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any passage of the New Testament; for it might be reasonably inferred from many passages. It might be deduced, as a necessary result, from a great number of texts. But a doctrine of inference, though it may be true, cannot be fundamental. It is not possible that Jesus and his apostles should have left any fundamental doctrine to be inferred by the human reason of those who should come after them. The doctrine of the Trinity, then, we may safely say, even if it be true, is not fundamental ; and, if not, it cannot be essential to salvation to believe it.
But, again, the doctrine of the Trinity is not only not a fundamental doctrine, but it is no doctrine at all. A doctrine is a distinct statement or proposition, capable of being believed. To believe a proposition, its terms must be intelligible. But now, in the proposition of the Trinity, the most important term of the proposition, namely, the term “person,” is left indefinite. We are not told what “person means, as here used; and we are told that the meaning or thought intended cannot be expressed in language. But if one important term of a proposition is unknown, the whole proposition is unknown, and it ceases altogether to be a proposition or doctrine. It is then incapable of being believed.
But, again, the clearest view which can be given of the Trinity leaves it a negative doctrine; not something taught, but something denied. Although we are not told what the word “ person” means, we are told what it does not mean; and that is the most that we are told. We are told that the phrase "three persons ” does not mean, on the one hand, " three beings ;” nor, on the other, three mo characters of one Being. It is more than three names, but less than three things; more than three qualities, less than three substances. Jesus, therefore, did not teach the Trinity, for the Trinity is not capable of being taught;
for it is not something positive, to be asserted, but something negative, to be denied.
We do not mean that the doctrine of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is negative ; for this is most positive and real. But the doctrine of three persons in one God is a system of negation ; and the charge brought against Unitarians, that they have a system of negations, is strictly true as applied to Trinitarians.
But, before we leave this doctrine of the Trinity, there is still one word more to say of it; and that word gives it its death-blow. It is not only a negative doctrine, but it involves an impossibility even as a negation. For we know well that every thing which exists must be either a being or a quality of a being, either a substance or an accident. Now, the doctrine of the Trinity, when brought to its best and clearest expression, is, that in God there are three persons, who are not three distinct beings, on the one hand ; nor yet merely three qualities or powers or modes or faculties or manifestations, on the other. But these persons, if neither beings nor qualities of being, neither substances nor accidents, cannot be any thing at all. We conclude, therefore, that Christ did not mean to teach the doctrine of the Trinity in this passage, as the foundation of his religion :
1st, Because he has not taught it.
2d, Because it is only an inference, and therefore cannot be a fundamental doctrine.
3d, Because it is no doctrine at all, one of its terms being left indefinite.
4th, Because it is a mere negation; not teaching any thing, but merely denying something.
And, 5th, Because, even as a denial, it is an impossibility.
We hare thus disposed of the Orthodox doctrine of the
Trinity, as taught in the creeds and laid down in confessions of the Orthodox sects and denominations. But now we must ask another question ; namely, –
2. What did Christ mean to teach in this passage ?
As those who were baptized became members of his church, that into which they were baptized must have comprised the substance of the religion. But Christianity is a matter of belief and of practice, of knowledge and of life. Those who were baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, were baptized into the substance of Christian knowledge and the substance of Christian life. In the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, then, must be found the sources of all Christian knowledge and all Christian life. This we will now proceed to show.
The sources of all Christian knowledge are in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He who, by being baptized, commences the Christian life, and becomes a member of the Christian Church, signifies his intention of going to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost for all Christian knowledge.
He goes to the Father; that is, to God as manifesting himself in nature and providence. God is the Father of all, as he is the source and fountain of all being, the sustainer of existence, the order of the universe, by whose wisdom every creature was designed to be where he is and what he is, by whose will every creature was chosen and determined before the foundation of the world. He is the Father, in that he guides events, provides for all wants, leads us on through life, gives us daily bread for body and soul.
The Christian goes to God, in these outward manifestations, for truth. He looks for God in the wonders and glories of nature, in the vast and steady revolutions of suns and systems, in the geological arrangement of the earth, in
the physiology of plants and animals, in the laws of thought, in the reasoning mind of man. What is nature but a manifestation of God ? What is it but God's thoughts made visible by his own power? He who despises the discoveries of science despises not man, but God, and is guilty of impiety and infidelity. He who rejects God's revelations in nature is as guilty as he who rejects God's revelations in Christ.
The Christian, then, goes to the Father, or God in nature, for Christian knowledge. He learns there to know God as Infinite Power, Wisdom, and Benevolence. But there is something more to be learned of God. Nature reveals God as Law. The question arises, Is God Love as well as Law? Does he come into personal relations with the individual, as well as general relations with the race? Does he provide for special needs as well as general, for exceptional cases as well as normal ? Does he provide for the sinner any thing but retribution ? Is there any pardon, any forgiveness, any rescue, any escape, for the sinner? Is there a special providence as well as a general ? Does prayer avail any thing really, except as a re-action on ourselves ? To these questions, Nature answers nothing. She teaches only Law. Her wheels run on iron tracks, bearing infinite good to the masses, but crushing with merciless weight the individual who falls beneath them. She says, “The soul that obeys finds life: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And there she stops.
To such questions, the answer is to be found in revelation. Nature and Moses teach the Law. Christ teaches Love, or the Gospel. In Christ, God shows himself not as the vast order of the universe, not as the all-sustaining being of being, substance of substance, but as the personal friend of the personal soul, — your friend and my friend. God shows himself in Christ as caring for each creature as an independent end; as caring for the sinner, the fallen, erring, depraved soul, which has wandered from his way, as not waiting till it repents and reforms before he loves it, but loving it in order to make it repent, — by his goodness leading it to repentance.
This is the one idea of Christianity which is wholly peculiar to it, — its central thought, differencing it from every system of naturalism and rationalism. This is what neither stars nor flowers teach us : this is the peculiar doctrine of the gospel. Christianity is not peculiar in teaching the doctrine of one God, of immortality, of love to God and man as the sum of duty. The golden rule is not peculiar to it neither its morality nor its theology is absolutely original. But its one great and peculiar idea is of God's free grace, its explanation of the enigma of sin, its way to salvation.
But there is yet a third source of divine knowledge; and that is the soul itself. God writes truth not only in nature, nor merely in the gospel of Christ, but also in the soul. But his truth is not written in the dead soul, but in the living soul, in the renewed soul, — in the soul which is active, loving, obedient, truth-seeking. Eternal truth is not learned by the study of our impulses, but in our holy instincts, quickened by the power of God, and developed by Christian experience.
Here, then, we have three revelations of God, three sources of divine knowledge, God in nature, or the Father; God in Christ, or the Son; God in the soul, or the Holy Ghost. There is no fourth source of knowledge. But the difficulty is, that the rationalist and man of science, too often, while they study God's revelations in nature, refuse to study God's revelations in Christ and in the soul. On the other hand, the Christian, too often, while he studies God's revelations in Christ, refuses to study God's revelations in nature or the soul; and the spiritualist,