Page images

the phrase, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” and that the words, atonement, regeneration, olection, with some others, were appropriated by the popular creeds, and stood in prevailing usage, for orthodox doctrines, we hesitated about the free use of them. It was not because we hesitated about the meaning which Scripture gave to them, but about the meaning which common usage had fixed upon

them. We believed in the things themselves, we believed in the words as they stood in the Bible, but not as they stood in other books. But finding that, whenever we used these terms, we were charged as even our great Master himself was, with “ deceiving the people,” and not anxious to dispute about words, we gave up the familiar use of a portion of the Scriptural phraseology. Whether we ought, in justice to ourselves, so to have done, is not now the question. We did so; and the consequence has been, that the body of the people, not often hearing from our pulpits the contested words and phrases ; not often hearing the words, propitiation, sacrifice, the fall, the new birth, and the Spirit of God, - hold themselves doubly warranted in charging us with a defection from the faith of Scripture. It is this state of things, which makes it especially pertinent and proper for us, as we have said, distinctly to declare not only our belief in the Scriptures generally, but our belief in what the Scriptures teach on the points in controversy,- our belief, we repeat, in what the Scriptures mean by the phrase, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” and by the words, atonement, conversion, election, and others that stand for disputed doctrines.

To some statements of this nature, then, we now invite attention ; only premising further, that it is no part of our purpose, within the brief limits of this exposition, to set forth any thing of that abundant argument for our views of Christianity, which so powerfully convinces us that they are true. object, at present, is limited to statement and explanation. We would present the Unitarian creed, according to our own understanding of it.

With this object in view, we say, in general, that we believe in the Scriptures.

On a point which is so plain, and ought to be so well understood as this, it is unnecessary to dwell, unless it be for the purpose of discrimination. If any one thinks it necessary to a reception of the Bible as a revelation from God, that the inspired penmen should have written by immediate dictation;


if he thinks that the writers were mere amanuenses, and that word after word was put down by instant suggestion from above; that the very style is divine and not human, that the style, we say, and the matters of style, — the figures, the metaphors, the illustrations, came from the Divine mind, and not from human minds, we say, at once and plainly, that we do not regard the Scriptures as setting forth any claims to such supernatural perfection or accuracy of style. It is not a kind of distinction, that would add any thing to the authority, much less to the dignity, of a communication from heaven. Nay, it would detract from its power, to deprive it, by any hypothesis, of those touches of nature, of that natural pathos, simplicity, and imagination, and of that solemn grandeur of thought, disregarding style, of which the Bible is full. Enough is it for us that the matter is divine, the doctrines true, the history authentic, the miracles real, the promises glorious, the threatenings fearful. Enough, that all is gloriously and fearfully true,

- true to the Divine will, true to human nature, true to its wants, anxieties, sorrows, sins, and solemn destinies. Enough, that the seal of a divine and miraculous communication is set upon that Holy Book.

So we receive it. So we believe in it. And there is many a record on those inspired pages, which he who believes therein would not exchange, -no, he would not exchange it, a simple sentence though it be, for the gathered wealth of a thousand worlds.

That God Almighty, the Infinite Creator and Father, hath spoken to the world ; that He who speaks indeed, in all the voices of nature and life, but speaks there generally and leaves all to inference, - that he hath spoken to man distinctly and as it were individually,--spoken with a voice of interpretation for life's mysteries, and of guidance amidst its errors, and of comfort for its sorrows, and of pardon for its sins, and of hope, undying hope, beyond the grave;- this is a fact, compared with which all other facts are not worth believing in ; this is an event, so interesting, so transcendent, transporting, sublime, as to leave to all other events the character only of things ordinary and indifferent.

But let us pass from the general truth of this record to some of its particular

doctrines. Our attention here will be confined to the New Testament.

I. And we say in the first place, that we believe “in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost.”. This was the simple primitive creed of the Christians; and it were well if men had been content to receive it in its simplicity. As a creed, it was directed to be introduced into the form of baptism. The rite of baptism was appropriated to the profession of Christianity. The converts were to be baptized into the acknowledgment of the Christian religion ; « baptized into the name," that is, into the acknowledgment, “ of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

This creed consists of three parts. It contains no proof, nor hint, of the doctrine of a Trinity. We might as well say, that any other three points of belief are one point. The creed consists of three parts; and these parts embrace the grand peculiarities of the Christian religion; and it is for this reason, as we conceive, and for no other, that they are introduced into the primitive form of a profession of Christianity.

The first tenet is, that God is a paternal Being; that he has an interest in his creatures, such as is expressed in the title Father; an interest unknown to all the systems of Paganism, untaught in all the theories of philosophy; an interest not only in the glorious beings of other spheres, the sons of light, the dwellers in heavenly worlds, but in us, poor, ignorant, and unworthy as we are ; that he has pity for the erring, pardon for the guilty, love for the pure, kindness for the humble, and promises of immortal and blessed life for those who trust and obey him. God,- yes, the God of boundless worlds and infinite systems, is our Father.

How many, in Christian lands, have not yet learned this first truth of the Christian faith!

The second article in the Christian's creed is, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person; not God himself, but his image, his brightest manifestation; the teacher of his truth, the messenger of his will; the mediator between God and men ; the sacrifice for sin, and the Saviour from it; the abolisher of death, the forerunner into eternity, where he evermore liveth to make intercession for us. We are not about to argue; but we cannot help remarking, as we pass, how obvious it is, that in none of these offices can Jesus be regarded as God. If he is God in his nature, yet as Mediator between God and man, we say, he cannot be regarded as God.

The third object of our belief, introduced into the primitive creed, is the Holy Ghost ; in other words, that power of God, that divine influence, by which Christianity was established through miraculous aids, and by which its spirit is still shed abroad in the hearts of men. This tenet, as we understand it, requires our belief in miracles, and in gracious interpositions of God, for the support and triumph of Christian faith and virtue.

Let us add, that these three, with the addition of the doctrine of a future life, are the grand points of faith which are set forth in the earliest uninspired creed on record ; commonly called “ The Apostles' Creed.” Its language is, “ I believe in God the Father Almighty; and in Jesus Christ, his onlybegotten Son, our Lord; who was born of the Holy Ghost and Virgin Mary ; and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was buried ; and, the third day, rose again from the dead; ascended into heaven, sitteth on the right hand of the Father; whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Church; the remission of sins; and the resurrection of the flesh." Not a word here of

coequal Son,” as in the Nicene Creed; not a word of “ Trinity," as in the Athanasian. Things approach nearer, it should seem, to the simplicity of the Gospel, as they approach nearer to its date. To that simplicity of faith, then, we hold fast. On that primitive and beautiful record of doctrine we put our hand and place our reliance. We believe" in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost.” May the Father Almighty have mercy upon us ! May the Son of God redeem us from guilt, from misery, and from hell! May the Holy Ghost sanctify and save us !

From this general creed, let us now proceed to particular doctrines.

II. We believe in the atonement. That is to say, we believe in what that word, and similar words, mean, in the New Testament. We take not the responsibility of supporting the popular interpretations. They are various, and are constantly varying, and are without authority, as much as they are without uniformity and consistency. What the divine record says, we believe according to the best understanding we can form of its import. We believe that Jesus Christ - died for our sins"; that he “died, the just for the

” unjust ” ; that “he gave his life a ransom for many”; that “ he is the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the


Was it,

some one

world"; that “we have redemption through his blood"; that ”

” « have access to God, and enter into the holiest, that is, the nearest communion with God, by the blood of Jesus." We have no objection to the phrase "atoning blood,” though it is not Scriptural, provided it is taken in a sense which the Scripture authorizes.

But what now is the meaning of all this phraseology, and of much more that is like it ? Certainly it is, that there is some connexion between the sufferings of Christ, and our forgiveness, and redemption from sin and misery. This we all believe. But what is this connexion ? Here is all the difficulty; here is all the difference of opinion. We all believe, all Christians believe, that the death of Christ is a means of our salvation.

But how is it a means ? will say, perhaps, as if he were putting us to the test, — was it an atonement, a sacrifice, a propitiation ? We answer, that it was an atonement, a sacrifice, a propitiation. But now the question is, what is an atonement, a sacrifice, a propitiation ? And this is the difficult question, - a question, to the proper solution of whichomuch thought, much cautious discrimination, much criticism, much knowledge, and especially of the ancient Hebrew sacrifices, is necessary. Can we not receive the atonement,” without this knowledge, this criticism, this deep philosophy? What then is to become of the mass of mankind, of the body of Christians ? Can we not savingly “receive the atonement,” unless we adopt some particular explanation, some peculiar creed, concerning it? Who will dare to answer this question in the negative, when he knows that the Christian world, the orthodox Christian world, is filled with differences of opinion concerning it? The Presbyterian Church of America is, at this moment, rent asunder on this question. Christians are, everywhere, divided on the questions, whether the redemption is particular or general, whether the sufferings of Christ were a literal endurance of the punishment due to sin, or only a moral equivalent, and whether this equivalency, supposing this to be the true explanation, consists in the endurance of God's displeasure against sin, or only in a simple scenic manifestation of it.

The atonement is one thing; the gracious interposition of Christ in our behalf; the doing of all that was necessary to be done, to provide the means and the way for our salvation, this is one thing ; in this we all believe. The philosophy,

« PreviousContinue »