The subject carries us back in thought to the earliest days of Christianity. During the first four centuries, the nature of the Godhead, and the relation of the Three Persons of the Trinity to each other, were directly or indirectly the causes of almost all the divisions which rent the Church. They had been matters of discussion before the death of the last surviving Apostle, and the three centuries which followed his decease were fruitful in theories upon the subject. These theories reappear with but little alteration in the period which comes more immediately under our present consideration. If history ever repeats itself, it might be expected to do so on the revival of this discussion after an abeyance of many centuries. For it is one of those questions on which modern research can throw but little light. The same materials which enabled the inquirer of the eighteenth century to form his conclusion, existed in the fourth century. Moreover, there was a tendency in the discussions of the later period to run in an historical direction; in treating of them, therefore, our attention will constantly be drawn to the views of the earlier thinkers. With regard to these, it will be sufficient to say that their speculations on the mysterious subject of the Trinity group themselves under one or other of these four heads.
1. The view of those who contend for the mere humanity of Christ -- a view which, as will be seen presently, is often claimed by Unitarians as the earliest belief of Christendom.
2. The view of those who deny the distinct personality of the Second and Third Persons of the Blessed Trinity. This was held with various modifications by a great variety of thinkers, but it passes under the general name of Sabellianism.
3. The view of those who hold that Christ was something more than man, but less than God; less than God, that is, in the highest, and indeed the only proper, sense of the word God. This, like the preceding view, was held by a great variety of thinkers, and with great divergences, but it passes under the general name of Arianism.
4. The view of those who hold that 'there is but one living and true God,' but that 'in the Unity of this Godhead there are three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.' This view is called by its advocates Catholicism, for they hold that it is, and ever has been, the doctrine of the Universal Church of Christ; but, inasmuch as the admission of such a name would be tantamount to giving up the whole point in question, it is refused by its opponents, who give it the name of Athanasianism.
In England, the Trinitarian question began to be agitated in the later half of the seventeenth century. Possibly the interest in the subject may have been stimulated by the migration into England of many anti-Trinitarians from Poland, who had been banished from the country by an Order of Council in 1660. At any rate, the date synchronises with the re-opening of the question in this country. It is probable, however, that under any circumstances the discussion would have arisen.
Before the publication of Bishop Bull's first great work in 1685, no controversial treatise on either side of the question -- none, at least, of any importance -- was published in this country, though there had of course been individual anti-Trinitarians in England long before that time.
A few words on the 'Defensio Fidei Nicaenae' will be a fitting introduction to the account of the controversy which belongs properly to the eighteenth century. Bishop Bull's defence was written in Latin, and was therefore not intended for the unlearned. It was exclusively confined to this one question: What were the views of the ante-Nicene Fathers on the subject of the Trinity, and especially on the relation of the Second to the First Person? But though the work was addressed only to a very limited number of readers, and dealt only with one, and that a very limited, view of the question, the importance of thoroughly discussing this particular view can scarcely be exaggerated for the following reason. When, the attention of any one familiar with the precise definitions of the Catholic Church which were necessitated by the speculations of Arians and other heretics is called for the first time to the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers, he may be staggered by the absence of equal definiteness and precision in them. Bishop Bull boldly met the difficulties which might thus occur. He minutely examined the various expressions which could be wrested into an anti-Trinitarian sense, showing how they were compatible with the Catholic Faith, and citing and dwelling upon other expressions which were totally incompatible with any other belief. He showed that the crucial test of orthodoxy, the one single term at which Arians and semi-Arians scrupled -- that is, the Homoousion or Consubstantiality of the Son with the Father -- was actually in use before the Nicene Council, and that it was thoroughly in accordance with the teaching of the ante-Nicene Fathers. This is proved, among other ways, by the constant use of a simile which illustrates, as happily as earthly things can illustrate heavenly, the true relation of the Son to the Father. Over and over again this is compared by the early fathers to the ray of light which proceeding from the sun is a part of it, and yet without any division or diminution from it, but actually consubstantial with it. He fully admits that the early fathers acknowledged a certain pre-eminence in the First Person, but only such a pre-eminence as the term Father suggests, a pre-eminence implying no inequality of nature, but simply a priority of order, inasmuch as the Father is, as it were, the fountain of the Deity, God in Himself, while the Son is God of God, and, to recur to the old simile incorporated in the Nicene Creed, Light of Light.
Bishop Bull's two subsequent works on the subject of the Trinity ('Judicium Ecclesiae Catholicae' and 'Primitiva et Apostolica Traditio') may be regarded as supplements to the 'Defence.' The object of the 'Judicium' was to show, in opposition to Episcopius, that the Nicene fathers held a belief of Our Lord's true and proper divinity to be an indispensable term of Catholic communion; his latest work was directed against the opinion of Zuicker that Christ's divinity, pre-existence, and incarnation were inventions of early heretics.
It is somewhat remarkable that although in the interval which elapsed between the publication of these and of his first work the Trinitarian controversy in England had been assuming larger proportions and awakening a wider interest, Bull never entered into the arena with his countrymen. But the fact is, his point of view was different from theirs. He confined himself exclusively to the historical aspect of the question, while other defenders of the Trinity were 'induced to overstep the boundaries of Scripture proof and historical testimony, and push their inquiries into the dark recesses of metaphysical speculation.' Chief among these was Dr. W. Sherlock, Dean of St. Paul's, who in 1690 published his 'Vindication of the Trinity,' which he describes as 'a new mode of explaining that great mystery by a hypothesis which gives an easy and intelligible notion of a Trinity in Unity, and removes the charge of contradiction.' In this work Sherlock hazarded assertions which were unquestionably 'new,' but not so unquestionably sound. He affirmed, among other things, that the Persons of the Godhead were distinct in the same way as the persons of Peter, James, and John, or any other men. Such assertions were not unnaturally suspected of verging perilously near upon Tritheism, and his book was publicly censured by the Convocation of the University of Oxford. On the other hand, Dr. Wallis, Professor of Geometry, and the famous Dr. South, published treatises against Dr. Sherlock, which, while avoiding the Scylla of Tritheism, ran dangerously near to the Charybdis of Sabellianism. Like all his writings, South's treatise was racy, but violently abusive, and such irritation and acrimony were engendered, that the Royal authority was at last exercised in restraining each party from introducing novel opinions, and requiring them to adhere to such explications only as had already received the sanction of the Church.
Chillingworth, in his Intellectual System, propounded a theory on the Trinity which savoured of Arianism; Burnet and Tillotson called down the fiercest invectives from that able controversialist Charles Leslie, for 'making the Three Persons of God only three manifestations, or the same Person of God considered under three different qualifications and respects as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,' while Burnet argued that the inhabitation of God in Christ made Christ to be God.
Thus at the close of the seventeenth century the subject of the Trinity was agitating the minds of some of the chief divines of the age. It must be observed, however, that so far the controversy between theologians of the first rank had been conducted within the limits of the Catholic Faith. They disputed, not about the doctrine of the Trinity itself, but simply about the mode of explaining it.
Still these disputes between English Churchmen strengthened the hands of the anti-Trinitarians. These latter represented the orthodox as divided into Tritheists and Nominalists, and the press teemed with pamphlets setting forth with more or less ability the usual arguments against the Trinity. These were for the most part published anonymously; for their publication would have brought their writers within the range of the law, the Act of 1689 having expressly excluded those who were unsound on the subject of the Trinity from the tolerated sects. One of the most famous tracts, however, 'The Naked Gospel,' was discovered to have been written by Dr. Bury, Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, and was burnt by order of the Convocation of that University. 'A Historical Vindication of the Naked Gospel,' was also a work of considerable power, and was attributed to the famous Le Clerc. But with these exceptions, the anti-Trinitarians, though they were energetic and prolific in a certain kind of literature, had not yet produced any writer who had succeeded in making his mark permanently upon the age.
Thus the question stood at the commencement of the eighteenth century. In one sense the controversy was at its height; that is to say, some of the ablest writers in the Church had written or were writing upon the subject; but the real struggle between the Unitarians (so called) and the Trinitarians had hardly yet begun, for under the latter term almost all the disputants of high mark would fairly have come.
The new century found the pen of that doughty champion of the Faith, Charles Leslie, busy at work on the Socinian controversy. His letters on this subject had been begun some years before this date; but they were not finally completed until the eighteenth century was some years old. Leslie was ever ready to defend what he held to be the Christian faith against all attacks from whatever quarter they might come. Deists, Jews, Quakers, Romanists, Erastians, and Socinians, all fell under his lash; his treatise on the last of these, being the first in order of date, and by no means the last in order of merit among the eighteenth-century literature on the subject of the Trinity, now comes under our notice.
Although his dialogue is nominally directed only against the Socinians, it is full of valuable remarks on the anti-Trinitarians generally; and he brings out some points more clearly and forcibly than subsequent and more voluminous writers on the subject have done. For example, he meets the old objection that the doctrine of the Trinity is incredible as involving a contradiction, by pointing out that it rests upon the fallacy of arguing from a nature which we know to quite a different nature of which we know little or nothing. The objection that the Christian Trinity was borrowed from the Platonists he turns against the objectors by asking, 'What is become of the master argument of the Socinians that the Trinity is contradictory to common sense and reason? -- Yet now they would make it the invention of the principal and most celebrated philosophers, men of the most refined reason.'
On the whole this is a very valuable contribution to the apologetic literature on the subject of the Trinity, for though Leslie, like his predecessors, sometimes has recourse to abstruse arguments to explain the 'modes' of the divine presence, yet he is far too acute a controversialist to lay himself open, as Sherlock and South had done, to imputations of heresy on any side; and his general method of treating the question is lucid enough, and full of just such arguments as would be most telling to men of common sense, for whom rather than for profound theologians the treatise was written.
About the same time that this treatise was published, there arose what was intended to be a new sect, or, according to the claims of its founders, the revival of a very old one -- a return, in fact, to original Christianity. The founder or reviver of this party was William Whiston, a man of great learning, and of a thoroughly straightforward and candid disposition, but withal so eccentric, that it is difficult sometimes to treat his speculations seriously. His character was a strange compound of credulity and scepticism. He was 'inclined to believe true' the legend of Abgarus' epistle to Christ, and Christ's reply. He published a vindication of the Sibylline oracles 'with the genuine oracles themselves.' He had a strong faith in the physical efficacy of anointing the sick with oil. But his great discovery was the genuineness and inestimable value of the Apostolical Constitutions and Canons. He was 'satisfied that they were of equal value with the four Gospels;' nay, 'that they were the most sacred of the canonical books of the New Testament; that polemical controversies would never cease until they were admitted as the standing rule of Christianity.' The learned world generally had pronounced them to be a forgery, but that was easily accounted for. The Constitutions favoured the Eusebian doctrines, and were therefore repudiated of course by those who were interested in maintaining the Athanasian heresy.
Whiston had many missions to fulfil. He had to warn a degenerate age against the wickedness of second marriages; he had to impress upon professing Christians the duty of trine immersion and of anointing the sick; he had to prepare them for the Millennium, which, according to his calculations when he wrote his Memoirs, was to take place in twenty years from that time. But his great mission of all was to propagate Eusebianism and to explode the erroneous notions about the Trinity which were then unhappily current in the Church. His favourite theory on this subject may be found in almost all his works; but he propounded it in extenso in a work which he entitled 'Primitive Christianity revived.' Whiston vehemently repudiated the imputation of Arianism. He called himself an Eusebian, 'not,' he is careful to tell us, 'that he approved of all the conduct of Eusebius of Nicomedia, from whom that appellation was derived; but because that most uncorrupt body of the Christian Church which he so much approved of had this name originally bestowed upon them, and because 'tis a name much more proper to them than Arians.' Whiston formed a sort of society which at first numbered among those who attended its meetings men who afterwards attained to great eminence in the Church; among others, B. Hoadly, successively Bishop of Bangor, Hereford, Salisbury and Winchester, Rundle, afterwards Bishop of Derry, and then of Gloucester, and Dr. Samuel Clarke. But Whiston was a somewhat inconvenient friend for men who desired to stand well with the powers that be. They all fell off lamentably from the principles of primitive Christianity, -- Hoadly sealing his defection by the crowning enormity of marrying a second wife.
Poor Whiston grievously lamented the triumph of interest over truth, which these defections implied. Neither the censures of Convocation nor the falling off of his friends had any power to move him. He still continued for some time a member of the Church of England. But his character was far too honest and clear-sighted to enable him to shut his eyes to the fact that the Liturgy of the Church was in many points sadly unsound on the principles of primitive Christianity. To remedy this defect he put forth a Liturgy which he termed 'The Liturgy of the Church of England reduced nearer to the Primitive Standard.' It was in most respects precisely identical with that in use, only it was purged from all vestiges of the Athanasian heresy. The principal changes were in the Doxology, which was altered into what he declares was its original form, in the prayer of St. Chrysostom, in the first four petitions of the Litany, and one or two others, and in the collect for Trinity Sunday. The Established Church was, however, so blind to the truth that she declined to adopt the proposed alterations, and Whiston was obliged to leave her communion. He found a home, in which, however, he was not altogether comfortable, among the General Baptists.
The real reviver of modern Arianism in England was Whiston's friend, Dr. Samuel Clarke. It has been seen that hitherto all theologians of the highest calibre who had taken part in the Trinitarian controversy would come under the denomination of Trinitarians, if we give that term a fairly wide latitude. In 1712 Dr. Clarke, who had already won a high reputation in the field of theological literature, startled the world by the publication of his 'Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity.' This book was long regarded as a sort of text-book of modern Arianism. The plan of the work was to make an exhaustive collection of all the texts in the New Testament which bear upon the nature of the Godhead -- in itself a most useful work, and one which was calculated to supply a distinct want in theology. No less than 1,251 texts, all more or less pertinent to the matter in hand, were collected by this industrious writer, and to many of them were appended explanations and criticisms which bear evident marks of being the product of a scholar and a divine. But the advocates of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity had no need to go further than the mere headings of the chapters of this famous work to have their suspicions justly awakened respecting its tendency. Chapter i. treated 'of God the Father;' chapter ii. 'of the Son of God;' chapter iii. 'of the Holy Spirit of God.' The natural correlatives to 'God the Father' would be 'God the Son' and 'God the Holy Ghost;' there was something suspicious in the change of these expressions into 'the Son of God' and the 'Holy Spirit of God.' A closer examination of the work will soon show us that the change was not without its significance. 'The Scripture Doctrine' leads substantially to a very similar conclusion to that at which Whiston had arrived. The Father alone is the one supreme God; the Son is a Divine being as far as divinity is communicable by this supreme God; the Holy Ghost is inferior both to the Father and the Son, not in order only, but in dominion and authority. Only Dr. Clarke expresses himself more guardedly than his friend. He had already made a great name among theologians, and he had no desire to lose it.
We may take the appearance of Dr. Clarke's book as the commencement of a new era in this controversy, which after this time began to reach its zenith. Various opponents at once arose, attacking various parts of Dr. Clarke's scheme. Dr. Wells complained that he had taken no notice of the Old Testament, that he had failed to show how the true sense of Scripture was to be ascertained, and that he had disparaged creeds, confessions of faith, and the testimony of the fathers; Mr. Nelson complained, not without reason, of his unfair treatment of Bishop Bull; Dr. Gastrell pointed out that there was only one out of Dr. Clarke's fifty-five propositions to which an Arian would refuse to subscribe.
These and others did good service on particular points; but it remained for Dr. Waterland to take a comprehensive view of the whole question, and to leave to posterity not only an effective answer to Dr. Clarke, but a masterly and luminous exposition, the equal to which it would be difficult to find in any other author, ancient or modern. It would be wearisome even to enumerate the titles of the various 'Queries,' 'Vindications,' 'Replies,' 'Defences,' 'Answers to Replies,' which poured forth from the press in luxurious abundance on either side of the great controversy. It will be sufficient to indicate generally the main points at issue between the combatants.
Dr. Clarke then, and his friends (who all wrote more or less under his inspiration), maintained that the worship of God is in Scripture appointed to one Being, that is, to the Father personally. That such worship as is due to Christ is the worship of a mediator and cannot possibly be that paid to the one supreme God. That all the titles given to the Son in the New Testament, and all powers ascribed to Him, are perfectly well consistent with reserving the supremacy of absolute and independent dominion to the Father alone. That the highest titles of God are never applied to the Son or Spirit. That the subordination of the Son to the Father is not merely nominal, consisting in the mere position or order of words, which in truth of things is a co-ordination; but that it is a real subordination in point of authority and dominion over the universe. That three persons, that is, three intelligent agents in the same individual, identical substance, is a self-evident contradiction, and that the Nicene fathers, by the term Homoousion, did not mean one individual, identical substance. That the real difficulty in the conception of the Trinity is not how three persons can be one God, for Scripture nowhere expresses the doctrine in those words; and the difficulty of understanding a Scripture doctrine ought not to lie wholly upon words not found in Scripture, but how and in what sense, consistently with everything that is affirmed in Scripture about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, it is still certainly and infallibly true that to us there is but 'one God the Father' (I Cor. viii.6). That as to the claims of the Holy Ghost to be worshipped on an equality with the Father, there is really no one instance in Scripture of any direct act of adoration or invocation being paid to Him at all.
Such is the outline of the system of which Dr. Clarke was the chief exponent. The various arguments by which it was supported will be best considered in connection with that great writer who now comes under our notice -- Dr. Waterland. Among the many merits of Waterland's treatment of the subject, this is by no means the least -- that he pins down his adversary and all who hold the same views in any age to the real question at issue. Dr. Clarke, for example, admitted that Christ was, in a certain sense, Creator. 'Either, then,' argues Waterland, 'there are two authors and governors of the universe, i.e. two Gods, or not. If there are, why do you deny it of either; if not, why do you affirm it of both?' Dr. Clarke thought that the divinity of Christ was analogous to the royalty of some petty prince, who held his power under a supreme monarch. 'I do not,' retorts Waterland, 'dispute against the notion of one king under another; what I insist upon is that a great king and a little king make two kings; (consequently a supreme God and an inferior God make two Gods).' Dr. Clarke did not altogether deny omniscience to be an attribute of Christ, but he affirmed it to be a relative omniscience, communicated to him from the Father. 'That is, in plain language,' retorted Waterland, 'the Son knows all things, except that He is ignorant of many things.' Dr. Clarke did not altogether deny the eternity of the Son. The Son is eternal, because we cannot conceive a time when He was not. 'A negative eternity,' replies Waterland, 'is no eternity; angels might equally be termed eternal.'
One point on which Waterland insists constantly and strongly is that the scheme of those who would pay divine honours to Christ, and yet deny that He is very God, cannot escape from the charge of polytheism. 'You are tritheists,' he urges, 'in the same sense as Pagans are called polytheists. One supreme and two inferior Gods is your avowed doctrine; that is, three Gods. If those texts which exclude all but one God, exclude only supreme deities, and do not exclude any that are not supreme, by such an interpretation you have voided and frustrated every law of the Old Testament against idolatry.' Dr. Clarke and his friends distinguished between that supreme sovereign worship which was due to the Father only, and the mediate, relative, inferior worship which was due to others. 'What authority,' asks Waterland, 'is there in Scripture for this distinction? What rules are there to regulate the intention of the worshipper, so as to make worship high, higher, or highest as occasion requires? All religious worship is determined by Scripture and antiquity to be what you call absolute and sovereign.' 'Scripture and antiquity generally say nothing of a supreme God, because they acknowledge no inferior God. Such language was borrowed from the Pagans, and then used by Christian writers. So, too, was the notion of "mediatorial worship" borrowed from the Pagans, handed on by Arians, and brought down to our own times by Papists.'
But Dr. Clarke and his friends maintained that they were not Arians, for they did not make Christ a creature. 'Impossible,' replies Dr. Waterland; 'you assert, though not directly, yet consequentially, that the Maker and Redeemer of the whole world is no more than a creature, that He is mutable and corruptible; that He depends entirely upon the favour and good pleasure of God; that He has a precarious existence and dependent powers, and is neither so perfect in His nature nor exalted in privileges but that it is in the Father's power to create another equal or superior. There is no middle between being essentially God and being a creature.' Dr. Clarke cannot find a medium between orthodoxy and Arianism. He has declared against the consubstantiality and proper divinity of Christ as well as His co-eternity. He cannot be neutral. In condemning Arians he has condemned himself. Nay, he has gone further than the Arians. 'Sober Arians will rise up in judgment and condemn you for founding Christ's worship so meanly upon I know not what powers given after His resurrection. They founded it upon reasons antecedent to His incarnation, upon His being God before the world, and Creator of the world of His own power.'
Waterland showed his strength in defence as well as in attack. He boldly grappled with the difficulties which the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity unquestionably involves, and his method of dealing with these difficulties forms not the least valuable part of his writings on the subject.
Into the labyrinths, indeed, of metaphysical speculation he distinctly declined to follow his opponents. They, as well as he, acknowledged, or professed to acknowledge, the force of the testimony from Scripture and the fathers. He is ready to join issue on this point, 'Is the Catholic doctrine true?' but for resolving this question he holds that we must have recourse to Scripture and antiquity. 'Whoever debates this question should forbear every topic derived from the nature of things, because such arguments belong only to the other question, whether the doctrine be possible, and in all reason possibility should be presupposed in all our disputes from Scripture and the fathers.' He consistently maintains that our knowledge of the nature of God is far too limited to allow us to dogmatise from our own reason on such a subject. 'You can never fix any certain principles of individuation, therefore you can never assure me that three real persons are not one numerical or individual essence. You know not precisely what it is that makes one being, one essence, one substance.' There are other difficulties in the nature of the Godhead quite as great as any which the doctrine of the Trinity involves. 'The Omnipresence, the Incarnation, Self-existence, are all mysteries, and eternity itself is the greatest mystery of all. There is nothing peculiar to the Trinity that is near so perplexing as eternity.' And then he finely adds: 'I know no remedy for these things but a humble mind. If we demur to a doctrine because we cannot fully and adequately comprehend it, is not this too familiar from a creature towards his Creator, and articling more strictly with Almighty God than becomes us?'
Is the Trinity a mysterious doctrine? 'The tremendous Deity is all over mysterious, in His nature and in His attributes, in His works and in His ways. If not, He would not be divine. If we reject the most certain truths about the Deity, only because they are incomprehensible, when everything about Him must be so of course, the result will be Atheism; for there are mysteries in the works of nature as well as in the Word of God.'
If it be retorted, Why then introduce terms and ideas which by your own admission can only be imperfectly understood? Why not leave such mysteries in the obscurity in which they are shrouded, and not condemn those who are unable to accept without understanding them? The reply is, 'It is you and not we who are responsible for the discussion and definition of these mysteries. The faith of the Church was at first, and might be still, a plain, simple, easy thing, did not its adversaries endeavour to perplex and puzzle it with philosophical niceties. Early Christians did not trouble their heads with nice speculations about the modus of the Three in One.' 'All this discourse about being and person is foreign and not pertinent, because if both these terms were thrown out, our doctrine would stand just as before, independent of them, and very intelligible without them. So it stood for about 150 years before person was heard of in it, and it was later before being was mentioned. Therefore, if all the objection be against these, however innocent, expressions, let the objectors drop the name and accept the thing.' It was no wish of Waterland to argue upon such mysteries at all. 'Perhaps,' he says, 'after all, it would be best for both of us to be silent when we have really nothing to say, but as you have begun, I must go on with the argument.... It is really not reasoning but running riot with fancy and imagination about matters infinitely surpassing human comprehension. You may go on till you reason, in a manner, God out of His attributes, and yourself out of your faith, and not know at last when to stop.' These are weighty and wise words, and it would be well if they were borne in mind by disputants on this profound mystery in every age. But while deprecating all presumptuous prying into the secret nature of God, Waterland is perfectly ready to meet his adversaries on that ground on which alone he thinks the question can be discussed.
Summing up and setting in one compendious view all that the modern Arians taught in depreciation of Christ, Waterland showed that in spite of their indignation at being represented as teaching that Christ was a mere creature, they yet clearly taught that He was 'brought into existence as well as any other creature, that He was precarious in existence, ignorant of much more than He knows, capable of change from strength to weakness, and from weakness to strength; capable of being made wiser, happier, and better in every respect; having nothing of his own, nothing but what He owes to the favour of His lord and governor.' By the arguments which they used to prove all this, they put a most dangerous weapon into the hands of Atheists, or at least into the hands of those who denied the existence of such a God as is revealed to us in Holy Scripture. 'Through your zeal against the divinity of the Son, you have betrayed the cause to the first bold Marcionite that shall deny the eternal Godhead of the Father and the Son, and assert some unknown God above both. The question was, whether a particular Person called the Father be the Eternal God. His being called God would amount to nothing, that being no more than a word of office. His being Creator, nothing; that you could elude. His being Jehovah, of no weight, meaning no more than a person true and faithful to his promises. Almighty is capable of a subordinate sense. The texts which speak of eternity are capable of a subordinate sense. The term "first cause" is not a Scriptural expression.'
Waterland boldly faces the objection against the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity which was derived from certain texts of Scripture which taken by themselves might seem to favour the Arian view. How, for example, it was asked, could it be said that all power was given unto Christ (Matt, xxviii.18), and that all things were put under His feet after His Resurrection (Eph. i.22), if He was Lord long before? 'The Logos,' replies Waterland, 'was from the beginning Lord over all, but the God man ([Greek: Theanthropos]) was not so till after the Resurrection. Then He received in that capacity what He had ever enjoyed in another; He received full power in both natures which He had heretofore only in one.' The passage on which the Arians insisted most of all, and which they constantly asserted to be by itself decisive of the whole question, is 1 Corinthians viii.6. There, they asserted, the Son is excluded in most express words from being one with the Supreme God. Dr. Clarke told Waterland in downright terms that 'he should be ashamed when he considered that he falsified St. Paul, who said, "To us there is but one God, the Father."' 'But,' replies Dr. Waterland, 'do we who make the Son essentially the same God with that one, and suppose but one God in all, or you who make two Gods, and in the same relative sense, God to us, falsify St. Paul? We can give a reason why the Son is tacitly included, being so intimately united to the Father as partaker of the same divine nature, but that any creature should not be excluded from being God is strange.'
To turn now from Scripture to antiquity. The question as to what was the opinion of the ante-Nicene fathers had been so thoroughly handled by Bishop Bull, that Waterland (his legitimate successor) had no need to enter upon it at large over again. But Bishop Bull had done his work too well to suit the theory of Dr. Clarke and his friends. Although the latter professed to find in the early fathers a confirmation of their views, yet from a consciousness, perhaps, of the unsatisfactoriness of this confirmation they constantly depreciate the value of patristic evidence. In connection, therefore, with the subject of the Trinity, Waterland clearly points out what is and what is not the true character of the appeal to antiquity. The fathers are certain proofs in many cases of the Church's doctrine in that age, and probable proofs of what that doctrine was from the beginning. In respect of the latter they are inferior additional proofs when compared with plain Scripture proof; of no moment if Scripture is plainly contrary, but of great moment when Scripture looks the same way, because they help to fix the true interpretation in disputed texts. Waterland, however, would build no article of faith on the fathers, but on Scripture alone. If the sense of Scripture be disputed, the concurring sentiments of the fathers in any doctrine will be generally the best and safest comments on Scripture, just as the practice of courts and the decisions of eminent lawyers are the best comments on an Act of Parliament made in or near their own times, though the obedience of subjects rests solely on the laws of the land as its rule and measure. To the objection that interpreting Scripture by the ancients is debasing its majesty and throwing Christ out of His throne, Waterland replies in somewhat stately terms, 'We think that Christ never sits more secure or easy on His throne than when He has His most faithful guards about Him, and that none are so likely to strike at His authority or aim at dethroning Him as they that would displace His old servants only to make way for new ones.' But this respect for the opinion of antiquity in no way involved any compromise of the leading idea of all eighteenth-century theology, that it should follow the guidance of reason. Reason was by no means to be sacrificed to the authority of the fathers. Indeed, 'as to authority,' he says, 'in a strict and proper sense I do not know that the fathers have any over us; they are all dead men; therefore we urge not their authority but their testimony, their suffrage, their judgment, as carrying great force of reason. Taking them in here as lights or helps is doing what is reasonable and using our own understandings in the best way.' 'I follow the fathers,' he adds, 'as far as reason requires and no further; therefore, this is following our own reason.' In an age when patristic literature was little read and lightly esteemed this forcible, and at the same time highly reasonable, vindication of its importance had a value beyond its bearing upon the doctrine of the Trinity, in connection with which the subject was introduced by our author.
Here our notice of the points at issue between Dr. Waterland and the modern Arians, so far as they concerned the truth of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, may fitly close. But there was yet another question closely connected with the above which it concerned the interests of morality, no less than of religion, thoroughly to sift. It was no easy task which Dr. Clarke and his friends undertook when they essayed to prove from Scripture and antiquity that the Son and Holy Ghost were not one with the supreme God. But they attempted a yet harder task than this. They contended that their views were not irreconcilable with the formularies and Liturgy of the Church of England. The more candid and ingenuous mind of Whiston saw the utter hopelessness of this endeavour. It was, he says, an endeavour 'to wash the blackmore white,' and so, like an honest man as he was, he retired from her communion. Dr. Clarke could not, of course, deny that there was at least an apparent inconsistency between his views and those of the Church to which he belonged. One of the chapters in his 'Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity' is devoted to a collection of 'passages in the Liturgy which may seem in some respects to differ from the foregoing doctrine.' But he and his friends were 'ready to subscribe any test containing nothing more than is contained in the Thirty-nine Articles;' their avowed principle being that 'they may do it in their own sense agreeably to what they call Scripture.' In his 'Case of Arian Subscription' Dr. Waterland had no difficulty in showing the utter untenableness of this position. He maintained that 'as the Church required subscription to her own interpretation of Scripture, so the subscriber is bound to that and that only.' 'The rules,' he says, 'for understanding what her sense is are the same as for understanding oaths, laws, &c. -- that is, the usual acceptation of words, the custom of speech at the time being, the scope of the writer from the controversies then on foot,' &c. It is but a shallow artifice for fraudulent subscribers to call their interpretation of Scripture, Scripture. The Church has as good a right to call her interpretation Scripture. Let the Arian sense be Scripture to Arians; but then let them subscribe only to Arian subscriptions.
The case of Arian subscriptions was really part of a larger question. There were some who, without actually denying the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity, doubted whether it was of sufficient importance or clearly enough revealed to make it a necessary article of the Christian faith. These were sometimes called Episcopians, a name derived from one Episcopius, an amiable and not unorthodox writer of the seventeenth century, who was actuated by a charitable desire to include as many as possible within the pale of the Christian Church, and to minimize the differences between all who would, in any sense, own the name of Christians. The prevalence of such views in Dr. Waterland's days led him to write one of his most valuable treatises in connection with the Trinitarian controversy. It was entitled, 'The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity Asserted,' and was addressed to those only who believed the truth of the doctrine but demurred to its importance. Waterland concludes this work, which is rather a practical than a controversial treatise, with some wise words of caution to those persons of 'more warmth than wisdom,' who from a mistaken liberality would make light of heresy.
It is now time to close this sketch of the method in which this great writer -- one of the few really great divines who belong to the eighteenth century -- handled the mysterious subject of the Trinity. Not only from his profound learning and acuteness, but from the general cast of his mind, Waterland was singularly adapted for the work which he undertook. To treat this subject of all subjects, the faculties both of thinking clearly and of expressing thoughts clearly are absolutely essential. These two qualifications Dr. Waterland possessed in a remarkable degree. He always knew exactly what he meant, and he also knew how to convey his meaning to his readers. His style is nervous and lucid, and he never sacrifices clearness to the graces of diction. His very deficiencies were all in his favour. Had he been a man of a more poetical temperament he might have been tempted, like Platonists and neo-Platonists, to soar into the heights of metaphysical speculations and either lose himself or at least render it difficult for ordinary readers to follow him. But no one can ever complain that Dr. Waterland is obscure. We may agree or disagree with his views, but we can never be in doubt what those views are. Had Waterland been of a warmer and more excitable temperament he might have been tempted to indulge in vague declamation or in that personal abusiveness which was only too common in the theological controversies of the day. Waterland fell into neither of these snares; he always argues, never declaims; he is a hard hitter in controversy, but never condescends to scurrilous personalities. The very completeness of his defence of the doctrine of the Trinity against Arian assailants furnishes, perhaps, the reason why this part of his writings has not been so widely and practically useful as it deserves to be. He so effectually assailed the position of Dr. Clarke and his friends that it has rarely been occupied by opponents of the Catholic doctrine in modern days.
It has been thought desirable to present the great controversy in which Drs. Clarke and Waterland were respectively the leaders in one uninterrupted view. In doing so the order of events has been anticipated, and it is now necessary to revert to circumstances bearing upon the subject of this chapter which occurred long before that controversy closed.
Dr. Clarke's 'Scripture Doctrine' was published in 1712; Dr. Waterland did not enter into the arena until 1719; but five years before this latter date, Dr. Clarke was threatened with other weapons besides those of argument. In 1714, the Lower House of Convocation made an application to the Upper House to notice the heretical opinions of Dr. Clarke on the subject of the Trinity. They submitted to the bishops several extracts, and also condemned the general drift of the book. The danger of ecclesiastical censures drew from Dr. Clarke a declaration in which he promised not to preach any more on such subjects, and also an explanation which almost amounted to a retractation; this he immediately followed by a paper delivered to the Bishop of London, half recanting and half explaining his explanations. These documents appear to have satisfied nobody except perhaps the bishops. The Lower House resolved 'that the paper subscribed by Dr. Clarke and communicated by the bishops to the Lower House doth not contain in it any recantation of the heretical assertions, &c., nor doth give such satisfaction for the great scandal occasioned by the said books as ought to put a stop to further examination thereof;' while his outspoken friend, Whiston, wrote to him, 'Your paper has occasioned real grief to myself and others, not because it is a real retractation, but because it is so very like one, yet is not, and seems to be penned with a plain intention only to ward off persecution,' and told him face to face that 'he would not have given the like occasion of offence for all the world.' However, the bishops were satisfied and the matter proceeded no further.
Subsequently Dr. Clarke was taken to task by his diocesan, the Bishop of London, for altering the doxology into an accordance with Arianism. He was neither convinced nor silenced by Waterland; and though his influence may (as Van Mildert tells us) have perceptibly declined after the great controversy was closed, he was not left without followers, and maintained a high reputation which survived him. He was for many years known among a certain class of admirers as 'the great Dr. Clarke.' Among those who were at least interested in, if not influenced by the doctor was Queen Caroline, the clever wife of George II.
Nor was the excitement caused by the speculations of Dr. Clarke on the doctrine of the Trinity confined to the Church of England alone. It was the occasion of one of the fiercest disputes that ever arose among Nonconformists. Exeter was the first scene of the spread of Arianism among the Dissenters. Two ministers gave great offence to their congregations by preaching Arianism. The alarm of heresy spread rapidly, and there was so great an apprehension of its tainting the whole country that -- strange as it may sound to modern ears -- the judge at the county assize made the prevalence of Arianism the chief subject of his charge to the grand jury. Among Churchmen, some were alarmed lest the heresy should spread among their own body, while others rather gloried in it as a natural result of schism. A statement of the case was sent to the dissenting ministers in the metropolis. The Presbyterian ministers at Exeter, in order to allay the panic, agreed to make a confession of faith, every one in his own words viva voce. This caused a revival of the old discussion as to whether confessions of faith should be made in any but Scripture language. The matter was referred to the ministers in London, and a meeting was held at Salters' Hall, at which the majority agreed to the general truth that 'there is but one living and true God, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are that one God.' Numbers, however, of the Presbyterians, and some of the Baptists, adhered to Arianism, and thence drifted into Socinianism or rather simple Unitarianism.
This, indeed, was the general course inside as well as outside the Church. The very name of Arian almost died out, and the name of Socinian took its place. The term Socinian is, however, misleading. It by no means implies that those to whom it was given agreed with the doctrine of Faustus Socinus. It was often loosely and improperly applied on the one hand to many who really believed more than he did, and on the other to many who believed less. In fact, the stigma of Socinianism was tossed about as a vague, general term of reproach in the eighteenth century, much in the same way as 'Puseyite,' 'Ritualist,' and 'Rationalist' have been in our own day. This very inaccurate use of the word Socinian may in part be accounted for by remembering that one important feature in the system of Socinus was his utter denial of the doctrine of the atonement or satisfaction made by Christ in any sense. 'Christ,' he said, 'is called a mediator not because He made peace between God and man, but because He was sent from God to man to explain the will of God and to make a covenant with them in the name of God. A mediator (a medio) is a middle person between God and man.' Now there is abundance of evidence that before and at the time of the Evangelical revival in the Church of England, this doctrine of the atonement had been, if not denied, at least practically ignored. Bishop Horsley, in his Charge in 1790, complains of this; and in the writings of the early Evangelical party we find, of course, constant complaints of the general ignoring of these doctrines. Now it is probable that the term Socinian was often applied to those who kept these doctrines in the background, and not, indeed, applied altogether improperly; only, if we assume that all those who were termed Socinians disbelieved in the true divinity or personality of the Son and the Holy Ghost, we shall be assuming more than was really the case.
On the other hand, many were called Socinians who really believed far less than Socinus and the foreign Socinians did. It is true that Socinus 'regarded it as a mere human invention, not agreeable to Scripture and repugnant to reason, that Christ is the only begotten Son of God, because He and no one besides Him was begotten of the divine substance;' but he also held that 'Scripture so plainly attributes a divine and sovereign power to Christ as to leave no room for a figurative sense.' And the early Socinians thought that Christ must not only be obeyed but His assistance implored, and that He ought to be worshipped, that 'invocation of Christ or addressing prayers to Him was a duty necessarily arising from the character He sustained as head of the Church;' and that 'those who denied the invocation of Christ did not deserve to be called Christians.'
Let us now return to the history of our own Socinians, or, as they preferred to be called, Unitarians; we shall soon see how far short they fell in point of belief of their foreign predecessors. The heresy naturally spread more widely among Nonconformists than it could in the Church of England. As the biographer of Socinus remarks, 'The Trinitarian forms of worship which are preserved in the Church of England, and which are so closely incorporated with its services, must furnish an insuperable objection against conformity with all sincere and conscientious Unitarians.' If the common sense and common honesty of Englishmen revolted against the specious attempts of Dr. Clarke and his friends to justify Arian subscription, a much more hopeless task would it have been to reconcile the further development of anti-Trinitarian doctrines with the formularies of the Church.
At the same time it must be admitted that the cessation or abatement of anti-Trinitarian efforts in the Church after the death of Dr. Clarke is not to be attributed solely to the firmness and earnestness of Churchmen's convictions on this subject. It arose, in part at least, from the general indisposition to stir up mooted questions. Men were disposed to rest satisfied with 'our happy establishment in Church and State;' and it was quite as much owing to the spiritual torpor which overtook the Church and nation after the third decade of the eighteenth century, as to strength of conviction, that the Trinitarian question was not further agitated.
Among the Nonconformists, and especially among the Presbyterians, the case was different. The Arianism which led to the Salters' Hall conference drifted by degrees into Unitarianism pure and simple. Dr. Lardner was one of the earliest and most distinguished of those who belonged to this latter school. He passed through the stage of Arianism, but the mind of the author of 'The Credibility of Gospel History' was far too clear and logical to allow him to rest there, and he finally came to the conclusion that 'Jesus Christ was a mere man, but a man with whom God was, in a peculiar and extraordinary manner.' This is not the place to refer to the various Nonconformists, such as Caleb Fleming, Hugh Farmer, James Foster, Robert Robinson, John Taylor, and many others who diverged more or less from the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. But the views of one Nonconformist whose name is a household word in the mouth of Churchmen and Dissenters alike, and some of whose hymns will live as long as the English language lives, claim at least a passing notice.
Isaac Watts belonged to the Independents, a sect which in the first half of the eighteenth century was less tainted with Socinianism than any of 'the three denominations.' His 'Treatise on the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity,' and that entitled 'The Arian invited to the Orthodox Faith,' were professedly written in defence of the Catholic doctrine. The former, like most of Dr. Watts's compositions, was essentially a popular work. 'I do not,' he writes, 'pretend to instruct the learned world. My design here was to write for private and unlearned Christians, and to lead them by the fairest and most obvious sense of Scripture into some acquaintance with the great doctrine of the Trinity.' In some respects his work is very effective. One point especially he brings out more forcibly than almost any other writer of his day. It is what he calls 'the moral argument' for the Trinity. There is real eloquence in his appeal to the 'great number of Christians who, since the Apostles, under the influence of a belief in the Divinity of the Son and the Spirit, have paid divine honours to both, after they have sought the knowledge of the truth with the utmost diligence and prayer; when they have been in the holiest and most heavenly frames of spirit, and in their devoutest hours; when they have been under the most sensible impressions of the love of the Father and the Son, and under the most quickening influences of the Blessed Spirit himself; in the devotions of a death-bed, and in the songs and doxologies of martyrdom.' 'Now can we,' he asks, 'suppose that in such devout and glorious seasons as these, God the Father should ever thus manifest His own love to souls that are degrading Him by worshipping another God? That Christ Jesus should reveal Himself in His dying love to souls that are practising idolatry and worshipping Himself instead of the true God?'
But there are other passages of a very different tendency, in which Dr. Watts virtually gives up the whole point at issue, and apparently without being conscious that he is doing so. On the worship of the Holy Ghost, for example, he writes. 'There is great silence in Scripture of precepts or patterns of prayer and praise to the Holy Spirit.' 'Therefore,' he thinks, 'we should not bind it on our own consciences or on others as a piece of necessary worship, but rather practise it occasionally as prudence and expediency may require.' On the famous question of the Homoousion, he thinks 'it is hard to suppose that the eternal generation of the Son of God as a distinct person, yet co-equal and consubstantial or of the same essence with the Father, should be made a fundamental article of faith in the dawn of the Gospel.' He is persuaded therefore 'that faith in Him as a divine Messiah or all-sufficient and appointed Saviour is the thing required in those very texts where He is called the Son of God and proposed as such for the object of our belief; and that a belief of the natural and eternal and consubstantial sonship of Christ to God as Father was not made the necessary term or requisite of salvation;' neither can he 'find it asserted or revealed with so much evidence in any part of the Word of God as is necessary to make it a fundamental article of faith.' And once more, on the Personality of the Holy Ghost, he writes: 'The general and constant language of Scripture speaks of the Holy Ghost as a power or medium of divine operation.' Some places may speak of him as personal, but 'it was the frequent custom of Jews and Oriental nations to speak of powers and qualities under personal characters.' He can find 'no plain and express instance in Holy Scripture of a doxology directly and distinctly addressed to the Holy Spirit,' and he thinks the reason of this may be 'perhaps because he is only personalised by idioms of speech.'
Now anyone who has studied the course of the Trinitarian controversy will see at once that an anti-Trinitarian would require no further concessions than these to prove his point quite unanswerably. The amiable design of Dr. Watts's second treatise was 'to lead an Arian by soft and easy steps into a belief of the divinity of Christ,' but if he granted what he did, the Arian would have led him, if the controversy had been pushed to its logical results.
To return to the Church of England. About the middle of the eighteenth century there was a revival of one phase of the Trinitarian controversy. A movement arose to procure the abolition of subscription to the Articles and Liturgy. The spread of Unitarian opinions among the clergy is said to have originated this movement, though probably this was not the sole cause. One of the most active promoters of this attempt was Archdeacon Blackburne; he was supported by Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, who boldly avowed that his object was to open the door for different views upon the Trinity in the Church. His own views on this subject expressed in a treatise entitled 'An Essay on Spirit' were certainly original and startling. He held that the Logos was the Archangel Michael, and the Holy Spirit the angel Gabriel!
This treatise and that of Blackburne, entitled 'The Confessional,' called forth the talents of an eminent Churchman in defence of the received doctrine of the Trinity -- Jones of Nayland. His chief work on the subject was entitled 'The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity,' and was drawn up after the model of Dr. Clarke's famous book, to which, indeed, it was partly intended to be an antidote. It was written on the principle that Scripture is its own best interpreter, and consisted of a series of well-chosen texts marshalled in order with a brief explanation of each, showing its application to the doctrine of the Trinity. On one point Jones insists with great force, viz., that every article of the Christian faith depends upon the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity; and he illustrates this by applying it to 'our creation, redemption, sanctification, resurrection, and glorification by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit.' Jones did, perhaps, still more useful if less pretentious work in publishing two little pamphlets, the one entitled 'A Letter to the Common People in Answer to some Popular Arguments against the Trinity,' the other 'A Preservative against the Publications dispersed by Modern Socinians.' Both of these set forth the truth, as he held it, in a very clear and sensible manner, and at a time when the Unitarian doctrines were spreading widely among the multitudes who could not be supposed to have either the time or the talents requisite to grapple with long, profound, and elaborate arguments, they were very seasonable publications.
But the most curious contribution which Jones made to the Trinitarian controversy was a pamphlet entitled 'A Short Way to Truth, or the Christian Doctrine of a Trinity in Unity, Illustrated and Confirmed from an Analogy in the Natural Creation.' He shows that the powers of nature by which all natural life and motion are preserved are three -- air, fire, and light. That these three thus subsisting together in unity are applied in Scripture to the Three Persons of the Divine Nature, and that the manifestations of God are always made under one or other of these signs. These three agents support the life of man. There is a Trinity in the body (1) the heart and blood-vessels; (2) the organs of respiration; (3) the nerves, the instruments of sensation; these three departments are the three moving principles of nature continually acting for the support of life. 'Therefore,' he concludes, 'as the life of man is a Trinity in Unity, and the powers which act upon it are a Trinity in Unity, the Socinians being, in their natural capacity, formed and animated as Christians, carry about with them daily a confutation of their own unbelief.'
In the year 1782, the Trinitarian controversy received a fresh impulse from the appearance in it of a writer whose eminence in other branches of knowledge lent an adventitious importance to what he wrote upon this subject. In that year, Dr. Priestley published his 'History of the Corruptions of Christianity,' which, as Horsley says, was 'nothing less than an attack upon the creeds and established discipline of every church in Christendom.' Foremost among these corruptions were both the Catholic doctrine of our Lord's divinity and the Arian notion of His pre-existence in a state far above the human.
The great antagonist of Dr. Priestley was Dr. Horsley, who, first in a Charge to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of St. Albans, and then in a series of letters addressed to Priestley himself, maintained with conspicuous ability the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.
An able modern writer says that the Unitarian met at the hands of the bishop much the same treatment as Collins had received from Bentley. But the comparison scarcely does justice either to Horsley or Priestley. From a purely intellectual point of view it would be a compliment to any man to compare him with 'Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,' but the brilliant wit and profound scholarship displayed in Bentley's remarks on Collins were tarnished by a scurrility and personality which, even artistically speaking, injured the merits of the work, and were quite unworthy of being addressed by one gentleman (not to say clergyman) to another. Horsley's strictures are as keen and caustic as Bentley's; but there is a dignity and composure about him which, while adding to rather than detracting from the pungency of his writings, prevent him from forgetting his position and condescending to offensive invectives. Priestley, too, was a more formidable opponent than Collins. He was not only a man who by his scientific researches had made his mark upon his age, but he had set forth Unitarianism far more fully and powerfully than Collins had set forth Deism. Still he unquestionably laid himself open to attack, and his opponent did not fail to take advantage of this opening.
Horsley distinctly declines to enter into the general controversy as to the truth or possibility of the Christian Trinity. Everything, he thinks, that can be said on either side has been said long ago. But he is ready to join issue with Priestley on the historical question. This he feels it practically necessary to do, for 'the whole energy and learning of the Unitarian party is exerted to wrest from us the argument from tradition.'
He shows, then, that so far from all the Church being originally Unitarian, there was no Unitarian before the end of the second century, when Theodotus, 'the learned tanner of Byzantium,' who had been a renegade from the faith, taught for the first time that His humanity was the whole of Christ's condition, and that He was only exalted to Heaven like other good men. He owns that the Cerinthians and Ebionites long before that had affirmed that Jesus had no existence previous to Mary's conception, and was literally and physically the carpenter's son, and so asserted the mere humanity of the Redeemer, 'but,' he adds, 'they admitted I know not what unintelligible exaltation of His nature upon His Ascension by which He became no less the object of worship than if His nature had been originally divine.' He acknowledges that the Cerinthian Gnostics denied the proper divinity of Christ, but, he adds very pertinently, 'if you agree with me in these opinions, it is little to your purpose to insist that Justin Martyr's reflections are levelled only at the Gnostics.'
Like Waterland, and indeed all defenders of the Catholic doctrine, Horsley fully admits the difficulties and mysteriousness of his subject, 'but,' he asks, 'is Christianity clear of difficulties in any of the Unitarian schemes? Hath the Arian hypothesis no difficulty when it ascribes both the first formation and perpetual government of the Universe not to the Deity, but an inferior being? In the Socinian scheme is it no difficulty that the capacity of a mere man should contain that wisdom by which God made the universe?'
Horsley rebukes his opponent in severe and dignified language for presuming to write on a subject on which, by his own confession, he was ignorant of what had been written. In reply to a passage in Horsley's 'Charge,' in which it was asserted that Priestley's opinions in general were the same as those propagated by Daniel Zuicker, and that his arguments were in essential points the same as Episcopius had used, Priestley had said that he had never heard of Zuicker, and knew little of Episcopius; he also let slip that he had only 'looked through' the ancient fathers and the writings of Bishop Bull, an unfortunate phrase, which Horsley is constantly casting in his teeth. On the positive proofs of his own position, Horsley cites numerous passages from the ante-Nicene fathers. He contends that in the famous passage of Tertullian on which Priestley had laid so much stress, Tertullian meant by 'idiotae,' not the general body of unlearned Christians, but some stupid people who could not accept the great mystery which was generally accepted by the Church. He shows that the Jews in Christ's time did believe in a Trinity, and expected the Second Person to come as their Messiah. He maintains that when Athanasius spoke of Jews who held the simple humanity of Christ, he meant what he said, viz., Jews simply, not Christian Jews, as Priestley asserted.
There is a fine irony in some of his remarks on Priestley's interpretations of Scripture. 'To others,' he says in his 'Charge,' 'who have not the sagacity to discern that the true meaning of an inspired writer must be the reverse of the natural and obvious sense of the expressions which he employs, the force of the conclusion that the Primitive Christians could not believe our Lord to be a mere man because the Apostles had told them He was Creator of the Universe (Colossians i.15, 17) will be little understood.' In the famous text which speaks of Christ as 'come in the flesh,' for 'come in the flesh' Priestley substitutes 'come of the flesh.' 'The one,' says Horsley, 'affirms an Incarnation, the other a mortal extraction. The first is St. John's assertion, the second Dr. Priestley's. Perhaps Dr. Priestley hath discovered of St. John, as of St. Paul, that his reasoning is sometimes inconclusive and his language inaccurate, and he might think it no unwarrantable liberty to correct an expression, which, as not perfectly corresponding with his own system, he could not entirely approve. It would have been fair to advertise his reader of so capital an emendation, an emendation for which no support is to be found in the Greek Testament or any variety of manuscripts.' In a similar tone, he trusts 'that the conviction of the theological student that his philosophy is Plato's, and his creed St. John's, will alleviate the mortification he might otherwise feel in differing from Dr. Priestley.'
One of the most important and interesting parts of Horsley's letters was that in which he discussed the old objection raised by Priestley that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity was borrowed from Plato. There is, and Horsley does not deny it, a certain resemblance between the Platonic and the Christian theories. The Platonist asserted three Divine hypostases, the Good Being ([Greek: tagathon]), the word or reason ([Greek: logos] or [Greek: noys]), and the Spirit ([Greek: psyche]) that actuates or influences the whole system of the Universe (anima mundi), which had all one common Deity ([Greek: to theion]), and were eternal and necessarily existent. Horsley can see no derogation to Christianity in the resemblance of this theory to that of the Christian Trinity. He thinks that the advocates of the Catholic Faith in modern times have been too apt to take alarm at the charge of Platonism. 'I rejoice,' he says, 'and glory in the opprobrium. I not only confess, but I maintain, not a perfect agreement, but such a similitude as speaks a common origin, and affords an argument in confirmation of the Catholic doctrine for its conformity to the most ancient and universal traditions.' For was this idea of a Triad peculiar to Plato? or did it originate with him? 'The Platonists,' says Horsley, 'pretended to be no more than expositors of a more ancient doctrine which is traced from Plato to Parmenides; from Parmenides to his master of the Pythagorean sect; from the Pythagoreans to Orpheus, the earliest of Grecian mystagogues; from Orpheus to the secret lore of Egyptian priests in which the foundations of the Orphic theology were laid. Similar notions are found in the Persian and Chaldean theology; even in Roman superstition from their Trojan ancestors. In Phrygia it was introduced by Dardanus, who carried it from Samothrace.' In short, 'the Trinity was a leading principle in all ancient schools of philosophy and religion.'
Not, of course, that Horsley approved of the attempts made at the close of the second century to meet the Platonists half-way by professing that the leading doctrines of the Gospel were contained in Plato's writings. He strongly condemned, e.g., the conceit of the Platonic Christians that the external display of the powers of the Son in the business of Creation is the thing intended in Scripture language under the figure of his generation. 'There is no foundation,' he thinks, 'in Holy Writ, and no authority in the opinions and doctrines of preceding ages. It betrayed some who were most wedded to it into the use of very improper language, as if a new relation between the First and Second Persons took place when the creative powers were first exerted.' He condemns 'the indiscretion of presuming to affix a determinate meaning upon a figurative expression of which no particular exposition can be drawn safely from Holy Writ.' 'But,' he adds, 'the conversion of an attribute into a person, whatever Dr. Priestley may imagine, is a notion to which they were entire strangers.' On the main question of the Trinity he asserts, in opposition to Dr. Priestley, that they were quite sound.
Adopting the same line of argument which Leslie had used before him, Horsley dexterously turns the supposed resemblance between Platonism and Christianity, which, as has been seen, he admits, into a plain proof that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be such a contradiction as the Unitarians represented it to be.
The controversy between Priestley and Horsley brings us nearly to the close of the eighteenth century. There had been a considerable secession of English clergymen to the Unitarians, and Horsley's masterly tracts were a very opportune defence of the Catholic doctrine. On one point he and his adversary thoroughly concurred -- viz., that there could be no medium between making Christ a mere man and owning Him to be in the highest sense God. Arianism in its various forms had become by this time well-nigh obsolete in England. It was a happy thing for the Church that this point had been virtually settled. The alternative was now clearly set before English Churchmen -- 'Choose ye whom ye will serve; if Christ be God, follow him; if not, be prepared to give up all notions of a creature worship.' The Unitarians at the close of the eighteenth century all took their stand on this issue. Such rhapsodies as those which were indulged in by early Socinians as well as Arians were now unheard. The line of demarcation was strictly drawn between those who did and those who did not believe in the true Godhead and distinct personality of the Second and Third Persons of the Blessed Trinity, so that from henceforth men might know on what ground they were standing.
Here the sketch of this famous controversy, which was certainly a marked feature of the eighteenth century, may fitly close. But a few general remarks in conclusion seem requisite.
And first as to the nomenclature. The name claimed by the anti-Trinitarians has, for want of a better, been perforce adopted in the foregoing pages. But in calling them Unitarians, we must do so under protest. The advocates of the Catholic doctrine might with equal correctness be termed, from one point of view, Unitarians, as they are from another point of view termed Trinitarians. For they believe in the Unity of God as firmly as they believe in the Trinity. And they hold that there is no real contradiction in combining those two subjects of belief; because the difficulty of reconciling the Trinity with the Unity of the Godhead in reality proceeds simply from our human and necessary incapacity to comprehend the nature of the union. Therefore they cannot for a moment allow to disbelievers in the Trinity the title of Unitarians, so as to imply that the latter monopolise the grand truth that 'the Lord our God is one Lord.' They consent reluctantly to adopt the term Unitarian because no other name has been invented to describe the stage at which anti-Trinitarians had arrived before the close of the eighteenth century. These latter, of course, differed essentially from the Arians of the earlier part of the century. Neither can they be properly termed Socinians, for Socinus, as Horsley justly remarks, 'though he denied the original divinity of Our Lord, was nevertheless a worshipper of Christ, and a strenuous asserter of his right to worship. It was left to others,' he adds, 'to build upon the foundation which Socinus laid, and to bring the Unitarian doctrine to the goodly form in which the present age beholds it.' Indeed, the early Socinians would have denied to Dr. Priestley and his friends the title of Christians, and would have excommunicated them from their Society. 'Humanitarians' would be a more correct designation; but as that term is already appropriated to a very different signification, it is not available. For convenience' sake, therefore, the name of Unitarians must be allowed to pass, but with the proviso that so far from its holders being the sole possessors of the grand truth of the unity of the Godhead, they really, from the fact of their denying the divinity of two out of the three Persons in the Godhead, form only a very maimed and inadequate conception of the one God.
The outcry against all mystery, or, to use a modern phrase, the spirit of rationalism, which in a good or bad sense pervaded the whole domain of religious thought, orthodox and unorthodox alike during the eighteenth century, found its expression in one class of minds in Deism, in another in anti-Trinitarianism. But though both disavowed any opposition to real Christianity, yet both in reality allow no scope for what have been from the very earliest times to the present day considered essential doctrines of the Gospel. If the Deist strikes at the very root of Christianity by questioning the evidence on which it rests, no less does the Unitarian divest it of everything distinctive -- of the divine condescension shown in God taking our nature upon Him, of the divine love shown in God's unseen presence even now in His Church by His Holy Spirit. Take away these doctrines, and there will be left indeed a residuum of ethical teaching, which some may please to call Christianity if they will; but it differs as widely from what countless thousands have understood and still understand by the term, as a corpse differs from a living man.
[Footnote 431: [Greek: autotheos].]
[Footnote 432: [Greek: phos ek photos].]
[Footnote 433: See Van Mildert's Life of Waterland, Sec.3, p.29.]
[Footnote 434: Id.]
[Footnote 435: 'We cannot charge anything to be a contradiction in one nature because it is so in another, unless we understand both natures. Because a nature we understand not, cannot be explained to us but by allusion to some nature we do understand.' -- Leslie's Theological Works, vol. ii. p.402, 'The Socinian Controversy.']
[Footnote 436: Leslie's Theological Works, ii.405.]
[Footnote 437: By his famous 'a priori' arguments for the Being and Attributes of God, and by his answers to the Deists generally.]
[Footnote 438: Potter also, subsequently Archbishop of Canterbury, entered into the lists against Clarke.]
[Footnote 439: Dr. Whitby (already favourably known in the theological world by his commentary on the Bible), Mr. Sykes, and Mr. Jackson, Vicar of Rossington and afterwards of Doncaster, &c.]
[Footnote 440: He proceeds to explain S. Matthew, xxiv.36, S. Luke, ii.52, and S. John, v.19, in a sense consistent with the Catholic doctrine.]
[Footnote 441: See vols. i. ii. and iii. passim of Waterland's Works, edited by Van Mildert.]
[Footnote 442: Toulmin's Memoirs of Faustus Socinus, p.191.]
[Footnote 443: Toulmin's Memoirs of Faustus Socinus, p.180.]
[Footnote 444: Id.211.]
[Footnote 445: Id. p.467.]
[Footnote 446: Toulmin, p.281. See also on this point Thomas Scott's interesting account of his own religious opinions in the Force of Truth, and in his biography by his son.]
[Footnote 447: 'The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity,' by Isaac Watts, vol. vi. of Works, p.155.]
[Footnote 448: 'The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity,' by Isaac Watts, vol. vii. of Works, p.196.]
[Footnote 449: Watts, p.200.]
[Footnote 450: 'The Arian Invited to an Orthodox Faith.' -- Works, vol. vi. p.348.]
[Footnote 451: Id.225.]
[Footnote 452: Address to the Reader, p. viii. prefixed to The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity.]
[Footnote 453: Jones of Nayland's Theological Works, vol. i. p.214, &c.]
[Footnote 454: Hunt's History of Religious Thought, iii.349.]
[Footnote 455: Charge, p.67.]
[Footnote 456: Id.43, &c.]
[Footnote 457: Letter X. to Dr. Priestley, p.183.]
[Footnote 458: Letters to Dr. Priestley, p.249.]
[Footnote 459: Letters, &c. p.91, &c.]
[Footnote 460: Charge, p.14.]
[Footnote 461: Charge, p.17.]
[Footnote 462: Id. p.73.]
[Footnote 463: See Maimbourg's History of Arianism, i.6, note 3.]
[Footnote 464: Letters, p.215.]
[Footnote 465: Charge, p.43. Horsley rather lays himself open in this passage to the charge of confounding history with mythology; but probably all he meant was to show the extreme antiquity of Trinitarian notions.]
[Footnote 466: Evanson, Disney, Jebb, Gilbert Wakefield, &c.]
[Footnote 467: Letters, &c.243.]
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