The Narrowness of Dogmatism

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I TURN now briefly to notice some circumstances to which Mr. N. refers in his narrative, which have importance only so far as they concern the alleged narrowness of which he accuses dogmatism. That those who were decided in not owning Mr. N. as having the faith of our Lord Jesus were not very wrong, this book pretty clearly proves. But I must correct some things as to his reception, and the grounds of his rejection. Mr. N.'s account of what led to the "Irish Clergyman's" visiting Oxford, is inexact; but there is nothing that is of the smallest importance to any one. What led him to call in question Mr. N.'s claim to be amongst those who held the full truth as to the divine glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, was this:-A companion of the party who set out for the East (J. H.) returned while they were still in the East, his health suffering from the climate. The person (Mr. J. G. B.) to whom, as I suppose, Mr. N. refers as a "most intimate spiritual friend," who wrote him word that "painful reports had been everywhere spread abroad against his soundness in the faith," and pointed out the channel, asked J. H. if he thought of returning. At least Mr. J. G. B. did write to Mr. N., stating the doubt as to his soundness in the faith; and he did so, from J. H.'s answer, which was, that it did not suit his health, but that, indeed, at any rate he could not, for that Mr. N. denied the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mr. J. G. B. rebuked him for allowing himself to suppose such a thing, refusing to believe it. J. Η. declared that, before they arrived at Bordeaux, on their way out,1 Mr. N. was seeking to persuade them of it. The consequence was, Mr. J. G. B. wrote to Mr. N., when in quarantine. The "Irish Clergyman" also wrote, and had a correspondence with Mr. N. Mr. N. admitted fully to him that Jesus was Jehovah. He pressed on him that, if so, the Jehovah of the Old Testament was the only true God. He seemed to be irritated with the conclusion; and, though the "Irish Clergyman" pressed the passage, "He is the true God, and eternal life," declared that he would not go from the plain passage: "The Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he had sent."
He has not now (it is nineteen years ago) Mr. N.'s letter to him containing this avowal of Jesus being Jehovah; but he has in others abundant proof of it, which will be produced in a moment. He was, however, quite clear that he could not own him as holding the truth of God. Mr. Ν. states, that the "Irish Clergyman" declared that, in the passage alluded to, the Father meant the Trinity (one of the fathers says so as to a passage). The "Irish Clergyman," through mercy, has doubtless made progress in the truth, and if not kept through mercy, would be always liable to err, and to say foolish things; but he must certainly doubt that he said the Father meant the Trinity, until he sees some proof of it.
Mr. Ν. makes a great outcry against the Christians amongst whom he sought to enter, for their bigotry and narrowness. Of course, as Mr. Ν. now thinks God a very little matter, provided people are amiable, his denying Christ, or having a false one, and worshipping what was not the object of worship, was no matter, provided people were good friends. It is a current doctrine now, much in vogue. But there are still Christians, who believe that God, in His supreme love, became a man and so died for them in love-that the first of duties, the truest affection, without which all others are vile, is to appreciate this, and Him who did it, as we ought-that the first of all obligations is to the Savior-and that to slight this, and to attempt to sustain love in despite of this, is the chiefest wickedness and the worst of all dispositions. We owe something to Christ; and if He be dishonored and slighted, I may seek to win, but I cannot be the loving companion of, one who has deliberately denied my Lord. To me, to live is Christ. To own Him, and dishonor Him, is worse than heathenism: it is to own and acquiesce in His dishonor, when I know better. The man who believes Christ to be God, and is the professed Christian companion of him who denies it, is worse than the latter. We may all, alas! err; but he who knows the truth, and accepts what he knows degrades Christ, is deliberately preferring ease and companionship to Him, though he may dignify it with. the name of love. Every effort to recover is right; but a step in acquiescence is a step in disloyalty to One whom no one would have dared to dishonor if He had not come down in love.
To return: efforts were made and every pains taken, and that, until Mr. Ν. called any further reference to the subject persecution. And the fact is, Mr. Ν. declared that he fully believed Christ to be Jehovah, and was admitted on that ground. He professes amazement at finding others had such a thought. He declared then he held it fully; and, instead of not being received-shut out in the cold way he speaks of—-he was received, and expressed his joy in the happy fellowship he found.
My proofs will be very simple. I commit no indiscretion in giving them. As Mr. N. has thought right to give an account of these circumstances, I am surely warranted in giving an exact one, and affording adequate evidence of it.
The points arc very simple. Mr. N. professes himself astonished that the saints he had to say to believed that Jesus was Jehovah. I shall show that he professed that doctrine himself. He complains of bigotry which rejected him. I shall show that he was received, and that he professed himself very happy among them.
One or two circumstances in addition may be added. The Christians, among whom he sought to be received, did ask him whether he believed Christ to be Jehovah, on account of what they heard, and of his urging the derivation, subordination, and inferiority of Christ in His Godhead, and insisting that the Father was the only true God, though Christ was true God, and declining to say if He was derived in time or not. He replied, as I have said, to the "Irish Clergyman," who wrote to him on account of the first general report of his unsoundness, that he did believe Him Jehovah, but that his arguments from the Old Testament would never make him relinquish what he saw to be taught in the New-that the one God was the Father only. The "Irish Clergyman" never was satisfied, nor was Mr. J. G. B. But to one in London, who conferred with him, he declared he believed Him to be Jehovah. I have the letter of this person before me: he says, "No doubt is entertained by him [Mr. N.] as to the essential nature of Jesus: he confesses Him Jehovah, Lord of Sabaoth, God of God, and adores Him as Immanuel that bore the punishment of sin due to us. He foolishly as I think braves the name of Arianism." This Christian received him, judging it was only believing, as the ancient fathers, "the Father to be the fons deitatís." With these expressions, the "Irish Clergyman," to whom it was addressed, did not meddle; his difficulty was in the heart of the matter, not in terms. Did his soul own Jesus to be, in the true full sense, God manifest in the flesh-not, as it is commonly slipped out of now also, the manifestation of God in the flesh, but God manifest? The "Irish Clergyman" was satisfied he did not, but that he believed that, though Christ partook of the divine nature, by generation, not by adoption, He was an inferior God. And so he did, though he avoided owning it. Hence the question put by the former, as to Jehovah, and his pressing when he owned it, that Jehovah was God and none else; and Mr. N.'s accusation of Tritheism, or Sabellianism, repeated in the work now replied to, in the very words of letters then written, and still in existence. But the Christian in London, with whom he was staying, was satisfied. He adds: "My laxity has not been condemned by the saints at P-to whom F. W. N.-is gone, and by whom received in love."
From P-one wrote to the "Irish Clergyman," "I do not see that we can fairly charge with Arianism one who is willing to confess that Jesus is Jehovah of hosts, and that He is to be honored even as they honor the Father, though I cannot help feeling afraid lest the doctrine of His Sonship, as the Word, should not be sufficiently checked by such texts as Philippians, and, 'before Abraham was, I am.'" He was thus received, and thus himself speaks in a letter addressed to the "Irish Clergyman," of those whose bigotry he now exclaims against:-"In truth, no one knows what we have lost in our various church systems, till he tastes the sweetness of the love of God, and savor of Christ, shed forth in a company of believers, professedly united as such. I greatly bless and thank God for bringing me hither, though for a little time, to receive and impart the consolations of Christ; and never have I been more drawn out into continual supplications than that the Lord will keep them meek, humble, and loving, as now. I am so struck with the contrast between the congregation here, and that at B—," &c.
Mr. Ν. was received then; and, as it appears, abundantly happy with those amongst whom he came.
In Ireland, I apprehend, there were still difficulties; and he did not go there, and went, as he states, to another place in England, to be in fellowship there. There he was freely received, and stayed some time, the ministers being quite satisfied. Mr. Ν. wishes peace to this congregation; and he tells us how he came in among them, but not why or how he left them. All this part of the story is passed under silence. Did they suddenly become bigots, or under the power of dogma? How did he lose the comforts of fellowship with those on whom he confers his present blessing? Did he give it them in parting too? He glides from his reception here into his renouncing Calvinism; and the "phase of faith," or whatever it was, which made him part company with their good-.will and simple kindness, is not told.
Yet surely at such a point, when he was really giving up christian society-and we can now say, Christianity-some information of how he came to do so would have been important.
I think these Christians, estimable as they were, were quite wrong. I do not understand christian communion where the true Christ is denied, neither in this case nor in any other. Some of my readers may learn, from this affair of Mr. N.'s that such is not a new principle with saints; at least, not with some.
But Mr. Ν. after all had said to some of those who received him, that he saw nothing in scripture to forbid him to suppose a beginning to Christ's existence; and correspondence was renewed with those who at P- had received him; and in a very long exposé of his creed he states, "The ancient test was, to confess Christ to be (ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας), made of the essence of the Father, and not made out of nothing (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων); in short, begotten, not created. The modern test is, to confess that Christ is Jehovah. I do not think that Athanasius ever dreamed of the distinction between Jehovah and Adonai being of importance to the doctrine of Christ's divinity, or cared any more to distinguish the two words, than did the writers of the New Testament. When H- urged me to this confession, I inquired whether Jehovah meant simply very God; and supposed it immaterial whether I confessed Christ to be Jehovah or to be true God, and was willing to adopt the former to quiet any fancies that I took God in any lower sense than the essence of Godhead; and I truly believed and believe the Lord Jesus to be ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοπυ Πατρός. But now I see I had better have kept to this ancient confession." And further on: "And now let me ask, Whom am I to believe to have died for me? Did MERELY the man Jesus die? as the Sabellian generally say (which convicts their system of practical Socinianism); or did the Word and Son of God die? Unhesitatingly I believe the latter. But can any one say that Jehovah died on the cross, and yet that Jehovah is but one individual? One Jehovah lives while one Jehovah is dead, yet there is but one Jehovah," &c.
I have no wish to drag the reader's mind into these already infidel questions. They show what the real value of the confession of Jesus being Jehovah amounted to.2 I cite them only for that purpose.
But at that time Mr. N. was fully received into the congregation to whom he wishes peace in his book, with the approbation of their ministers. Hence, if others who earnestly denounced (and the "Irish Clergyman" did) this acquiescence in his doctrine were bigots, he had, as he states in this book, "gained time and repose of mind." The result of his repose, and twelve long years of leisure added thereto (for this took place at the end of 1833, and he was among his new friends in the beginning of 1834), we have in this book-i.e., a total denial of all claim of Christ to be the Messiah.
The perusal of all these letters has awakened the hope that he cannot have been entirely deceiving himself as to the joy in Christ he then thought he possessed, nor his declaration that He was his all, his salvation, and his reward, as taught of the Spirit. God grant it may be so! and only a solemn example of the rapid downward course of one who, "leaning to his own understanding, is a fool." That it was intellectual dealing with scripture, no one, as I judge, reading the letters, can doubt a moment. He still speaks of the doctrine (of Christ's being the true God) being a mere intellectual dogma. Now this, on the face of it, is absurd. To say, that the question whether the One I worship is entitled to worship as the true God is a mere intellectual dogma, is a contempt of all sense which needs no comment to put it in its true light. Α person who thinks, as Mr. N., that he might worship Gabriel if he were as morally perfect as God, has evidently lost all spiritual sense of what God is at all.
For my own part, I hold what I held then. I believe that Christ, not opinion, is the center of union; but I never meant, nor do I mean, that a true Christ and a false one were equally good as a center, provided people are amiable one with another; for this means that union is man's amiability, and the denial of Christ. What do I want of union if it be not union in Christ, according to the power of life, through the Holy Ghost?
The business of those united is Christ's glory. If Christians ever unite on a condition of that not being essential, their union is not christian union at all. I have no reason for union but Christ, the living Savior. I do not want any union but that which makes Him the center and the all, and the hope of it. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren; but to make that a plea for indifference to Christ's personal glory, in order to be one with him who, calling himself a brother, denies and undermines it, is, in my mind, wickedness.