Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Did 18th Century Unitarian Clergy Believe Biblical Inerrancy?

Jon Rowe from American Creation website makes this comment:
Many of those "New England" clergy referred to were, like Jonathan Mayhew, theological unitarians. And they didn't proof quote the Bible as final trumping authority when asserting the "rights," similar to or the same as those found in the DOI. The Bible was referenced as authority. And so was the book of Nature. These "rational Christian" clergy thought the two needed to work together for ultimate Truth discovery (they were not Sola Scriptura evangelical Protestants).
My research has shown there were not many "New England" clergy like Jonathan Mayhew, but only a handful, and only limited within the Boston area:
Unitarians, who are principally confined to Boston and its vicinity.
-Boston Patriot, May 13, 1815.

Even later on, Yale President Timothy Dwight, and Jedidiah Morse had led the defense against the spread of Unitarianism:
By the 1830's, evangelicals had successfully contained Unitarianism within the Boston area and the West had become the new battleground for Orthodoxy.
-Stephen E. Berk, Calvinism Versus Democracy. Anchron Books, 1974, p. 199.

Likewise, in the afore-mentioned quote from Rowe, Unitarians rejected Biblical Inerrancy "final trumping authority". However, every unitarian periodical of the period adhered to Sola Scriptura. It was not until Henry David Thoreau hi-jacked unitarianism with transcendentalist views in the 1840's and 1850's, that it departed from Biblical Inerrancy.

The "rational christians" were Sola Scriptura Christians that employed man's reason, including: Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee, Timothy Dwight, Jedidiah Morse, and Ezra Stiles. Thus, you have these Evangelicals always quote man's reason.

Here is more:
And as I observe, most of the relevant "rights" came from Nature, not the Bible; though after discovering the rights in Nature, the Bible was then referenced for support. And sometimes those discoveries in Nature (like the right to rebel against tyrants!) were used to interpret or otherwise explain away parts of the Bible that seemed to teach otherwise (like Romans 13).
Logically, rights cannot have their authority in nature (See Adams' Rights of the Colonists). As soon as these rights become useful to society, they must become written law. Once they are on paper, they become the work of man; inferior to the Divine Law (Hamilton through Blackstone), never able to govern man as John Adams clarifies:
The passions and appetites are parts of human nature as well as reason and the moral sense. In the institution of government it must be remembered that, although reason ought always to govern individuals, it certainly never did since the Fall, and never will till the Millennium; and human nature must be taken as it is, as it has been, and will be. [bold face mine] 
--Defence, 3:289, 479. Cf., Cited by Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2002), 49.
The Form of Government, which you admire, when its Principals are pure is admirable indeed. It is productive of every Thing, which is great and excellent among Men. But its Principles are as easily destroyed, as human Nature is corrupted. Such a Government is only to be supported by pure Religion, or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a possitive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. [bold face mine]
-John Adams to Mercy Warren, April 16, 1776.

The gallant Struggle in America, is founded in Principles so indisputable, in the moral Law, in the revealed Law of God, in the true Constitution of great Britain, and in the most apparent Welfare of the Nation as well as the People in America, that I must confess it rejoices my very Soul.
--Clarendon letter as printed in the Boston Gazette, 20, Jan. 1766.
Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.[bold face mine]
--Letter to Zabdiel Adams (1776-06-21)

Reformed theologians, who the framers borrowed from, believed in Sola Scriptura. 18th Century Unitarians used Natural Law to support--as I do--Sola Scriptura. Abdication has its roots in the Old Testament, and Romans 13 is not clear-cut doctrine, nor fundamental. 18th Century Unitarians--with the Evangelicals--quoted: John Locke, Richard Hooker, Blackstone, Montesquieu, Grotius, and Puffendorff.

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