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and these Scriptures themselves, which are but a record of the revelation. And here we cannot but express our surprise and regret at the ignorance, or want of candor, or proAigacy of those, who take every opportunity to affirm or insinuate that Unitarians do not believe in inspiration, or in the Bible as containing the Christian revelation, or that their views on these and the kindred subjects are essentially novel or peculiar. They are substantially the same views with those held by Grotius and Le Clerc, by Paley and the liberal divines generally of the Church of England, and by almost the entire body of German theologians at the present day, the professed Rationalists excepted. Had the Deity, says Michaelis, inspired 'not a single book of the New Testament, but left the apostles and evangelists without any other aid than that of natural abilities to commit what they knew to writing, admitting their works to be authentic, and possessed of a sufficient degree of credibility, the Christian religion would still remain the true one.'* Upon which Bishop Marsh remarks, · Here our author makes a distinction, which is at present very generally received, between the divine origin of the Christian doctrine, and the divine origin of the writings in which that doctrine is recorded.' +
It is remarkable, that the views of inspiration entertained by Unitarians, in common, it is believed, with the majority of enlightened Protestants, and which have exposed them in some quarters to the suspicion of skepticism, have been insisted on for the sole purpose of meeting the objections of infidels. They are under no necessity, and they feel no disposition, in their controversies with other Christians, to avail themselves of any latitude of interpretation, which these views of inspiration might be supposed to warrant, in ascertaining what is to be received as the simple, unadulterated truth. In their controversies with Trinitarians and Calvinists, for example, even if it were assumed, on both sides, that every word and letter, nay the very punctuation, of canonical and genuine Scripture were inspired, it would not in their minds vary the result. But on subjects not connected with the Christian doctrine, or merely collateral and unessential, discrepancies and contradictions occur in the sacred writings which never have been reconciled by a fair and legitimate construc
* Marsh's Michaelis, Vol. 1. p. 72. | Ib. p. 379.
tion, and never can be. It is necessary, therefore, either to adopt views of inspiration which are consistent with such discrepancies and contradictions, or give up inspiration altogeth
Some persons appear to think and reason as if by embracing the extreme doctrine of a plenary inspiration, something is gained to the argument for the truth of Christianity, A moment's reflection, however, must be sufficient, it would seem, to convince every one, that its effect, on the contrary, must be merely to embarrass that argument, and, in our opinion, fatally. After taking this ground it is not sufficient, as with us, to establish the general truth and authority of the Scriptures; but even the minutest inaccuracy in history or philosophy to be found in them will be fastened on by the skeptic and the infidel, and becomes an insuperable obje on. The conclusion, therefore, is irresistible, that those who can believe in the Bible, holding at the same time the extreme doctrine of a plenary inspiration, would believe in it with infinitely less misgiving, if they felt themselves at liberty to adopt the modified form of that doctrine as held by Unitarians, and rational Christians generally. Waiving, as we purposely do in this place, the question of the correctness of Unitarian views of inspiration, and their accordance with Scripture, and considering them merely in their connexion with the evidences of Christianity, and in their bearing on faith, it is obvious, that, instead of promoting, they must have a tendency to prevent or arrest a spirit of skepticism in those who hold them, and in the community.
There is, then, nothing peculiar to Unitarianism, either in what it admits or in what it rejects, which can be justly suspected of skeptical or infidel tendencies. We shall next inquire, as proposed, whether the whole system has become justly liable to a suspicion of this nature from the manner in which it is arrived at, or in which it has been, and is, defended and maintained.
Exceptions have been taken to the extent to which Unitarians have carried their rejection of human authority, as such, in matters of faith and conscience. The radical mistake committed by those who are for ever hovering round this objection, consists in supposing that authority can exclude doubt, after doubts have arisen respecting the authority. The freedom, and in some instances the licentiousness of thought which has shown itself in modern times, has not had its ori
gin, as some seem to imagine, in policy, or in an experiment, or in a particular inculcation, but has grown necessarily out of the progress of society and the human mind. It is idle to expect that the people, if allowed and encouraged to inquire freely on all other subjects, will long permit themselves to be hoodwinked and bound on the subject of religion. Accustomed to ask a reason for every thing else, they will ask a reason for the authority which any man, or any body of men may arrogate in matters of faith ; and in this way doubts will arise respecting the authority itself, and these doubts will extend themselves, of course, to every thing resting on this authority. They may still, it is true, profess an outward respect for the authority in question, and agree to appeal to it as of final jurisdiction in order to have some means of settling or preventing controversies; but their faith is gone. It is remarkable that in the church which makes the greatest pretensions to authority, and on the whole with the best show of reason, and in countries, too, where this authority has been enforced with every advantage to be derived either from government or public opinion, skepticism and infidelity have made the most alarming inroads. Among Protestants, too, the utter inefficacy of mere authority to foreclose skeptical and infidel tendencies is manifest in the case of German antisupernaturalism, which has arisen and grown up under an outward respect and conformity to the most orthodox creeds and establishments. All that authority can do in matters of faith, is to introduce the old distinction between esoterics and exoterics, to make it necessary for men to think with the wise and talk with the vulgar; a state of things much more likely, especially in a country like ours, to root out every vestige of a sincere and honest belief, than the most reckless spirit of innovation.
Besides, much of the skepticism which is sometimes referred to the public and free discussion of religious subjects, does not originate in these discussions, but is only brought to light by them. There is a latent and passive skepticism much more widely diffused in the community than is generally supposed, which, in our judgment, is to the full as culpable in itself, and as injurious in its moral influences, as an open and active skepticism, and much more difficult to cure. We should not regard it as an evil, therefore, even if it could be proved that the discussions provoked by Unitarianism have made some men sensible to their doubts, and disposed in some instances to avow and defend them; for it is not until their skepticism has put on this form, that it can be fairly met either by themselves or others. If we must have an active or a passive skepticism, give us the first. An active skepticism will often cure itself, work itself clear of its difficulties; but there is no hope whatever of a man who will neither believe nor inquire. An active skepticism, moreover, does not imply an indifference to truth, nor prevent men from discriminating; so that while it leads them to deny this thing, and doubt that, it leaves their confidence in other things unimpaired, and perhaps strengthened and quickened. But it is of the nature of a latent and passive skepticism, by confounding the true with the false, and the certain with the doubtful, to spread itself gradually over the whole subject, involving natural as well as revealed religion in the same doubt, and causing them to be regarded with a like indifference, if not contempt. Under the influence of this spirit the best that men can be expected to do, is to settle down at last into the conceited and supercilious conclusion, that Christianity, whether true or not, is a good thing for society, and especially for the lower classes, and must not be disturbed. We know of nothing more likely to move an ingenuous mind to indignation, than to see one who from indolence or indifference is secretly skeptical as to all religion, joining, however, in the vulgar cry of heresy or infidelity against those who will not assent to what they do not believe. We can bear with the opposition, and even with the personal abuse of the bigot and the fanatic, for they are honest, or at least consistent; but we find it more difficult to command our feelings, when worldly, intriguing, hollowhearted men array themselves against reform, and affect a concern for prejudices and antiquated errors, which in their hearts they despise.
Again, it has been said, that in most communities, to arrive at Unitarianism, men must give up many of the doctrines in which they were educated, and that the giving up of each of these doctrines must weaken their confidence in those which they retain. It is obvious, in the first place, that this objection does not apply to Unitarianism in any other sense than it does to every reformation, and particularly to the Protestant reformation. Besides, it proceeds in this case on a forgetfulness of the important circumstances insisted on above, that the doctrines discarded by Unitarians were a dead weight on the whole system, and of course that the system, thus relieved, must meet with a more ready and entire assent. We
e are willing, nevertheless, to admit that men's confidence in simple and pure Christianity must be most perfect in those
in which in order to arrive at it they are not obliged to reject any human additions or corruptions with which it has been connected. From this, however, our only inference is, not that men should not be instructed in Unitarianism, but that they should never be instructed in any thing else. If a certain degree of skepticism always adheres to a mind which is conscious of having been once imposed upon and abused, the whole blame of the skepticism should certainly be thrown back on the imposition and abuse, in which it originated. If innovation in itself considered be an evil, especially in religion, the evil should be referred not to Unitarianism, but to the false views in which the people have been educated, and which in the general advancement of knowledge make innovation unavoidable. So far, too, as the charge of having actually innovated on the faith of our ancestors is concerned, it is obvious that the Orthodox of the present day, in New England certainly, are in the same condemnation. If any say, that they have not given up doctrines which they themselves deem essential and fundamental, it should be recollected that we also can say as much; for neither have we given up doctrines, which we ourselves deem essential and fundamental. If they say, on the other hand, that they have not given up doctrines deemed essential and fundamental by the first reformers, the Puritans, and their own immediate ancestors, they say what is not true. By rejecting, as they have done almost unanimously, the doctrines of impu
ation and particular election, for example, they have already innovated as essentially on the traditionary faith, as they would do if they were to go further, and reject the doctrine of the trinity itself.
We prefer, however, to meet this charge of innovation on its own merits. Why should it be thought necessary to defend ourselves against the imputation or suspicion of skeptical or infidel tendencies, merely because we have departed from some of the doctrines held by the first reformers ? The progress of society and the human mind did not stop with their labors. On the contrary, there has never been a pe