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in words. If we therefore, attempt to speak of it, it is as impossible to do it properly as to reach the sky with one's head. For all that we can say or think of it is a thousand times less proportionate to it than the point of a needle is to heaven and earth, yea, a hundred thousand times less. We might talk to a wonderful amount, and yet we could neither express nor understand how the distinction of the persons can exist in the supernatural unity.
O thou Eternal ONE! whose presence bright
There thou giv'st laws, and dost this world command.
But on this subject of the unity of God, as an objection to the Scriptural proof of the Trinity, we propose to make some further observations in a future number.
ON THE TRINITY.
The Objections of Unreasonableness, Contradiction, and the Human Origin of the Word Trinity.
The object of our previous articles* has been to determine the true nature, office, capacity, limits and condition of human reason, especially in reference to God's unity and nature. views will be found admirably sustained in a discourse by Bishop Butler,-the immortal author of the Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion,-upon the ignorance of man.
After illustrating the position that "the wisest and most knowing" cannot, any more than the most ignorant, comprehend the nature of any causes, or any essences of things, and much less the Being, attributes or ways of God, he shews that difficulties in speculation, and limitations to our knowledge, are as much a part of our present state of probation and discipline as difficulties in practice. He goes on to remark, that "to expect a distinct comprehensive view of the whole subject of religion, and especially of God, clear of difficulties and objections, is to forget our nature and condition, neither of which admit of such knowledge, with respect to any science whatever. And to inquire with this expectation, is not to inquire as a man, but as one of another order of creatures."
"Knowledge," adds this deep master of human thought, "is not our proper happiness. Men of deep research and curious inquiry, should just be put in mind, not to mistake what they are doing. For it is evident that here is another mark set up for us to aim at;—another end appointed us to direct our lives to;-another end which the most knowing may fail of, and the most ignorant arrive at. The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed, belong unto us, and to our children, forever, that we may do all the words of this law, which reflection of Moses, put in general terms, is, that the only knowledge, which is of any avail to us, is that which teaches us our duty, or assists us in the discharge of it."
All morals, however, and all duty,-have reference to law, to a law giver, and to the sanctions by which his laws are enforced. "To know the true God" truly, and the way of
*On the Province of Reason, and its incapacity to determine the nature and mode of existence of God.
salvation He has devised and declared-this "is eternal life." And as it has been most clearly shewn, that by all our searchings we can find out nothing certainly of God's nature or will, "in the deepest humility, let us prostrate our souls before the word of His testimony, that we may implicitly hear, believe, and obey, all that the Lord our God shall say unto us."
The Scriptures, we have affirmed, do not teach what some men would now call the only reasonable doctrine of God's nature, namely, that He is absolutely, personally, and metaphysically, ONE, so as to be incapable of being in any sense THREE, AND YET ONE. On the contrary, they teach, as we affirm, that as the nature of God must be infinitely different and distinct, from what our finite capacities can comprehend, or our human language and analogies express, that the Divine essence or nature is common to the Father, Son and Spirit, who are, nevertheless, relatively distinct, and distinguished from each other. These three are one Being, in such a sense that they are all included in the idea of God, so that it is impious to say there are three Gods. These three persons, however, are distinct, not only in name, but in incommunicable properties, so that it is equally impious to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not each, and equally, God. In reference to each other there are internal, as well as economical differences, founded upon their personal relations, offices and distinctions, but these differences consist only in personal properties, and not in their substances, or Godhead, which is one.
The sum of what is revealed in Scripture on this subject is, that God is one; that this one God, is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that the Father is the father of the Son; and the Son, the son of the Father; and the Holy Ghost, the spirit of the Father and the Son; and that, in respect of this, their mutual relation, they are distinct from each other.
"Moreover," says Dr. Owen, "whatever is so revealed in the Scripture, is no less true and Divine, as to whatever necessarily followeth thereon, than it is, as unto that which is principally revealed and directly expressed. Hence it follows, that when the Scripture revealeth the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to be one God, seeing it necessarily and unavoidably follows thereon that they are one in essence, wherein alone it is possible they can be one; and three in their distinct subsistences, wherein alone
it is possible they can be three; this is no less of Divine Revelation, than the first principle from whence these things follow."*
This doctrine is pronounced so contrary to reason as not to be credible, "even if it were not once, nor twice, but very frequently and most expressly written in the Scripture."+ But from what we have seen, it is most unreasonable for human reason to say what is credible in reference to God's nature, which is infinitely above and beyond its comprehension, and of whose mode of existence we can know and express as little as we can about how and why he began to exist at all.
Let it be granted, then, that the doctrine of the Trinity is, by its very nature, inconceivable by the human mind. Is it therefore to be rejected? Mr. Mill lays it down as logically true, that "it is absurd to reject a proposition as impossible on no other ground than its inconceivableness."
"I cannot but wonder that so much stress should be laid on the circumstances of inconceivableness, when there is ample experience to show that our capacity or incapacity of conceiving a thing has very little to do with the possibility of the thing in itself; but is, in truth, very much an affair of accident, and depends on the past history and habits of our own minds. *** When we have often seen and thought of two things together, and have never, in any one instance, either seen or thought of them separately, there is, by the primary law of association, an increasing difficulty, which may, in the end, become insuperable, if conceiving the two things apart. * * * There are remarkable instances of this in the history of science: instances in which the most instructed men rejected as impossible, because inconceivable, things which their posterity, by earlier practice and longer perseverance in the attempt, found it quite easy to conceive, and which everybody now knows to be true."‡
We must consider an inference, logically drawn from established and admitted premises, to be true, even though the things thus proved true be inconceivable. For, what is to be understood by the terms inconceivable and conceivable, impos
*Owen's Works, vol. x: pp. 469, 471, 472.
†See Smalcus in Abaddie, p. 254. The writers whom Stillingfleet opposed in his work on the Trinity say: "We deny the Articles of the new Christianity, or the Athanasian religion, not because they are mysterious, or because we do not comprehend them; we deny them because we do comprehend them; we have a clear and distinct perception, that they are not mysterious, but contradictions, impossibilities, and pure nonsense.We have our reason in vain, and all science and certainty would be destroyed, if we could not distinguish between mysteries and contradictions."-See Stillingfleet on the Trinity, page 7, &c.
#System of Logic, pp. 265, 266.
sible and possible? If all our knowledge is originally derived from experience, then are these notions derived from our experience. The one class means things at variance with our experience, and the other, things not at variance with our experience. Clearly, unless we possess fundamental ideas, or can gain a knowledge of things in themselves, no logical process can give to the notion, impossible, any larger meaning than this. But if, at any time, the inability of men to conceive the negation of a given proposition simply proves that their experience, up to that time, has, without exception, confirmed such proposition; then, when they assert that its untruth is impossible, they really assert no more than when they assert that its negation is inconceivable. If, subsequently, it turn out that the proposition is untrue; and if it be therefore argued that men should not have held its untruth impossible because inconceivable, we reply, that to say this, is to condemn the use of the word impossible altogether. If the inconceivability of a thing be considered insufficient warrant for asserting its impossibility, it is implied that there can exist a sufficient warrant; but such warrant, whatever its kind, must be originally derived from experience; and if further experience may invalidate the warrant of inconceivableness, further experience may invalidate any warrant on which we assert impossibility. Therefore, we should call nothing impossible.
In this sense, therefore, the inconceivableness of any theory which is above and beyond our present possible experience, is no test of its truth. In respect to all things beyond the measure of our faculties and consequent range of experience, inconceivableness must ever remain, as Sir William Hamilton affirms, an inapplicable test.*
We might also ask, whose reason is thus offended? Not that of Bishop Butler, or of Lord Bacon, or of the great mass of christians,-(not to name classic and heathen minds, including Plato,)-from the beginning until now. These have all contended that this was a doctrine in itself considered, neither reasonable nor unreasonable, nor one on which reason can pronounce any judgment whatever. The subject of the proposition is beyond the comprehension of reason. And yet the only terms in which we can speak of God, are drawn from finite beings, finite relations, and finite modes of existence. And
*See Art. on the Universal Postulate, in Westminster Rev., Oct. 1858, p. 276.