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scriptures on the subject. If any portions of those scriptures seemed to countenance it, or even expressly to affirm it, our only task would be to devise some neutralizing, though violent, novelty of interpretation : or we should suspect a corruption in the text: or we should deny the inspiration of the writer: or we should charge upon him fanciful analogies, excessive fondness for types and allegories, being a little off his guard, applying scriptures very improperly, pressing arguments upon others which it
be strongly suspected he was not satisfied with himself, and employing such awkward, ill-judged, and inconclusive reasonings as our superior mastership in logic enables us to look upon with pity and generously to correct:* or, wearied and disgusted with the irksomeness of systematically contriving meanings to terms and phrases so repugnant to the common use of language, and so hard to be believed as the intention of the inartificial writers of the bible, we should quit the ungracious task, and, by one desperate effort, drown our scruples and make shipwreck of our faith in the bottomless gulph of infidelity. Not that I would insinuate Christianity to be untenable by rational evidences, even though its doctrines were impoverished to the last extremity. But whether the state of mind, which I have thus supposed, has not been frequently produced, and produced from the
* All these charges are adduced by Dr. Priestley, under the signatures of Paulinus and Pamphilus, in the Theological Repository, which he edited, vols. ii, and iv,
very origin and by the process which I have here sketched, let the observant and impartial judge.
It is probable, however, that this assumption may, in some minds, exist upon honest, though mistaken grounds. If it be imagined that the Trinitarian doctrine maintains that one is three, and that three are one, in the same sense a::d respect; or that there are three Supreme Beings; it must be admitted that the propositions are contradictory, and that no well-constituted human mind, which understands the terms, can receive such propositions. The first duty of the inquirer is to free himself from all prejudiced views of the point to be investigated: and, certainly, that must be a prejudice, and a very inexcusable prejudice, which opposes a sentiment under conceptions of it essentially different from the constant declarations of its most enlightened advocates. Can any person be so dull as not to perceive, or so disingenuous as not to acknowledge, the difference between the belief of three gods, and the sentiment that the DEITY, strenuously maintained to be One Being, should, as one of the peculiarities of his transcendent greatness and excellence, possess a three-fold manner of existence? Or can it be rationally regarded as any just objection to such a sentiment, that human conception and language are confessedly inadequate to comprehend, or to describe it ?*
• " The dispositions of mankind lean toward those who flatter their reason, and endeavour to reduce all things to her compre
Perhaps, enough has been advanced to open our way to the conclusion, that this great question must be decided by THE TESTIMONY OF THE SCRIPTURES ALONE, elicited by the acknowledged methods of rational interpretation.
On the admission, that the books held sacred by Jews and Christians are clearly proved, to the exclusion of all other pretensions, to contain a real revelation, communicated by God to men; one of the first expectations which the mind almost necessarily forms, with regard to the contents and matter of the revelation, is that it will inform us concerning GOD HIMSELF, so much as our capacity can receive, and as may promote our duteous concurrence with the designs of his wise and holy government. Some knowledge of his essential nature, as well as of his moral attributes, may be necessary for this purpose; and if he has, in fact, communicated such knowledge, we do not need, nor can we have, any higher evidence that this is the case. Let us hear this voice of truth.
“ Canst thou, by searching, find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to completion ? Lo! these are the outlines of his ways, and the mere whisper we can hear of him; but the thunder of hension, or to those who abet that pride with which she is desirous of rejecting whatsoever she cannot comprehend. From this principle it is, that they who familiarly illustrate the most unfamiliar difficulties, or flatly deny the existence of that which transcends the faculties of man, are heard with partial ears.” Dr. Burgh's Reply to Mr. Lindsey's Apol. vol. i. p. 6. York, 1775.
his power, O who can understand? Jehovah, our
O God [Elohim], is one Jehovah. God is a spirit: the king of eternity, incorruptible, invisible, the only God. God (Elohim) said unto Moses, I AM THAT WHICH I
These passages are cited here to verify the general idea, that from the devotional, diligent, and reverential study of the scriptures, we may humbly expect to learn so much concerning the nature, as well as the perfections of God, as is necessary for the purposes of practical usefulness; while the heights of this knowledge are infinitely above our means to acquire, or our capacity to apprehend,
If it be established, that revelation from heaven is the only source of evidence, and the inspired scriptures the safe and only medium of proof, in this inquiry; and if it is admitted that no prejudication of the sense of scripture can be sustained to bar our research, or to dictate our conclusions; we have advanced one step in our course. The next will be to consider the means of eliciting the genuine meaning and intent of the divine oracles.
* Job xi. 7. xxvi. 14. Mr. Good's Transl. Deut. vi. 4. Joh. iv. 24. 1 Tim. i. 17. Ex. iii. 14. Whether the use of the plural noun d'nbs, Elohim, was designed to intimate a plurality in the Deity, will be considered hereafter.
CH A P. I.
Note [A] page 2. “ Whatsoever simplicity the ever blessed God hath by any express revelation claimed to himself, or can by evident and irrefragable reason be demonstrated to belong to him, as a perfection; we ought, humbly and with all possible reverence and adoration, to ascribe to him. But such simplicity as he hath not claimed; such as is arbitrarily ascribed to him by over-bold and adventurous intruders into the deep and most profound arcana of the divine nature; such as can never be proved to belong to him, or to be any real perfection; such as would prove an imperfection and a blemish, would render the divine nature less intelligible, more impossible to be so far conceived as is requisite; such as would discompose and disturb our minds, confound our conceptions, make our apprehension of his other known perfections less distinct or inconsistent, render him less adorable, or less an object of religion; or such as is manifestly unreconcileable with his plain affirmations concerning himself; we ought not to impose it upon ourselves, or be 30 far imposed upon, as to ascribe to him such simplicity.”Howe's Calm and Sober Enquiry, s ii. p. 10.
Note [B] page 3.
“ Bodies act upon each other by different forces. These forces are known to us only by some of their effects. The naturalist observes those effects, and the mathematician calcu