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We are now prepared to inquire whether there is any thing in Unitarianism itself to unsettle men's minds, and introduce a general skepticism.
The distinction between the Unitarian and the Trinitarian is not, that the former thinks himself supported by reason, and the latter by Scripture. Each thinks himself supported by Scripture, and the only difference in this connexion is, that the Unitarian thinks himself supported by reason too.
Besides, it must be conceded, on all hands, that Christianity, as represented by Unitarians, is made to appear more reasonable and probable in itself, while nothing is done to detract in the smallest degree from its historical evidences. Open any popular work on the evidences, Paley's, for example, and you cannot turn to a single important argument, illustration, or allusion, which the Unitarian may not urge with just as much confidence in proof of Christianity, as he understands it, as the Trinitarian can in proof of Christianity, as he understands it. The question here is not, how strong this evidence is, or how much it will prove, or whether it will prove any thing; but we say, that it will prove as much for the Unitarian as it will for the Trinitarian. This, then, is a true statement of the case; Unitarian views are sustained by the same evidence and authority with the Trinitarian, and the only difference is, that Unitarian views are more reasonable and probable in themselves. Now we ask, whether a man is less likely to believe in Christianity merely because it is made to appear more reasonable and probable in itself, the evidence and authority for it remaining the same? Take any system or theory, and make it
appear more reasonable and probable in itself, and can it be supposed for one moment that it will require more external evidence to convince men of its truth? or that the same external evidence will not produce in them an equal degree of conviction? We neither judge nor despise those who believe or profess to believe in apparent contradictions or incongruities; for they have a right to do so, and they ought to do so, if they think these apparent contradictions or incongruities part of divine revelation. But we are speaking of those who are honestly convinced, that these apparent contradictions or incongruities are not part of divine revelation, are not taught in the Bible. Taking this view of the subject, we can hardly look on a man as serious, who still persists in maintaining, that one's faith in Christianity is less likely to be hearty and entire, merely because it comes to him supported at the same time by Scripture, and reason, and conscience, and his best feelings, and all nature.
inal thinkers, whose intellectual force will be turned, in the first instance, upon subjects which are dearest to the heart, and of most importance to society: Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions. pp. 150, 151.
This is one of those questions, a fair, clear, and forcible statement of which makes all discussion superfluous. Besides, it is not enough considered, in this connexion, that the external evidences of Christianity are of a moral or historical nature, and do not therefore, and cannot amount to demonstration. So long as the intrinsic improbability of what is to be proved falls within a certain limit, these evidences are sufficient; but they cease to be sufficient as soon as the intrinsic improbability of what is to be proved is made to exceed this limit. The impartial and discriminating inquirer will take care, at every step, to weigh the external evidences of what is to be proved against its intrinsic improbability, and the balance, one way or the other, will be the measure of his faith, or of his skepticism. To make Christianity, therefore, appear more reasonable and probable in itself, has the same effect, so far as a rational conviction of its truth is concerned, as adding so much to its external evidences, and to make it appear less reasonable and probable in itself, has the same effect as detracting so much from its external evidences. It is folly, moreover, to shut our eyes on the fact, that in all educated and enlightened communities, the traditionary faith is gradually losing its hold on the public mind. Temporary alarms and excitements may do something to counteract this tendency; but that it exists, and is felt, is manifest in the feverish eagerness evinced of late by most even of the exclusive sects in altering their policy, and, in some respects, their doctrines and institutions, to accommodate themselves to it. Once the apparent inconsistencies and absurdities in the popular faith constituted no obstacle to its prevalence as matter of profession at least, if not of actual belief; but the time is coming, and in many places now is, when with men of intelligence and reflection the only question likely to arise is, whether they shall have a more rational religion, or none. Among every people there must be a certain correspondence and harmony, if we may so express it, between the religion as publicly professed and taught, and their moral and intellectual progress in other respects, or a spirit of indifference or disgust will grow up in regard to it, a thousand times more fatal to every thing like a true and living faith, than speculative doubts. In proof of this we need but refer to the state of things in England during the Protectorate and the reign of Charles the Second, and in France for some time prior to the Revolution, and in some parts of Germany at the present moment. Unitarianism, therefore, nominally or virtually held, in a free and enlightened community like ours, instead of opening on us, as some would pretend, the floodgates of infidelity, presents under God, as we conceive, the only effectual barrier against its encroachments.
Admitting, however, that there is nothing in Unitarianism itself to induce skepticism, the question arises whether it does not omit or reject certain principles or doctrines, which lie at the foundation of an unshaken trust in revelation.
In the first place, Unitarians entertain different views from those which have prevailed in some sects respecting what is called the witness of the spirit.' Paul, writing to the Romans, says, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The spirit itself,' or, as it ought to be rendered, this very spirit, beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.'* The meaning of the original may be rendered more fully and intelligibly thus: Ye have not again received the spirit of slaves, which is fear, but the spirit of adopted sons, by which we appeal to God, as our Father. This very spirit, if we are conscious of possessing it, bears witness with our spirit, affords us the necessary evidence, that we are the children of God.' The Scriptures neither here, nor in any other passage, countenance the presumption, that to be a Christian, and a believer in the truth, it is necessary for a man to be assured of the fact by some mysterious and preternatural intimation from above. At the same time, it is not wonderful, that persons acting under a belief that such an intimation was to be expected, especially if they are of an excitable and imaginative temperament, should often work themselves into an impression that they have received it. Accordingly we find that Deists and Mahomedans, as well as Christians, and that Christians of different denominations, and of irreconcilable and contradictory views, have supposed themselves to receive mysterious and preternatural intimations from God, sometimes externally and sometimes internally, each one of the correctness of his own peculiar sentiments, and of the safety of his own condition. Nay, the same individual will sometimes alter his religious opinions and practices three or four times in the course of his life, and yet declare and honestly believe, after each change, that he has had mysterious and preternatural assurances that he is infallibly right at last.
* Romans viii. 15, 16.
Shall we say, then, that all these pretences to infallibility and divine illumination are well founded? Certainly not; for this would be to make God expressly confirm and sanction all manner of contradictions. Besides, if we go over to the Quaker, because he is confident that he is right from divine intimations, as he regards them, then also, and for the same reason, to be consistent, we must go over to the Methodist, and the high Calvinist, and the Swedenborgian, each of whom is not a whit less confident than the Quaker, that he too is right, from divine intimations, as he regards them. The argument, by proving too much, proves nothing.
Still it may be argued that these supposed divine intimations, however they may be regarded by others, must exclude all doubt from those who are conscious of them. Conscious of what? They are conscious, doubtless, of certain internal impressions, emotions, or suggestions; and of the fact of these internal impressions, emotions, or suggestions, consciousness is, we admit, an infallible witness. But that these internal impressions, emotions, or suggestions are from God is not a matter of consciousness, but of inference, and perhaps, as they must know, of mistaken inference. If, therefore, while relying on supposed divine intimations, I see my neighbours, by trusting to the same kind of evidence, led into conclusions the very opposite to mine, must I not, if I am a man of discernment and reflection, begin to suspect the evidence itself? If I see multitudes around me, whose honesty and sincerity I cannot question, misled by a confidence in supposed divine intimations, may I not, must I not, begin to suspect that I also may be misled in the same way? I cannot doubt, it is true, the reality of those impressions, emotions, or suggestions, of which I am conscious; but I can alter my mind respecting their nature and origin. Impressions, emotions, or suggestions, which I used to regard as mysterious and preternatural intimations from above, I may find can be explained on a different hypothesis, and more satisfactorily. It is not true, therefore, that a consciousness of supposed divine intimations and assurances will exclude doubt; for this consciousness must always be accompanied by another, that in regard to the first we may be self-deceived. The very same reasons and arguments, which, as we have shown, should lead a man who makes no pretensions to mysterious and preternatural intimations, to suspect those who do, should also lead those who do to suspect themselves. Hence it appears that Unitarians lose nothing on the score either of evidence, or argument, or confidence, by rejecting as unscriptural and illusory the popular doctrine of the witness of the spirit.
Again; it may be alleged that Unitarians throw every thing into uncertainty by the peculiar views which they hold and inculcate respecting inspiration. Unitarians believe in the divine origin of the Christian religion, and in its supernatural and miraculous origin. They believe that our Lord and the apostles were inspired, - supernaturally, miraculously inspired. Accordingly they conclude, and cannot but conclude, that the writers of the New Testament, possessing such means of information, must have carried in their minds at all times, in all places, and to the end of life, a complete and infallible knowledge of the doctrine of Christ. They make a distinction, however, between being inspired and being omniscient, holding that the inspiration of the most favored of these writers extended only to what is essential to the Christian doctrine. Their inspiration began and ended in a supernatural communieation to their minds of a clear, abiding, and infallible perception of the vital and essential principles of the new dispensation. These they were afterwards left to state, illustrate, and recommend, as they were able, in their own language, and by their natural faculties. Unitarians do not think it necessary to maintain, nor safe to attempt to maintain, that the sacred writers were inspired as natural philosophers, metaphysicians, or critics, nor even as logicians, chronologers, or historians. They distinguish, moreover, between the Christian revelation, which existed, and had been extensively diffused many years before a line of the Christian Scriptures was written,
N. S. VOL. VI. NO. II.