Isaac Watts

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py3ak

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We have discussed on this forum before a little about Dr. Watts' beliefs, and I believe the question has been raised whether he was a unitarian or not. I found the other day that there is a fairly extensive and sympathetic treatment of his view in Hodge's Systematic Theology v.2.

Here is the discussion, for future reference. If you want to see his footnotes and everything go to this link.
Isaac Watts.
No one familiar with Dr. Watts’ “Psalms and Hymns,” can doubt his being a devout worshipper of our Lord Jesus Christ, or call in question his belief in the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet on account of his peculiar views on the person of Christ, there is a vague impression that he had in some way departed from the faith of the Church. It is, indeed, often said that he was Arian. In his works, however, there is a dissertation on “The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity: or, Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons and one God, asserted and proved, with their divine Rights and Honors vindicated, by plain evidence of Scripture, without the aid or incumbrance of human Schemes. Written chiefly for the use of private Christians.” In that dissertation the common Church doctrine is presented in the usual form, and sustained by the common arguments, with singular perspicuity and force.

His peculiar views on the person of Christ are brought out in three discourses on “The Glory of Christ as God-man,” published in 1746. In the first of these he refers to the “visible appearances of Christ, as God before his incarnation,” and brings into view all the texts in which He is called Jehovah, God, and Lord, and those in which divine attributes and prerogatives are ascribed to Him.

In the second, he treats of the “extensive powers of the human nature of Christ in its present glorified state.” In a previous essay he took the position that the “human soul of Christ is the first, the greatest, the wisest, the holiest, and the best of all created spirits.” He argues this point from all those passages of Scripture which speak of the exaltation of Christ and of the gift to Him of absolutely universal dominion. As the divine nature of Christ does not admit of exaltation or of receiving anything as a gift, he inferred that these passages must be understood of his human nature, and therefore that Christ as a man must be regarded as exalted over all created beings. To the
objection, “How is it possible that a human spirit should be endued with powers of so vast an extent?” he answers, first, that the power in question is not infinite; and secondly, that if the doctrine of the infinite divisibility of matter be true, we cannot fix the minimum of smallness, and how then can we determine the maximum of greatness. “Why,” he asks, “may not the human soul of Christ be as well appointed to govern the world, as the soul of man is appointed to govern his body, when it is evident the soul of man does not know one thousandth part of the fine branchings of the muscles and nerves, and the more refined vapour or animal spirits which are parts of this body?” Thirdly, we can hardly set a limit even to our own capacity; and yet the “soul of Christ may be reasonably supposed in its own nature to transcend the powers of all other souls as far as an angel exceeds an idiot, and yet be but a human soul still, for gradus non mutant speciem.”
Fourthly, if the powers of the soul of Christ were not in his state of humiliation sufficient for the purposes of government and judgment, that does not prove that they are not now sufficient in his glorified estate. “Who knows what amazing enlargement may attend all the natural powers of man when advanced to a state of glory?”
Fifthly and mainly, this supreme exaltation of the power of the human soul of
Christ is due to its union with the divine nature. It was because of this union that when the soul of Christ, while here on earth, willed to perform a miracle, the effect immediately followed. So “the man Christ may give forth all the commands of God whereby the world is governed.” “Upon this representation of things,” he adds, “the various language of Scripture appears to be true, and is made very intelligible. Christ says ‘He can do nothing of himself, He knew not the day of judgment’ when He was here on earth, etc., and yet He is said to ‘know the hearts of men, and to know all things’; for as fast as the divine mind united to Him was pleased to communicate all these ideas, so fast was his human nature capable of receiving them.”

The third discourse is devoted to proving the preëxistence of the human soul of Christ. He argues from the fact that there are many expressions in the Bible, which seem to imply that He had a dependent nature before He came into this world. He is called the angel or messenger of God, and is represented as sent to execute his will. He urges also the fact that He is said to be the image of God. But the divine essence or nature cannot be the image of itself. That term can only apply to a created nature united to the divine, so that the “complex person” thus constituted, should reveal what God is. An argument is also drawn from all those passages in which Christ is said to have humbled Himself, to have become poor, to have made Himself of no reputation. All this cannot, he says, be properly understood of the divine nature, but is perfectly intelligible and full of meaning if referred to the human soul of our Lord. It was an act of unspeakable condescension for the highest intelligent creature to “empty Himself” and become as ignorant and feeble as an infant, and to submit not only to grow in wisdom, but to subject Himself to the infirmities and sufferings of our mortal state. If asked how so exalted an intellect can be reduced to the condition or state of an infant, he answers, that something analogous to this not unfrequently occurs, even in human experience. Men of mature age and of extensive learning have lost all their knowledge, and have been reduced to the necessity of learning it all over again, though in some cases it has returned suddenly. It was the same nature that emptied itself that was afterwards filled with glory as a recompense. Another argument for the preëxistence of the soul of Christ, he says, may be drawn from the fact that his incarnation “‘is always expressed in some corporeal language, such as denotes his taking on Him animal nature, or body, or flesh, without the least mention of taking a soul.’” Again, “‘The covenant betwixt God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ for the redemption of mankind, is represented in Scripture as being made and agreed upon from or before the foundation of the world. Is it not then most proper that both real parties should be actually present, and that this should not be transacted merely within the divine essence by such sort of distinct personalities as have no distinct mind and will? The essence of God is generally agreed by our Protestant divines to be the same single numerical essence in all three personalities, and therefore it can be but one conscious mind or spirit. Now can one single understanding and will make such a covenant as Scripture represents? I grant the divine nature which is in Christ from eternity contrived and agreed all the parts of this covenant. But does it not add a lustre and glory, and more conspicuous equity, to this covenant, to suppose the man Christ Jesus who is most properly the mediator according to 1 Tim. ii. 5, to be also present before the world was made, to be chosen and appointed as the redeemer or reconciler of mankind, to be then ordained the head of his future people, to receive promises, grace, and blessings in their name, and to accept the solemn and weighty trust from the hand of his Father, that is, to take care of millions of souls?” He also argues from what the Bible teaches of the Sonship of Christ. “When He is called a Son, a begotten Son, this seems to imply derivation and dependency; and perhaps the Sonship of Christ, and his being the only begotten of the Father, may be better explained by attributing it to his human soul, existing by some peculiar and immediate manner of creation, formation, or derivation from the Father, before other creatures were formed; especially if we include in the same idea of Sonship his union to the divine nature, and if we add also his exaltation to the office of the Messiah, as King and Lord of all.” Dr. Watts explains clearly what he means by the preëxistence of the humanity of Christ, when he says: “All the idea which I have of a human soul is this, namely, a created mind or spirit which hath understanding and will, and rational powers, and which is fit to be united to a human body, in such a manner as to exert the powers of a man, to feel the appetites and sensibilities and passions of a man, as to receive impressions or sensations, whether pleasant or painful, by the means of that body, and is also able to actuate and influence all the animal powers of that body in a way agreeable to human nature.” The above is very far from being a full exposition of the considerations urged by Dr. Watts in support of his theory. It is simply a selection of the more plausible of his arguments presented in order that his doctrine may be properly understood. It appears that he believed in the eternal Godhead of the Logos as the second person of the Trinity; and that God, before any other creatures were called into existence, created a human soul in personal union with the Logos of such exalted powers as to render him the greatest of all created spirits; that the incarnation consisted in this complex person assuming a material human body with its animal life; that the humiliation of Christ consisted in his human soul thus exalted in its own nature, emptying itself of its knowledge, power, and glory, and submitting not only to the gradual development of his humanity, but also to all that made our Lord while here on earth a man of sorrows. His exaltation consisted in the enlargement of the powers of his soul during his state of humiliation, and in his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God.

Objections.
The more obvious objections to this theory are, —
1. That it is contrary to the common faith of the Church, and, therefore, to the obvious sense of Scripture. The Bible in teaching that the Son of God became man, thereby teaches that He assumed a true body and a rational soul. For neither a soul without a body, nor a body without a soul, is a man in the Scriptural sense of the term. It was the Logos which became man; and not a God-man that assumed a material body.
2. The passages of Scripture cited in its support are interpreted, for the most part, in violation of the recognized principle that whatever is true of either nature in Christ, may be predicated of his person. As Christ could say, “I thirst,” without implying that his divine nature was subject to the wants of a material body; so He could say, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” without teaching that such power vests in his humanity.
3. The doctrine that Christ’s human soul was the first and most exalted of created spirits, raises Him beyond the reach of human sympathies. He is, as man, farther from us than the angel Gabriel. We need, and the Bible reveals to us a, so to speak, more circumscribed Saviour, one who, although true God, is nevertheless a man like unto his brethren, whom we can embrace in the arms of our faith and love.
 
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