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THE FACT OF THE TRINITY IN THE GODHEAD.
MATTHEW xxviii. 19.
Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Any one who attentively observes the formation of the services of the Episcopal Church, will be at once convinced, that there is a tacit obligation imposed upon her ministers, on certain specified occasions, to make certain doctrinal points the subject of their pulpit addresses. In the services of our Church, this day is called Trinity Sunday, and all the Scriptures which have been read, and the special prayer which has been used, have been intended, either directly or indirectly, to bear on the important doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine which is confessedly mysterious, and the consideration of which must be approached with candour and unfeigned humility. I had almost said, that it is a doctrine which had divided the Christian world, but this would be a representation intrinsically erroneous : for the Christian world, accurately so called, has always held it, and
does so still. It may more correctly be said to be a doctrine which divides the Christian world, from the world of infidelity on the one hand, and a modification of Christianity on the other, which is called Unitarianism. The doctrine of the Trinity all real Christians believe.
My subject to-day, brethren, is the doctrine of the Trinity. I do not intend that it shall be a dry and uninteresting discussion. I hope to furnish matter for a vigorous exertion of intellect, and this, even before I touch very largely on the doctrine itself: for I purpose, as a preliminary consideration, to discuss a question which will require from you the exercise of deep and patient thought. Indeed, the preliminary topic to which I intend to call you, will require so close an attention, that I am almost afraid to venture upon it: for if I am not distinctly understood, you may carry away with you an impression which may be fatally erroneous. And I think it more than likely, that by some I shall be misunderstood; not because there will be any want of clearness in what I shall say, for I have guarded that with a painful scrupulousness, but because some will not make a mental effort adequate to the occasion.
The proposition which, as preliminary, I wish to discuss, is this: We cannot believe that which we cannot comprehend. This has usually been considered as the general infidel objection against the mysterious truths of our most holy religion; and so it is, and, as used by infidels of all sorts, only shows the enmity of their hearts against the truth. And yet, my friends, I have no question that the proposition itself is true, that we cannot believe that which we cannot comprehend; or, in other words, that whatever a person does believe, or that whatever he is required to believe, that he may understand. I am perfectly aware, my friends, that the popular impression, even among religious persons, is, that in the mysteries of the Scriptures, we are required to believe what we cannot comprehend. But the meaning of this, as it is popularly understood, is, that we are required to believe many things as truths, the nature of which we cannot comprehend. And in this view of the subject, the popular impression is correct I have frequently used the phrase in this sense. But for the purpose of close investigation, the phrase is inaccurate; and by using it in reference to religious truth, we give to infidels an advantage which they do not deserve. If we did not believe things true, the nature of which we could not comprehend, we should believe nothing, not even our own existence; but then, after all, strictly speaking, we do only believe what we do comprehend. For instance, we believe that we exist, not how we exist; and that we do exist, we can comprehend, but not how. I wish to divest the subject of its mere popular aspect, and place it on an accurate philosophical foundation.
The fatal error which infidels and other skeptics make on this subject is this: they apply to a fact, that which is true only of a mode of existence. Let me take a plain illustration. I see in the fields a blade of
grass ; do I or do I not comprehend the fact, that it is a blade of grass ? I certainly understand that it is a blade of grass; now, what do I believe about that blade of grass? I believe only that it is a blade of grass; I am not required to believe any thing further about it. But do I not comprehend
what I believe? I believe that it is a blade of grass, and I comprehend that it is a blade of grass; and the belief that it is a blade of grass, is the whole of my belief on the subject. But some one asks me, how does that blade of grass grow? Now, you observe this is entirely a different question. Here the mode comes up for consideration; what can I comprehend about the manner in which the blade of grass grows ? Nothing. What do I believe about the manner in which it grows ? Nothing. Why do I not believe any thing about the method of its growth? Simply because nothing in relation to the manner in which it grows has ever been presented to my mind. Now, because I believe nothing about the manner in which it grows, do I not therefore believe that it grows ? Unquestionably. I see that it grows; I understand that it grows; I believe that it grows; and no man on the face of the earth can say more, or is required to say more.
I am travelling upwards, and shall by-and-by reach the point on which the subject of the present discourse is suspended; but I want to travel to it slowly and surely, therefore I will use another illustration of a higher cast.
It is said that man is composed of soul and body. Do I believe this? I do! I believe just the simple proposition, that man is so constituted. Do I comprehend what I believe? Most certainly; what should hinder me? Is not the proposition a perfectly plain one? But then, some one asks, how do the soul and body exist together? To this I answer, that the manner is beyond my comprehension. Do I believe how they exist together ? Certainly not ; I am not asked to believe how they exist together;