[Home] -- [Jukes]
"TRY THE SPIRITS,"
AN EXAMINATION OF A TRACT, ENTITLED,
"ORTHODOXY EXAMINED, No. 1, THE TRINITY."
by Andrew Jukes.
"Try the Spirits whether they are of God; because many false
prophets are gone out into the world."—1 John 4:1.
London: D. Walther, Piccadilly;
R. S. Cross, 31, Prospect-Street, Hull.
The following pages are no more than they profess; they are not a defence of the Trinity, but merely an Examination of a certain Tract.
My reasons for writing are these. More than a hundred Christians are deceived, and several more in doubt, through the subtlety of the error presented to them. I know from the past history of this error that it must end, even if it does not begin, in the thorough rejection of everything which is characteristic of vital Christianity. I do not believe in the doctrine of Independent Churches, that a hundred Christians can be independent of another hundred, who are sojourning in the same wilderness, and seeking the same rest. "I believe One Catholic and Apostolic Church," which is neither Independent nor Established here; but the common home of a common family, who are strangers and pilgrims on earth. Every Christian therefore is my brother, and I must be his servant if I can. This is my reason for writing.
I have added my name, because I do not think it fair to attack any work anonymously. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, nor of His Person on whom the Gospel rests.
One word more:—God's truth must be prayed out, not argued out. Arguments from man's experience are poor things in the light of the sanctuary. May the Lord keep us in His presence, and so keep us in His truth—Amen.
AN EXAMINATION, &c.
It is a trite remark, but yet a very true one, that every religion is best known and distinguished by the God proposed in it as the object of worship. "A true God produces a true religion; a false God, a false religion; Jews, Turks, Pagans, Deists, Arians, Socinians, and Christians, all differ about a religion because they differ about a God." It is the difference about God which makes the difference in religion.
It is evident therefore that to have right thoughts of God, is no secondary matter.
But how is God to be known? That he exists can be learnt from creation; but what He is can only be learnt from himself. "Canst thou by searching find out God, canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?" (Job 11:7). The history of the world supplies us with the answer. Men may talk about a God, reason about Him, and then contend about their discoveries,—the heathen world of old did all this,—and yet be in ignorance of their Maker, "without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Man's wisdom here is helplessness. "The world by wisdom knew not God" (1 Cor. 1:21). (Note: When we recollect that this declaration of the Apostle included the Platonists, with their One God, acting through the Logos, it does indeed become most startling.) What God is can only truly be known by revelation; and even then only so much of Him known as He at any time is pleased to reveal.
From hence it follows that all true knowledge of what God is must necessarily be a matter of faith. That He exists, may indeed be a matter of discovery: What He is, I repeat, must be a matter of faith. Accordingly we find that the true Church has never gone further than, "I believe:" she has never pretended to comprehend God. Heretics on the other hand have ever attempted first to comprehend, and the consequence is they have not believed. "They stumbled at this stumbling stone." The fact is worthy of notice. Heretics have comprehended the Trinity. The Church has been satisfied to believe.
But what is faith? It is neither sight nor reasoning nor argument. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence (conviction, ἔλεγχος, Heb. 11:1) of things not seen." It is not faith which leads us to acknowledge that snow is white, for things of this sort are apparent to sense. It is not faith to assert that the whole of anything is greater than any part of the whole, because questions of this sort are apparent to our understanding; and things apparent, whether apparent to sense or to understanding, can never properly be objects of faith.
Neither is the assent to truths elicited by science faith; because these things, though not immediately apparent in themselves, are yet seen to be most certain and evident by a necessary connection with something already known. Of this sort are the propositions of Euclid, and many of the conclusions in Mathematics, which are assented to, not on the ground of faith, but from the knowledge of effects and causes. Man, (I do not say, all men,) may discover these things: to man therefore they are not objects of faith. Of course what to one man is matter of knowledge may to another be matter of faith. All the conclusions of science must be matters of faith to the ignorant who receive them on testimony. But though to some men these questions are matters of belief, to man as man they are matters of knowledge; and can never therefore be properly included among those things which to man are matters of faith. On the contrary such things as are undiscoverable by man's natural powers, from their very nature must rest on testimony, and as such be simply matters of faith.
The bearing of this on the question before us is sufficiently obvious. The Trinity is the doctrine of what God is: as such it is purely a matter of faith. The Tract I have before me professes to believe; (Note: Its motto on the title page is, "I believe and therefore speak.") it then proceeds to argue: and whatever cannot be measured by the writer's understanding is thrown away as "fabulous" and "absurd." (pp. 4-6.) We have "physical arguments" that the Trinity is impossible; we have "moral arguments" to prove it is mischievous; and the Contents of the Tract are summed up by the Author himself in his conclusion, as "THE ARGUMENT of these pages." (p. 33.)
But faith is not argument. In its very nature it not only differs from, but is opposed to, either sight, sense, or science. It rests on none of these things, but simply and solely on testimony: and so it is written, "faith cometh by hearing." Faith comes not by seeing or by knowing, by arguing, discovering, or understanding. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Suppose it proved, (which it never has been) that the understanding brought us to conclusions opposed to the Trinity; such proofs would, instead of hindering, only exercise, the believer's faith. The one question with Faith is,—WHAT IS WRITTEN? If I find in the Scripture plain statements of a plurality in the Godhead, while yet I am told by the same Scripture that there is but One God; my place as a child of God is not to question his truthfulness, but at once to believe what He has spoken. I do find in the Scripture passages which cannot be explained away, either by Arianism, Sabellianism, or Socinianism. Instead of paring down these Scriptures to my intelligence, I believe what they say because God says it.
It may be objected that the Trinity is an incomprehensible dogma, and that we cannot believe to be true what we cannot comprehend and realize. (Note: pp. 5, 7, 20—"A dogma which no living soul can ever realize." "This dogma no one can believe.") This objection may proceed from ignorance, but that it is false is mere matter of fact. There must indeed be reasons for our faith, "a reason for the hope that is in us;"—the sufficiency of the testimony is our reason;—but this is very different from saying that we must comprehend the thing which we have reason for believing. For example take a child who fully trusts you, and tell it some simple fact in astronomy; as that the apparent motion of the sun is merely a deception, caused by the revolution of the earth on its axis. Tell it that the floor of your room at six o'clock is exactly at right angles to its inclination at noon; in other words, that the floor of your room at mid-day lies in the same plane as the walls did at sun-rise. I ask, can you make a child realize this? Yet the youngest child who has confidence in its parents will readily believe that this is so; though you will find that while it readily believes, its mental efforts cannot at all grasp the reality.
It is thus with many of the doctrines of Revelation, and not least so with the doctrine of the Trinity. That it is as He says, we believe, because God says it; without being able to realize how it is so. In the same way that a child believes the truth of its parent's testimony respecting some physical truth which to the infant mind is incomprehensible; so God's child believes God's testimony to be a verity, though it may surpass his powers of intelligence. Many a physical truth, which it might be difficult or impossible for the multitude to realize, is yet believed and acted on by those who never comprehended it, and all this from mere faith in man's testimony. (Note: Take for an example the way sailors in general reckon the latitude. Not one in a hundred perhaps realizes the principles he is acting on, the existence of which nevertheless he fully believes.) And yet we are not to believe the testimony of our Maker, because to "realize" its fulness is beyond our intelligence! Let the reasoner for a moment pause, and ask whether he is reasonable.
I have gone thus far into the distinction between Faith and Understanding, because, though most simple in itself and vitally important in its consequences, it appears to be wholly overlooked in the Tract now under consideration. The writer in his motto professes to "believe"; he then sets to work with arguments; and because his understanding cannot measure God, he denies much of what is revealed respecting Him. Need I say the creature's understanding can never measure the Creator. A foot rule will measure things it is made to measure, but will never measure the quantity of liquid in a cask, the weight of the earth, or the orbit of a planet. The understanding too will measure the things it is made to measure, (though even here through our weakness we are constantly deceived,) but there are things which the understanding cannot grasp; things therefore which it cannot measure. God's nature is one of these things. Of it we should ever have been ignorant, had not He been pleased to reveal it. He has been pleased to reveal it, and our place is to believe.
But answers the Tract,—"If I am told that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are three divine and equal persons, it is impossible for me to believe it." (p. 29.) This at least is honest; but then why profess, "I believe."
The key to all this may be found in the statement,—"all men have not faith" (2 Thess. 3:2, and compare Acts 8:48, and Acts 18:27). I venture to suggest that should the writer print another edition, he should take "I argue," instead of "I believe," for his motto; which if it be not in itself quite so Scriptural, will in his case at least be more true.
So much for the general tendency of the Tract: I now pass on more particularly to weigh its details. In examining these I shall do little more than notice facts. Enough, I believe will be thus elicited to enable the unprejudiced reader to form a correct judgment on the subject. I have no wish to do anything further.
The Contents areI. A brief Introduction, professing to give the Trinitarian doctrine; then
II. Four Propositions to oppose it, containing the Author's theory; and
III. A concluding Note, the purport of which is to answer objections.
I at once proceed to examine
I. The Introduction, in which the writer professes to state the doctrine of Trinitarians—The following is a sample (1) of the moral honesty, and (2) of the style of argument, of this portion of the Tract.
(1.) Its moral honesty may be judged from the following passage, in which the Writer professes to explain the views of Trinitarians. He thus represents their doctrine:—"God the Father is an infinite and eternal divinity: the Son is said to be another divinity ... and the Holy Ghost is said to be another divinity ... According to this doctrine therefore there are three very Gods." (p. 5.)
"According to this doctrine", I confess that there are "three Gods;" but I ask who ever held such doctrine but heretics. Trinitarians have never "said" that the Son is "ANOTHER divinity," but always that he is THE SAME. If they have said that He is "another divinity," let the proof at once be brought. Till it is brought, I accuse the Writer of moral dishonesty, in charging Trinitarians with a doctrine they abhor. I ask him to shew by whom, or where, "IT IS SAID," that the Son is "ANOTHER DIVINITY." By whom is it said? By none but adversaries. The charge is simply misrepresentation. And "whatever must be misrepresented in order to be ridiculed, is in fact not ridiculed; but the thing substituted for it. It is a satire on something else, coupled with a lie on the part of the satirist, who knowing, or having the means of knowing the truth, chose to call one thing by the name of another." (Note: Coleridge's Aids to Reflection—p. 51.)
(2.) Of the style of argument take the following as an example. It is quite characteristic of the Tract:—"If a man should say, 'John is a human being, and James is a human being distinct from John, and William is a human being distinct both from John and James; but John, James, and William are not three human beings, but one human being,' any one who heard him would laugh at his solecism. But perhaps no one would tell him that he had contradicted himself; for the man who did not see that would see nothing. It is equally absurd to tell me that the Father is a Divine Being, and the Son is a Divine Being distinct from the Father, and the Holy Ghost is a Divine Being distinct both from the Father and the Son; but these are not three Divine Beings but one Divine Being." (p. 6.)
I have cited this as an example of argument, though argument strictly speaking it is none: but it is hard to say what is most displayed in it, want of reason, want of honesty, or want or faith. Faith it is plain there is none. I ask, is it honesty or reason?
The Tract professes here to be giving the views of those who believe in One threefold being. By a play upon the word person or being,—to speak plainly, by verbal legerdemain,—this Scriptural doctrine of God in three persons, (Note: As I shall shew further on, we use the word "person" for want of a better, to denote distinctions which we cannot exactly define in the incomprehensible nature of the Godhead.) is turned into three distinct Gods; and, to make it even worse, is misrepresented as a union of three threefold beings. Man is a threefold being, and the Trinity here is represented by three men! In other words, One God in three persons is compared, not to one man containing three existences, but to three men, that is to three threefold beings, each containing three distinct existences. (Note: For a proof that body, soul, and spirit, are not merely three operations, but distinct and separate beings or existences, I refer any reader who doubts the fact to p. 26 further on.)
And how is this done? By a piece of juggling performed on the word "person" or "being." (Note: The writer of this tract uses them indifferently.) The same word is used in the same sentence in two different senses, and by this means the careless reader is beguiled to receive a lie. An exactly parallel piece of legerdemain, which I give not as an illustration of the Trinity, but merely to shew how easy such tricks are, will perhaps be the best key and answer to the particular case of juggling before us. I give the Author's legerdemain first, and then its parallel as a key to it. The latter being on a subject more easily grasped is at once seen through and detected. The writer's argument is this:"You tell me that the Father is a divine being; the Son another divine being, distinct from the Father; and the Holy Ghost a third divine being, distinct from the former two; and yet these three together are not three divine beings, but one divine being. A more manifest contradiction could not be uttered."
So says the Tract. I merely give a parallel case to expose the sophistry of such an argument, and to shew where its fallacy lies. The case I offer is exactly similar to the preceding one. I put it thus:—"You tell me that the body is a created being, or existence; the soul another created being, or existence, distinct from the body; and the spirit a third created being, or existence, distinct from the former two: and yet these three together are not three human beings, but one human being."
Let the reader remember I do not adduce this as a correct illustration of the Trinity; for man cannot represent God. I am merely shewing the double use of the word "being" which the Author uses so cleverly to perplex.
I ask, is there any "contradiction" here?
If there is a contradiction in the former case, there will be a contradiction here. If there is no contradiction here, there is no contradiction in the former case. It is plain that there is no contradiction here; and it is equally plain that there is none in the former case. In either, if a difficulty exists, it arises wholly from the poverty of language, which from our ignorance of metaphysical questions has never invented words for such ideas. In speaking at all on such matters therefore we use one word in two senses. The simple answer to the difficulty is that the word "being" is used uncertainly, in one part of the sentence to mean one thing, and in the other to mean another. Of this the Tract takes advantage. I ask again,—Is this honesty?
The fact is that in speaking about God we use the word "person" for want of a better, to denote those objective distinctions, (Note: To say that the Trinity is merely our apprehension of different relationships, is making the Trinity subjective: to say it is a reality in the Godhead, is making it, what indeed it is, objective.) which, though revealed to us, we cannot comprehend. Am I asked therefore to define the word "person," as I use it in reference to the Trinity; I readily answer, I cannot define it. But this is really no triumph to those who deny objective distinctions in God's being. There is not an object in nature which does not require the use of words, which though undefined are yet the best representatives we possess for certain ideas which it is impossible to realize.
I give an example to illustrate what I mean. Man is made up of body, soul, and spirit, and these are not merely subjective, but objective; in other words they are not mere relations or appearances, they are each distinct existences. But what are they? Can we define any of them? What is body? What is soul? What is spirit? Can any one define their nature, their connexion, parts, powers, or limits? Take the simplest, the body;—What is it? I am told perhaps that it is organized matter: but what is matter, and what is organization? To these questions no answer can be given. Matter has indeed been defined to be that which is made up of atoms; and atoms have been defined to be centres of attraction and repulsion; which last definition, when its Latin words are translated, is that atoms are centres of drawing to and driving from. But what is attraction? to this there is no answer: and what is repulsion? no body knows. Such are some of the very first thoughts which meet a man who is inquiring into the nature of his being. He says his body is "organized matter;" but what matter is the wisest cannot tell. And yet the words, matter, atom, &c., are by no means to be thrown away.
And this is my answer to the objection, sometimes raised by those deep thinkers who have never thought at all, as to the use of admitting a term, such as "person," the exact signification of which we cannot realize. Should such a one ask me why I use the word "person," when confessedly I cannot explain it; I answer at once, why do you use the word matter, when confessedly it cannot be defined. The truth is, such terms imperfect as they are, though their exact meaning is still unknown, are the best we have been able to find to express those ideas which are beyond our understanding. The body is beyond our understanding; the soul, is as much beyond it: and much more is the nature of the spirit or reason a question unfathomed and unfathomable. All we know is that there are these distinct beings or existences, and that they make up together what we call man. And shall we, with this knowledge of our ignorance of the smallest part of our nature and its properties, sit in judgment on the possible capabilities of His Being, who is "above all, and in all, and through all."
The fact is, such reasonings here are not reason, but ignorance and blasphemy. Here is a deep metaphysical question, which no human power can apprehend;—here is unapproachable light before which the Seraphs veil their faces, and cry, Holy, Holy, Holy;—here is God himself, handled as if He were a subject for his creature's conjectures; and conclusions respecting the nature of an Infinite Spirit are glibly drawn from premisses respecting finite matter. The fallacy is so obvious and so monstrous that I am only astonished at a man's daring to print it. It is just attempting by arithmetic and mechanics, to weigh the parts and powers of spirit: it is arguing from finite to infinite, and making the conclusions of finity binding on infinity. As well might we say that because we are tied by time and space, the world of spirits must be bounded by the same limits. (Note: It seems pretty generally agreed among metaphysicians that time and priority of time does not exist in reference to spirit. But who can realize this? As far as I understand it the doctrine is this—that phenomena are apprehended by the percipient mind under two great forms, viz., space and time: but that these are forms existing in the mind, not in the phenomena. The former is more particularly applied to impressions from without, i.e., to the world of matter: the latter to the phenomena of the mind itself, so far as these are the object of consciousness. The perceptive faculty, whether of things outward or inward, deals with phenomena; and phenomena (though they presuppose the existence of realities) are not realities. It follows then that the realities themselves, with which the perceptive faculty is not conversant, do not fall under its laws, i.e., that for the spiritual essence itself time is not; though our only means of representing its operations to our perceptions is under the form of time. But though we cannot otherwise perceive or even conceive them,—(conception being only the generalization of the perceptions effected by the understanding in accordance with its own forms or categories, viz., quantity, quality, and relation, including under the latter, cause and effect,)—yet we can apprehend them by the pure reason as ὄντως ὄντα or ideas, and thus realize their independence of our perceptive faculties, and their laws.—See Coleridge's Aids to Reflection, and his first nine aphorisms on Spiritual Religion; and Whewell's Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, the chapters on the Idea of Space, and the Idea of time. Had our author ever tried to think of spirit and its properties, he would never I think have written as he has.) I grant indeed that it is difficult, nay, I know it is wholly impossible for us properly to grasp or realize such questions: but are we, because we cannot realize, to deny what God has said: are we, to countenance a wretched scepticism, to use arguments which are a reproach to reason. Such arguments in relation to such a subject are like using a thermometer to measure coals; or perhaps the reverse idea would be truer, like using a coal-bushel to measure heat. Imagine a man, who, possessing a coal-sack should pretend to use it in measuring heat. Such an attempt would be perfectly analogous to the style of the argument we are examining. Yet the absurdity so plain in natural things, in moral and spiritual questions goes undetected by the ignorant. And the simple who have never thought on such subjects, delighted with the thought of having acquired a new power, (the power of measuring God,) will never ask whether the measuring instrument they possess is of a nature to measure the object proposed; but at once setting about to measure spirit and eternity, will cast away all they cannot grasp. And as it is impossible for them to grasp the true God, they will cast Him away for a fancy. Thus misusing their understanding, they are in a fair way to overthrow faith.
Thus much for the style and spirit which characterize the Introduction. Ignorance respecting the properties of argument may consist with genuine Christianity: but can direct, repeated, and subtle misrepresentation be the fruit of the Spirit of God? Is it possible that the man who uses such weapons in using them is taught of God?
II. I pass next to the Four Propositions which contain and support the Author's theory.
These require to be examined in two ways; first as giving us the Author's doctrine; and then as an example of his tactics. The last are to me the most painful. Bad as the doctrine is, we might still hope it was the fruit of ignorance, if we did not see it handled with so much subtlety and art. Perhaps the subtlety is not the Author's, but is taken, with his doctrine, from others. I confess one or two points, which I shall have to notice, make this last supposition the most probable.
Take the Propositions:
lst—As a Matter of doctrine. In this light they must be tried by the Word. Reason may help us to expose their tactics: their doctrine must be judged by the Word. The Propositions are as follows:—First,—"That it was the one only God, the very Jehovah, who was manifest in the flesh, and is called, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour." (p. 8).
Second,—"That Jehovah is the Redeemer, and the only one." (p. 15).
Third,—"That by the 'Son of God' is meant not divinity, but the humanity of Jesus; and that his divinity is none other than the true and only God." (p. 16).
Fourth,—"That the Holy Ghost is not a third divine person, but is the self-same Jehovah, the Everlasting Father, spoken of as the Holy Ghost in relation to his operation." (p. 23).
All this is simply Sabellianism, so called from the name of one of its earliest promulgators. It amounts to this, that there are not three divine persons but one, and only one in the Godhead. (p. 4). No new light as some suppose, but an old and worn out heresy. (Note: "I confess," says Baxter, "it is my opinion that we have been much to blame in not making known to common Christians somewhat more of the nature of the heresies of the first ages and the effects of them, by which they might have been better fortified against them: but now for want of such information the poor wretches take old, rotten, damned, heresies, for new light from the Spirit of Christ; and many are ready upon that very notion and account to run after them to their own perdition, little knowing or thinking that ever these heresies were in the world before, and how they were used by Christ and his church: Had they but known where and how their highly honoured fancies did first arise, and what they brought forth, and how they sped, and what men they were that handed them down, from Simon Magus till the time of their burial, the devil could not so easily have dug them up again, and have got religious men to make a feast of them."—Serm. on Sin against the Holy Ghost, vol. xx., p. 287.) But let us examine the Propositions.
Of these the first and second are simple and acknowledged truths. They state nothing which is not granted by every Christian. Why then, it may be asked, are they added here? Why indeed? Of course there is a reason. But why they are added is no question of doctrine, though it shews the tactics of the Tract. When we come to examine these tactics, the reason for these Propositions will appear.
I pass on then to examine the doctrine of the third and chief proposition. It amounts to this—(1.)—That by "the Son of God" is meant, not the divinity, but the humanity of Jesus.
(2.)—That Jesus Christ as to his divinity is the Father. (Note: It may be observed that what in the Proposition stands thus,—that "Christ as to his divinity is God," is quoted by me as if it were written that "Christ as to his divinity is the Father." I have done this 1st, because the Author himself more frequently refers to this proposition under this latter form; (pp. 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 passim:) and 2nd, because this latter form contains the particular doctrine on which he and Trinitarians differ.)
(3.)—From which it follows, that in the Godhead there are not three persons, but only one person.
Let us test each of these by Scripture.
(1.)—First, the Proposition states, that "by 'the Son of God' is meant not the divinity, but the humanity of Jesus."
The following texts will shew how utterly this is opposed to Scripture.
Heb. 1:1. "God who at sundry times .. spake to our fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by HIS SON, .. BY WHOM HE MADE THE WORLDS."
This Scripture is most express that the worlds were created "by the Son." It is sufficient simply to ask, were the worlds created by "the humanity of Jesus?" If they were not, the Proposition is false.
Precisely similar to this is Col. 1:13-18. "The Father .. hath translated us into the kingdom of HIS SON .. who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature, FOR BY HIM WERE ALL THINGS CREATED."
Here again, as in the preceding passage, we read that "all things were created by the Son." I need not, I think, ask again, were they created "by the humanity of Jesus."
But another portion of this latter Scripture is if possible even more striking, as bearing upon the question before us; for it tells us respecting "the Son," that "He is the first born of every creature;" or as it ought more literally to be translated, "begotten prior to all creation;" (Note: So given by almost all the ancient, and most eminent modern commentators, taking πρωτότοκος as a superlative governing πάσης κτίσεως.—See Bloomfield's Greek Test. in loco. Should any reader however object to this translation, though the context itself,—"for by him, &c.,"—is almost sufficient to prove its correctness, I am content to rest on our authorized version, which is equally conclusive against Sabellianism. Arians indeed might lay hold of it, as they have done; and only be refuted from the original; but Sabellianism (the doctrine under consideration) is as much disproved by our translation, as it is by the original. "The Son," as we read in our authorized version, is "the first born of every creature." I need not say this could not be so, were "the Son" merely "the humanity of Jesus." The humanity of Jesus is in no sense "the first born of every creature.") the proof of which is immediately added,—"for by him were all things created." The Son was before all things, FOR He made them all. I need not observe that what is said here of "the Son" could not be said of "the humanity of Jesus." These things are written of God the Son as distinct from God the Father. Of this Son of God it is true, as it can be of none other, that he was πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, "begotten before all creation."
The next passage is equally clear:—Heb. 1:8. "Unto THE SON God saith, thy throne, O GOD, is for ever and ever." This is said to "the Son;" therefore "the Son" here is not "the humanity of Jesus." The humanity of Jesus is perfect man, but here "the Son" is "God."
Again "TO THE SON he saith, THOU, LORD, in the beginning, &c." The Son then was "Lord in the beginning who laid the foundation of the earth." The humanity of Jesus was sinless, but it never created the earth. As a man he was born upon it.
Take another verse of rather a different character—1 John 4:14. "We do testify that the Father sent THE SON to be the Saviour of the world." If "the Son" here is merely Christ's humanity, then "humanity" is the Saviour of the world.
With Scriptures like these before us, what are we to think of the assertion "that by 'the Son' is meant not the divinity, but the humanity of Jesus." I add but a verse or two more:—
John 15:28. "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world." John 6:38. "I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent me." John 6:62. "What and if ye shall see the Son of man, ascend up where He was before." In any of these or similar passages, where we read that "God sent forth HIS SON" (Gal. 4:4), it is sufficient to ask,—WHO came forth FROM THE FATHER, WHO came down from heaven, that he might do not His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him?
But it may be asked, does not the expression "Son of God" in some passages at least refer to Christ's humanity? I answer, the words are used in Scripture in at least three different senses. (Note: I should be thankful if this question might lead Christians to more consideration respecting Christ's person. The Gospels then in their different characters would no longer be a sealed book. Christ is in all the Son, but in one the Son, made Son of Adam; in another made Son of Abraham; in another the manifested Word, who was with God from everlasting. Thus in the one, his genealogy is traced to Adam; in another, only to Abraham; in the third, no human genealogy at all, but the Word who was with God, and was God. May our God teach his people to know more of His Son.) We read that He who was "the Word,"—who being God was also with God,—was ineffably begotten as "the Son" prior to all creation (John 1:1; Col. 1:15). We read again that "the Word" was made flesh and dwelt among us, and that as thus miraculously conceived, he was called "the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). We read too of the self-same "Word" made "Son of God" by his resurrection; in this, as in all else having the preeminence, "the first-begotten from the dead" (Rom. 1:4; Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:18; Acts 13:33). We have then the Word of God made "Son" as born of the Virgin Mary; again made "Son" by his resurrection as first-begotten from the dead; but "Son" also, in a sense above all these, as "the Son begotten prior to all creation." This last is His own right and title, which as God he possessed with God from everlasting. Yet this last is wholly denied in the Proposition I am now considering.
The fact is that if it be true that by "the Son of God" is meant merely the humanity of Jesus, it follows as a necessary consequence that the Trinity is not eternal; nor this only, it follows also that the Trinity is not complete without man. If "the Son" is merely Christ's humanity, then "the Son" did not exist till Christ was born: the Trinity therefore did not exist till then, and therefore the Trinity is not eternal. Again, if "the Son" is merely Christ's humanity; and Father, Son, and Spirit, make the Trinity; then the Trinity is not complete without humanity, in other words God is not complete without man. (Note: I just note here the far greater depth of the early Sabellians and Neo-Platonists, who attempted to meet this difficulty with their λόγος προφορικὸς, and λόγος ἐνδιάθετος. I confess it is hard for me to imagine how any one could have thought out Sabellianism without coming to something like this. But if the Writer holds this, why does he not avow it?)
But I pass on to
(2.)—The next point in this Proposition, viz., "that Jesus Christ as to his divinity is the Father." The preceding verses respecting the Son have already in fact disproved this statement. I add a few more which make this even more plain; and which, while they prove that Christ is God, as clearly prove that He is not the Father.
John 1:1, 2. "In the beginning was the Word, and THE WORD was WITH GOD, and THE WORD WAS GOD," &c.
Here we have the Word, Christ, not only, "God," but also "with God." "The Word was God;" here is his proper deity. "The Word was with God;" here is his distinct person. Similar is the doctrine taught in
John 17:5. "And now, O FATHER, glorify THOU ME, with thine own self, with the glory which I HAD with THEE, before the world was."
"Father, do thou glorify me, with the glory I had with thee." I leave this verse to speak for itself. If this does not prove two persons,—one having glory with another, "before the world was,"—no words of mine can prove it. The Writer's wretched attempt to evade this,—by changing "ME" and "THEE" into operations and attributes, thus transforming God from a being into an attribute, or at the most an operation,—proves, if anything can do so, the desperate shift to which he is driven. I shall fully examine his criticism in its place, when I am come further on to his "Note." The following passage is equally clear:—
Phil. 2:5-7. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who BEING IN THE FORM OF GOD, thought it not robbery to be EQUAL WITH GOD; but made himself of no reputation, (literally, emptied himself, ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε,) and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man."
Here is Christ not only God, but also equal with God; and this not as the man raised from the dead, but prior to his becoming the servant. I think I need add nothing further to shew Christ's person, as God, yet distinct from the Father.
But it is objected that Scripture declares that "Christ is the everlasting father," and that "he that hath seen him, hath seen the Father." This is the great stronghold of the Tract, and on this alone does its doctrine rest. A moment's examination will shew how little these verses will bear what has been put upon them.
And first, John 14:9, where it is said, "I am in the Father, and the Father in me;" and again, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
Now it is plain that the words "I am in the Father," will never prove that Christ is the Father; any more than the words, "the Church which is in the Father" (1 Thess. 1:1; 1 John 4:16), will prove that the Church is the Father. The question then is, will the other part of the verse prove it,—"He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." I answer, as far as Sabellianism goes, this verse either proves too much or nothing. If you take the statement literally, and say literally that "he that saw Jesus saw the Father;" then since "the Father" is defined to mean "the divine essence unembodied" (Orthodoxy Examined; No. 1, p. 4); he that saw Jesus, saw the divine essence unembodied; and this, I need not say, is absurd. The truth is that in this place as in many others, the sense of the words is to be taken, and not their letter: otherwise transubstantiation, washing the feet, and I know not what else, may as literally be proved from Scripture.
The other passage is Isa. 9:6, where Christ is called "the Everlasting Father." In this place the force of the words, as they strike the ear of the English reader, proceeds solely from our translation, which by the consent of Critics is acknowledged to be incorrect. (Note: The error in our authorised translation has arisen from the twofold meaning of the word עד which like its corresponding ἄιων in Greek, means either an age, or dispensation, or eternity. Thus our version often translates "for ever," meaning merely "for the dispensation.") The words אבי-עד, which in our Version are translated "the Everlasting Father," or "Father of Eternity," should more correctly be rendered "the father (or head) of the age," with direct and pointed reference to the age or dispensation spoken of. Thus the Septuagint have rendered it, πατηρ μέλλοντος ἄιωνος, "the Father of the age to come;" the Vulgate give the same translation; and our greatest Hebraists agree that this is doubtless correct. (Note: Lowth, and Whitby, the only two I have access to, both concur with the Septuagint and Vulgate. Lowth says,—"I am persuaded it is from the authority of this text that the Messiah's kingdom is called in the New Testament by the title of 'the world to come.'—Mat. 12:32; Heb. 2:5; 6:5." So too Whitby on Heb. 6:5.)
Here then by a simple reference to the Original, is swept away the great support of Sabellianism: (Note: So well does the Writer know that on this verse alone his doctrine depends, that he repeats these words "Everlasting Father" five and twenty times.) for the proof as hence deduced depends simply on an equivocation which rests on our translation. The Writer may indeed have been ignorant of this; but if he knows it, his argument is even more unfair than Transubstantiation. Transubstantiation rests on the letter of the Original Scripture, taken in plain opposition to its spirit. This error rests on the letter of a translation, against both the sense and letter of the Original.
Thus much in answer to the first two parts of this proposition. Let us now weigh its conclusion, viz:—
(3.)—That in the Godhead there is only One Person.
The proof offered for this is a passage from Gal. 3 where it is written "God is one:" from which our Author concludes that therefore He must be but one person. I answer, take a parallel passage, and see what will become of your inference. "I and my Father are ONE" (John 10:30). Are the Son of Man and His Father One person? (Note: With regard to the passage, "God is one," from Gal. 3:20, I just subjoin its connexion, which at a glance will shew how unfairly it is quoted. It occurs as part of the Apostle's argument to shew the difference between Law and Promise. Salvation by Law, he says, supposes two parties in the matter; on the one side God, on the other man. On this ground there is sure to be failure, for man is sure to fail. Not so salvation by Promise, as it depends on God's faithfulness only. Law depends upon two parties: Promise only on one. "God is one.")
What then, I ask,—to say nothing of the preceding,—do the following passages mean?
Gen. 1:26. "And GOD said, let US make man, in OUR image, after OUR likeness."
Gen. 3:22. "And THE LORD GOD said, behold the man is become as ONE OF US."
Gen. 11:6, 7. "And THE LORD said, .. let US go down and there confound (Heb. let US confound) their language."
Isa. 6:8. "I heard the voice of THE LORD, saying .. who will go for US?"
Jer. 30:5. "For thus saith THE LORD, WE have heard a voice of trembling."
Can any reason be given for God thus speaking of himself in the plural number, unless it be that He consists of more persons than one. (Note: Let me add, on the authority of Junius and Tremellius that the word we translate God,—Elohim, itself a plural,—is often followed in the Hebrew by plural verbs, and plural adjectives. The explanation they give of this is as follows:—"Plurale verbum eum Dei nomine ad indicandum S. Triados myserium." Jun. et Tremell. in Gen. 20:13. I give the following passages as examples:—Gen. 20:13; 2 Sam. 7:23; Deut. 4:7; Josh. 24:19; Ps. 58:12; Eccl. 12:1; Prov. 9:10; Isa. 54:6; Prov. 30:3; Hos. 11:12.)
I will add but two or three more instances, rather different in their character, but agreeing in their result, in which God is spoken of, or speaks of himself, as of more persons than One.
Gen. 19:24. "The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrha brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven." Again,
Dan. 9:17. "O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant .. for the Lord's sake." Again,
Hos. 1:7. "I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God:" and even more clearly,
Isa. 48:12-16. "Hearken unto me O Jacob, .. I am the first and the last, .. and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me."
Such are but a very few of the very many passages which might be quoted. I only say, if all this does not teach a plurality of persons in the Godhead, nothing can teach it. Now the Writer of the Tract I am examining either did, or did not, know that these passages existed. If he did not know this, he is ignorant of the Scripture, and therefore not a guide to be trusted. If he did know it, why has he suppressed them? In either case he is unworthy of our confidence.
I pass on to notice very briefly the Fourth proposition. It consists of three parts:—(1.)—That the Holy Ghost is Jehovah; a truth acknowledged by every Christian;
(2.)—That the Holy Ghost is the Everlasting Father, and
(3.)—That the Father is spoken of as the Holy Ghost, in relation to his operations. This is downright Socinianism. (Note: Socinus says, "Nihil aliud intelligendum nomine Spiritus S. esse, quam ipsum Deum, Spiritu suo, id est, virtute atque efficacia sua, agentem atque operantem." F. Socinus, contr. Wick. c. 10. Again, "Quoniam vero Spiritus S. virtus Dei est, bine fit ut ea quae Dei sunt, Spiritui S. attribuantur, et sub nomine Spiritus S. saepe Deus ipse intelligatur, quatenus suam virtutem Deus per spiritum suum exerit." Catech. Racov. c. 6.) But what saith the Scripture?
Is the Holy Ghost the Father? I read
John 14:26. "The Comforter which is THE Holy GHOST, whom THE FATHER will send in MY name, HE shall teach you all things."
Here is one person, SENT by another, in the name of a third; the person sent being "a Comforter" and "teacher." The Father that sends, is not the Holy Ghost that is sent. The Holy Ghost therefore is not the Father. Similar is
Eph. 2:18. "Through HIM (Christ) we both have access by one SPIRIT, unto THE FATHER."
The Spirit by whom, is not the Father to whom, nor the Son through whom, we have access. The Holy Ghost therefore is not the Father.
Precisely similar is the conclusion from those Scriptures which speak of "the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost," as Mat. 12:31, 32, from which it appears that there is a sin against the Spirit distinct from sins against the Father or Christ. But if the Holy Ghost be not distinct from the Father, how can the sin against Him be distinct from sin against the Father.
This is so plain that I at once go on to the next part of the proposition, viz: "that the Father is spoken of as the Holy Ghost in relation to His operations."
This like the former is easily answered. If it can be proved from Scripture that personal actions are attributed to the Spirit, which cannot be attributed to the Father, such proof will plainly refute this proposition. And this may very easily be done. For instance
Rom. 8:26. "THE SPIRIT maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered."—Is "making intercession" with the Father, an act which can be attributed to the Father? Does the Father intercede with Himself? Again,
John 16:13. "When HE, the SPIRIT of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of himself, ("of himself," ἀφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ, from himself,) but whatsoever He shall hear that shall he speak;" and again, v. 14, "He shall receive of mine and shew it unto you."—I ask, can it be said of the Father, that "He speaks not from himself," but "what He hears" from another; or again, that "He received from another what he shews unto us?" Take another instance:—Rom. 8:27 and 1 Cor. 2:11. "He (GOD) that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of THE SPIRIT:" and "the things of God knoweth no man but the SPIRIT of God." Here we have God knowing the mind of the Spirit, and the Spirit knowing the mind of God. What sense can you make of these passages if you say the Spirit is "the Father in relation to his operations."
The fact is, the New Testament describes the Holy Ghost with personal dispositions, and personal operations, just as much as the Father or Son, whose distinct personality is unquestioned and unquestionable. Thus we are exhorted "not to grieve the Spirit" (Eph. 4:30); we are assured that "He maketh intercession" (Rom. 8:26); and we are told that "He worketh all the spiritual gifts, dividing to every man severally as He will" (1 Cor. 12:11). And to cite but one other Scripture:—"If I go not away the Comforter will not come, but if I depart I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world,—and He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He shall shew you things to come. He shall receive of mine" (John 16:7, 8, 13). What are all these words but so many descriptions of a person—a person hearing, receiving, testifying, coming, reproving, teaching. (Note: The Socinian objection (Socini Epist. 3.) to this is, that Sin, Scripture, and Charity, are sometimes personified; as Rom. 7:11; Gal. 3:18; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; and as they are clearly not persons, therefore the Holy Ghost is not a person: in other words, because we sometimes personify things impersonal, therefore a person is no person!)
And the illustration which the Writer brings from the trinity of "body, soul, and spirit," so far from supporting his theory of "one person," in fact directly opposes it: for the body is not the soul, neither is the soul the spirit; nor is the one merely the operation of the other: each are distinct subsistences. When we speak correctly (Note: I observe here that in common speaking we use the word soul for spirit. "Soul," strictly speaking, is not the immortal part of man, but the animal life. See Matt. 6:25; Mark 8:35 compared with 1 Thess. 5:23.) of body, soul, and spirit; by body (σῶμα) we mean the flesh and blood, by soul (ψυχὴ) the life which dwells in the body, and by spirit (πνεῦμα) the reason or intelligence which makes man an undying creature. I need not say that the body may exist without life, and life exist without reason: and that the immortal spirit or reason exists separate from either soul or body. Each therefore though most intimately connected,—and how connected none of us know,—are distinct and separate creations. But how can this illustration be brought to prove One person only in the Trinity. So far from proving it, it would rather disprove it. Had the Writer of the Tract searched for ever for an illustration directly overthrowing his own doctrine, he could not have found a more perfect one than Man, one being made up of three subsistences. To suit his theory of a trinity of operation,—(which is all the trinity he allows,)—body, soul, and spirit, instead of being distinct subsistences, should be merely various actings of the same.
So much for the Writer's "best illustration;" how far it helps him let the reader judge. I have dwelt on it, not at all as a proof of the Trinity, for the Trinity rests on the Word; but as shewing how here again as elsewhere, the Writer, through ignorance of his subject, actually assumes as a support of his theory what in fact would rather refute it.
Having thus tried a physical argument, the Writer next gives us a "moral" one, which though differing somewhat in character from its physical predecessor, precisely accords with it in temper and ability. The "grave moral argument" is as follows:—"As long as you regard the divinity of your Redeemer to be a different person from the everlasting Father, so long will you devote a higher class of affections to the imagined second divinity, (Note: "Second divinity." Misrepresentation again: one would think the writer was opposing Tritheists, instead of Trinitarians.) than to the Eternal God. A grave moral argument this against the doctrine of three divine persons."
Now though Man with his "body, soul, and spirit," can never properly represent God, yet we may see something of the nature of this "moral argument" by applying it to the trinity in man. Let my reader only remember I do this, not as proof of the doctrine of the Trinity, but merely as a fair exposure of the character of our "moral arguer's" style.
Suppose then a child, just learning something about man's nature, and that it is composed of body, soul, and spirit, should shew his wisdom and powers of thinking by "a grave moral argument" like the following:—My father, you tell me, is body, soul, and spirit. His spirit (or reason) makes plans for my welfare, which his body laboriously performs, and this often at the risk of his life, (or soul.) Surely, this is a grave moral argument against my father being indeed "body, soul, and spirit." If his body is really distinct from his spirit, and if it is his body which labours for me, I must love the body that toils for me more than the spirit which directs and guides it.
What are we to say to such arguments? "I speak as a fool, but you have compelled me" (2 Cor. 11:16, 17, 23; 12:11).
Does any one say, that in the latter case we can see that three subsistences make one man; whereas in the case of God, so far from seeing it, our very minds cannot grasp it. I answer, allowing this to be so, and that we can apprehend more in one case than in the other, the fact itself which is presented to us does not depend on our apprehension of it. For man's trinity indeed we trust our own senses, but for God's we trust His Word. Which can we most safely confide in?
The truth is, a Trinity in three persons is not the only doctrine of Scripture which has been assailed by "grave moral arguments," and branded as being a "contradiction." God's Word speaks of man's responsibility, while it speaks also of sovereign election: both contradictory as they appear to us are urged together in Scripture. The common way for arguers in theology is to deny one part of God's revelation and to believe, (as they are pleased to call it,) as much as they can understand. And their arguments on either side seem often unanswerable. If those who are saved, are saved through God's election, what is the use of preaching responsibility. On the other hand, if it be true that men are responsible, what is the use of preaching election. The Arminian therefore finds in responsibility a "moral argument" against election, and though it is written, flatly denies it. The Antinomian finds in predestination a "moral argument" against responsibility, and asserts that they cannot coexist. In either case God's Word is rejected, and "moral arguments" put in its place; and a part of the truth being substituted for the whole, that part in consequence becomes little better than error. I ask, are we to be led away by such "arguments," or to believe the Word of God?
Take another example of "moral arguments." The Socinian cannot comprehend how Christ can at the same time be God and man. He therefore takes one part of God's testimony, unhesitatingly rejecting the rest. He tells us he has a reason for doing this, and this reason is urged in a "grave moral argument." In the Socinian's case the moral argument is that Christ cannot possibly be God; because, were He so, his example to us would lose all its efficacy. How, if Christ were God, could He be tempted, and how can such temptation be an example to us, who are feeble, wavering creatures. By this "moral argument" Christ's Godhead is denied, and argument put in the place of testimony. The consequence is that the portion of truth which is generally held by Socinians, namely the true humanity of our Lord, by being held alone and to the exclusion of other truth, becomes in their case positive error.
But I say no more on reasonings of this sort. Satan will always find moral arguments enough for those who will set such arguments against God's testimony.
Having thus reviewed the Four Propositions as giving us the Writer's doctrine, I now proceed as briefly as possible to examine them,
2nd.—As an example of his tactics.
These are very skilful. A great mass of Scripture is brought forward to prove what no Christian ever yet doubted; and thus under cover of God's own truth comes in the lie of Satan.
But can Scripture be brought to deceive? The answer may be seen in every heresy. Heresy in general is not so much opposition to Scripture, as using and interpreting it without the Spirit: and accordingly there is not a heresy in the world which does not quote, and profess to rest on Scripture. God has, in his Word, given us a standard of truth; and, in the Holy Ghost, a guide for the use of it: but to use the standard without the guide is the certain path to heresy.
And Satan's deepest temptations are always by means of Scripture. It was by one part of God's truth set against another that he tempted and deceived our first parents; and his last temptation of our Lord in the wilderness was backed by a direct quotation from Scripture; "Cast thyself down," said the tempter, "for it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee." Since the Bible was opened by man, it has always been used by Satan against the unwary; and by it, as by nothing else, is "he transformed into an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). (Note: While I am writing, I have lying beside me a Roman Catholic publication, made up solely of passages from Scripture, which are so ingeniously dovetailed together that they teach every error of Popery. It is entitled, "The Touchstone of the New Religion, or Protestants tried by their own rule of Scripture alone, and condemned by clear and express texts of their own Bible." The Tract is certainly a model for perversions of Scripture. In this tract, Transubstantiation, relics, purgatory, justification by works, priestly absolution, intercession of saints, priestly garments, &c., &c., are all taught from Scripture.)
Am I asked, How are we to discover such temptations? In general you may know them thus:—the letter of Scripture is taken against its spirit, or a solitary and difficult text against the plain consent of many: what is to the purpose is omitted or suppressed; what though true is inapplicable, is paraded; and those passages which cannot be hidden, are garbled or watered down. To these add conclusions not connected with their premisses, and a legerdemain which alters one proposition into another, and then you have some of the common devices by which Satan deceives God's people by God's word. That these are the tactics of the Tract the following observations will shew.
Its first step, of which the Introduction is a sample, is direct misrepresentation of Trinitarians. Having thus misrepresented believers, the next step is to misrepresent God.
But this is more stealthily done. We have first two true propositions, before the real point of attack is seen: and under cover of truth acknowledged by every Christian, the Writer's theory is quietly introduced. Thus, in the first proposition, the Writer proposes to prove Christ's divinity; and also again in the next, the Scriptures quoted are one and all to prove God is our Redeemer. But in the proof of these true propositions, an error is quietly introduced; and in a page or two is boldly substituted as an equivalent for the original statement. The first proposition originally is,—that Jesus as to his divinity is GOD; but this is soon exchanged for the following,—that Jesus as to his divinity is THE FATHER—a very different doctrine. And how is this managed? By legerdemain. A word,—"the Everlasting Father,"—which is used in Scripture in one sense, is made to convey quite another sense to the mind of the English reader. And with this pitiful equivocation (Note: I have already noticed a similar equivocation respecting the words "Being," and "Person," in the Introduction.) the change is quietly made.
By means like this the Tract under consideration while teaching heresy is full of Scripture. It reminds me of one who while he betrayed Jesus said, "Hail, Master, and kissed him."
And even in the last two propositions, the doctrine of which is so contrary to Scripture, the Writer throughout parades the Scripture proofs of a Scriptural doctrine; which though not the proposition to be proved, is still so like it that it will be taken for it by hundreds. Thus the third proposition which proposes to prove that "the Son" had no distinct person save as man, (Note: That is of course that "the Son" had no person distinct from the Father, except as man.)—instead of this merely proves, that "the Son" as to his person was man. But that "the Son" as to his person was man,—and that "the Son" had no distinct person save as man,—are very different propositions, and not by any means to be confounded. Such tricks are the very soul of Socinianism. The Socinians prove that Jesus was Man, and then they conclude he was nothing but man. The Tract I am examining proves that "the Son" as to his person was man: and from this it draws its conclusion that "the Son" as to his person was nothing but man.
Precisely the same observations apply to the fourth proposition, the object of which is to shew that the Holy Ghost is not a person. As proof, the Writer gives us Scriptures in which "the Holy Ghost" means plainly an operation, omitting those other passages which shew that He is something more. But the fact is that the words,—"the Holy Ghost"—are used in Scripture in both senses. (Note: Middleton in his work on the Greek Article (pp. 125-127) shews that in the original the distinction can always be traced, by the absence or presence of the article, or its equivalent in the preposition governing.) The Tract takes advantage of this double meaning; and its argument amounts to this;—Because in several passages of Scripture, "the Holy Ghost" means an operation, therefore throughout the Scriptures it never means anything more.
What are we to say to such sophistries?
The rear-guard of this formidable attack is quite in keeping with the preceding order of battle. The ignorance of a poor Chinese convert, (Note: The poor Chinese thought that Jesus was a better friend even than God. I wish the Writer had informed us where he got this precious story. It is however but little more than we are told in the second of the "Thirty Nine Articles," where the Gospel (?) is stated thus:—that "Christ died to reconcile his Father to us." Where do we read this in Scripture? Nowhere. On the contrary it is written, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself," therefore "be ye reconciled to God." 2 Cor. 5:19, 20.) which is repeated in some publication equally ignorant, is made the ground of an objection against the Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity. The force of the reasoning, if any, amounts exactly to this;—because a certain Chinese, or a certain publication, professing to know the truth does not know it; therefore the truth of God is to be reviled, and his doctrine thrown behind us. It is in this way the infidel proves that Christianity is responsible for the errors of Christians; and it is on this ground that the world would justify their neglect of the truth of God:—"Because Christians are guilty of so much wickedness, therefore Christianity is false." (Note: A noted infidel lecturer, who was in this town not many months since, urged this very objection as an argument against Christianity. The reputed Author of the Tract I am examining, then told her that such an argument was unfair; and that truth was to be judged by itself, and not by the words or ways of its professors. Has he been convinced that his reply was not a sound one? If not, why does he use what then he reprobated?) Let those who are satisfied with such arguments be satisfied. But "wisdom will be justified of her children."
I am sorry to be obliged to say more, but if I examine the tract truly I must further notice, that the preceding summary of its tactics is not complete unless I add suppression and garbling of Scripture. While professing to write on the Trinity, the Writer studiously omits the plainest proofs of it (Such as John 1:1, 2; Phil. 2:5-7; John 14:26; Heb. 1:1-6, and all those passages which are quoted pp. 16-22 of this Tract); and those passages which cannot be omitted (such as John 17:5) are garbled and watered down. "Is this the Spirit of the Lord, are these his doings?" The only excuse I can frame for the Writer is that his Tactics, as well as his Doctrine, are borrowed, (Note: From Swedenborg, if I am not much mistaken.) and though he is now "deceiving" he has himself first been "deceived." But this, though it must lead us to pity the man, does not in the least alter his statements; and I am examining the statements, not the man.
Thus much then for the tactics of the Tract. I will not trust myself to add a single comment on them. I confine myself here simply to facts: the reader may draw the conclusion.
I now pass on very briefly to notice
III. The Note, with which the Tract concludes.
In examining this extraordinary passage, which carries with it its own refutation, the only difficulty lies in selection, to know what parts really need exposing. Such confusion between language literal and figurative, (Note: "As the word Sun stands for heat and light, &c.," p. 31.) such assertions which actually contain no meaning, (Note: "Nothing is so dear to divine love as divine truth," p. 34. Truth and love are attributes. Here we have them loving each other.) such trifling with Holy Scripture, (Note: Passim.) and such conclusions from irrelevant premisses, (Note: "The Word was God we are told, because wisdom and love in Him are one." p. 31.) it would be difficult to find within the same compass in any work professing to be reasonable. I have already noticed this writer's dishonesty in implying and stating continually that we worship more than one "Divinity." I therefore do not again comment on it. But his dogmatic assertion that no number of passages apparently opposed to his notion can "nullify" the scriptures he has quoted, is both so impudent and so absurd, that I cannot entirely pass it;—impudent, I say, as he means it; absurd as he expresses it. He means that he has so explained certain passages in accordance with his own theory that no accumulation of passages opposed to his explanations can be received as any authority against his conclusions. But who expects Scripture to "nullify" Scripture, or who will be satisfied with this decision?
Take as a sample of it the passage before us, in which he professes to demolish the stronghold of Trinitarians. The case is this. Scripture again and again describes an interchange of speech and action in the Godhead, which the Church has taken as proof of distinct persons in the Trinity. Among the many passages which speak thus may be cited the 17th of John, where Christ thus addresses the Father,—"And now, O FATHER, glorify THOU ME, with thine own self, with the glory which I HAD with THEE, before the world was." What is to be said against statements so plain and explicit as these? Our author tells us that they describe a conversation, not between the persons, but the attributes of the Deity! "ME" and "THEE" are not persons, but attributes conversing with one another!
The fact is, if the Author's principle be correct, the Bible would be anything or nothing: and so far from being intelligible to the multitude, would be a set of hieroglyphics only to be interpreted by Gnostics. That this is not the character of the Bible, I need not here stop to prove. The Bible is a revelation to man, as such it is meant to be understood. But its statements could not be understood, if words were not used in their common acceptation. If the passages which speak of the Son and the Spirit, as distinct from the Father and each other; and which ascribe acts to the Son and Spirit which are never ascribed to the Father, (Note: The Writer feels this difficulty so strongly that he is obliged to alter Scripture, and say that "the Father sent himself into the world." p. 11. Where is this written?)—If these passages are not meant to be understood according to the common laws of language, they may be taken to mean anything or nothing according to the particular fancy of any theorizer. Of course there are parables and figures;—these are the acknowledged forms of language, and therefore never to be forgotten if we would rightly interpret Scripture;—but figurative language will never account for what is said of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. What is said of them cannot be interpreted otherwise than as revealing distinct persons in the Godhead; unless as an exchange for the difficulty, we prefer our Author's theory of intelligent attributes.
It is enough to remember that the Bible is a revelation, and as such speaks according to our notions. The terms therefore which indicate the mode of existence in the Deity, as "Father," "Spirit," "begotten," &c., though describing things confessedly beyond our apprehension, must be the nearest approximation to the ineffable realities: otherwise they defeat the object of the revelation, and represent to us what is contrary to the reality. The same thing may be said of the expressions which describe their intercommunications. There is hardly an expression which implies the act of one person toward another which is not somewhere used to denote the interchange of action in the Trinity: and if the difficulty about the exact meaning of such words, as "Father," "Son," "Spirit," &c., does not hinder their being the best representatives of the realities existing in the Godhead, what shall we say to such expressions as "sent," "gave," "loved," and "spoke to," which cannot be satisfactorily explained on any theory but that of distinct persons in the Godhead.
As to the history of Sabellianism, any competent Church history will tell us enough of it. In its origin an offshoot from Gnosticism, it again and again shewed itself in the primitive ages; and with its twin sisters Arianism and Socinianism has more than once troubled the Church. Swedenborg was one of its most eminent modern advocates. In its essence it is a subtle form of Materialism; and the Tract we have been examining is a proof of this: for the notion it puts forth of Unity is from first to last a purely material one. All its arguments rest on the impossibility and contradiction which a Trinity presents when contemplated materially. But even on this very ground of materialism such objections are in very deed untenable, for where and what is unity in matter? Is not matter, though confessedly One, perfectly and infinitely divisible? I do not say the Trinity is divisible; but I say Unity cannot be proved on these grounds. Matter will not help us to escape contradictions, or what appear to be contradictions here. The tract is a proof of this. Coming forth armed with Materialism, and practically dismissing every thought that lies beyond it, it calls on us to recognise an idea of Unity, of which matter affords no indication.
Or if the Writer shifts his ground, and says he upholds Unity, not on material but on metaphysical premisses; then I ask what is there axiomatic or self-evident in the idea of a metaphysical unity? Did the Author ever read the Phoedo, or hear of the Platonic reasonings on One and Oneness (The τὸ ἑν and ἑνότης). One and Oneness gave more trouble to the old metaphysicians than almost anything else they had to deal with.
But enough. Scripture, Materialism, Metaphysics, one and all are in vain invoked by Sabellianism. It may indeed pretend to appeal to them; they will never really support it. But Scripture, and Scripture alone, must settle questions like these; and Scripture overthrows Sabellianism. What then has this heresy to rely upon? Nothing but the ignorance and unbelief of the natural heart: but these are in themselves a host.
I add one parting observation. It is possible that some of my readers, who would be shocked at the thought of Socinianism, are by no means equally shocked by the doctrine we have been considering; because it comes with such subtlety, confessing Christ to be God. The difference you think perhaps, is merely speculative, between "Three Persons" and a "threefold operation." Simple reader, the difference is not speculative. One side is truth, the other falsehood. So far from being merely speculative, all that is characteristic of the Gospel hangs on it. "The right faith is that we worship," and worship rests on atonement; and atonement rests on the value of His Person, who offered Himself for us to the Father. The doctrine we have been considering strikes at the root of this, by denying more Persons than One in the Godhead. Under a pretence of magnifying grace, it utterly denies God's righteousness, by which righteousness the cursed are blessed through Him who was accursed for them.
May the Lord keep His people near Him, that they may judge these things in his presence. Amen.
r. s. cross, prospect-street, hull.
Home The Writings of Andrew Jukes