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Art. IV. Discourses on the Principal Points of the Socinian Contro
versy. By Ralph Wardlaw, Glasgow, 8vo. pp. viii. 441. Price 10s. Hamilton, 1814.
(Concluded from Page 253.) THE sixth discourse is on the Test of Truth. After an
elaborate discussion of the preceding subjects, in which there are continual references to a test already established, we were surprised to find this discourse introduced. Mr. Wardlaw seems aware of its appearing an illogical arrangement, and assigns the following reason for it.
• The previous discussion, it occurred to me, of one at least of the principal points of controversy, might furnish ready and appropriate illustrations of the principles which are now to be laid down ;-illustrations, which could not otherwise have been easily obtained, with. out awkward and embarrassing anticipation In this way, the
argument which has already been closed, will afford means of elucidating the principles on which it has itself been conducted, and of demonstratin: the rectitude of these principles, so that we may apply them with the greater confidence, to the topics of future consideration.' p. 163.
With this reason, we are not satisfied. It is obviously requisite in the begioving of any controversy, to settle (if it can be settled,) the standard of reference, beyond which there shall be no appeal, and the testimony of which shall be considered decisive It appears to us far more awkward and embarrassing,' to reason on principles yet to be proved, and which are all aloog taken for granted, than to intermingle in the very discussion of such principles, occasional allusions, for the sake of illustration, to the points depending on them, as their ultimate authority. But Mr. W. has himself proved, that such a previous discussion is practicable; and that the test of ruth' may be ascertained without any awkward anticipations. We can find no reasoning in this sixth discourse, which would in the least degree confound the reader, who should venture to place it first in the series. . If, (and we have no doubt that it will be the case) another edition be called for, we would recominend the Author to alter the collocation ; and, omitting the first paragraph, make it the introductory discourse.'
Should such an inproved arrangement be adopted, we would recommend, an ampler illustration of the province of human reason in theological inquiries. What is said, is highly satisfactory; but a more expanded and minute detail is desirable; and particularly in reference to the “Socinian Controversy.' "The subtle and ambidextrous ingenuity of Socinians in evading an argument resting ultimately on scriptural allthority; their professed respect for that authority, notwithVOL. III. N s.
standing their practical disregard to it; and their avowedly lax and depreciating estimate of the inspiration on which it is founded ; together with their high and deifying exaltation of reason ; require a thorough discussion of this important subject. Nothing would be more conducive to the satisfactory termination of such an inquiry, than a statement of the nature of that evidence, on which the Divine authority of the Gospel rests. We are fully prepared to admit, that the accordance of its doctrines with what are called the principles of natural religion, the harmony of revealed truth, its adaptation to the moral condition of our race, its consoling influence amid the ills of life, and its pure and holy tendency, are all internal proofs of the Divine origin of Christianity; but these are arguments, the force of which cannot be properly appreciated, without an understanding and a reception of the Gospel, and therefore, cannot be considered as the ultimate reason for believing it.
We may justly talk of the reasonableness of the Gospel, and u ge the consideration of this fact, on the attention of inquirers : but its mere reasonableness could not form, in the first instance, the ground of its authority. For wliat do we mean by the reasonableness of a doctrine? Clearly, its agreement with each individual's antecedent opinions. But how can antecedent opinions he formed at all, on a subject which is supposed to require, in order to our understanding it, a Divine revelation? If there are any opinions, it may be presumed from the necessity of such a revelation, that they are all wrong; or so far wrong as to require an entire renunciation of them—“ becoming fools, in order to be wise." If the revelation in question be a mere correction of imperfect and erroneous notions, previously obtaining in the world, nothing but argument and reasoning would scem necessary to rectify or confute them : and the interposition of miracles and prophecies, would be a needless exertion of power. Allow each individual to whom this revelation is addressed, to judge beforehand of its doctrines, whether he thinks them reasonable, or not, and you appeal to an uncertain, variable, and most capricious test; a test depending on the arbitration of accident, and passion, and interest ; and involving in it no determinate views of responsibility. And then,' to what purpose is a subsequent reference to miracles and prophecies? Make Reason (that is, if it mean any thing at all, cach individual's opinion) the standard, and if the doctrines are deemed rational, nothing further is requisite; but if not rational, in this view of the term, then neither miracles, nor any other species of proof can support them.
This conclusion precisely expresses the opinions of modern
Socinians, and illustrates the consequences to which they lead ; and on their principles we would ask, why were miracles and prophecies ever employed, as the means of establishing the authority of revelation ? We cannot suppose them designed for merely temporary and local objects : this would at once destroy the universality of revelation, and diminishi, if not annihilate, its importance to ourselves. As forming part of the great scheme of the moral government of God, we must conceive them intended to be the means of accrediting some truth, or system of truths, involving in it, of course, all necessary obligations to duty; and to constitute the primary reason for considering those truths and obligations as of Divine authority.
The first question must respect the attestations themselves, their genuineness, their validity; and if not personal witnesses of the facts, it must be applied to an investigation of the historical evidence for believing the testimony that records them. Here is full scope for the exercise of reason ; here it may employ all its powers of scrutinizing, without fear or limitation. And it is worthy of remark, that whatever we make of the record itself, the outward seal of its authority remains the same. It is so constructed by the wisdom of God, that the question corcerning the antecedent authority of the Gospel, as separate from all views of its substance and contents, is not a question of sentiment, or of system ; but purely, and exclusively, a question of fact. This assertion is, we think, capable of the most satisfactory and decisive proof; and we cannot see how it could have been otherwise in the first promulgation of Christianity.
This view gives to miracles and prophecies their just value and importance; and it is of peculiar consequence, as teaching us to distinguish between the evidence and the doctrines of Christianity; and not to confound the admission of the one with the belief of the other. It illustrates the use of evidence; not to be itself the sole object of faith, as the generalising principles of Socinianism teach us, but to be the authoritative sanction of the doctrine promulgated on the ground of that evidence. Avd is it not reasonable to believe what God has revealed? Can we assign a better reason for our faith than that authority? And is it not the height of arrogant presumption to assert, that we must first ascertain whether the doctrine accord with our antecedent views and previous notions before we cordially admit it, even though a testimony, divinely accredited, clearly and explis citly reveal it? And yet this is the very essence and spirit of Soeinianism! Dr. Priestley scrupled not to assert that miracles themselves could not prove the doctrine of atonement. Ile says, we must judge of the reasonings as well as the facts of scripture; and his admirers and imitators are in no respect behind him. It requires no small portion of critical perspicuity to find out the difference between their language, in reference to obnoxious and unyielding passages, and the very ribaldry of scepticism itself.
To examine the evidence, and ascertain the meaning of revelation, appears to us to be the only province of Reason. In the latter department of its office, Mr. W.'s discourse on the test of truth bas furnished some useful and appropriate advice. After explaining the text, 1 Thess. v. 21. “ Prove all things, &c.” as meaning “Bring all things to the test," he introduces some excellent remarks on the mode of reasoning employed by Socinian critics, in condemning and explaining away the import and authority of Scripture ; and concludes with several important observations on the right method of conducting our inquiries into the meaning of the sacred volume. We cannot resist the temptation of transcribing the following passage.
• In making our appeal to the Scriptures we should beware, on all occasions, of secretly indulging a wish to discover any part of them, however small, to be spurious. From a lowly sense of the deceitful. ness of our hearts, and on account of the degree in which such a wish is in danger of biassing and perverting our judgınents, we should be the more especially jealous of ourselves, in those instances in which the particular passages in question contain, or seem to contain, any thing that is inconsistent with the opinions which we may previously have formed: and no word, or text, or passage, shnuld be pronounced an interpolation, without the clearest critical evidence of its having formed no part of the original record, as dictated by the Spirit of God. The truth is, such words, and texts, and passages, are so very few in number, and in every respect of such a nature, that the unlearned reader of the English translation needs not be under the slightest apprehension of being led, from this cause, into any erroneous sentiment; for I question if there be any one sentiment, or principle, contained in the Scriptures, of which the truth depends on a solitary text.
‘On this part of my subjeet what is to be said for the candour of our opponents in rejecting, as they do, from the canon of Scripture, the first two chapters (excepting the introduction) of the Gospel by Luke, and the first two (except the genealogy of our Lord) of the Gospel by Matthew? There can hardly be conceived (I put it seriously to their own consciences) a more shameless violation of all the established rules of sacred criticism, than their conduct as to these portions of Scripture. For on what authority do they proceed in the rejection of them? Not, as they themselves admit, on the authority of any versions or manuscripts ; for the passages are found in all the manuscripts and versions that have yet been discovered. But the Gospel of Matthew, used by the sect of the Ebioniles, wanted, it seems, according to the testimony of two of the ancient fathers, the
* Epiphanius and Jerome. Even this, however, has been shown to be unfounded. Dr. Lawrence, in his “Critical Reflections on some first two chapters ; and the first two chapters of Luke's gospel were wanting in the copy of that gospel used by Marcioz, a heretic of the second century What then is the nature and amount of this authority? It is, in the first place, as already noticed, an authority directly opposed t that of all versions and manuscripts, without a single exception that have yet been discovered. It is therefore, secondly, an authority the admission of which, in these circumstances, is a fagrant departure from the canons of biblical criticism, laid down as the result of long experience. by the most eminent critics, and recognised, and sanctioned, and professedly adhered to, by our opponents themselves But it is also, thirdly, an authority, even with regard to the passages in question, in itself inconsistent and contradictory. The Ebiorites, they admit, on the authority of one of the ancient Fathers before alluded to (Epiphanius) mutilated the copy which they used of the gospel according to Matthew, by taking away the genealogy: They therefore think proper to retain the genealogy ; and yet, on the sole authority of these same acknowledged mutilators, they reject the reminder of the first two chapters ! Marcion, in like manner, rejected, ?ccording to their own statement, the whole of the first two chapters of the Gospel by Luke ; and yet, in opposition to that authority, and without assigning a reason they retain the introductory vers s to Luke's Gospel, while in compliance with it they repudiate all that remains of these chapters Fourthly, It is an authority which, if consistently followed, would lead to the immediate rejection of the whole of the Old Testament, and, at least, almost the whole of the Nerv. For by the same authority on which the Ed tors of the improved version of the New Testament, and Unitarians in general build, respecting the omissions in question, we are informed that the Ebionite canon of the New Testament rejected the last three Gospels, and all the Epistles of Paul : and as to Marcion, that he rejected the Old Testament, and every part of the New which contained quotations from the Old; and that the only Gospel he used was that of Luke, from which too he expunged whatever he did not approve. Such is the authority which, in defiance of all versions, and of all manuscripts, as well as of all the critics, and, among the rest, Griesbach himself, who not only admits the passages in question, but never gives the slightest hint of them ever having been doubted ;-such is the authority which is brought forward to
important misrepresentations contained in the Unitarian version of the New l'estament," (a work which will well repay the trouble of a careful perusal,) has shewn, by reference to preceding critics, and by quotations adduced by himself, that the latter of these Fathers, instead of asserting the absence of the first two chapters of the Hebrew Gospel used by the Ebionites, has asserted the very reverse : and that the former, instead of considering that gospel as the "original “gospel of Matthew, written in the Hebrew language for the use of “ the Jewish believers,” pointedly stigmatised it, as an imperfect, spurious, and mutilated copy. See the work of Dr. Lawrence referred to. pp. 24, 25, 41, 44, and pp. 19, 21,