The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
The Disciples were called Christians First in Antioch.—Acts xi. 26
The Disciples were called Christians First in Antioch.—Acts xi. 26.
Sir,—Being much engaged, and not in the way of seeing your publication, I did not know until to-day of your reply and that of Nicodemus to my letter. You seem quite satisfied with Nicodemus's answer, and say that my position was quite indefensible. Very strange, then, that neither you nor Nicodemus, although both wrote, has attempted at all to assail it.
My position was this, that the name "Christian" required something more than a belief in the "Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man"—your basis of comprehension. Nicodemus, instead of assailing this, assaults another proposition of which "Unitarians" are the objects. Another time, perhaps, that proposition may be discussed; meanwhile my present position has been merely avoided, and remains perfectly impregnable.
Indeed you have altogether conceded it. For you have admitted that the Apostles and immediate followers of Christ regarded the dogmas I referred to as essential parts of Christianity. Surely, then, there is nothing more for me to contend for. If any men ever existed who knew and could authoritatively say what Christianity meant and necessarily included, those were the men. For any man at this day to say that he has the proper conception of Christianity, and the Apostles had not, is an amount of presumption beyond all belief. It was while these Apostles, &c., were asserting these dogmas as essential, that the very name of "Christian" was assumed as being characteristic of those who held them (Acts xi. 26), and even though we could bring ourselves to believe your utterly incredible theory that those Apostles immediately after the departure of Jesus "sadly distorted and impoverished" the faith of their master; still, the name of "Christian" was determined to be expressive of that doctrine which they preached while anathematising all change (Gal. i. 8). So it has continued since: and for those who interpret the teaching of Jesus in an opposite manner (even though it were in a better manner) to adopt the name, is, I repeat, to adopt a false brand; more plainly so if they do not think it essential to believe of Jesus that he was "Christ (the Messiah) at all.
"A man," says Nicodemus, "may call himself a Wesleyan, a Mahometan, a Papist, &c.; but does any sane man pretend to say that Wesley, &c., is regarded as God?" Nay! thou ruler of the Jews: "but will any sane man pretend to say" that he may be a Wesleyan, a Papist, &c., without professing the peculiar tenets of the Wesleyans, the Papists, &c.? Should some man get up and say, "these doctrines which have been known and settled as characteristic of Wesleyanism, Popery, &c., I deny, yet am I a good Wesleyan, a Papist, &c.," he would simply make a fool of himself. So likewise does the Deist who calls himself a Christian.
Both you and Nicodemus tell me that the "basis of comprehension"—the "criterion of Christianity"—announced by Jesus was, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one toward another;" and that he required no dogma, and did not require belief but love. Now, your memory must have sadly failed you. A part is not the whole. Certainly "love" was part of the criterion; but Nicodemus should have been the last to forget the discourse addressed to one of his name.—(John iii.) Is it not to Nicodemus repeatedly insisted on, that the dogma of the new birth by Water and the Spirit is absolutely necessary? Is there not, in the same chapter, taught another dogma about eternal salvation by believing in the Son of Man? Is this not repeated—reiterated here and elsewhere, e.g. (John vi. 24, 35, 40; vii. 38; xi. 25; Mark ix 23; Luke viii. 12, 13; xxiv. 25). Does he not make the belief in his Messiahship a necessary dogma?—"If ye believe not that I am he ye shall die in your sins."—(John vi. 24). Does he not found his Church on the confession of a dogma?—(Matt. xvi. 16, 18). Is not a dogma the very formula of baptism with his society?—(Matt, xxviii. 19). In truth, if you exclude what is dogmatic in the requirements of Jesus's teaching, you make page 188 some new story, and, as St. Paul says, preach "a new Jesus" and "another gospel." Finally, he told them that the future of the society should be dependent on a Paraclete (John xiv., xvi.) under whose teaching they should be able to master the truths which he said they were then not able to hear (John xvi. 12, 13), although he had already taught them, in addition to those I have mentioned, such dogmas as these: His own resurrection (Matt. xvii. 9); our resurrection (Matt. xxii. 30, 31; Luke xviii. 33); final punishment Matt. xiii. 49); atonement (Matt. xx. 28); second advent and judgment (Matt, xxiv., xxv., xxviii. 19); application of Isaiah liii. to himself (Luke xxii. 37); sole mediatorship (Matt. xi. 27); pre-existence (John vi. 58); his fulfilment of the prophecies by his suffering and re-entrance into glory (Luke xxiv. 26-27 and 44 to 47), &c.; and beside all this, there is at all events the claim continually urged by the Apostles that what they taught was what Christ bid them preach and not their own.
I do not like to charge Nicodemus with want of candour in his application to me of the words "bandying texts;" but he is perhaps unintentionally unjust. I hate the process; but as my object was to show what was considered essential to Christianity at its foundation by its authorised founders, I had no other course but to consult their writings and their acts while so founding it. I could not, of course, to you, assume their inspiration and infallibility; but only that they gave us what was their criterion of Christianity.
He is forced to admit that "Phil. ii. 5-8, and many other passages, afford some ground for (he might have said assert positively and unmistakeably) the ordinary doctrines of orthodox Christianity;" but he affirms that "there can be found at least as many on the other side." Does he mean that there are any: which contradict the orthodox creed, or that any contradict this passage—Phil. ii. 5-8. Certainly I know of none. The passage and the creed equally assert that "He having equality with God divested himself of it, and took the nature of man and the form of a servant" While so divested, of course he, in that, form, was inferior to the Father, and they were to "rejoice because he was going" to assume equality. While so divested of course he grew as men grow. What contradiction can there be in repeating a part of the very same truth? The other side he gave them when he said, "He who hath seen me hath seen the Father;" and, "I and the Father are one." Doubtless Nicodemus finds the New Testament a jumble of contradictions, simply because he rejects the dogma which reconciles them. This however is not necessary to my argument, for I am not discussing the Unitarian hypothesis.
If you are satisfied with Nicodemus's explanation of prayer, I am sure you are very easily satisfied. To hope and wish for a thing and to ask God for it without any idea of his paying the slightest attention to your requests—"not for effect, but because he must"—appears to me to be a combination of absurdity and insult. How often does Jesus say, Ask that ye may receive? Now by a parable he recommends importunity—to get at last by asking long—now he compares it to a child asking a father for food, and getting it. But to ask without a thought of receiving—never. We are, according to Christ, like children asking for bread, in order to receive it. We are, according to "More Light," like children crying to our father for the moon, which we hope not to get. Nicodemus says, men are to pray "because they must, not for any effect." Christ and the Apostles incite men to pray when they will not, and in order to receive. Like the rest of the fabric, this may be very wise; but at all events it is not "Christian." It is directly contradictory of Christianity.
Why should it be so great a matter to give up the name when you oppose the thing named? Is your retention of it a reluctant homage to the beauty and glory of the thing you have abandoned (for a while only, I trust), until a deeper candid investigation lead you back to the safer and certain path?
Yours, most faithfully,