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apparent, which, if well grounded, will not only justify, but render imperative the selection of Dr. Channing as the individual to be addressed.
Without further preface, I shall proceed to a consideration of the subject which is now to be discussed. I am about to present a simply scriptural argument in proof of the existence of a mighty fallen Spirit, called Devil or Satan; and of his agency and influence in this world. The subject thus presented is uncommon, and will, no doubt, with many, be unwelcome and unpopular. But you, my dear sir, and the writer, together with his Unitarian and Orthodox readers, will all agree in this, that the uncommonness or unpopularity of the views presented, either singly or combined, will afford no proof, nor presumption even, that they are untrue. The truth or falsity of our religious views must be decided by another standard than popular opinion. “To the law and to the testimony," is our ultimate, and on this subject, our only appeal. The scriptures, fairly interpreted, are the only legitimate source of evidence to which the nature of the subject admits of an appeal. On a subject relating to the invisible world, its existences and influences, the Lord from heaven-the divine teacher, and those illuminated by his Spirit, are the only admissible, because the only competent witnesses. We wish to know what the Lord Jesus, and John, and Peter, and Paul believed and taught; not what Plato or Cicero imagined, or Farmer or Edwards asserted. Quit the scriptures, and “shadows, clouds, and darkness” envelope at once all our speculations, not only on the immortality of the soul, but on all questions relating to immaterial and spiritual existences. We shall see, however, as we proceed, that reason does teach and can teach nothing contrary to the declarations of inspired wisdom, relative to the beings and influences of the unseen world.
I assume at the outset of this discussion what you, doubtless, will readily grant, that you give, and acknowledge yourself bound to give, implicit credence to what the Bible plainly declares,-declares not in a solitary, isolated, doubtful text, or in a few scattered, uncertain passages, but plainly, repeatedly, explicitly. I shall omit, on the immediate subject of these Letters, all arguments from the Old Testament, not because that was a revelation "adapted to the infancy of our race," for "all scripture," an inspired apostle, referring to these very books, says, "was given by inspiration of God," who surely would not deceive in the infancy any more than in the manhood of our race, (if such terms have any meaning ;) but because the Saviour and his apostles have more fully revealed the fact of diabolical existence and agency, and thus authenticated previous revelations, rendering surance doubly sure.”
Before we proceed farther, it will be necessary to prepare
the way for the discussion, by a statement of those views, which to the writer appear alike unscriptural and untrue. Whether they are so or not, is the question at issue. Unitarian views on the existence and influence of evil spirits, have recently been more fully developed, I believe, in this country, than heretofore. The following extract from a communication in the Christian Register for December 22, 1827, gives us to understand, at least, what Unitarians do not believe on this subject. It is part of a review of Dr. Beecher's missionary sermon, and is all that relates to this topic. “ The sermon departs from the true missionary spirit, in making erroneous representations of religion. It asserts, as an undeniable fact revealed in the scriptures, the notion which was grafted upon the purity of the Jewish faith from the fictions of oriental mythology, that the world is under the dominion of a presiding spirit, who divides the empire with the
only God; and that without his agency it is as impossible to account for the modifications of evil among men, as it would be to account for the origin of the material world, without the existence of an Intelligent Mind. We say nothing of the truth or falsehood of diabolical agency, but we do say, that a man advanced beyond the simplest elements of theology, who asserts this doctrine, as acknowledged principle of revelation, and of such evident truth, that, without it, the Bible is one of the most deceptive books ever written,' displays a carelessness, or a hardihood of assertion, that excites our unaffected amazement, and is utterly inconsistent with the spirit of fairness and good faith, which lies at the foundation of the missionary cause. Did not the preacher know, that theologians inferior to none in extent of learning, deep research, ardent piety, and studious attention to the word of God, have been unable to discover the doctrine there? How could he then declare, that, if these minds had been successful in their investigations, the Bible is one of the most deceptive books ever written.' We know not this gentleman's views of the sacred volume, but, with our views, no temptation could induce us to stake its veracity on the truth of any doctrine which was not, explicitly, revealed; which men, studious of its contents, have believed it did not contain ; and men, studious of nature have utterly denied.”
The style, the talent, the glowing eloquence, no less than the adroitness and the tact, to mention no other qualities, of the whole piece, point to the practised hand of a master. If it be not from the pen of the gentleman to whom these letters are addressed, it is just what might have been expected from Dr. Channing. Published in the Register under the circumstances mentioned, it is evidently an expression of Unitarian opinion. If, however, I have misjudged as to its real author, this will not
affect the question at issue between the parties. The piece thus published, no one can doubt, is intended as an expression of Unitarian views. No Unitarian has questioned the soundness of those views. Am I not authorized, through this discussion, to take this communication as a recorded, recognised expression of Unitarian opinion on this subject ? Notwithstanding the Ciceronian expression, "we say nothing of the truth or falsehood of the doctrine of diabolical agency," it is very plain that the writer says and intends to say something, and that something is a plain denial of the doctrine. This doctrine he distinctly calls."a fiction of oriental mythology," and traces its history by telling us, that it grafted upon the purity of the Jewish faith ?»* All we have to do with this quotation now, however, is to fix on the precise meaning of the author. It is evident that he does not believe in the existence of any invisible, superhuman, evil agent, having influence over himself or others.
Let me now ask Unitarians generally, do you believe in the actual existence of a mighty fallen spirit, who seduced our first parents from their allegiance to God, and still continues tempting men to sin, and thus plunging them deeper and deeper into misery? I might have divided this question, but I prefer putting it in this shape first; and if you say No, as I expect you will, is that answer the result of the theological tenet attached to it, the doctrine of the fall ? If so, do you believe in the actual personal existence of the devil and his angels, abstracted from all questions of influence, past or present ? Is not your answer still the same, No? I wish to state your views with perfect fairness and precision, so that in my subsequent remarks I may neither do you injustice, nor combat" a man of straw.” Unless I am misinformed, and I have taken some pains to learn the truth, Unitarians, as a body, deny not only the actual agency, but the personal existence of the devil and his angels. This, to preserve even the show of consistency, they must do. Surely, if the scriptures teach the existence of mighty fallen spirits, they teach, with no less clearness, their agency in this world, their influence over men. With the writer of the article quoted above, you do not believe in any invisible superhuman evil agent, having influence over yourselves or others. You do not believe in any such agent. You do not perceive or feel any such existence or influence. You do not believe the scriptures teach any such fact; therefore you do not believe the fact. Is not this your state of mind, fairly expressed, so far as negatives can express it?
* See note A.
But the scriptures assert, or at least seem to assert, not only evil agency but personality of evil agency, that is, a real devil, an actual Satan. How do you
teachers get over assertions of this sort often made in the word of God? There is, no doubt, some theory, some mode of interpretation on this subject, which satisfies the inquisitive among Unitarians. Many may throw the whole subject by as unworthy of a thought, taking it for granted, that their no belief is sound belief. Some may consider it one of the “ vexatious questions" more easily asked than answered. Others may think these expressions an allegorical mode of asserting something which they cannot define, but consider an “ oriental fiction." Still, among rational, unshackled inquirers, there is, doubtless, some explication which removes the difficulty that is thought to embarrass the commonly received opinion. The Rev. Mr. Ware in his discourses* calls “ Satan, the personified principle of evil.” How far Mr. Ware speaks the opinions of American Unitarians on this subject is
* Second edition, p. 118.