|Vol. IV, No. 7
Tishry 5607, October 1846
NOTE.—In the second number of this volume, we inserted that part of the eighteenth letter which was then in our possession, and expressed a hope that: we would soon be able to supply the deficiency. We were not then aware that Sampson Simson, Esq., of Yonkers, from whom we had obtained the MS. copy which we have been using from the commencement, could supply us the part which was missing. It was, therefore, with great satisfaction that we received, early in June, a letter from the above gentleman containing the subjoined; and at the same time it would appear that the part of the MS. was probably lost at the time that the Christian Inquirer had it in 1826, when a few of the letters were published.—It has been out of our power to resume the printing of the letters since last May up to this time, and it is not the only disappointment in the issuing of articles which we have to experience in common on with other magazine Editors, as new articles constantly interfere with previously expressed promises. The subject, however, has lost none of its interest, and we resume it, therefore, at present; and we request our readers to peruse attentively the commencement of Letter 18, now given, and connect it with the part already printed in our No. 38.
The doctrine of the trinity is the most extraordinary invention ever attempted, and so contradictory to Scripture, reason, and sense, that no proposition, whatever impossibilities or contradictions it may consist of, can equal it. It is likely that this doctrine owed its first rise to the plurality of gods worshipped by the heathen, the more easily to gain them over to Christianity: and it was no hard matter so to apply some passages, and impose such a sense and meaning on phrases in the New Testament, as should confirm it; more especially as those converts must have been entirely ignorant of the true import and meaning of the phrases there used. I was led to the consideration of this doctrine, on examining the application of such passages to Jesus, as are not mentioned by the writers of the New Testament. The authors of the Universal History quote two prophesies as having relation to the birth and divinity of Jesus. The first, is that passage of Josiah, “Behold a virgin shall conceive,” &c., which being already considered, I shall say nothing concerning. The other is, “Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace;”* all which titles and epithets are ascribed to Jesus, as being God and man; urging that they are of such a nature, as not capable of being applied to mere humanity; pretending, in consequence, that this was a character of a divine child, who was wonderfully conceived, wonderfully born, and wonderfully manifested.† His wonderful conception, I have heretofore considered, as also his wonderful birth. As to his wonderful manifestation, these historians make it to consist in that “the babe was wrapped up in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.”† They, &c. &c.
Protestants very justly reject the doctrine of transubstantiation; because it is manifestly contradictory to reason and sense; for as the eye cannot forbear seeing, that the object continues the same, notwithstanding any form of words, so the understanding cannot forbear either assenting or dissenting, according to the agreement or disagreement of ideas; we having as sure a guide in the conduct of our understanding, as we can possibly have in that of our senses. Was any person to assure me that one is three, and that three are but one, or that one simple unit was three simple units, and three simple units were but one simple unit, I should take such a person to be either mad, or of having some intentions to impose on me in the grossest manner. And was such a person to tell me that he had a positive command from God to teach me any such propositions, I should certainly call his integrity in question; for my understanding would immediately give him the lie; for as God had not given me faculties to comprehend the proposition, how could He expect my assent? And, in justice, He could not command me to believe that which He had not enabled me to comprehend. On the contrary, God has laid down such propositions as are diametrically opposite to the doctrine of the trinity. To instance in a few:—“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord;” or rather, “the Lord is one.”* “That the Lord, he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath there is none else.”† “Unto thee was it shown, that thou mightest know that the Lord, he is god, there is none else besides him.”‡ “See now that I, even I, am He: and there is no god with me; I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.”§ Let the Arians, or Trinitarians, reconcile the trinity, or deified persons, to these texts, or to the following passages:—“And thou shalt know no other god but me, for there is no Saviour besides me.”|| “Have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? Ye are even my witnesses. Is there a god besides me? Yea, there is no god; I know not any.”¶ “I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no god besides me.”** “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.”†† “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike.”‡‡ “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.”§§ In short, if there be no other “god but He;” “if there is none with Him, (or, if you please, in his essence); if there is none besides Him;” “if there is none like Him;” “if He has no equal, nor any god able to save besides IIim,” and if God declares that he “knows not any other god,” how vain and impious is it to worship any other, or to pretend to put any such meaning on any part of Scripture!
In the New Testament there are many passages which directly contradict the divinity of Jesus, To instance a few: we are told that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”* which is declaring him to be merely human; for what greater absurdity, than to say that God increases in wisdom, or that he was grown in favor with himself? Jesus declares, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me;”† by which he declares himself to be only an agent, to do the will of his superior, and consequently could not be the same as he that had the power of sending; as he that sends, or commands another to go, cannot be the same as he who goes, and is commanded by a superior; for to command and to obey are different acts, inconsistent in the same person, unless a person can be said, not only to command himself, but also to obey himself, which is absurd. Of the like passages we have many. Again, Jesus declares of himself, “I go unto the Father; for my Father is greater than I.”‡ Consequently, he that has a superior cannot be God. In another place he has the following passage: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me, with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”§ Here he invokes his superior for that which he had not only had not, but could not obtain of himself. For either he had that glory or he had it not: if he had it, it was absurd to pray for what he had, and if he had it not, then could he not be God; for he that had the power to grant it, and to whom he prayed, must have been his superior. Besides, he prays for a thing which he had “before the world was,” of which (to make the passage sense) he must have been divested; but how absurd it is to suppose that the Deity divests himself, or is divested by another, of his glory or any of his attributes. Another remarkable expression of his is that concerning his knowledge of the day of judgment, declaring, “Of that day day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father,”¶ by which he excludes himself of having that knowledge, confessing his ignorance, as it is declared to be known only to the Father.
Now how can he be God, or of the same essence with the Father, and yet be ignorant of that the Father knew? Or can that person be God who is deficient in knowledge, in not knowing that which another knew? These passages are sufficient, and unanswerable, and clearly prove that Jesus pretended not to any divinity; and so far was he from taking any of the divine attributes to himself, that he rebukes one for only “calling him good master,” and tells him “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God.”* I think a more express declaration cannot be had, and so persuaded was he of this, and that worship was only due to God, that he tells the devil, (who it seems would persuade him to the contrary,) “Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” A saying that ought to be strictly followed.
One of the phrases which I make no doubt, might have been misapplied by those who propagated the doctrine of the trinity, either through policy, design, or ignorance, is that of “Son of God,” so often used in the New Testament; but it appears very plain that this phrase means not either a divine person, or one co-equal with God, but was synonymous with Messiah: either or both being used indifferently to signify the same thing. This is evident from the use of these terms throughout the New Testament. To prove this I will make use of the words of Mr. Locke, who, in his Reasonableness of Christianity,* cites the following passage (John, 1:41): Andrew says to Simon, “We have found the Messiah;” and Philip, on the same occasion; (45) says to Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel who disbelieved this, upon Christ’s speaking to him was convinced of it, when he declares his assent in these words, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.” From which it is evident, that to believe him to be “Him of whom the law and the Prophets did write,” or to be “Son of God,” or to be “King of Israel,” was in effect the same as to be the Messiah. “When the priests and Levites sent to John the Baptist to ask who he was,” (John, 1:19) he, understanding their meaning, answered, “I am not the Messiah,” but he bears witness that Jesus is the “Son of God,” that is the Messiah. (See p. 520.) This also was the declaration of him at his baptism, by a voice from heaven “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Mat. 3:17,) which was a declaration of him, of his being the Messiah. (See p. 521.) He asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist, but others say Elias, and others, one of the prophets,” (so that it is evident that those who believed him an extraordinary person, knew not yet who he was, though it was the third year of his ministry, and not a year before his death); and he says unto them, “But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answered and said unto him, Thou art the Messiah.” (Luke, 4:41.) “And devils came out of many, crying out and saying, Thou art Christ, the Son of God: and he rebuking them, suffered them not to speak, that they knew him to be the Messiah.” (Mar. 3:11, 12.), “Unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, thou art the Son of God; and he straightly charged them, that they should not make him known.” Here again we may observe, from the comparing of the two texts, that “thou art the Son of God,” or “thou art the Messiah,” were indifferently used for the same thing. And again, “Where, confessing Jesus to be the Son of God,” is the “same as confessing him to be the Messiah,” those two expressions being understood, amongst the Jews, to signify the same thing. (p. 531.) He inquired of his disciples (Mark, 8:27), whom the people took him for; they telling him, for John the Baptist, or one of the old prophets risen from the dead, he asked, what they themselves thought, and here again Peter answers in these words, (Mark, 8:29,) “Thou art the Messiah.” (Luke, 9:20,) “Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” which expressions, we may hence gather, mean the same thing. (See p. 533.) “How calling him the son of God, came to signify that he was the Messiah, would not be hard to show, but it is enough that it appears plainly, that it was so used, and had that import among the Jews at that time, which, if any one desires to have further evidence to him, he may add Mat. 26:63; John, 6:69, 11:27, 20, 31, and those places occasionally taken notice of.” (See p. 531.) In his first vindication he quotes the words of Doctor Patrick, Bishop of Ely, viz.: “To be the Son of God, and to be Christ, being but different expressions of the same thing;” And again, from the same prelate, “It is the very same thing, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and to believe that Jesus is the Son of God; express it how you please.” These passages, and many others to the same purpose, defends and confirms in his vindication; but what I have here collected is sufficient to my purpose, which is to show the signification of the phrase, Son of God, and in what sense this phrase was used in the New Testament. The following remarks will set this in a clear light.
We have a passage in the gospel, of a question proposed by Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees, namely, “Whose son they thought the Messiah was to be?” To this they answered, “The son of David.” “He saith unto them, How doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?” To which he added, “If David then did call him Lord, how is he his son?”* “And no man was able to answer him.” The authors of the Universal History remark on this passage, that “it doth not indeed appear that they had any notion of his divine nature, and therefore might be easily puzzled to answer this question,”† which plainly shows, that the calling him Son of God, could not be owing to any notion of his divinity. For had they understood his pretensions, they might have easily answered, that David could not have intended to call the Messiah Lord, or thought him God; for if he had, he would not have made him stand in need of another’s assistance, to make his enemies his footstool; because it must be inconsistent and absurd; for he, that stands in need of another’s help could neither be Lord, nor of the same essence with God; and thus might Jesus have been nonplussed.
The passage refers to Psalm 110, (which though at the top is put a Psalm of David), but is not of his composing, any more than the twentieth and twenty-first Psalms are, which bear the same title. This is evident from the contents of those and this Psalm, which, like many more, were composed by others, such as Ethan, Yeduthan, the sons of Korah, and Asaph, &c. This Psalm, in particular, seems to me to be dedicated to David, on his escape from the imminent danger his life was in, in the encounter with the giant Ishbibenob, which caused his men to swear, that he should not go out to battle any more,* but that he should abide in Jerusalem whilst the Lord chastised his enemies: and he ruled like Melchizadeck, or a just king, (which that word signifies); the word cohen, rendered priest, signifies also chief ruler, and is rightly so translated in another place,† where it says, “and David’s sons were (cohanim) chief rulers,” not chief priests, and in like manner it ought to be translated here, in this Psalm, which represents David as chief ruler, and acting like a just king in Zion, whilst, without danger of his life, the Lord should make his enemies his footstool. This is the intent and scope of the Psalm, as is evident from every part of it; and the title Lord, therein given David, imports no divinity, no more than it does in many other places. This Psalm cannot be applied to Jesus, nor can it be made to correspond to him; for it is evident that to him there happened the very reverse. And if Jesus’s authority avails any thing, from it might be proved, that when such titles are given to men they imply no divinity; for when he was in danger of being stoned, because that being a man, they apprehended from his discourse that he made himself a god, Jesus answered in his own excuse, “Is it not written in your law, I said ye are gods? if he called them gods unto whom the word of God came, why should you think me a blasphemer that am sent of God,‡ for declaring myself the son of God?”‡ By which expression it is evident he pretends to no divinity, no more than those who were called gods did.