WHO was Thomas Emlyn, and what moved him to take a stand for truth? What might we learn from him that could help us today?
To answer those questions, we need to go back to the late 17th and early 18th centuries in England and Ireland. The Church of England then wielded considerable authority. Various Protestant groups and individuals were at odds with the church.
WHO WAS HE?
It was into this environment that Thomas Emlyn was born on May 27, 1663, at Stamford, Lincolnshire, England. At the age of 19, he preached his first sermon. Later, he became a chaplain for a countess who lived in London; and still later, he moved to Belfast, Ireland.
In Belfast he eventually officiated in a parish church. As time passed, Emlyn served as a minister in several places, including Dublin.
WHY WAS HE ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY?
During those times, Emlyn was carefully studying the Bible. His studies caused him to doubt the Trinity, although he had originally believed in it. As he researched the Gospels, he became convinced that they supported his improved understanding.
Emlyn did not immediately reveal what he had found. However, some in his Dublin church noticed that he did not refer to the Trinity in his sermons. Knowing that his findings would not be received well by others, he wrote: “I cannot hope to continue here in my present post, when once I have professed.” In June 1702, two associates confronted him about the omission of the Trinity from his sermons. Emlyn confessed that he no longer believed in it and offered to resign.
Within a few days, he left Dublin, Ireland, for England. However, after ten weeks he returned to Dublin to settle some affairs, with the goal of moving to London permanently. While there, hoping to vindicate his views, he published An Humble Inquiry Into the Scripture-Account of Jesus Christ. In this publication, he gave clear Scriptural proof as to why Jesus could not be the Supreme God. This infuriated members of Emlyn’s former congregation in Dublin. A formal complaint was filed.
Emlyn was arrested and brought before the Queen’s Bench Court in Dublin on June 14, 1703. In his True Narrative of the Proceedings, Emlyn states that he was indicted “for writing and publishing a book, wherein, it says, I had blasphemously and maliciously asserted, etc. That Jesus Christ was not equal to God the Father.” The trial proved to be a farce. Seven bishops of the Church of Ireland sat on the bench with the judges. Emlyn was not allowed to speak in his own defense. Richard Levins, a distinguished lawyer, told Emlyn that he would be run down “like a wolf, without law or game.” At the conclusion of the trial, Richard Pyne, Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, told the jury that if they did not come to the expected verdict, his “lords the bishops were there,” perhaps implying that the jury would be duly punished.
“I suffer for what I take to be his [God’s] truth and glory.”—Thomas Emlyn
When Emlyn was found guilty, the solicitor-general proposed that he retract. Emlyn refused. He was fined and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. Because he could not pay the fine, he stayed in prison for two years until a friend convinced authorities to reduce the amount. Emlyn was released on July 21, 1705. The ignominies he suffered moved him to declare, as earlier quoted: “I suffer for what I take to be his [God’s] truth and glory.”
Emlyn moved to London, where he eventually associated with William Whiston, another Bible scholar who had been ostracized because he published what he felt was Bible truth. Whiston respected Emlyn, calling him “‘the first and principal confessor’ of ‘old christianity.’”
WHY DID HE REJECT THE TRINITY?
Like William Whiston and another respected scholar, Isaac Newton, Emlyn found that the Bible does not support the Trinity doctrine as reflected in the Athanasian Creed. He explained: “After much serious thought, and study of the holy Scriptures, . . . I found great reason . . . to alter my judgment, in relation to formerly received opinions of the Trinity.” He concluded that “the God and Father of Jesus Christ is alone the Supreme Being.”
What brought Emlyn to that conclusion? He found many scriptures pointing to differences between Jesus and His Father. Here are just a few examples (Emlyn’s comments on the scriptures are in italics):
John 17:3: “Christ is never said to be that one God or so God, as to be the only God.” Only the Father is called “the only true God.”
John 5:30: “The Son does not his own will, but the will of the Father.”
John 5:26: “His Life is given him of the Father.”
Ephesians 1:3: “Whereas Jesus Christ is commonly styled the Son of God, we never find the Father styled the Father of God, tho he be oft called the Father of our Lord Jesus.”
After Emlyn considered all the evidence, he emphatically stated: “There is no one passage in holy Scripture, wherein it can be so much as pretended, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are expressly said to be one and the same individual being.”
WHAT CAN WE LEARN?
Many today back off from taking a stand for what the Scriptures teach. But Emlyn was willing to stand up for Bible truth. He raised the question, “If a man may not profess the most important truths, which he finds clear and evident in the holy Scriptures, to what end should he read and search them?” Emlyn would not compromise the truth.
The example set by Emlyn and others can move us to consider whether we are willing to stand up for the truth in the face of scorn. We too can ask ourselves, ‘Which is more important—the honor and blessing of the community or upholding the truth of God’s Word?’