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in the personal Deity of our Saviour, be an essential part of the Christian faith, it is clear, that these doctrines must have been communicated to Paul between the time that Jesus appeared to him on the way, and the time when he was baptized by Ananias. But have we any evidence that any such doctrines were revealed to him at that time? Not the slightest. The Scripture account of Paul's conversion does not contain one word which can possibly be construed into even an allusion to these doctrines. On the contrary, we have in the Scriptures not only highly presumptive, but I had almost said, positive evidence, that when Paul commenced preaching Christianity, he was totally ignorant of the doctrines in ques
We are told that immediately after his conversion, "he preached Jesus in the Synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”* Now, if it had been revealed
to Paul, that in the Deity there are three persons, each of whom is a distinct object of religious worship; or that Jesus, who so lately was born and resided in Judea, and was put to death by the Jews, was the Supreme Eternal Jehovah, surely such revelations would have astounded and absorbed every faculty of his mind, and these doctrines, as they would have been pre-eminent in importance, would have held a corresponding place in his preaching. But do they? So far from it, that we find not only no mention made of them, but not even an allusion to them in all the discourses of this great Apostle, which have come down to us. Let us take a rapid view of each of those which have been recorded by St. Luke.
Immediately after his conversion, we are told, that he "confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this (Jesus) is very Christ. Here then we have the burthen of his teaching, and we see, that it is precisely the same with that of Peter. The great fundamental truth, that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, the anointed Messenger of God, is what he intends to impress on his audience. Of the doctrines of the Trinity, and of the personal Deity of the Saviour, we have not a word. And now I ask the reader, whether what Paul teaches here is not pure Unitarianism?- Whether any Trinitarian teacher of the present time, would, in endeavoring to
Acts ix. 20. I have shown in my letter to the Rev. Mr. West, that the terms Son of God and Messiah, were used convertibly among the Jews, to designate their expected Prophet and Deliverer. The common version reads here Christ instead of Jesus, but according to Griesbach, Newcome, Vander Palm, and, I believe all good authorities, Jesus is the true reading.
+ Acts ix. 22.
convert Jews to Christianity, confine himself to the doctrine which Paul taught?-But to proceed.
In the 13th chapter of the Acts, we find recorded a discourse delivered by Paul at Antioch, from which I shall extract some passages. “Of this man's (David's) seed hath God according to his promise, brought unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus."* "And though they found no cause of death in him, (Jesus) yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a Sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead.” | “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through THIS MAN is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” I
The next discourse of Paul, which I shall notice, is that to the Jews at Thessalonica, which we find recorded in the 17th chapter, as follows: "And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alledging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead, and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” §
In the same chapter we have the record of the discourse which Paul delivered at Athens. Here, as he addresses, not Jews, but idolatrous heathens, he commences by revealing to them the God and Creator of the Universe, as the true object of worship; and in the 31st verse, he announces our Saviour to them, not as God, or as equal with God; but as God's vicegerent;-as a man by whom God will judge the world in righteousness, “whereof he hath given assurance unto all men,
in that he hath raised him from the dead."
In the 18th chapter we read, || that, at Corinth, Paul "reasoned in the Synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was earnest in the word, and testified to the Jews, that Jesus was the Christ."
The sacred historian has not left us on record any other discourse of Paul relating to the subject under consideration; but there is one passage concerning one of the earliest heralds of Christianity, which I wish to notice. Of Apollos, it is said, that in Achaia, “He mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly showing by the Scriptures, that Jesus was Christ.” I
I have thus endeavored to give a short connected view of the principal discourses contained in the book of Acts; and I now wish to recall the readers attention for a moment to their principal contents. Everywhere we find the doctrine, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the anointed messenger of God, inculcated and insisted on as the fundamental truth on which the whole of Christianity rests; and we constantly find the fact, that our Saviour was raised from the dead by God, brought forward as conclusive proof of his Messiahship. But no where do we find the doctrines of a Trinity of persons in the Godhead, or of the proper Deity of Christ, either expressly taught, or even so much as hinted at. And now I would ask the reader, whether doctrines, of so much moment, could have possibly been passed by unnoticed by Peter, Paul, and their fellow labourers, if such doctrines had at that time formed
of the Christian faith?—Whether the phraseology they make use of in speaking of our Saviour, is not precisely that which is used by Unitarians at the present day? Whether they ever hear similar phraseology from the Trinitarian pulpits? And whether from all this the inference is not irresistible, that the Apostles of Christ, and hence too the first converts to Christianity, were Unitarians ?
I have thus endeavored to prove that the Christian Church was Unitarian during the Apostolic age, by showing, that the teachings of the Apostles were such; and here, therefore, I might terminate my examination. But the book of Acts contains still another and different species of proof of the Unitarianism of those early days, and of this I would take a brief view before I close.
That the doctrine of the Trinity, if true, is one of momentous importance, will be readily admitted by all; and a moment's reflection will convince the reader, that such a doctrine could not have been introduced among a people who believed in the simple Unity of God, without creating a very strong sensation, of which we must find traces in the history of that day. That the Jews of that age, like those of our own, worshiped the God of their fathers in the simple Unity of His Being, will, I trust, not be disputed. Now if the Apostles had announced to these Jews, that, besides the Father, who had hitherto been the sole object of their worship, there were also a God the Son, and a God the Holy Ghost, each of whom was severally God, and as well as the Father, the object of religious homage, such a doctrine must have produced a great sensation among them. It must have appeared to them, as a direct infringement of their national faith, and as such must
have been to them peculiarly offensive. But do we find that the Jews took any such offence at the teaching of the Apostles? In vain should we look for it in the book of Acts. We find no trace of it there. We find, on the contrary, evidence there, that during the whole period to which those records extend, that is, for at least thirty years, the Christians and the Jews worshiped jointly, and for aught that appears, peaceably in the same temple, and the same synagogues, a thing which could not have been, if the one had directed their religious homage to three distinct objects,* while the other adored their God as a Being of simple Unity. †
But perhaps it will be said, that the Jews did persecute the Christians on account of their religious faith, and that this proves, that that faith contained articles which were offensive to them. I admit the fact, but I contend that the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the personal Deity of Christ, was not of the number. Happily for the cause I am advocating, the book of Acts gives us a distinct account of the several causes of offence which the Jews took at the teaching of the Apostles, and it is to an examination of these causes, that I intend to devote the remainder of this essay. In this examination, I ask the reader to accompany me, and he will be convinced, that the doctrine of the Trinity was not among them.
Besides the great fundamental doctrine of the Christian Church, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ or anointed of God, which was received by the Christians, and rejected by the Jews, and was the great wall of separation between the two parties, there were other opinions held by the former, which occasionally gave offence to the latter. Let us now see what we find in the book of Acts on this subject.
In the beginning of the 4th chapter we are told, that while the Apostles were speaking to "the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them;
I hope no offence will be taken at my thus stating that Trinitarians have three distinct objects of religious worship. To convince himself of the correctness of my statement I refer the reader to the litanies of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Episcopal Churches, where he will find distinct pray, ors addressed to God the Father, to God the Son, to God the Holy Ghost, and to the Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, as to separate and distinct objects of worship
+ It is evident from the whole book of Acts, and from other parts of the Scriptures, that the Apostles and early Jewish converts, continued to the last to consider themselves as members of the Jewish Church. This fact appears to me not to have received the attention it deserves. It shews that the Apostles considered their new faith as being in perfect harmony with the great fundamental doctrine of the Jewish religion.
being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead." Here the causes of offence are distinctly stated. They are, that they taught the people, and that they taught the doctrine of the resurrection. The government was now in the hands of the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection, and hence the preaching of this dogma was particularly offensive to them.
In the 5th chapter we read that the Apostles were again brought before the council, because, in disregard of the orders of the rulers, they continued to teach. The accusation against them this time is: That they had filled Jerusalem with their doctrine, and intended to bring this man's (Christ's) blood upon the rulers,* that is, render these latter accountable for his death.
In the 6th and 7th chapters, the sacred historian has recorded the accusation brought against Stephen, and his death. The accusation is, that he had said, that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the holy city or temple, and change the customs instituted by Moses. t We are told that to obtain evidence of the truth, even of this charge, it was necessary to suborn witnes
But surely this would have been a totally useless piece of villainy, if it could have been proved that he sought openly to introduce strange or hitherto unknown objects of worship, as the doing so would have rendered him clearly amenable to the laws of his country. I
While on the subject of Stephen, I would observe, that the vision, with which this first of Christian martyrs was favoured, to animate him in the hour of danger and of death, is perfectly decisive of the Trinitarian controversy. We are told, that “he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." Here God, and Jesus who stands at his right hand, are spoken of as two perfectly distinct beings. To sit or stand on the right hand of a king or throne, is a figure of speech, derived from oriental customs, and denotes that the one thus represented as sitting or standing at the right hand of the throne, is next in authority under the king.|| When, therefore, our Saviour is represented as sitting or standing on the right hand of God, the meaning is, that, in his state of exaltation, he is next in authority under God. But surely, the God on the throne, and Jesus standing on the right hand
V.28. + Acts vi. 14. Deut. xiii. 5. Acts vii. 55. || This explains to us the request of the mother of James and John, recorded "Matt. XX. 21, and the reason why that request gave so much offence to the other disciples.