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LECTURE XIII.11   Preached, March 27. 1691.

1 John v. 7.

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father,
the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and
these three are one.

I INTEND no long discourse upon this subject, nor longer than may consist with the design of going over the several heads of religion, in as plain a manner, and in as short a way as I can. It would very ill agree with such a design, to insist upon, and discourse upon all the several texts of Scripture arguments and objections this way and that, which are wont to be ventilated upon this point. All that can be expected, according to the course I have proposed to use, will be barely to represent that which I take, and which (I hope) we generally agree to be the truth in this matter, in as few and as plain words as is possible. If one should take the large course, which some (it may be) would expect, it would be to make one particular subject the business of a long life’s time, and would he to turn this place into a theatre of contentious disputations rather than serious instructions, tending only to gratify vain minds, rather than to edify the sober mind.

I shall not need to stay at all upon the particular controversy about this text, the authenticity of it, which, it is true, is disputed: but upon that account only, that some copies have been found not to have it. But for such as are in doubt there upon concerning it, I need do no more than recommend them 4(amongst others) to what hath been most judiciously, and, indeed, very charitably written as to that matter by Dr. Hammond, in his, annotations on the New Testament, where he hath, with equal judgment and charity, represented how it is very easily supposable that in the transcribing of some copy or another, two verses coming here together, this seventh and eighth that do begin and end, both of them, somewhat alike, the eye of the transcriber might fall upon the latter, and so write without looking back to the former. A very obvious supposition, and a great deal more probable (as it is a great deal more charitable) than to suppose that either side, in the time of the Arian controversy, did design a corruption of the Scripture text; I say, it is a great deal more rational, (as it is more charitable) because indeed it had been a very foolish thing, merely out of favour to one side, to have corrupted the Scripture in that one particular place, leaving other scriptures to stand as they were that speak so fully the same thing, as that xxviii. Math. 18, 19. and that John x. 30. “I and my Father are one.” It is not likely there should be a designed corruption, where the loss of reputation would be so very great, and the gain and advantage so very little; but we have reason enough to be satisfied that the most ancient copies have it as we here find.

And for the way of managing the discourse upon this subject, I shall not offer at that which some have done, the demonstrating a Trinity in the Godhead in a rational way, as that which some have supposed sufficiently evident by rational light; and which some have made it their business to evince, (both Poiret and others before him,) and with no contemptible endeavour. But whether such do demonstrate their point yea or no, it is to me a very strong demonstration of the strange imbecility of the human mind, that some should think it ration ally demonstrable, that, that cannot but be, which others take to be rationally demonstrable cannot be. This, I say, it is a great demonstration to me of; and I do believe that they who do read the other writings of Poiret and others, who think the Trinity rationally demonstrable, and read the writings of Socinus and others, his followers, who think the contrary, will apprehend in other matters, Poiret to be as rational a man as ever Socinus was, or any that followed him. Compare the writings of the one and the other, in other matters; and then I say, it is a strong demonstration, and that which doth require our very serious thoughts, of the imbecility of the minds of men, and how little the confident pretences to rational demonstrations, by interested persons, engaged and dipped in a party this way 5and that, are to be relied upon, when some very highly rational men shall undertake to demonstrate, that it is impossible this should be; when others as rational as they, shall undertake to demonstrate it is impossible not to be. That is, that there could have been no such thing as creation nor indeed any action in the Deity, and consequently, no Deity at all if there were not a Trinity in it. That is, if there were not an eternal mind which, when there was nothing else, should like an intellectual sun turn its beams inward upon itself, and so by consequence, beget an eternal action, its own eternal image, and that there must be an eternal love between that mind begetting, and the mind begotten: and there you have the Trinity in the Deity.

But this I insist not on; only that it may appear that it is not impossible: and I hope that all pretence that it is, will in due time, and easily vanish. It is so plainly revealed in Scripture, that there is a Trinity in the Godhead, that we may very well take it upon the word of him that reports it to us, and who best (we may be sure) understands his own nature. Take it, I say, amongst those things of God, which are only to be known by the Spirit of God; as there are things of a man, that are only known by the spirit of a man that is in him: (as the apostle speaks, 1 Cor. ii. 14.) and if the mind and spirit of every particular man, have its own particularities known only to itself, till the man is pleased to reveal and make them known, sure it is very little strange that the divine Being should have his peculiarities too, not otherwise knowable than as he is pleased to reveal them. And if he plainly reveal to us, that there is a Trinity in the Unity of his nature, then surely, to sober inquirers and learners, the business is done.

As to the latter part of the verse, I shall not need to insist upon it, “these three are one,” having, I hope, sufficiently evinced to you the Unity of the Godhead from another text. And I chose to do it from another text rather, that had that expression in it which this hath not. For this doth not expressly say, these three are one God, but it doth say, these three are one. But having already proved to you that the Godhead is but one, it leads us with so much the more clearness (having asserted the doctrine of the unity of the Godhead to be true) to apprehend, that it must be the truth of this place, and so shall have occasion but to repeat concerning that which we have already proved, but not to prove it any more. And therefore, the plain contents of this scripture you may take thus—that there is a Trinity in the Deity, or—if you will, a little more largely that there are three which we cannot more fitly 6express or conceive of, than by the name of persons, in the only one Godhead. And,

I. I shall evince the truth of this doctrine.

And now to let you see that this is reasonably given you, as the sense and meaning of this place, I shall proceed by some gradual steps: and,

1. To prepare my way, let you see that this is spoken here in this place; it is the doctrine of this place. So that if it can be made appear to be in itself true, we shall have all the reason in the world to conclude, that it is fitly represented as the doctrine held forth in this text. And for the truth of the thing, we shall come to consider from other places afterwards. And,

(1.) It seems very reasonable, inasmuch as we otherwise ascertained that there is but one God, that the one thing where in the three persons mentioned are said to be united, is the Godhead. “These three are one.” One what? It is most reasonable to understand the meaning is, that they are one God, though this be not expressed in the text. For it is very plain, from what hath been already said, that the Godhead can be but one. And when it is said, there are three in heaven that are nil one, that one thing which they are said to be, must needs be God, or the Godhead wherein they are said to unite; especially the Father being said to be one of the three, concerning whose Godhead there is no doubt.

(2.) It is very plain, (upon supposition that the three mentioned in the text do unite, or are united in the Godhead,) the meaning must be, that they are one God and no more; that is, that the one God which they are said to be, is but one, is one God and no more. There can be no reason imagined why it should be said they are one, if the intendment were not that they were only one; or that that thing which they are said to be, is but one. To say the Godhead is one, it must always mean one exclusively, that is, that there is no other God but that, that one. And so, that is the thing that these three do unite, or are united in: not one witness, it is not a being united in their end: that cannot be meant here: for it is manifest that the apostle doth vary the form of expression in the following verse, where it is said, “These three agree in one;” all to one purpose, all to one design, all giving one and the same testimony concerning Christ, concerning that Jesus who was descended and come down into this world. But here it is said in the text, they are one, are one thing, not one person, and therefore, it doth signify that they do agree, or do unite and meet in that wherein it is never intended to say or intimate 7that they differ: that is, in essence they are united, but not in personality. If it had been a person that was spoken of, then it would have been proper enough, to have spoken of it under the notion of things. But inasmuch as it is the essence, and not the person, that is here intended, therefore it is said, one thing: if we would read the words literally, it is, “these three are one thing.” that is the meaning of them and so they should be rendered.

(3.) Hereupon it is very rational to conclude, that when it is said, there are three that are united in this one thing, that it must also be understood, they are three and no more, as by one is meant only one, so by three is meant only three. Whereupon,

(4.) It must with equal reason be concluded, that these three which are three, and no more, must needs be some eminent three, and of some very eminent order. And do but pause here a little, and see if light do not spring into your minds about this matter: when it is said there are three (it being by parity of reason to be understood, three and no more) in heaven, Pray what three in heaven can there be, that are three, and no more, of one eminent order, but they must be three divine persons? Bethink yourselves of it a little: it cannot be three angels, for then it cannot be said, there are three and no more in heaven: and you have not heard of any higher creatures than angels, any superior order of creatures above angels, of which there are three and no more: and it cannot be three Gods, because the Godhead is but one; there is but one God and no more. Then I beseech you, What is there left? It is not three angels, it is not three of any sort of creatures superior to angels, of whom there are three and no more. And the Father is here mentioned as one of them, of whose Godhead there can be no doubt: and then pray consider, What can these three be? Not three creatures, not three Gods; therefore, they can be nothing but three persons, three substances in the Godhead. Thus then you are gradually led on to see, that this is the plain doctrine of the text, and if you can be convinced that there is in it, veritas rei, the truth of the thing, there will be no doubt at all but that it is veritas loci, the truth of this place.

2. And that is it I now come to, that is, to evince to you veritatem rei, the truth of the thing, that there is a Trinity in the Godhead, that there are three that are all of them this one God. And, I shall (with all possible brevity) labour to prove it to you positively, from other scriptures and scripture considerations, and then—shew you the unreasonableness of 8what is pretended against it, how irrational the pretence is against such a thing. That is, that there should be three who in some one respect are truly to be said and called three, and in some other respect are as truly to be called, or said to be but one. But,

(1.) I come to the positive proof. And because, concerning the personality and deity of the Father there is no question; there is none that will contend with us about that matter, therefore our business will relate to the other two. And concerning them, that is, the Word (as he is here called) and the Holy Ghost, I shall endeavour to evince to you these two things—that they are persons,—and that they are divine persons.

[1.] That they are persons. And here (as I have told you) we have not a fitter notion under which to conceive of them, nor a fitter word in our tongue by which to express or speak of them. Not that we can think, that person being afterwards to be clothed with the notion of divine, can be the same thing with God as with us; because it is impossible any thing can have one common notion to him and to us. That would be altogether inconsistent with the perfection, the universal perfection of the divine Being, to suppose that any notion could be common to him and the creature. For then, he should not comprehend all entity in himself, if there were a notion common to him and to us; for that must import something superior to both, and that were comprehensive of both, and so it would make God but a part of being. Therefore, the word person as any other word whatsoever, that is wont to be applied to, and spoken of God and of us, must be spoken of us but analogically, not univocally, not as if it signified the same thing when it is spoken of him, and when it is spoken of us. And therefore, we are not to judge of a divine person by a human person, or by a created person. The difference is infinite, and the distance is infinite between God and any creature. So any thing that is spoken of him must infinitely differ from whatsoever maybe spoken of us under the same name. Therefore, when we speak of a person, among creatures, as signifying an intelligent suppositum, being, neither suppositum nor intelligent can be the same with him and with us. His intellect and ours differ infinitely: and it is so little known how individuations are made among creatures, that it is infinitely more impossible how they are made with God. But that being premised, that these two, the Word and the Holy Ghost are so spoken of in Scripture, as that we have no other way of conceiving otherwise than that they must be spoken of as persons; this I shall endeavour to evince.


First. As concerning the Word, I only premise that which is in itself evident, that by the Word here, and the Son of God elsewhere, must be meant the same thing. As is plain in the first of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word:” that which is called the Word there, is called the Son of God presently after, in the same chapter: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” The Word and the Son are all one. Then, what is there and elsewhere called the Word sometimes, and sometimes Son, or the Son of God, that must needs mean what we can conceive of no otherwise than under the notion of a person. That is, we find the action, from time to time, ascribed to this Word, or this Son, of an intelligent agent, of one that did act understandingly and with design. And we can have no better signification of a person, no clearer notion of one than that is. He is constantly spoken of as an intelligent agent; and concerning that, there can be no difficulty, nor indeed is there any controversy between us and our antagonists, concerning his personality; only they will have him to be but a human person, which we shall in its own place consider by and by. And,

Secondly. Concerning the Holy Ghost, that he also is a person, or such a one as we can conceive of under no other notion than that of a person; that is, as acting intelligently and with design: even so is he most apparently spoken of, from time to time, in Scripture. Hereupon it is said, He bears witness in heaven; as he did in heaven, and from thence, testify concerning Christ, that he was the Son of God, to be heard and obeyed and submitted to as such; and as a dove, descended in visible glory upon him from the heavens. This speaks the act of an intelligent, designing cause on his part, as to what he did in testifying, and so he is very frequently spoken of, as coming for such and such a purpose. “When he is come he shall convince the world.” John xvi. 7, 8. And (which is most observable) in several parts of these chapters, of the 14. 15. and 16th of that gospel, even there, where he had been spoken of under the name of the Spirit before, when one would expect, in correspondence to that name spirit, it would have been said, it, it, being neutral, a word of the neuter gender, it is said he; when he is come, not when it is come, he shall convince the world of sin: yea, and even the very laws of grammar and syntax are waved, as if it were on purpose to hold out this one thing to us, that the Holy Ghost was a person, an intelligent Being, working and acting with design: for when we have the word spirit, presently he doth follow upon it: and at a very great 10distance, in one place, (several verses being interposed) from any other antecedent but spirit. Indeed, in the 14. and 15tli chapters, there was the comforter as well as the spirit, to which he, might have reference: but still, spirit was the nearer antecedent. But you will find, in the 16th chapter, the 13. and 14th verses, that there is no antecedent for many verses together, besides spirit, and afterwards immediately subjoined he, and not it, on purpose to signify (and we cannot imagine what it should be to signify besides) the personality of the Holy Ghost. And it is a very unreasonable supposal, that in the form of baptism which we have, Matth. xxviii. 19. “Go ye, teach all nations, baptizing them, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;” that the two first should be persons, (as they are confessed on all hands to be) and that there should be put in the same order with them a quality, as our antagonists would teach us to conceive concerning the Holy Ghost, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and what? of a quality, in the third place. That is, that when the design manifestly was there to state the Object of all practical religion, of the whole of our Christianity, into the believing whereof we are to be baptized, there should be a transient quality put into conjunction with those two great persons, the Father and the Son. Surely, it needs but to stay and to pause here a little, to have light irresistibly strike into the mind of any one that will do so, that will consider how unreasonable it is to imagine, when the design is manifestly to represent and state the entire object of whole Christianity, that is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, that the two first of these are persons, and the third but a quality. Therefore, that being very plain,

[2.] The second thing that needs to be evinced is, that they are divine persons, and much is done towards that already. It appearing they are persons, they cannot be created persons, they cannot be angels, of which it can be said there are three and no more. But we hear of no intervening order of creatures, above angels and below God. And then what should they be, since they are persons, (as is plain) but divine persons, that do subsist in the Godhead? And to evince this a little more distinctly, but very briefly,

First. Concerning the Word, or the Son, (which you see are both of them names of the same person) how expressly is he often said to be God? In that mentioned first of John, nothing can be spoken more openly nor in plainer words. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And Psalm xlv. 6. “Thy throne O God is 11for ever and ever,” which the author to the Hebrews (chap. i. 8.) allegeth to be plainly said to the Son; “And to the Son he said, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” So Romans ix. 5. “Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” And that, 1 John v. 20. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life:” most fitly spoken of the Son who was to be the spring of life to us, according to what had been said a little above in the same chapter, “This is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life.”

It is, I know, alleged with a great deal of triumph by some of the adversaries, that he is excluded in another place from being the true God, and that that should not be said of him, when we are told, (John xvii. 3.) “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” If the Father only be true God, then the Son is not. But the inconsequence of this will easily appear to them that shall but consider, how the word only is placed. It is placed so as to assert the predicate, and not the subject in the latter proposition. It is not said, Thou only art the true God, and so, that doth not exclude the Son at all. The Father is the only true God, and the Son is the only true God, and the Holy Ghost is the only true God. But it cannot be said that either the Father only is the true God, or the Son only is the true God, or the Holy Ghost only is the true God: but they are each of them that God which is the only true one, and of which there is but one and no more. Do but observe that the word only affects not the subject spoken of, but the thing affirmed, or spoken of that subject. The case is but like this, as if I should use these words, “This is the only London.” It may be true for ought we know, that there is no other Lon don, but this which is famously called so by that name, but if one should say, “This only is London,” that is, this place where we are, and there the only should limit the subject, that were false; for there are thousands of places in London as well as this, there are a great many assemblies in London, a great many places of worship and societies besides this: but we may say, “This is the only London,” so the difference ib plain to any that will consider it.

I might insist much more largely, (but it is not needful to say every thing that might be said in a plain case,) concerning the Son, to prove his divine personality by most manifest attributes 12of Deity, given him over and over in Scripture, as “The First and the Last:” creating power, as a Him by whom the world was made, and by whom he made the world,” which is over and over said of him. Col. i. 15. Heb. i. 3. John i. beginning. And universal knowledge, Omnisciency, heart knowledge; “Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” But then,

Secondly. Concerning the divine person of the Holy Ghost, that he also is God; that doth sure, carry convictive light with it to any that do consider, that when the form of baptism is given (as was said) with design to state the whole object of our religion, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” are mentioned together; and there can be no object of religion but God, none but a divine person: and we find the Holy Ghost frequently mentioned, upon the same account, as one of those eminent three. How many places are there (it were end less to name them) where these three are brought in together, as it were purposely to signify that they were ejusdem ordinus, of the same order; and that we are to conceive of each of them under the same notion, that is, that of Deity, of the Godhead in God. Look but to that 1 Pet. i. 2. Rom. i. 4, 5. 2 Thes. ii. 13, 14: and a great many places besides, where these three are brought in still together. As if it were purposely to signify their being of one order, and as having, in distinct respects, a concern in our great affairs; those that relate to our salvation and blessedness. Besides, that it must be a great prevarication, to understand that place otherwise than as expressing the Holy Ghost to be God: Acts v. 3, 4. “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie unto the Holy Ghost?—thou hast not lied unto man, but unto God.” And certainly if he were not God, it were the most dangerous thing in all the world, to have him represented to us as if he were: and so tempt men to pay the homage of divine worship to a creature. It is never to be imagined, that there would have been such a snare laid before us, to lead us into so dangerous a mistake as that: things would have been spoken more cautiously, if he had not been God, than, when it was just said before, “Why dost thou lie against the Holy Ghost?” so immediately to say, “Thou didst not lie to man but unto God.” It is not to be thought, (the thing being so full of danger) to place the notion or homage of the Deity upon any thing to which it doth not belong, that there should have been such incautiousness used, or so little caution, as directly to lead and train persons into so perilous a mistake. But besides all this, to put the matter out of all doubt; whereas, they that will have the Holy Ghost not to be 13God, being urged, “What is he then?” do say, “He is the mighty power of God, a certain mighty vis emissa, a divine power that issues from God for the working such and such effects.” As for this conceit, pray do but consider the matter thus, Is the Holy Ghost indeed not God, but the power of God? Why this power which it is said to be, is either a created power, or an uncreated one. If it be an uncreated power, He is God, for every thing that is uncreated is God: if he be then a created power, the created power of God, or the power of God, but created, then it seems God did, without power, create this power, and was without power till he had created it: so that he did the act of creation (which is an act of omnipotency) when he was impotent. It supposes, first, an impotent God, and then supposeth him, when he was impotent, to create his own power; that is, when he was without all power, he did that act which requires an infiniteness of power, to wit, to create. I know nothing that carries clearer evidence with it, than this doth, that the Holy Ghost cannot be that created power which these persons pretend to; or cannot be divine power distinct from God, from the very essence of God. Every thing of God is God, and cannot be otherwise. If he were the power of God and not God, he must have been created power, by God; that is to say, God did create omnipotent power, being before impotent; for this it plainly comes to.

Thus far, I think, it Is with some competent clearness evident, that these three, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, (concerning the first, as you have heard, there is no question) are persons; they are that which we cannot conceive of otherwise than under the notion of persons: and they are divine persons, so that there are three divine persons that do subsist in the Godhead, that is but one. So you have this, as the doctrinal truth of this place, and as the real truth in itself, positively evidenced to you.

What is to be said by way of objection against it, we shall next come to. Only upon the whole matter, it seems to me, that there needs a great deal more of humility and reverence and seriousness and fear of the Lord, over-awing the spirits of men, to apprehend this to be the plain doctrine of Scripture, than of further argument in the case. And that will more appear by considering how irrational the pretence is, that this is a thing rationally impossible, that there should be such three, that are but one God. Nothing indeed, would be plainer than that the same cannot be three and one, in one and the same respect: but, that they may be three in one respect, and but one in another respect, we may make appear to be no impossible 14thing, and that there is nothing of harshness in it, nay, whereof we have parallel instances, (as far as there can be a parity between God and creatures) that occur to us every day. So that one would wonder how men can stumble in so plain a way, and when there is nothing indeed in view that should occasion it, besides their having indulged themselves, I fear, too much liberty to prevaricate in their own minds, and reasonings before, and then they think it reasonable to justify error by erring always, by never retracting, or by endeavouring to make men believe, that things suggested to them as true, are impossible to be true.

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