« PreviousContinue »
of Sanctifier. The Father is represented as sending the Son, and the Son is represented as sending the Holy Ghost. The Son acts in subordination to the Father, and the Spirit acts in subordination to the Son and Father both. It is the dictate of wisdom, that where two or more persons act in concert, they should act in order. The three equally divine persons act in concert in the work of redemption; and for that reason they act in order, or in subordination one to another. And this superiority and inferiority of office, is the sole foundation of all that nominal inequality which the scripture represents as subsisting between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in carrying into effect their purposes of grace.
4. The scripture teaches us, that each of the divine persons takes his peculiar name from the peculiar office which he sustains in the economy of redemption. Each person has a peculiar name given to him in the text. 66 There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.” The first person assumes the name of Father, because he is by office the Creator or Author of all things, and especially of the human nature of Christ. The second person assumes the name of Son and Word, by virtue of his incarnation, and mediatorial conduct. The angel who predicted his birth, intimated to his mother that he should be called the Son of God, on account of his incarnation. “ The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God." Christ is called the Word, in reference to his mediatorial conduct. His great business in this world was to unfold the divine purposes. Hence we read, in the first chapter of John, where he is repeatedly called the Word: “ No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who was in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." It is equally evident that the third person in the Trinity is called the Holy Ghost, on account of his peculiar office as Sanctifier. No other reason can be assigned for his having this peculiar name. He is not essentially more holy than the Father, or Son. But inasmuch as it is his peculiar office to apply the redemption procured by Christ, by renewing the hearts of sinners, and making them willing, in the day of his power, to embrace the offers of mercy, he may be properly called the Holy Ghost.
The distinct office which each person in the sacred Trinity sustains in carrying on the work of redemption, lays a proper foundation for the distinct and peculiar name given to each in scripture. Nor can we derive these names from any other origin. Though there be a foundation in the nature of the Deity for a distinction of persons, yet we cannot conceive that
there is the same foundation in his nature for calling the first person Father, the second person Son, and the third person Holy Ghost. These names clearly appear to originate from the work of redemption, and probably were unknown in heaven until the purposes of grace were there revealed. It is certain, however, that they cannot be supposed to be derived from any original difference between the three persons in the Godhead, without destroying their equality, and of consequence their divinity. I may add,
5. The scripture represents these three divine persons as one God. This is the plain language of the text. “ There are three that bear record in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Our Lord clearly taught the union between himself and the Father. He asserted that he dwelt in the Father, and the Father in him. And he said in plain terms, “I and my Father are one." pears from the light of nature that there is one God; and it appears from the light of divine revelation that there is but one. The Holy One of Israel declares: “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no god. — Is there a god beside me ?
yea, there is no god: I know not any." If there be but one God, then it necessarily follows that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not three Gods, but only three persons in one self-existent, independent, eternal Being. The three persons are not one person, but one God. Or the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are three in respect to their personality, and but one in respect to their nature and essence. I now proceed to show,
II. That this scriptural account of the mysterious doctrine of the sacred Trinity is not repugnant to the dictates of sound
Those who disbelieve that God exists a Trinity in Unity, suppose that such a mode of existence is not only above reason, but contrary to its plainest dictates. They consider the doctrine of three persons in one God, not as a profound mystery, but as a gross absurdity. And it must be granted that any doctrine is absurd, and ought to be exploded, which is really contrary to the dictates of sound reason. The only wise God can no more require us to believe that which is absurd, than he can command us to do that which is sinful. If we can clearly perceive, therefore, that there is a real absurdity in the doctrine of the Trinity, we ought not to believe it. But perhaps, if we candidly attend to what may be said under this head of discourse, we shall be convinced that the scriptural doctrine of the Trinity is no absurdity, but a great and glorious mystery; which lays a broad and solid foundation upon which we may safely build our hopes of a blessed immortality. Here it may be proper to observe,
1. The doctrine of the Trinity, as represented in scripture, implies no contradiction. Any doctrine which necessarily involves a contradiction is repugnant to reason, and demonstrably false. For it is out of the power of the human mind to conceive that a real contradiction should be true. We cannot conceive that two and three are equal to ten, nor that ten and five are equal to twenty. We cannot conceive that a part should be equal to the whole, nor that a body should move east and west at the same time. As soon as these propositions are understood, they instantly appear to be plain contradictions. And did the doctrine of the Trinity, according to scripture, imply that three persons are one person, or that three Gods are one God, it would necessarily involve a plain contradiction. But the scripture speaks more consistently upon this subject. It asserts that there is but one God, and yet three divine persons. This only implies that three divine persons are one God; and who can perceive a contradiction in this representation of a Trinity in Unity? We find no difficulty in conceiving of three divine persons. It is just as easy to conceive of three divine persons, as of three human persons.
No man, perhaps, ever found the least difficulty in conceiving of the Father as a distinct person from the Son, nor in conceiving of the Son as a distinct person from the Holy Ghost, nor in conceiving of the Holy Ghost as a distinct person from both the Father and Son. But the only difficulty in this case lies in conceiving these three persons to be but one. And it is evident that no man can conceive three divine persons to be one divine person, any more than he can conceive three angels to be but one angel. But it does not hence follow that no man can conceive that three divine persons should be but one divine Being. For, if we only suppose that being may signify something different from person in respect to Deity, then we can easily conceive that God should be but one Being, and yet exist in three persons. It is impossible, therefore, for the most discerning and penetrating mind to perceive a real contradiction in the scriptures representing the one living and true God, as existing in three distinct persons. There may be, for aught we know, an incomprehensible something in the one self-existent Being, which lays a proper foundation for his existing a Trinity in Unity.
2. If it implies no contradiction that the one living and true God should exist in three persons, then this mysterious mode of the divine existence is agreeable to the dictates of sound reason. We cannot suppose that the uncreated Being should exist in the same manner in which we and other created beings exist. And if he exists in a different manner from created be
ings, then his mode of existence must necessarily be mysteri
As creatures, we must expect to remain for ever unacquainted with that mode of existence which is peculiar to the great Creator. To suppose that God does not exist in a manner absolutely mysterious to creatures, is virtually to deny his existence. And if his existing a Trinity in Unity does not involve a plain contradiction, then it amounts to no more than a profound mystery, which we might reasonably expect to find in his mode of existence, had the scripture been silent upon the subject. Though, perhaps, the bare unassisted power of reason would have never discovered that God exists in three persons, yet, since the scripture has revealed this great mystery in the divine existence, reason has nothing to object against it. Reason can see and acknowledge a mystery, though it cannot comprehend it. Hence the scripture doctrine, that the one living and true God exists in three persons, is as agreeable to the dictates of sound reason as any mystery can be, or as any other account of the mode of the divine existence could have been. If the scripture had given any true account of the mode of God's existence, that mode must have appeared to such finite, imperfect creatures as we are, truly mysterious or incomprehensible. And whoever now objects against the scripture account of the sacred Trinity, would have equally objected against any other account which God could have given of his peculiar mode of existence. I may add,
3. The doctrine of the Trinity, as represented in scripture, is no more repugnant to the dictates of sound reason, than many other doctrines which all christians believe concerning God. God is truly incomprehensible by creatures. « Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” - All who believe the existence of the Deity must believe mysteries which no human understanding can fathom. Here permit me to mention several things respecting God, which are commonly believed, and which are as mysterious as his existing in three persons.
It is generally believed that God is a self-existent Being, or that there is no cause or ground of his existence out of himself. But who can explain this mode of existence, or even form any clear conception of it? There must be some ground or foundation of God's existence; and to say that this is wholly within himself, is to say something of which we can frame no clear or distinct idea. It is only saying that the ground of God's existence is mysterious. And is it not as repugnant to the dictates of sound reason to say that the ground of God's existence is mysterious, as to say that the ground of his existing in three persons is mysterious ? These two cases are exactly parallel.
There is a certain something in the Divine Being which renders his existence absolutely necessary. This all inust believe, who believe that God exists. And so there is a certain something in the Divine Being, which renders it equally necessary that he should exist in three persons. It is therefore easy to see that there is nothing more repugnant to right reason in the doctrine of the Trinity, than in the doctrine of God's selfexistence. Again,
It is generally believed that God is constantly present in all places, or that his presence perpetually fills the whole created universe. But can we frame any clear ideas of this universal presence of the Deity. It seems to be repugnant to reason to suppose that his presence is extended, because extension appears to be incompatible with the nature of a pure spirit. And if his presence be not extended, it is impossible for us to conceive how it should reach and fill all places at all times. The moment we attentively consider the universal presence of the Supreme Being, we are involved in a mystery as profound as that of three persons in one God. Once more,
It is generally believed that God is the Creator, who has made all things out of nothing. But it was a maxim with the ancient atheistical philosophers, that it is a contradiction to say that God made all things out of nothing; that is, without any preexistent materials. And it is supposed by many who have had more light upon this subject, that creation is no more than an emanation of the Deity, or that God only diffuses his own existence in giving existence to other beings. Indeed, a strict and proper creation of all things out of nothing has appeared to many great and learned men as contrary to every dictate of reason. They have considered it not merely as a difficulty, or mystery, but as a real absurdity. And whoever will critically attend to the subject, will probably find it as difficult to reconcile the doctrine of a strict and proper creation to the dictates of his own reason, as the doctrine of three persons in one God. That a fountain should be diffused into streams, or the whole be divided into parts, it is easy to conceive; but these similitudes do not touch the case of a strict and proper creation. For in creation, God does not diffuse himself, since created objects are no part of the Deity; nor does he divide himself, since the Creator is not capable of a division into a multiplicity of parts. God neither made the world of preëxistent materials, nor of himself; but he made it out of nothing; that is, gave it a proper and real existence, distinct from his own. Creation is the effect of nothing but mere power. But of that power which is able to create, or produce something out of nothing, we can form no manner of conception. This attribute of the Deity, VOL. IV.