« PreviousContinue »
any opinions, to the truth or falsehood of the opinions themselves, is one which requires a judicious acquaintance with the springs of human action, extensive experience, and accurate observation. And even with all these, it can only afford a presumption, which can weigh nothing against direct proofs, and the plain and natural tendency of these opinions.
If I could not perceive as clearly as I do, the beneficial tendency of the great principles of Unitarianism, yet I should not hesitate to maintain it on the two following considerations: 1. That truth, under the government of a holy, wise, and benevolent Being, all whose ways are truth, must on the whole, be more productive of good than error can be: and 2. That our Lord himself, speaking of the FATHER as THE ONLY TRUE GOD, represents it as life eternal to know Him, and Jesus Christ whom He sent. In these all-important words, the Unitarian's creed is comprised; and with the knowledge (undoubtedly the practical knowledge) of the truths they contain, our Lord connects eternal life.
But independently of these abstract considerations, I rejoice in the clear perception of its beneficial tendency. I see that Unitarianism embraces all the great motives of Christianity; that it impedes the operation of none; and that it frees the practical principles of the Gospel from the influence of doctrines, which, in their natural efficacy, impede or pervert them.
I. I consider it as a great excellence of UNITARIANISM, that it ENCOURAGES AND REWARDS THE SOUND EXERCISE OF THE UNDERSTANDING IN MATTERS OF RELIGION.
Unitarianism peculiarly falls in with the liberal and intellectual character of the Gospel, and of the instructions of Christ and his apostles. The religion of Christ is a religion of the heart, but it is also a religion of the understanding. Truth is the food, and divine truth the best food of the understanding; 'to bear witness to the truth,' was the object (our Saviour himself says) 'for which he was born, for which he came forth into the world;' and he prays that by the truth, God would sanctify his disciples.
The spirit of the gospel dispensation is admirably expressed in the words of the apostle Paul. I will pray with the spirit, I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, I will sing with the understanding also.' The Christian religion was designed, not as a temporary dispensation, but to last through every period of the world. It was of great importance, for its future acceptance and usefulness, that it should approve itself to the sound understanding; that it should appear to all, who will seriously examine, to be indeed the wisdom of God unto salvation; that it should be obvious to all who desire to do the will of God,' not only that grace, but that truth also came by Jesus Christ.
Some there are who value a doctrine in proportion to its obscurity: and those, who make religion a matter of the imagination and of strong feeling, rather than of solid conviction and of steady though lively christian affection and principle, might wish for more than 'the simplicity which is in Christ.' But where the judgment is duly exercised, and the imagination properly placed under its regulation, the disciple of Jesus must rejoice
when he sees the complete accordance of the truths of the Gospel with the dictates of the soundest understanding; and must feel grateful to the Father of lights, that the bright display of himself and his dispensations, which the Gospel affords, is not obscured by the impenetrable cloud of incomprehensibility. Is it possible that the clear understanding of important truth can make it less interesting or less valuable ?
Now if the Unitarian views of christian truth are correct, there is nothing in the scheme of the Gospel which it is difficult to understand. Those principles, which were most inconsistent with the prejudices of the Jews, and therefore to them most mysterious, are not so to us. On the contrary, though they may excite our admiration, and our adoration of the unsearchable wisdom of him, who seeth the end from the beginning, and often chooseth means to execute his purposes which baffle human wisdom and presumption, they contribute to bind the Gospel to the heart. That the blessings of the Gospel should be free to all, without distinction of Jew and Gentile, free as the air we breathe, and that they should be conveyed to us, not by the temporal prince and triumphant conqueror, but by the man of sorrows,' who through suffering and death became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him, present to our minds nothing mysterious; but, on the contrary, more clearly display to our eyes the wisdom of him, who is called 'the only wise God.'
I do not say, that Unitarianism entirely removes all difficulties from religion: I believe that difficulties will exist, as long as human excellence must include humility, trust, and resignation: and such is the admirable
adaptation of revelation to the wants of man, that these very difficulties are one cause of the attention which the mind pays to it, and which, where humbly and piously directed, is constantly rewarded by clearer and clearer perceptions of divine truth. But I do say, that Unitarianism removes the greatest and most oppressive difficulties, which have tended to prejudice the minds of thinking men against the Gospel. And though I would never relinquish a doctrine, proved by adequate evidence, merely because it is obscure, yet surely it is a presumption in favor of the divine origin of a doctrine, that it is clear and intelligible. To many it may not be of any consequence whether they understand a thing or not. They may feel at perfect ease in receiving as true, from the authority of their parents and spiritual guides, that which they in no way profess to understand. But the more the mind is exercised, and the more knowledge on other subjects it acquires, the more it seeks to understand that which it is taught to believe; and the more extensively intellectual culture is diffused, the more generally will this want be experienced. In periods of spiritual darkness and spiritual slavery, the most absurd dogmas may be implicitly received; but where the light of knowledge beams on other subjects, and the rights of religious liberty and free inquiry are understood and exercised, the mind cannot rest in religious ignorance. And I do gratefully rejoice in the conviction, that, in the search after divine truth in the records and dictates of revelation, the understanding may not only find its noblest field for exercise, but will be rewarded with knowledge which, while it is healthy to the soul, will prove invigorating to its own noblest powers.
But I will not enlarge on this point, farther than by stating the positions which I had in view under this head, viz. that the great principles of Unitarianism, (or, in other words, as I firmly believe, pure Christianity,) are easily understood: that they do not perplex and confound the understanding that they are adapted to the intellectual wants of all, and especially of those for whom the Gospel was peculiarly designed, the poor and unlearned: that they relieve Christianity from those difficulties which erroneous views of it have caused, and which have led numbers to relinquish it; and that they make christian faith, where it has been founded on evidence, more firm and steady, by freeing it from the sources of doubt, and wavering, and perplexity. Such, I hesitate not in believing, have been the effects of Unitarianism in numerous instances. And I trust, under the blessing of God, such will be its effect, increasing in a rapid proportion.
II. Intimately connected with the foregoing remarks, is the important fact, that UNITARIAN CHRISTIANITY
PRESENTS ONE OBJECT OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP, ONE OBJECT OF THE HIGHEST AFFECTIONS OF THE HEART.
The perplexities experienced by the thinking mind in connexion with this essential point, have often been the cause of the examination, and subsequent rejection, of the popular doctrines. If there are three persons, or intelligent agents, each infinite, each possessed of all the adorable perfections which belong to God, — if, in short, there are three separate, distinct, infinite Minds, of one substance, power, and glory, each subsisting separately, and capable of being made, separate