Alexander Campbell Definitions and Answers to Questions--No. I (1840)






B E T H A N Y, VA. FEBRUARY, 1840. =================================================================


      "WHAT is a Unitarian?" Etymologically it means one that believes in unity--in simple unity, without regard to person, place, or thing. Technically it denotes one that is opposed to trinity or tri-unity in the godhead or deity. All Christians say that "there is but one God, and one Mediator between God and men--the man Christ Jesus." But he is more than a man, more than an inspired man, more than an angelic man, more than any created thing. These theories have different names--such as Humanitarian, Socinian, Arian, Semi-Arian, &c. But we enter not into the merits of these shadow of shades of metaphysical abstractions.

      I use the term Unitarian in its obnoxious sense, as indicating one who regards the death of Christ as not for sins, nor for sinners; but for a proof of his sincerity and benevolence. With the real Unitarian no real sin-offering, no real atonement was needed; and therefore Christ died as a martyr. This, with me, is practically no better than theism. Indeed, such a person says he does not believe "that Jesus died for our sins;" or "that he, the Just One, suffered for the unjust."

      Many theists believe that Jesus Christ lived and died in Judea, at the time affirmed, and that he was a great reformer--a pious and excellent man--liberally inspired, as other sages were--and that he was slain by the hands of wicked Jews and Romans. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine both believed all this; but they laughed to scorn the idea of his dying for sin as an atoning sacrifice.

      Many persons have been called Unitarians, and some have so called themselves, who believe in the death of Christ as a sin-offering, who reject trinitarianism because of its unscriptural, unintelligible, and barbarous phraseology; regarding it as a system of polytheism; who, nevertheless, know not what to say or think of the pre-existent or ante-human state of the author of Christianity; some repudiating the phrases "eternal son," "second person," "consubstantial," "co-equal," "very God of very God," "Supreme Deity," &c. &c. They reject these terms because to them barbarous and incomprehensible; but have no distinct idea or name for the antecedent state, relation, or character of Him that was made flesh. These differ, in my judgment, very materially from the Unitarian, who has no other use for Jesus than as a prophet, a king, or a martyr; therefore virtually rejecting every thing that concerns his high priesthood. The phrase "Supreme Deity" is, to my mind, perfectly Pagan. What! have we got one supreme Jove with his retinue of inferior gods and demi-gods! I was [81] once asked by a very conceited and self-confident preacher, whether I believed that Jesus was the Supreme God? Had it not been in a worshipping assembly, I would have asked him how many inferior gods he acknowledged? I neither believe in one supreme god, or more. The term Jehovah is itself indicative of the supreme. What would any sensible person say to him that asked him, 'Sir, do you believe that Jesus Christ was a human man--a supreme man?' Would he not reply, 'Sir, with me, man is man. I know nothing of supreme humanity, nor of supreme divinity. If any being be human, he is human; if he be divine, he is divine, possessed of a nature which has no positive, comparative, or superlative degrees in it. Indeed, what nature has in it degrees of comparison! It is not the divine, the angelic, the human.' I have long taught that the Trinitarian, Arian, and Sabellian theories are wholly a corrupt speech--irrational and unscriptural speculations.

      But there is this difference: All Trinitarians believe in the divine nature of Jesus Christ, and in his death as a real sacrifice for sin--an expiatory offering, without which there could be no remission. I believe this most sincerely, but without any fellowship for their humanisms, their barbarous diction, and unscriptural modes of reasoning on the subject. Therefore that Unitarianism which I repudiate denies both the divine nature of my Redeemer, and the necessity of his death as a sin-offering in order to remission.

      It is long since we proposed to abandon all this style, and to call Bible things by Bible names. Our brethren have generally agreed to do so; but in their definition of certain Bible names, I have sometimes seen a sense imposed upon them wholly modern, and which would ultimate in a doctrine as certainly unapostolic as either Arianism or Trinitarianism.

      I have therefore suggested to the propounder of this question, and to others who seem to object to my style as too Trinitarian--that a calm, discreet, affectionate, fraternal, and unimpassioned discussion of the terms "sin," "sin-offering," "sacrifice for sin," "atonement," "propitiation," "reconciliation," "expiation," (or purification, for they are two versions of the same word,) "redemption," "remission," "righteousness of God," "Mediator," "Redeemer,"--would tend very much to the edification of the brethren, and to a more perfect union of all the elements of modern partyism which have been associated under the banners of Reformation.

      I have accordingly proposed to have an aged brother, an old student of the Bible, well versed in these matters, to write four pages per month for the Harbinger; and should any difference occur, I will occupy four [82] pages in biblical criticism upon such terms as may not be by us understood in the same sense.

      All this can be done without the least interruption of the most perfect Christian feeling and obliging good manners. And thus may we help one another forward on our journey out of the labyrinths of false philosophy, false philology, and false theology; and concentrate not only our own minds, but those of all the brethren, on the study of the holy scriptures, and the immense and soul-absorbing themes represented by those celestial terms which I have collected in this essay.

      I will only add that I have addressed, not long since, our amiable, learned, and greatly venerated Elder B. W. STONE, who has propounded this question on this subject, before I knew that he was about to revive the "Christian Messenger." And as the matter can have a more extensive hearing in this paper than in any other, I proposed it to be the medium of communication. Besides, I have in the present number, before I heard of his intentions, given reasons why I must object to a discussion, going on in two papers as holding opposite sides on any question whatever.

      I therefore most respectfully and affectionately solicit from him an essay on Sin and Sin-Offerings, exegetically and philologically, (or, if any one prefer a more intelligible style,) scripturally setting forth the import of these terms in sacred writ. I must limit the essays to four octavo pages each.

A. C.      

[The Millennial Harbinger (February 1840): 81-83.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Definitions and Answers to Questions--No. I" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 4, No. 3, February 1840. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell, 1840), pp. 81-83. For related documents, see Campbell's "Embryo Heresy," "Heretical Periodicals," Barton W. Stone's "Communication," and the exchange between Stone and Campbell in the eleven-part series "Atonement," published in The Millennial Harbinger during 1840 and 1841.

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. I have let stand inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and typography; however, I have offered corrections for misspellings and other accidental corruptions. Emendations are as follows:

            Printed Text [ Electronic Text
 p. 81:     upreme Jove [ supreme Jove
 p. 83:     interruptionof [ interruption of

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 24 June 1998.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell Definitions and Answers to Questions--No. I (1840)

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