Tuesday, 10 January 2017

CHRISTIAN TRUTH

To the Editor of the Tasmanian and Review.

SIR,—The great ground upon which highly paid Church Establishments have been defended is, that every "Church" has insisted upon it, that its own peculiar doctrines being essentially necessary to " salvation," which word it is again insisted upon meaning the release from eternal torture—the word " eternal" being beyond the grasp of the human intellect—that therefore it is absolutely necessary in order to obtain such salvation, each "Church" respectively insists that its own peculiar doctrines should be exclusively believed, and therefore taught—and again therefore that there should be a highly paid and highly ranked class of teachers, who from their avocation, be their origin, talents, acquirements, habits or private life what they may, are entitled to seat them in the " upper places," and to assume superiority over their fellow-men, which in no other consideration they are entitled to, or would be permitted to them. I have perused, Mr. Editor, the various communications you have inserted with great care, and attention, particularly those in respect to Unitarian Christianity, the belief of Milton, Locke, Newton, Gibbon, Hume, Priestly, Brougham, and numberless other of the very greatest men, and now so rapidly extending its doctrines over the highest educated and best informed classes—and I find two words continually referred on both sides, both on the " Established Church" side, and the Unitarian writers, both of the meaning being intended to convey by which neither party have given one word of explanation— these words are "Christian Truth." Let us, Sir, with your permission enquire a little what can be fairly understood by these words, if we may be permitted (without violating established feelings, which it would be far from me to attempt or you to suffer) to enquire into meaning of words what all receive, but few perhaps have ventured to investigate. The only " Christian Truth" which man can make an object of, of his own theological belief, is an impression which exists in his mind ; it is his own " Christian Truth," which he identifies with the Christian truth, which he supposes to emanate from the SUPREME BEING ; considering that he is bound to hold that to be Christian truth, which he conscientiously believes to have found in the Bible ; and that therefore it is the great moral duty of every man to prepare himself conscientiously for the undisturbed reception of the impression arising therefrom, and to follow it as " Christian Truth." I acknowledge that it is the duty of every man to assist others (without intrusion) as much as it may be in his power, in receiving a mental impression similar to that which he venerates as Christian truth. But it is at this point that a fierce contest arises ; and the reason is this—certain men wish to force all others to reverence (at least externally) not the mental impression, the sense, which each receives from the Bible—not the conviction at which each has arrived, but the impression of some theological sector church. The Christian truth of some privileged leaders (it is contended by every church respectively) should be recognised as Christian truth by all the world, in more accurate, because more scientific language, Christian parties, of the most different characters, have for eighteen centuries agreed only in this—that the subjective Christian truth to all the world i. e. that the sense which the Scriptures did at some time or other convey, or still convey, to such and such men, should be acknowledged as identical with that sense which was in the mind of the writers of the Bible—the true sense which is known to the Divine Mind. The calm and philosophical observer of the controversies of Theologians can scarcely fail to conclude, that whatever truth there may be in all these disputed creeds there can be no revelation. Nothing, is revealed which is still left in extreme uncertainty. Whatever idea the Divine Being designed to communicate by means of Christ, he would take care to place it beyond the reach of extensive doubt and rejection. If Trinitarian Christianity was really intended to secure human belief in any one of the debated notions of Christian Churches, Trinitarian Christianity is a failure—for what is still debated is not revealed. If the Bible was commissioned to teach any one of the peculiar opinions of hostile sects, the Bible is incompetent to discharge its functions ; for where opinion still has occupancy, discovery does not yet exist. Whoever, therefore, insists on any peculiarity either of his own or of his Churches' creed as essential, ipso facto undermines the foundations of Christianity, his notion cannot be true unless Christianity be false. Dr. Buckland puts this argument in a form which appears to me unanswerable :—" Settle your disputes (says the Unitarian unbeliever) and then I will listen to your arguments in defence of your Trinity. Both of you, Romanists and Protestants, offer me salvation, on condition that I embrace the Trinitarian Christian faith. You offer me a sovereign remedy, which is to preserve me alive in happiness through all eternity ; but I hear you accusing each other of recommending to the world, not a remedy, but a poison ; a poison indeed which instead of securing eternal happiness, must add bitterness to eternal punishment. You both agree that it is of the essence of Trinitarian Christianity to accept certain doctrines concerning the manner in which the Divine Nature exists ; the moral and intellectual condition in which man was created ; our present degradation through the misconduct of our first parents ; the nature of sin, and the impossibility of its being pardoned except by pain indicted on an innocent person ; the existence or non-existence of living representatives of Christ and his Apostles ; a Church which enjoys, collectively, some extraordinary privileges in regard to the visible and invisible world ; the presence of Christ among us by means of transubstantiation, or the denial of such presence ; all this, and much more, some of you declare to be contained in, and others to be opposed to, the Scriptures; and even here there is a fierce contention as to whether those Scriptures embrace the whole of that Christianity which is necessary for salvation, or whether tradition is to fill up a certain gap. I am therefore at a loss how to account for the invitation you give me. To me (the unbeliever might continue) it is quite evident that the ablest opponents of Trinitarian Christianity never discovered a more convincing argument against revelation in general than that which inevitably arises from your own statements, and from the controversies of your churches. God (you both agree) pitying mankind, has disregarded the natural laws fixed by himself, and for a space of 4,000 years, and more, has multiplied miracles, for the purpose of acquainting men with the means of obtaining salvation, and avoiding eternal death, eternal death signifying almost universal among you, unending torments. But when I turn to examine the result of this (as you deem it) miraculous and all-wise plan, I find it absolutely incomplete ; for the whole Christian world has been eighteen centuries, in a perpetual warfare (not without great shedding of blood) because Christians cannot settle what is the faith which alone can save us. Have you not thus demonstrated that the revelation of which you boast cannot be from God ? Do you believe and wish me to believe, that when God has decreed to make a saving truth known to the world, he failed of that object, or wished to make revelation a snare ?" Let the highest paid teacher of Established Church Religion answer this ?—I am, Sir, your's,

ALPHA.

Tasmanian (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1827 - 1839), Friday 24 March 1837, page 9

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