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THE MONTHLY REPOSITORY
NEW SERIES, No. XLIX.
DR. J P. SMITH'S SCRIPTURE TESTIMONY TO THE MESSIAH. * DR. J. P. Smith's “ Scripture Testimony to the Messiah," is a work which has attained to the highest reputation, not only within the pale of the particular sect to which the author belongs, but amongst all classes of beJievers in the doctrines of reputed orthodoxy. It is certainly to be ranked amongst the ablest defences of those doctrines which have ever appeared. Learned, ingenious, and laborious, it deserves the attention of all who are interested in the great controversy to which it relates : and if the irresistible tendency of the system he defends, and the perverting prejudices to which it gives occasion, have led the author often to treat his opponents with great real injustice, there are also indications of kind feelings, and of a desire to act towards them with candour and Christian meekness, which with many persons give more weight to his censures, rendering them, when founded in error or misrepresentation, more dangerous, if not more offensive.
It has been a special object with Dr. Smith to furnish a reply to the “ Calm Inquiry" of Mr. Belsham, and it is in reference more particularly (though by no means exclusively) to this object, that we now propose to examine his volumes - not that we would hold up Mr. Belsham's work as faultless either in plan or execution—not, certainly, that we consider the great body of Christians who adopt the sentiments he defends, as answerable for ihe mistakes into which he may have fallen or the improper spirit which he is accused of having manifested -- but his work being honestly esteemed by us an able and satisfactory treatise on a very important subject, written under the influence of an enlightened, disinterested, and impartial love of truth; and the effect it has produced upon the minds of many intel
The Scripture Testimony to the Messiah : an Inquiry with a view to a satisfactory Determinatiou of the Doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures concerning the Person of Christ. By John Pye Smith, D. D. <3 Vols. 8vo. '2ud. Edit. London, 1829.
ligent and sincere inquirers being well known to us, we were anxious to satisfy ourselves respecting a laboured attack upon it coming from an individual who stands so high both as to character and attainments as Dr. Smith : and having long since fully satisfied ourselves, we think it seasonable at this time, when our venerated friend has been taken from among us, and his work, in consequence of the very small number of copies remaining, may perhaps for the present have its circulation somewhat restrained, to call the attention of our readers to the true state of the controversy, and assist them in judging how far Dr. Smith has succeeded in invalidating Mr. Belsham's arguments, or in otherwise defending the prevailing doctrine respecting the person of our Lord..
Dr. Smith's work is divided into four books, of which the first is occupied with preliminary considerations; the second is “ On the Information to be obtained concerning the Person of the Messiah from the Prophetic Descriptions of the Old Testament;" the third, “ On the Information to be obtained concerning the Person of the Christ from the Narratives of the Evangelical History, and from our Lord's own Assertions and Intimations ;” and the fourth, “On the Doctrine taught by the Apostles in their Inspired Ministry concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This distribution of the subject may probably be the most natural and useful for the impartial student, who, as he meets with each passage which
may have a possible bearing on the point he is investigating, will refer to lexicographers, scholiasts, and commentators, without distinction of party or opinion, and having obtained all the aids he can, will form his own independent judgment. But where the object proposed is to set before our readers the results of our inquiries, and to compare these results wiih those obtained by others, we cannot help thinking that such an arrangement as Mr. Belsham's (who collects and examines in order the texts which have been adduced in support of each point of disputed doctrine) is more clear and satisfactory, as well as more favourable to conciseness. We do not think it the best method for the instruction of students, yet we were hardly prepared for the following remarks from any one possessing the least share of judgment or candour :
“ The selection and arrangement of texts was certainly, so far as it went, a suitable means; provided a due regard were had to the studying of each in its proper place and connexion. But to throw down before a company of inexperienced youths a regular set of rival and discordant expositions, in general without any additional, or at least doctrinal, comment of the compiler's own,' appears to me to have been a method not well calculated to lead into the path of convincing evidence and well-ascertained truth. It might excite party feeling, wordy disputation, unholy levity, and rashi decision : but so far as either from the theory of the case or from experience I am able to form a judgment, I could not expect a better result, except in rare instances indeed.”-Scripture Testimony, Vol. I. Chap. vi. p. 160, second edition.
On what grounds is it here insinuated that, under Mr. Belsham's guidance, a due regard was not had to the connexion of texts, in defiance of his own rule on the subject : “ In order to judge of the true sense of a disputed text, it is necessary to consider the connexion in which it stands”? (Calm Inquiry, Introd. p. 3, 2d ed.) So long as important passages of Scripture are differently understood by men of learning, who are able each to give some plausible reasons in favour of his own interpretation, what can the honesi and impartial instructor do but lay before his pupils, or, in Dr. S.'s phraseology, “throw down before a company of inexperienced youths,"
a sei of rival and discordant expositions ? Or how would this be avoided by changing the plan of treating the subject from Mr. B.'s to Dr. Smith's, or to any other that may be suggested? A theological lecturer is certainly not bound to suppress the expression of his own opinions in his class; and provided that his pupils are prepared not to be the passive recipients of his sentiments, but io reflect on all that is laid before them, and draw conclusions for themselves, it is reasonable and natural that they should have the benefit of his thoughts on the subject before them, as well as those of others : but whilst he faithfully executes the duty of opening to them the existing sources of information, his own opinion cannot be essential, and there may be circumstances in which it is much better for him not to bring it forward at all. If Mr. Belsham had added doctrinal comments of his own, we may be sure that he would now be accused of having attempted unduly to bias the minds of his pupils. If the fair statement of whatever has been said most important on each side of a disputed question, be not “a method well calculated to lead into the path of convincing evidence and well-ascertained truth,” we must presume that the plan preferred is making known only what has been said on one side; or, if they cannot be concealed, accompanying the arguments on the other side with such depreciating comments as may effectually prevent their receiving any real attention. Why the demand for profound and impartial thought on the most important topics of human inquiry, that which might be supposed to have, of all possible employments, most tendency to sober the mind and impress it with a feeling of solemn responsibility, should be judged likely to excite“ party feeling, wordy disputation, unholy levity, and rash decision," is what we cannot understand, nor can we conceive how the prerequisites for the successful study of the Scriptures demanded by Dr. Smith in the passage immediately following that which we have quoted, should appear to him to be opposed to the views of his rival, or to be any thing different from what every theological instructor, whatever might be his peculiar opinions, must desire to find amongst those whose studies he is called upon to direct.
Guided by the arrangement of Dr. Smith's work, we shall now apply ourselves to notice such portions of it as the limits within which this article must necessarily be contined, will allow us to select for animadversion; and we must begin by exposing the sophistry of the first chapter, entitled, “ On the Evidence proper to this Inquiry :"
“We cannot,” says Dr. S., “reasonably doubt of the Unity of God, in every sense in which unity is a perfection : but to the exact determination of that sense we are not competent. A manifest unity of intelligence, design, and active power, does not warrant the inference that unity in all respects, without modification, is to be attributed to the Deity. For any thing that we know, or are entitled to presume, there may be a sense of the term unity which implies restriction, and would be incompatible with the possession of all possible perfection.”-P. 10.
We ascribe unity to the Deity. Unity is a word—a significant sounda sound significant (like all words) only from the power of association, and having no sense inberent in itself which may remain unknown to those acquainted with its ordinary usage. It is not like many words, the notions corresponding to which in different minds are very different : on the contrary, the meaning it conveys, on all other subjects besides the one now under consideration, is definite, clear, and universally agreed upon. Why then do we employ it upon this subject ? Either our meaning is the same as when we apply the same term to other subjects, or we use the word in a
Joose sense to express some resemblance or approximation to the usual one, or we use it without any distinct meaning at all. It is very possible to use a word without meaning, as part of a formula which we have been early taught, and which, without having been reflected upon, is associated, as a whole, with certain notions of sanctity and duty; but we manifestly cannot so use a word as ihe result of our own observations or inquiries : it cannot, therefore, be in this manner that we ascribe unity to the Deity from the study of his works. Neither is it in the loose sense, for when we reason from unity of intelligence, design, and active power, to unity of mind, and therefore of being, the argument may or may not be conclusive ; but it has no meaning, no existence whatever, if we change the sense of the term. It is plain, ihen, that the unity of the Deity, as a doctrine of natural religion, (u hether established by sufficient evidence or not,) is unity in the obvious sense of the term, and is opposed to plurality of persons, hypostases, or distinctions, of whatsoever kind, in the Divine Nature.
After some farther argument on our ignorance of the essence and mode of existence of the Deity, Dr. Smith proceeds to say,
is These remarks have been made with a view to shew that there is no antecedent incredibility in the supposition, that the infinite and unknown essence of the Deity may comprise a plurality-not of separate beings-but of hypostases, subsistencies, persons; or, since many wise and good men deem it safest and most becoming to use no specific term for this ineffable subject,- of distinctions; always remembering that such distinctions alter not the unity of the Divine Nature. For any thing that we know, or have a right to assume, this may be one of the unique properties of the Divine Essence; a necessary part of that Sole Perfection which must include every real, every possible excellence; a circumstance peculiar to the Deity, and distinguishing the inode of His existence from that of the existence of all dependent beings."
Now we have shewn that so far as the argument from Nature for the Divine Unity is good for any thing, (we will not press it as conclusive,) it is an argument for Unity, in the obvious and usual sense of that term, excluding and opposed to all plurality. No one can say that any appearance of Nature sanctions the doctrine which is contended for; and from the philosopher to the savage, no one possessing the use of his reason, ever heard it proposed for the first time, or first applied himself to study it, without feelings of surprise and of repugnance. It is hardly then too much to say, that there must exist in every unprejudiced mind a justifiable indisposition towards its reception - an indisposition which may indeed be overcome by evidence, but which must require to overcome it evidence clear, direct, consistent, and abundant. We are called upon to admit this notion of plurality in unity on the authoriiy of revelation, whilst, inconsistently enough, we are told in the same breath that it cannot be understood. It is represented that we may conceive it possible that there may be a sense of the term Unity consistent with such pluraliiy as exists in the Divine Nature, though the term Unity is an arbitrary sign, unmeaning, except as it excites by association a certain notion in the minds of those who hear it; and the notion which it thus represents is, with equal correctness, represented by the phrase "absence of plurality;" that is to say, we might as consistently affirm existence and nonexistence of the same thing, at the same time, as unity and plurality: yet every attempt at rendering the ideas at all compatible is proscribed as heresy. We cannot even know what to call the distinctions in the Divine Nature : 'if we use the common term persons, we must consider that term as having a