« PreviousContinue »
worship of God; and their devotion to the pleasures and amusements of life.
Dr. Priestly acknowledges, that “the Unitarian Societies do not flourish; that their members have but a slight attachment to them, and, easily desert them.” Voltaire also says,
" that down to his own time, only a very small number of those, called Unitarians, had held any religious meetings."
Dr. Priestly also says, that many Unitarians have become more indifferent to religion in general, than they were before; and to all the modes and doctrines of religion.” Concerning himself, he says, “ that he was once a Calvinist, and that of the straitest sect; then a high Arian; next a low Arian; then a Socinian; und in a little time a Socinian of the lowest kind, in which Jesus Christ is considered as a mere man, the son of Joseph and Mary, and naturally as fallible and peccable as Moses, or any other Prophet.” He also says, “he does not know when his creed will be fixed." This I consider as the true progress, nature, and tendency, of Unitarianism. The end of this progress in most men is easily foreseen. Let him, therefore, who finds himself inclined to think favourably of these opinions, consider well, before he embraces them, what will pro hably be the final termination of his religious system.
INCARNATION OF CHRIST.
Romans viii. 3.- God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.
I HAVE, in several preceding discourses, endeavoured to settle the meaning of the phrase, God's own Son, used in this passage of the Scriptures. This was indispensably necessary, at the opening of all the observations, intended to be made concerning the doctrines of the Christian system. As these doctrines are truths partly unfolding to us the character and conduct of this wonderful person, and partly disclosing to us the consequences of his interference in the behalf of mankind; as his character, in a greater or less degree, affects every doctrine of what is appropriately called the Christian Religion, and as those, who set out with different views of his character, proceed farther and farther asunder, so as to form in the end entirely different systems of religious doctrine; it be. came indispensable, that this great point should, as far as possible, be fixed at the beginning. If the attempt to do this has been successful, in the degree which I have hoped, it will contribute not a little to settle on a firm foundation most of the doctrines, which remain to be investigated. My own views concerning them, it will, at least, contribute to explain.
In this passage we are informed, that God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. The meaning of this phrase, (the likeness of sinful flesh) will be obvious from similar phrases in Philippians ii. 7, 8, He was made, or, as it is in the original, He existed, in the likeness of men ; and being found in fashion as a man. In the first of these phrases, the original word, quawası, is the same with that translated likeness, in the text. In the second, it is oxnuari; a term of a kindred signification, denoting form, or fashion. In the passage in Philippians, the phrases, He existed in the likeness of men, and, He was found in fashion as a man, denote, that he was a real man. In the text, the phrase, the likeness of sinful flesh, denotes, that he was sent in real flesh; here figuratively called sinful, be cause it is in all other instances, except that of Christ, the flesh, or body, of sinful beings.
The Doctrine, contained in this passage, is, therefore, the following:
That CHRIST, WHEN HE APPEARED IN THIS WORLD, WAS A REAL
This doctrine, like that of the Deity of Christ, has been extensively disputed.
The Heretics, generally, who embraced the Gnostic philosophy, denied Christ to have been a man. Some individuals, and some classes, held, that he was clothed in a body of air; that he suffered only in appearance; and that Judas Iscariot suffered in his stead.
To all these and the like doctrines, they were led by philosophizing on this subject. It is a just observation of Lardner, that “ Heretics were, in the general, men of a curious and inquisitive turn of mind, and greatly indulged this disposition, which led them to speculate on many points of doctrine, concerning which the Scriptures had afforded little or no light. When the Scriptures were in some cases inconsistent with their notions, they were for making them yield to their philosophical opinions. Thus the simplicity of truth was banished, and endless divisions arose.” Tertullan, also, says, that “ heresies are derived from philosophy, and that secular wisdom is a rash (or fool-hardy) interpreter of the Divine nature, and disposition.". These observations are with equal force and justice, applicable to heresies of modern days, and those of the ancients; and few of either will be found to have arisen from any other source, beside a philosophy, too proud, or too knowing, to submit implicitly to the testimony of God.
There are two modes of conduct, with respect to Religion, in which the mind may be justly said to act rationally. One is to determine, antecedently to our knowledge of a revelation, as well as we can, what is religious truth, by our Reason; the other, to find out and embrace, when we have become acquainted with Revelation, what it declares to be religious truth. In the former of these situations, Reoson is our only guide. In the latter, its only business is to discover whether the professed Revelation is a real one; and, after this point is settled affirmatively, to discover, and receive, whatever it declares. God has now become our guide; and, as He can neither deceive, nor be deceived, our duty is to receive his testimony implicitly. Had this plain and equitable rule been uniformly followed, Christianity would never have been thus distorted; nor the Church rent asunder by such lamentable divisions.
The reason why the Docetae, one class of the ancient Unitarians, denied Christ to be a man, was the general principle of the Gnostics : that moral evil has its seat in Matter. Hence they held that the human soul, which they believed to have been originally pure, derived its contamination solely from its union with the body. It was no unnatural consequence, for those, who embraced this doctrine, to adopt the impossibility of an union between God and the human body; since such an union was, of course, supposed to be capable of contaminating even the Divine puri.y.
Their philosophy, therefore, seems necessarily to have led them into the conclusion, that Christ, whom they believed to be God, was never united to a human body. In the same manner has the philosophy of other sects led them, also, to embrace doctrines, directly opposed to the express declarations of the Scriptures.
That Christ was a man in the absolute sense, is easily made evident by many kinds of proof, and by almost numberless passages of Scripture.
1st. He is called a man, and the son of man, in a very great multitude of instances.
The number of instances, in which he has this latter appellation, is no less than Seventy-one. In sixty-seven of these instances it is given to him by himself; once by Daniel; once by St. Stephen; and twice by St. John in the Revelation. In giving this appellation to himself, it will, I suppose, be acknowledged, that he disclosed his real character, and was, what he calls himself, the Son
When he is styled a man, also, he is described with just such characteristics, those excepted, which involve error, or sin, as belong to other men.
He is exhibited as meek, lowly, and dutiful to his parents; as hungry, thirsty, and weary; as sustained, and refreshed, by food, drink, and sleep; as the subject of natural affection; as weeping with tenderness and sorrow; as the subject of temptations, infirmities, and afflictions; and, generally, as having all the innocent characteristics, which belong to our nature.
2dly. The history of his birth, life, and death, is unanswerable proof, that Christ was a man. Christ was born, lived, and died, essentially in the same manner, as other men. He increased in wisdom, as well as in stature; wrought with his hands; ate; drank; slept; suffered on the cross; gave up the Ghost; and was buried; in the same manner as other men.
3dly. This point is argued at large, and proded, by St. Paul, in the second chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews.
In the passage, containing this argument, are the following declarations: For as much, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same : and, Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren.
The proofs, which I have alleged, will, it is presumed, be considered as abundantly sufficient. That Christ had a human body cannot be questioned. It is equally unquestionable, that to increase in wisdom, to be tempted, to be sorrowful, to be dutiful to human parents, together with many other things of a similar nature, are attributable neither to God, nor to the human body, but are appropriate characteristics of the human soul. Christ, therefore, had a human soul, as well as a human body; and was in the absolute sense a man.
But he was not a man only.
This, also, is evident from numerous scriptural declarations. St. Paul says, Philippians ii. 5, He, who was in the form of God, and thought it no robbery to be equal with God, Nevertheless made himself of no reputation; (exswos, emptied himself, or devested himself, of this form of God; the glory and greatness which he before possessed) and taking upon himself the form of a servant, was born (or existed) in the likeness of men. It is not my intention, in quoting this passage, to insist on the Deity of Christ, so unequivocally declared in it; but only to observe, that He, who was thus a man, was, antecedently to his appearance in this human character, a person, entirely distinct from what he was as a man.
Antecedently to his being born in the likeness of men, he existed; and existed in the form of God; and thought it nd robbery to be equal with God, Nevertheless, 'EAUTOV Exevwoe, he emptied himself. He existed, therefore, previously to his appearance as a man; and emptied himself, voluntarily, when he (voluntarily, also) took upon himself the form of a servant, and was born in the likeness of men. In other words, the person, here spoken of as being in the form of God, became incarnate. This person, I have attempted to show, was divine; and no other than the Word, or Son, of God.
The great objection to the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ, is an objection of Philosophy only; and in my view a very unphilesophical objection. “It is a doctrine," say the objecters, " wholly mysterious and inexplicable."
After what was urged in the preceding discourse, on the subject of mysteries, very little can be thought necessary to he added here. Let it, however, be observed, that the truth of the objection is cheerfully acknowledged by me; and, so far as I know, by all who hold this doctrine. At the same time, it is an objection without force; and is idly urged, to say the least, by Unitarians. When the Arians will explain how their Super-angelic being became the infant, and ultimately the man, Jesus Christ; and did, and suffered, and accomplished, the things asserted of Christ; when the Socinians will explain how he, who was created by the Holy Ghost, was born of Joseph and Mary; how organized Matter thinks; how he, who began to exist at his birth, existed antecedently in the form of God; emptied himself; and was then born in the likeness of men; and when both, or either, of them will explain how the things, said in the Scriptures concerning Christ, are true, and at the same time consistent with their respective schemes; or how God could say them, if they were not true: I think I may venture upon an attempi to explain the mystery of the Incarnation. Until we know the nature of the Divine Existence, and the nature of the human soul; we shall never be able to determine how far God may unite himself with such a soul, or whether such an union is impossible.
On this and every other question, concerning the nature of the Divine Existence, and of the existence of finite minds, we cannot even begin to form ideas; but must be indebted for whatever facts we either know, or believe, to the testimony of God.
For aught that we are able to determine, a finite mind may be so far united to the Infinite Mind, as that all the views, affections, purposes, ends, and agency, of both, which are not discordant in iheir very nature, may exactly coincide ; and, independently of