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by the Editors of the Unitarian Version of the New Testament, which I mean to contest, is, that it is an Improved Version.
Surely, there is no arrogance in asserting, that a Translation, about to be proved fundamentally erroneous, and systematically calculated to mislead, is based either upon defective scholarship, or uncandid and dishonest criticism. One or other of these causes must have operated in its production, if it be, what I undertake to demonstrate that it is, a gross and palpable distortion of the original text.
It does not, however, follow that, because the Unitarian interpretation of the New Testament bears this character, all Unitarians are defective scholars, or uncandid and dishonest critics. Many of them may have received their opinions through the channel of traditional education; and may never have deemed it obligatory upon them to examine the matter for themselves. There is in Unitarianism a peculiar tendency to generate carelessness and indifference, as to the groundwork of religious belief, owing to the negative character of the theology called by that name. The dogmata are too few, too general, too unimportant, to elicit enquiry, or to excite anxiety as to their truth. And one great object of this discourse will be gained, if any of its hearers, who are under the influence of what I cannot but regard as deadly error, should be stimulated to institute an examination into the matter, on their own account.
The charge, however, of defective scholarship, was virtually made by the Unitarians against us. To retort that charge is necessary to our self-defence. All the scholars in the country, of all sects and parties, except their own little body, had been satisfied for centuries with the correctness of the common version of the Scriptures,
in all essential points. A version makes its appearance, under Unitarian auspices, in all essential points, opposed to that in use, declaring itself to be an IMPROVED VERSION! What was this but to tax those who maintained the general correctness of the old translation with want of learning, or with want of integrity,-with ignorance of the truth, or with being satisfied with error.
But I am willing to regard the question in the most enlarged point of view. I do not know how some of the modern successors of Priestley, Lindsey, Wakefield, and Belsham, may stand affected to the Improved Version. The lapse of years may have floated them on to still further improvements. I contend that no Unitarian interpretation of the passages in the New Testament, which bear upon the points at issue, could be reconciled, at once, with sound scholarship and honest criticism. It would have been obviously impracticable for me to have gone through all the works of all the Unitarians who have criticised the Sacred Writings. And if it had been practicable, it would have been useless. For it might justly have been stated that the Unitarian body is not responsible for the opinions of all its members. I take, therefore, this extraordinary production as the standard of Unitarian theology in this country.
Let my hearers attend to the following statement, and they will think that I am justified in coming to this conclusion.
More than thirty years ago, this book was published under the title of "THE NEW TESTAMENT IN AN IMPROVED VERSION." Who sent it into the world? For aught that appeared on the title page, indeed, the reader would not have suspected that it was intended to propagate the views of a party. On the contrary, that title page was so composed as to lead him to imagine the book to be
the production of members of the Established Church. The New Version professed to be constructed on the basis of the work of one Archbishop; and a motto was selected from the writings of another Archbishop. Add to this, that it was stated to be published by "a Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge."
How much of candour and honesty there was in this proceeding, the patrons of the Improved Version seem themselves to inform us. For, subsequently, as if ashamed of the subterfuge, they did place upon the title page, "The Unitarian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.” Surely, a version of the Scriptures, made under the direction of the Unitarian Book Society, must be a development of Unitarian interpretation.
The history of this Society will prove that its measures, especially in connection with this book, were those of the whole body. They have all that belongs to authoritative and official proceedings, except the name.
This Society was instituted in 1791. The mode of attaining its object is thus described in the preface to its Rules:"This is the chief object of THE UNITARIAN SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE AND THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUE, by distributing such books as appear to the members of the Society to contain the most rational views of the Gospel, and to be most free from the errors by which it has been long sullied and obscured, they think it their duty to oppose the further progress of such pernicious errors, and publicly to avow their firm attachment to the doctrine of the UNITY of God, of his UNRIVALLED and UNDIVIDED authority and dominion; and their belief that Jesus Christ, the most distinguished of the Prophets, is the CREATURE and MESSENGER of God, and not his EQUAL, nor his VICEGERENT in the formation and government of the
world, nor co-PARTNER with him in divine honours, as some have strangely supposed."*
Of the Unitarian Book Society, we are informed, "from its first origin, it had always been a principal object to publish an Improved Version of the Holy Scriptures, and particularly of the New Testament."+ Accordingly a committee was formed, consisting of all the ministers connected with it, for the purpose, and the Version before us was the result.
Is it unfair to regard this as the authorized development of Unitarian Interpretation?
This Society has since been merged into another, whose objects are, apparently, more extensive. The new Society is designated "THE BRITISH AND FOREIGN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION." The fund connected with the Improved Version is under its management, the book is on its catalogue, until lately, at the head of it-the place which it occupied in the catalogue of the old Society-almost every Unitarian congregation in England is connected with it; as well as almost every Unitarian Minister enrolled among its members and subscribers. It was"Formed for the promotion of the principles of Unitarian Christianity, at home and abroad; the support of its worship; the diffusion of biblical, theological, and literary knowledge, on topics connected with it."§
* I have tried in vain to get an original copy of these rules. My quotations are made from a book entitled, "A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Society called Quakers against Thomas Foster."-London, 1813. Mr. Foster was a member of the "Unitarian Book Society."
+ Introduction to Improved Version.
"I think that our Committee does right in placing the Improved Version,' at the head of the catalogue, because, no book which is designed only to explain and enforce the doctrines of Scripture, can be so important as the Scripture itself."-Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of England, by James Yates, M.A., Secretary to the British and Foreign Unitarian Association.
§ Thirteenth Report, 1838.
I ask if the Version of the New Testament, thus authenticated, is not the official exposition of the creed of Unitarian Ministers, as much, for all purposes of controversy, as the doctrinal articles of the Church of England are of the Ministers of that church? *
*This question has been twice answered in the affirmative, under remarkable circumstances. The Society of Friends, in their proceedings against one of their members, many years ago, regarded his being a member of a Society, the first book upon whose catalogue (meaning the Improved Version) "was calculated to subvert the principal truths of the Christian Religion," as one proof of his Unitarianism.—See Foster's Narrative, 174.
The other instance is still more remarkable. It will be fresh in the recollection of all my readers. I refer to the judgment of the Vice-Chancellor, in the matter of Lady Hewley's Charity. "I must say, that this book, which is called an Improved Version of the New Testament, affords a strong inference, that any person belonging to a society which can promote the publication of such a work, cannot come under the description of a 'poor and godly preacher of Christ's Holy Gospel,' even according to the view taken by the defendant's counsel; because the work, although pretending to be a translation of the New Testament, is not a translation, and can therefore only be regarded as a creed, which the makers of it intended to impose upon others; thus violating the principle of the sufficiency of Scripture, and the right of private judgment, as maintained by the English Presbyterians: for it makes, in fact, no difference, whether a creed be expressed in a form of words, or whether a thing called a translation is propounded to mankind, which refuses to give the literal sense of words, and substitutes other words..... I do not remember to have ever seen any translation more unsatisfactory, more arbitrary, more fanciful, more silly, and (I must say,) more false, than this thing, called an 'Improved Version;' and I am persuaded that Lady Hewley would have thought it the worst calamity that could have happened to her, that persons should be considered entitled to participate in her charity, though calling themselves 'Godly preachers of Christ's Holy Gospel,' who could encourage a society that published such a translation as this."-The Vice-Chancellor's remarks in delivering his judgment, &c. as quoted by Mr. Yates.
And what, let me ask, does Mr. Yates's elaborate defence of the "Improved Version," against his Honour's criticisms, prove, if not that the book is the standard of Unitarian interpretation.
That certain parts of it are objected to by certain members of the Association, does not prove, that the work, as a whole, does not receive even their sanction. I will, however, transcribe the following sentences, from Mr. Yates's letter,-not more, on account of the information which they convey, than because I rejoice in the opportunity of being able to transfer to my pages, the testimony, well deserved, I have every reason to believe, to the