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THE SCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY NOT
REPUGNANT TO SOUND REASON.
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the
Holy Ghost: and these three are one. -- 1 John, v. 7.
In treating on revealed religion, men have often run into two extremes.
Some have been fond of finding mysteries every where in the Bible; while others have been equally fond of exploding all mysteries from divine revelation. Here the truth seems to lie in the medium. Many parts of scripture are plain and easy to be understood; but some parts are truly mysterious, and surpass the utmost limits of human comprehension. Of all religious mysteries, the distinction of persons in the divine nature must be allowed to be the greatest. Accordingly, upon this subject there has been the greatest absurdity as well as ingenuity displayed, in attempting to explain a real mystery, But though a mystery cannot be comprehended, nor consequently explained, yet it may be stated, and distinguished from a real absurdity. And this is the only object of the present discourse.
The words which I have read, plainly represent the Divine Being as existing in a mysterious manner; though their primary intention is, to point out the united testimony of each person in the Godhead to the divinity of Christ. “ There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost." The Father testified to the divinity of Christ at his baptism, when he declared with an audible voice from heaven, " This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Holy Ghost testified to his divinity at the same time, by "descendVOL. IV.
ing upon him in the form of a dove.” And Christ testified to his own divinity, by his public declarations and miraculous works. “ And these three are one ;" that is, one God, one divine Being. This, indeed, is a profound mystery, which calls for peculiar precaution in both speaker and hearer, lest the one should say, or the other receive, any thing which is derogatory to the supreme and incomprehensible Jehovah.
I shall first attempt to state the doctrine of the Trinity according to scripture ; and then endeavor to make it appear that there is nothing in this doctrine repugnant to the dictates of sound
I. I shall attempt to show what conceptions the scripture leads us to form of the peculiar mode of the divine existence. And here I may observe,
1. The scripture leads us to conceive of God, the first and supreme Being, as existing in three distinct persons. I use this word, because there appears to be no better, in our language, by which to express that Trinity in Unity, which is peculiar to the one living and true God. Indeed, there is no word in any language which can convey a precise idea of this incomprehensible distinction in the divine nature; for it is not similar to any other distinction in the minds of moral beings. So that it is very immaterial, whether we use the name person, or any other name, or a circumlocution instead of a name, in discoursing upon this subject. Let me say, then, the one living and true God exists in such a manner that there is a proper foundation in his nature to speak of himself in the first, second and third person, and say I, Thou and He, meaning only himself. This is a mode of existence which is peculiar to the first and supreme Being. No created being can properly speak of himself in any other than the first person, I. Thou and he, among creatures, denote another being as well as another person.
But God can with propriety say I, thou and he, and mean only himself. There is a certain something in the divine nature, which lays a proper foundation for such a personal distinction. But what that something is, can neither be described, nor conceived. Here lies the whole mystery of the Trinity. And since this mystery cannot be comprehended, it is absurd to borrow any similitudes from either matter or spirit, or from both united, in order to explain it. All the illustrations which have ever been employed upon the mysterious mode of the divine existence, have always served to obscure, rather than elucidate the subject; because there is nothing in the whole circle of nature which bears the least resemblance to three persons in one God.
Some have supposed there is a resemblance between this
doctrine and the union of soul, spirit and body, in one man. But allowing that man is made up of these three constituent parts, yet it is easy to perceive that these three parts make but one person, as well as one man. For a man, speaking of himself, cannot say thy soul, nor his soul; thy spirit, nor his spirit; thy body, nor his body; but only my soul, my spirit, my body. The single man, who is composed of soul, spirit and body, is also a single person; but God is one being in three persons. And here the similitude totally fails of illustrating the principal thing intended.
Some have endeavored to illustrate the distinction of persons in the divine nature by what they call the cardinal properties of the soul; namely, understanding, will and affections. But supposing this to be a proper analysis of the human mind; yet the similitude drawn from it fails in the same respect that the former did. For these three properties of the soul are not personal properties; and my understanding, my will, my affections, are not thine, nor his, nor any second, nor third person's. Hence the similitude exhibits no illustration of three distinct persons in the one undivided essence of the Deity.
Some would consider the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as one person as well as one being, acting in three distinct offices; as those of Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. And this idea of the Trinity in Unity they would illustrate by one man's sustaining three distinct offices; such as Justice, Senator, and Judge. But this, like every other similitude, only serves to sink or destroy the scripture doctrine of three persons in the one supreme, self-existent Being. The profound mystery of the Trinity, as represented in scripture, necessarily carries in it a distinction of persons in the divine essence. For nothing short of three distinct persons in the one undivided Deity can render it proper for him to speak of himself in the first, second, and third person, I, thou, and he. Hence the scripture represents the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as distinctly possessed of personal properties. The Father is represented as being able to understand, to will and to act of himself. The Son is represented as being able to understand, to will and to act of himself. And the Holy Ghost is represented as being able to understand, to will and to act of himself. According to these representations, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three distinct persons, or agents. Accordingly, they speak to and of each other as such. The Father speaks to and of his Son as a distinct person.
“ Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Again, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Son speaks to and of the Father as a distinct person. “O! my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass
from me.” Again, “ It is my Father that honoreth me; of whom ye say that he is your God.” The Holy Ghost speaks of the Son as a distinct person. “ As the Holy Ghost saith, To-day, if ye will hear his voice," that is, the voice of Christ, “harden not your hearts." This mode of speaking plainly supposes that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are three distinct persons. And upon this ground, the one living and true God is called more than a hundred times, in scripture, by a name in the plural number. But God's speaking of himself in the same manner, carries much stronger evidence of his existing a Trinity in Unity. Thus we read, “ God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Again we read, “ The Lord God said, The man is become as one of us." Again we read, “Go to; let us go down, and there confound their language.” And Isaiah says, “ I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Thus the scripture leads us to conceive of the one living and true God, as existing in three distinct persons, each of whom is possessed of all personal properties, and is able to understand, to will and to act, as a free, voluntary, almighty agent. Hence,
2. The scripture represents the three persons in the sacred Trinity as absolutely equal in every divine perfection. We find the same names, the same attributes, and the same works ascribed to each person. Is the Father called God? the same name is given to the Son and Spirit. Are eternity, omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence ascribed to the Father ? the same divine attributes are ascribed to the Son and Spirit. Is the Father represented as concerned in the work of creation ? the Son and Spirit are represented as equally concerned in it. Is the Father to be honored by religious worship? so are the Son and Spirit. All these representations of the divinity and equality of the three persons in the sacred Trinity are to be found in the Bible. Besides, this clearly appears from what was said under the first particular. For that mysterious something in the divine nature, which lays a foundation for three persons in the one living and true God, lays an equal foundation for their absolute equality. It is as necessary that each person in the Trinity should be equal, as that each person should exist. For that which is the ground of their existence is the ground of their being absolutely equal in every divine perfection.
3. The scripture represents the three equally divine persons in the Trinity as acting in a certain order in the work of redemption. Though they are absolutely equal in nature, yet in office the first person is superior to the second, and the second is superior to the third. The Father holds the office of Creator, the Son the office of Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost the office