Saturday, May 25, 2013

Isaac Watts' Unitarianism

A very interesting link here.  A taste:
“In The Glory of Christ as God-Man, Dr. Watts hazarded the opinion that ‘Michael is Jesus Christ, because he is called…the first of the princes, that is, the prime archangel.’4 Watts ‘confirms this sentiment’ that Christ and Michael are the same beings from Revelation 12:7. He continues, ‘Perhaps this Michael, that is Christ the King of the Jews, is the only archangel, or prince and head of all angels.’5 A little later he ventures the opinion that ‘Jesus Christ was that angel who generally appeared in ancient times to the patriarchs and to the Jews.’6 
“According to Watts, God constantly resided in this angel (Christ-Michael) and influenced this angel.7 God has now given this archangel, or prince and head of all angels, dominion and power over all things. ‘This government of Christ is frequently represented as a gift and a reward, and therefore must belong eminently to the inferior nature [of Christ], which alone is capable of rewards and gifts from God.’8 It is because God has exalted Christ to be intercessor that Christ can particularly assist man, and not because Christ can himself ‘bestow effectual succour and relief.’9 In keeping with the spirit of his century Watts proposes to give ‘A rational account how the man Jesus Christ may be vested with such extensive powers.’10 Christ, he declares, does not now know ‘every single thought, word, or action of every particular creature,’ but does know ‘all the greater, more general, and more considerable affairs and transactions of nations, churches, and particular persons.’11 Christ’s human soul is ‘the brightest image or copy of the divine nature that is found among mere creatures.’12 ...
This sounds similar to how the Jehovah's Witnesses view Christ.

6 comments:

wsforten said...

If the author of that article had read Watts' own preface to his book, The Glory of Christ as God-Man, then he would have realized that Watts already predicted and refuted the charges presented in the article. This preface is an essential guide to Watts' views on the Trinity, and it should be read in its entirety by anyone studying the theology of the Father of English Hymnody. Here is small excerpt which should be sufficient to demonstrate that the above article is greatly flawed:

In the first of these Discourses I have maintained the Godhead of Christ in his appearances under the Old Testament ... In the second and third Discourses perhaps they will find some things, which though they are derived from scripture, yet appear to be more uncommon, and which have not been taken notice of by many authors. With regard to these, I beg leave to make these few requests to those who will seriously and with an honest heart peruse what I have here written ... 2. That my readers would not be startled and discomposed at any thing which may seem new and strange to them at first appearance, nor be frighted at a sentence, as though heresy were in it, because it may differ a little from the sentiments which they have hitherto received. That very same notion in any science whatsoever, which may perhaps surprise us at first, by reading further onward may become plain and easy and certain: and I can assure them, that there is not one sentence in all these Discourses, but what is very consistent with a firm belief of the Divinity of Christ, and a just and sincere concern for the most eminent and glorious truths of the gospel, as they are professed by Protestants among us against the Socinian and Arian errors.
( http://archive.org/stream/gloryofchristasg00watt#page/n11/mode/2up )

This preface was Watts' final statement on the subject of the Trinity before his death two years later, but the view expressed therein is identical in substance to the view which he expressed repeatedly throughout his life. Here is a note from 1729 (nearly 20 years prior to the above quote) in which Watts expressed the same opinion and stated that it was the same view which he held in a sermon published published more than 20 years prior to that. The link will take you to both the note and the sermon which it references.

This discourse was delivered above twenty years ago, and the reader will observe some warmer efforts of imagination than riper years would indulge on a theme so sublime and abstruse. Since I have searched most studiously into this mystery of late, I have learned more of my own ignorance: so that when I speak of these unsearchables, I abate much of my younger assurance; nor do my later thoughts venture so far into the particular modes of explaining this sacred distinction in the godhead. There appears to me good reason to doubt, where there can be three distinct and different principles of consciousness, and three distinct and different wills in the one God, the one infinite Spirit. What distinctions may be in this one Spirit, I know not: Yet, since I am fully established in the belief of the Deity of the blessed Three, though I know not the manner of explication, I dare let this discourse appear now in the world, as being agreeable so far to my present sentiments on this subject. A larger and more particular account of my most mature thought on the doctrine of the holy Trinity, may be seen in the last sermon of my third volume. -- April 8, 1729.
( http://books.google.com/books?id=EMgOAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA182 )

wsforten said...

In addition, I would recommend reading Francis Parkman's 1812 article "Was Dr. Watts a Believer in the Supreme Divinity of Jesus Christ?" Here is a brief excerpt:

Unitarians claim to rest their faith, not at all on the authority of names, but on the ground of reason and revelation. Yet no people, perhaps were ever more fond of appealing to names, than they ... we have long been satisfied that to the name of Watts they were not entitled. Indeed we have considered the case so clear, as scarcely to admit of inquiry or discussion ... That the views of Dr. Watts respecting the Trinity and the person of Christ underwent a degree of change in the course of his life, is not denied. But what was the nature of this change? and to what did it amount? These are the questions; --and in replying to them we shall show, conclusively, that the change of sentiment on the part of Dr. Watts did not amount to a renunciation of the Trinity, but merely to a different, and, (as he thought,) a more full and consistent explanation of it; and that he continued, to the last, a firm believer in the supreme divinity of Jesus Christ.
( http://books.google.com/books?id=y4KApt1TEFcC&pg=PA17 )

Jonathan Rowe said...

If you google around you see Watts has also been accused (for good reason, see below) of being a Sabellian (in today's parlance we might term that modalism).

The way I personally understand and categorize Sabellians or Modalists is that they are neither Unitarians nor Trinitarians. Though I have seen some sources categorize them as Unitarians. And some of them, apparently, like to think of themselves as Trinitarians. Though they are not Trinitarians in the strict sense of the term, believing not just in the full divinity of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, but that each is an ETERNALLY DISTINCT Person.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Starting on page 696:

http://tinyurl.com/ptyqbhj

wsforten said...

Jon, I have read pages 696 through 700, but I have not seen anything which shows Watts to have been a Sabellian. Would you mind explaining exactly which statements you have perceived to be in that vein?

wsforten said...

To demonstrate that Watts was not a Sabellian, let me suggest that you begin your reading at page 413 rather than 696. In the conclusion of the discourse beginning at 413, we find Watts saying:

To conclude, let us with humble faith read and believe this glorious doctrine of the christian trinity, so far as it is declared in the holy scripture: Let us adore God the Father, as the author of all our mercies and our hopes. Let us trust in Jesus Christ his Son with a divine faith, as our alsufficient Saviour, and obey him as our sovereign Lord. Let us wait for and seek the almighty and divine influences of the blessed Spirit to enlighten, to sanctify and to comfort us, and to carry us onward in our way to heaven. Let us be constant and zealous in paying these divine honours to the sacred three, which the word of God hath appointed, and upon which scripture hath taught us to expect eternal life: And then if God be faithful, and his gospel true, eternal life shall be our portion in the other world, though we know not how to explain all divine mysteries in this.

Now to the Father, the Son, and the holy Spirit, three persons and one God, be all honour and glory, and everlasting praise, amen.

( http://books.google.com/books?id=5zI_AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA492 )

This is a direct refutation of Sabellianism which teaches that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not three distinct persons but rather three modes of existence of the one person of God.