Page images
PDF
EPUB

say, that it is a work for which the author is peculiarly well qualified both by his habits of mind and by his attainments. He has, before this, given evidence that he is one of the best theological scholars which the country possesses, and he is at the same time a clear thinker and vigorous writer. Hence his criticisms, while they are evidently the results of elaborate study, are presented in a way which fit them for the general reader. The Lectures have the learning which enriches, without the pedantry which so often deforms, critical works on the Scriptures. We are not prepared to vouch for the correctness of every one of the criticisms which may be found in the book. This is not our purpose in giving an account of it, nor is there any occasion for it. There are some passages of Scripture so obscure that scarcely two theologians shall be found to agree as to their precise meaning, and it is obviously out of the question to expect, that a volume devoted solely to the exposition of contested texts, should contain nothing but what would meet with the assent of the whole Christian world. And for any useful purpose this is not needed. Such books are not read as authoritative creeds demanding our belief, but as aids in our endeavors to ascertain the true meaning of Scripture. It is on this ground that we heartily recommend these Lectures. Any one who wishes to examine thoroughly the doctrine of the Trinity, and to understand the real strength of the Scripture foundation on which its advocates claim that it rests, will do well to read them with care and attention. If he do not always agree with the conclusions to which the author comes, he will rarely fail of having new and valuable trains of thought suggested by his remarks.

It is not possible to give an analysis of a work like this in a review. The subjects of the Lectures will give the best general idea of its contents. Their titles are, 1. Introductory. 2. Trinity and Unity. 3. First Chapter of John. 4. Prophecies of the Old Testament. 5. First Chapter of Hebrews. 6. The Book of Revelation. 7. Incarnation. 8. God in Christ. 9. Two Natures of Christ. 10. The Holy Ghost. 11. The Atonement. 12. What is Saving Faith in Christ. 13. Origin of the Trinity. 14. Baptism and the Church.

We give two or three extracts, for the purpose of

indicating the nature of the work. They show in different lights Mr. Burnap's ability both as an interpreter and a controversialist. After stating at much length and with great force his reasons for rejecting the Trinitarian explanation of the first chapter of John, and for adopting his

own, he sums up the conclusion to which he arrives, in the following exposition of the first eighteen verses.

“ I take then the whole passage to mean this. The word which God spake by Christ, the revelation which he made of himself, through him, is nothing new, but is a part of a series of revelations running back to the very beginning of all things. The same Almighty Power, and Perfect Wisdom, which were displayed in the miracles and doctrines of Christ, were first manifested in the works of the physical creation : ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.' The next manifestation was in the creation of the soul of man, to which he imparted, in a fainter degree than that in which they exist in himself, some of his own attributes: The inspiration of the Almighty hath given him understanding 'In him, or rather it, was life, and that life was the light of men. But the light shone in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. The revelation which God made of himself in the material world, and in the soul of man, was not understood, and the world fell into idolatry. The next revelation that God made of himself, was to the Jewish nation, by which he took a particular people and made them his own, brought them into an especial relation to himself. After a long interval, he visited his own people by another revelation, but they did not recognize him in it. He sent John the Baptist, to announce the coming of his last and greatest revelation to man; and at length in Christ himself, that Light, which had ever been shining, burst out with greater brilliancy; that Life, which had ever been the source of intellectual energy to men, received a more perfect development; that Word, which had been sounding in the ears of mortals since the beginning of time, from the works of God, from the heavens above and from the earth beneath, received a more full and articulate annunciation.” pp. 61, 62.

In the fifth Lecture, Mr. Burnap thus speaks of the Trinitarian exposition of the first chapter of Hebrews.

“ It will not be a difficult task, I think, to show the utter inconsistency and unsatisfactoriness of this explanation. The very first verse explodes it all. God, who in times past spake to the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son. God here, of course, means the entire Deity, VOL. XXXIX. 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I.

10

6

without any distinction of persons, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, as it is the same who revealed himself to Moses and the rest of the prophets, and spake by them, and he has spoken to us by his Son. The 'Son,' here spoken of, is not a Person of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but the Son of God, the whole Deity, and, of course, is excluded from the Deity by the very terms of the proposition. He sustains the same relations, both to God and to man, as an organ of communication, as the ancient prophets. God spake through them, and spake through him, nor is there any difference intimated, except that he is called Son. They originated nothing, and he originated nothing. They spoke only what God commanded, and so did he. The Son then cannot be a person of the Trinity.

In the second place, the Trinitarian exposition of this passage overthrows itself by the inconsistency and contradiction of its parts. In one verse, the Son is said to have made the heavens and the earth ; in another, to have been the instrument through whom God made the worlds; and in another part of the same verse, to be appointed heir of all things; and then in another, as having no power of his own, to defend himself, or punish his enemies, but to be invited by the Almighty to sit at his right hand while he makes his enemies his footstool. He is eternal, and created the world, and yet he is introduced into the world as God's first-begotten, and the angels worship him, not because they owe him any allegiance, but because they are commanded to do so by their superior and his.

After making the Son, God, the Creator of the world, still there is a God over him; he is not the supreme God, but the supreme God has anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows. The Creator of heaven and earth has fellows, above whom he is exalted by being anointed !

I do not hesitate to say, that with the Trinitarian exposition, this passage of the Bible presents a heterogeneous mass of ideas blended in utter confusion. No consistent whole can be made out of them, which shall explain all the parts, and make them agree with themselves and the rest of the sacred Scriptures. Of course, we are driven out of it, and, as we believe that this Epistle has a consistent and rational meaning, we are forced to seek it in some other exposition.” pp. 97–99.

Our last extract presents an interpretation of Hebrews, ix. 14. Though probably new to many of our readers, they will see how well it is sustained by Mr. Burnap's remarks.

“There is an expression in the Epistle to the Hebreis, which is thought to prove, not only the Deity, but the eternity of the Holy Spirit. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who,

through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God.' There is scarcely a text of the Bible, which has been more misapprehended than this. 'Eternal Spirit' has here no reference to the Holy Spirit, but to Christ's immortal spirit. This is made evident in the following way. The writer is contrasting Jesus with the Jewish high priest, and Christianity with Judaism. The high priest went once a year into the temple at Jerusalem, into the holy of holies, into the very presence of God. Christ went once for all into God's true temple in the heavens. The Jewish high priest was mortal ; in a few years he died, and was succeeded by another. Christ went into the temple in the heavens, after his resurrection, in a state of immortality, ‘by his immortal spirit, offered himself without spot to God;' not through the eternal Spirit. This is made evident by several parallel expressions : But this man, because he continueth forever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.' 'After the similitude of Melchisedec, there ariseth another priest, who is made not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.'

Wherefore he is able to save to the uttermost, them that come unto God through him, seeing that he ever liveth to make intercession for them.' What in one case is meant by his 'immortal spirit,' is expressed in the other cases by continueth forever,' endless life,' ever liveth.' This expression then, which may to some appear, at first sight, strong evidence for the personality and eternity of the Holy Spirit, has really nothing to do with the subject.” pp. 249–251.

The speedy demand for a second edition of Mr. Peabody's Lectures, shows the favor with which they have been received by the public. And that favor is deserved. It is a volume which we would recommend to all who wish for information on those doctrinal points, which have been held in controversy between Unitarian and Orthodox Christians. Clear, forcible, direct, earnest, pervaded by an ever-present sense of religious responsibility; in simplicity of style, and in the tone of sentiment — little as the views set forth resemble his — these Lectures have again and again recalled to our minds the writings of Doddridge. We have already expressed our sense of their value, on the appearance of the first edition, and forbear making, at this time, any further remarks upon them. This edition is improved by an excellent introductory lecture on

66 The Scriptures."

Both of the volumes of which we have spoken are controversial in their character. Most of the longer treatises

in which Unitarians have set forth their reasons for not receiving the peculiar doctrines of Orthodoxy, were written years ago. Since then, a new generation has come up, and works like these are needed, to meet the exigencies of the day. They occupy an important place, and do much to remove error and to clear up doubt.

It has been a common argument for the reception of the Calvinistic and Trinitarian doctrines, that it is safe to believe them, and dangerous to reject them. And for those who can really believe them, who find in them nothing to bewilder and confuse their conceptions of duty or God, nothing to obstruct the growth of a Christian life, or to intercept the force of Christian motive, belief in them is doubtless harmless. But for those whose belief goes no. deeper than the lips, a confession of fear and a denial of the understanding, and for all who substitute them in the place of the really fundamental doctrines of Scripture, it is anything but safe to believe them. It would not be safe for any one to reduce them to practice. No parent could venture to bring up his children on the idea, that they were totally depraved and incapable of doing any good thing. No man would dare to imitate that sort of justice which Calvinism ascribes to God. The universal horror of mankind would reject a sovereign, or a court of justice, which should habitually act on the principles set forth in the Calvinistic doctrine of atonement.

Besides this, the common arguments of Infidelity derive their principal force from the assumption, that these doctrines form a part of the Christian revelation. Large numbers of infidels are such only because they have rejected these doctrines, supposing them to be the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. And what is worse, they drive multitudes into a state of semi-skepticism. They cannot believe, they do not reject Christianity. Their lives are made wretched by ceaseless, ever recurring doubts, the power of Christian motives is paralyzed, and they never know the comfort of Christian hopes.

Therefore it is, that so long as the creeds and forms of the dark ages usurp the place which belongs to the teachings of Christ, there will be need of works whose especial object it is to disencumber Christian truth of these additions of human error.

There has been of late among Unitarians an increased

« PreviousContinue »