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SERMON VI.

HOLY SCRIPTURE ITS OWN BEST INTERPRETER.

1 CORINTHIANS, ü. 13.

Which things also we speak, not in the words which

man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

The pre-existent dignity and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ are so plainly declared to us in holy scripture, as to leave me no room for doubt on the subject. At the same time, it appears to me, that, though his high office as Mediator between God and men, and the inestimable bene. fits thereby secured to our fallen race, have been with all plainness exhibited in the gospel ; yet the precise dignity of his nature has been no farther revealed, than by such general declarations, as declare hiin "the beloved Son of God," “ the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person," who “ had glory with the Father before the foundation of the world.”

· Now, if his professing followers had been content, as they should have been, and as it appears they generally were for several centuries, to

speak of him in the language of scripture, and · to think of him according to the representations

of scripture, a great deal of mischief would have been prevented in the Christian world. But there is a propensity in man to go beyond his depth. He early sought to become wise, by eating of the prohibited tree of knowledge; and he has ever manifested a strong wish to go farther into mysteries than is allowed him; and, if possible, on such subjects to be a wise above what is written.” .

Yet, although this propensity led to many and grievous errors in the primitive ages of the church on other subjects, it so happened, that with respect to the divinity of Christ, there prevailed a very general uniformity of sentiment among Christians, during the first three hundred years after his death. So far as this uniformity obtained, it was secured, under God, simply by his followers being satisfied to express themselves on the subject" not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.” Then, Christians knew and spoke of “God the Father Almighty,” and of " Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Saviour,” and of the Holy Ghost," the guide and comforter of the faithful, as three distinct

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persons : but it does not appear, from the records of the three first centuries, that any such belief had obtained currency among them, as that these three divine persons constituted one being-one God; or that they were all the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

We must look for the origin of this belief at a later period ; and we shall find it among the ecclesiastical records of the fourth century. The Emperor Constantine having embraced the faith of Christ, Christianity thence forward became the religion of the empire. A controversy on this very subject having, in an evil hour, originated about that time at Alexandria, between the bishop of that see, and Arius, one of his presbyters ; and having, in a few years, spread over the face of Christendom, a council was held, in the year of our Lord 325, at the city of Nice, in Bythinia, composed of three hundred and eighteen bishops, assembled by order of the Emperor, and with the professed design of settling this unhappy controversy. Then and there, after much time spent in the most violent altercations, was drawn up that celebrated formula of faith, known under the name of the Nicene creed; wherein it was, for the first time, asserted that “the Lord Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father ;” and whereon was afterwards founded the equally celebrated creed which goes under the name of St. Athanasius, a bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century; wherein it is decided that we must “worship the Trinity in unity ; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance;" with many other presumptuous and contradictory attempts at explaining what the word of God has not explained.

It is proper, however, to observe, that though this latter creed contains, no doubt, the doctrinal views of Athanasius, it was probably composed several centuries after his death; as Dr. Waterland, who wrote the history of it, states that it was not received at Rome till about the year 1014; so that, you see, it is comparatively a novelty.

But from the period of the Council of Nice, we may date that departure from the language of scripture on this subject, which had been hitherto unknown, but which has proved the unhappy source of so much uncharitable controversy from that day to this. Before this time, Christians knew nothing of those unscriptural terms, and modes of expression, which afterwards became, and still continue, familiar in their mouths as household words ;-such as Trinity in unity-triune God-incarnatę God-suffering God-crucified God-unity of essencesameness of substance-and many others equally unintelligible, which began then to be introduced into creeds and homilies, and have ever since thrown such a cloud of confusion over the plajn and simple doctrine of the gospel of Christ..

The celebrated church historian, Mosheim, in speaking of that period, observes, that “the Christian doctrine, as hitherto taught, preserved its native and beautiful simplicity, and was comprehended in a small number of articles. The public teachers inculcated no other doctrines than those contained in what is commonly called the Apostles' creed ; and in the method of illustrating them, all vain subtleties, all mysterious researches, every thing that was beyond the reach of common capacities, were carefully avoided."'*

Jurieu, a French writer, who seems to have approved of the innovations of the fourth cen. tury, assures us that “ the fundamental articles of Christianity were not understood by the fathers of the three first centuries ; that the true system began to be modelled by the Nicene bishops; and was afterwards immensely improved and beautified by the following synods and councils.”+

But the venerable Eusebius, who took a prominent part in the discussions of the fourth century, deeply lamented these innovations; and asserted that “the use of unscriptural terms was the cause of almost all the confusion and disturbance that had happened in the church ;"-an observation which the whole history of controversy, down to the present times, has amply verified.

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