Page images
PDF
EPUB

know not what, dignified, though it be, with the name of “ rational Christianity.”

Before this writer again decides with such oracular authority, it may serve to refresh his memory and shape his periods, to review his chronological tables. He might consult Niebuhr to learn what authority is attributed by the learned to the first five centuries of Roman history. How much in Grecian history, previous to the first Olympiad, is not fabulous ? Eusebius, in his Chronicon, shows, according to the chronology of the heathen historians just mentioned, whose works, some fragments excepted, have long since perished, and also of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Diodorus Siculus, that Moses lived prior to the worship of Jupiter, to the birth of Latona, of Bacchus, Apollo, and most of the heathen deities, to the flood of Deucalion, to the fall of Phæton; and centuries prior to the first poets, philosophers, and historians of Greece. The first Ol piad was instituted in honor of Jupiter, B. C. 776. Moses was eighty years of age when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt, B. C. about 1500.

NOTE B. Page 13. The writer is not ignorant that “ rational christianity,” carried out to its legitimate results, (that is, pure rationalis,) has denied the existence of good as well as of bad angels. Nor does he see how a man can pretend to reason upon the subject and deny that the existence of the latter class is revealed, and yet believe in the existence of the former. Consistent rationalcriticism must sweep away both classes together, and it were idle to deny it. This has been the result, where liberal minds have been unlaced from creeds, unfettered by authority, and at liberty to speak out their undisguised sentiments, fearless of offending popular opinion. Theologians, inferior to none in” extent of information and compass of research, profoundly versed in the original languages of the scriptures and the kindred dialects, and loaded with stores of classical and oriental learning, men “ studious of nature” in her permanent and her ever-varying forms, have blotted out, with unsparing hand, every vestige of angelic existence from the sacred page. This is consistent inconsistency, an honor, to which the American supporters of a kindred system cannot yet lay clair. Should the descent of opinion, however, be as rapid for the next ten years as during the ten years past, (not to speak of an accelerated velocity,) it may be questioned whether “ the lowest

depth” of German rationalism will be more than a step to “ the deeper still” of American rational Christianity. A new illustration, it is to be feared, is about to be given to the adage, corruptio optimi pessima. If this be thought severe, let the reader remember that in 1815, the views of the atonement given by Butler, in his Analogy, were said by Dr. Channing, to be as generally received by the Unitarian clergy as any others; and that ten years afterwards, “a central gallows” is erected, by which to hold up those views to scorn and detestation. A descent, equally rapid, cannot be paralleled in Germany, from 1750 to the present moment. With Dr. Priestley, this divine, accomplished and eloquent though he be, may well say, “I do not know where my creed will be fixed.” The remark of the satirist, nemo repente fuit turpissimus, can apply only to manners, not to sentiments.

NOTE C. Page 23. What American Unitarian interpreters suppose the three evangelists to mean by their narratives of “ the temptation,” remains to be seen. They are of age, and can speak for themselves. It is not probable that any of them are yet ready, openly, to take the ground of Professor Schleiermacher, a name, though unknown here, of great learning, and of great authority throughout Prussia and all Germany. He thinks “ the most natural explanation of the temptation is, that it is a parable, delivered by Christ to his disciples, which might easily have been misunderstood historically, and yet as easily, notwithstanding this misconstruction, pass through a great number of hands." Putting this into intelligible English, it reads thus, the disciples, each and all, misunderstood Christ, and have perpetuated their misconception in a volume said to be inspired. In this “most natural” opinion, we see the reverence felt for the scriptures by this learned and most rational member of the German Lutheran Church. avails himself,” as another distinguished German writer has said in his reply to Rose, “ of the Established Ecclesiastical System, as, in some way or other, the envelope of his philosophical system.”

All this may be disclaimed by American rational inquirers, as irrelevant. But how can we know what is considered rational in Boston, if the advocates of rational inquiry here, will maintain an astringent silence on such topics, but by learning what is thought rational by Unitarians, where the lips are unclosed, and communication of opinion is free and unrestrained ? Whence is it, that in a monarchy, and with an established religion, the principal writers are

" He

[ocr errors]

frank, undisguised, and fearless in the expression of their belief and of their disbelief, and of their reasons, while, in this Republic, with no religious establishment to fetter thought, or the utterance of thought, this birthplace and home of free opinion and free expression, the opinions of a large class of professedly religious teachers should be known only as they are wormed out ? How loud a panegyric does Unitarian silence undesignedly pronounce upon the character and the influence of our Puritan Fathers ?

The wild speculations of continental dreamers the Christian Disciple and the Christian Examiner have often reprobated. There is allowed to be no blood-relationship, no fellow-feeling between the professors of Göttingen and of Cambridge ; while those of Andover are cordial fellow-laborers with those of Tubingen, and, recently, with those of Berlin. Insular writers, however, the good sound commonsense writers of England, are not thus recklessly thrown to the winds. True, the headlong Priestley, the daring Belsham, and even the Improved Version, embodying as it does, the results of Unitarian learning and the inventions of “ rational” ingenuity, are rather ungratefully regarded as questionable coadjutors, just yet. But what shall we say of Cappe, the most learned and the most critical of all the English Unitarians, not excepting Wakefield, and far the most cautious ? What shall we say of the Monthly Repository, the accredited organ of Unitarianism in Great Britain, especially of its first volumes, when the writers were desirous of“ putting the best foot foremost ” ? Unitarians in this vicinity have recently expressed the desire of drawing closer the bonds between them and their brethren over the waters. By looking into the Christian Register, it will be seen, that the Monthly Repository is the Magazine from which most of its foreign articles are taken. Is it not fair to presume that Unitarians here adopt the same belief in regard to Satan, Diabolos, &c. as their English brethren, and, moreover, adopt the same mode of interpreting these words in the scriptures ? The English critics, with their characteristic bluntness, speak out what they believe, or disbelieve, with considerable fulness and precision. It can hardly admit of a doubt that their more wily younger brethren, will, ere long, be constrained, either from selfrespect, or a compliance with the reiterated call of public opinion, to take the same course.

The following quotations may serve to take off the bandage, already somewhat loosened, from Unitarian eyes, which their leaders of their own accord are quite unwilling to remove.

Cappe, in his critical notes on the temptation, is quite lean in his explanation, and evidently feels himself embarrassed. This is apparent, both from his remarks there, and when the same subject recurs in his Life of Christ, which, on this period, is for the most part, a repetition of what he had said in his Notes. He gives us the most approved “ rational ” interpretation thus. “ The case with the writer here, or with some one before him who first told the story or recorded it, seems to have been this, to wit; he was about to relate such things concerning Jesus, as to the precipitate, and to any who were not well disposed towards him, might appear to be a blemish on his character, and not to consist well with the appellation, Holy One of God. To preclude such disparaging conceptions concerning the character of Jesus ; to prevent any such effect of doubts and difficulties, the growth of his own mind, the result of impressions made on him by his present circumstances, and which tended, as it might seem, towards apostacy and unfaithfulness; the evangelist, going to relate them, does not choose to represent them in plain naked language, as the spontaneous produce of his thoughts, but rather as the suggestions of another. He avails himself of an idiom much in use among the Jews, figuratively ascribing to a being of evil character, any thing in the person and circumstances of any man that either was, or that tended to what was deemed, either naturally or morally evil.”

Cappe, in this explanation, has adopted a mode of expression somewhat analogous to that which he attributes to the evangelists. He was afraid to speak out, and yet he was unwilling to withhold, his opinion. In plain English, Cappe means that Christ had “ doubts and difficulties, the growth of his own mind” solely, misgivings as to the work on which he had entered, which tended to apostacy and unfaithfulness. These the evangelist knew would not,“ to the precipitate," consist well with the character of the Holy One of God. They must in some way be concealed or palliated, or so expressed, as to remove the offence that would be felt by those not well disposed towards him. The evangelist was unwilling to express the plain truth in naked language, that these doubts and difficulties were the spontaneous produce of Christ's own thoughts, and so he avails himself of the Jewish idiom of charging upon Satan, what wholly belongs to Christ himself; of charging upon the imaginary, fictitious Satan, the doubts and difficulties of the Holy One of God !

I will make only a remark or two, in passing, on such an explanation. If I mistake not, it has always been pointed out as a peculiar, prominent, and most distinguishing feature in the evangelists, that they told, and were disposed to tell, the whole, simple, undisguised, naked truth, for, and against, their master, and themselves, unsuspicious of criticism, and fearless of consequences. They drew no characters. They pronounced no eulogiums. They told the truth, and left it to make its own way, under the God of truth, believing, or at least acting as though they believed, that“ unadorned, it was adorned the most.” Where else shall we look for any fears on the part of the disciples, that the character of “ their Lord and their God” would suffer from the plain statement of what he said, or did, or thought ? If Cappe's view be the true one, we must hereafter give up the artless, truthtelling character of the evangelists, and believe them artful and truth-concealing, if not Jesuitical.

But again. “This was an idiom much in use.” What was this idiom? Why, a general national belief in the actual existence of the devil and his angels. On consulting Cappe's references for this idiom, it will be found that he has referred to passages which prove this national belief. Suppose I should deny that Boston means a literal city; it is only an American idiomatic expression, much in use for the general idea of residence, and in proof of the assertion, should refer to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, &c.; would my logical and critical abilities be trumpeted forth as of the highest order? Yet this is precisely the reasoning of Cappe, who must be acknowledged by all, as among the most intelligent, critical, and cautious, not to say wily, of Unitarian writers. It is the system, and not the man, which is answerable for these absurdities. Let him have truth on his side, and he would be irresistible. As it is, to those but partially read in biblical criticism, and who are predisposed to follow a learned leader in rejecting Orthodoxy, I know few Unitarian writers more able “ to make the worse appear the better reason.”

I am about to extract some passages from the Monthly Repository, which will not only give us English Unitarian belief (or disbelief?) on this subject, but also, which is of great importance, the principle: of interpretation by which they arrive at their conclusion. The essay, from which these extracts are taken, was continued through three numbers of that Magazine, for 1809. The writer begins by saying, that the word diabolos, translated devil, occurs thirty-eight times in the New Testament, and proceeds to consider these cases in detail. He does not advert to those passages in which the word Satan, tempter, wicked or evil one, god of this world, prince of this world, &c. &c. are used. These are left unnoticed. However, he had enough to do with the thirty-eight passages. In some of these, it is admitted on all hands, this word is properly translated, slanderer, in the common version. Let us see how he treats those translated devil.

Math. xiii. 39. This is the explanation of the parable quoted in the

« PreviousContinue »