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of mental changes, that in an enlightened age, and with increasing facilities for public instruction, free, open discussion cannot but conduce to the discovery and extension of truth, I felt myself bound to accept the proposal of Mr. Bagot in some form or other; for I cannot doubt that the means of religious information are so plentifully diffused by a benignant Providence, that if men could only be induced to employ them, the result must be the progress of truth: and it is as a means of rousing men to think, to inquire, to weigh evidence, and judge for themselves, that I deem discussion and controversy mainly valuable.
But while, for these reasons, I thought myself bound to take some notice of Mr. Bagol's proposal, other considerations, of no small weight, as they seemed to me, rendered it expedient to accept his invitation in the precise terms in which it was conveyed. Had I simply accepted his challenge, and published a pamphlet in reply to his Abstract, it did appear to me, as it has appeared to all of every side of the question with whom I have since conversed, that I should have done so at a decided disadvantage. For, you must all be perfectly aware, that while persons of Unitarian sentiments feel, in general, little or no objection to read productions in which their tenets are impugned, there exists in the minds of a considerable number of the opposite persuasion a very great reluctance to perose tracts in opposition to their own views. Had Mr. Bagot, indeed, delayed the publication of his tract until it could have been issued in conjunction with a reply of the kind suggested, so that both might have been circulated together, and so that every person who obtained the one must, of necessity, have procured the other at the same time, I should have been most happy to embrace the opportunity of carrying on the controversy with one whose temper and candour, as displayed in the only discourse I had ever heard him preach, had made upon me a most favourable impression. But, this opportunity not being allowed me, I thought it would have been a mere waste of time and trouble to publish a separate tract; which I very well knew would never make its way into the hands of those, whose opinions and views I was, as will readily be conceived, most desirous of combating. Acting under this impression, which every thing that has since occurred has only tended to deepen, I published a letter in the Northern Whig of Thursday, January 23; in which, after stating the reasons which induced me to decline taking the step which he suggested, I went on to say
If, however, Mr. Bagot is desirous of circulating the facts and arguments, on both sides of the question, fairly among the public, both Unitarian and Trinitarian,-1, as an individual, propose to him two methods of doing so, either of which will answer the purpose.
I am ready to publish a series of Essays on the Doctrine of the Trinity, froin his pen, in the new series of The Bible Christian ; inserting, at the same time, illustrative comments; and subjecting both him and his antagonist, whoever he may be, to the conditions specified by the former conductors in reply to his note.--Or, if he prefer it, I am willing to meet him in Belfast, in an amicable discussion on the subject; time, place, and other preliminaries, to settled by friends mutually chosen : the only stipulation on which I insist being, that an authentic report of the entire debate shall be prepared, and published at our joint expense.
Mr. Bagot declined assenting to my first proposal,- the publication of a series of essays in the Bible Christian; but accepted my second,-a viva voce debate: and terms and preliminaries having been subsequently settled, we appear before you this day, to urge the leading arguments for our respective views of the Christian Doctrine. And I can safely say, for myself, that while I come forward with a heartfelt sense, both of the truth and the importance of that doctrine which I stand here this day to advocate,–I come forward, likewise, with perfect charity, nay, with real cordiality, not only for the bulk of those persons who differ from my views, but for my reverend opponent in particular; and giving him entire credit for the same feelings that actuate myself, I shall endeavour, and I hope successfully, to avoid every expression that could possibly give him offence, or sound unkindly in his ears. It is needless to say, that I shall endeavour to discuss the serious and important question on which we are at issue, with calmness and seriousness of mind. I shall not certainly consider myself precluded from expressing warmly, what I feel strongly, respecting the unscriptural character and tendency of the doctrine which I impugn; for I will not sacrifice my paramount *regard to the interests of divine truth out of deference to him, or af. fected complaisance to any one. But ridicule, misrepresentation, and invective, I shall studiously avoid. The subject is too weighty to be made the groundwork of a jest, even when it is most completely misunderstood; and the religious convictions of an honest mind, even when most erroneous, are with me a matter too sacred to be treated with levity.
After these introductory remarks, I proceed to make my observations
the Standard of Reference and upon the Propositions, which you will find given at large in the handbill, that has been widely circulated.
You will observe, that we have agreed to argue on the basis of the “Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which are received into the Authorised Version, admitting them all to be canonical.” In the propriety of adopting this standard, I beg it may be distinctly understood by all persons and parties, that I do most entirely and cordially concur. Indeed no Unitarian could consistently or conscientiously argue the question upon any other basis. Let it be understood with the same distinctness, that if I had presumed to defend our common doctrines with any other weapons, my fellow Unitarians would have disowned my procedure, and exclaimed against me, as guilty of betraying the good cause which I have undertaken to maintain, into the hands of the opponents. For it is on Scriptural grounds that we have embraced our characteristic doctrine. We are Unitarians solely and simply because we can find no doctrine but Unitarianism in the Bible; which is our rule of faith and only accredited standard. So far from re. jecting the testimony of divine revelation on this or any subject, we bow to it with entire reverence; and are ready at any moment to repudiate our present views, if they can be shown to be inconsistent with the divine record. Nor was there ever a more unfounded accusation, than that which was frequently preferred against us in former
tines, -and is sometimes even yet covertly insinuated,- that weundervalue the weight, or despise the authority of the Sacred Volume. We rank it in our estimation far above the imaginations of the human understanding, whether as floating idle in the careless mind, or as embodied in creeds and articles and doctrinal liturgies of human device. Nor have any writers been more successful in vindicating revelation from the objections, and defending it against the assaults of infidels, than those of the Unitarian school : witness the venerable names of LARDNER and of PRIESTLEY ; not to mention many others, of great and deserved though inferior celebrity.
Again. My reverend antagonist and myself have agreed to avail ourselves of all the aid that can be furnished to us, by “legitimate criticism." Criticism is the art or science which teaches how an author's real meaning may be gathered from the expressions which he employs. The term, therefore, though harsh to the ears of many, as conveying the notion of too close an approach to the employment of human reason, denotes nothing but that which must be employed by any person who, in any way whatsoever, attempts to understand the Sacred Writings. Legitimate" criticism is criticism of a fair and lawful kind : not rash, nor fanciful, nor arbitrary; but based on sound principles, and conducted with caution and circumspection. Surely the man who refuses to investigate the meaning of the Word of God in this manner, is unworthy of the treasures of grace and wisdom which they contain. We may safely pronounce, that unless it ke by accident, he never will attain to them.
It will be in the recollection of such among you as paid attention to the newspaper correspondence which took place between Mr. Bagot and myself, before preliminaries were finally agreed on, previous to the present discussion, that, in one of his letters, he stated that the only standard on which he proposed to carry on the discus. sion, is “ the Authorised Version of the Scriptures, admitting the genuineness, authenticity, and divine authority of all and every part of the books; allowing, however, criticisms upon the phrascology, considered as a translation of a book compiled from the best manuscripts.” And he made it a condition that I should publicly state, before any far. ther arrangements were made," whether any particular passages, and what, were excepted by me from the above description.” You will recollect that I demurred to the first part of this proposition; i. e. the admission of the genuineness, authenticity, and divine authority of all and every part of the books contained in the Authorised Version. I did so under an imperious sense of duty; and I am satisfied there is not a regularly educated clergyman, of any sect or church in Christendom, who would not have refused to make the admission thus required of me. For common purposes, the Authorised Version serves well enough. I am not acquainted with any version of the Scriptures, in any language, wbich does not contain enough of the divine spirit of the original, to make the docile reader wise unto salvation; and for this reason, and because it is the translation to which our ears have been accustomed from childhood, and with which our reli. gious impressions are most strongly associated, I am in the habit of using the Authorised Version in public; and generally, but not ex
clusively, in private. But to hold it up as a critical edition--to employ it in a discussion of this kind, where minute accuracy is above all desirable, as a standard of reference, either with respect to text or rendering—would be to employ it for a purpose for which it is ill adapted. I have given in one of my letters to Mr. Bagot the opinions of two most eminent Trinitarian writers, who fully justify my reluctance to admit the infallible accuracy of King James's Translators, in the rendering of every part of the original. I allude to Bishop Lowth and Dr. John Pye Smith; the former an eminent critic and scholar, as is proved by his Translation of Isaiah, with an instructive preface and learned Notes; and the latter, the author of the Scripture Testimony to the Messiah, in 3 vols. 8vo.-unquestionably the most elaborate defence of the Proper Deity of the Word, in the English language. The former, while he expresses his approbation -in which I entirely agree with him--of the style and phraseology of the Authorised Version, yet declares that “ in respect of the sense and accuracy of the interpretation, the improvements of which it admits are GREAT AND NUMBERLESS !" The latter, who, be it observed, is theological tutor in the Calvinistic College of Homerton, thus expresses himself, when writing of the errors and faults in the mode of arguing the present question, with which the “orthodox” are espe. cially chargeable :
“It would seem truly superfluous, to express a caution against arguing from any translation of the Scripture, as if it were the original. But, it must be confessed, that not only unlearned Christians, but some men of respectable education, have fallen into this egregious error. Nor is this fault chargeable on the orthodox alone: their opponents are not perfectly clear from it. Respectable and excellent as our common version is, considering the time and circumstances in which it was made, no person will contend that it is incapable of important amendment. A temperate, impartial, and careful revision, would be an invaluable benefit to the cause of Christianity: and the very laudable exertions which are now made, to circulate the Bible, render such a revision, at the present time, a matter of still more pressing necessity.” Vol. J. p. 57, &c.
In perfect accordance with these sentiments, this distinguished writer, almost uniformly, gives his own translation of the passages upon which he comments. It would be easy to adduce a great variety of passages of similar import, from men of undoubted orthodoxy, -understanding that term in the common acceptation--and even from persons who have signalised their zeal by writing in defence of the Proper Deity of the Word. But I have not taken the trouble to transcribe any more of them; because it appears to me, that those already given are sufficient to justify me in refusing to tie myself down to this particular translation of the Scriptures. How could I reasonably or conscientiously agree to argue on the basis of a version wbich, according to Bishop LOWTH, gives the sense and interpretation so imperfectly, that the improvements of which it admits in this respect are GREAT AND NUMBERLESS !” How could I, with any degree of consistency, descend from the vantage-ground of truth and sound knowledge, to adopt the very error which the most illustrious champion of orthodoxy deplores in his brethren; not only the unlearned among them, but, as he asserts, in some persons of respect
able education? Would not this be laying aside the panoply of divine truth, to clothe myself in ill-tempered armour, which my opponents themselves are beginning to throw from them, as insufficient to defend them in the hour of danger ?
But I had another reason for declining to receive the Authorised Version of the Scriptures, as a full and sufficient guide. Not only is the translation, in many places, susceptible of great improvement; but the copy of the original from which it was made, is known and is acknowledged by scholars of all sects and parties, to bave been in many places corrupted, mutilated, and interpolated, in a way which renders several of its statements, on this very subject, liable to strong suspicion, or entirely unworthy of notice. For the last one hundred and fifty years, learned men, of the greatest industry, and of unquestionable integrity, have been laboriously engaged in endeavouring to detect these corruptions, wherever they could be found. Bishop WALTON, by his Polyglot Bible, containing the original of the Scriptures, with several of the most ancient Versions, and a selection of various readings, may be said to have given the first impulse to this most interesting and important branch of criticism. He was succeeded by MILL, who published an edition of the New Testament with various readings from a great number of M.SS. which he either collated himself, or procured to be collated, for the purpose of his edition. His work was published in Holland, by KUSTER, with additions and corrections. WETSTEIN followed, who still farther enlarged the field by a prodigious number of various readings, collected from M.SS. which were unknown to Mill and Kuster, or only partially inspected. MATTHÆI, ALTER, and BIRCH, have lent material aid :—the first by accurate collations of Greek M.SS. contained in the public libraries of Russia; the second by a similar collation of the Vienna M.SS.; the last by his ample details of the M.S. treasures of the Vatican and other libraries of Italy, which he travelled to inspect, at the expense of the King of Denmark.
Numerous important accessions have been made to the science by MICHÆlis, and his annotator, Bishop MARSH; who, whatever may be thought of him in other respects, has honourably distinguished himself as a promoter of a liberal and enlightened criticism, on the text and exegesis or explanation of the Sacred Volume. The results of all these labours and researches, (labours and researches, be it observed, which have all taken place since the received translation was compiled, and of which therefore it was impossible for King James's Translators to avail themselves,—had they been, as doubtless they would have been, so disposed,) are considered to be embodied in an edition of the Greek Testament by Professor GRIESBACH ; which, on account of its accu. racy, fidelity, and impartiality, has deservedly oblained a high rank in the estimation of theologians and scholars of all sects and parties.. In particular, it is spoken of with great deference by Dr. J. PYE SMITH; by Professor Moses STUART, of Andover; and by Dr. WARDLAW, of Glasgow :-and I am sure that my reverend opponent will agree with me, that men more distinguished for learning have not stepped forth of late years as champions of the Trinitarian doctrine. Indeed, so high is the reputation that this edition has acquired, that