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This work is worthy of attention on account of the simplicity, the precision, and the caution, with which the great question at issue is stated. Truth depends for its reception, in a considerable degree, on the manner in which it is exhibited. A distorted view may be given ot it, by the very phraseology employed; or an alloy of foreign ingredients may be mixed up with it, which gives plausibility to reasoning directed indiscriminately against the whole statement. Hence, the flames of controversy have often an effect on doctrines similar to that of the refiner's furnace on gold; which removes the dross, and collects all the genuine metal into one pure mass, reduced indeed in bulk, but increased in solidity and value. One advantage, accordingly, which modern works may have over earlier treatises, though more learned, elaborate, and even profound, is, that they can exhibit a subject in greater simplicity, by rejecting all that has been found superfluous, unimportant, or untenable, either in statement or argument. Candour, therefore, requires us to keep in view the exhibitions given of important doctrines by recent and judicious writers, instead of seizing, as is frequently done, on the extravagancies and inaccuracies of less considerate and experienced authors. It is not surprising, that a doctrine so complicated and subtile as that of the Trinity, and one on which so much has been written, should have been often exhibited in an extravagant and unguarded manner, with accompaniments and attempted explanations, by which it has been encumbered and injured. For these, every serious and candid inquirer will make allowance; and will be solicitous to ascertain the precise points which the Doctrine involves. These points are very distinctly stated in the fol. lowing work, (page 14 ;) and the reader is requested to keep them constantly in view in weighing the evidence adduced. They are so stated as not to involve any contradiction : and thus the doctrine itself cannot be rejected as an absurdity; nor can those who hold it be exposed to that reproach which has been profusely poured on them by some, who substitute the fictions of their own minus, for the opinions which they attempt to refute.
To those who engage seriously and candidly in the investigation of this great subject, it may be of use to offer a few suggestions concerning the principles on which the inquiry ought to conducted.
1. We should receive with caution all'arguments which proceed on the supposition, that the Unity of the Divine Nature is incompatible with such distinctions in that Nature as the doctrine of the Trinity implies.—Arguments of this kind have often been advanced with great confidence, from an assumption that our knowledge of the Divine Unity is much more precise and extensive than it really is. On this point some appropriate remarks are to be found at page 161 It is very satisfactorily shown, that the declarations of Scripture concerning the Divine Unity, are chiefly opposed to Polytheism ; and that though most unequivocal on this point, they do not enter into explanations concerning the precise nature of that Unity. The doctrine is stated so generally, as to leave room for various modifications, which can only be known from the Scriptures themselves. Its various statemnents ought to be brought into full comparison, and regarded as equally decisive; while we should beware of fixing on any of them as the standard by which all others are to be adjusted. The different revelations of Scripture regulate and modify one another; and none of them should be taken by itself without preserving its relations
to all the rest. On this principle, whilst all our views of the Deity ought to harmonise with his Unity ; our ideas of his Unity ought also to be modified by, and to harmonise with, every other statement concerning the peculiar attributes of his Nature, how. ever different these may be from our experience.
But it is commonly assumed, that the idea of the Divine Unity is so simple and definite as to be incapable of any modifications; while we are qualified to determine precisely all the circumstances with which it is, or is not, compatible.On the contrary, it will be found that our notions of Unity are far from being definite. They are in fact only Relative, and in different cases are subject to different modifications. What a difference, for example, between the Unity of Mind, and the Unity of Matter; and what a diversity in the Unity ascribed to the different kinds of Material objects? In all the instances within our own experience, it should also be observed, what we call one object is in fact complex. Not to dwell on examples of material objects, when a man considers himself as an Individual, he includes the qualities of Body as well as Mind; although he may regard these as two distinct Natures. When we confine our attention to the Mind, we know not in what its Unity consists. We know it only by its changes, or by innumerable successive thoughts and feelings, which we equally ascribe to it; while it seems to be capable, and indeed conscious of various exercises and feelings at the same instant, strangely blended. Its sameness, in fact, is most intimately connected with diversity.
It is of importance also to observe, that the Unity of the Mind is rather an object of belief, than of positive knowledge. We are not directly conscious of it. It is rather suggested to us in the course of the operations of the Mind, as what we must believe, or take for granted, without being at all able to understand in what it consists. It is equally evident, that we are not warranted to regard the Unity of our own Minds, as the precise model of the Unity of all Intelligent beings. We know the laws of our own Minds merely by experience ; but we do not know that they are the laws of all Minds. For aught that we know, there may be great diverșities both in the circumstances that constitute the Unity of different Intelligences, and the manner in which they are made acquainted with it.
Nothing indeed is more inexplicable, though nothing is more firmly believed, than the Unity or Identity of any being. It corresponds exactly to what is often denominated a Mystery in Religion: something which we regard as a reality, and of which we can form some relative notions, but the precise nature of which we do not understand. All reasoning, therefore, from such vague and variable notions of Unity must be received with caution. We are ill qualified to determine in different cases what other properties are, or are aot, compatible with it: still more to reason from the examples of sameness with which we are acquainted to the Unity of the Supreme Being: and above all, to determine heforehand what are the modifications of which his Unity is, or is not susceptible.
2. We should beware of attaching undue importance to the apparent simplicity and plainness of any Doctrines, as a test of their truth.—These qualities, indeed, are often more apparent than real; and may arise from entertaining vague and general notions, without analysing them, or considering their various relations. Of this we have seen an instance in our ideas of Unity ; which, when examined, are found to be more complicated and undefinable than is commonly
supposed. But simplicity and plainness, are not of themselves proofs of the truth of doctrines. They necessarily diminish as our views extend beyond the narrow sphere of common experience, to the objects which science investigates, or to those which religion reveals. Science is continually bringing to light new facts and relations, each different from those previously experienced, forming a system of great complexity; and even when it contains the same great principles, these are so modified, as to present distinctions of the most subtile nature, which it often requires a new language to express. Science, indeed, has been 'retarded by an undue love of simplicity. A set of maxims, apparently simple and obvious, were at one time set up as the standard of truth : by adhering to which, facts themselves were opposed; or, when reluctantly admitted, were tortured into a thousand forms, that they might accord with such imaginary principles, Knowledge never advanced till a more liberal system of investigation was adopted. The great principle to which Philosophy now adheres is, to examine the whole range of objects presented to its view; and to embrace facts of all kinds, with all their varieties and modifications, in the different Theories which it forms, whatever may be the complexity or intricacy to which they may lead.
Similar principles should be followed in religious inquiries, The Almighty reveals his character, as he makes us acquainted with the laws of the universe, by means of innumerable facts and statements, scattered over his works and his Word, which we ovght to collect and compare; and we should be satisfied with no view of his Nature, that does not present attributes corresponding to the varied manifestations of Hima self with which we are surrounded. Our ideas of his Na. ture must be entirely relative : regarding it as that in which all the rays of glory, spread over the system of Nature and of Revelation, are concentrated. And when we thus contemplate the “deep things of God,” which his Holy Spirit alone “searches and reveals,” is it surprising, that we should meet with intricacies and difficulties, even greater than the subtilties of science ? Can we expect to find the peculiar attributes of his nature, more easy of conception than the laws of his works?
3. We should estimate the evidence on this great subject as a whole ; and in considering any one statement of Scrip
ture, we should keep in view its connexion with others. The revelations of Heaven are not only progressive, but are spread over the whole of the Scriptures. The statements in one part ought therefore to be compared with the statements in another, as of equal authority, and all forming one great system; in the same manner as the scattered phenomena in the universe must all be surveyed before we can determine the laws of nature, or the principles of the Divine Govern. ment. This suggests an obvious principle of interpretation, When a passage admits of two significations, that is to be preferred which accords best with the import of the language usually employed in Scripture on the same subject. Its import again may be ascertained in two ways:--. From some particular statements of a most decisive nature, with which all doubtful expressions ought to accord: 2. From the general scope and tendency of the expressions employed on the same subject. The meaning of language is commonly ascertained as much from the tendency of different passages, and the general impression which they make, as from particular phrases. On all important subjects, the tendency of Scripture language as a whole, can thus be distinctly felt, and with it the meaning attached to single expressions having any ambiguity, ought to harmonise.
To exemplify the application of this principle to the great subject under consideration, we might refer to the remarks made in this work (page 63 :) on 1 John v. 20. “ This is the true God and eternal life.” The question is, whether this applies to the Father or the Son.
Besides the arguments from the grammatical structure of the passage, it is shown that “ Eternal Life" is an appellation usually given in this epistle and throughout scripture to the Son, and never, especially in John's writings, to the Father : and thus the analogy of scripture language concurs with the literal interpretation of the words in favour of their application to the Saviour,
Another example is furnished by the words : « Thou knowest all things." Their literal signification obviously expresses Omniscience ; yet we find them applied to the Almighty, and to the Saviour ; and a similar expression to King David. In each application it becomes a question, whether any thing requires their literal signification to be modified. There can be no doubt about their unlimited ap