Page images
[blocks in formation]

I AM truly concerned that the discussion which I have entered into, of the historical evidence of the doctrine of the primitive ages concerning the person of Christ, has not taken the amicable turn that I proposed, and of which I gave a specimen in my former series of Letters to Dr. Horsley. Those were strictly argumentative, and likewise uniformly respectful; but as his Letters, in answer to me, are written in a style that is far from corresponding to mine, as the reader must perceive in every page, to reply to him in the same respectful manner in which I first wrote, would have been unnatural and absurd. In the present publication, therefore, I have taken the liberty to treat him with more freedom.

As he has declared that he will make no further reply to me, I imagine that this publication will close the present controversy; and I hope it will not have been without its use in promoting the cause of truth, though I am persuaded it would have answered this end still more effectually, if my proposal of a perfectly amicable discussion, and also that of bringing it to its proper termination, had been accepted. I am now proceeding with my larger History of the State of Opinions concerning Christ, in the primitive Times. But to execute this work as I wish to do it, and consistently with my other engagements and pursuits, will require a consider

able time, hardly less than two or three years. Nor will my readers wonder at this, when I inform them that I am determined to examine for myself every thing that has been written by any Christian writer for the first five or six centuries after Christ, with the single view of collecting from them whatever I can find to throw light on this particular subject. After this examination, in which I have already made considerable progress, I shall carefully attend to whatever the most respectable modern writers have advanced on this subject; and I shall then compose the work with all the circumspection that I am capable of, introducing into it any thing that I shall think proper from my different publications in this controversy, (which I consider as only answering a temporary purpose,) and then abandon it to the censures of my critics; and I hope there will not be wanting abler men than Dr. Horsley to discover and correct whatever imperfections may, after all, be found in it.

I will not rashly commit myself with respect to the issue of an inquiry of this extent, and that is not yet completed; but I can assure my readers, that I see the most abundant cause to be satisfied with every thing of consequence that I have advanced in this controversy; and that I am able to produce much additional evidence for every article of it, as well as a variety of other matter relating to the subject, which will throw light on the opinions and turn of thinking in early times.

Among other particulars, I shall examine, as thoroughly as I can, those Platonic notions concerning God, and the general system of things, which prepared the way for the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and of the Trinity; shewing how they were understood, and how far they were adopted, by the Christian writers. In the mean time, having long given a good deal of attention to the subject, I will venture to say, that from what Dr. Horsley has dropped concerning Platonism, as well as from the admiration he has expressed of it, he understands very little of the matter. As I now consider this controversy as closed, it is probable that till my larger work be printed, the public will hear no more from me on this subject. But if any thing more plausible than has yet been urged should appear, I shall have an opportunity of noticing it in the Theological Repository, which I hope soon to open again; and if any person will give his name, and propose any difficulty whatever

The Introduction to the Fourth Volume is dated Nov. 1, 1784.

relating to the present discussion, so that I shall see reason to think that it proceeds from a love of truth and a desire of information, I here promise that I will speak fully to it, and I shall be as explicit as I possibly can. But to be more so than I have hitherto been is impossible. Such as I have been, the public shall always find me. I have no reserve or concealment with respect to myself, and I shall always endeavour to preserve as much candour as possible with regard to others. But if I have been addicted to the artifices and deceits that Dr. Horsley so vehemently accuses me of, and if I have actually practised them to the age of fifty, I shall hardly lay them aside now. Let the public, therefore, be upon their guard against me, and "watch very narrowly," as, he says, is " necessary."* Great changes in character and habit seldom take place at my age.

In this larger work, on which I am now employed, I find myself in a great measure upon new ground. At least, I see reason to think that it has never been sufficiently examined by any person who has had the same general views of things that I have. Dr. Lardner, who was as much conversant with the early Christian writers as perhaps any man whatever, and whose sentiments on the subject of this controversy were the same with mine, yet had another object in reading them. When I applied to him for some assistance it was too near the close of his life; and the few hints with which he did furnish me related wholly to the doctrine of atonement, on which he had before published a small tract of mine.

Przipcoviust wrote upon this subject; but what he has advanced is very short, and very imperfect. What Zwicker did I can only learn from Bishop Bull, who had not seen all his works; but I suspect that he was not master of all the evidence that may be procured from a careful reading of ancient writers, and a comparison of the several circumstances to be collected from them; and it certainly requires no small degree of patience, as well as judgment and sagacity, to trace the real state of the Unitarian Christians in early times from the writings of their enemies only; for all their own writings are either grossly interpolated, or have perished, except the Clementines, which is a work of great curiosity, and has not yet been sufficiently considered; but a candid reader will make allowance for this great disadvan

⚫ Letters, p. 39. (P.) Tracts, p. 129.

↑ Who died in 1670, aged 78. See Toulmin's Socinus, pp. 439-445. See Lardner, II. pp. 342-363.

[blocks in formation]

tage, which, as the historian of the Unitarians, I must labour under. Who is there that will pretend to collect from the Roman historians only, a complete account of the affairs of the Carthaginians, the maxims of their conduct, and the motives of their public transactions, especially in relation to those things with respect to which we know that they muturally accused each other?

The Clementines (of which the Recognitions is little more than another edition) was probably written about the time of Justin Martyr. It is properly a theological romance, and a fine composition of its kind. The author was perhaps too proud of his abilities as a writer; but his work is certainly superior to any thing that is now extant of that age, the writings of Justin Martyr by no means excepted. It abounds with curious circumstances relating to the customs and opinions of the times; and on that account it is strongly recommended by Cotelerius,† the editor. He says, that though it abounds with trifles and errors, which had their source in a half-christian philosophy and heresy, especially that of the Ebionites, it may be read with advantage, both on account of the elegance of the style, and the various learning that it contains, and likewise for the better understanding the doctrine of the first heretics." +


It is remarkable, not only that the author of this work, writing in the names of Peter and Clement, makes them Unitarians, but that, in a great variety of theological discussions upon nice subjects, (in which every thing relating to the doctrine of the Gnostics, as it then stood, is minutely treated,) there is no appearance of his having so much as heard of the doctrine of the personification of the Logos, or of the divinity or pre-existence of Christ, in any other form than that of the Gnostics, except in some particular expressions which Cotelerius supposes to be the interpolations of some Arian. It is probable, therefore, that though some of the works of Justin Martyr might perhaps have been extant when this writer was employed about his, they were but little known, or his opinions might have been adopted by few persons only.

Now this writer, whose knowledge of the state of opinions

See Lardner, II. pp. 355, 960.

↑ Jean-Baptiste Cotelier; who died in 1686, aged 59. His Patres Apostolici, which first appeared in 1672, was republished by Le Clerc in 1724.

"Et vero quæ damus Clementina, licet nugis, licet erroribus scatent, à semichristiana philosophia, et hæresi, præcipue Ebionitica, profectis, non sine fructu tamen legentur, tum propter elegantiam sermonis, tum multiplicis doctrinæ causa, tum denique ad melius cognoscenda primarum Hæresion dogmata." Preface. (P.)

in his time cannot be questioned, would hardly have represented Peter and Clement as Unitarians if he had not thought them to be such. Nay, it may be inferred from the view that he has given of their principles, that, supposing the doctrine of the Trinity to have existed in his time, yet that Peter, Clement, and consequently the great body of Christians in the apostolic age, were generally thought to have been Unitarians, as he must have imagined that this circumstance would contribute to the credibility of his narrative. A writer who personates another will be as careful as he can to ascribe to him no opinions but such as are commonly supposed to be his; for without this the imposition, if any such was intended, could not answer his purpose. But I much question whether any serious imposition was really intended by this writer. The further consideration of this subject, however, I reserve for my larger work.

To return from this digression, I shall observe, that as to the learned Christians of the last age, (excepting the Athanasians,) they were almost all Arians, such as Dr. Whitby, Dr. Clarke, Mr. Whiston, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Pierce, &c.* In their time it was a great thing to prove that the doctrine of the perfect equality of the Son to the Father in all divine perfections, was not the doctrine of the early ages. Those writers could not indeed help perceiving traces of the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ; but taking it for granted that this was an opinion concerning him as much too low as that of the Athanasians was too high, and there being no distinguished advocates for the proper Unitarian doctrine in their time, they did not give sufficient attention to the circumstances relating to it. These circumstances it will be my business to collect and to compare; and, situated as I am, it may be depended upon that I shall do it with all the circumspection of which I am capable.

Notwithstanding the fullness of my own persuasion, I am far from being sanguine in my expectations with respect to others, even from the strongest evidence that I can produce of the primitive Christians having been universally or very generally Unitarians. Though there do not appear to be so many learned Arians at present as there were thirty or forty years ago, yet I am well aware that the impression made by their writings is such, as that those persons who have now the most reputation for theological literature, (having in fact been their disciples,) are very generally of their opi

* See Vol. VI, p. 8.

« PreviousContinue »