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THE DIVINE VISIT TO ABRAHAM IN THE
PLAINS OF MAMRE.
MY DEAR FRIEND, A VARIETY of opinion has been formed on the subject of the Divine visit, made to Abraham when he dwelt in the plains of Mamre, which, with subsequent circumstances arising out of it, is recorded in chapters xviii. and xix. of the book of Genesis. The greater number of the Jewish writers, who have lived since Christians have employed this narrative in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, have maintained that Abraham's guests were mere men, and, perhaps, prophets from the neighbouring city of Salem, where Melchizedek is supposed to have reigned, sent for the purpose of predicting the conception of Sarah and the destruction of Sodom; and some have asserted that Shem, Heber, and some other unknown patriarch, were the three persons who visited Abraham. Others have considered them as the angels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, of whom they relate many fabulous and absurd stories.* The more ancient Jewish
* Fabric. Christolog. Diss. iv. p. 165, 6.
commentators, however, entertained a very different view of the narrative, as will appear from Philo Judæus, who, in reference to this vision, says,
“ These things being considered, it appears how God is Three, and yet he is but One.” “He showeth how this was represented in that vision to Abraham," Gen. xviii. where it is said, ver. 1, that Jehovah appeared to him, and ver. 2, Abraham looked, and behold three men stood by
: yet he spake but to one, ver. 3, saying, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away
thee from thy servant, &c.*
The opinion of Christian writers on the subject has varied. I am not however aware, that any of them have maintained that the three visitors to Abraham were men properly so called. The question among them has been,--whether the Three Personages were created angels, that is, unembodied finite spirits appearing in the assumed form of man; or,—whether two of them were such angels, and the other the Divine Angel of the covenant, so appearing; or,—whether the the three, though called men on account of the appearance, and angels on account of the officecharacter, which on this occasion they assumed, were representatives of the Triune Jehovah.
That there are difficulties attending a solution
* Quoted by Allix in his Judgment of the Ancient Jewish Church. Chap. x. p. 147.
of these questions, is not to be denied ; and they are such as demand from an humble inquirer great modesty in giving an opinion concerning them. I must therefore, after stating to my friend what appear to me to be the features of the case, leave him to form his own decision
The opinion of our church on the several questions I have stated, may be inferred from the appointment of Gen xviii., as the lesson to be read at Evening service on Trinity Sunday. No reason can be given for the selection of this chapter for that day, unless, as her first lesson for the Morning service, Gen. i, intimates a plurality of Persons in the Godhead, this be considered as intimating that that plurality is a Trinity. That this is consonant to the doctrine of
many among the Fathers of the Christian church, might easily be shown; and it has been maintained by many more modern commentators * on the Scriptures. Among these I may
* Proinde ex hac JEHOVA apparitione sub trium virorum forma, piè credidit Antiquitas apparnisse Abrahamo in specie visibili adorandam sacrosanctam Trinitatem. Videantur Augustinus de Trinitate, L. ii. C. 11, 12. et alii inter Patres citati Pareo in h. 1. et Forbesio Instruct. Histor. Theol. L. i. Cap. xiv. Inter Recentiores Coccejus Summ. Theol. C. xi. Sect. 70. de Fæder. Sect. 321. et ad Hebr. xiii. Sect. 4. Mommæ Econ. Lib. i. Cap. vii. Sect. 9. Witsius Miscell. Tom. 1. L. i. C. xvi. Sect. 16. et Econ, L. iv. C. iii. Sect. 4. et seqq. Quibus nunc addo etiam Doctiss. Joan. Lightfootum, qui in Chron.
mention Wogan, on the Lessons, &c; though I do not fully comprehend his self-consistency in considering one only of the three persons who appeared to Abraham as being possessed of Divinity, and the other two as created messengers; when, at the same time he affirms, that the threefold appearance was an image of the Divine Trinity. You shall however hear what he says, and then judge for yourself.
“ It ought to be here observed, that this vision happened to Abraham immediately after receiving the seal of circumcision. And the appearance of three persons standing before him, was as plain a representation of the Holy Trinity, as that mystery would admit. That our church doth so understand it, is plain from her choice of this lesson upon this day.
In like manner the same mystery was afterwards represented at our blessed Lord's baptism in the river Jordan. which we are led to understand, First, that admission into covenant with God, by the sacrament of his institution, is necessary to qualify us for the true knowledge of Him.* And, Secondly,
By both that the true knowledge of God consists in a firm belief of the Blessed Trinity: even as stedfast a persuasion that there are Three Persons in the Godhead, as if we saw it with our eyes, and perceived it by our senses. But then, as only one of those who appeared to Abraham was the Lord, this teaches us that although there be three persons in the Holy Trinity, there is but one Lord, one God. This also is intimated to us by Abraham's addressing himself only to one of them, and saying, My Lord, if I have found favour in thy sight, &c."
Temp. Vet. Test. in h. l. disertè scribit ; Tres Persone Trinitatis cum Abrahamo prandent. Fabric. Christol. Diss. iv.
* What then was the knowledge of God, of JEHOVAH ALEIM, which Abraham had before obtained, by which he had been
previously justified, and had glorified God? Is that knowledge which he previously enjoyed to be considered as erroneous and
And again Mr. Wogan says, in commenting on ver. 10, “ In the foregoing verse it is written, They said unto him, &c. as if all joined in the question and kind inquiry after Sarah: but here one only speaks, and He the Lord, as appears by the sequel; He said, I will certainly return, &c. By this change of the number from plural to singular, we may learn two things. First that
heterodox, or essentially defective ? Of what was circumcision the seal, but of the truth of information and promises before vouchsafed? And it may be further asked, had our blessed Lord
true knowledge of God,” till after his baptism in Jordan ?If the pious author had said, that admission into covenant with God, by the sacrament of Divine institution, is necessary, as the appointed and ordinary means of establishing faith and hope in God's promises, he would have expressed himself after a manner justified by Scripture and by the tenets of our Scriptural church. “ How was faith reckoned to Abraham for righteousness? When he was in circumcision, or uncircumcision ? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” Rom. iv. 10.