Page images


Relation of the Doctrine to the Bible.



endless works which have been devoted to them in all ages of the church, are better fitted to awaken and nourish every other kind of emotions and reflections, than those of a religious nature. How then can we justify the importance which our Evangelical theology has always assigned to these doctrinal positions, if not from their bearings upon Christian piety? Shall we do it because these positions are decisively revealed in the Holy Scriptures? But it has been often repeated and conceded, that the principal notions around which this doctrine revolves, are either foreign to the Bible,—as οὐσία and ὑπόστασις, τρόπος υπάρξεως and ἀποκαλύψεως, τρίας and ὁμοουσία ; or that they do not seem to have the same significancy in the Bible as in doctrinal theology -. §. γεννηθῆναι, ἐκπορευθῆναι, πέμψαι, and even Πατήρ and υιός Eov. Shall we do it on speculative grounds? Speculation may decide for itself, what importance this doctrine has for it in its own sphere, but so far as a system of doctrines is concerned, especially the Evangelical, the speculative elements have never been the chief thing; and on this account we have all along held fast to the position, that we can consider them of value, only so far as they help to illustrate what is elsewhere established. Many a one might then be inclined to agree with De Wette's' conclusion: "That this doctrine, since it is said to be established only upon the Bible, but is not there contained in the form in which the church receives it, had better be looked upon as antiquated, and be exchanged for the doctrine of the Bible, historically and scientifically defined and illustrated."

It is with good reason that De Wette here says, "the doctrine of the Bible scientifically defined and illustrated." For, many as are those, who, in later times, have brought the doctrine of the Bible into contrast with that of the church, there are still very few among them, who would be taken seriously at their word, and would receive the doctrine precisely as it stands in the Bible, as expressing the full truth. And even he who sees in it a divine revelation will hardly be able, as a theologian, to abide by the mere letter of the Scriptures, without further examination. For, apart from the difficulty of determining what the exact doctrine of the Bible is in all its relations, in consequence of the great variety of modes in which the subject in all its bearings, is presented by the different Biblical writers; it contains in itself too

In his Dogmatik der Lutherischen Kirche. De Wette is so frequently referred to in this Article, because this work is used by Dr. Twesten as his textbook in these Lectures.

many references to notions, whose exact meaning and authority may seem doubtful, and there remain so many questions to be answered, so many by-ways to be avoided, that it would not be possible to stand by the letter alone, without further investigation.

We have indeed, as everywhere else, so here, to wonder at the wisdom with which the Scripture imparts those truths which no understanding of the wise can fathom, in a form which is intelligible even to the unlearned; since it presents the divine mysteries in that aspect, in which they are manifestly and most adapted to our religious wants; so that we may rather experience their power in the heart, than speak about them in lofty words (xα ὑπεροχὴν λόγου ἢ σοφίας, 1 Cor. 2: 1). The Scriptures do not speak of the perplexing union of the threeness with the oneness; nor of a divine essence which is common to three persons, and numerically one; nor of the three persons which subsist in the Godhead, and yet do not divide it. Manifold as have been the attempts to make such things a part of the experience of the Christian church, by means of formulas impressed upon the memory, and images presented to the imagination, by speculative categories or in mystic vision; every one must still feel the broad difference between all this and the clearness of the Scriptural statements, so simple in their depth and fulness. In the centre is placed Christ, in whom the Word has become flesh, and the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily; and so near does he stand to us, being made like us, so easily grasped in our conceptions, by our feelings, and even by our senses (1 John 1: 1), that the personality of the Son of God, which is thus brought before us in clear vision, does not seem to present to us any difficulty. And when we also read that the same Christ, thus evidently set forth before our eyes (Gal. 3: 1), so that we see and hear him, came from heaven, was with God, and equal with God, is the light and life of the world, without whom nothing was created; or that he has been again received to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, guarding and guiding his followers with divine power, judging the living and the dead; all this is no stumbling-block, because we have here presented perfectly clear and definite conceptions, which by these predicates are only extended as it were, in two opposite directions, and brought into connection with the infinite. In connection and contrast with him, the Father is described as the being who sent his only begotten Son into the world. In him we see the eternal power and Godhead, which,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


The Biblical Form of the Doctrine.


from the creation of the world, are understood from the things that are made (Rom. 1: 20); the one true God (John 17: 3), who did not leave himself without a witness, even when he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 14: 15—17), but who now commandeth all men everywhere to repent, and to believe in him whom he has raised from the dead (Acts 17: 24-31). And here again the distinction between the two persons does not seem to us obscure, neither does the union of the Father with him who is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, who is in the Father, as the Father is in him (John 14:9-11). The Holy Ghost, finally, whom we receive from the Father, through the Son, is described as the being whose opera. tions we may discern in our own minds; for it is he who witnesses to our spirits that we are the children of God (Rom. 8: 16); who intercedes for us, with groanings which cannot be ut tered (Rom. 8: 26); of whom we are told that he is the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2: 12), and the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8: 9), therefore one with them, and yet different, as is that which is given from him who gives; as is the one that is sent from him who sends (Rom. 5: 5. Gal. 3: 5. 1 Thess. 4: 8. John 14: 26. 15: 26. 20: 22. 1 John 4: 13). If, in the apostolic times, there is to be found no trace that the confession of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in this mode of viewing it, created any difficulty or opposition, this is something easy to be understood; and we may also see in it an example and norm for our times and for all times, as to the mode in which this doctrine is to be presented in ordinary discourse. Whatever makes it weighty and edifying in Christian experience, we may easily attach to this mode of representation; whatever gives employment only to the understanding, and involves it, as many believe, in inextricable problems, is here left in the back-ground.

But as theologians we cannot avoid reflecting upon these difficult points; for, on the one hand, so far as faith is concerned, we must seek to unite biblical conceptions with biblical words, in order to guard against doubt, and confirm belief; and, on the other hand, our intellect, although it may not presume to penetrate the

'According to the oldest and most universally received Confession, not merely in its Occidental or Roman form, which we are accustomed to call the Apostolical, but also as it was handed down in the Oriental churches, and recognized and more clearly defined at Nice. Very different is the character of the so-called Athanasian Creed, or the Symbolum Quicunque, which, however, on that very account, is less adapted to general use.

mysteries of the divine nature, does yet always desire to be assured that there is nothing contradictory or self-destructive in the articles of faith which we receive. Hence arises the necessity, in the first place, for historical investigations, in order to answer such questions as these; whether the conceptions of Spirit and of the Logos, which were current in the times of Christ and his apostles, and not invented by them, were received in the way of accommodation, or whether they are essential to the Christian system, and what is their Christian significancy, valid for all times in the second place, for philosophical definitions, in order to determine whether those principles designated as the Logos and the Spirit, which are connected with facts or phenomena of the Christian life, be natural or supernatural, created or divine, personal or impersonal; and what is their relation to one another, to the divine nature, and to their revelation in time? If, now, we are convinced that the three positions from which we started1 are actually contained in the Scripture; that is, that no view of the subject is Christian and Scriptural, which, either does not see anything truly divine in Christ or in the Spirit who dwells in believers; or, does not truly distinguish the one from the other, and both from the divinity of the Father; or, which would set aside the unity of the divine nature; and if we find it necessary in expressing all this, to employ conceptions and formulas, by which the errors may be avoided, and the truths maintained; then, we say, that the results of such investigations, though they may be given in a terminology not contained in the Scriptures, cannot be said to be opposed to the doctrine of the Bible. It is the doctrine of the Bible itself, philosophically illustrated and defined; and, though it may be best in popular instruction to abide by the biblical mode of presenting the doctrine, yet the philosophical mode will still be a regulative and corrective for any untenable and erroneous notions, which might be connected with the former. The connection of such investigations, with our religious and Christian experience is indeed more indirect than direct. A false standard is applied, when it is asked how far these conceptions and theorems, these termini and formulas are valuable as an expression of Christian views and feelings. In their indirect relations, as precautions for preserving the purity of Christian experience, and the correctness of its transference into the form of intellectual apprehension, from all disfigurement, error and misunderstanding, they might, nevertheless, be of the greatest impor

1 Bib. Sacra, No. XI. p. 507-8.


Reasons for a Change from the Biblical Form.


tance, and, under some circumstances, indispensable. In itself considered, for example, faith, in order to see in Christ the divine ground of our redemption, would need no other expression than that which the Scriptures give, when they call Christ the Son of God, or the Word manifest in the flesh. If, however, any one should advance the notion that this was to be understood only as the designation of a divinely exalted man, or of a Spirit, elevated indeed above all things, yet created; by the doctrine of the Consubstantiality he would have to be reminded, that even the highest of created beings could not be a partaker of such a union with God as that upon which our redemption rests; but only a being who from all eternity was, not created, but begotten, by the Father (God of God), and who, in the fulness of time, became man. And although the doctrine in this form is not contained in the Scripture, yet it is not foreign to the Scripture, but the doctrine of the Bible philosophically defined; nor can it be regarded as an. tiquated so long as there is danger of such a misunderstanding.

That this is in point of fact the true connection of the doctrine of the Trinity, as held by the church, with the biblical doctrine, may, we believe, be shown, with all the historical and exegetical evidence, which in such a case is possible. This is the position of our older divines,1 and must, we think, be conceded by all who are agreed with them in principle; that is, who believe firmly in the absolute truth of the Scriptural declarations, and in the necessity and reality of a redemption and atonement, effected and applied only by God. We believe it to be true, that if we follow the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in a historical and genetic manner, that the antagonisms and points of contest, which must come up and be discussed, one after another, could not be

1 These do indeed believe that they can prove the ecclesiastical formulas more directly from the Scriptures, not only of the New, but even of the Old Testament, than we find to be possible. For in the latter, only through the mediation of the N. Testament, can we find the germs; and, even in the N. Testament, it will be hard to find the form of the doctrine of the Trinity as it is received in the church, in any other way than as we interpret it in view of the elements of its historical development, and of the conflicts through which it passed; for even the questions to which we seek an answer in the Scriptures, are, for the most part, given to us only in subsequent history. Yet even our older divines concede that the termini introduced into the church (without which, however, the doctrine itself cannot be maintained), are derived only by inference from the Scripture, in order to set aside erroneous conceptions; and that, outside of the theological sphere, the truth can and should be communicated only in the words of the Bible. Conf. Hollaz de Trin. myster. qu. II. et LVIII.

« PreviousContinue »