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To some of the passages generally adduced to support the Trinitarian hypothesis, we shall have occasion to allude in a subsequent part of this essay.
But there is one difficulty with regard to the Trinity, that has always appeared to us insurmountable, and, considered à priori
, would seem almost to be decisive of the question. No one, we conceive, has put it so well and so concisely as Dr. Channing, and we shall therefore avail ourselves of the passage from his works. “ Christianity," says he, "was planted and grew up amidst sharp-sighted enemies, who overlooked no objectionable part of the system, and who must have fastened with great earnestness on a doctrine involving such apparent contradictions as the Trinity. We cannot conceive an opinion, against which the Jews, who prided themselves on an adherence to God's unity, would have raised an equal clamour. Now, how happens it, that in the Apostolic writings, which relate so much to objections against Christianity, and to the controversies which grew out of this religion, not one word is said, implying that objections were brought against the Gospel from the doctrine of the Trinity-not one word is uttered in its defence and explanation-not a word to rescue it from reproach and mistake? This argument has almost the force of demonstration, We are persuaded that had three divine
been announced by the first preachers of Christianity, all equal, and all infinite, one of whom was the very Jesus who had lately died on a cross, this peculiarity of Christianity would have almost absorbed every other, and the great labour of the Apostles would have been to repel the continual assaults which it would have awakened. But the fact is, that not a whisper of objection to Christi. anity, on that account, reaches our ears from the Apostolic age. In the Epistles we see not a trace of controversy called forth by the Trinity.”
There are many other weighty objections to this doctrine, of a practical character, which have been very ably stated by various Unitarian writers. We shall briefly advert to some of these, and then pass
on to the theological points involved in the discussion. The tenet of a Trinity is regarded by Unitarians as unfavourable to devotion, by dividing and distracting the mind in its communion with God. It injures devotion, in fact, not only
by uniting with the Father other objects of worship, but by taking from Him the supreme affection which is His due, and transferring it to the Son. The investing of Christ with all the attributes of Divinity, naturally renders him the most interesting and attractive person in the Godhead, because he has been clothed in our form, has felt our wants and sorrows ; and hence the unreflecting mind is apt to turn in devotional homage to him, rather than to “his God and our God,” the Father in Heaven, who is a pure and invisible spirit. Is there not something of idolatry in this? May it not be thought to originate in the same feeling—to flow from the same source as that which gives to the Virgin Mary so conspicuous a place in the devotions of the Roman Catholic Church ?
Unitarians entertain a warm faith in the moral perfections of God. All Christians, indeed, profess to acknowledge in the Divine character the qualities of goodness, justice, and holiness; but when they come to apply these qualities to Him in particular instances, there is not seldom a want of correspondence between such applications and the general idea of those Heavenly attributes. It would seem that, in the view of some, the Supreme Being is raised above the principles of morality, above those eternal laws of equity and rectitude, to which all other beings are subjected. Unitarians conceive that in no being is the sense of right so strong, so omnipotent, as in God. “We believe,” says Channing, “that His almighty power is entirely submitted to His perceptions of rectitude ; and this is the ground of our piety. It is not because He is our creator merely, but because He created us for good and holy purposes ; it is not because His will is irresistible, but because His will is the perfection of virtue, that we pay Him allegiance. We cannot bow before a being, however great and powerful, who governs tyranically. We respect nothing but excellence, whether on Earth or in Heaven. We venerate not the loftiness of God's throne, but the equity and goodness in which it is established.”
We will not here dwell on those God-dishonouring systems which teach the total depravity of man, or the no less fearful doctrines of Election and Reprobation; they would demand too much of our space, and our object in these preliminary observations is not so much controversy as statement and exposition.
It may seem singular to those who are in the habit of decrying Unitarianism without knowing what it really is, that its professors do not take their stand so much on the theological truth of its doctrines as on the consideration that it is peculiarly adapted to promote inward, living, practical religion. This latter they consider to be its especial character and property--that it has a tendency, superior to that of the popular system, to form an elevated religious character. What is the chief purpose, or what, to an unbiased mind, might be supposed to appear the main object of Christianity ? Would it not be to generate and extend piety, to assimilate our souls to the Divine mind? Whatever religious system, therefore, shall be found to fulfil these objects, will surely be worthy of profound attention, as possessing authentic tokens of a Divine original. But let it be remembered that the characteristics of a truly religious nature are not fanatical ravings, gloomy apprehensions, or superstitious forms, but a filial love and reverence towards God, a cheerful reliance on His goodness and mercy, an habitual gratitude and ready obedience, and an earnest aspiring after the Divine perfections.
Now, the simpler a system of religious truths is, the better adapted it would appear to be as a means to attain these ends; and Unitarianism must be allowed to be characterised by greater simplicity than Trinitarianism. It presents to the mind One, and one only, infinite person as the object of supreme homage, whereas the latter presents Three. By this it concentrates, as it were, the energy of the religious sentiment, while the other principle divides and scatters it among various objects. The piety of the soul thus distracted, is divested of much of its efficacy and intensity. The more strict and absolute the unity of the object of religious worship, the more easily and intimately the pious impressions and emotions of the soul blend and unite into one harmonious allabsorbing affection. This primá facie view of the superior tendency of Unitarianism over its opposite, to promote the truly religious sentiment, has, we are aware, been frequently descanted on by many able writers, and in more eloquent phrase than we can employ, but we are sure our readers will excuse our reiteration of so vitally important a principle in the doctrine, the moral features of which we are endeavouring, though it be but in a condensed form, to expose and elucidate.
This doctrine inculcates, in an especial manner, the spirituality of the Divine Being. “God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Next to what we have already adverted to, if there be any one principle in Christianity more peculiarly worthy of our attention and reverence, it is this, because it tends to refine and elevate our conceptions of God. And, surely, if the Jewish people were justly enjoined to refrain from representing God under any bodily form, it will be allowed to be much more incumbent upon Christians to be on their guard in this respect. Now, the preeminent tendency of that view of the Christian religion which we are anxious to enforce is, to spiritualize the object of supreme homage. Whereas, it would seem to us, that it is the direct inflnence of the orthodox system to materialise men's conceptions of God. Hear the pious Doctor Channing on this point : "the leading feature of Trinitarianism is, the doctrine of a God clothed with a body, and acting and speaking through a material frame, of the Infinite Divinity dying on a cross; a doctrine, which in earthliness reminds us of the mythology of the rudest pagans, and which a pious Jew, in the twilight of the Mosaic religion would have shrunk from with horror. It seems to me no small objection to the Trinity, that it supposes God to take a body in the later and more improved ages of the world, when it is plain, that such a manifestation, if needed at all, was peculiarly required in the infancy of the race. The effect of such a system in debasing the idea of God, in associating with the Divinity human passions and infirmities, is too obvious to need much elucidation.
The Roman Catholics, true to human nature and their creed, have sought, by painting and statuary, to bring their imagined God before their eyes; and have thus obtained almost as vivid impressions of Him as if they had lived with Him on the earth. The Protestant condemns them for using these similitudes and representations in their worship; but, if a Trinitarian, he does so to his own condemnation. For if, as he believes, it was once a duty to bow in adoration before the living body of his incarnate God, what possible guilt can there be in worshipping before the pictured or sculptured memorial of the same being ? Christ's body may as truly be represented by the artist as any other human form ; and its image may be used as effectually and properly as that of an ancient sage or hero, to recal Him with vividness to the mind. Is it said that God has expressly forbidden the use of images in our worship? But why was that prohibition laid on the Jews ? For this express reason, that God had not presented Himself to them in any form which admitted of representation. Hear the language of Moses : "Take good heed lest ye make you a graven image, for ye saw no
manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire.' (Deut. IV., 15, 16). If, since that period, God has taken a body, then the reason of the prohibition has ceased; and if He took a body, among other purposes, that he might assist the weakness of the intellect, which needs a material form, then a statue, which lends so great an aid to the conception of an absent friend, is not only justified, but seems to be required.”
We need hardly dwell longer on the effect which the idea of a threefold Divinity has to detract from the purely spiritual nature of God, and hence to debase and perplex in the same degree the devotion of His worshippers. We proceed, therefore, to treat upon the accordance of Unitarianism, with just views of the physical and moral world. It has already been beautifully remarked that the outward universe--the natural creationbears testimony to the existence, the power, and love, of one almighty, intelligent Being. The researches of philosophy, too, have contributed to strengthen and multiply the proofs of the Divine unity. No evidence is adduced by the one or the other of Three Divine Persons. There is no Trinitarianism in nature or philosophy. Neither the heavens nor the earth, nor the investigations into their physical phenomena, proclaim the presence of a tri-personal author. This, then, is surely ground sufficient to justify the Unitarian in maintaining that nature itself concurs with his exposition of one of the essential principles of revelation-namely, the Divine unity. And this concurrence tends to strengthen and increase the impression derived from both. The truths of revelation are never so gladly and intimately cherished, as when they fall in with the truths deduced from the inquiries instituted into, or reflections on, the works of creation.