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MATT. XXVIII. 18, 19, 20.
" And Jesus came, and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in Heaven and in
earth : go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
This solemn declaration and command of our Divine Lord to the apostles, whom he selected to instruct and reform the world, deserves most particular attention, because, (as I shall endeavour to prove,) it establishes, beyond any reasonable doubt or controversy, that grand peculiar doctrine of the Christian Revelation, the existence of Three Persons in the Divine essence, forming together the one Godhead, the exclusive object of our adoration and obedience; but, in the Divine dispensations towards man, and especially in the grand scheme of Redemption, contributing each their distinct parts, which supply distinct grounds of gratitude and reverence to each of these Divine Persons.
In addition to the truth of this great doctrine, this passage of Holy Writ asserts what is too often unattended to, the direct practical tendency of that doctrine ; since it is connected by our Lord, with that scheme of instruction, which “teaches men to observe and do all things whatsoever he had commanded;" a purpose to which, if it were not necessarily subservient, it would not thus be expressly united.
These two subjects deserve each a distinct consideration. For the present, let us confine ourselves to the evidence, which this distinguished passage, and the corresponding testimonies of the divine Word in other passages afford, to the important doctrine of the Trinity in Unity.
Here it is necessary to remark, that the genuineness and authenticity of this signal testimony to the existence of Three Persons in the Godhead, is, by the most strenuous opponents* of this great truth, acknowledged, (however reluctantly,) to be clear and unquestioned ; it is found in all manuscripts and versions; it is admitted to have dictated the form of baptism regularly used in the primitive Christian church; and to supply the only explanation of that singular, and long prevailing ritetriple immersion at Baptism ;t the adult convert pledging himself at each immersion, to faith in one of each of these Three Divine Persons.
The direct conclusion which follows from the founder of our holy religion having thus, in the form of baptism which he enjoined, united the Son and the Holy Spirit with the Supreme Father as equally objects of the Christian's faith, appears clearly to be, that they must all partake the same divine nature, and form one Godhead, the exclusive object of Christian adoration and obedience. But to this it is objected ; that to be baptized in the name of any one, is no proof of his divinity ; but merely an acknowledgment, that the person in whose name the convert is baptized, is the head of the sect into which he is admitted.
To expose the extreme frivolousness of this objection in the present instance, let us consider the impression which the baptismal form must have made on an intelligent and unprejudiced heathen, and the opinions which it must have led him to form.
He would, in the first instance, necessarily conclude, that the acknowledgment now required from him, contained the leading principle of the Christian scheme, the germ from the unfolding of which would be developed all the truths and duties of this new religion. He would also see that these Three Persons were proposed to him, as equally the objects of faith and acknowledgment, and that though in the order of names, and therefore in precedence of dignity, the Father was placed first, yet for all practical purposes, the Son claimed an equal authority, declaring that all power was given unto him in heaven and in earth, requiring that all nations should be taught to observe all things he
* See Note 1.
+ See Note 2.
had commanded, and promising to exert an effective influence of assistance and protection to his apostles and followers, even to the end of the world.
Of the Holy Spirit he could at first only know, that to him were ascribed those marvellous gifts and graces, which distinguished the first Christian teachers, which attracted all attentive observers with such powerful influence, and impressed on their minds such an irresistible conviction of the Divine origin of that religion thus proved and sanctified.
From this view the convert would certainly infer an equality in nature and in power, in authority and influence, amongst these three objects of faith thus proposed to him.
It is utterly inconceivable and incredible, that any intelligent and unprejudiced convert would have suspected or believed, that of these Three Persons, the first alone was the Supreme God, the sole Creator and Ruler of the universe; the second a mere man, * who had no existence before his human birth, and of whom “it was not declared, that in the usual course of the moral administration of Providence, he should retain any immediate agency, or in any way directly influence the minds of his future disciples;" while the third did not denote any distinct person whatsoever, but merely an attribute or power of the Father, or rather the gifts and graees which by the exercise of this power, were dispensed to the first Christians. No; such a meaning, any sound and plain understanding would instantly reject as absurd and incredible : and, concluding on the real existence of three distinct persons, and their equality in nature, powers, and rights, would proceed to inquire what were the nature, the powers, and the rights which all three must be admitted, in common, to possess.
With this conviction on his mind, the convert would proceed to inquire into the declarations of Scripture with respect to the common nature and powers belonging to those sacred Beings. He would there find, that to the Father was attributed infinite perfection and majesty, with the characters of
baviour, and Judge of the world, all-seeing omniscience, resistless power,
*Vide Dr. Carpenter's “ Unitarianism, the doctrine of the Gospel." Second Edition, p. 7. and 293. VOL. III.
unbounded mercy, and unerring justice, with an exclusive claim to the obedience and adoration of all his creatures. The Son and Holy Spirit, therefore, which the convert had previously seen, were, by the primary and essential doctrine of the Christian scheme, put forward as participating in the nature and dignity of the Father, he would now judge, must also partake his perfection and his majesty, and be like him entitled to the humblest adoration and obedience. Otherwise he would see that this new religion which professed to adopt all the principles of the more ancient faith on which it was founded, as to the baseness and guilt of idolatry, would act as a snare to involve mankind in that very guilt, and transfer to a crucified man, the authority and the worship of the one self-existing God—and this not incidentally, or by the perversion or abuse of its disciples, but in its very essence and foundation, in the very first doctrine it taught, and the first act of obedience it required.
Thus, it is evident, that all attempts to weaken the force of this conclusion, by lowering the import of the expression, “being baptized in the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit,” are vain and abortive; since the dignity ascribed, and the homage paid to them by this solemn rite, are clearly the same as the dignity ascribed, and the homage paid to the Supreme Father, the great First Cause, the eternal self-existent God. Such dignity, therefore, must be divine ; such homage must include the humblest adoration, the most implicit obedience. Thus, the right of the Son and the Holy Spirit, to the same faith, the same glory, the same adoration, the same obedience, as are due to the Supreme God, the eternal Father, is here declared to be such a primary and essential truth of the Christian revelation, that without a full acknowledgment of it, no human being can be admitted amongst the followers of Christ, or entitled to the privileges which baptism confers on sincere believers : who, provided they do not forfeit these privileges by unpardonable apostacy, or final impenitence, are, by the merciful covenant of grace, recognized as members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.
This great truth is therefore put forward by the founder of our holy religion, the author and finisher of our faith, not as an obscure and unconnected dogma, which may be rejected because
mysterious, or disregarded as non-essential, but as the great confession of faith, indispensably required from all who seek admission into His church on earth, or hope to be received as His followers in heaven.
I do not, in thus asserting the importance of this great truth, mean to pronounce any sentence of uncharitable condemnation against those who may question or deny it. To the all-searching God, who alone knows the sources of every man's opinions, the sincerity of his faith, and the singleness of his heart, must the final decision be referred: “to his own master must every man stand or fall.”*
But the rank in which this leading doctrine is placed by the divine teacher Himself, must not be lowered or concealed, from an affectation of a liberality, which is only another word for indifference to religious truth, a sacrifice of the doctrines of God, to the applause of man. Whether men will hear or whether they will forbear,"† the minister of the Gospel must proclaim its clear truth aloud, and spare not; he must endeavour to rouse the careless to serious inquiry, to check the presumption of the arrogant disputant, by placing in a clear light the greatness of that authority which such men disregard, and to fix the faith of the wavering, by exhibiting to them the danger of incurring serious guilt, by making shipwreck of their faith. And certainly there can be no tenet of Christianity, the admission of which appears more necessary, or its abandonment more dangerous, than this, which our divine Lord places at the very foundation of his system, and the acceptance of which, he marks as the indispensable condition of admission into his church.
It is important to remark the place in which this great truth here stands—even in the first written of all the Gospels; and which, according to the clear testimony of antiquity, was published in the first instance for the use of the Jews. This circumstance gives to its testimony additional conclusiveness and weight; because nothing had raised, or could raise, a greater impediment to the spreading of the Gospel amongst this prejudiced and bigoted race, than such a doctrine. Our Lord's declaration, “that He was the Son of God,"I from which they rightly inferred, that “He made Himself equal with God," had roused their indignation so strongly, “ that they sought to kill Him."
* Rom. xiv. 4.
Ezek. ii. 5.
John, v, 17, 18, &c.