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A Discourse, preached at the Dedication of the Sec
ond Congregational Unitarian Church, New York, Dec. 7, 1826. By William ELLERY CHANNING. New York. Published for the Second Congregational Unitarian Church. 1826. pp. 57.
The Unitarian controversy in this country was commenced in 1815, by the publication of a pamphlet entitled, “ American Unitarianism; or a ‘Brief History of the progress and present state of the Unitarian Churches in America ;' compiled from documents and information communicated by the Rev. James Freeman, D. D. and William Wells, Jun. Esq. of Boston, and from other Unitarian gentlemen in this country : By Rev. Thomas Belsham, Essex street, London ; extracted from his Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Theophilus Lindsey, printed in London, in 1812, and now published for the benefit of the Christian Churches in this country, without note or alteration." In June, 1815, this pamphlet was reviewed in the Panoplist, an Orthodox religious journal, at that time published, monthly, in this city. This review drew forth " A Letter to the Rev. Samuel C. Thatcher," then one of the Unitarian clergy of Boston," on the” alleged “ aspersions contained in a late number of the Panoplist on the Ministers of Boston and the vicinity ; by William E. Channing, minister of the Church of Christ in Federal street, Boston.” This Letter was answered by the Rev. Samuel Worcester, D. D., at that time pastor of the Tabernacle Church, Salem. Two additional pamphlets were published by Mr. Channing, and two by Dr. Worcester. The controversy, as carried on in separate publications, was then suspended till 1819. The principal object of the Orthodox in this first discussion, was completely attained. Unitarianism, which had before operated and spread in secret, was brought to light. Its existence, and something of its real character, were made known; and, from that time, the concealment of a minister's religious system has, in this part of the country, been difficult, if not impracticable.
Unitarians began now, in their periodical journals and in conversation, openly to state and advocate their opinions, and to oppose and denounce those of the Orthodox. The
The weapons of attack and defence they employed, were chiefly derived from Biblical literature. Erroneous readings, mistranslations, and wrong interpretations, were the charges perpetually preferred against the doctrines of the Orthodox, and the scriptural arguments by which they were maintained. The Orthodox, it was alleged, had too superficial an acquaintance with the original languages of the Bible, and with those kindred dialects which have thrown so much light upon scriptural phraseology, and their investigations of the composition and history of the Bible were too limited, to ascertain what portions of the received text were genuine, and what were the doctrines really taught in those portions. Had they a little more learning, especially the learning requisite for a successful criticism of the Scriptures, they would, generally, there was no doubt, become Unitarians. The study of Biblical criticism was, moreover, beginning to be cultivated among them; and the result, it was confidently and often predicted, would be, a rapid disappearance of the antiquated doctrines of Orthodoxy. And what was the result ? In 1819, Mr. now Dr. Channing preached and published his Baltimore sermon, which seems to have been the concerted signal for Unitarian clergymen generally to begin the distinct avowal of their opinions from the pulpit. This sermon was replied to by the Rev. Professor Stuart of Andover, in a series of " Letters to the Rev. William E. Chan
The points discussed in these Letters were, “ The principles of interpreting the Scriptures ; and the unity of God, and the divinity and humanity of Christ,” as, in the view of the Orthodox, taught in several passages of the New Testament. The argument of Professor Stuart was conducted almost entirely on the principles of Biblical criticism. These Letters were never answered ;* and from the time
*We are aware that the writer of a review in the Christian Examiner for September and October, 1824, has said, p. 368, “ We had, with amazement, both seen in print, and heard in conversation, the assertion, that no reply had ever been made to Stuart's Letters on the Trinity; and hence, in a tone of boasting, it was inferred that they were acknowledged to be unanswerable; notwithstanding that a most thorough and conclusive reply had been printed in the Christian Disciple, and a very large separate edition eagerly bought up, and spread through the community.” An assertion, which must fill every candid reader, acquainted with the facts, with “ amazement.” Professor Stuart's argument was almost entirely scriptural, consisting in a critical examination of a portion of the passages of the New Testament supposed by the Or
of their publication, very little has been heard from Unitarians about Biblical criticism.
The trial of Orthodoxy was now transferred to another tribunal, that of philosophy. Its doctrines were declared to be irrational and absurd, wholly inconsistent with the perfections of God, and the freedom and accountability of man. No one, it was alleged, who had a just sense of his dignity as an intelligent creature, and of the rectitude and goodness of God, could believe them.
This was the general strain of remark in regard to Orthodoxy and its advocates for two or three years, until the close of the controversy between Dr. Woods and Dr. Ware, in which the sentiments of Unitarians and of Trinitarians and Calvinists were discussed chiefly on this ground. From that time we have heard little about the philosophy of the two systems. They were now brought to another test, that of tendency.
Dr. Ware's Postscript to his second series of Letters, which closed his discussion with Dr. Woods, appeared in 1823. In the same year was published in this city an octavo volume, of four hundred and eighteen pages, entitled, “ An Inquiry into the comparative moral tendency of Trinitarian and Unitarian doctrines ; by Jared Sparks.” Orthodoxy, it was thodox to teach the doctrines of the Trinity and of two natures in Christ, while the argument of the writer of the article in the Christian Disciple referred to, was almost entirely philosophical, consisting in an examination of the consistency of the doctrines mentioned with reason. Nor is this all. The writer of that article had himself only claimed that it might be considered “ a virtual answer” to Professor Stuart's Letters, and had said in his very first sentence, “Instead of confining our attention exclusively to Professor Stuart's Letters, we bave thought that it would be more useful and more satisfactory to our readers, to give a general view of the subject in controversy, with the reasons for our own opinions, without particular reference to his work."