us in the only way by which, so far as we can see, it is possible directly to show them, by coming out in action, in the very field of human duty, by a mysterious union with a human intellect and human powers. It is God manifest in the flesh; the visible moral image of an all-pervading moral Deity, Himself for ever invisible." pp. 14, 15.
On this explanation of the Incarnation, now alas, not unpopular even in our own Church, viz. that "God manifest in the flesh" is "the visible moral image" of God, let us hear the judgment of one who was a Trinitarian, and has lately avowed Socinianism. He thus relates the change in his own religious profession:
"In my anxiety to avoid a separation from the Church by the deliberate surrender of my mind to my old Unitarian convictions, I took refuge in a modification of the Sabellian theory, and availed myself of the moral unity which I believe to exist between God the Father and Christ, joined to the consideration that Christ is called in the New Testament the Image of God, and addressed my prayers to God as appearing in that Image. I left nothing untried to cultivate and encourage this feeling by devotional means. Rut such efforts of mere feeling (and I confess with shame their frequency on my part for the sake of what seemed most religious) were always vain and fruitless. Sooner or later my reason has not only frustrated but punished them. In the last mentioned instance, the devout contrivance would not hear examination. Sabellianism is only Unitarianism disguised in words: and as for the worship of an image in its absence, the idea is most unsatisfactory. In this state, however, I passed five or six years; but the return to the clear and definite Unitarianism in which I had formerly been, was as easy as it was natural."--Heresy and Orthodoxy, p. viii.
This passage proves thus much, not that the philosophising in question leads to Socinianism, but that it is one under which Socinianism may lie hid, even from a man's own consciousness; and this is just the use I wish to make of it against Mr. Abbott. He ends as follows:
"The substance of the view, which I have been wishing to impress upon your minds, is, that we are to expect to see Him solely through the manifestations He makes of Himself in His works. We have seen in what way some of the traits of His character are displayed in the visible creation, and how at last He determined to manifest His moral character, by bringing it into action through the medium of a human soul. The plan was carrier! into effect, and the mysterious person thus formed appears for the first time to our view in the extraordinary boy, &c." pp. 15, 16.
In these passages it seems to be clearly maintained that our Lord is a Manifestation of God in precisely that way in which His creatures are, though in a different respect, viz. as regards His moral attributes,--a Manifestation, not having any thing in it essentially peculiar and incommunicable, and therefore "a Manifestation" as he in one passage expresses himself, not the Manifestation of the Father.
Further he expressly disclaims any opinion concerning the essential and superhuman relation, or (as he calls it) the "metaphysical" relation of the Son to the Father, in a passage which involves a slight upon other doctrines of a most important, though not of such a sacred character.
"Another source of endless and fruitless discussion, is disputing about questions which can be of no practical consequence, however they may be decided; such as the origin of sin,"
does this mean original sin?
"the state of the soul between death and the resurrection, the salvation of infants."
is it possible he should thus talk!
"The precise metaphysical relationship of the Son to the Father." p. 323
Why called metaphysical, I do not understand, but we have been already introduced to this word by Mr. Erskine, whose original fallacy also, be it observed, is faithfully preserved in this passage;--"questions which can be of no practical consequence," as if we have any warrant thus to limit, or to decide upon, the gracious revelations of God. He continues,
"We have said they are of no practical consequence; of course an ingenious reason can contrive to connect practical consequences with any subject whatever, and in his zeal he will exaggerate the importance of the connexion;"
I interrupt the reader, to remind him that the subjects spoken of in this careless self-satisfied way, are those which from the first have been preserved in Creeds and Confessions as the most necessary, most solemn truths;--
"in fact every subject in the moral world is more or less connected with every other one; nothing stands out entirely detached and isolated, and consequently a question which its arguers will admit to be merely a theoretical one, will never be found." p. 32, 4.
But if so, who shall draw the line between truths practical and theoretical? Shall we trust the work to such as Mr. A.? Surely this passage refutes his own doctrine. We also say that there are no two subjects in religion but may be connected by our minds, and therefore, for what we know, perchance are connected in fact. All we maintain in addition, is, that evidence of the fact of that connexion is not necessary for the proof of their importance to us, and further, that we have no right to pronounce that they are revealed merely with a view to their importance to us.
He disposes of the Catholic doctrine of Christ's eternal Son-ship by calling it metaphysical: how he escapes from the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation we have already seen,--he resolves it into a moral Manifestation of God in the person of Christ. But his view requires a few more words of explanation. First he speaks of God in pantheistic language, as an Anima Mundi, or universal essence, who has no known existence except in His works, as an all-pervading power or principle not external to the created world, but in it, and developed through it. He goes on to say that Almighty God, who is thus illimitable and incomprehensible, is exhibited in personal attributes in Christ, as if all the laws and provisions in which He energizes in nature impersonally, were condensed and exemplified in a real personal being. Hence he calls our Lord by a strange term, the personification of God, i. e. (I suppose) the personal image, or the manifestation in a person. In other words God, whose person is unknown in nature, in spite of His works, is revealed in Christ, who is the express image of His person; and just in this, and (as I conceive) nothing more, would he conceive there was a difference between the manifestation of God in Christ and the Manifestation of Him in a plant or flower. Christ is a personal Manifestation. Whether there be any elements of truth in this theory, I do not concern myself to decide; thus much is evident, that he so applies it as utterly to explain away the real divinity of our Lord. The passages are as follow:--
"It is by Jesus Christ that we have access to the Father. This vivid exhibition of His character, this personification of His moral attributes, opens to us the way. Here we see a manifestation of divinity, an image of the Invisible God, which comes as it were down to us; it meets our feeble faculties with a personification," &c. p. 40.
"We accordingly commenced with His childhood, and were led at once into a train of reflection on the nature and the character of that eternal and invisible essence, whose attributes were personified in Him." p. 192.
"The human mind . . . reaches forward for some vision of the Divinity, the great unseen and inconceivable essence. Jesus Christ is the personification of the divinity for us, the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person." p. 200.
Next, as to his opinions concerning the doctrine of the Atonement. I will not deny that some of his general expressions are correct, and taken by themselves, would be satisfactory; but they are invalidated altogether by what he has at other times advanced. It may be recollected that Mr. E., in his treatise on Internal Evidence, lays such a stress upon the use of the Atonement as a Manifestation, as to throw the real doctrine itself into the shade.
Viewed in itself, Christ's death is, we believe, a sacrifice acting in some unknown way for the expiation of human sin; but Mr. E. views it, (as indeed it may well be viewed, but exclusively as it should not be viewed,) as a mark and pledge of God's love to us, which it would be, though it were not an Expiation. Even though Christ's incarnation issued in nothing more than His preaching to the world and sealing His doctrine with His blood, it would be a great sign of His love, and a pledge now of our receiving blessings through Him; for why should He die except He meant to be merciful to us? but this would not involve the necessity of an expiation. St. Paul died for the Church, and showed his love for it in this sense. When then the view of the Christian is limited, as Mr. E. would almost wish it to be, to the Manifestation of the Atonement, or the effect of the Atonement on our minds, no higher doctrine is of necessity elicited than that of its being a sign of God's mercy, as the rainbow might be, and a way is laid, by obscuring, to obliterate the true doctrine concerning it. So far Mr. E. proceeds, not denying it (far from it) but putting it aside in his philosophical evidence: Mr. A., upon the very same basis, is bolder in his language, and almost, if not altogether gets rid of it.
In the following passage he applies Mr. Erskine's doctrine of the moral lesson, taught in Christ's death, of the justice and mercy of God; and he will be found distinctly to assert that the virtue of it lay in this, viz. that it was a declaration of God's hatred of sin, the same in kind as the punishment of the sinner would have been, only more perfect, a means of impressing on us His hatred of sin; not as if it really reconciled us to an offended Creator.
"The balm for your wounded spirit is this, that the moral impression in respect to the nature and tendencies of sin, which is the only possible reason God can have in leaving you to suffer its penalties,"
one should think the reason might be that "the wages of sin is death,"
"is accomplished far better by the life and death of His Son;--"
surely it is a greater balm to know that Christ has put away the wrath of God, as Scripture says, than to theorize about "moral impressions" beyond the word of Scripture. Observe too he says "the life and death," excluding the proper idea of Atonement, which lies in the death of Christ, and so tending to resolve it into a Manifestation.
"God never could have wished to punish you for the sake of doing evil;"
how unspeakably bold; when God says he does punish the sinner, not indeed for the sake of evil, but as a just and holy God!
"and all the good which He could have accomplished by it, is already effected in another and a better way." p. 179
Here is the same assumption which was just now instanced from the writings of Mr. Scott, of Aston Sandford, that God cannot inflict punishment except for the sake of a greater good, or, (as Mr. A. himself has expressed it just before) "because the welfare of His government requires" it, which is an altogether gratuitous statement.
"A knowledge of the death of Christ, with the explanation of it given in the Scriptures, touches men's hearts, it shows the nature and tendencies of sin, it produces fear of God's displeasure, and resolution to return to duty; and thus produces effects by which justice is satisfied,"--
observe, not by an expiation, but by the repentance of the offender in consequence of the "moral impression" attendant on the "Manifestation" of Christ's death,--
"and the authority of the law sustained far better in fact, than it would be by the severest punishment of the guilty sinner." p. 174.
"Look at the moral effect of this great sacrifice, and feel that it takes off all the necessity of punishment, and all the burden of your guilt." p. 190.
The necessity of punishment is (according to Mr. A.) the well being of the Universe: and the virtue of the great sacrifice is, not expiation, atonement in God's sight, but the moral effect of Christ's death on those who believe in it. So again, in a passage lately quoted for another purpose:
"It is by Jesus Christ that we have access to the Father. This vivid exhibition of His character, this personification of His moral attributes, opens to us the way." p. 40.
Lastly, we have the same stress laid upon the facts of the Gospel as in Mr. Erskine's work, with this difference, that Mr. Erskine supposes the orthodox doctrine, or what he considers such, to be conveyed in the facts; Mr. Abbott, with the liberalism to which his predecessor leads, but which is more characteristic of this day than of fifteen years ago, seems to think that various theories may be raised about the facts, whether orthodox or otherwise, but that the facts alone are of consequence to us.
"Such are the three great Manifestations of Himself to man, which the one Unseen All-pervading Essence has made, and exhibited to us in the Bible, and in our own experience and observation,"--
--This sentence, be it observed in passing, savours strongly of Sabellianism; he has spoken of what he calls three Manifestations of Almighty God, as our natural Governor, as influencing the heart, and as in Jesus Christ, without there being any thing in his way of speaking to show, that he attributed these Manifestations respectively to Three Persons. He proceeds:
"Though there have been interminable disputes in the Christian Church about the language which has been employed to describe these facts, there has been comparatively little dispute among even nominal Christians about the facts themselves." p. 39.
Such is the theology to which Mr. E.'s principle is found to lead in the bands of Mr. Abbott; a theology, (so to name it,) which violently robs the Christian Creed of all it contains, except those outward historical facts through which its divine truths were fulfilled and revealed to man.
This brief explanation of Mr. Abbott's theological system may be fitly followed up by some specimens of the temper and tone of his religions sentiments. In this way we shall be able to ascertain the state of mind which such speculations presuppose and foster.
"Jesus Christ had a taste for beauty, both of nature and art; He admired the magnificent architecture of the Temple, and deeply lamented the necessity of its overthrow, and his dress was at least of such a character, that the disposal of it was a subject of importance to the well paid soldiers who crucified him." P. 50, 51.
I put aside the utter unreasonableness of this last remark; but let us think seriously, is CHRIST GOD, or is He not? if so, can we dare talk of Him as having "a taste for nature?" It is true Mr. A. does speak in this way of the Almighty Father also; so that it may be said rather to prove that He has a grovelling conception of GOD than of CHRIST. Perhaps it will be more truly said that his irreverence towards the Saviour, has led on to the other more direct profaneness. Yet a "taste for beauty of art.'" This of the Eternal Son of GOD, the Creator; will it be said that He is man also? true;--but His personality is in His Godhead, if I may express myself in theological language. He did not undo what He was before, He did not cease to be the Infinite GOD, but He added to Him the substance of a man, and thus participated in human thoughts and feelings, yet without impairing (God forbid) His divine perfection. The Incarnation was not "a conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but a taking of the manhood into GOD." It seems there is need of the Athanasian creed in these dangerous times. A mystery, indeed, results from this view, for certain attributes of Divinity and of manhood seem incompatible; and there may be some revealed instances in our Lord's history on earth of less than divine thought and operation: but because of all this we never must speak, we have utterly no warrant to speak, of the Person of the Eternal Word as thinking and feeling like a mere man, like a child, or a boy, as simply ignorant, imperfect, and dependent on the creature, which is Mr. A.'s way. In saying this, I am quite aware that the sensitiveness of a Christian mind will at once, without argument, shrink from a passage such as that commented on, but I say it by way of accounting for its aversion, which, perhaps, it may not be able to justify to others. To proceed:--
"Jesus Christ was in some respects the most bold, energetic, decided, and courageous man that ever lived; but in others he was the most flexible, submissive, and yielding." p. 51.
The Son of God made flesh, though a man, is beyond comparison with other men; His person is not human; but to say "most of all men" is to compare.
"There never was a mission, or an enterprise of any kind, conducted with a more bold, energetic, fearless spirit, than the Saviour's mission." p. 52.
This sentence may not seem objectionable to many people, and as it is similar to many others in the work, it may be right to remark upon it. The truth is, we have got into a way of, what may be called, panegyrizing our Lord's conduct, from our familiarity with treatises on External Evidence. It has been the fashion of the day to speak as to unbelievers, and, therefore, to level the sacred history to the rank of a human record, by way of argument. Hence we have learned to view the truth merely externally, i. e. as an unbeliever would view it; and so to view and treat it even when we are not arguing; which involves, of course, an habitual disrespect towards what we hold to be divine, and ought to treat as such. This will in part account for the tone in which the history of the Jews is sometimes set forth. And it is remarkably illustrated in the work before us, which though pointedly addressed only to those, who "have confessed their sins and asked forgiveness," who "strive against temptation, and seek help from above," (vid. p. l.) yet is continually wandering into the external view of CHRIST'S conduct, and assumes in a didactic treatise, what is only accidentally allowable in controversy.
"There is something very bold and energetic in the measures He adopted in accomplishing His work.... In fact, there perhaps never was so great a moral effect produced in three years, on any community so extensive, if we consider at all the disadvantages incident to the customs of those days. There was no press, no modes of extensive written communication, no regularly organized channels of intercourse whatever between the different portions of the community. He acted under every disadvantage." p. 53, 54.
Under no disadvantage, if He were GOD. But this is only part of one great error under which this writer lies. "There was no press!" What notions he has concerning the nature, the strength, and the propagation of moral truth!
"He sought solitude, He shrunk from observation; in fact, almost the only enjoyment which he seemed really to love, was His lonely ramble at midnight, for rest and prayer.... It is not surprising, that after the heated crowds and exhausting labours of the day, He should love to retire to silence and seclusion, to enjoy the cool and balmy air, the refreshing stillness, and all the beauties and glories of midnight among the solitudes of the Galilean hills, to find there happy communion with his Father, &c." p. 55.
The more ordinary and common-place, the more like vulgar life, the more carnal the history of the Eternal Son of GOD is made, the more does this writer exult, in it. He exults in sinking the higher notion of Christ, and in making the flesh the hgemonikon of a Divine Essence. Even a prophet or apostle might be conceived to subdue the innocent enjoyments of His lower nature to the sovereignty of faith, and enjoy this world as an emblem and instrument of the unseen. But it is the triumph of Rationalism to level every thing to the lowest and most tangible form into which it can be cast, and to view the Saviour Himself, not in His mysterious greatness, acting by means of human nature, and ministered unto by Angels in it, but as what I dare not draw out, lest profane words be necessary,--as akin to those lower natures which have but an animal existence.
"Another thing which exhibits the boldness and enterprise that characterized his plans for making an impression on the community, was the peculiarly new and original style of public speaking He adopted." p. 55.
"This then is the key to the character of JESUS CHRIST in respect to spirit and decision." p. 57.
"For the real sublimity of courage, the spectacle of this deserted and defenceless sufferer coming at midnight to meet the betrayer and his band, far exceeds that of Napoleon urging on his columns over the bridge of Lodi, or even that of Regulus returning to his chains." p. 59, 60.
One seems to incur some ceremonial pollution by repeating such miserable words.
"He evidently observed, and enjoyed nature. There are many allusions to His solitary walks in the fields, and on the mountains, and by the sea side, but the greatest evidence of His love for nature is to he seen in the manner in which He speaks of its beauties. A man's metaphors are drawn from the sources with which he is most familiar, or which interest him most." p. 60.
"We learn in the same manner how distinct were the impressions of beauty or sublimity, which the works of nature made upon the Saviour, by the manner in which He alluded to them ... Look at the lilies of the field, says He.. . . A cold heartless man, without taste or sensibility, would not have said such a thing as that. He could not; and we may be as sure, that JESUS CHRIST had stopped to examine and admire the grace and beauty of the plant, &c." p. 61, 62.
"Now JESUS CHRIST noticed these things. He perceived their beauty and enjoyed it." p. 62.
Surely such passages as these are direct evidence of Socinianism. Does any one feel curiosity, or wonder, does any one search and examine, in the case of things fully known to Him? Could the Creator of nature "stop to examine" and "enjoy the grace and beauty" of His own work? Were indeed this said of Him, we should say, "Here is one of the Mysteries which attend on the Incarnation," but since we cannot suspect such writers as Mr. A. of inventing a Mystery for the sake of it, we must take it evidence of a carnal and Socinian view of the Saviour of mankind.
"He observed every thing, and His imagination was stored with an inexhaustible supply of images, drawn from every source, and with these He illustrated and enforced His principles in a manner altogether unparalleled by any writings, sacred or profane." p. 63.
So this is the ashes to be given as children's meat, to those who "confess" and repent, and try to know GOD'S will in the Gospel.
"Even His disciples, till they came to see Him die, had no conception of His love. They learned it at last, however. They saw Him suffer and die; and inspiration from above explained to them something about the influence of His death. They enjoyed its benefits long before."--
All this is presumptuous and unsatisfactory, but let it pass.
"It is hard to tell which touches our gratitude most sensibly; the ardent love which led Him to do what He did, or the delicacy with which He refrained from speaking of it, to those who were to reap its fruits." p. 94.
that is, the delicacy towards sinners of an injured Creator, coming to atone in some mysterious way by His own sufferings for their sins in the sight of GOD and His Father.
"There is in fact no moral or spiritual safety without these feelings, and our Saviour knew this full well.'' p. 204.
"Jesus Christ understood human nature better.... He was wiser than the builders of the pyramids... .The Saviour did the work, and did it better, by a few parting words." p. 217.
Such are the feelings which this writer ventures to express concerning Him, who is his Lord and his God. In condemning, however, his most unclean and miserable imaginings, I have neither wish nor occasion to speak against him as an individual. We have no concern with him. We know nothing of his opportunities of knowing better, nor how far what appears in his writings is an index of his mind. We need only consider him as the organ, involuntary (if you will) or unwitting, but still the organ, of the spirit of the age, the voice of that scornful, arrogant, and self-trusting spirit, which has been unchained during these latter ages, and waxes stronger in power day by day, till it is fain to stamp under foot all the host of heaven. This spirit we may steadily contemplate to our great edification; but to do more than denounce it as such, to judge or revile its instruments, would involve another sin besides uncharitableness. For surely, this is a spirit which has tempted others besides those who have yielded to its influences; and like an infection of the air, it has perchance ere now, in some degree, not perhaps as regards the high doctrines of the gospel, but in some way or other, breathed upon those, who, at the present crisis of things, feel themselves called upon solemnly to resist it. The books of the day are so full of its evil doctrine in a modified shape, if not in its grosser forms, the principles (I may say,) of the nation are so instinct with it or based in it, that the best perhaps that can be said of any of us, or at most of all but a few, is that they have escaped from it, "so as by fire," and that the loudness of their warning is but a consequence of past danger, terror, and flight.
I view the works, then, of this writer, whether in their publication, or in their general reception, as signs of the religious temper of this Age. What shall be said of the praise that has been lavished on them? the popularity they have acquired? Granting that there are many things in them, from which a religious mind may gain something (for no one accuses Mr. A. of being deficient in quickness and intelligence, and he evidently has had opportunities of studying human nature, whatever success has attended him in it,--and it must be confessed that his first work published here was of a less objectionable character, and might well interest at first sight those who "thought no evil"), but, allowing all this, yet it may be fairly asked, is the book from which I have cited, one which can come very near to Christian minds without revolting them? How is it then that so many men professing strict religion, have embraced and dwelt on its statements without smelling the taint of death which is in them? And is there not something of a self-convicted mischief in that View of religion, which its upholders, independent of each other, and disagreeing with each other materially in other points of doctrine and discipline, attempt to support by editing a book, as conducive to it, which turns out to be all but Socinian? The reason (I believe), why many pious persons tolerate a writer such as this, is, that they have so fully identified spirituality of mind with the use of certain phrases and professions, that they cannot believe that a person who uses them freely and naturally can be but taught of the Holy Spirit: to believe it otherwise, would be unsettling their minds from the very foundation,--which indeed must take place sooner or later whether they will or not.
With some quotations from the preface of one of Mr. A.'s editors, one of the most learned, orthodox, and moderate of the Dissenters of the day, I will bring this discussion to an end.
"Mr. Abbott has so much of originality in his manner of thinking, and of unguarded simplicity in his style of expression," [as render a friendly editor useful.] "There might be peril that, without such a precaution, some readers would take a premature alarm, when they found some essential doctrines of Christianity conveyed in terms of simplicity, and elucidated by very familiar analogies, which appear considerably removed from our accredited phraseology. .... Whatever use we make of the language of the theological schools, we should never go beyond our ability to translate it into the plain speech of common life."
As far as the words go, this means, when duly explained, though the writer could not of course intend it, that Mr. A.'s merit consists in having translated Trinitarianism into Socinianism. And that this is no unfair interpretation of the words, is plain from what presently follows, in which he speaks of the prejudice which the orthodox language and doctrine of divinity create against orthodoxy in the minds of those who are orthodox, all but receiving these orthodox statements. In other words, expressly specifying the Socinians, he requires us to adopt Mr. A.'s language in order to reconcile them to us. I quote his words.
"But there is one department in the inseparable domain of theology and religion, upon Mr. Abbott's treatment of which, I should be very blameable, were I to withhold my convictions. Among us, as well as in the New England States, there is a body, large and respectable if considered absolutely, but far from large when viewed in comparison with the numbers of other professed Christians. It consists of those who disbelieve the doctrines held, as to their essential principles, by all other Christian denominations, with respect to the way in which sinful, guilty, degraded mankind may regain the favour of GOD and the pure felicity of the world to come;--the doctrines of a divine Saviour, His assumption of our nature, His propitiation and righteousness, and the restoration of holiness and happiness by His all-gracious Spirit. This class of persons is treated, by some public men, and in some influential writings, chiefly periodical, with scorn and contumely, and are held up to hatred, not to say persecution; they are continually represented as blasphemers and infidels, alike dangerous to the state, and inimical to all vital religion. Hence, thousands of excellent persons, deriving their only knowledge from the source to which I have alluded, regard this portion of their neighbours with horror, never think of treating them with tenderness, never attempt to obtain a lodgment for truth and holy affections in their hearts. Ah, little think these well meaning persons, &c... . .The circumstances of my life have put me into a condition of more correctly knowing this class of our fellow professors of Christianity; I know that there are among them serious, thoughtful, amiable persons, whose minds are prepossessed with prejudices against us and our system, much to the same extent as we are against them and theirs. I know, not merely how they reason, but how they feel. They in general have extremely erroneous conceptions of the orthodox system of faith. They have imbibed those misconceptions in early years; and subsequent circumstances have contributed to strengthen them. For some of those circumstances, of no trivial power to confirm prejudice, we have to blame ourselves. This is a state of things full of mischief and danger. Surely it is a pressing duty, to do all that we can for clearing away the clouds of ignorance and misrepresentation which, with so dire effect, discolour and distort the objects seen through them. For this purpose, it is to me an heartfelt pleasure to say that Mr. Abbott's "Corner Stone" is admirably adapted. Notions producing feelings, and those feelings of deep and wide activity in the formation of religious sentiments, have been derived from Pelagius, Socinus, and Episcopius, from Clarke, Law, and Watson, from Lardner, Priestley, and Channing; and it is the thoroughly pervading influence on the mind of those mutually acting feelings and sentiments, which produces all that is formidable in the theoretical objections, and much of that which is effective in the practical repugnance, which are entertained by many against the doctrines of grace and holiness, through the Atonement and the Spirit of Christ. How desirable to meet those feelings in their germinating principle; to anticipate those sentiments, by the dissolution of the causes which would form them. This is what our author has done. His reasonings and illustrations upon the personal and official attributes of our Lord and Saviour, are such as may be compared to the correctness of anatomical knowledge, the delicacy of touch, find the astonishing preciseness of applying the probe and the knife, which we admire in the first surgeons of the age."
A correct and memorable witness indeed, to the kind of treatment offered by these religionists to Him, whom, after His exposure on the cross, His true disciples reverently "took down," and "wrapped in fine linen," and "laid in a sepulchre wherein never man before was laid."
I will conclude by summing up in one sentence, which must be pardoned me, if in appearance harsh, what the foregoing discussion is intended to show. There is a widely spread, though variously admitted School of doctrine among us, within and without the Church, which intends and professes peculiar piety, as directing its attention to the heart itself, not to any thing external to us, whether creed, actions, or ritual. I do not hesitate to assert that this doctrine is based upon error, that it is really a specious form of trusting man rather than God, that it is in its nature Rationalistic, and that it tends to Socinianism. How the individual supporters of it will act as time goes on is another matter,--the good will be separated from the bad; but the School, as such, will pass through Sabellianism, to that "god-denying Apostasy," to use the ancient phrase, to which in the beginning of its career it professed to be especially opposed.
The Feast of the Purification.
N. B. For reasons, not necessary here to explain, it may be proper to observe, that this Tract was written before the commencement of 1836.
Since the above Essay was in type, an account of Dr. Schleiermacher's view of the doctrine of the Trinity, as contained in an American Periodical, has been put into the writer's hands, and raises very painful feelings. [The Biblical Repository, Nos. 18 and 19; in which is translated and reviewed "Schleiermacher's Comparison of the Athanasian and Sabellian views of the Trinity."]
It seems, indeed, impossible to doubt that a serious doctrinal error is coming as a snare over the whole of the Protestant part of Christendom, (every part, at least, which is not fallen into worse and more avowed heterodoxy,) being the result of an attempt of the intellect to delineate, philosophise, and justify that religion, (so called) of the heart and feelings, which has long prevailed. All over the Protestant world,--among ourselves, in Ireland, in Scotland, in Germany, in British America,--the revival of religious feeling during the last century has taken a peculiar form, difficult to describe or denote by any distinct appellation, but familiarly known to all who ever so little attend to what is going on in the general Church. It has spread, not by talents or learning in its upholders, but by their piety, zeal, and sincerity, and its own incidental and partial truth. At length, as was natural, its professors have been led to a direct contemplation of it, to a reflection upon their own feelings and belief, and the genius of their system; and thence has issued that philosophy of which Mr. Erskine and Mr. Abbott have in the foregoing pages afforded specimens.
The American publication above alluded to, is a melancholy evidence that the learning and genius of Germany are to be made to bear, by the theologians of the United States, in favour of this same (as the writer must call it) spurious Christianity. Some passages from it shall be here extracted, which will be found to tend to one or other of these three objects, all of them more or less professed in the two works above analysed.
1. That the one object of the Christian Revelation, or Dispensation, is to stir the affections, and soothe the heart.
2. That it really contains nothing which is unintelligible to the intellect.
3. That misbelievers, such as Socinians, &c., are made so, for the most part, by the Creeds, which are to be considered as the great impediments to the spread of the Gospel, both as being stumbling-blocks to the reason, and shackles and weights on the affections.
"With regard to Schleiermacher's views as a Trinitarian, I can truly say that I have met with scarcely any writer, ancient or modern, who appears to have a deeper conviction of, or more hearty belief in, the doctrine of the real Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.... 'God manifest in the flesh," seems to be inscribed, in his view, on every great truth of the Gospel, and to enter as a necessary ingredient into the composition of its essential nature. Yet Schleiermacher was not made a Trinitarian by creeds and confessions. Neither the Nicene nor Athanasian symbol, nor any succeeding formula of Trinitarian doctrine, built on this, appears to have had any influence in the formation of his views. From the Scriptures, and from arguments flowing, as he believed, out of Scriptural premises, he became, and lived, and died, a hearty and constant believer in the One Living and True God, revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.... He ventured to inquire whether, in the vehemence of dispute, and in the midst of philosophical mists, the former survey had been in all respects made with thorough and exact skill and care, and whether a report of it in all respects intelligible and consistent had been made out."--Translator, No. 18. p. 268, 9.
"After defending in various places, in the most explicit manner, and with great ability, the doctrine of the Godhead of the Son and Spirit, and showing that such a development of the Deity is demanded by our moral wants, as sinners, in order that we may obtain peace and sanctification; he concludes, &c." ibid.
"Of his view of the Trinity, we may at least say that it is intelligible. But who will venture to say, that any of the definitions heretofore given of personality in the Godhead in itself considered, I mean such definitions as have their basis in the Nicene or Athanasian Creeds, are intelligible and satisfactory to the mind?" p. 277.
"The sum of Schleiermacher's opinions... is that... the Unity ... is God in se ipso;... but as to the Trinity, the Father is God as revealed in the works of creation, providence, and legislation: the Son is God in human flesh, the divine Logos incarnate; the Holy Ghost is God the sanctifier, who renovates the hearts of sinners, and dwells in the hearts of believers. The personality of the Godhead consists in these developments, made in time, and made to intelligent and rational beings. Strictly speaking, personality is not in his view eternal; and from the nature of the case as thus viewed, it could not be, because it consists in developments of the Godhead to intelligent beings, &c." p. 317.
"That God has developed himself in these three different ways, is what they [Sabellius and Schleiermacher,] believe to be taught in the Scriptures, and to be commended to our spiritual consciousness by the nature of our wants, woes, and sins." No. 19, p. 81.
"Dr. Schleiermacher asks, with deep emotion, what more is demanded? what more is necessary? what more can further the interest of practical piety?" p. 82.
"I can see no contradiction, no absurdity, nothing even incongruous in the supposition, that the Divine Nature has manifested itself as Father, &c." p. 88.
"Why should it ever have any more been overlooked that the names Father, &c. are names that have a relative sense.... than that such names as Creator, &c." p. 110.
"It may be proper for me to say, that the results of this re-examination of the doctrine of the Trinity are, in their essential parts, the same which I some years since advocated in my letters addressed to the Rev. Dr. Channing, &c." p. 115.
These extracts are perhaps sufficient to justify the apprehensions above expressed, as far as the more religious part of Protestant Germany is concerned. It is believed that Protestant France could be made to afford similar evidence of the Sabellian tendencies of the day.
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