Monday, October 10, 2011

Was Rev. Samuel West Orthodox? Part Deux

Continuing from my previous post on Rev. West, he left no smoking gun about his faith--his friends were not certain either, but he did comment on free will. This is puzzling given the unitarians were a tight group who communicated with each other, no doubt feeling the heat from the Orthodox majority. Although my earlier post clearly shows West affirmed Calvin's total depravity, this early primary source, claims the opposite:
That is, he [West] asserted free will for man in opposition to Calvin's doctrine of fore-ordination and irreparable election, and man's ability of moral choice in opposition to the doctrine of "total depravity."
Should we not take a person's own words over another's testimony? Where are the smoking guns affirming unitarianism from his contemporaries? Reading his Ordination he was an Orthodox Christian:
This..Christ..as our high priest who offered himself up to God a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world.. he is to be preached up as the only Mediator between God and man..that he came to redeem us both from the penal consequences of Adam's first transgression..to increase our knowledge of the doctrines of, the gospel..that through his atoning blood and perfect righteousness..Can anyone imagine faithfully that he preaches Christ, who very seldom in his discourses mentions his name; and who never insists on the doctrine of atonement, with which the new testament so much abounds? Shall gospel ministers leave out the principle end of Christ's coming..?
Where is West's words to refute this? I have read Christians who claim West was a unitarian, however, affirming Arminianism is not synonymous with heterodoxy--at least in the 18th century. Moreover, Timothy Dwight was a sort of Arminian. The fact is, none of these unitarian preachers: Jonathan Mayhew, or Ebenezer Gay, et al., were rationalists in the mold of Thomas Jefferson. Any attempt to label a system of rationalism to any "group" of founding fathers, or founding preachers contradicts the evidence. If Thomas Jefferson truly denied the supernatural, West had a stiff rebuke for him:
[C]an anyone think, that he has faithfully discharge the trust reposed in him, who insists altogether in what is called natural religion, without ever mentioning the pecularly doctrines of revelation? Why should we separate what God has joined together?..Where the doctrines of meer natural religion are insisted on to the neglect of the pecular doctrines of revelation; we can at most expect to find a few fashionable, civil, gentlemen, but destitute of real piety.  
However, there is evidence as to West's heterodoxy:
With reference to Dr. West's position on the doctrine of the Trinity, his granddaughter, Mary C. West, of Tiverton, (recently deceased,) wrote in a communication printed in the Evening Standard of this city in March, 1883, as follows: "If his children were competent witnesses (my father and aunt) I can say that they have often told me that their father was an Arminian Unitarian. * * * I have heard my aunt many times tell this story. When she was a little girl her teacher set her to learning a catechism, — I think it was the Westminster, but at any rate it had the Trinitarian formula in it: 'The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.' She was at home studying her lesson in a loud voice, and her father heard her repeating the above formula and called her to him and held up three of his fingers (as she always did when she told the story), and asked her how three could be one, took the book from her and put it in his pocket, and told her to tell her teacher that he would get her another catechism, which he did. I think the one he got her was called 'The Franklin Catechism,' or 'The Franklin Primer."
Who do we believe? Do we believe West's own words, or this statement years after the fact?

15 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

This..Christ..as our high priest who offered himself up to God a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world.. he is to be preached up as the only Mediator between God and man..

This also fits with unitarianism, however. It seems illogical that if Jesus is God Himself, he is also mediator.

It seems that unitarianism was split on the Atonement. West explicitly acknowledges it here; we also see John Jay have reservations about Jesus' divinity, but explicitly says that Jesus died for our sins.

On the other hand, John Adams professes unitarianism, but rejects the Atonement as well.

One common theme in unitarianism---and this could apply to Locke as well, if he was one---is that Jesus is still Messiah, Our Saviour, the Redeemer. They call him that all the time. Some unitarians held that it was simply in bringing the Gospel; others that he did indeed die for man's sins and win our salvation.

I do agree strongly that the "unitarian Christians," as they called themselves, are not to be compared with Thomas Jefferson, who neither accepted the authority of the Bible as Divine Writ, nor saw Jesus as any sort of God-sent messiah.

I also agree there's no smoking gun re West's unitarianism; I would not, however, take the words of his granddaughter in 1833 as gospel truth: people lie.

BTW, vociferous anti-unitarian and uber-Calvinist Timothy Dwight began to disbelieve in "total depravity" circa 1810, if I recall correctly.

Our Founding Truth said...
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Our Founding Truth said...
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Our Founding Truth said...
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Our Founding Truth said...

Why would it be illogical for a God-man to be a mediator unto God, as only God can access God, that no mortal could--or look upon? Jesus said no man has seen the Father but the Son, who has revealed Him.

Unitarianism under Channing--not in the 18th century--partook of communion only as a ritual, not as atonement for justification. 18th Century unitarians did not view the atonement was conected to the Incarnation. Unitarian John Adams would have no part in communion given he understood its meaning. Adams even rejected the Orthodox verbage in his 1797 Thanksgiving fast.

In the quote referred to, West clearly believed Christ's Blood Atoned for Sin unto justification, linking it with Adam's Sin. Although he could have been faking it due to the audience.

John Jay called Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God, proving Jay's issue with the Trinity referred to "according to sundry creeds" such as the Westminster Confession. The framers had serious problems with creeds, but I don't see why. The Church only made those creeds to combat pelagianism.

The 18th Century unitarians rejected the Orthodox words "mediator" "merits" or "Redeemer" by not using them.

Samuel West's grandaughter's quote was supposedly published in 1883--much later than when the event happened--very suspect.

Do you have that quote about Total Depravity from Dwight?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Why would it be illogical for a God-man to be a mediator unto God, as only God can access God,

Um, no. I am no mediator to meself.

As for the rest, I don't visit you to fight, only to hope that you open your mind to investigate further. I think the unitarians calling Jesus the Messiah, Savior and Redeemer is significant.

As for Dwight and "total depravity," it was something I ran across in my studies. As I'm no Calvinist, I really didn't give a shit either way. I was just trying to help and share what I ran across with you and point you in that direction if you choose to follow it up.

Peace, brother, and rock on. You do come up with good stuff. I just think you overshoot yr evidence.

Our Founding Truth said...

I do not ever recalling unitarians using the words redeemer or mediator. Those are Orthodox words connecting justification with the Atonement and His Priesthood.

If West were unitarian, he believed Christ only a man, an example of receiving God's mercy given to every man that believes. The Orthodox words West uses imply a different meaning. Moreover, I doubt I am over-shooting the evidence given West specifically says Christs' blood atones for Adam's guilt.

You usually have those quotes in your hip pocket.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Channing, 1814:

The word UNITARIANISM, as denoting this opposition to Trinitarianism, undoubtedly expresses the character of a considerable part of the ministers of this town and its vicinity, and the commonwealth...We both agreed in our late conference, that a majority of our brethren believe, that Jesus Christ is more than man, that he existed before the world, that he literally came from heaven to save our race, that he sustains other offices than those of a teacher and witness to the truth, and that he still acts for our benefit, and is our intercessor with the Father. This we agreed to be the prevalent sentiment of our brethren."


Bold face mine. More here:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/02/who-were-unitarians.html

The unitarian Christians of the Founding era didn't make Jesus just a man or a moral philosopher, as Jefferson did. Although he's just not God, divine, he's still a "special" phenomenon, Son of God in ways that the rest of us aren't.

Mostly, I was agreeing with you, including that Samuel West specifically recognizes the Atonement in the quote you give. As I said, why Jesus was Redeemer varied among unitarians. For West, clearly the Atonement, at least for that early speech.

BTW, President John Adams' public Thxgiving proclamation of 1798, "public" being more important than his private letters, esp after he left public office and public life:

offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming; that all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction...

On its face, a Trinitarian formulation, but as I posit, also one that passes unitarian muster.

Our Founding Truth said...

Tom,

Why do you quote Channing, then immediately quote this: "The unitarian Christians of the Founding era?"

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jim, I think that unitarianism in the Founding era was very unfocused, and the only thing they had in common was a reservation about Jesus being God.

Tellya the truth, I think it was more a theological fad, an outgrowth of the revolt against the Roman church's "magisterial" authority about interpreting the Bible.

If you're actually interested in the Biblical controversy, there's Samuel Barrett's "One Hundred Scriptural Arguments
For the Unitarian Faith"

http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/modules.php?file=article&name=News&sid=30

It's not bad, and seems very devout, sola scriptura-wise. Published in 1825, but I think these Biblical arguments were kicking around for at least 100 years, and Barrett just collected them, just as Unitarianism got its capital "U" as a sect of Protestantism---and just before Theodore Parker and Ralph Waldo Emerson led "Unitarianism" into a rejection of the Bible as the Word of God, and opened "Unitarianism" into "free-thinking," which meant all bets were off about Revelation.

[The very elderly William Ellery Channing did give his assent. I do think William Wilberforce turned out to be right, that unitarianism was a "halfway house" to "infidelity." Today's Unitarian Universalist Church doesn't even require you believe in God.]

I've studied unitarianism and Unitarianism as a result of our mutual friend Jonathan Rowe. In fact, I even had a modern Unitarian Universalist thank me for giving him the history of his "church."

You can be a preacher if you want, Jim. I question nobody's relation with the divine. I just try to keep the facts straight for everybody, so at least they have a grounding in the facts of this world.

I have no idea what God thinks about fundamentalists, Catholics, unitarians or anybody else, even Mormons. He hasn't told me yet.

;-)

All I can do at this point is the history part and try to keep you on the straight and narrow on the facts. The rest, well, that's your thing. I wish David Barton would check his work with some people like me and stop making an ass of himself.

Our Founding Truth said...

If you don't claim some of the framers were unitarians--not Orthodox--you are claiming they were Arians, and there is no evidence for that. The framers never wrote they were Arians, and George Washington was a simple man who did not decipher his religion, but, instead, as James Madison wrote, "took it as he found it."

Arianism believes Christ was created, and not the same nature as God, thereby claiming two gods, making themselves idolators. The Bible most clearly says God will not share His Glory and worship with another. Jesus accepted worship. Socinius made the mistake of giving worship to Christ without claiming He was God, so the 17th century Arians called it idolatry and separated from that group--the 18th century leaders (unitarians) of that group were: Priestley, Lindsey, and Belsham.

It was the unitarians that kicked the Arians out of their club. The unitarians--mentioned above--and their followers: TJ, Franklin, and Adams, rejected the Orthodox terminology: Redeemer, and Mediator, merits etc. Thus, only the Orthodox used these terms. Channing's unitarianism is not that of Priestley, Belsham, Lindsey, TJ, Franklin, and Adams. Channing borrowered from Orthodoxy to make unitarianism more viable. Something the old-timers would not have done.

Belsham was the leader of the unitarians that kicked the arians out--with Priestley and Lindsey's approval:

"[H]e proposed the formation of the Unitarian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Practice of Virtue by the Distribution of Books (1791). The project was heartily supported by Priestley, Lindsey and others and won a large membership from all parts of the kingdom. Its purpose was to form a closer union of scattered Unitarians about their common interests, and to print and circulate books and tracts to promote their faith. It fell to Belsham to define the object of the society in the preamble to its Rules. Since his purpose was to organize a society consisting strictly of believers in the proper unity of God and the simple humanity of Christ, uncorrupted by any kind of worship of Christ such as Arians more or less approved, and which he stigmatized as sheer idolatry, he shaped the rules of the society so as explicitly to exclude these. This limitation was opposed by some, but it was approved by Priestley and Lindsey, and was retained, though it involved the loss of a considerable number of members."

--History of Unitarianism by Earl Morse Wilbur
http://www.pacificuu.org/wilbur/ahu/book/

This French Reformer high-lites the contradictions of arianism from it's offshoot unitarianism.
http://www.classicapologetics.com/a/AlancientJ.pdf

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I think you highlight that unitarianism was all over the map, esp until it got its capital "U" in the early 1800s.

I'll just share some opinions and factoids I've run across; do with them as you will.

The formal theologies are covered here

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/unitarianism.html

and rather supports my idea that Priestley and English unitarianism isn't the American strain. Priestley had at least one church in America, but during his presidency in the then-capital of Philadelphia, self-proclaimed unitarian John Adams never set foot in it. He did attend services at most of the other denominations, including, I gather, evan a Catholic one, and you know how anti-Catholic he was.

Mostly, I find John Adams' thought incoherent, and little to be learned from him. His Thxgiving proclamation of 1798 seems of far greater historical importance than his private babblings.

As for Jefferson, he says he's a "sect to himself" and I rather accept that.

I agree about Washington's disconcern for doctrine [altho he supposedly collected printed sermons. This would say he found doctrine interesting, but not that he made up his mind about any of it. That he didn't "decipher" his religion is an excellent way to put it.

Franklin, I think, shouldn't be put with Jefferson. Now here also was a guy who didn't give a hoot for doctrine one way or the other, didn't "decipher his religion." He wrote Ezra Stiles at age 83 he hadn't studied or thought about Jesus being God much, and expected to find out soon with little trouble. He died several months later, and hey, he found out.

[Jefferson, on the other hand was absolutely hostile to doctrine!]

As for Belsham, memory sez he was at the center of the battle for control of untarianism [the orthodoxy of the unorthodoxy!] and again, iirc, the context of the Channing quote I posted above is Channing claiming that the majority of the Boston area ministers agree with him and not Belsham. [Not with Priestley either, since he's of the same stripe.]

To me, only the historical context is relevant, and for you since you're a Trinitarian, the tall weeds of unitarian belief don't really matter either.

To me, the prime question is how much these Founding =-era unitarians believed that the Bible was Divine Revelation, directly the Word of God. I think almost all did, and "rationalism" was a secondary tool, arguing against misinterpretations or corruptions in translation or by later generations of clergy.

In contrast to Jefferson---whom I don't think regarded the Bible as the Word of God in any fashion, more like the collected moral philosophy of Jesus.

And I think Franklin's view of the Bible is that he just didn't know whether it was the Word of God or just a very wise book---either way he liked it.

The linked article from the Stanford goes a bit into Jesus' role as Messiah, etc. If Jesus has a role higher than mere wise man or moral philosopher, or even prophet like Moses, this takes on great significance, too. My view is that Jesus is singled out as on a unique mission from God, to reveal God's will in a way Moses could not, and as for his nature, it's very tall theological weeds, but the

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subordinationism

of Samuel Clarke [a brillian metaphysician]

isn't quite the same as Arianism: Jesus is still, as Channing puts it, "more than a man."

Not Christian enough for you, but as a socio-historian, a belief in the Bible as Divine Writ and Jesus as uniquely "more than a man" is close enough for rock'n'roll to me.

[Esp in the "Judeo-Christian" context, since Jews don't accept Jesus as any more than a man.]

Good luck, hope this clarifies things.

Our Founding Truth said...

but during his presidency in the then-capital of Philadelphia, self-proclaimed unitarian John Adams never set foot in it.

Adams never set foot in it, but Adams adherred to Priestley's theology. He wrote TJ how he missed Priestley.

Remember from my AC days, Adams put Franklin in the same train as Bolingbroke and Blount? Both those guys were rationalists, as TJ was.

Jefferson claiming he was a "sect to himself" seems in error. Franklin was friends with George Whitefield; no doubt Whitefield told him the Gospel--probably attended more than one revival-- albeit in the 1730's and 40's. How could he not think about what his friend was preaching in every colony, attending Church as he did? Franklin grew up in the Great Awakening! His parents were Calvinists. He obviously thought about Orthodoxy early on, and rejected it. Bad memory heh?

Channing, 1814:
The word UNITARIANISM, as denoting this opposition to Trinitarianism, undoubtedly expresses the character of a considerable part of the ministers of this town and its vicinity, and the commonwealth...We both agreed in our late conference, that a majority of our brethren believe, that Jesus Christ is more than man, that he existed before the world, that he literally came from heaven to save our race, that he sustains other offices than those of a teacher and witness to the truth, and that he still acts for our benefit, and is our intercessor with the Father. This we agreed to be the prevalent sentiment of our brethren
."

Most of the old-timers had passed on, and I don't read any rejection of them. Second, Channing mixed Orthodox aspects of the Lord's ministerial offices--Locke ignored them--with unitarianism.

Adams did not believe Jesus was a Mediator. Channing even implemented Communion. Do you think Adams, TJ, and Franklin took Communion? Recognize the dynamic? A book could be written on the difference.

Remember, Franklin said the Bible was corrupted, when he wrote Judges 4:17 was an interpolation.

My desire is to refute what secularists are trying to promote--that TJ was the poster boy for ALL the framers, and our founding documents are heterodox and secular, as Jon Rowe et al., promote. If I have to document 99% of those 18th century framers received Communion to shoot down their MO, I will.

I know you don't believe this, but I believe our founding documents are Orthodox Christian, not arian or unitarian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As stated, I think John Adams' thought is incoherent. I'll stick with the public Adams who issued the 1798 Thxgiving proclamation. I find little evidence anybody really cared what John Adams thought---not even Jefferson, if you read their letters. Jefferson tends to ignore the content of Adams' babblings.

I do know Abigail Adams endorsed Channing, and she seems more sensible than he.


And yes, I know you want to impute the Founding to orthodox Christianity. I don't think you can get there without stretching the facts. We do, however, agree that the secularists/strict seperationists overdo the Enlightenment greatly, and ignore the currents of both Scholastic and Calvinist "resistance theory."

I could go with the idea that orthodox Christianity was the main pull, but dissenters or skeptics like TJ and Franklin and others [Madison?] had a de facto veto power that prevented going any further than

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2009/10/deist-minimum.html

which was much more than mere "deism."

Again, I think you're on solid ground if you concentrate on the unique nature and mission of Jesus, and the belief that the Bible is revelation, Divine Writ.

The degree to which they held the orthodox views of those two factors is still only a matter of degree, not kind, for in Protestantism are many mansions.

Our Founding Truth said...

If we leave Christianity to the States, those handful of skeptics will have little to do. Moreover, the Continental Congress wrote in Orthodox terms (as we have previously discussed), not to mention, the vast majority of Virginia Jeffersonians were Trinitarian, which nullifies what TJ believed.

As to James Madison, it is more than fair to quote him while a public servant than in retirement. With that said, what can any secularist present to refute JM affirming the Trinity, and Pre-destination as late as 1778?