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TO THE EDITOR OF THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE.
As, in your number for January and February last, you were pleased to honour a late publication upon the Trinity, from my pen, with a review; after duly acknowledging my obligation for the christian freedom and kindness, with which the remarks appear to have been made; I have to request the liberty of suggesting a very few thoughts, that seem to be called for, I will not say in defence, but rather in exposition, of some leading propositions in that 'Attempt.' I am not surprized, that after labouring to be definite and explicit in stating propositions, I should not have been fully apprehended by my readers, upon many articles, which belong to a minute discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity. I can conceive of two causes, that may contribute to such an effect.
First. The peculiar state or habit of mind, in which a person writes, may occasion such modes of expression, as are not perfectly intelligible to others however perspicuous they may appear to the writer himself.
Secondly. The ready perception of the reader may be obstructed in the same way; that is, his mind having been preoccupied, or forestalled, as I may say, with a certain kind of concatenation of ideas and impressions, he may miss the object intended to be exhibited to his understanding; as a person, surfeiting on sweets, is rendered incapable of so easily distinguishing other tastes, and must alter the state of his palate, before this sense will serve him to good effect.
The reviewer thinks I have left myself open and exposed to be galled by the same weapons I have employed against others. Of this I should have never needed to be reminded by any person, had my understanding of what constitutes complex personality, (as that is the particular topic to which my attention is now drawn,) been such as he seems to think it must have been. will occur to his mind, that the recourse I have had to the supposition of a complex personality in the Trinity, is to meet and explain texts, in which attributes, uncreated and created, divine and human, are ascribed to Jesus, the Son of God. The case is solved by alledging, that two persons are united, viz. the uncreated God and a creature. It is not my intention, Sir, to retrace the ground, explored by the publication reviewed. Whether sufficient evidence exists, that God has actually appeared to men and transacted with them, in the person of a man, is not now a point of inquiry. I only wish to have it understood, that,
in my apprehension, bringing the Deity and a human person into such a union, or connection, is not running into the absurdity which the reviewer infers. It is not my idea, that in such an association of distinct persons, forming what I have denominated one complex person, one single consciousness, one agent, one being,' is implied. It will not be denied, that, in what I have offered upon this subject, I have uniformly studied to keep the idea in prominent view, that God and his Christ are two persons as distinct, (though united,) as were Peter and John; and that their consciousness and agency, of course, are equally distinct. The only question to be answered, that I may be free from the imputation of absurdity, is, whether the true notion of a complex person is, that those united must have lost, by this union, their own distinct, individual, and separate existence. I know that, in all compounds, properly such, simplicity is lost; but I am not aware, that personal complexity may be illustrated by the commixture of simple bodies, which lose their simplicity the moment they enter the common mass. I will not contend, that my understanding is competent to the proper use of the term, complex person; but what ideas I have, I think may be illustrated without much difficulty. I conceive of the existence of simple, separate, and individual persons, of what number soever, as I do of the existence and destination of the several parts composing that splendid image, which Nebuchadnezzar saw in vision, as representing the four great monarchies of the world. These were the gold, the silver, the brass, the iron, and miry clay. Each had its own proper place and distinctions, apart from all the rest; yet so connected one with another as to make one image. And if this should be thought not completely to answer the purpose for illustrating the subject, because there was but one perfect image; we may remedy the defect by dreaming a little dif ferently from the old king of Babylon, and suppose as many perfect images, firmly connected and standing upon the shoulders one of another, as there were different substances to represent the successive empires, that were to govern the world. These images of gold, silver, &c. thus put together, would make one complex image, and illustrate in what sense two simple persons may unite, and be one complex person.
Apply this to the subject in question by referring to the words of Christ himself, in which he declares the distinction there is between himself and the Father; and also their connexion and co-operation. Their peculiar oneness arises not from their being less of personal distinction between them, than between Godhead and other holy intelligences of a dependent nature; but from the dignity, conferred on the Son of God, of standing at the head of
creation and of the church, of exercising all authority, and of inheriting all things; so that all manifestations of the Deity are through him. It is his province to declare the word, and to shew the works, of God. Many good works have I shewed you from my Father.' These operations and effects, which are peculiar to Deity, he would present before them, because he was not alone; but the Father was with him. All his knowledge and all his power, above what is, or may be, appropriate to men as such, are the knowledge and power of the Father, and not of the Son; though the Son is appointed a medium, through which they are to be displayed.
But, I need not enlarge. My principal object was only to show you, that the absurdity (and I do admit it to be absurd) of considering two or more personal identities, &c. as going to constitute but one, is not predicable of my mind, if it be implied in the language I have used.
And now, Sir, whether I had a right to expect any fruit of my labour, in discussing the doctrine of the Trinity, except what should turn to my own confusion, I will not say. I will not dissemble, however, that in some things I am disappointed, while in others I am not. I am not disappointed, that my treatise has not mounted, among the many theological tracts of the day, as upon the wings of an eagle; but I am disappointed, that every bookstore in Boston, where liberality is so much the order of the day, should be resolutely and contemptuously shut against it; and that the Weekly Recorder, professedly open to all denominations, would not even admit the title page. I am not disappointed, that men should not declare themselves convinced by my reasoning without examining it; but I am disappointed, that so many are so prompt and cager to condemn the thing without seriously and candidly inquiring into it. And if I should declare to you my discouragement at being so repulsed by the public; would you marvel? You gently attempt to provoke me vigorously to labour for the truth; and I profess to have the willing mind but my pen must be laid aside for the plough and the mattock, until the printer's bills are paid. And if not, why should I waste any more in filling his ware-houses with uncurrent sheets, which must be damned to ignominious neglect, because Unity is to be seen in one line and Trinity in the next? I think we need not hope for much progress in the investigation of truth and in the correction of error, until our party obliquities and sourness shall be a good deal mitigated; so that a Trinitarian shall not turn indignant from the sight of Unity; nor a Unitarian kindle into jealousy and scorn at a word so equivocal as that of Trinity.
You will excuse me, Sir, for not rejecting the latter term, since, though not sanctioned by Scripture use, it has been long appropriated, in the church, to distinguish the three, whose existence and offices are acknowledged by all. You judge me to have given up the essence of the doctrine, though not the name of Trinitarianism; and this I do not deny, if Trinity means three persons, or distinctions, in one God. But history has not yet informed me, that this is the only idea, that has ever been annexed to the term. And I should think it a question in Ecclesiastical history not yet settled, what exclusive sense belongs to Trinity, as a term of distinction, long used in the christian church. But, at any rate, let substance and not shadow, truths and not empty names, be the grand subjects of inquiry.
Charlemont, May 10, 1822.
We cheerfully give publicity to the above letter from the author of a Treatise, which was reviewed in our first number of the current year. As it was then our wish to give a fair and true account of the author's scheme on the subject of the Trinity; we are happy now to allow him the opportunity of explaining himself a part of it, of which he thinks we have mistaken the meaning, and to give our readers also the advantage of having his own exposition of his views.
We are sorry to learn, that he finds so little encouragement to pursue his inquiries, and to publish the result of them; and that he has so much reason to complain of the want of interest in the community, and of liberality in our booksellers. We are indeed not a little surprised and mortified, that it can be said, that every bookstore in Boston is resolutely and contemptuously shut against his book.' We are confident that the writer must have been misinformed on the subject. That even its title-page 'should be refused a place in the Recorder,'--and that it should not be permitted to stand on the shelves of bookstores of a certain description, devoted to the interests and views of a sect, does not surprise us. But although the writer professes to be a Trinitarian, and his book purports to be a Trinitarian publication, we are confident, that it will meet with very different treatment at any Unitarian bookstore, to which it shall be offered.
It is a subject of some regret, that the respected writer should allow himself to express so strong feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction at the neglect of his book by the public. He ought to have known, and we think he has put himself in the way to learn, enough of the spirit of orthodoxy, not to be surprized at a rejection of his work without examination. Should
he experience in his person no part of that hostility, which has been excited against his opinions, it is more than the course of things for a few years past would warrant him to expect. In Unitarians we trust he will meet with a different spirit. Though not able to fall in wholly with his opinions, they will listen to them with attention; will do justice to the arguments by which he supports them, and honour the spirit of free and liberal inquiry, which he brings into the discussion.
I HAVE been strongly interested in the perusal of a sermon by the Rev. Joseph Tuckerman, delivered at the annual meeting of the society for propagating the gospel among the Indians and others in North America. It contains some views on the importance of effort in the cause of domestic inissions, which deserve to be generally made known and attentively considered, and which I am persuaded will be acceptable to the readers of the Christian Disciple.
The subject is introduced with an inquiry into the causes which operate against the success of the preaching of the gospel to heathen nations. The great impediment is stated, in the words of the Abbé Dubois, to be, the unchristian character of most of those christians who visit pagan countries. The conduct of those, who, though born in christian countries, are now spread all over India, is often so unworthy of their faith, as to increase the prejudice and dislike which the natives entertain for every foreign religion, and, above all others, for christianity.' And this great difficulty, this great obstruction to the advancement of our religion, meets us in every direction in which we would extend its knowledge and its power.'
How is this impediment to be removed? The preacher answers, by extending the influence of our religion in countries already christian, and providing that our brethren who carry the christian name with them to unbelieving lands, shall no longer exhibit such false specimens of the christian character. In order to effect these desirable ends, he insists, among other means, on the importance of patronage to domestic missionary societies. It is this passage to which I have particularly referred.
'Is it necessary to state the fact, that there are parts of our country in almost equal moral darkness, as are many parts of the pagan world to which we are sending missionaries? The SabNew Series-vol. IV.