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OF THE STATE OF THE UNITARIAN. DOCTRINE,
IN OUR OWN COUNTRY MORE ESPECIALLY,
THE principal divisions and differences of Protestants in our own country, until about the time of the Revolution, chiefly related to the imposition of unscriptural rites and ceremonies, and points of discipline and church-government. The Puritans, the inferior and persecuted party, (but who became persecutors in their turn when they had the power,) differed not at all from their Protestant brethren in the doctrinal points of the Trinity, incarnation, original sin, works before justification, predestination, and the like. Their adversaries, and Archbishop Laud at the head of them, were the first that broke the ice in this respect, and took upon them to refine away the plain words of the Thirty-Nine Articles, ( agreed upon for the avoiding of diversities of opinion,) which they disliked, or with which they found themselves aggrieved. And although, in imitation of Heylin then; and Waterland in the days of our fathers, Dr. Nowell and others have laboured to rid the articles of holding forth the melancholy doctrine of an arbitrary election of some men to eternal life, and rejection of others, yet while the Seventeenth Article remains, vain will be their endeavours to soften the horror of it by any qualifying passages from the Homilies, or particular expressions in the Liturgy, or other writings of those who compiled it.
Will they allow the same kind of argument to be used, and conclusions drawn, in a parallel case? It may then be proved that the venerable compilers of our Liturgy were Arian or Socinian. For, although in the Litany throughout, and in many parts of the morning, evening and communion-service, a Trinitarian form of worship is adopted, nevertheless the general turn of address in the collects and prayers is to God, and not to Christ, and the Holy Ghost is almost left out wholly unworshiped; in which latter forms no Arian or Socinian would refuse to join.
But the minds of many, both of the clergy and laity, are now distressed on a subject in our Articles and Liturgy, of far greater moment than the colour of the ministers' vestments, or the posture at the sacrament, or even the secret determinations of the Divine Mind about the future doom of his creatures, a curiosity which seems, from the nature of the thing, unhallowed and forbidden.
The proper object of divine worship was a matter left wholly untouched and uninquired
into by the leading divines at the Reformation from Popery.
The philosophic and scholastic language and doctrine concerning the Trinity, which had been forming and settling from the time of the Nicene Council, during the apostacy that followed, was never called in question, was received with the most implicit faith and reverence, and regarded as something more sacred even than holy scripture itself.
The greater part of our Protestant predecessors, unhappily for us, seem to have had a superstitious awe and dread of looking into a subject involved, as this was, in learned mystery and darkness. Their prejudices ran so high in favour of it, and they esteemed it so necessary and fundamental a point, that they could not suffer the least doubt of it in their own minds, or objection from others. They imagined the glorious work of reformation from the gross • errors and idolatries of Popery, which they had truly at heart, would be scandalized, and an invincible bar put to its progress, were any heretical opinions about this great point to be found amongst them; or, if found, not severely animadverted upon and punished.
With what earnestness does Oecolampadius labour, in a letter to Bucer, August 5, 1531, to clear himself and his friends from the imputation of giving any countenance to Servetus's book De
Trinitatis Erroribus, that was just then come out! “I desire you would acquaint Luther (says he) that this book was printed out of this country, and without our knowledge. Our churches will be very ill spoken of, unless our divines make it their business to cry him down. I beseech you in particular to keep a watchful eye over it, and to make an apology for our churches, at least in your confutation inscribed to the emperor.'
And Mosheim tells us, that at the first dawn of the Reformation in Germany and Italy, there appeared some who denied the divinity of Christ. “ But the efforts of these men (saith he) were opposed with united zeal and vigilance, by the Romish, Reformed, and Lutheran churches ;" i. e. by burning and putting them to the most cruel deaths.t
** Account of Calvin's Treatment of Servetus, 1724, p. 163. The letter concludes thus—“ We know not how that beast came to creep in among us.
He wrests all passages of Scripture to prove that the Son is not coeternal and con- . substantial with the Father, and that the man Christ is the Son of God.”
+ Mosheim accuses these persons, that “they began to undermine the doctrine of Christ's Divinity, and the other truths that are connected with it, and proposed reducing the whole of religion to practical piety and virtue.” There could be nothing surely wrong in this, if they gave what appeared to them the true sense of the Holy Scriptures, and did not leave out of their system (and we have no reason to think they did leave out) those gospel motives to holiness,
To this violent and extreme prejudice, which was then entertained by almost all, against such as opposed the doctrine of the Trinity, and to that other error connected with it, that it was lawful to put heretics to death, we must attribute Calvin's most ungenerous and barbarous behaviour towards the ingenious Spanish physician, and innocent sufferer, Servetus, whom he caused to be burnt alive at Geneva, for his opinions concerning the Trinity. But we may hope, that as Calvin sinned ignorantly and in unbelief, this would extenuate before God the horrid crime of that his otherwise faithful servant, and virtuous holy man.*
which resulted from the true nature and character of Christ, and the goodness of God manifested in him.
Mosheim is a valuable historian, good-tempered, and in general candid. But he was a warm Lutheran, and also a condemner of all those who did not hold the three persons in the Godhead to be equal to each other in rank and dignity; and is there ore to be read with caution, when he speaks on these points. See what he says of Eusebius, the Ecclesiastical Historian, Vol. I. p. 290.
* Beza, Calvin's disciple, takes every opportunity of raking in the ashes of this unhappy, much injured person, and insulting his memory after he was dead. Take one sample of his spirit from his comment on Col. i. 15, where our Saviour Christ is called the first-born of every creature. Sed est notandus quoque hic locus adversus impium illum Servetum, &c. viz.“ But this passage particularly makes against the impious Servetus, who maintained that Christ was the Son of God only with respect to his human nature,