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ART. I. - AevTeporu Sporti@es. Second Thoughts on the Person of Christ, on
Human Sin, and on the Atonement ; containing Reasons for the Author's Secession from the Unitarian Communion, and his Adherence to that of
the Established Church. By Charles A. Elton, &c. Bristol, 1827. C'nitarianism Abandoned ; or Reasons assigned for ceasing to be connected
with that description of Religious Professors who designate themsclves Unitarians. By James Gilchrist. London, 1827.
At the head of this article are placed the titles of two works of recent publication, which are calculated, from the nature of the subjects and the names of the authors, to interest in no common measure the curiosity of the religious public. To some they may seem to indicate the weakness and the hopelessness of the Unitarian cause ;-to augur its present decline and its approaching overthrow from the secession, and the subsequent assaults, of its former advocates. The declension, at nearly the same period, of two professors of the Unitarian doctrine, whose names had for some years been connected with its defence and propagation from the pulpit or the press, may, indeed, on the first announcement of the singular fact, appear an alarming presage of ill. But we must implore our Unitarian readers not to yield too readily to their fears, if perchance fears have, on this occasion, invaded their minds; for we can thus early assuré them, that all the substantial danger of these portentous writings is comprised in their respective titles,—the imposing front with which they are ushered into the arena of controversy. That the considerations which are here alleged effected a change in the convictions of the authors, and compelled them, from a regard to conscience, to “abandon Unitarianism,” and to “secede from the Unitarian communion, we are bound in charity to believe. We must, however, be permitted to state our own persuasion, that the “reasons” to which these gentlemen attribute their reconversion, will not, in the slightest degree, shake the faith of a single Unitarian who has a thorough understanding of his principles, and knows the scriptural foundation on which they rest.
Mr. Elton, to whose work we shall first advert, is well known in the classical walks of literature, as an elegant scholar, a faithful translator, and a pleasing poet. His English version of Hesiod is a standard work of its class; and his later selections and translations from the classical writers of antiquity display to great advantage his learning and his taste. In the fields of theological literature he has shewn himself a respectable biblical critic and skilful controversialist. The character which he vad maintained in his former publications led us to expect, that in the avowal of the change which his mind bad undergone, he would not forget the moral qualities of the understanding and the heart which had acquired for him the esteem of his readers; that the statement of his reasons” would be no less distinguished by its candour than by its perspicuity; and that in " seceding” from persons with whom he had so long lived on terms of cordial intimacy, he would have quitted their society with at least a courteous and friendly salutation. In this expectation, however, we have been lamentably disappointed. The tone and the language he employs throughout his work evince a state of
mind and feeling, he must permit us to say, and to say “more in sorrow than in anger," wholly unworthy of his former reputation, and of the cause which he has undertaken to advocate.
It has been the common artifice of controversial writers to endeavour to depreciate their opponents by applying to them epithets of reproach and contempt, arraigning their integrity, and insinuating unjust suspicions of the purity of their
motives. Such preludes have been thought useful expedients to screw up their own courage for the attack; or, by raising a prejudice against their adversaries, to inlist the passions of the spectators in their own favour, and thus secure for themselves, in appearance at least, a more easy and complete victory. There are few literary contests on theological subjects that will not furnish samples of these petty tactics. Mr. Elton, it grieves us to observe, has, in his attack upon Unitarians, stooped to follow in the train of more vulgar combatants. He has thickly strewed his book with specimens of these elegantia controversiarum, if we may be permitted so to designate them, which he seems to consider indispensable requisites for an accomplished theologian and polemic. His reading and his observation might have taught him, that such unworthy weapons can seldom be employed without danger or disgrace to the assailant. They are missiles which have a peculiar aptitude to recoil upon himself with accumulated velocity and force. He who descends, besides, to the sinks and the drains of the arena to ply his adversary with filth, may expect to retire from the combat soiled, polluted, and dishonoured, by his own ammunition.
We shall, in the course of this article, lay before our readers a few of the railing accusations which Mr. Elton has so unsparingly heaped upon Unitarians. But we shall first state the nature of the change that has taken place in his religious views, as far, at least, as we have been able to discover it in the mystical phraseology in which he has generally enveloped his meaning.
We are at a loss to understand why the author has chosen to designate his present thoughts Δευτεραι Φροντιδες. The reader who is ignorant of his former history, would, from this title, infer, that he had been from education an Unitarian, and had now, for the first time, deserted to the ranks of orthodoxy. His“ first thoughts” must, we presume, have been the principles of the Established Church, of which his father is known to be a zealous minister and a distinguished ornament. Unitarianism must have been his “ second thoughts." The correct title therefore of his book, he must allow us to suggest, ought to be, if not atau ppovtides, as repeating the opinions of his youth, certainly tpotan ppovtides, as delineating the system which has superseded both his former creeds. But, to a mind like that of the author, teeming with classical recollections, the temptation was perhaps irresistible to send his work into the world under a classical sanction, which would intimate that his present sentiments, whatever might be their numerical order in the series of his mental revolutions, were coputepat, the wisest and the best. He might intend the Aeut épwv duesvbw of the Greeks to be equivalent to the Posterioribus melioribus of Erasmus. Whilst quoting Euripides, Mr. Elton might have recollected, with advantage to his book, a passage preceding by a few lines only that from which he has taken his title:
Το σώφρον ως απανταχού καλόν
Eurip. Hippol. 431, 432. . How lovely is modesty in every situation! What distinguished glory does it bear among mankind !
Mr. Elton thus states the process of his conversions : “The writer of these sheets had adopted Unitarian sentiments from the difficulty which he found in reconciling a Trinity, as scholastically defined, with the unity of Jehovah, as declared in the Scriptures; and the atonement with their declarations of his mercy.
“While following the course of study which a new theological literature naturally threw in his way, the writer's attention became deeply interested in certain works, professing to remove the objections to God's benevolence, grounded on the existence of evil. These works, assuming chiefly as their basis philosophical necessity, the government of the world by general laws, and the tendency of evil, including, of course, moral evil or sin, to the production of good, affected his mind inversely to their direct design. They induced a doubt of the benevolence of God. The burden of it was insupportable : and in this disquiet state of his thoughts, he chanced to call to his recollection a remark of Mr. Soame Jenyns, in his work on the Christian religion, to the effect, that “repentance could not undo sin. This led him carefully to review the testimonies of Scripture in respect to moral evil. The liberty of the human will, the lapse of our nature from original righteousness, the incapacity of this lapsed nature to fulfil such righteousness, were the gradual discoveries, for such they were, that unfolded themselves to the writer's mind. A way was opened to his understanding for the reception of the necessity and the reality of an atonement. Of this he had been newly schooled to think, as incompatible with God's merciful attributes : yet the result of his changed convictions was, that, from the moment of his yielding to these apparent evidences of Scripture his full assent, all doubt of the bene volence of God was instantaneously removed, like a veil withdrawn from the eyes.”—Preface, pp. iii. iv.
After this avowal, upon the divinity, and the metaphysics of which we shall make no observation, he offers the following apology for publishing his recantation :
“ If the writer before felt it as a Christian duty to give a reason for the hope which was in him, he feels that duty more imperative now: if he has been the unconscious agent
the dissemination of error, let him be forgiven the zeal which would bring to the altar of truth an offering of reparation.”
Preface, p. iv.
To this passage we have nothing to object. The author had a full right, and it was perhaps his duty, to denounce what he deemed his error, neutralize its effects by the publication of what his farther studies had led him to believe to be the truth. Such open and manly conduct commands our praise rather than provokes our censure. When, however, the writer so feelingly appeals to the candour of his readers, he ought, in consistency, to have fortified his claims to their kind allowances, by evincing a disposition to be himself equally
candid in his judgment of others. Mr. Elton next proceeds to assign his reasons” for departing from the principles of nonconformity,” as well as from the principles of UnitarianDissent,”
” he admits, " has been harshly termed the sin of schism,' by those who have asserted their own liberty of conscience and judgment in renouncing Catholicism." Still, however, he does not conceive that dissent is a gospel duty;" “ he does not conceive religion to be a thing of spite. Although divisions were foretold
by Christ, they were not therefore approved by him.” “In the primitive church, the Christians, who even then had their scruples and their points of difference, met under one roof, and bore with one another.” Such are the invincible REASONS which, in the judgment of the author, must annihilate the principles of
nonconformity," and cover with shame and confusion all classes of dissidents in standing aloof from the communion of the Established Church! It might have strengthened his argument if Mr. Elton had condescended to explain the essential difference, in point of principle, between the case of the English Protestants in “ renouncing Catholicism,” and that of the Dissenters in withdrawing from the Church of England, which should obtain for the one the complimentary phrase of an “assertion of liberty of conscience and judgment,” and draw upon the other the reproachful stigma of “a thing of spite.” Has it never occurred to his reflection, how very convenient and appropriate would have been such language as he here employs to some zealous advocate of the Church of Rome, when remonstrating with the Reformers, who were weak and silly enough to deem it “a gospel duty" to dissent from a communion in whose creeds and worship they could not conscientiously join? And does he not think that such language might be still used with equal propriety and force by some mufti at Constantinople
, to persuade those who have “ their scruples and their points of difference," to “meet under one roof,” the temple of Mahomet, and worship with the creed and the forms of the Islamitic faith?
To the Dissenter's objection, that he cannot yield his “assent and consent” to the doctrines of the Established Church, Mr. Elton has a ready answer :
“ The sixth article of the Church of England, which affirms that "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite necessary to salvation,' repels,” he says, “the imputation of infallibility, and consecrates the right of private judgment.”—Preface, pp. v. vi.
According to our author, then, we have here a church declaring with great minuteness the tenets which its members are to believe, prescribing the exact form of words which, in their religious exercises, they are to em, ploy, and “hemming itself round with guards,” both“ political” and a theological,” with human penalties on the one hand, and denunciations of eternal perdition on the other, which yet effectually demolishes its own work by candidly admitting that it may be in error; and liberally conceding to all the right of private judgment in forming their opinion of its doctrines and ceremonies, and adopting or rejecting them at their pleasure, when entering its pale and joining its communion! These, however, are Mr. Elton's “Second Thoughts” on this subject. There was a time when he had other, and, we will say, juster, views of the spirit and intention of the document to which he refers. “ One of the articles,” such was his language one of the ablest of his works,“ provides, that the dogmas and definitions of the Church divinity are no farther binding than they are proved to be warranted by holy writ; but it is assumed that they are warranted by holy writ, and to doubt them is heresy."'*
If any thing farther were needed to confirm our author's adherence to the communion of the Established Church, he finds it in the excellence of her Liturgy.
“ An obsolete creed, a few remnants of scholastic phraseology, and the tautology of some repetitions accidentally retained, cannot,” he thinks “ deprive the liturgy of the merit of its copious infusion of Scripture; of its
* An Appeal to Scripture and Tradition in Defence of the Unitarian Faith, 1818, p. 207, note.
sententious, yet eloquent, collects, handed down from the purest ages, and of the comprehensiveness and fervour of its general supplications. The superiority,” he continues, “ of the Book of Common Prayer,' of which the Essexstreet compendium exhibits only a withered anatomy, is no where more strikingly exemplified than in the order for the Lord's Supper. Let this be compared, in its influence on the mind, with the dry historical lecture on the evidences of the resurrection usually substituted in the Unitarian chapels.”Preface, pp. vi. vii.
We shall not stop to inquire which creed Mr. Elton would represent as "obsolete,” or with what correctness he can describe either of the creeds by this term, when he must know that there is not one which is not commanded to be used in the public service of the Church several times in the course of every year. Neither are we called upon to defend the Essex-street Liturgy, so elegantly designated a “withered anatomy;” nor yet shall we pronounce any opinion on the comparative merits of the service of the Liturgy at the Lord's Supper, and that of Unitarian ministers; though Mr. Elton must allow us to say that his experience and our own have been very different both as to the subjects and the religious influence of the sacramental services at Unitarian chapels. We are free to admit that in the Liturgy of the Church of England, in its prayers and collects, there is much that is truly excellent ; and we are as much disposed as Mr. Elton to condemn the vulgar imputation that all who adhere to the Established Church must be swayed by motives of interest, of fashion, or of habit. No evidence beyond what we already possess is necessary to convince us that many, we would say thousands, conform to it from the purest motives, and with the most honourable feelings. Nevertheless, there is enough in its Liturgy, in its dogmas and its ritual, to render it impossible for many to join its communion without a violation of their conscience; and on this ground they are willing to rest the justification of their dissent. To them the worship prescribed by the Liturgy, were they publicly to unite in it, would be gross hypocrisy ; for their outward acts would have no corresponding sentiment in their hearts.
Mr. Elton has himself, in his former publications, so well stated some principal objections to the religious services of the Church of England, that we shall transcribe them in preference to the insertion of any observations of our own. Speaking of the Creeds he remarks, -" The three creeds are assumed to be infallible, and to have equal authority with Scripture; and this is Popery. Yet these infallible creeds are each contradictory to the other. The first and most ancient, which the Spanish Jesuits reprobated as a Unitarian symbol, acknowledges God, the FATHER ALMIGHTY, as the maker of heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ as his only son. The second, makes Jesus Christ God of God, and himself the maker of all the worlds. The third, makes Jesus Christ God with God, and equal in power and eternity to his own Father. These three creeds, in fact, mark the progress of Trinity; but the writer, who congratulates himself on belonging to a church that possesses these three creeds, congratulates himself that he holds three faiths.
“ It is better that variations of doctrinal belief should arise, and that the agitation and collision of opinions should keep inquiry alive, than that error, if there be error, should be locked up in antiquated formularies, which usurp the sanction of holy writ
, and impose a barbarous scholastic jargon for the simple and authorized language of the Scriptures. He who finds his religion in systems of theology, examines the Scriptures for the purpose of reconciling their contents with his own pre-established formularies. He de