Page images

power of becoming either the one or the other; that he is not the object of the divine disapprobation and anger; for God hates only sin, and the infant has not sinned : nor of his moral approbation, for the infant has not yet formed a moral character; but we may safely say he is the object of the complacent regards, of the merciful love of God; "for He made man, and made him dependent, brings him into life helpless and weak, physically and morally; yet destines him to happiness, as the end of his being; and he must therefore love him, and feel an interest in his welfare, moral and spiritual, of which no earthly parent, reasoning from the affection which he bears towards his offspring, can form the slightest conception." It will hence be perceived that the doctrine of the Unitarians in regard to this matter, is completely opposed to that of Calvin, which teaches the total depravity of man; -they cannot believe, arguing from the Scriptures as well as the known attributes of the Deity, that man comes into existence under the wrath and curse of God, the heir of hell, by virtue of his descent from Adam. They conceive this idea to be too monstrous, not to say impious, to be entertained for a moment. They hold man's state and condition in the world to be probationary—a state intended to discipline him, by its difficulties and temptations, to the love and practice of virtue, and thus to fit him for Heaven; -that he possesses a moral capacity to make himself what he pleases; that he is under the power of no necessity, of no eternal decrees which would take away the obligations of active personal virtue; under no irresistible, sudden, supernatural influences, which remove the necessity and the motives for holiness; in short, that he is subjected to no natural and inherited inability, making him incapable of righteous acts and holy thoughts, such as God will vouchsafe to accept and reward.

Closely connected with this point, is that of man's acceptance with God. The complicated system of depravity, predestination, effectual calling, and the like, is considered by Unitarians as not only inconsistent with the simplicity of God's ways, but as contradictory and revolting to every idea formed of his works, his wisdom, his equity, and his goodness. They believe that the Scriptures teach a very different doctrine, with respect to man's salvation; one that better harmonises with the character and attributes

and dealings of God, as well as with the nature of manone that gives every possible encouragement to moral virtue. They believe, then, that faith toward God and repentance through our Lord Jesus Christ, their sincerity being tested by a life of holiness, piety, purity, and benevolence, are the conditions of salvation, according to the New Testament. And now, it may be asked, is man then capable of perfect holiness, and can he claim eternal life on the ground of his own righteousness? To this we reply in the words of an able expositor of Unitarian belief," God forbid; God's free, unpurchased, infinite mercy, is the ground of our assurance and our hope. And we think it a ground large enough for the whole universe to stand upon. We believe, through the Scriptures, that as God requires forgiveness in man towards man, as the first and last of his virtues, so he possesses the attribute himself in all its loveliness and perfection; and, as our Lord has represented in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, stands ever ready with the outstretched arms of parental love, to receive and forgive the returning-the reformed sinner. This we believe to be the simple and sublime teaching of revelation; and that God does not demand that his forgiveness shall be bought, forced from him by the voluntary sacrifice and death in man's stead of the infinite God, his equal and son!"

Accordingly, Unitarians reject the commonly received doctrine of the Atonement. We need not stop to describe that doctrine; suffice it to say, that they consider it as most unscriptural, and most subversive of God's moral character, and the interests of vital religion. This doctrine, which the generality of Christians hold, if it seems to provide an easy method of salvation, does so at the expense of God's justice and mercy; if it represents the Son of God as full of benevolence, it represents the Father as unforgiving, unjust, and unmerciful; it drives us from the mercy-seat of the Father Almighty to the compassion of the self-immolating Son; and when we come to that petition which our Lord has told us to offer up,-" Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"-it seals our lips, teaching us that God himself does not and cannot forgive.

If it be asked, what efficacy, then, do Unitarians ascribe to the death of Christ ?—they answer, a moral one; to it


they attribute the same kind of power which they do to his life, example, precepts, and sufferings. His death was necessary that he might establish and put beyond doubt or cavil that most efficacious, and most important to the Christian, of all truths, the resurrection from the dead, and the retributory state. By the manner of his death, he set the seal of truth to his character and revelation; by his death he has opened the way to everlasting life, has established the truth of man's resurrection, and the connected one of his immortality and the future state; by his death he has taken away the victory from the grave, has divested it of all the terrors and doubts that had always hung over it, and ever would have shrouded it but for the example of his victory. Thus did his death answer ends unspeakably important. Jesus died that we might live for ever.

Scarcely need it be remarked after this, that Unitarians believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. Death they look upon, not so much as even a temporary or momentary extinction of being, but simply as the appointed manner in which the soul passes from one stage of existence to another-from earth to Heaven. Hence, to the virtuous man, death is the gate of life.

But what is your doctrine of rewards and punishments? some one may say. And to this question we reply as briefly as possible in the words of the writer before quoted :

"We believe this doctrine to be surpassed in importance by no other in the Bible. For, however a few speculative and thinking men might pursue virtue and love it, obey God and love him, without the restraining influences of the doctrine of the future punishment of sin, the great mass of mankind could not, and would not. And while we do not believe the eternity of all future punishment of sin, to be the doctrine either of Scripture or reason, and regard it as a tenet that has in many respects an unhappy influence on human conduct and character, we reject, with still stronger disbelief, the doctrine of Universal Šalvation, considering it as fraught with the most pernicious consequences-more pernicious to the interests of Christain virtue, or of Christ's religion on earth, than any other opinion ever preached. We have been, and are by many, confounded with Universalists on this point. But we do not receive their distinguishing doctrine; Unitarians look

upon it with dread, and with strong convictions of its immoral influences.

"Rejecting the two extremes-the eternity of future punishment, and the salvation of all men, without exception or difference-we adopt what we conceive to be the true doctrine of Scripture on this point; what seems to be implied in all our Saviour's preachings, and in all the writings of his Apostles, viz.: the reward and punishment of mankind according to the deeds done in the body; the righteous adjustment of future suffering, to the sins of each individual. But, though we cannot refuse our most firm belief in this necessary truth of the future suffering of the wicked, yet we think that it is not inflicted to gratify vengeance, or to satisfy an offended law, but for the same purpose, with the same view, that sufferings are permitted here-in order to the reformation, discipline, and improvement of the sufferer. We believe that the suffering of futurity is made subservient to the same good and sublime end, as pain and suffering on earth, namely, man's moral perfection, and hence, eventually, his highest happiness; that it will, therefore, be disciplinary, remedial, purifying, saving in its character, and will, consequently, at one time cease-at that time, whenever it shall be, that the offender shall be reformed by it, and restored to the love and practice of virtue, to the love of God and to a perception of the real greatness of his nature, and the true ends of his being. Most Unitarians, however, are satisfied to use the Scripture expressions on this subject, without pretending to say what Scripture has nowhere said, when those sufferings shall end. Scripture phraseology gives us to understand that those sufferings shall be great, and dreadful, and enduring: we believe it, and tremble in the belief, and repeat without commentary, the words of Christ and his Apostles: Verily I say unto you, these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.' 'God will render to every man, according to his deeds; to them that obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil.'" We have thus endeavoured to give, in a very brief space, for the benefit of the uninitiated, a reply to the often repeated interrogatory-What is Unitarianism? We have confined ourselves, it is true, to the leading points of


theological belief, and we have done so because they constitute the source from which flow those views of man, his nature and destiny, of man regarded as an individual or in society, which may be said to distinguish, in general, the Unitarian from almost every other class of Christians. These views have, of late years, been largely developed in the writings of Unitarian divines, particularly of America; and it is to the works of these authors, more especially, not forgetting at the same time those of many excellent English writers, that we must refer the reader for full and satisfactory information on these important topics.


IT is the object of the Unitarian to spread those simple, comprehensive, and elevating views of the nature of God, and the destiny of man, which he believes accordant with reason, and founded on Scripture, and which seem to him best adapted to refine and strengthen the feelings of devotion, the principles of duty, and that love which is the end of the commandment. Accordingly, he shrinks with aversion from those creeds which represent the Almighty Father as a stern and almost vindictive being, and His mortal children as the offspring of Satan; whilst he warmly sympathises with every philanthropic effort, which is an evidence that those kindlier feelings are being awakened in the human mind, which lessen the influence of gloomy and erroneous doctrines, and must lead to their final abandonment.

If there be one movement more than another which seems to strike at the root of the most objectionable part of the popular theology, it is that which has as its object the reformation of our criminal code. The Unitarian feels horror at the notion of Divine wrath, only to be appeased by the torture of the innocent instead of the guilty; he will best dissipate this delusion by teaching that the truest justice is tempered by mercy, and that the criminal ought to call forth the pitying love, rather than the hatred, of the injured. Does he think the doctrine of eternal torments inconsistent with the divine love? he will best undermine this terrible belief by showing, that human

« PreviousContinue »