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calling in question the critical judgment or the strict integrity of King James's translators, after whom the priests of his Church commanded, at their peril, to call upon the abused people, whenever I John iii. 16 occurs in the lesson for the day, to believe that God laid down his life; a gross, if not blasphemous notion, which very few hearers, probably, are prepared to qualify by Milton's ingenious solution. Thus slowly does scriptural knowledge flow out to the people through the channel of "the best constituted Church;" while Bible Societies, allowing themselves in a pious fraud, unworthy of their honourable purpose, still circulate the occasionally incorrect, if not sometimes unfaithful Authorized Version, with its leading head-lines and contents, as the pure word of God, without note or comment." I return to the Treatise, where Milton thus proceeds to dispute with Trinitarians their further claim to support from this Epistle, attributed to "the disciple whom Jesus loved ;" and whom all Christians must regard as the least likely of any disciple to misunderstand his Master's doctrine, or to disparage his dignity.
"But the passage which is considered most important of all is l ́John v., part of the 20th verse; for if the whole be taken, it will not prove what it is adduced to support: We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, (even) in his Son Jesus Christ: this is the true God and eternal life. For we are in him that is true in his Son, that is, so far as we are in the Son of him that is true: this is the true God; namely, he who was just before called him that was true, the word God being omitted in the one clause and subjoined in the other. For he it is that is he that is true, (whom that we might know, we know that the Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding,) not he who is called the Son of him that is true, though that be the nearest antecedent, for common sense itself requires that the article this should be referred to him that is true, (to whom the subject of the context principally relates,) not to the Son of him that is true."
Milton adds, that "examples of a similar construction are not wanting," and refers to "Acts iv. 10, 11, and x. 16; 2 Thess. ii. 8, 9; 2 John 7, and John xvii." Bishop Sumner remarks, that Milton's is "the interpretation of
Benson, Wetstein, Schleusner, Macknight," &c., and refers "in support of the other construction" to "Beza, Whitby, and particularly Waterland."
This reference to Whitby is, I think, somewhat disparaging to the theological reputation of the learned translator. He has, I have no doubt, correctly referred to the Commentary of Whitby, which I have not now an opportunity of consulting. But that Bishop Sumner should never have read, or should have forgotten, the Lust Thoughts of that learned clergyman, which I mentioned, (XI. 426,) is passing strange. Yet with that work in recollection, I cannot allow myself to suppose that he could have referred to Whitby as, on this passage, opposed to Milton, with whose conclusions Whitby's became, at length, strictly in accordance.
When just closing a learned and laborious life, at the age of 88, as if
The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,
Whitby prepared for the press, though he did not survive to publish, his Last Thoughts, which, as the writer of Paul an Unitarian has well remarked (p. 46), will “remain an imperishable monument of his religious integrity, and confirmed belief in the Unitarian, in opposition to the Trinitarian doctrine." Whitby introduces the work by remarking, after Justin Martyr, "that an exact scrutiny into things doth often produce conviction, that those things which we once judged to be right, are, after a more diligent inquiry into truth, found to be far otherwise." This opinion he proceeds to confirm by the following ingenuous confession: "And truly I am not ashamed to say, this is my very case. For when I wrote my Commentaries on the New Testament, I went on (too hastily I own) in the common beaten road of other reputed Orthodox divines: conceiving, that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, in one complex notion, were one and the same God, by virtue of the same individual essence communicated from the Father. This confused notion I am now fully convinced-to be a thing impossible, and full of gross absurdities and contradictions."
Proceeding to reconsider the chief passages which he "had produced" in the Commentary, "for confirmation of
the doctrine" which he "there too hastily endeavoured to establish," he thus remarkably corroborates the apostolic doctrine which Milton deduces from the same passage:
"That the true God, mentioned 1 John v. 20, is not the Son, but the Father, who by our Saviour is styled the only true God, is proved from the ancient reading of these words, thus: The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know the true God; and we are in his true Son, Jesus Christ.' This God, of whom the Son of God hath given us this knowledge, (as our Lord hath told us, John xvii. 3,) is the true God, and the knowledge of him is eternal life. Thus the disciple accords well with his Master, and only teacheth what he had learned from him."
You will, I trust, excuse this digression, if, indeed, I have not sufficiently connected Milton and Whitby, both pious and learned inquirers after divine truth, and alike prepared to sacrifice to its promotion their most favourite early opinions. Returning to the Treatise, I find the author considering the objection," that according to some of the texts quoted before, Christ is God;" and that "if the Father be the only true God, Christ is not the true God." Milton replies, "We are not obliged to say of Christ what the Scriptures do not say. The Scriptures call him God, but not him that is the true God; why are we not at liberty to acquiesce in the same distinction?" I have stated (p. 32) what appears to have been Milton's design when he called our Saviour God, as a name of dignity, not unworthily applied to the most favoured Son and Servant of Most High. He next proceeds to consider a passage in which Paul describes our Savour's dignity and depression. It has, I believe, been generally numbered by the Orthodox among the strongest holds of the Trinitarian faith; though, as probably many of your readers have observed in the Discourse on that passage to which I very lately referred, it appears on a scriptural examination to be strictly Unitarian.
They also adduce Philipp. ii. 6, Vho being in the form of God. But this no more proves him to be God, than the phrase which follows, took upon him the form of a servant, proves that he was really a servant, as the sacred writers no where use the word form for actual being. But if it be contended that the form of God is here taken in a philosophical sense for the essential form, the consequence
cannot be avoided, that when Christ laid aside the form, he laid aside also the substance and the efficiency of God.-To be in the form of God, therefore, seems to be synonymous with being in the image of God; which is often predicated of Christ, even as man is also said, though in a much lower sense, to be the image of God, and to be in the image of God, that is, by creation." Much in the manner of Milton, it is remarked by Wakefield in his Enquiry (p. 185), that "this form must consist in no equality or similitude of essence, but in mental endowments, in some communicable properties, in something that can be participated in common by mankind, by Jesus, and by God."
In a further part of this chapter, having been proving how "the Son himself professes to have received from the Father all that pertains to his own being," Milton thus returns to the consideration of this passage:
"Christ therefore, having received all these things from the Father, and being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, namely, because he had obtained them by gift, not by robbery. For if this passage imply his co-equality with the Father, it rather refutes than proves his unity of essence; since equality cannot exist but between two or more essences.' Thus Milton's contemporary Crellius, in his Work De Uno Deo Patre, remarks, (B. i. S. ii. Ch. xxxvi.,) “If Christ be equal to God, in respect of essence and essential properties, the essence of Christ must of necessity be different from the essence of God. Wherefore they must either hold two divine independent esseuces, or two Most High Gods, or that Christ is not the Most High God."
Milton proceeds to argue that the phrases, he did not think it, he made himself of no reputation, (literally, he emptied himself) appear inapplicable to the Supreme God. For to think, is nothing else than to entertain an opinion, which cannot be properly said of God (Opinio autem in Deo non cadit)." This Milton attributes, in his Artis Logica Institutio, as quoted by his translator, to the Deity's absolutely universal knowledge quia per causas aque omnia cognoscit). "Nor can the infinite God," he adds, "be said to empty himself, any more than to contradict himself; for infinity and emptiness are opposite
In thus examining "the principal texts which are brought forward to prove the divinity of the Son," Milton arrives
at "the last passage, from Jude ver. 4, denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Who will not agree," he remarks, "that this is too verbose a mode of description, if all these words are intended to apply to one person? Or who would not rather conclude, on a comparison of many other passages which tend to confirm the same opinion, that they were spoken of two persons, namely, the Father, the only God, and our Lord Jesus Christ?" He then proceeds to "the passages quoted in the New Testament from the Old," from which Trinitarians would infer the Deity of Christ. But these considerations I must postpone to another opportunity.
J. T. RUTT.
My Father's at the Helm.
[Verses from St. James's Chronicle, January 10, 1826.]
And pallid Fear's distracting power
Save one, the Captain's darling child,
"And sport'st thou thus," a seaman cried,
"Why should I fear?" the boy replied,
So when our worldly all is reft,
He to our prayers will bend his ear,
Then turn to Him, 'mid sorrows wild,
Our Father's at the helm.