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with us, it should be ever uppermost in our recollection, as a source of faith and hope, of gratitude and love, and adoration to those divine persons, equally united in the Majesty of the Godhead, and also equally united in the work of our salvation ? How awful then, is the danger of rejecting those peculiar doctrines of the gospel, which some men think unimportant, because, as they suppose, they have no necessary connexion with the truths or the duties of what they term the religion of reason and nature, and to which exclusively they would confine their regard.
Let no man, therefore, affirm, that the doctrine of the Trinity is merely an abstract dogma, a mode of faith, which has no bearing on practical religion. It is far more scriptural to believe that the practical knowledge and belief of this doctrine, and of the separate office of each person in the Godhead, is necessary for eternal life. “For,” says the Apostle, “it is THROUGH Christ we both have access BY ONE SPIRIT UNTO THE FATHER.” “Through Christ we are reconciled to God.” “No man,” says Christ, “cometh unto the Father but by me. I am the way.” “There is but one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” “And this is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” But to know Christ as God manifest in the flesh; as a living, loving and all-sufficient Saviour,to be united to him, as our vital Head, so that our life may
be hid with Christ in God, we must be assisted and taught by the Holy Ghost. “It is the Spirit who searcheth all things, even the deep things of God." It is he that worketh in us "to will and to do." The preparations of the heart are from him. "No man can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost," and it is "the Spirit, who helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.” And “as many as are thus led by the Spirit,” through the Son unto the Father, "are the sons of God,” for through Christ we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
But some man may say, that after all, we cannot comprehend this doctrine, nor know anything with certainty about it. This objection, however, is founded upon the evident mistake of confounding the doctrine with that which the doctrine teaches—the fact, that there is a triune God with the comprehension of the essence and mode of existence of this trinity,– the abstract term by which we express what is revealed to us of God, with the nature of that incomprehensible trinity, which exists in the one ever-blessed Godhead, and the clear enunciation of the doctrine in Scripture with a clear understanding of all that it implies.*
How God exists—what is God's nature—and how God can be three and yet one—this we cannot comprehend, because God's nature cannot possibly be revealed to us as it is in itself. In this respect, however, not only the tri-unity, but all that relates to God, is both ineffable and incomprehensible,—all that relates to the self-existence, eternity, omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience of God, to his holiness, justice, goodness and mercy, and to all these in combination of harmony with each other. In this respect, also, all that is supernatural is high and inconceivable to us. And of the essence and mode of existence and operation of every object in nature, we are as really ignorant as we are of the Divine essence.
While, therefore, it is true of God, that his nature is incomprehensible, this is not any more true of the tri-unity of God, than it is of the existence and attributes of God. We know nothing of any of these as they are in their own nature. But we can, and do know certainly and infallibly all that is revealed to us by God, concerning himself in his word. We do know certainly, that God best understood how, and in what language, to convey us to that knowledge of himself as it relates to his nature and attributes, which was comprehensible by us, and which might become the proper foundation for our faith, humility, adoration and pious resignation. We do know assuredly, that God cannot mistake, and that he cannot deceive, or lead us into mistake. In causing "holy men of God, therefore, to speak as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” we must be, and we are, perfectly sure, that God caused the best language to be employed in speaking of himself, which could be done. And when we properly understand that language, and attach to it all the meaning, and only that meaning which it conveys to us, we are sure that our understanding of what is in his nature and perfections, is certainly and infallibly correct, although, of necessity, it is still very imperfect and far short of what God really is, and of what is understood of him by angels and by the spirits of just men made perfect, who now "see him as he is.”
*See Note A, at end of this article, from Waterland's Works, vol. v., pp. 13-17.
The manner of the existence of the Trinity is, then, we admit, a mystery; but that God is in nature only one, and in persons three, is a reality, a fact of whose certainty we are assured by God himself in his own word. The case is exactly the same with every attribute of God. “The manner of their existence is above comprehension," as is stated even by Dr. Clarke,* and yet their existence and reality is, he allows, demonstrable. In like manner, again to use Dr. Clarke's illustration,* "though the manner of the Son's derivation is above comprehension," the reality of it is strictly demonstrable. Omnipresence
a mystery, the modus, or manner of which, is beyond our comprehension, but which, as an actual attribute of the Deity, is certain. The incarnation of the Son of God, whatever may have been his previous dignity, is incomprehensible, and yet the fact is believed to be indisputable by all who regard Christ as having existed previous to his appearance upon earth. The simplicity, the self-existence, and the eternity of God are incomprehensible, and yet they are demonstrable facts,
It is, therefore, only in accordance with our invariable beliefs of supernatural truths, when we affirm, that while the existence of three persons, each God, and yet together, only one God, inasmuch as they have but one common essence or nature, is an incomprehensible mystery, the fact that God does thus exist is certain, clear and intelligible. And let it be again and again enforced upon our attention that in all such truths it is only THE FACT that is revealed, and only THE FACT that we are required to believe. Scripture neither gives, nor requires, any accurate philosophical notions of any one of God's attributes, or of any one supernatural truth. All such metaphysical difficulties are avoided and even repudiated by Scripture, as appertaining neither to what is taught, nor to what is to be believed, nor to what is to be done by us. The existence in one godhead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and their several relations to us in the work of salvation, is all that in Scripture we are taught or required to believe, and the reluctance of human pride to acquiesce in this simple teaching, and its vain attempt to bring the nature of God within our comprehension, is the fruitful source of Unitarianism, and of every other error on the subject of the Deity.
Let it then be borne in mind, that what, as creatures, we cannot comprehend is THE NATURE, ESSENCE and MODE of OPERATION of all that is supernatural and divine; but that we can, and do know certainly and infallibly whatever God is pleased to reveal to us on those subjects, in his word. And if, therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Bible, then we can both know and understand this doctrine as clearly and as fully as any other doctrine in reference to any other supernatural and divine truth, and as clearly as we do, the certain existence of eternal objects, of whose nature and essence we are, nevertheless, supremely ignorant.
*Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, p. 99.
This will show the very serious error of those who think that no advantage can arise from discussing and controverting objections to the doctrine of the Trinity. God has purposely arranged the Scriptures so as to make inquiry, discussion and controversy, necessary to come to the full and perfect knowledge of the truth. Rational and scriptural investigation are the appointed means, both for ascertaining, establishing and propagating, the truth; and the employment of those means in maintaining and defending the doctrine of the Trinity, God has often and in an especial manner, blessed and made effectual to the renewal of his church, the restoration of those who had fallen away from the truth, and the upbuilding and extension of his kingdom. This truth I might illustrate from every age of the church, and from every country, both in ancient and modern times. The life and energy, and spirituality of the church, have ever been found connected with the vital, practical belief of the doctrine of the Trinity and its kindred tenets, while coldness, worldiness and decay, have ever been found leading to the abandonment, or following from the abandonment, of these doctrines. This is true, also, of individual christians, as may be seen in the experience of Newton and Cowper, of Thomas Scott, and of Chalmers. This is equally true of churches, as may be seen in the history of the churches in England, in Scotland, in Ireland, and in New England; in all of which, the renewal of a living and active christianity is to be distinctly traced to the restoration, after much dissension and controversy, of the doctrines of the Trinity, and its associated evangelical Christianity. And it is only necessary for any church to allow these doctrines to be kept out of the pulpit, and to assume that they are already sufficiently and securely held, to give the enemy all the opportunity he desires to sow tares, which will ere long spring up and choke the good seed, and overspread the garden of the Lord with the weeds of putrefaction and decay.
The following hymns of the Ancient Church, will illustrate the practical nature of the doctrine of the Trinity:
Thou ever blessed triune light,
Shed ye your light upon our hearts.