Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

censures of the church in convocation. But if, on the contrary, the sheltering of some such rotten churchmen, as well as several others, from the dint of ecclesiastical authority, was one great cause of that so long and unaccountable omission of those sacred and most useful assemblies, for many years together, since the restoration, (as many wise and good men shrewdly suspect it was,) is it not just with God, and may it. not, for ought we know, actually provoke him to deprive us of the Christian religion itself? For assuredly, that lewd, scandalous, and ungrateful usage, which it has (of late years especially) found from some of the highest pretenders to it amongst us, has not only deserved, but, upon too great grounds of reason, seems also to prognosticate and forebode, and even cry out for no less a judgment upon the nation. But howsoever God, whose ways are unsearchable, shall think fit to dispose of and deal with us, let us not vainly flatter ourselves; but as we have been hitherto proving the certainty of a general resurrection, so let us still remember, that the day of the resurrection will be as certainly a day of retribution too, a day, in which the proudest and most exalted hypocrite shall be brought low enough, and even the lowest hypocrites much lower than they desire to be; a day, in which the meanest and most abject (if sincere) member of our excellent (how much soever struck at and maligned) church, shall be raised to a most happy and glorious condition; though, whether or no the church itself (God bless it) be, in the meantime, in so flourishing an estate, (as some would persuade us it is,) I shall not, I must not, presume to determine.

Now to God, the great judge and rewarder of men, according to the vileness of their principles, as well as the wickedness of their practices, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.

SERMON XLIII.

THE DOCTRINE OF THE BLESSED TRINITY ASSERTED, AND PROVED NOT CONTRARY TO REASON.

PREACHED BETWEEN THE YEARS 1663 AND 1670, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY OF OXON.

"To the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ."- Coloss. ii. 2.

Εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ Πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

so often urged, and so much insisted upon by | divines, as that in 1 John, v. 7, "There are three who bear 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 persons in one and the same blessed and eternal godhead; 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 of 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 farther 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.

In the handling and asserting of the doctrine of the Trinity, I do not remember any place

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, should 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 farther, if unity of consent only were here intended, why, in all reason, was it expressed by sio, that is, they are one thing, being, or nature; and not rather by sis Tò i

that a duality, or binary number of Persons in it, would, in a Socinian's account, pass for no less an absurdity than even a Trinity itself, the grand article controverted between us and them.

lo, "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, eis To Ev siot, 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 neighbourhood 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 farther 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, namely,

1st, As the term To o 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 sometimes 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 forealleged place out of Saint John did. But,

2dly, If the word Too be here taken essentially, and for the divine nature only, then the particle xa will import here properly a distribution of Tou cou, (signifying the divine nature,) as a term common to those two, To Πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, as to two particular Persons, distinguished by their respective properties. And so taken, it must be confessed, that the term Toй où 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 Tou fou, is expressly applied both to the Father and the Son, in those words, To μυστηρίου τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ Πατρὸς, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ. And that, I am sure, (should it reach no farther,) 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,

The words, therefore, being thus examined and explained, I shall draw forth the sense of them into this one proposition, namely,

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,

66

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 religion 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 farther, 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 nere 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 other 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 inexcusable, 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 farther, 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 that which is one in this respect may be three in another, is no contradiction.

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, 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 to 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

But you will reply, that the single nature of any person is incommunicable to another, as the essence of Peter is circumscribed within the person of Peter, and so cannot be communicated to Paul.

two contradictory propositions, as true, while he perceives them to be contradictory, is the first-born of impossibilities.

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 ly, 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 Pamander, may justly be supposed to be.

Reason, therefore, is undeservedly and ignorantly traduced, when it is set up and shot at, as the irreconcilable enemy of religion. It is indeed the very 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 farther degree of likeness to him. And though I cannot judge it a fi saying for a dying Christian to make, the wish of Averroes, "Sit anima mea cum palosophis ;" 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, and 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 a hundred directories. And thus much for the first condition.

2. The second condition required to enominate 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

VOL. I.

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 at 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 Aoyos, 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. For still this is and must be acknowledged inconceivably above the reach and ken of any human intellect; and as a depth, in which the tallest reason may swim, and, it 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,

2A

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.

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 used 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 æs 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 toward the evic

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 force and evidence, as to infer what some undertake to prove by them. Such as are, 1. Those words in the first of Genesis, Baration of a Trinity from thence, I conceive to Elohim; where Elohim signifying God, and lie in those texts that prove the divine nature being of the plural number, is joined with of the Messias, whose coming was then exbara, creavit, a verb of the singular. Whence pected by all the Jews. Otherwise, surely, some collect, that the former word imports a the knowledge of this article could but very plurality of persons, and the latter an unity obscurely be gathered from the bare writings of essence. But others deny that any such of Moses and the prophets, and consequently peculiar meaning ought or can be gathered was by no means received with that explicitfrom that which is indeed no more than an ness in the ancient Jewish church, that it is idiom and propriety of the Hebrew language. now in the Christian. 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 Isa. vi. 3, where the threefold repetition of "holy, holy, holy," applied to God, is urged by some to

As for the opinion of the modern Jews touching this matter, we shall find, that these acknowledge no such thing as a Trinity, but utterly reject and explode it. And as for the Mahometan 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 know

« AnteriorContinuar »