Page images
PDF
EPUB

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are persons, and are distinguished from each other by their personal properties. Divine perfections are common to them all, eternity, immutability, power, wisdom, and goodness; but a personal property is something peculiar to each, something which may be affirmed of one, but cannot be affirmed of the other two. The appellations Father and Son, imply a relation between the persons. That a relation is also implied in the designation of the third person is not so certain, unless we suppose, that as the word a signifies also air in motion or breath, it refers to his procession, from the Father according to the Greeks, or from the Father and the Son according to the Latins. This, however, is a faint and doubtful analogy. By those relations the subsistences in the Godhead are distinguished from each other: but in all other respects there is the most perfect similarity. Paternity is the personal property of the first person, filiation of the second, and procession, or as the Schoolmen speak, spiration, of the third. The first person begat the second, the second was begotten of the first, and the third proceeded from both. "The Father," says the Athanasian Creed, "is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding." These properties distinguish the persons of the Trinity, they characterize them individually, so that we can speak of one without speaking, at the same time, of another; but the properties themselves we do not understand. If it should be said, that, in this case, we use words without meaning, the same objection may be made to us when we speak of the self-existence and the immensity of God. We can affix no positive ideas to these terms, but they deny that God had a beginning, and that he is confined to a particular place. The same purpose is served by those personal properties; they enable us to affirm that the Father is not the Son, and that the Holy Spirit is a different person from both.

The persons of the Trinity are farther distinguished by their operations. The Divine nature, indeed, is the common principle of operation in the external works of creation and providence; but revelation gives us some notices of the distinct agency of the persons. Thus, in the beginning the Spirit moved, or exerted his influence, upon the dark and undigested mass which had been produced out of nothing; and from other passages we learn that it was the Son whose omnipotent fiat all things obeyed, for by him the Father made the worlds. The Father is not immediately concerned in any external operation, but exerts his energies by the Son and the Spirit. To this subject, we may refer the words of our Lord concerning the cure which he had wrought on the Sabbath. He justified himself against the charge of having profaned that day, by the plea that all his works were performed in concurrence with his Father: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."* In redemption, the persons are clearly distinguished by offices and works, which are respectively assigned to them. It is said, that the Father sent the Son, but never that the Son sent the Father; that the Son sent the Spirit, but not that the Spirit sent the Son. We find, indeed, the Messiah saying in one of the prophets, "The Lord God and his Spirit have sent me ;"'t but the proper translation is, "The Lord God hath sent me and his Spirit." It was the Word who was made flesh, the Son who assumed our nature; this act of ineffable condescension is never attributed to the Father or to the Spirit. On the other hand, it was the Father whose voice was heard at his baptism, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, proclaiming him to be his beloved Son; and John v. 17, 19, † Isaiah xlviii. 10,

it was the Spirit who descended in a visible form, and rested upon him. We do not understand how, the nature being one, acts are performed by one person which cannot be ascribed to another; but the fact is stated in the Scriptures, and it is the office of faith to receive its testimony without disputing.

The Father is called the first person, the Son the second, and the Holy Ghost the third. This is the order of their subsistence, and it is pointed out by their internal relations; but beware of thinking that it implies the priority of one to another, in time or in dignity. "In this Trinity," I again quote the words of the Athanasian Creed, "in this Trinity, none is afore or after other, none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal. So that in all things the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped."

Some Trinitarians are of opinion, that three co-ordinate persons would be three Gods, and therefore maintain the subordination of the Son and the Spirit. This subject is discussed at considerable length by Bishop Bull, in his learned work, entitled Defensio Fidei Nicene, where he lays down, and supports by the authority of the Fathers, the three following propositions: "First, the Catholic doctors, who lived before and after, have approved the doctrine of the Council of Nice, that the Son is box EU, God of God; for they have all taught with one mouth that the Divine nature and perfections belong to the Father and the Son, not collaterally or co-ordinately, but subordinately; that is, that the Son has the same Divine nature with the Father, but communicated by the Father; so that the Father alone has the Divine nature from himself, or from no other; but the Son from the Father, and that therefore the Father is the fountain, origin, and principle of the Divinity which is in the Son."* He goes on to shew that the ancient doctors called the Father "x", the principle of the Son; meaning by apx", that from which any thing takes its origin, whether in time or in eternity; that they called him as or Tia, the cause of the Son; nyn, or fountain, and auctor, author, a word used by the Latins. "Secondly, the Catholic doctors determined with unanimous consent, that the Father was greater than the Son in respect of his Divinity, not in nature or in any essential perfection which is in the Father and not in the Son; but solely by authority; that is, by origin, since the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son." "Thirdly, the ancient doctors judged, that the doctrine concerning the subordination of the Son to the Father as his origin and principle, was very useful, and evidently necessary to be known, for this reason, that chiefly in this way the divinity of the Son is so asserted, that the unity of God and the divine monarchy are preserved entire; for, although the name and nature of God are common to two, the Father and the Son, yet, since the one is the principle of the other, from whom he is propagated, and that by an interior not an external production, it may be justly said that there is only one God. The ancients believed that the same reason was applicable to the divinity of the Holy Spirit." But although these views are recommended by the authority of the Fathers, and have been very generally adopted by modern divines, I cannot bring myself to agree with them. It is dangerous to speak of a subordination among the persons of the Trinity, and it is almost impossible to avoid the idea of inferiority in the subordinate persons: It seems also absurd, while we admit at the same time, that the persons equally possess the divine nature and perfections. What puzzles me most of all, is to perceive how subordination is necessary to preserve the unity of God; because it should seem to me, that nothing was so calculated to make us doubt the unity as subordination of any kind, and that it is more easily conceived, if all the persons are equal in every respect. The unity is maintained, by excluding the idea of division or separation, and assigning the same numerical essence to + Ibid. cap. 4.

Defensio Fidei Nicene, sect. lv. cap. 1.

† Ibid. cap. 2.

all the persons. It occurs to me, that, after all this learned talk about commu nication, origin, principle, fountain, and cause, nothing more is meant than what we all acknowledge, that the nature of the Son is the very same with the nature of the Father, which certainly is necessary to preserve the unity; but such terms are unhappily employed to express it. Bishop Horsley, who was of the same opinion with Bishop Bull and the Fathers, might well call the subordination of the Son, mysterious; for a subordination among equal persons, a subordination of one who is truly God, is indeed a mystery, a thing perfectly unintelligible.

What has led so many to maintain the subordination of the Son, is the notion, that the relation, which this name implies, is founded on the communication of the divine essence to him. Hence they object to the application of the term aursos to the Son, if it mean any thing more than that he is truly God; and they affirm that it is contrary to truth, as well as to the usage of the church, to say that he autobeos, if the word import that he is God of himself, because he derived his divinity from the Father. This is the doctrine of the Nicene Creed: Πιστεύομεν εἰς iva κυριον Ιησούν Χριστον τον υιον τον θεού γεννηθεντα εκ του πατρος μονογενή, τουτεστιν εκ της ουσίας του πατρος. Θεον εκ θεού, φως εκ φωτός, θεου αληθινον εκ θεου αληθινου.

This will be the proper place to introduce some observations on the Sonship of Christ. In modern times, different reasons have been assigned for this appellation, partly by the opponents of his Divinity-with whom we have at present no immediate concern-and partly by some Trinitarians, who think that it is not founded on a natural, but an official, relation to the first person in the Godhead. The motive, I apprehend, by which they have been led to deny his eternal generation, is the difficulty of conceiving any thing, in the Divine nature, analogous to the process which the term denotes in its application to creatures. But the difficulty is created by themselves, when they take it for granted, from the use of the term, begotten, that it was designed to suggest a resemblance between Divine and human generation. Ought not men to have paused before they drew this inference? Might it not have occurred to them that, as the subjects were so different, the term must have a different meaning? Would it not have been wise, instead of proceeding to explain the one by the other, to have acknowledged that the relation between the Father and the Son was altogether above our comprehension; that the words, Son and begotten, were intended solely to express a distinction of persons and a mutual relation, and that the only conclusion which we could safely draw from them is, that the second person of the Trinity has the same nature with the first, is his perfect image, and the object of his infinite love? Were human ideas discarded; were we content to believe, without pushing our inquiries into the region of mystery, the eternal generation of the Son would be admitted, provided that sufficient evidence of it were found in the Scriptures.

When God calls our Saviour his own Son, ὁ ἑαυτος ύιος, ὁ ἴδιος ύμος, one should think, that sound criticism would require us to believe, that he is his Son as truly as one man is the son of another, although we know not the manner of the relation; his Son literally and not metaphorically, unless it can be shewn that such filiation is impossible, or that the Scriptures have explained it in a different sense. His Sonship, indeed, seems to be founded on his miraculous conception in these words of the angel to the virgin :-"The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing, which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God."* But the common answer, that the "holy thing" or his human nature became the Son of God by its union to his Divine Person, is quite satisfactory, especially if other passages place his Sonship upon a different foundation. I do not think, that his miraculous conception would justify the

• Luke i. 35.

66

epithet, only-begotten; because the creation of Adam, although in some respect different, was equally miraculous, if this term may be used in reference to an event which took place before the laws of nature began their course; and, on account of it, he also is called the Son of God. Were a man, who had never heard of the controversy relative to the origin of his Sonship, to read such passages as these; God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son," "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son," he would be surprised, I presume, that it had ever been the subject of dispute. He would say it is plain that the person who was sent, possessed this character prior to his mission; and would be astonished to be informed by some modern divine, that this was a mistake, for that he was made the Son of God by being sent. It would never enter into any man's mind, when he was told that a king had sent his son to negociate with his enemies, that his son meant only a favourite, or an extraordinary ambassador. If it should be said, that, in this case, the meaning of the word Son is determinate, being ascertained by common usage, I would ask, what makes it less so, when it is applied to our Saviour? Not any thing in the phraseology of Scripture, but the impossibility under which some men labour of conceiving, how God can have a Son by an essential relation. But do not Unitarians, on the same ground, explain away the passages which teach the divinity and atonement of Christ? And how can those Trinitarians condemn them, who make the incomprehensibility of a doctrine an objection against it? I cannot conceive what object they have in view, who admit the Divinity, but deny the natural Sonship of our Saviour, unless it be to get rid of the strange notions about communication of essence and subordination which have prevailed so much; and in this case, like too many disputants, in avoiding one extreme they run into another. Their opinion appears to me to be contrary to the plain and natural meaning of Scripture; and I am disposed to maintain, with the Catholic church in all ages, that the Son was begotten by the Father before all worlds, or is the Son by necessary and eternal generation.

But, while on this point I hold the faith of the church, I cannot assent to the common opinion, that the generation of the Son consisted in the communication of the Divine essence and perfections to him; because, although the terms Father and Son indicate a relation analogous to that among men, yet as, in the latter case, it is a relation between two material and separate beings, and in the former, is a relation in the same spiritual essence, the one can throw no light upon the other; and to attempt to illustrate the one by the other, is equally illogical and presumptuous. We can conceive the communication of a material essence, by one material being to another, because it takes place in the generation of animals; but the communication of a spiritual, indivisible, immutable essence is altogether inconceivable, especially when we add, that the supposed communication does not constitute a different being, but takes place in the essence communicating. I have often doubted whether those, who use this language, affix any idea to it. I suspect, that it is retained, partly in deference to the Fathers, who were not always the most accurate in their conceptions, and partly as a convenient mode of seeming to say something upon a subject which we do not understand. I must confess that, to me, it has always been unintelligible. Let us be content with the knowledge of the fact, and with the language of Scripture, which simply tells us, that the Son was begotten by the Father, but does not tell us how he was begotten. If we cannot explain how a plant grows, and an animal is formed, we can much less comprehend this mystery; and were we as modest and diffident as reflection upon our own ignorance should make us, we would regard every attempt to render the subject clearer than the Scriptures have made it, as a new proof that vain man would be wise, though he is born like the wild ass's colt.

To avoid the incomprehensible notion of the communication of essence, and its consequence in making the Son dependent upon the Father, as a stream is dependent upon the fountain which supplies it, some maintain, that the first person of the Trinity did not beget the second as God, but as Son; or did not beget the essence, but the person. This is another attempt to be wise above what is written. I can form no conception of their meaning; I know not what it is to beget a person, as distinct from his essence. It seems to me, that now we have passed from obscurity into the deepest shades of midnight.

The relation of the Holy Spirit to the Father, according to the Greek church, or to the Father and the Son, according to the Latin church, is called procession. Although the term is different from generation, we cannot give the reason of the difference, because we do not understand what is meant by either the one or the other. It is called by the Greeks expevok and wqutis. Those who think that generation implies the communication of essence, must attach a similar idea to procession. We are content to use the word without pretending to explain it. I shall have occasion to say something more on this subject, when I come to consider the Divinity of the Holy Ghost.

We cannot be surprised that the doctrine of the Trinity, which appears to be inconsistent with the unity of God, and is so mysterious, should have met with opposition, and that various opinions should have been broached with a view to remove the difficulties with which it is attended, and to reconcile it to the dictates of human reason, which cannot understand how three can be one. In the second century, Praxeas taught, that there was no real distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and that the Father, sole Creator of all things, united to himself the human nature of Christ. His followers were called Monarchians, because they denied that there were more persons than one in the Godhead, and Patripassians, because, according to them, it Iwas the Father who suffered on the cross. The same doctrine was taught, about the beginning of the third century, by Noetus; and with some variations, several years after, by Sabellius, an African bishop or presbyter, from whom this heresy has derived the name of Sabellianism. He maintained that God was one person only, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, were different aspects or manifestations of the same Being. There was no real Trinity, but God was Tues, or had three names. He appeared as the Father at one time, as the Son at another, and as the Holy Ghost at another, as different occasions required. He was the Father as Creator, the Son as Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost as Sanctifier. Praxeas and Noetus affirmed that the Father united himself to the man Jesus Christ; but Sabellius held that an energy or a portion of the Divine nature was communicated to him, and that the Holy Ghost also was a portion of the Father.

The next heresy opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity, is that of Arius and his followers, who acknowledged three distinct persons, but not three equal persons subsisting in one undivided essence. They rejected the word povos, consubstantial, and would go no farther than to admit that the Son was us, of a like nature to the Father. While they were not sparing in giving him high sounding titles to avoid public odium, and to impose upon the simple, they maintained that he was a creature, who owed his existence to the will and power of the Father; and they held the same sentiments respecting the Holy Spirit. Arius himself asserted, as Alexander his Bishop informs us, "that the Father was not always Father, but there was a time when he did not sustain this character; that the Logos did not always exist, but was made out of nothing; and that therefore there was a time when he was not," di αν ποτε, ότι ουκ ων. This system has undergone several modifications, but the most celebrated is that of Dr. Clarke in his book on the Trinity. According to him, the Father alone is self-existent and independent, and to him the

« PreviousContinue »