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The doctrine of the blessed Trinity asserted, and proved not contrary to reason:
PREACHED BETWEEN THE YEARS 1663 AND 1670,
THE UNIVERSITY OF OXON,
To the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.
Εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ Πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
IN the handling and asserting of the doctrine of the Trinity, I do not remember any place so often urged, and so much insisted upon by divines, as that in 1 John v. 7, There are three who hear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one: a text fully containing in it the doctrine of three distinct divine Per sons in one and the same blessed and eternal God head; a doctrine unanimously received by the catholic Christian church, and warranted by the testimony of the most ancient, genuine, and unexceptionable records or copies of the New Testament, as well as of the most noted of the fathers concerning it; and that not only as of a single article, but rather as the sum total of our Christian faith; and not so much a part or member, as a full but short compendium 195of our religion. And yet, under these high advantages of credibility, we see what opposition it met with, both from ancients and moderns; of the first sort of which we have Arius, with his infamous crew, leading the van, by questioning the text itself, as if not originally extant in some two or three ancient copies of this epistle; and of the latter sort are those innumerable sects and sectaries sprung up since; some of them openly denying, and some of them, whose learning, one would have thought, might have been better employed, slyly undermining this grand fundamental; and while they seemingly acknowledge the truth, as it lies in the bare Words of the text, treacherously giving it up in the explication.
As for the Socinians, who hold with the Arians, so far as they oppose us, though not in all which the Arians assert themselves, they have a double refuge. And first, with them pretending the doubtfulness of the text, they would further evade it by a new interpretation of its sense, affirming, that this expression, these three are one, does not of necessity import an unity of nature, but only of consent: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, being therefore said to be one, because they jointly and indivisibly carry on one and the same design; all of them jointly concurring in the great work of man’s salvation.
Thus say they; but if this were indeed so, and if no more than matter of consent were here intended, where then (in God’s name) would be the mystery which the universal Christian church have all along acknowledged to be contained in these words? For that the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, 196should thus jointly concur in and carry on the grand business of saving mankind, is a doctrine expressing in it nothing mysterious, unaccountable, or surpassing man’s understanding at all.
But further, if unity of consent only were here intended, why in all reason was it expressed by ἕν εἰσι, that is, they are one thing, being, or nature; and not rather by εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσι, they agree in one? as in the very next verse to this, such an unity of concurrence in the spirit, the water, and the blood, is expressed by the same words, εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσι, manifestly importing no identity or unity of nature or being, but only of agreement in some certain respect or other: and doubtless, in so very near a neighbour hood and conjunction of words, had the sense been perfectly the same, there can be no imaginable reason given, why the apostle should in the very same case thus have varied the expression.
But, for yet a further assertion of the great truth now insisted upon, this text out of the epistle to the Colossians will as effectually evince the same, as the place before mentioned, though perhaps not quite so plainly, nor wholly in the same way; that is to say, it will do it by solid inference and just consequence from the words, though not expressly in the very words themselves. And accordingly we may consider those words, Εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ Πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ., two different ways, viz.
1st, As the term τοῦ Θεοῦ may be taken personally, as in scripture sometimes it is, and then it will here signify the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the blessed Trinity, though not indeed mentioned in this place in the same order in which the three Persons commonly use to be; but the order, I conceive, may 197sometime be less observed, without any change in or detriment to the article itself. And so this text out of the epistle to the Colossians will point out to us the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity, as well as that fore-alleged place out of St. John did. But,
2dly, If the word τοῦ Θεοῦ be here taken essentially, and for the divine nature only, then the particle καὶ will import here properly a distribution of τοῦ Θεοῦ, (signifying the divine nature,) as a term common to those two, τοῦ Πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, as to two particular Persons, distinguished by their respective properties. And so taken, it must be confessed, that the term τοῦ Θεοῦ here will not signify the Person of the Holy Ghost. But granting all this, are there not, however, two other Persons in the divine nature manifestly signified thereby? forasmuch as the Godhead, here imported by τοῦ Θεοῦ, is expressly applied both to the Father and the Son, in those words, τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ Πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ. And that, I am sure, (should it reach no further,) is a full and irrefragable confutation of the Socinians, the grand and chief opposers of the doctrine now insisted upon. For these men deny not a plurality of Persons in the Godhead from any allegation or pretence of some peculiar repugnancy of the number of three to the same, more than of any other number; but because they absolutely deny, that there can be any more Persons in the Godhead than only one. And consequently, that a duality, or binary number of Persons in it, would, in a Socinian’s account, pass for no less in absurdity than even a Trinity itself, the grand article controverted between us and them. The words, therefore, being thus examined and 198explained, I shall draw forth the sense of them into this one proposition; viz.
That a plurality of Persons, or personal subsistences in the divine nature, is a great mystery, and so to be acknowledged by all who really are and profess themselves Christians.
The discussion of which shall lie in these two things:
I. In shewing what conditions are required to denominate a thing properly a mystery. And,
II. In shewing that all these conditions meet in the article of the blessed Trinity.
I. And first for the first of these. The conditions required to constitute and denominate a thing properly a mystery, are these three:
1. That the thing so denominated be in itself really true, and not contrary to reason.
2. That it be a thing above the power and reach of mere reason to find it out before it be revealed. And,
3. That being revealed, it be yet very difficult for, if not above, finite reason fully to understand and comprehend it. And here,
1. For the first of these conditions: a mystery must be a thing really true, and by no means contrary to reason. Where let me lay down this rule or maxim, as the groundwork of all that is to follow; to wit, That as nothing can be an article of faith, that is not true, so neither can any thing be true, that is irrational. Some indeed lay this as their foundation, That men, in matters of religion, are to deny and renounce their reason: but if so, then let any one declare, why I am bound to embrace the Christian 199religion rather than that of Mahomet, or of any other impostor. And I suppose you will in the first place tell me, because the Christian religion was revealed and attested by God; whereas others, opposing it, were not so. To which I answer, first, that this very thing, that it was thus attested by God, is the greatest reason for our believing it true in the world, and as convincing as any demonstration in the mathematics; it being founded upon the essential, unfailing veracity of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. But then further, in the second place, I ask, how I shall come to know, that this is revealed by God? Now here, if you will prove this to me, (it being matter of fact,) you must have recourse to all those grounds upon which reason uses to believe matters of fact, when past, and accordingly shew me, how that all these are to be found for the divine revelation of the Christian religion, and not of any other pretending to oppose or contradict it. And this, I am sure, is solid and true arguing in the case before us; and being so, what can it amount to less, than a just demonstration of the thing here intended to be proved? I say, a demonstration proceeding upon principles of moral certainty; a certainty full and sufficient, and such as, being denied, must infallibly draw after it as great an absurdity in reference to practice, as the denial of any first principle can do in point of speculation. As for instance, I look upon the unanimous testimony of a competent number of sincere, disinterested eye or ear-witnesses; and, which is more, (in the present case inspired too,) all affirming the same thing, to be a ground morally certain, why we should believe that thing; forasmuch as the denial of its certainty would, amongst many 200other absurdities, run us upon this great one, that we can have no assurance or certain knowledge of any thing, but what we ourselves have personally seen, heard, or observed with our own senses; which assertion, if stuck to, would be as absurd and inconvenient in the transactions of common life, as to deny that two and two make four in arithmetic. And in good earnest it will be very hard (if possible) to assign any other sufficient reason, why our Saviour, in Mark xvi. 14, upbraided some with their unbelief, as unexcusable, only for not believing those who had seen him after he was risen.
In short, the ultimate object of faith is divine revelation; that is, I believe such a thing to be true, because it is revealed by God: but then my reason must prove to me that it is revealed; so that, this way, reason is that into which all religion is at last resolved.
And let me add a little further, that no one truth can possibly contradict another truth; for if two truths might contradict, then two contradictions might be true. And therefore, if it be true in Christian religion, that one nature may subsist in three persons, the same cannot be false in reason. Thus much I confess, that, take the thing abstract from divine revelation, there is nothing in reason able to prove that there is such a thing; but then this also is as true, that there is nothing in reason able to disprove it, and to evince it to be impossible.
But you will say, that for the same thing to be three and one is a contradiction, and therefore reason cannot but conclude it impossible. I answer, that for a thing to be one in that very respect in which it is three, is a contradiction; but to assert, that 201that which is one in this respect may be three in another, is no contradiction.
But you will reply, that the single nature of any person is uncommunicable to another, as the essence of Peter is circumscribed within the person of Peter, and so cannot be communicated to Paul.
In answer to this, let it be here observed, that this is the constant fallacy that runs through all the arguments of the Socinians in this dispute; and all that they urge against a triple subsistence of the divine nature is still from instances taken from created natures, and applied to the divine; and because they see this impossible, or at least never exemplified in them, they conclude hence, that it must be so also in this.
But this is a gross and apparent error in argumentation; it being a mere transition a genere ad genus, which is to conclude the same thing of different kinds; and because this holds true in things of this nature, to conclude hence, that therefore the same must be true also in things that are of a clean different nature; which is a manifest paralogism.
To all these arguments therefore, I oppose this one, I think, not irrational consideration; that it is a thing very agreeable even to the notions of bare reason to imagine, that the divine nature has a way of subsisting very different from the subsistence of any created being. For inasmuch as nature and subsistence go to the making up of a person, why may not the way of their subsistence be quite as different as their natures are confessed to be? one nature being infinite, the other finite. And therefore, though it be necessary in things created (as no one instance appears to the contrary) for one single essence 202to subsist in one single person, and no more; does this at all prove, that the same must be also necessary in God, whose nature is wholly different from theirs, and consequently may differ as much in the manner of his subsistence, and so may have one and the same nature diffused into three distinct persons? This one consideration, I say, well weighed and applied, will retund the edge and dint of all the Socinian assaults against this great article; whom I have still observed to assert boldly, when they conclude weakly, and in all their arguments to prove nothing more than this, that the greatest pretenders to, are not always the greatest masters of reason.
But here, before I dismiss this particular, I shall observe this, that for a man to prove a thing clearly, is to bring it, by certain and apparent consequence, from some principle in itself known and evident, and granted by all: otherwise it would not be a demonstration, but an infinite progress.
Now this being supposed; in case any one shall so disprove the Trinity, as to shew that it really contradicts some such principle of reason evident in itself, and universally granted by the unprejudiced apprehensions of mankind, I should not be afraid to expunge this article out of my creed, and to discharge any man living from a necessity of believing it: for God cannot enjoin any thing absurd or impossible. But for any man to assent to two contradictory propositions, as true, while he perceives them to be contradictory, is the first-born of impossibilities.
Reason therefore is undeservedly and ignorantly traduced, when it is set up and shot at, as the irreconcileable enemy of religion. It is indeed the 203very crown and privilege of our nature; a ray of divinity sent into a mortal body; the star that guides all wise men to Christ; the lantern that leads the eye of faith, and is no more an enemy to it, than an obedient handmaid to a discreet mistress. Those indeed, whose tenets will not bear the test of it, and whose ware goes off best in the dark rooms of ignorance and credulity, and whose faith has as much cause to dread a discovery as their works; these, I say, may decry reason; and that indeed not without reason.
For ask such, upon what grounds they believe the truth of Christian religion, whereas others so much oppose it: and here, instead of rational inducements and solid arguments, we shall have long harangues of the kingdom of Jesus Christ; of rolling upon the promises; of the spirit of assurance; and the preciousness of gospel dispensations; with many other such like words, as shew that they have followed their own advice to others, and wholly renounced their reason themselves.
But I cannot think or persuade myself, that God gave us eyes only that we may pluck them out, and brought us into the world with reason, that being born men, we might afterwards grow up and improve into brutes, and become elaborately irrational. No, surely: reason is both the gift and image of God; and every degree of its improvement is a further degree of likeness to him. And though I cannot judge it a fit saying for a dying Christian to make, that wish of Averroes, Sit anima mea cum philosophis; yet, while he lives, I think no Christian ought to be ashamed to wish, Sit anima mea cum philosophia. And for all these boastings of new lights, inbeamings, 204and inspirations, that man that follows his reason, both in the choice and defence of his religion, will find himself better led and directed by this one guide, than by an hundred Directories. And thus much for the first condition.
2. The second condition required to denominate a thing properly a mystery is, That it be above the reach of reason to find it out, and that it be first knowable only by revelation. This, I suppose, I shall not be called upon to prove; it being a thing clear in itself.
But we have been told by some, that there are some hints and traces of the article of the Trinity to be found in some heathen writers, as Trismegistus and Plato, who are said to make mention of it. To which I answer, first, that if there do occur such hints of a Trinity in such writers, yet it follows not hence, that they owed them to the invention of their own reason, but received them from others by tradition, who themselves first had them from revelation. But, secondly, to the case in hand, I answer more fully, that it cannot be denied, but that some Christians have endeavoured to defend the truth imprudently and unwarrantably, by bad arts, and falsifying of ancient writers; and that such places as speak of the Trinity are spurious, or at least suspicious; as the whole book that now goes under the name of Trismegistus, called his Paemander, may justly be supposed to be.
But that we may a little aid and help out our apprehensions in conceiving of this great mystery, let us endeavour to see, whether, upon the grounds and notions of reason, we can frame to ourselves any thing that may carry in it some shadow and resemblance 205at least of one single, undivided nature’s casting itself into three subsistences, without receding from its own unity. And for this purpose, we may represent to ourselves an infinite rational mind, which, considered under the first and original perfection of being or existence, may be called the Father; inasmuch as the perfection of existence is the first and productive of all others. Secondly, in the same infinite mind may be considered the perfection of understanding, as being the first great perfection that issues from the perfection of existence, and so may be called the Son, who also is called ὁ Λόγος, the Word, as being the first emanation of that infinite mind. And then, thirdly, when that infinite mind, by its understanding, reflects upon its own essential perfections, there cannot but ensue an act of volition and complacency in those perfections, arising from such an intellectual reflection upon them; which may be called the Holy Ghost, who therefore is said to proceed both from the Father and the Son, because there must be not only existence, but also understanding, before there can be love and volition. Here, then, we see, that one and the same mind is both being, understanding, and willing; and yet we can neither say that being is understanding, nor that understanding is willing; nor, on the contrary, that understanding is merely being, nor that willing is understanding: forasmuch as the proper natural conception of one is not the conception of the other, nor yet commensurate to it. And this I propose, neither as a full explication, nor much less as a just representation of this great mystery; but only (as I intimated before, and intend no more now) as some remote and faint resemblance or adumbration thereof. 206For still this is and must be acknowledged unconceivably above the reach and ken of any human intellect; and as a depth, in which the tallest reason may swim, and, if it ventures too far, may chance to be swallowed up too.
Nay, I think that it was a thing, not only locked up from the researches of reason, amongst those that were led only by reason, I mean the gentiles, but that it was also concealed from, or at best but obscurely known by the Jewish church. And Peter Galatine assigns a reason, why God was not pleased to give the Jews any express revelation of this mystery; namely, that people’s great stupidity and grossness of apprehension, together with their exceeding proneness to idolatry; by reason of the former of which, they would have been apt to entertain very uncouth and mistaken conceptions of the Godhead and the three Persons, as if they had been three distinct Gods, and thereupon to have been easily induced to an idolatrous worship and opinion of them; and therefore, that the unfolding of this mystery was reserved till the days of the Messias, by which time the world should, by a long increase of knowledge, grow more and more refined, and prepared for the reception of this so sublime and mysterious an article.
This was his reason for God’s concealing it from the Jews; for that God did so, the Old Testament, which is the great ark and repository of the Jewish religion, seems sufficiently to declare; there being no text in it, that plainly and expressly holds forth a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead. Several texts are indeed urged for that purpose, though (whatever they may allude to) they seem not yet to be of that 207force and evidence, as to infer what some undertake to prove by them. Such as are,
1. Those words in the first of Genesis, Bara Elohim; where Elohim signifying God, and being of the plural number, is joined with bara, creavit, a verb of the singular. Whence some collect, that the former word imports a plurality of persons, and the latter an unity of essence. But others deny, that any such peculiar meaning ought or can be gathered from that which is indeed no more than an idiom and propriety of the Hebrew language. So that Elohim, applied to others besides God, is often joined with a singular number.
2. Another place alleged for the same purpose is that in Gen. i. 26, Let us make man in our own image; where they say, that there is a consultation amongst many persons in the Godhead. But to this also it is answered, that the term, Let us make, does not of necessity imply any plurality, but may import only the majesty of the speaker; kings and princes being accustomed to speak of themselves in the plural number: as, “We will and require you;” and, “It is our royal will and pleasure.” This is the common dialect of kings; and yet it infers in the speaker no plurality, for then surely a king would speak very unlike a monarch.
3. There is a third place also, in Isai. vi. 3, where the threefold repetition of holy, holy, holy, applied to God, is urged by some to relate distinctly to the three hypostases of the Godhead. But this is thought by others to have so little of an argument in it, as scarce to merit any answer; it being so usual with all nations and languages to express any thing vehement or extraordinary by thrice repeating the word 208used by them: suitable to which are those expressions that occur in classic authors, as, Tergeminis tollit honoribus, and O ter felices, and Illi robur et aes triplex circa pectus erat, with infinite the like instances; in all which, the manner of speaking serves only to express the greatness of the thing spoke of. So that these and such like places of scripture carry not in them any such evident proof of the Trinity, as to persuade us that the Jewish church could from hence arrive to any clear knowledge of this article. The forementioned Galatine indeed affirms the Talmudists to speak several things concerning it very plainly; and from hence concludes, that in regard the Talmud is a collection of the several sayings and writings of the old Jewish doctors upon the Old Testament, it must import, that since they wrote such things of the Trinity and the Messias, there was then a knowledge of these things in the Jewish church. But I fear the authority of those Talmudical writings will weigh so little in this case, that if the letter of the scripture will not otherwise speak a Trinity, but as it is helped out and expounded by the Talmud, few sober persons will seek for it there. The only solid proof, that makes towards the eviction of a Trinity from thence, I conceive to lie in those texts that prove the divine nature of the Messias, whose coming was then expected by all the Jews. Otherwise, surely, the knowledge of this article could but very obscurely be gathered from the bare writings of Moses and the prophets, and consequently was by no means received with that explicitness in the ancient Jewish church, that it is now in the Christian.
As for the opinion of the modern Jews touching 209this matter, we shall find, that these acknowledge no such thing as a Trinity, but utterly reject and explode it. And as for the Mahumetan religion, (which, being a gallimaufry made up of many, partakes much of the Jewish,) that also wholly denies it. And the professors of it, in all their public performances of religious worship, with much zeal and earnestness frequently reiterate and repeat this article; There is but one God, there is but one God; not so much out of zeal to assert the unity of the Godhead, as to exclude the Trinity of Persons maintained by the Christians.
I conclude therefore, that it is very probable, that the discovery of this mystery was a privilege reserved to bless the times of Christianity withal, and that the Jews had either none, or but a very weak and confused knowledge of it. It was the great arcanum for the receiving of which the world was to be many ages in preparing. As long as the veil of the temple remained, it was a secret not to be looked into; an holy of holies, into which even the high priest himself did not enter. And thus much for the second condition required to make or constitute a mystery; namely, that it be above the strength of bare reason to find it out before it is revealed.
3. The third and last is this; That after it is revealed, it be yet difficult to be understood. And he who thinks the contrary, let him make trial. For although there is nothing in reason to contradict, yet neither is there any thing to comprehend it. We may as well shut a mountain within a molehill, or take up the ocean in a cockle-shell, as reach the stupendous sacred intricacies of the divine subsistence, by the short and feeble notions of a created apprehension.210
Reason indeed proves the revelation of it by God; but then, having done this, here it stops, and pretends not to understand and fathom the nature of the thing revealed.
If any one should plead a parity of the case, as to this article of the Trinity, and that about transubstantiation; and allege, that since we deny not a Trinity, though we understand it not, but account it a mystery, and so believe it; why may we not take transubstantiation also into the number of mysteries, and believe it, though it be intricate, and impossible to be understood?
To this I answer, 1st, in general, that no man discoursing or proceeding rationally upon this subject, refuses to believe transubstantiation merely upon this account, that it is impossible to be understood. 2dly, I affirm, that the case between transubstantiation and the Trinity is very different; the former being contradicted by the judgment of that faculty, of which it is properly the object; the latter being not at all contradicted, but only not comprehended by the faculty, to which the judgment and cognizance of it does belong. To make which clear, we must observe, that both the bread and the body of Christ, about which transubstantiation is said to be effected, being endued with quantity, colour, and the like, are the proper objects of sense, and so fall under the cognizance of the sight and touch; which senses being entire, and acting as naturally they ought, they both can and do certainly judge of their proper objects, and upon such judgment find it to be a contradiction for a small body retaining its own proper dimensions, at the same time to have the dimensions of a body forty times greater. For one body to be circumscribed, 211and so compassed in one place, and at the same time to fill a thousand more, I say it is a contradiction; for it makes the same thing in the very same respect to be circumscribed, and not to be circumscribed; circumscribed, because encompassed in such a place; and yet not circumscribed, because extending itself beyond that place to many others.
But now, on the other side, the divine nature and the Trinity are not the objects of sense, and consequently sense passes no judgment upon them. But they are the objects of (and so only triable by) the mind and the understanding; taking in these things from the reports not of sense, but revelation. Which supreme faculty being thus informed by revelation, tendering these reports to its apprehension, and withal finding that none of those rules or principles, by which it judges of the truth or falsity of what it apprehends, do at all contradict what revelation thus speaks and reports of the divine nature and the Trinity; it rationally judges, that they may and ought to be assented to.
For the stress of the point lies here, and let all the reason of mankind prove, if it can, that wheresoever the denomination of three is ascribed to any nature, it must of necessity multiply the nature itself, and not only its relations. Which being so, those that make the article of the Trinity parallel to that of transubstantiation, in point of its contrariety to reason, if they will speak and argue to the purpose, must undertake to prove, that for one infinite being or nature to be in any respect, or upon any account whatsoever, three, without a triplication of that nature, and so a loss of its unity, is as contrary and repugnant to some known principle of reason discoursing 212upon the reports of revelation; as for that thing, which all my senses tell me to be a little piece of bread, to be yet both for figure and dimension really a man’s body, is contradictory to all those principles, by which sense judges of those things that properly fall under the judgment of sense.
Let this, I say, be clearly and conclusively made out, and the business is done. But till then, they must give us leave to judge, that there is as much difference between the article of the Trinity as stated by us, and that of transubstantiation as stated by them, as there is between difficulty and contradiction.
And now, if there be any whose reason is so unruly and over-curious, as to be still inquisitive and unsatisfied, such must remember, that when we have made the utmost explications of this article, we pretend not thereby to have altered the nature of the subject we have been treating of; which, after all, is still a mystery; and they must know, moreover, that when the sacred mysteries of religion are discoursed of, the business of a Christian is sobriety and submission, and his duty to be satisfied, even though he were not convinced. The Trinity is a fundamental article of the Christian religion; and as he that denies it may lose his soul, so he that too much strives to understand it may lose his wits. Know ledge is nice, intricate, and tedious; but faith is easy; and what is more, it is safe. And why should I then unhinge my brains, ruin my mind, and pursue distraction in the disquisition of that which a little study would sufficiently convince me to be not intelligible? Or why should I by chewing a pill make it useless, which swallowed whole might be curing and restorative? A Christian, in these matters, 213has nothing to do but to believe; and since I can not scientifically comprehend this mystery, I shall worship it with the religion of submission and wonder, and casting down my reason before it, receive it with the devotions of silence, and the humble distances of adoration.
But here, having drawn the business so far, I can not but take notice of some of those blasphemous expressions which the Socinians use concerning the sacred mystery of the Trinity; their terms (as I have collected some out of many) are such as these: Deus tripersonatus. Idolum portentosum. Figmentum Satanae. Antichristi Cerberus. Triceps Geryon. Idolum trifrons. Monstrum triforme. Deus incognitus, adeoque procul rejiciendus, et Satanae conditori suo restituendus. Now, that the authors of these ugly appellations shew themselves not only bold and impious, but also (what by no means they would be thought) very unreasonable, will, I think, appear from these two considerations.
First, That the doctrine so broadly decried by them is at least very difficult, and hardly comprehensible; and therefore, though it could not be proved true, yet, upon the same score, it can as hardly be proved false. But now these expressions ought to proceed not only upon the supposition of its bare falsity, but also upon the evidence and undeniable clearness of its falsity; or they must needs be impudent and intolerable.
He that says, that it is clear that there can be no such thing as the quadrature of the circle, makes an impudent assertion; for, though possibly there can be really no such thing, yet since there have been such 214considerable reasons for it, as to engage the greatest wits in the search after it, no man can rationally say, that it is clear and manifest that there is no such thing. But besides, in this case they deal very irrationally in rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity, because it is not intelligible; when not only in divinity, but also in philosophy, (where yet, not faith, but strict ratiocination should take place,) they acknowledge many things which the best reason will scarce be able to frame an explicit notion and apprehension of. Such as are the composition and division of continued quantities, and the like; which these men, I believe, will not deny, though it would set them hard to give a clear account of them.
Secondly. The same charge of absurdity lies against these men upon this account, that they prefer their particular reason before the united reason of a much greater number than themselves; every one of which were of as great industry to search, and of as great abilities to understand the mysteries of divinity, as these men can be presumed to be.
Now, as this is much beside good manners, so indeed it is no less short of good reason; which will prove thus much at least; that when a few learned persons deny a proposition, and others forty times more numerous, and altogether as learned, do unanimously affirm it, it is very probable that the truth stands rather with the majority.
For if I should demand of these men, how they come to judge the doctrine of the Trinity to be false? they must tell me, that they have studied the point, considered the text, examined it by the principles of 215reason, and that by the use of these means they come at length to make this conclusion.
But to this I answer, that others who have studied the point as much, considered the text as exactly, and examined it by as strong principles of reason as their opposites could pretend to, and so standing upon equal ground with them in point of abilities, have much the advantage of them in point of number.
But you will say, Must I therefore conclude, that what is affirmed by such a majority of persons so qualified is certainly true? I answer, No; but this I assert; that it is great reason, though their assertion appear never so strange to me, that I should yet suspend my judgment, and not peremptorily conclude it false: since there is hardly any means nor way of ratiocination used by one to prove it a falsity, but by the very same way and means others persuade themselves, that they as strongly prove it to be a truth.
And thus I think, that these men’s exceptions against this great article are, to such as under stand reason, sufficiently proved irrational. But since these men reject the doctrine of the Trinity upon pretence both of its impiety and absurdity, it is but requisite, that they should acquit themselves in all their doctrine, from holding any thing either impious or absurd. But yet, that they cannot do so, these following positions maintained by them will, I believe, demonstrate:
1. To assert, as Volkelius, in his second book De Vera Religione, and the fourth chapter, not obscurely does, the matter of the universe to be a passive principle eternally coexisting with God, the active, is impious, 216and not consistent with God’s infinite power; for if matter has its being from itself, it will follow, that it can preserve itself in being against all opposition, and consequently, that God cannot destroy it, which makes him not omnipotent.
2. To allow God’s power to be infinite, and yet his substance to be finite, is monstrously absurd; but to assert, as Crellius, in his book De Attributis Dei, in the 27th chapter, does, that his substance is circumscribed within the compass of the highest heaven, is clearly to make it finite.
3. To allow all God’s prophecies and predictions recorded in scripture, of future contingent passages, depending upon the free choice of man’s will, to have been certain and infallible, and yet his prescience or foreknowledge of the same contingent things not to be certain, but only conjectural, as Socinus, in the 8th chapter of his Prelections, does affirm, is out of measure absurd and ridiculous.
4. To affirm Christ to be a mere creature, and no more, and yet to contend, that he is to be invoked and worshipped with divine worship, is exceedingly absurd, and contrary to all the discourses of right reason; and withal, as offensive and scandalous to Jews and Turks, and such like, as the bare affirmation of his divine nature can be pretended to be. But Socinus, though he denies this, yet is so earnest for the divine adoration and invocation of Christ, that he affirms, that of the two, it is better to be a Trinitarian, than not to ascribe this to him.
5. To assert, that the people of God, under the Jewish economy, lay under the obligation of no precept to pray to God, as Volkelius, in his 4th book 217 De Vera Religione, and the 9th chapter, positively affirms, is an assertion highly impious, and to all pious minds abominable.
6. To assert, that it is lawful for a man to tell a He, to secure himself from some great danger or in convenience, as the same Volkelius, in the 4th book, and 19th chapter, does, is such a thing, as not only consists not with piety and sincerity, but tends to drive even common honesty and society out of the world.
7. To assert, that it is unlawful for Christians in any case to wage war, as Socinus himself does in his 2d epistle to Christophorus Morstinus, a Polonian commander, in which he allows him to bring his army into the field in terrorem hostium, provided that he neither strikes a stroke, nor draws blood, nor cuts off a limb: this, I say, is grossly ab surd and unnatural, and contrary to the eternal principle of self-preservation; as engaging men, even for conscience sake, to surrender their lives and fortunes to any thief or murderer, that shall think fit to require them. Neither can Socinus, in reason, so urge those words of our Saviour, (in Matt, v. 39,) of not resisting evil, in this case, if he will be but true to his own principle. For in his 3d book De Christo Servatore, and the 6th chapter, disputing against Christ’s satisfaction, he pleads, “that in regard it is,” as he says, “contrary to reason, though the scripture should never so often affirm it, yet it ought not to be admitted or assented to.” Now, if this be his rule, I demand of him, whether, for a man to preserve himself, and that even with the destruction of the life of the person assailing him, supposing that he cannot possibly do it otherwise, 218be not as undeniable a dictate or principle of natural reason, as any that he can pretend to be contradicted by Christ’s satisfaction. And therefore, if he can lay aside Christ’s satisfaction, though the scripture were never so express for it, in regard of the contrariety he pretends in it to reason; why may not we, upon the same grounds, assert the necessity of self-preservation in the instance of war, though the scripture expressly forbids it? Since for a man to relinquish his own defence, is indubitably contrary to the dictates of nature, and consequently of reason.
But we need not recur to this, for the warranting men under the gospel to defend their lives, though with the destruction of those that would take them away. Only this I allege as an argument ad hominem, which sufficiently shews how slight and desultorious this man is in his principles and way of arguing, while at one time he frames to himself a principle for his present turn, and at another makes assertions, and raises discourses, which that principle most directly overthrows. Now all the forementioned absurdities (with many more that might be reckoned) are the tenets of those who deny the article of the Trinity, because, forsooth, it is impious and absurd; that is, who strain at one gnat, having already swallowed so many vast camels. And yet these are the persons, who in all their writings have the face to own themselves to the world for those heroes, whom God, by his special providence, has raised up to explain Christian religion, and to reform the doctrine of the church. I suppose, just in the same sense, that the school of Calvin was to reform her discipline.219
And now in the last place; because this article is of so great moment, and stands, as it were, in the very front of our religion, so that it is of very high concernment to all to be sound and throughpaced in the belief of it; I shall shew,
1. What have been the causes that have first unsettled, and at the last destroyed the belief of it in some. And,
2. What may be the best means to settle and preserve the belief of it in ourselves and others.
For the first of these. There are three things, which I think have been the great causes that have took some off from the belief of this article. As,
1. That bold, profane, and absurd custom of some persons, in attempting to paint and represent it in figure. He who paints God, does a contradiction; for he attempts to make that visible, which he professes to be invisible. The ministers of Transylvania and Sarmatia, rank assertors of the Socinian heresy, in a certain book,99 See a Latin book in 4to, entitled, Praemonitiones Christi et apostolorum, per ministros quosdam in Sarmatia et Transylvania, &c. (wherein they make confession of their faith as to these articles,) insist upon nothing so much, nor indeed so plausibly, for their rejection of the article of the Trinity, as those several strange pictures and images of the Trinity, which some persons had set up in several of their churches: sometimes describing it by one head carved into three faces, to which, so set up in a certain church, they subjoin this distich;
Mense trifrons isto Janum pater urbe bifrontem
Expulit, ut solus regnet in orbe trifrons;
that is to say, that the God having three faces had driven, or, if you will, outfaced poor Janus out of 220the world, who had but two. And likewise elsewhere such another;
Jane biceps, anni tacite labentis origo;
Trifrontem pellas, ni miser esse velis.
Sometimes also they represent it by a ring set with three diamonds, in three equidistant places of it; and sometimes by the picture of three men of an equal pitch sitting together at one table, and upon one seat: and sometimes the same is expressed by the image of an old man, a child, and a dove; one signifying the Father, one the Son, and the third the Holy Ghost. All which things, being so contrary to the very natural notions which reason has of God, have brought many sober parts of the world to nauseate and abhor our whole religion, and to reject Christianity as only a new scheme of the old gentile idolatry; and withal have warranted the forementioned heretics to think they had cause for all those vile and wretched appellations, with which we shew how they bespattered this divine mystery: which blasphemies will, no doubt, be one day laid at the door, not of those only who denied, but of those also who painted the Trinity; and by so doing, made others to deny it. And indeed so far has the common sort of mankind took offence at these things, that if the belief of a God were not very deeply imprinted in man’s nature, such men’s cursed irrational boldness, in presuming to paint him, would go very near to bring all those about them, by degrees, to question the very Deity itself.
2. A second cause of the same evil, is the equally bold and insignificant terms which some of the schoolmen have expressed this great article by; who, pursuing their own phenomena as undoubted truths, speak as peremptorily and confidently of this 221profound mystery, as if it were a thing obvious to the first apprehensions of sense. It was a good and a pious saying of an ancient writer, Periculosum est de Deo etiam vera dicere. No wonder, therefore, if these men, discoursing of the nature and subsistence of God, in a language neither warrantable nor apprehensible, have by their modalities, suppositalities, circumincessions, and twenty such other chimeras, so misrepresented this adorable article of the Trinity to men’s reason, as to bring them first to loathe, and at length to deny it.
3. A third cause, which has much weakened some men’s belief of this article, has been the imprudent building it upon some texts of scripture, which indeed will evince no such thing. Such as those places which I mentioned out of the Old Testament; and such as one of the ancients once brought for a proof of the eternal generation and deity of the Word, from that expression of David, in Psal. xlv. 1. Quisquamne dubitat, says he, de divinitate Filii, cum legerit illud Psalmistae, Cor meum eructavit verbum bonum? Concerning which and the like allegations, I shall only make one very obvious, but as true, and perhaps too true, a remark, that whatsoever is produced and insisted upon in behalf of any great and momentous point of religion, if it comes not fully close and home to the same, it is always found much more effectual to expose the truth it is brought for, than to support it, and to confirm the heretic it is brought against, than to convince him.
And thus having shewn some of the causes that undermine men’s belief of the article of the Trinity, I shall now assign some means also to fix and continue 222it in such minds, as do already embrace it. And these shall be briefly two.
1. To acquiesce in the bare revelation of the thing itself, and in those expressions under which it is revealed. As for the thing itself, God has expressly said, that there are three above the rank of created beings, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And as for the words, in which he has conveyed this to us, they are few, easy, and intelligible, and to be believed just as they are proposed; that is, simply, and in general, and without entering too far into particulars.
2. To suppress all nice and over-curious inquiries into the peculiar nature, reason, and manner of this mystery. For God having not thought fit to reveal this to us any further, than he has yet actually done, sufficiently declares it to have been his intent, that it should indeed be no further known, nor indeed searched into by us; and perhaps so far as it is yet unknown, it may, to a created reason, be also unknowable. For when we are once assured that the thing itself is; for us to amuse ourselves, and others, with bold perplexing questions, (as they can be no better,) how, and which way it comes to be so, especially in matters relating to Almighty God, must needs be equally irreverent and impertinent. Those words of an ancient commentator upon St. John contain in them an excellent rule, and always to be attended to, Firmam fidem, says he, mysterio adhibentes, nunquam, in tam sublimibus, illud quomodo aut cogitemus, aut proferamus. Which rule, had it been well observed, both in this and some other articles of our religion, not only the peace of particular churches and consciences, but 223also the general peace of Christendom, might in great measure have been happily preserved by it.
Let this therefore be fixed upon, that there is no obedience comparable to that of the understanding; no temperance, which so much commends the soul to God, as that which shews itself in the restraint of our curiosity. Besides which two important considerations, let us consider also, that an over-anxious scrutiny into such mysteries is utterly useless, as to all purposes of a rational inquiry. It wearies the mind, but not informs the judgment. It makes us conceited and fantastical in our notions, instead of being sober and wise to salvation. It may provoke God also, by our pressing too much into the secrets of heaven, and the concealed glories of his nature, to desert and give us over to strange delusions. For they are only things revealed, (as Moses told the Israelites, in Deut. xxix. 29.) which belong to the sons of men to understand and look into, as the sole and proper privilege allowed them by God, to exercise their noblest thoughts upon: but as for such high mysteries as the Trinity, as the subsistence of one nature in three Persons, and of three Persons in one and the same individual nature, these are to be reckoned in the number of such sacred and secret things, as belong to God alone perfectly to know, but to such poor mortals as we are, humbly to fall down before, and adore.
To which God, incomprehensible in his nature, and wonderful in his works, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever more. Amen.224
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