Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

the notion of subordinate deities. They had been accustomed to gods of various powers and provinces; who were corporeal and of human shape; and whom they honoured by feasts on sacrificed animals in their temples. How natural to identify with such ceremonies the Lord's Supper, and to place in such a rank the Founder of their new religion! He who healed the lame and blind, chained the winds and waves, raised the dead, and himself ascended to heaven, would, in their native phraseology, be of course a god. When Paul and Barnabas wrought a miracle at Lystra, the people said, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men." They would have formed a similar opinion of Christ, had they seen or heard of him; and where apostolic authority did not reach, or as soon as the first race of believers was dead, it would be difficult to oppose the notion. This tendency must have operated through the whole body of Gentile converts; and to them the belief in the divinity of Christ was for some time peculiar.

2. False shame, at obeying a Teacher who lived in mean circumstances, and died the death of a slave and a malefactor. Feelings of contempt and abhorrence were associated with the cross, and it became a fertile subject of reproach and ridicule. Paul rose superior to these taunts. He resolved “ to know nothing but Jesus Christ,

[ocr errors]

/

ness.

and him crucified," and not to “glory, save in the cross ;" but the energy and frequency with which these feelings are displayed, prove that he foresaw the danger of some apostacy, in faith or practice, from the misplaced shame of many. And accordingly, one of the first uses of the divinity of Christ was, to get rid of the debasing circumstances of his sufferings ; to prove that he did not really die, but that a phantom was crucified in his stead ; and thus to throw a mystic veil over the obnoxious part of Christianity. 3. The love of mystery and of apparent great

The beautiful simplicity of the gospel was not likely to charm either the philosophers or the vulgar. The one class would desire something more intricate; and the other, something more marvellous. “ The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom." The doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, &c., even in their first, imperfect forms, had so much of the intricate and the marvellous, as strongly to recommend them to those whose appetites were craving for such food. They are well adapted to minister to the gratification both of those who are, and of those who are not, addicted to abstruse speculation. The former they provide with a thousand metaphysical questions for the exercise of their subtile wits; and by the appeals.

F 3

for which they furnish materials, to the passions of the latter, they nourish that enthusiasm which is too often substituted for “ pure and undefiled religion.”

4. A corrupt philosophy. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” The speculations of the Gnostics were very soon mingled with divine truth. At a subsequent period, the rapid advance of Trinitarian opinions was much owing to the accession of the Platonic philosophers, who had some obscure reveries about the nature of the Deity, to which they were determined to find something correspondent in Christianity; or which its advocates found there, in order to conciliate them.

For whatever opinions, bearing a resemblance to modern orthodoxy, are to be found in the early periods of history, we can therefore readily account, from the operation of causes whose existence rests, not upon inference or conjecture, but apostolic testimony. Scripture certifies their reality, and pronounces their condemnation. They furnish the only satisfactory clue to the state of the Church during the first three centuries; and which, to a Trinitarian, must be wholly unaccountable. They coincide with, and explain facts, which in their turn, justify the

apprehensions of the sacred writers; apprehensions exceedingly misplaced, if Unitarianism was a corruption and a heresy.

It is admitted by Mosheim, and similar writers, that there were, in the first century, those who denied the miraculous birth of Christ, and held that he became superior to 'other men at his baptism, when the powers necessary for the purposes of this mission were bestowed; and that they were not a distinct body till the second century. This fact is important. If not a distinct body from other Christians, they must have been the great body of Christians; for if the divinity of Christ was the original doctrine, and the worship of Christ the original practice, those who denied the one and withheld the other, could not have remained in fellowship with others. They must have been promptly expelled, as they invariably have been, since Trinitarianism gained the ascendancy. That they continued so long in the Church is alone a demonstration of their superiority in point of numbers; of the antiquity of their faith, and the novelty of the tenets to which it was opposed. Justin Martyr, in the second century, advances his notion of the superhumanity of Christ, with the tone and manner of an innovator. Tertullian describes the greater part of believers in his time, as dreading the doctrine of the Trinity, and adhering strictly to the sole monarchy of God. Origen speaks of

the multitude of Christians as not knowing the mystery of the Logos. Priestley observes, “ So popular was Unitarianism in this age (the third century), that, according to Epiphanius, when the Unitarians met with any of the plainer Christians, they would say, 'Well, friend, what doc. trine shall we hold, shall we acknowledge one God, or three?"" The fierce disputes of the fourth century, when Athanasius and Arius divided the Christian world, were caused, not by the introduction of Arianism, as a novelty, but by a strong public expression of Trinitarian sentiments, which even yet had not arrived at that systematic perfection which they finally attained. Can there be a doubt, then, who were the innovators, or which way the stream was flowing ? Every thing indicates a progression, of which the starting point was simple Unitarianism, and the final reach, the Athanasian Trinitarianism of the creed. As we travel up the pages of history, we must successively deposit with different ages, their inventions, till the Trinitarian system vanishes altogether. We cannot find the complete system even in the writings of Athanasius, nor his in Tertullian and Origen, nor theirs in Justin Martyr. Error retires as it advanced. If we are not yet surrounded with the blaze of day, still the darkness is breaking, the shadows of night are flitting away, and the horizon begins to be illumined. We trace in

« PredošláPokračovať »