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An Examination of Bishop Pearson’s Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed.

(Continued from Vol. V. page 549.)

In the exposition of the third article, “which was conceived of the holy Ghost,” he says, “I do assent unto this as a most necessary and infallible truth, that the only begotten Son of God, <<31>>begotten before all worlds, was conceived and born and so made man, taking to himself a soul and body and conjoining it with the divine in the unity of his person; that he was really and truly conceived in the womb of his mother, by the singular extraordinary influence of the Holy Ghost.” The dogma which the Bishop here assents to does not appear to be a necessary truth, and certainly is not infallibly true; but it has been assumed as one of the proofs of the Messiahship of Jesus, founded on the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, though it is evident that the prophecy was fulfilled at the time, and farther, the word used by Isaiah does not necessarily imply a virgin. However, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke assume the truth of her virginity at the time of her pregnancy, which the writers of both Gospels ascribe to the agency of the Holy Ghost. How can the Son which was begotten by the Father before all worlds, be said to have been conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and by the influence of the Holy Ghost? How can a being be said to have been conceived and born at a certain time, who was in existence before? This is not explained. What could be the nature of the union of the divinity and the humanity? In the notes to this section, it is said that though the Divine Nature was common to the Father and the Son, yet the union with the humanity was made only with the Son. This is an assumption very necessary to avoid the difficulties which would result from allowing that the humanity being joined to the Divine Nature, must have been united to both Father and Son, an opinion which was held by the Patripassians, and is much more plausible than the opinion embraced by the Bishop. For if the Father and Son have the same common essence, how is it possible that the humanity could be united with the essence of the Son, which is common to both Father and Son, without the former participating in the union which the Son had effected with their common essence?

I really feel ashamed of arguing about things of which I cannot possibly know anything; but when men have composed a system of Theology which they press us to adopt, it is natural that we should examine how the different points agree with each other; what is the evidence on which they are founded; which of them are based on an unnatural interpretation of the sacred text, and which are mere assumptions, the latter class greatly <<32>>preponderating; and it is surprising that not being restricted in their assumptions by the necessity of supporting them by any evidence, they should not have produced a whole in which the parts should mutually support each other. The early teachers of Christianity had two different dogmas to reconcile, the Unity of God, and the existence of three persons in that Unity. Of course they could not prove that God existed in that threefold state; but they cut the matter short by telling their disciples in the so-called Athanasian creed, that if they did not believe in the dogmas there laid down, they should “perish everlastingly.” The Bishop asserts the union of the two natures. In the note (e) he says: “Could this union have been made in the two natures, it must have been either by conversion of one into the other, or by commixtion, or confusion of both in a third;” neither of which, he says, took place yet. “The personal union,” here asserted, “is not a mere scholastical speculation, but a certain and necessary truth, without which we cannot join the second article of our creed to the third; without which we cannot interpret the Holy Scriptures, or understand the history of our Saviour; for certainly He who is before Abraham, was in the days of Herod born of a woman; He who was the seed of David according to the flesh, was declared the Son of God with power: was God over all blessed for ever. Since these actions and affections cannot proceed from the same nature, and yet must be ascribed to the same person; as we must acknowledge a diversity of the natures united, so must we confess an identity of the person which unites them.” In this note the Bishop urges the belief in the dogma of the twofold nature as indispensable to the connexion of the second and third articles of the creed, and rests its credibility on certain passages in the writings of the followers of Jesus; but the union of the two natures he says was not effected by conversion or commixtion, therefore the humanity could only have been an appendage to the Divinity; in the frame of Jesus, the two natures were distinct. He who was before Abraham was not the same person that in the days of Herod was born of a woman; neither was one of the seed (or as the Bishop states it, the seed) of David declared the Son of God with power. The Son was not made man in any sense of the word; an immortal being cannot be made mortal. The omni<<33>>presence which is claimed for the Son as an attribute of his Divinity, could not be contained in the frame of a man; yet it is unequivocally asserted in the New Testament, that it was the Divinity that spoke in the frame of Jesus; he himself declares in that form that the Father was as in him and he was in the Father, and that whoever saw him saw the Father. The twofold nature of the Son is an impossibility; any thing or person has a mode of existence or future peculiar to itself or its species. One subject may be endowed with properties which are also found in other subjects; but that union of properties is its peculiar nature, it does not consist of two natures.

In the next section the Bishop confesses his belief “that the mother of Jesus was a pure virgin when she conceived within her womb the Son of God, and afterwards brought him forth as her first-born son, still remaining a pure and immaculate virgin.” What necessity there may be for the belief that Mary was still a virgin after parturition, or how the fact was ascertained, we are not told: though surely a fact so contrary to the laws of nature ought to be supported by some other evidence than the bare assertion of men who lived many years afterwards, and which is not mentioned in the New Testament, which merely states that Joseph, after his discovery, “knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son.” Now in support of the virginity of Mary previous to the birth of Jesus, the Bishop tells us (note 6), that “It is evident that the Messiah promised by God was to be born of a virgin,” which he endeavours to prove by the following quotations: Gen. 3:15, where God promises that the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. But there is no mention of a virgin here; neither in Jeremiah, 31:22. “A woman shall compass a man.” Whatever may be the meaning of the words, the Bishop allows that it seems obscure; but says it is sufficiently cleared up by the prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” On the authority of these three passages, the Bishop boldly asserts that it is evident the Messiah promised by God was to be born of a virgin. But in neither of them is there any indication that the female alluded to was to be a virgin. In the first two the text says a woman, and when a woman is spoken of as being or about to become a mother, according to the laws of nature, it cannot be supposed <<34>>to imply a virgin. In the third case it is objected, that the word employed does not necessarily denote a virgin; a time was prescribed for the fulfillment of this prophecy; the child was born and the event foretold took place within the specified time; the prophecy therefore did not concern Mary and Jesus, who did not live till some hundred years afterwards. I believe Christians allow that the prophecy was fulfilled at the appointed time; but contend that it was again fulfilled in the instance of Mary. But if they allow that it was first fulfilled in the time of Isaiah, and that the word really meant a virgin, they must confess there was at that time a miraculous conception, and that it was only a second instance when the miracle was repeated in the person of Mary. But we deny that there was anything out of the course of nature in the conception of the child of Isaiah; this the Prophet affirms, chapter 8:3: “And I took onto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the Priest, and Zachariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the Prophetess, and she conceived and bare a son.”

It is not true that there is any evidence that the promised Messiah was to be born of a virgin; it is equally false that such a belief was entertained among the Jews. The evidence with which the Bishop supports his belief in the virginity of Mary, is a fair sample of the proofs and arguments which he adduces in support of the other dogmas of Christianity.

The next article “Of the sufferings of Christ,” the Bishop declares his belief “as a most necessary, certain, and infallible truth, that the only begotten son of God, begotten of the Father, and of the same essence with the Father, did, for the redemption of mankind, really and truly suffer. Not in his Divinity, which was impassible, but in his humanity, which in the days of his humiliation was subject to infirmities.” In justification of his belief, in note 6, he says, “When by the necessary coherence of the articles of our creed, we profess that the Son of God did suffer and die for us, far be it from us to think the divine nature, which is immutable, could suffer, which only hath immortality, could die.” He is obliged by adopting the creed, to believe in an article which he acknowledges to be impossible. This is an extraordinary mode of faith. A man may believe in a dogma which has been revealed to him by God, or of which the truth <<35>>is evident, though the mystery is to him incomprehensible; but no one can believe in that which he is far from thinking can be true. The rest of his explanation is equally contradictory. “The sufferings of the Messiah were the sufferings of God the Son, because the same God the Son was also the Son of Man. Not that they were the sufferings of his Deity, as of which that was incapable, but the sufferings of his humanity, as unto which that was inclinable; for although the human nature was united to the divine, yet it suffered as much as if it had been alone, and the divine as little suffered as if it had not been united, because each kept their respective properties distinct without the least mixture or confusion.” Now what is the meaning (if any) of this explanation? In the first place, the sufferings of the Messiah were the sufferings of God the Son, because God the Son was also the Son of Man. The great absurdity is to suppose it possible for a God to suffer. A being suffering is one who is subjected to an evil which he cannot avert, but endures unwillingly; such a being cannot be God. Afterwards it is acknowledged that they were not the sufferings of his Deity, but of his humanity; then it is said that the humanity suffered as much as if it had been alone, and the Deity as little as if it had not been united; or more plainly, the Deity did not suffer from the sufferings of the humanity,—in direct contradiction to the former declaration, that the sufferings of the humanity were the sufferings of God the Son. It says the same God the Son was also the Son of Man, but afterwards it is explained that each nature kept its respective properties distinct, without the least mixture or confusion. Now where there are two objects which are distinct from each other, one cannot be said to be the other also;—but the whole passage is full of contradictions; scarcely any assertion is made but what is directly denied or contradicted; and the note concludes by the very lucid declaration, “And we can say that God did suffer whilst we declare the Godhead did not suffer.” In the same manner we might say, King Charles I. was decapitated, but his Majesty did not suffer, which would have been a poor consolation to his widow and family.

J. R. P.
Hackney, 29 October, 1847.

(To be continued.)