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Friday, August 26, 2011

Was John Locke a Christian?

Whether John Locke denied the Christian fundamentals, I do not believe anyone knows. From below, it seems clear Locke viewed the Tri-unity of God as a mystery, not denying it, but rather having no clear knowledge it is true. Unless someone has proof Locke rejected Communion, what is the basis to not call him a Christian? Yes, Locke ignored the Book of Hebrews, and may have said "the bible says nothing of Christ's satisfaction for sin" however, this point needs to be examined further. Rejecting Original Sin may not necessarily mean rejecting the Deity of Jesus Christ. He rejected being called a unitarian in his reply to the Lord Bishop of Dorcester, "In these words therefore, above quoted, I am to find the satisfaction your lordship has promised, as to the occasion why your lordship made me one of the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning, and in that joined me with the unitarians, and the author of Christianity not mysterious. But I crave leave to represent to your lordship, wherein the words above quoted come short of giving me satisfaction." In his first letter to the Lord Bishop, he sounds like a philosopher, speaking of essence, nature, person, etc. and refrains from being dogmatic on Christian mysteries"
Your lordship has been pleased to favour me with some thoughts of yours in this kind, in your late learned “Discourse, in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity;” and, I hope, I may say, have gone a little out of your way to do me that kindness; for the obligation is thereby the greater. And if your lordship has brought in the mention of my book in a chapter, intitled, “Objections against the Trinity, in Point of Reason, answered;” when, in my whole Essay, I think there is not to be found any thing like an objection against the Trinity: I have the more to acknowledge to your lordship, who would not let the foreignness of the subject hinder your lordship from endeavouring to set me right, as to some errours your lordship apprehends in my book; when other writers using some notions like mine, gave you that which was occasion enough for you to do me the favour to take notice of what you dislike in my Essay...This seems, to me, the natural conclusion flowing from your lordship’s words; which seem here to suppose clear and distinct apprehensions (something like clear and distinct ideas) necessary for the avoiding unintelligible talk in the doctrine of the Trinity. But I do not see your lordship can, from the necessity of clear and distinct apprehensions of nature and person, &c. in the dispute of the Trinity, bring in one, who has perhaps mistaken the way to clear and distinct notions concerning nature and person, &c. as fit to be answered among those who bring objections against the Trinity in point of reason. I do not see why an unitarian may not as well bring him in, and argue against his Essay, in a chapter that he should write, to answer objections against the unity of God, in point of reason or revelation: for upon what ground soever any one writes in this dispute, or any other, it is not tolerable to talk unintelligibly on either side. If by the way of ideas, which is that of the author of the Essay of Human Understanding, a man cannot come to clear and distinct apprehensions concerning nature and person; if, as he proposes from the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, such apprehensions cannot be got; it will follow from thence, that he is a mistaken philosopher: but it will not follow from thence, that he is not an orthodox Christian, for he might (as he did) write his Essay of Human Understanding, without any thought of the controversy between the trinitarians and unitarians: nay, a man might have writ all that is in his book, that never heard one word of any such dispute.



If your lordship had showed me any thing in my book, that contained or implied any opposition in it to any thing revealed in holy writ concerning the Trinity, or any other doctrine contained in the bible, I should have been thereby obliged to your lordship for freeing me from that mistake, and for affording me an opportunity to own to the world that obligation, by publicly retracting my errour. For I know not any thing more disingenuous, than not publicly to own a conviction one has received concerning any thing erroneous in what one has printed; nor can there, I think, be a greater offence against mankind, than to propagate a falsehood whereof one is convinced, especially in a matter wherein men are highly concerned not to be misled.

The holy scripture is to me, and always will be, the constant guide of my assent; and I shall always hearken to it, as containing infallible truth, relating to things of the highest concernment. And I wish I could say, there were no mysteries in it: I acknowledge there are to me, and I fear always will be. But where I want the evidence of things, there yet is ground enough for me to believe, because God has said it: and I shall presently condemn and quit any opinion of mine, as soon as I am shown that it is contrary to any revelation in the holy scripture. But I must confess to your lordship, that I do not perceive any such contrariety in any thing in my Essay of Human Understanding.

--Oates, Jan. 7, 1696-7

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