« PreviousContinue »
am not aware that any chemical analysis, or any geological stratum, or any botanical classification, or any phrenological nomenclature, or any of the results of comparative anatomy, or any of the wonders developed and demonstrated in the Mechanique Céleste, fasten upon Christ and his apostles the charge of teaching falsely, or of incompetence or unwillingness, at the hazard of their lives, to teach the truth. Till something in the shape of evidence is produced, I trust it will not be thought indicative of either weakness or prejudice, to believe Christ, “ that for this end was he born, and to this end came he into the world, to bear witness unto the truth."
But this writer is yet to give the finishing touch to his picture of revelation. “ The only passage in Jude is one of very doubtful authority. I do not mean that it is wanting in any of the copies now extant ;" [after this, I hope we shall hear no more from the Unitarian press about Griesbach: of what use are his labors? The lower criticism is gone ;] “but of doubtful authority, that an inspired apostle, or one who had a competent knowledge of the history of the Old Testament, and of the dispensation of the gospel, should introduce such a fabulous legend as that, which is the subject of the 9th verse, how that Michael, &c. If any one can build his faith in the existence of such a being, on such a contemptible story as this, I would leave him in quiet possession of his opinion; for there is little room to hope that reason will have much influence, where absurdity has obtained such an absolute dominion." Let it not be forgotten that English and American Unitarians solemnly profess to receive the epistle of Jude as a part of the inspired Word of God.
Let it be remembered that the preceding extracts have been taken from the accredited organ of English Unitarianism, evidently written by one able to make the best of his subject. It is no common mind, which can give such uncommon twists to scripture. These were written twenty years ago. Unitarianism is a precipitous declivity ; down, down, down to a bottomless abyss. But few prints of returning feet are to be traced in an upward pathway. What Marshal Ney said to Napoleon, “ revolutions never go backward,” is equally true in the religious and in the political world. A distinguished Unitarian writer thinks, that if forty years more are allowed his system, it may be proved as true by its works, as Calvinism. I will only ask, if fifteen years have brought the greater part of the Unitarian clergy of New England, from Worcesterians or Semi-Arians to Humanitarians, how long it will take the latter to become infidels in speculation ? Mark this, I do not charge any one with designing to become
In the passage
infidel. But I recollect who said, “ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” I know what have been the results with minds similarly circumstanced. Moral causes and moral effects are as indissolubly conjoined as any in the physical world. Mr. Belsham, ungratefully neglected by his American brethren, shall have a hearing. “ In the New Testament the word devil is sometimes used to personify the principle of evil, and sometimes the idolatrous and persecuting power; and the want of attention to this figurative mode of expression, has misled many readers who were ignorant of the Hebrew and Oriental phraseology, and has induced them to believe the real existence of an evil spirit.” Month. Rep. p. 305, 1807. Mr. Belsham is a man of thought, of greater capacity of thinking, I verily believe, than any American co-worker in the same cause, and not inferior in learning, and far, very far beyond them all in open frankness of expression. He is an honest man. just quoted, it will be seen that he coincides with Cappe, with the anonymous representative of English Unitarianism, and with the Rev. Mr. Ware.
I have not thought it necessary to remark, in the Letters, on the alleged use of the word devil, in the New Testament, as a personification of the idolatrous and persecuting power. I know not that any NewEngland Unitarian holds that opinion. Let the reader, however, apply either of Mr. Belsham's personifications to this one passage, “the devils believe and tremble,” in its connexion in the epistle of James. Mr. Belsham is not ignorant of the power of words, nor what a mist hard names can conjure up before ignorant imaginations. He understands the “philosophy of mind” too well, to let slip the opportunity of verbal influence. We could tell him of some, who, after years of study in the Hebrew idiom and habitudes of thought, and after an acquaintance, not altogether slight, with the Syriac and Chaldaic and Arabic languages and learning, still “ believed the real existence of an evil spirit.” In his own land, he might find in Proffessor Lee, “the admirable Crichton” of the age, such an one; he need not go far from his own door to meet John Pye Smith, the first dissenting clerical scholar of Great Britain, whose chastened taste, and various learning, and unassuming yet active piety, present one of the most finished models for youthful contemplation.
One other quotation from the Monthly Repository, shall close this Note. A writer therein thinks the sufferings of Christ in the garden, resulted from the exquisite susceptibilities of his physical frame. Besides, “ he had a most severe and distressing bodily disorder” at
this time. He was seized “ with a violent nervous affection.” Hence his distress. I suspect this will be news to the most enlightened American rationalist.
NOTE D. Page 56. As the Unitarians have recently broken ground on a subject, where it has long been known, often predicted, and as often denied, that they must ultimately come, it may not be “ travelling too far beyond the record,” to meet them at the outset in a note appended to this discussion. The subject referred to will be found, in the end, to be nothing less than a denial of the inspiration of the whole sacred volume. In the Christian Examiner for January and February, 1828, is the continuation of a learned and elaborate essay on the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. The writer of this essay has come out, with a degree of boldness, and a distinctness of expression, hitherto unusual in his school. For this the community will thank him. No religious teacher, least of all an instructer of religious teachers, should hold opinions which he would not freely state, and, when called upon respectfully, defend with what of argument and ability he may possess. For his own religious opinions, individually, he is alone responsible to his God and his Redeemer. But when he assumes the office of a public teacher in any community, his situation changes. He is then in duty bound to let that community know, fully and frankly, what his opinions are. The writer referred to is, both by report and by internal evidence, a distinguished individual in the Unitarian ranks. When on common ground, he writes with a beauty and a force that are truly admirable. Two pages from the pen of Johnson can scarcely be selected, superior in discrimination and felicity of expression, to those which precede the discussion in this number of the Examiner. In this essay, though something, I doubt not, is still undisclosed, something new, in this country, has been advanced. The fact, that Unitarians reject the epistle to the Hebrews as uncanonical, is not now for the first time known, though it is for the first time distinctly made known in the accredited organ of American Unitarianism.* The epistle to the Hebrews must be got
* I shall not stop to inquire why so absurd, illogical, mystical, unintelligible a book has been so long allowed by intelligent Unitarians to pass for genuine, believing it, as they must have done, to be spurious.
rid of at all events. Such a feeling seems to have actuated this writer, from the beginning to the end of his communication. He does not state, nor give even a passing notice to the arguments, historical, critical, and irresistible, of Professor Stuart. I will not suffer myself to state in appropriate terms what he has done, lest some of my readers should think that such words ill become the advocate of truth. I will only say to the intelligent reader, who is willing to know the truth,“ read, compare and consider the Introduction to this epistle by Prof. Stuart and this essay, which purports to be a review of this Introduction."
The rejection of this epistle, however, will ultimately be found an immaterial and unimportant part of the developements made in this essay. As this writer has not noticed Prof. Stuart's arguments, he will not complain, (at least he need not,) that I do not here notice the first number of his essay, but confine my remarks to his second. His argument, in his own words, is this, “ St Paul and the writer to the Hebrews differ widely from each other in their prevailing mode of interpreting the Jewish scriptures, in the use which they make, in reasoning, of passages from those scriptures, and in their style of reasoning generally.” p. 38. To those who are not disposed to submit the dictum of any man, however learned, but rather to examine every argument however plausible, something may be suggested, which will not only call in question the validity of this argument, but may also start the inquiry, whether, if not under, at least in connexion with it, something more is not meant than meets the eye. This argument may first be refuted as above stated, and then stated in the altered form the writer has contrived to give it in the course of his remarks, and which he well knows it must take or not be “ worth a straw."
This writer being judge, “ all the evangelists are allegorists.”* He will not deny that Christ himself indulged in the allegorical or mystical interpretation and application of the Old Testament, if his conversations and remarks are reported correctly by these evangelists.
Peter, in his addresses to the Jews, adopts this mode of reasoning. · Thus far Paul is untouched. But the following concession is by the essayist himself. “ Allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament, similar to those on which the reasoning in the epistle to the Hebrews is founded, occur, likewise, in the gospels and in the Acts of the
* This writer shall have the privilege of defining his own terms. We hope he and his brethren will be as courteous in return. “ Allegorical," " mystical," " merely imaginary,"
"An allegorical meaning is any supposed mystical meaning, answering in some sort to the true meaning of a passage, whether that passage be literal or figurative.” p. 40.
apostles. They are found in a speech of St. Paul, as it is given by St. Luke, in the thirteenth chapter of the Acts.” p. 53. This was a speech addressed to “ the men of Israel,” i. e. to the Hebrews. Grant now, what this writer labors through ten pages to prove, that Paul in his other epistles addressed to Gentiles, never allegorizes. What becomes of his argument? Surely when the evangelists, and Christ according to these evangelists, and Peter and Paul in addressing the Hebrews, all use interpretations of the Old Testament similar to those on which the reasoning in the epistle to the Hebrews is founded, this writer might have spared both his learning and his labor to prove that Paul, in addressing these very Hebrews, would not still adopt the same mode of reasoning. To show that he allegorized to Gentiles but little, would only show that there was little occasion for it; or to show that he did not allegorize at all, would not at all touch the point. What should we think of the biblical critic's logic, who should attempt to prove that the speech recorded in the thirteenth chapter of the Acts, could not have been delivered by the same orator, who, on Mars Hill reasoned with the Stoicks and the Epicureans “out of their own poets,” and should give as his reason, that in the first speech the orator reasoned with the Hebrews according to their own principles, and “out of their own scriptures”? Yet this is precisely the absurdity of this writer, learned as he is, and discriminating as he can be, when the least flaw is to be detected in an opponent's argument.
In principles of reasoning, and methods of quoting scripture or poetry, the orator at Athens “ differs as widely” from the orator at Antioch, as the writer of the epistles to the Thessalonians, differs from the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. Was Paul at Antioch a different orator from Paul at Athens ? Would not this essayist have done but impartial justice to have recollected an avowed maxim of the apostle, that in things not criminal, he “became all things to all men,” « to the Jews as a Jew”? I will here quote a remark from an author, who, this writer will admit, understood what he said. “ His reasoning, [the apostle Paul's,] which, at first view might seem unsatisfactory, will in many cases appear striking and forcible, when we have a correct notion of the opinions and sentiments of those for whom it was designed.” p. 69. This remark is equally true and valuable. Let the essayist review his quotations from Lightfoot, &c. and let him decide from his own authorities, whether the epistle to the Hebrews was not the place of all places for that mode of interpretation, which he himself allows to have been common and popular among that people.