Page images
PDF
EPUB

vindicate from the usurpation of these the right of all men, ignorant as well as learned, in “the gift of God to all men."

And it does appear to me an extraordinary proceeding on the part of my respected opponents—respected as distinguished members of society, and honoured, according to the Divine command, as members of the great human family—(would that they may allow me to add, beloved as brethren, and as adoring disciples of Him, whom the Bible teaches me to regard as the Omnipotent Lord of Life, and the Eternal King of Glory, Christ Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever!)—it does appear to me extraordinary, that my opponents should appear to complain of the introduction of critical and scholastic considerations into this discussion.

It had always been my impression, that the advocates of what is called by themselves “Unitarian Christianity," attached to this mode of treating the momentous questions at issue an importance, which, with all my deep reverence for Biblical learning, I could never assign to it. To this they appeared to me to make their ultimate appeal; except, indeed, when under their assumed, and not very modest, title of “Rational Christians," they exalted their reason above all Revelation, and presumed to decide what God ought to have revealed, and not submissively to enquire what he has been pleased to communicate; a process not peculiar to them, but which renders all revelation abortive, by presupposing it to be useless, and virtually denying its existence.

Manuscripts, idioms of languages, figures of speech, new translations, interpolated passages, ingenious conjectures, various readings, the meaning of particles; in one word, all the vast and cloudy array which the professional scholar and the haughty critic bring into the field, when

they are about to do battle in a glorious manner, seemed to be collected around the champions of Modern Unitarianism.*

Who are the preachers that have so much to do with amended constructions of the popular version of the Scriptures? who so often refer to the original text, not hesitating to correct even that? Is there, in this mighty multitude, one individual who, even for a limited period, has been an attendant upon a Unitarian ministry, without finding that Scriptural exposition has been grounded upon reasoning which implied the necessity of superior critical powers; or which quietly assumed the possession of that knowledge which is the result of their exercise ? + What denomination of professing Christians, more than thirty years ago, bestowed upon the world the heavy obligation of "the Improved Version" of the New Testament; thinking it, too, of so much importance, that its corrected text, and its critical and explanatory notes, should become the property of others beside scholars, that, with exemplary benevolence, they formed a fund, still existing, for its more easy and extensive circulation, as one of the chief instru

* I have never employed, in this discourse, the term Socinianism, because I understand it is offensive, as well as because it does not appear to me to express what is meant by Modern Unitarianism. But the charge which a minister, not a Trinitarian- he calls himself a Presbyterian-brings against Socinians, most assuredly applies to the majority of those who, in this country, have called themselves Unitarians. “The Trinitarians and Socinians are always at variance with one another; and value themselves on verbal criticisms, various readings, and philological disquisitions.”'--Sermons by William Bruce, D.D., Belfast. And yet this author indulges in these disquisitions in the very page in which he pronounces the censure. The labours of the learned, it seems, are valuable when they prove the spuriousness of the text concerning the three witnesses ; they become “disputes about trifles," when they protect the sacred text from the rash conjectures which would rob the Redeemer of his Divinity!

† If this be not so now, the type of Unitarian preaching has been greatly altered since the author knew any thing experimentally respecting it.

ments of accomplishing the ends of a Society for promoting Christian Knowledge? I have spoken of the heavy obligation conferred upon the world, by the publication of the Improved Version of the New Testament. In whatever sense my Unitarian hearers may suppose I have employed this phraseology, I would respectfully inform them, that, if all who have read that work shall owe to it the same deep debt of gratitude, which is due from me, they may use the words in no ironical sense.

A Unitarian friend, when I was a very young man, anxious to cherish and confirm the incipient Unitarianism which he saw in me, put the Improved Version into my hands. The copy I still possess. It is the first edition. From it my quotations will be made in this discourse. Startled at the daring character of some of the renderings, I immediately began to compare the New Translation with the original Greek; and I convinced myself, by the comparison, that, however irrational the doctrine of the Divinity of Jesus Christ might be, it was, nevertheless, the doctrine of the Greek Testament. Nearly a quarter of a century has elapsed since this my first acquaintance with Biblical studies, through the instrumentality of the Unitarian Version of the New Testament; and these studies pursued from that time to this, with what diligence and conscientiousness it becomes not me to say, have only confirmed the convictions formed at their commencement. This digression will not be considered impertinent by those who recollect that it is the simple statement of the process by which one, far from predisposed against Unitarian opinions, was led to perceive their opposition to Scriptural truth, through the means employed to propagate them. May those of my hearers, who hold Unitarian sentiments, be led by a similar process, if they have never yet—as I can easily believe to be the case-insti

tuted a comparison between the two documents—to the acknowledgment of the truth, as it is in Jesus !

But to return :-By the publication of the New Version, by the Unitarian body (I shall prove that it was their act, and not that of individuals), three positions were assumed. Two of these may be freely conceded; while it is the object of this discourse to contest the third.

And here let me pause for a moment. While engaged in the composition of this discourse, I have repeatedly sought the controlling influence of the Holy Ghost, the Third Person in the ever blessed and adorable Triune Jehovah. And I would now look to Him to preserve me, while I deliver it, from the indulgence of any feeling unbecoming a sense of the awful Majesty of Truth ; or inconsistent with that charity which a disciple of Christ is bound to exercise towards all men !

The Unitarian body then assumed by the publication of their New Version, what is readily conceded, that additional light might be thrown upon the Interpretation of the original language of the Christian Scriptures; and that the authorized version was not perfect. The advanced state of philological learning, the accumulated results of critical labours, and the improved method of conducting intellectual investigation, justified this assumption. Since the first Translation of the Bible into any of the modern languages of Europe, scholarship has assumed a majestic dignity, unknown to earlier times: principles have been placed upon the basis of demonstration which used to rely on the shifting foundations of conjecture; and facilities for conducting the kindred enquiries have been multiplied to a vast extent by the collation of old manuscripts, and the discovery of new. That the Version of former times might be improved was, therefore, a very rational presumption; and to have forbidden the attempt at improve

ment would have been nothing less than to repress all the efforts of Biblical Criticism. The Unitarian Editors were perfectly just in assuming that Scholars and Critics had thus much property in our common Christianity.

Another presumption, equally well grounded with the former was, that from the extensive diffusion of education, a large class of the community, hitherto unaccustomed to such enquiries, might be induced to take an interest in Biblical studies; and, moreover, that the great elements of the subject of interpretation might be made intelligible to many, who, in a certain sense, from want of a literary education, may be described as occupying the place of the unlearned.

In fact, the only question, except that on the Inspiration of the Sacred Books, between Unitarians and Trinitarians, is one of interpretation. And this, in the more extensive, as well as in the restricted sense of the word, involves the application of scholarship and criticism. Yet, I agree with the Editors of the New Version, that persons who are not scholars and critics, by profession, may, if the case be fairly stated, be enabled to decide upon the great points at issue between us.

If it be asked then, how are we to know what Christianity is, the only answer given, I presume, by Unitarians, as well as by ourselves, must be; by examining the writings which profess to describe its rise and progress; and to develop its principles and doctrines. These writings, I presume, both parties admit to be the books of the New Testament. Neither party claims a private and independent Revelation; but both appeal to the same record. Unless this were the case, all controversy would be, not merely useless, but impossible.

And yet, in a certain sense, the character of these books has nothing to do with our present enquiry. I

« PreviousContinue »