« AnteriorContinuar »
terms own Son, ONLY BEGOTTEN Son, &c. did import that
that idea became more and more impressed on my mind as the natural meaning of the word of God. But though I could not find that any person had ventured to advance the idea, I viewed it to be my duty to examine the point with the utmost care.
This I have attempted to do; and the result of my inquiries on that point is this, that Jesus Christ is as truly the Son of God, as Isaac was the son of Abraham; and that this view of the matter is essential to a due estimation of the love of God as displayed in the Gospel of his Grace. It is also my real belief, that this view of the subject will be found much better to harmonize with the Scriptures, and unspeakably more HONORARY to the Father and to the Son, than any other hypothesis which has been advanced.
Having, therefore, experienced such a revolution in my own views, I have occasion to write anew on the subject, I have concluded to write in the form of Letters, and to address them to you, as to a candid Friend and Brother in Christ.
While writing on my former ground, I derived some consolation from the thought that my views harmonized with the theory of Dr. Watts. I am now in a measure de prived of that source of consolation ; but I have another which I esteem much more important, viz. that my views now harmonize with the most obvious and natural meaning of the language of God, of Christ, and his APOSTLES; and that if I am in an error, my error has not resulted from departing from the natural import of Scripture language, but from preferring that to a meaning which is foreign, figurative, or mystical.
There is one formidable objection to my views, which I have to meet in the very threshold of my communications on this subject. I may therefore now state and answer it, that the way may be opened for a candid hearing.
It is said, that my views imply a departure from a great and important article of the orthodox faith, which has for many centuries been admitted by the great body of the most pious Christians, and has been advocated by great numbers of learned and pious Divines ; that it has long been admitted as an article of Christian faith, that
there are THREE distinct, co-equal, and self-existent Persons in the ONE GOD; and that it would be reproachful to the Great Head of the Church, to suppose that he would suffer his most faithful friends to be so long in an error on a point of so great importance.
This, I confess, has appeared to me the most weighty objection which has ever been stated against the theory I have adopted. I shall therefore attempt a serious and candid reply.
1. I have no inclination to doubt either the piety or the learning of those Divines who have advocated the doctrine of three distinct Persons in one God. Many such, I doubt not, have already been admitted into the realms of bliss, and others I believe are in the way which leads to the same state. Some of this class of Divines with whom I am acquainted, I esteem as the excellent of the earth, and as vastly my superiors in piety, learning, and discernment. But fallibility has been the common lot of Christians, as long, at least, as the Athanasian theory has been received as the orthodox faith. And among all the great and good Divines, I cannot find one who has ever given evidence of infallibility. Great and good Divines, like other good people, have been liable to err. And I cannot find, that Christ ever promised that he would not suffer his church to fall into any error in sentiment respecting the character of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Therefore, however improbable it may appear to you that there is any incorrectness in the doctrine which has been so long and so generally received, and so ably and abundantly advocated, the possibility that there may be incorrectness must be admitted. An investigation, therefore, may be highly proper and useful.
2. I would ask, Is it not a truth, that, for many centuries, the doctrine before us has been popular-so popular that a man must run the hazard of losing his reputation for piety, if he should call in question its correctness? Apd would not such a state of things naturally preclude any general, thorough, and impartial examination of the subject ? Would not many, even among good people and good Ministers, be likely to choose to take it for granted that the popular doctrine is true, and content themselves with searching the Scriptures for texts to support it? Such a course of proceeding, I confess, I adopted for a number
of years. Such was my veneration for the characters of those writers who had defended the theory, that it seemed to me safe to follow them. My object, therefore, in studying on the subject, was merely to support the doctrine. I do not know that others have been so deficient; but if they have, this
may be one reason why the doctrine has been so long and so generally admitted.
The proposition, which affirms that there are three distinct Persons in one God, is surely not a Bible proposition
I am willing to admit it as a proposition formed by good men to express their views of the meaning of God's word. But we have the Bible before us, as well as those who formed the proposition, and it is our duty to bring the doctrine to the Bible for examination, and not merely for support.
3. Do not your peculiar sentiments, as a Hopkinsian, imply a departure from doctrines which have been considered as highly important, which have been generally received for several centuries by the most pious Christians, and which have been advocated by multitudes of great and good 'Divines ? Why were you not afraid of impeaching the character of the Great Head of the Church, by adopting sentiments in a manner which, in your own view, would imply that he had suffered his most faithful friends for a long time to be in an error on some important points ? Why were you not contented to receive for truth the theeries of our pious forefathers, and thus have saved yourself the trouble of laborious investigation, and from the reproaches of those who have viewed you as departing from doctrines which have long been received by the pious and faithful friends of Christ? It does not, Sir, appear, that our Hopkinsian brethren have been much afraid of impeaching the character of Christ, by preaching and writing what they have thought to be the truth, altho', in some respects, they contradicted theories which have long been received as essential doctrines of the Gospel.
I willingly admit, that the great body of Christ's faithful friends have been so far united, as to adopt, as an article of faith, a proposition which affirms three distinct Persons in one God. But is it not a solemn truth, that nineteen twentieths of those, who have professed to believe the article, have never examined the terms of the proposition so as to be able to tell in what sense they believed it to be true? And have not the great and pious Divines in every age, since the proposition was adopted, been greatly divided as to its real import?
Mr. Jones, and some others, have informed us, that by the THREE PERSONS they mean THREE DISTINCT AGENTS. But Dr. Hopkins says, “ It must be carefully observed, that when this word is applied to the Father, the Sun, and the Holy Ghost, as three distinct Persons, it does not import the same distinction as when applied to men.” But he does not pretend to be able to tell what the word does import, as applied to the Godhead. There are other Ministers who frankly own that they know nut what is intended by Persons in the proposition.
Dr. Watts, in his day, said, “ The common or scholastic explication of the Trinity, which has been long and universally received, and been called orthodox, is, that God is but one simple, infinite, and eternal Spirit: Hence it follows, that the Divine essence, powers, and essential properties of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, in the Godhead, are numerically the very same : that it is the same numerical consciousness, understanding, will, and power, which belongs to the Father, that also belongs to the Son and to the Holy Spirit: and that the sacred Three are distinguished only by the superadded, relative properties of paternity, filiation, and precession.”
Perhaps the word procession should have been used, instead of “ precession;" but I have given the word as I found it in Memoirs of Dr. Watts, page 98.
If Dr. Watts gave a trúe account of what had been long and universally received” as the orthodox faith, Mr. Jones and those who agree with him in sentiment have greatly departed from the orthodox faith. The orthodox faith, according to Dr. Watts, implied no more than one infinite, self-existent Agent; the terms Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, denoted “superadded, relative properties.” “
" But Mr. Jones supposes three distinct Agents.
Some, by the three distinct Persons, have understood no more than one Being acting in three distinct offices. The same Person or Being is FATHER as Creator, Son as Rea deemer, and Holy Ghost as Sanctifier. This may harmonize with the doctrine of superadded, relative prop erties."
In the conclusion of the "Memoirs of Dr. Watts," the writer says, “If I understand the great Reformer Calvin aright, he in like manner conceived of the Word and SPIRIT as the WISDOM and Power of Deity personified. The pious Mr. Baxter adopted a like personification.”— The same writer quotes from Mr. Baxter a passage, which shows that there had been other methods still of explaining the personality of the Trinity.
“ Abundance of heretics,” says Mr. Baxter, “have troubled the church with their self-devised opinions about the Trinity, and the Person and nature of Christ. And I am loth to say how much many of the orthodox have troubled it also, with their self-conceited, misguided and uncharitable zeal against those they judged heretics. I would advise the reader to be none of them that shall charge with heresy all those who say that the three Persons are Deus seipsum intelligens, Deus a seipso intellectus, et Deus a seipso Amatus, (though I am not one) nor yet those holy men whom I have cited, and many others, who expressly say that Potentia, Sapientia, et Amor, Power, WISDOM, and Love, are the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
Thus, Sir, we may see how the great and pious Divines, with which God has blessed his church, have been divided in their real opinions of the meaning of a proposition which they all had adopted as an article of faith. One class out of six has agreed with you in sentiment, that by the three Persons are intended three distinct Agents; a second class uses the term Persons in an indefinite sense, without explanation ;, a third, by three Persons, understands three offices; the fourth supposes one proper Person, and His Wisdom and Power personified for the other to Persons ; the fifth supposes the three Persons to be three principal attributes of God, Power, Wisdom, and Love; the other supposes the personality to mean no more than this, God understanding himself, God understood by himself, and God loving himself.
Of what use, Sir, to Christianity, can that proposition be, which is thus variously understood by the best Divines? While there is so great a variety of real opinion about the import of the artic.e, their agreeing to adopt it as an article of faith can be no evidence of its correctness. But is not the disagreement as to the import of the word Person, in the proposition, some evidence that the word is improper