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TO "THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY.”
THE late controversies about the important Doctrine of the Trinity, have engaged multitudes of christians in a fresh study of that subject; and amongst the rest I thought it my duty to review my opinions and my faith.
In my younger years, when I endeavoured to form my judgment on that article, the Socinians were the chief or only popular opponents. Upon a honest search of the scripture, and a comparison of their notions with it, I wondered how it was possible for any person to believe the bible to be the word of God, and yet to believe that Jesus Christ was a mere man. So perverse and preposterous did their sense of the scripture appear, that I was amazed how men, who pretended to reason above their neighbours, could wrench and strain their understandings, and subdue their assent to such interpretations. And I am of the same mind still,
But while I was then establishing my sentiments of the Deity of the Son and Spirit by the plain expressions of scripture, and the assistance of learned writers. I was led easily into the scholatic forms of explication; this being the current language of several centuries. And thus unawares I mingled those opinions of the schools, with the more plain and scriptural doctrine, and thought them all necessary to my faith, as thousands had done before me.
When I lately resumed this study, I found that the refiners of the Arian heresy had introduced a much more plausible scheme than that of Socinus. While I read some of these writers, I was so much divested of prejudice, and so sincerely willing to find any new light, which might render this sublime doctrine more intelligible, that some persons would have charged me with lukewarmness and indifference. But I think my heart was upright in these enquiries. And as the result of my search, I must say, that I am a steadfast and sincere believer of the godhead of Christ still. For though these authors give a rational and successful turn to some places of scripture, which I thought once did contain a substantial argument for that truth, yet there was never any thing that I could find in these new writings, that gave me a satisfying answer to that old, that general and extensive argument for the Deity of the Son and Spirit, which I have proposed in its clearest light in the eighth proposition. The expressions of scripture on that head were so numerous, so evident, so firm and strong, that I could not with any justice and reason enter into the sentiments of this new scheme. But after a due survey of it, I was fully convinced, that the professors of it, who denied the Son and Spirit to have true and eternal godhead belonging to them, were so far departed from the christian faith.
I render hearty thanks to God, who hath so guarded the freedom of my thoughts, as to keep them religiously submissive to plain revelation; and has made these later enquiries a means to establish my faith in this blessed article: The Father, Son and Spirit, are three* persons and one God, and to confirm it by juster and brighter evidences, than I was possessed of before.
Let it be ever remembered, that both in the title, the preface, and throughout the whole treatise, I take the word "person" to signify no more than a sufficient distinction between the sacred Three, to sustain the distinct characters and offices assigned to them in scripture,
But while I was engaged in this study, I found that the schola tic explication of this sacred doctrine was not in all the parts of it so evidently revealed, and so firmly grounded upon scripture as the plain doctrine itself. Thus while my faith grew bolder in this sacred article, my assurance as the modes of explication sensibly abated. Though none of the Arian arguments could prevail against my belief of the true and eternal godhead subsisting in three persons, yet my thoughts were often embarrassed about the co-eternal and co-equal sonship of Christ, and possession of the holy Spirit, about the communication of the same infinite individual essence, or the conveyance of the same unoriginated and self-existent nature to two other distinct persons in the godhead. I began to think that we had been too bold in our determinations of the "modus" of this mystery; we had entered too far, and been too positive in describing the eternal and consubstantial generation of the Son, and iuspiration of the Holy Ghost in the same numerical essence; and what we had made particular detail of these incomprehensibles too necessary a part of our creed.
And especially when I came to reflect, that there had been some other modes of explaining this sacred article proposed to the world, and some of them patronized by men of distinguished learning and unblemished piety, I found that these learned scholatic forms and terms of explication were by no means necessary to support the scriptural doctrine: I took notice also how much occasion the unskilful management of these artificial hypotheses had given to the cavils of heretical wits to blaspheme the doctrine itself.
I then considered with myself, how useful it might be to private christians to have the plain naked doctrine of scripture concerning the Trinity fairly drawn out, and set before their eyes with all its divine vouchers: How much more easily they would embrace this article when they see the whole of it so expressly revealed: And though they might confess they knew not the way to explain it, yet perhaps they might be more firmly established in the truth, and betler guarded against temptations to heresy, than if it were surrounded and incorporated with hard words and learned explications, which could not be proved with such express evidence from the word of God, which are confessed to be as inconceivable as the doctrine itself, and which had often ministered to strife and controversy.
I imagined also, that it would be an acceptable service to the church of Christ, if this sublime and important doctrine were brought down to a practical use, and our particular duties to the sacred Three were distinctly declared and vindicated out of the holy scriptures; which is of far greater moment to our piety and salvation than any nice adjustment of all the mysterious circumstances that relate to this article in the theory of it.
I know of no treatise on this subject written in this manner, and therefore I attempted it. Now the reader will find these four things following designed and kept in view throughout this discourse, viz.
I. To declare and confirm this blessed doctrine of the Trinity, by plain and express testimonies of scripture. As far as I was capable, I would make this truth appear to the world with as much evidence as it has appeared to me, that the same true godhead belongs to Father. Son and Spirit, and yet that they are three such distinct agents or principles of action, as may reasonably be called persons.
II. To describe, according to the revelation of scripture, what are the same divine honours and duties that may be paid to the sacred Three, considered as one in god head; and what are the distinct personal duties and honours that we are required to pay to each divine person, considered in their distinct characters and offices.
III. To shew that all the necessary truths that relate to this doctrine may be believed, and all the necessary duties that flow from it may be performed, without enquiring into any particular schemes to explain this great mystery of godliness, or to determine the manner, "how one God subsists in three persons." To this end I have taken care to avoid every argument, and every expression that would confine our thoughts to any one scheme of explication, or necessarily lead us into any one hypothesis. For since the Doctrine of the Trinity is so important in itself, and so necessary to true christianity, I would not willingly bring in any thing as a necessary part of this doctrine, but what might be acknowledged and professed by all who believe that the Son and Spirit are the true God, though they may fall into very various and different sentiments about the way of explaining it.
And in the last place, I have attempted to do all this in such plain and easy language, that every private christian who reads this doctrine may understand it, so far as is necessary, may be established in the scriptural proofs of it, and may have his faith secured in this day of temptation. Upon this account I have been watchful against admitting those latin and greek words and terms of art, which have too often tended to flatter the vanity of men, and make them learned in mere words and syllables, and which have often proved an incumbrance and burthen to their faith, rather than a support of it.
Having these views and designs always in my eye, the judicious reader will not wonder that I have omitted some forms of argument, and some texts of scripture which have been often called into this service. Some of these perhaps would have led me to speak of some particular scheme of explication which was contrary to my great design. Others did not strike me with the same satisfactory evidence, as some of my fathers or brethren have found from them: And though I will not rob them of their arguments, yet I beg leave to produce none but my own. And yet I may be bold to profess, that I believe this sacred doctrine as firmly as those who think they can prove it by a multitude of scriptures which I have omitted: And I hope this may be a sufficient apology, for any such omissions.
It is a most uncharitable and unrighteous thing, while a man is professing and proving any article of faith in most express language, and by convincing demonstrations, that he should be suspected of heresy, merely because he chuses to leave out some public phrases, or happens to drop some popular argument in that controversy, or excuses some doubtful text of scripture from that service: And yet this hath been too often the shameful practice and the just reproach of many christians, in whom the fury of an ignorant zeal has prevailed above the heavenly graces of light and love.
At the same time I will take the freedom to declare, that when a man excepts against one argument for any sacred truth as feeble, and treats another with jest and raillery; when he tells you this is not