Page images

some seeming, not real repugnancies; and the ideas we have of it are general and confuse, not particular nor special. Such as our ideas are, such must our faith be; and we cannot believe farther than we conceive, for believing is conceiving ; confusely, if ideas are confusely ; generally, if general ; distinctly and adequately, if distinct and adequate.

The generation of the Son of God is another mystery. Ideas we have of it, and know what we mean by it. But being spiritual, imagination can lay no hold of them; being general and confuse, we cannot reach to particulars; and being seemingly repugnant, we cannot make out the entire connection. Equality of nature (which is part of the notion) is a general idea, and well understood; reference to a head or fountain is general too, but more confuse, and besides, figuralive; eternal reference very confuse, as the idea of eternity necessarily must be; inseparability is general, obscure, negative; and we know but very imperfectly what the union of spiritual things means. Nevertheless we understand enough (though we can imagine little) to make it properly an article of belief; and no man can reasonably pretend to reject it, as having no meaning, or carrying no idea at all with it. We assent as far as our ideas reach, for we can do no more: we believe in part, what is revealed in part; our faith keeping pace with our ideas, and ending where they end.

The simplicity of God is another mystery, of which we have some, but a very imperfect, general, and obscure idea. It may fall under case the fifth and sixth. Scripture says little of it: we have took it chiefly from melaphysics, which are short and defective. When we come to inquire, whether all extension, or all plurality, diversity, composition of substance and accident, and the like, be consistent with it, then it is that we discover how confuse and inadequate our ideas are. And hence it is, that while all parties admit the divine simplicity, in the gene. ral, yet when they come to be pressed with it in dispute, they often give different accounts of it; and easily so explain and state the notion, as to make it suit with their particular schemes. To this head belongs that perplexing question, (beset with difficulties on all sides,) whether the divine substance be-extended or no. And if extension be admitted, ingenious thoughtful men will divide again, upon another question, whether infinite or no; some thinking it very absurd for any attribute of God not to be infinite; others thinking it no less absurd to admit any infinite extension, number, or the like, at all. They that suppose the divine substance extended, lest they should be obliged to conceive it as a point only; and lest they should admit that any thing can act where it is not, are, when pressed with difficulties about aliquot parts, forced to admit that any part of that substance, how great soever, or of whatever dimensions, must be conceived only as a point, in proportion to the whole : from whence it follows, that, unless the world be infinite, all that acts (of that infinite substance) in the world, is but a point ; and so the whole substance, except that point, either acts not at all in the world, or acts where it is not. But to proceed.

Self-existence is another mystery, of which we know little: and the learned are hardly agreed whether it be a negative or positive idea. Yet every body believes it in the gross, confusedly and undeterminately. It is manifest, on one hand, that the first cause has no cause ; neither itself (much less any property of itself) nor any thing else: and yet it may seem very wonderful how any thing should exist without a reason a priori ; that is, without a cause for it

To name no more : eternity itself is the greatest mystery of all. An eternity past, is a thought which puzzles all our philosophy; and is too hard for the sharpest wits to reconcile. The nunc stans of the schools (though older than the schools) has been exploded; and yet succession

1 ου γαρ δέχεται λογισμός είδέναι οίόν τε ουσίαν είναι, μήτε παρ' εαυτής, μήτε Tug'iripou sò sive zoudar. Chrys. Hom. xxv. tom. i. p. 298.

carries with it insuperable difficulties. There' is nothing peculiar to the doctrine of the Trinity, any thing near so perplexing as'eternity is : and yet the gentlemen who are for discarding mysteries are forced to believe it. I know no remedy for these things but an humble mind; a just sense of our ignorance in many things, and of our imperfect knowledge in all. Now to return to the learned Dr. Whitby

After a view of the premises, it might be proper to ask him, whether he dislikes the Catholic doctrine of the holy Trinity, as perceiving contradictions in it. If this be the case, however concerned I am for that doctrine, (believing it to be true,) I will venturé to say, it would be an'acceptable piece of service, if he could any way help others to perceive them tooTruth, certain truth, will be always welcome, in any cause, and from any hand, to all sober and considerate meh. But if this should be done, he should not then complain that he understands not the doctrine, but that he understands (i.e. distinctly perceives) it to be false.

If he means that he has no idea at all of the mystery, not so much as a' general, confuse, or inadequate apprehension of it, that' must be a mistake; as may appear from what hath been before observed. Besides that having once, or oftener, wrote for'it, (though 'he has since laboured very much'to'perplex, puzzle, and disparage it) every candid man must believe that he' understood, in some measure, formerly, what'he' engaged in the proof of.

If the case be, that he does not' throughly, fully, and adequately comprehend' it, and therefore demurs to it; then it should be considered, that the result of all is this only, that he will not admit so far as he may understand, unless he may have'the privilege to understand something more: which, whether it be not too familiar from a creatüre towards his Creator, and articling 'more strictly with Almighty God than becomes us, let any wise man judge.

[blocks in formation]

If, lastly, it be pretended that it is a human, not a divine doctrine, which he is pleased to quarrel with; let him censure it as human and unscriptural only; and not as unintelligible, and impossible to be assented to: and then we may bring the cause to a short issue, by inquiring whether the doctrine be scriptural, or no. Let things be called by their right names, and set in their true and proper light; that truth may not be smothered, nor any doctrine (especially so ancient and so important a doctrine) condemned, before we know why. So much we owe to the Church of Christ, which receives this faith; to the blessed saints and martyrs, many centuries upwards, who lived and died in it; to truth, to God, and to ourselves, as to see that it be fairly and impartially examined; that “proving all things,” as we ought to do, in sincerity and singleness of heart, we may, at length, be both wise enough to know, and suitably disposed to “hold “ fast that which is good.”

It is excellently remarked by the ingenious Mr. Emlyn, in the Appendix to his m Narrative, “ that the holy

Scriptures require no accurate, philosophical notions of “ God's eternity, omnipresence, and immensity, &c. They

are content to give us popular, easy accounts of these " matters

they trouble not men with the niceties of eternal successions, or an eternal tò vũv, without succession ; nor with infinite spaces, or of God's being present “ in part, or in whole ; and the like metaphysical diffi“ culties.Our religion imposes no such difficulties on

us, of believing with the understanding what we cannot “ so much as perceive by it; it only requires us to believe « what it reveals to us, i. e. to our understanding and ap


All this is very rightly and judiciously observed. God's eternity and omnipresence we have only general and confuse ideas of; Scripture has not revealed to us the particular modus, or minute circumstances of either; and we

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

are not obliged to believe any otherwise than as we apprehend, (i. e. confusely and inadequately;) nor indeed is it possible. The same is the case of three Persons, every one truly God, and all but one God; so far evident from Scripture, and apprehended, in the general, as fully and clearly (perhaps more so) as eternity, omnipresence, or the like. But the particular modus, how the three are one, and the minute circumstances of their union and distinction, are as much a secret to us, as how God foresees future contingents, or is present in all places at once. Many have been prying and inquisitive into this matter, hoping to know something more particularly of it, till they have come to doubt even of the thing itself, and so have fallen into heresy : and Catholics have sometimes exceeded in this way, endeavouring to explain beyond their ideas; which is really nothing else but multiplying words. The notion is soon stated, and lies in a little compass. All that words are good for, after, is only to fix and preserve that notion, which is not improvable (without a new revelation) by any new idea; but may be obscured and stifled in a multitude of words. The most useful words for fixing the notion of distinction, are person, hypostasis, subsistence, and the like: for the divinity of each Person, quoououos éyévntos, eternal, uncreated, immutable, &c. For their union, wspixáspnois, interior generation, procession, or the like. The design of these terms is not to enlarge our views, or to add any thing to our stock of ideas; but to secure the plain fundamental truth, that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all strictly divine and uncreated; and yet are not three Gods, but one God, He that believes this simply, and in the general, as laid down in Scripture, believes enough; and need never trouble his head with nice questions, whether the union of three Persons should be called individual or specific; whether Person and Being are reciprocal terms; whether every person may be properly said to be self-existent; how three persons can be all in the same place ; whether all perfection might not as well have been confined to one

« PreviousContinue »