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this most important article was the principal object of the Jewish religion; and, notwithstanding the proneness of the Jews to idolatry, at length it fully answered its purpose, in reclaiming them, and in impressing the minds of many persons of other nations in favor of the same fundamental truth.
The Jews were taught by their prophets to expect a Messiah, who was to be descended from the tribe of Judah, and the family of David, a person in whom themselves and all the nations of the earth should be blessed; but none of their prophets gave them an idea of any other than a man like themselves, * in that illustrious character; and no other did they ever expect, or do they expect to this day.
Jesus Christ, whose history answers to the description given of the Messiah by the prophets, made no other pretensions ; referring all his extraordinary power to God, his father, who, he expressly says, spake and acted by him, and who raised him from the dead; and it is most evident that the apostles, and all those who conversed with our Lord, before and after his resurrection, considered him in no other light than simply as a man approved of God, by signs and wonders which God did by him.--Acts ii. 22.
Not only do we find no trace of so prodigious a change in the ideas which the apostles entertained concerning Christ, as from that of a man like themselves (which it must be acknowledged were the first that they entertained) to that of the most high God, or one who was, in any sense, their maker or preserver, that when their minds were most fully enlightened, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, and to the latest period of their ministry, they continued to speak of him in the same style; even when it is evident they must have intended to speak of him in a manner suited to his state of greatest exaltation and glory. Peter uses the simple language above quoted, of a man approved of God immediately after the descent of the Spirit, and the apostle Paul, giving what may be called the Christian creed, says, 1 Tim. ii. 5, There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. He does not say the God; the God man, or the superangelic being, but simply the man Christ Jesus; and nothing can be alledged from the New Testament in favor of any higher na
* Appendix A.
ture of Christ, except a few passages interpreted without any regard to the context, or the modes of speech and opinions of the times in which the books were written, and in such a manner in other respects, as would authorize our proving any doctrine whatever from them.
From this plain doctrine of the scriptures, a doctrine so consonant to reason and the ancient prophecies, christians have at length come to believe what they do not pretend to have any conception of, and than which it is not possible to frame a more express contradiction. For while they consider Christ as the supreme eternal God, the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, they moreover acknowledge the Father and the Holy Spirit to be equally God, in the same exalted sense, all three equal in power and glory, and yet all three constituting no more than one God.
To a person the least interested in the inquiry, it must appear an object of curiosity to trace by what means, and by what steps, so great a change has taken place, and what circumstances in the history of other opinions, and of the world, proved favorable to the successive changes. An opinion, and especially an opinion adopted by great numbers of mankind, is to be considered as any other fact in history; for it cannot be produced without an adequate cause, and is therefore a proper object of philosophical inquiry. In this case I think it not difficult to find causes abundantly adequate to the purpose, and it is happily in our power to trace almost every step by which the changes have been successively brought about.
If the interest that mankind have generally taken in any. thing will at all contribute to interest us in the inquiry concerning it, this history cannot fail to engage our attention. For perhaps in no business whatever have the minds of men been more agitated; and speculative as the nature of the thing is, in few cases has the peace of society been so much disturbed. To this very day, of such importance is the subject considered by thousands and ten thousands, that they cannot write or speak of it without the greatest emotion, and without treating their opponents with the greatest rancor. If good sense and humanity did not interpose to mitigate the rigor of law, thousands would be sacrificed to the cause of orthodoxy in this single article; and the greatest number of sufferers would probably be in this very country (England) on account of the greater freedom of inquiry which prevails here, in consequence of which we entertain and profess the greatest diversity of opinions.
The various steps in this interesting history it is now my business to point out, and I wish that all my readers may attend me with as much coolness and impartiality as I trust I shall myself preserve through the whole of this investigation.
OF THE OPINION OF THE ANCIENT JEWISH AND GENTILE
That the ancient Jewish church must have held the opinion that Christ was simply a man, and not either God Almighty, or a superangelic being, may be concluded from its being the clear doctrine of the scripture, and from the apostles having taught no other; but there is sufficient evidence of the same thing from ecclesiastical history. It is unfortunate, indeed, that there are now extant so few remains of any of the writers who immediately succeeded the apostles, and especially that we have only a few inconsiderable fragments of Hegesippus, a Jewish christian, who wrote the history of the church in continuation of the Acts of the Apostles, and who travelled to Rome about the
year but it is not difficult to collect evidence enough in support of my assertion.
The members of the Jewish church were, in general, in very low circumstances, which may account for their having few persons of learning among them; on which account they were much despised by the richer and more learned gentile christians, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem, before which event all the christians in Judea (warned by our Savior's prophesies concerning the desolation of that country) had retired to the North-east of the sea of Galilee. They were likewise despised by the gentiles for their bigoted adherence to the law of Moses, to the rite of circumcision, and other ceremonies of their ancient religion. And on all these accounts they probably got the name of Ebionites, which signifies poor and mean, in the same manner as many of the early reformers from popery got the name of Beghards, and other appellations of a similar nature. The fate of these ancient Jewish christians was, indeeed, peculiarly hard. For, besides the neglect of the gentile christians, they were, as Epiphanius (A. D. 374) informs us, held in the greatest abhorrence by the Jews from whom they had separated, and who cursed them in a solemn manner three times, whenever they met for public worship.
In general, these ancient Jewish christians retained the appellation of Nazarenes, and, it may be inferred from Origen, (A. D. 230) Epiphanius, and Eusebius, (A. D. 325) that the Nazarenes and Ebionites were the same people, and held the same tenets, though some of them supposed that Christ was the son of Joseph as well as of Mary, while others of them held that he had no natural father, but had a miraculous birth. Epiphanius, in his account of the Nazarenes (and the Jewish christians never went by any other name) makes no mention of any of thein believing the divinity of Christ, in any sense of the word.
It is particularly remarkable that Hegesippus, in giving an account of the heresies of his time, though he mentions the Carpocratians, Valentinians, and others who were generally termed Gnostics (and who held that Christ had a pre-existence, and was man only in appearance) not only makes no mention of this supposed heresy of the Nazarenes or Ebionites, but says that, in his travels to Rome, where he spent some time with Anicetus, and visited the bishops of other sees, he found that they all held the same doce trine, that was taught in the law, by the prophets, and by our Lord. What could this be but the
Unitarian doctrine, held by the Jews, and which he himself had been taught, though he had no doubt, a particular view to the tenets of the Gnostics which appeared in the earliest age, and which were strongly reprobated by the apostles and their followers ?
That Eusebius doth not give this account of the primitive christian faith, is no wonder, considering his prejudice against the Unitarians of his own time. He speaks of the Ebionites, as persons whom a malignant demon had brought into his power, and though he speaks of them as holding
a mere man.
that Jesus was the son of Joseph, as well as of Mary, he speaks with no less virulence of the opinion of those of his time, who believed the miraculous conception, calling their heresy madness. Valesius, the translator of Eusebius, was of opinion that the history of Hegesippus was neglected and lost by the ancients, on account of the errors it contained, and these errors could be no other than the Unitarian doctrine. It is possible, also, that it might be less esteemed on account of the very plain unadorned style, in which all the ancients say it was written.
Almost all the ancient writers who speak of what they call the heretics of the two first centuries, say that they were of two kinds, the first those who thought that Christ was a man only in appearance, and the other that he was
Tertullian (A. D. 200) calls the former Docete, and the latter Ebionites. Augustine (A. D.385) speaking of the same two sects, says, that the former believed Christ to be God, but denied that he was man, whereas the latter believed him to be man, but denied that he was God.. Of this latter opinion Augustine owns that he himself was, till he became acquainted
with the writings of Plato, which in his time were translated into Latin, and in which he learned the doctrine of the Logos.
Now that this second heresy, as the later writers called it, was really no heresy at all, but the plain, simple truth of the gospel, may be clearly inferred from the apostle John taking no notice at all of it, though he censures the former, who believed Christ to be a man only in appearance, in the severest manner. And that this was the only heresy that gave him any alarm, is evident from his first epistle, chap. iv. 3, where he says that every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (by which he must have meant, in opposition to the Gnostics, is truly a man) is of God.' On the other hand, he says, every spirit which confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God, aud this is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world. For this was the first corruption of the christian religion by the maxims of heathen philosophy, and which proceeded afterwards till christianity was brought to a state little better than paganism.
That christian writers in later times should imagine that this apostle alluded to the Unitarian heresy, or that of