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session of the vantage ground; that they confessedly hold all that is clear and important in the question; that all beyond is matter of uncertain and needless speculation; and that they may, if so disposed, safely and properly decline to trouble themselves with any condescension to the reasonings of those on whom this “ burthen of proof” is imposed ;--then we must reject this preliminary as insidious and unjust. Now it is, to my apprehension, more than probable that the majority of those who think with Mr. Belsham do understand every remark of this kind with these, or similar, tacit implications. This apprehension is not lessened by another position, which is introduced as the corollary of the former.
66 In this controversy, therefore, the proper province of the Arian and Trinitarian is to propose the evidence of their respective hypotheses ;-the sole concern of the Unitarian is to shew that those arguments are inconclusive.” This might be proper, if the controvertists had no love to truth, nor sense of its value; if they were theological prize-fighters, who cared for nothing but victory or the semblance of victory. But ill do such expressions comport with the mind and motives of a sincere, and serious, and “calm inquirer,” after an object so momentous as SACRED AND ETERNAL TRUTH. To obtain that object ought to be the sole concern of Unitarians and of all other men: and it solemnly behoves those who are pleased with this consequential flippancy of assertion, to examine
well the state of their own hearts before Him who will not be mocked.
On a similar ground, I am obliged to object to the repeated use of the phrase “ a real man,” as if it were synonymous with a mere man; and to the assertion that “it is by no means necessary for the Unitarian to adduce proof of the proper simple humanity of Jesus Christ.” This method of intwining what is admitted with what is denied, what is certainly true with what is disputable, is well enough contrived to serve the purpose of Mr. Belsham's book. Assumptions of this kind are apt to work their way into the mind of an unsuspecting reader; and may bring him, ere he is aware, to acquiesce in the confusion of ideas and the unfair prepossession which they include. The real and proper humanity of Jesus we hold, though the Unitarians are assiduous in affirming the contrary: but, that the whole person of Christ consisted of a mere and simple humanity, is a distinct question. Fair argument will not permit these two ideas to be confounded. We deny the latter, while we maintain the former as strenuously as our opponents can do. To assume that the doctrine of the Deity of Christ is incompatible with his real and proper humanity, is a mere petitio principii, neither auspicious nor honourable to the cause in which it is employed. The true state of the question is, what is the doctrine of the scriptures concerning a point of pure revela,
tion,--the person and character of the Moral Deliverer of mankind ?
“ If Jesus or his apostles peremptorily and unequivocally declare the doctrine of his preexistence and original dignity, their evidence must without hesitation be admitted. They could not be mistaken."* Candid as this appears, I cannot but express an apprehension, founded on the modes of criticism and interpretation which are resorted to in Mr. Belsham's volume, that the qualifying words are posted here to render nugatory all the rest. According to the philology of the Calm Inquirer, I am afraid that no terms can be imagined which, if found in the scriptures, he would admit to be sufficiently
“ peremptory and unequivocal” to establish the doctrines in question. One of his ultimate resorts, in the case of a text which appears to bear strongly in favour of the orthodox doctrine, is that it does not “ necessarily” bear such or such an interpretation.t Now so imperfect is human language, that it is hardly possible to select a term or to frame an expression which cannot by any possibility be taken in more senses than one.
If the plain, and obvious sense of terms or clauses, deduced by a competent attention to the construction and idioms of the language, may be abandoned on this allegation, a sophist must be very deficient in ingenuity who cannot invent some analogical
Calm Inq. p. 3.
+ See Calm Ing. p. 15.
or figurative turn which he may plausibly give to any phrase, in order to neutralize his opponent's argument.
That this remark is not dictated by uncandid jealousy, may appear from another observation of our author. “Impartial and sincere inquirers after truth must be particularly upon their guard against what is called the natural signification of words and phrases. The connexion between words and ideas is perfectly arbitrary; so that the natural sense of a word to any person, means nothing more than the sense in which he has been accustomed to understand it. But it is very possible that men who lived two thousand years ago might annex very different ideas to the same words and phrases; so that the sense which appears most foreign to us, might be most natural to them.t
If the Calm Inquirer means only to assert that the interpretation of a language must proceed on an enlightened acquaintance with its idioms, he has said no more than a school-boy knows and practises every day. But it is doing no service to the improvement of reason or the investigation
* “ Is an interpretation false, because the words can possibly be tortured unto some other sense? Let him name me the text (wherein any doctrine is delivered that is of merely supernatural revelation) of which it is not possible to devise some other meaning, not more remote, alien, or unimaginable than theirs of most of the disputed texts." —Howe's Calm and Sober Enquiry, $ 25.
+ Calm Inq. p. 5
of truth, to represent the phrases “ natural signification” and “natural sense” as if they were properly or usually applied to the bald and blundering methods of translation which betray those who use them to be ignorant of the principles of language. I am greatly mistaken if the established use of those expressions, with correct speakers, is not to denote that sense of a word or phrase which it would carry, at the time, and under all the circumstances, in the minds of the persons to whom it was originally addressed. It is true that the original connection between words and ideas” was chiefly, though not altogether, “ arbitrary:" but, when that connection has been once established with the radical terms of any language, the remaining part of the language, which is by far the most considerable, is arbitrary no longer. Usage, indeed, exercises its sway, but by no means a sovereign sway: it is regulated and modified by the laws of association governing human thought, and by those of derivation influencing the production of new words as to both their formation and their signification. It is true enough that “men who lived two thousand years ago might annex, to the same words and phrases, ideas very different” from those which may seem most“ natural” to ill-taught persons in modern times, who fancy themselves competent to interpret the remains of an ancient language, because they can find the words in a lexicon: but it would be an affront to any person of decent pretensions to scholarship, to be linked