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THE MONTHLY REPOSITORY
NEW SERIES, No. VIII.
ON MR. ELTON'S “ SECOND THOUGHTS."
To the Editor. SIR, APPRIZED by a notice in one of your recent numbers that a gentleman and scholar who but lately advocated the Unitarian doctrine with much zeal and ability, was about to publish his reasons for abandoning that system, I was induced shortly after to furnish myself with the work alluded to, in order that I might make myself acquainted with those reasons, and give them an attentive and impartial consideration. I have done so; and if some few remarks which I am disposed to make on Mr. Elton's little volume should appear to you deserving a place in your Repository, they are such at your service. It
was not without pain, I must confess, that I was convinced almost by the first pages of the Second Thoughts, that the spirit of the work is decidedly polemical. When circumstances oblige a man to say farewell to his former friends and companions, some kind words at parting are naturally expected, to soothe the pain of separation, and leave behind the impression of good-will. At the close of a religious intercourse, something of this kind Seerns especially becoming. From two revolutions in his own creed, it was
be hoped that the author would at least have learned the lesson of candour towards others ; one of the few good fruits whi the thorns and briars of controversy sometimes yield. It might have been thought that some feelings of tenderness towards his late self would have disposed him to judge and speak with less severity of those of whom he was so recently one. Did he duly consider what an unfavourable inference would arise against himself from those charges of mental and moral perversion with which he loads bis late friends? Or does he reckon so largely on the forgetfulness of the public, as to suppose that they will not call to mind that such as Unitarians are represented to be now, such Mr. Elton also was but twelve months ago? Truly, in this instance we may say to him, “Wherein thou judgest another
, thou condemnest thyself :” and if he should reply, that he has now forsaken his error, still
, let me ask, ought not some feelings of humility and sympathy to teach him forhearance towards those who still remain entangled is it? When the Israelites came out of Egypt they were enjoined ever to be kind towards strangers; because, said their lawgiver, “'ye yourselves
ye know the heart of a stranger.” And ought not one who was so lately a zealous Unitarian to know the heart of a Unitarian, and the peculiar difficulties which constrain him to bear the reproach of a despised and hated sect, too well to allow him to turn round immediately and taunt him with all the caustic asperity of which his pen is master ? From those opponents who have known us only from afar, from the misrepresentations of ignorant bigots and crafty polemics, we might naturally expect such treatment: but from one who cannot but have perceived the sincere love of truth and laborious discharge of duty which distinguish many Unitarians, it comes with an ill grace indeed. Et tu, Brute !
I have no intention, Sir, of following Mr. Elton into the controversial detail of his book. That is, indeed, a crambe repetita ; but the fault of this is not in him, but the subject. Orthodox readers, whose faith rests more in impression than in rational conviction, find it very desirable to have the old material worked up for them from time to time in a new form, and these will peruse this fresh philippic with great relish. Ever best pleased with those misrepresentations of Unitarianism which bring them most speedily to the desired conviction of its falsehood and impiety, they will find the account of it here given very much to their satisfaction. The work proceeds entirely on the old plan. Instead of distinguishing carefully the essence of Unitarianism, i. e. the doctrine of One God the Father, from the heterogeneous mass of opinions which have in different individuals been combined with it, the author blends all these promiscuously together, and by that means, and with the help of his own colouring, contrives to exhibit a picture sufficiently repulsive. All strong, unguarded, injudicious ultra things that have been said by any professed Unitarian, or even by such semi-deists as Evanson, are brought forward by him as illustrative specimens of Unitarian doctrine, and allowed to be silently imputed by the reader to every individual who bears that name. With respect to the doctrine which he now defends, he adopts a diametrically opposite course. He takes his stands on so qualified and moderate a statement of orthodoxy, (if, indeed, it can be considered as such at all,) that many Unitarians would scarcely know how to distinguish it from their own sentiments, except by the domineering and intolerant tone which they find it assuming. I shall illustrate this assertion in a few particulars.
The very first sentence of the “ Second Thoughts," shews how humble that fancied orthodox eminence really is, from which its author now looks down on the heretical Unitarians; the dignified temple,
Despicere unde queat alios, passimque videre
Errantes, That sentence is as follows: “ The three characters or aspects of deity, under which God has revealed himself to his creatures, (expressed by an unhappiness of metaphrase persons,) are imputed by the Unitarians 'as three distinct objects of worship.” Two things are here observable; first, that Mr. Elton's orthodoxy is, after all, only about that of Sabellius; and, secondly, that he makes a false accusation against the Unitarians, who are not accustomed to charge this modal Trinity with tritheism, but only with insignificance; never deeming it any difficulty to admit that the Deity has revealed himself to his creatures either under three aspects or characters, or under twice three, if that number should be preferred. For certainly God is revealed to us as the self-existent Jehovah, and then as the Creator and Preserver of the world; then as our Redeemer and Sanctifier in the gospel.
All these, to which more might be added, are so many characters or aspects of Deity towards his creatures: but to insist on his having precisely three, neither more por less, as a great and formal doctrine, is really trifling with a sacred subject. It is true that the Father, the Son or Word, and the Spirit, are three names under which we recognize very especially the Divine agency towards us in the New Testament; and that the vigour of Christian doctrine hinges very much upon our so doing. But really there is in this no matter of controversy : Unitarians make no serious objection to this kind of Trinity, and it is ungenerous and unjust to represent them as aiming at the shadowy, and therefore invulnerable, doctrine, those serious and earnest remonstrances which they direct against the truly tri-personal Deity of the popular faith, and against those forms of doctrine and worship which are calculated to convey a real tri-personal idea to the people. There is a want of fair and open dealing in this matter. Trinitarians keep two forms of their doctrine on hand, like two sets of weights in a shop: in practical and devotional religion they prefer the use of the solid and substantial one, but when controversy begins, this is popped under the counter, and assailants are allowed no object of attack but a baseless shadow which wears its resemblance. Those that find edification in this kind of religious tactics do well to avail themselves of them. I make these remarks because Mr. Elton, in taking his stand on the merely modal or nominal Trinity, ought in fairness to have observed, both that it was different from the popular creed, and also that it was not that to which Unitarians object.
But although this nominal Trinity may be allowed to pass as a thing of little moment when considered only as an abstract distinction in the Divine Nature, what are we to inake of it when taken, as we must take it, in conDetion with the doctrine of the Deity of Christ? The Divine “ Word which from the beginning was with God, and was God,” may, indeed, be represented as an aspect or power of the Deity; and so may the Holy Spitit. But can we say the same of Jesus Christ It is impossible. No sophistry nor subtilty can prevent the reader of the New Testament, nor the Christian world at large, from thinking of Jesus Christ as truly a distinct person, a distinct intelligent agent, from the Father that sent him, and to whom he prayed, saying, “Father, not my will, but thine be done;" and of whom he said, “Of that day and hour knoweth not the Son, but the Father only." Not all the half-meaning and no-meaning terms that have been devised, neither substance nor essence, nor mode nor aspect, will ever help common sense out of this dilemma. Jesus Christ is most prominently and unequivocally a distinct being, and person, and agent, or whatever other term may be preferred, from God his father; and, therefore, those who contend for bis
proper deity, that he is in himself, without reserve, truly God, can have m fair refuge from the charge of polytheism in the Sabellian scheme of the Trinity; and if they could, would only lapse into the Patripassian heresy. I must insist on it, then, that it is not the doctrine of the Trinity so much as that of the Deity of Christ, (in a strict and proper sense,) that is the main question between Unitarians and their adversaries. The doctrine of the Trinity is an abstract, scholastic subtlety, which it is scarce worth disputing about; but that of the Deity of Jesus Christ, roundly and popularly taught, s a very different thing; it is a broad and palpable conception, and, notwithstanding what Mr. Elton says, does inevitably introduce a second object of usorship, clothed in all the attributes and honours of the Supreme, and commonly drawing to itself by much the larger share of the affections of the Worshipers. Here it is that the Unitarian finds the occasion of his uncon
querable scruples; scruples which I do not see that these “Second Thoughts” do any thing towards removing.
I cannot, however, but observe in this place, that I am unable, from the perusal of Mr. Elton's book, to state what his sentiments on this subject really are. I doubt whether he is fairly out of our port after all. If the following passage, which is the most to the point that I can find, be descriptive of his present opinions, I can perceive nothing in them but what is strictly Unitarian, even to the proper humanity of Christ : “ Let it be doubted whether the filiation of Christ were before the worlds, or the passages seemingly bearing that import be reducible to the same sense of prescience in God as is expressed in 1 Pet. i. 10, and the sonship imply a state of glorified humanity, commencing in time and with the birth of Jesus, as may
be to consist with Psalm i. 7, Isaiah xlix. 1, and Luke i. 35; whether again the instrumentality of Christ, in the visible and invisible creation, may not bear, as Locke supposes, a mystic and spiritual sense, referrible to the regeneration of man's fallen nature, and his assumption into a new state of immortality, as may be thought to be implied by Isaiah lxv. 17, and 2 Cor. v. 17; or, finally, whether the word' that was with God,' John i. 1, relate to Christ primarily, or to the attribute of the Father with which Christ is after spoken of as personally identified ; let all this be doubted, or the latter alternative throughout be even decided upon, and yet the scripture testimony will remain in express avouchment of the fact, that Christ was at least the word made flesh: this complex relation of deity indwelling in humanity, constituting Jesus what he was, the Christ, the only-begotten of the Father.'” The whole of this passage, not excepting the latter clauses, is, in my opinion, good and true Unitarianism, and contains views of truth of which I for one cordially approve. I am indeed of opinion that it is not on these points that Mr. Elton's secession has mainly turned, but on those connected with the doctrine of atonement. I wish, for my own part, that instead of abandoning the Unitarian communion, with whom I apprehend that he still agrees in the most essential points, he had remained in his place, and done his best towards reforming those things in which he esteemed us defective. I think there is still room for Tpita oportades. If, Mr. Editor, these remarks should suit your purpose, I may probably continue them another day.
T. F. B,
Hackney, June 25, 1827. As communications have been at length established with our Transylvanian brethren, I trust some of our young inquiring students will direct their attention to the language and literature of that country. The former (Hungarian, or, as they call it, Magyar) is one of the most remarkable of the European dialects, being undoubtedly of Oriental origin, and having a very slight affinity with any of the idionis of the surrounding country, whether Teutonic, Slavonian, or Romaic. It was cultivated at an early period, and a Grammar, entitled Magyar Régiségek és Rickasagok, was published as early as 1539. There is no want of books, both in Latin and German, by which a tolerable acquaintance with the Hungarian tongue may be acquired. Of Albert Molnár's Grammatica Hungarica (first printed in 1610) there are many editions, and there is a Latin
and Hungarian Dictionary by the same author. Hungarian Grammars in German have been published by Jos,
Farkas: Gründliche und neu verbesserte Ungarische Sprachlehre, of which
Woe! my soul's woe! Reped szivem
She is departed, Oda hivem
1-broken hearted. Fáj a szivem, fáj!
Woe! my soul's woe! Életem mái
O'er my dark hours Komor orái,
Wretchedness pours Hány ezer bú 's átok
Thousands of curses and pains; Jóve rátok!
Nothing remains, Fussátok ezekkel
Nothing for sorrow A' sok keservekkel
To smite with to-morrow; Mellyekkel, az ég
Sorrow hath emptied its quiver, Ostoroz még.
Emptied for ever. laj szabaditsatok
And my sad soul Öldöklő' bánatok !
Stands at the goal, Mert a' kín engemet
Where suffering's exhausted; to crave Torba temet.
Nought but-a grave.
. Az idő szárnyon jár
On hurrying wings time flies away, Soha semmit nem vár
It will not for a moment stay, Es' foly, mint erós folyás,
But like a stream glides on-glides Viszsza soha sem tér, Mindent a' földre vér,
It never turns its footsteps back, Mindeneken hatalmas :
But sinks all ages in its track, "O qazdaqot, szeqenyt
And reigns and rules alone: Öszveront egyszerént
The poor, the rich, alike pursues, Nincs neki ellent-allás.
The poor, the rich, alike subdues :
Who can withstand it? None! Csak egy van idő'tól 'Saz ő erejétói
There's only one whose mightier A’ ki békével marad;
strength Nem fél kaszájától,
The strength of time o'erpowers at Nem sebes szárnyától,
length, Idó rajta elolvad:
And sits in quiet victory; A' tündöklő hir név
Time's sickle mows it not; time's Melly dicsőégre rév
flight Az nundenkor megmarad.
Brings nor decay, nor death, nor
It lives immortally.