Whatever obscurity, from the ambiguity of his language and other causes, may hang over his views, the following facts admit of no doubt--that is--that Dr. Watts was an anti-trinitarian, and that the distinct divine Personality of the Son of God, as equal with the Father, had no place in his acknowledged creed.
The labours of his life, in which he manifested more than his usual mental vigour, were in direct opposition to the orthodox faith on this whole subject... He ventured to tell his Maker that the doctrine of three real persons in the Godhead, is a strange and perplexing notion, which we cannot receive; and which is not even inferable from the whole contents of the Book of God!...
What upon this fundamental subject were the views of Dr. Watts? Certainly not those of Christianity. They might be those of a slightly modified Arianism, but not less gross or erroneous than those of the Alexandrian presbyter. The scheme of both was really a form of the old Oriental Gnosticism. The superangelic spirit of Arius and Watts was but an AEon of the Gnostics.The scheme of Watts may be Gnosticism, but Christianity it is not.
We understand his scheme as did Bradbury, Doddridge, (Jonathan) Edwards, and, perhaps, as every one understands him who has attentively read his works. Why then be specially reproached for understanding what they understood, and for saying what they said?
That these vagaries of the Dr. were neither the fruits of youthful indiscretion, nor of the infirmities of advanced years, he assures us himself. In the preface to his "Useful Questions," he certifies his readers that "These papers are the product of that part of his life, when his powers of mind and body were in full vigour." That he abandoned them at a late period of his life, it would be grateful to be assured of, but of the fact no evidence has been given.
The well meant attempt of Mr. ______ to prove it, it is well known, was a failure. And his permission of the continuance of the orthodox phraseology of his poetry will not do it. The Dr's. correspondence with Mr. Martin Tomkins, an anti-trinitarian, will explain why he did not alter, as he wished to do, the sentiments of his religious poetry. The language of poetry is no certain index of the principles of the poet.
The modern Transcendentalist is often poetic in his theology, and in an evangelical strain he can take the language of Rutherford, and Owen, and Edwards, and talk of a close walk with God, and of intimate communion with him. The pantheism of transcendentalists allows them thus to speak a very spiritual language: while they may mean no more than their exposure to a July sun or a December frost, to a gentle shower or a storm of hail. The poetry of fancy will not do away the heresy of prose. This brings to mind a remarkable coincidence. Bardesanes of Edessa, of the second century, and Watts of Southampton; of the eighteenth century, were both distinguished for their advocacy of error, and both were poets, and are the only poets, as far as recollected, who attempted an imitation of the book of Psalms, each in a book of 150 hymns. If history is to be credited, the Gnostic, as a poet, was not inferior to him of Southampton.
After citing portions of Watts' writing, Willson states,
"In these quotations Watts cannot be misunderstood. He most distinctly denies the existence of three persons in the Trinity, and makes the Son and Holy Ghost to be mere faculties, physical faculties, or attributes. The Son and Holy Ghost, in his view, are no more persons, than the human understanding and will are persons."
Thus, Isaac Watts, a favorite hymn writer of evangelicals, actually held to what Willson, Miller, and Turrettin all agree (in this book) is a "damnable heresy." For as Willson points out, Turrettin maintains, that no anti-trinitarian can be saved, while continuing in the belief of anti-trinitarianism. Contains 18 (8.5"X11") newly typeset pages.