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TWO SCHEMES OF A TRINITY CONSIDERED,
THE DIVINE UNITY ASSERTED.
POUR DISCOURSES UPON PHILIPPIANS ï. 5-11.
Acts ii. 22. Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of
Nazareth, a man approved of God, among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know. Chap. v. 31. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. Chap. x. 37, 38. That word you know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached: How God anointed, &c.
THE EDITOR'S ADVERTISEMENT.
The Editor of the following Discourses accounts it no small happiness, that, by a late favourable accident, he has it in his power to present them to the public. They show themselves to have been part of a course of ministerial services; and a memorandum, under the author's own hand, makes it probable that they were delivered from the pulpit, to a very respectable society of christians, so long ago as the year 1747.
The name of the author, as he himself did not place it there, is not given in the title page. An omission, which the judicious reader, it is supposed, will reckon to be of no great moment. And respecting the author himself, it may be most truly observed, that he was always far from affecting, in any degree, the character or influence of a Rabbi, or dogmatical teacher; and could not at any time wish his name, however justly endeared to many of his contemporaries, or sure to go down with distinguished esteem and honour to latest posterity,should be accounted of the least
weight, in the balance of reason, on any argument excepting that of testimony. He has now been several years removed from our world. But as the controversy, to which these discourses have respect, does still survive, and will probably be yet of long continuance, it cannot but be desirable to all good minds, that the largest portion of his excellent spirit may be retained among us, communicated, and diffused; in order that controversies of this nature, for the future, may be carried on, as our most candid author has expressed it, “ without detriment either to truth or piety.'
It may, however, be apprehended, that to the curious and attentive readers, who have been happily led into a previous acquaintance with his other valuable and most important works, these discourses will soon make a pleasing discovery of their author. And all such readers, there is no doubt, will be glad to receive the following declaration concerning them, though anonymous.
They are here given with a most strict care and fidelity, agreeable to the author's own manuscript, which he had drawn out fair for the press, with particular directions de signed for the printer. And any small additions, which a casual oversight seemed to make requisite, are distinguished by being inclosed in brackets thus : [ ]
Any attempt of the editor, to recommend such discourses as deserving the attention of the public, could not well be exempted from a charge of officiousness. They are, therefore, cheerfully left to speak for themselves.
All christians are agreed that the subjects, of which they treat, are very weighty; and ecclesiastical history too sadly shows in what manner the contentions about them have been agitated.
Whatever may be the issue of the arguments suggested, -with respect to the measure of conviction they shall produce in favour of any particular doctrine,—if the temper, with which they are proposed, should prove sufficiently attractive to engage a general imitation, and excite a prevailing diligence to maintain and cultivate it, on all sides, the apparent chief design of the author, and most fervent wishes of the editor, will have their best accoinplishment.
Maidstone, August 1, 1784.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus :
who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God has highly exalted him, and given him a name, which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philip. ii. 5-11. IN these verses we have at large the apostle's argument to the meekness and condescension before recommended; taken from the example of Christ's humility, and his exaltation, as a reward of it. Within the compass
of a few months I have delivered two practical discourses from the fifth verse of this chapter, explaining the duty of mutual condescension and forbearance, and enforcing it from the example and the reward of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But now I am desirous to explain in a more critical manner the words which have been read to you.
I shall be hereby unavoidably led into somewhat controversial; but I hope it will be also practical, and not unprofitable; were it only instructive to some who are not thoroughly acquainted with some controverted points, which yet are thought to be of much moment. Indeed, if people will decide in points of any kind, it is fit they should know and understand what they affirm; especially if they take upon them to pass sentences upon those who differ from them. This needs no proof. Certainly no honest and upright man would willingly form a wrong judgment in any case; especially in such a case as this, where, if he be ignorant, he may pass sentence upon himself. I fear this is no uncommon thing. One cannot be disposed to insult any man's ignorance. But when censoriousness is joined therewith, and it becomes troublesome to others, it will be remarked. I think I have met with some good people who
have severely condemned Arians, and yet were not orthodox themselves. And if they could have been persuaded to explain their own notion, it would have appeared that they were in the Arian scheme, or near it. But they were too positive, and too well satisfied of being in the right, to hear any argument from those who would bave debated with them, and led them into the merits of the controversy.
Disputes about the person of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity, as is well known, have been exceedingly prejudicial to the christian cause and interest; and chiefly so, because those disputes have been managed with too much heat; and contending parties on both sides have not been contented to dispute and argue, and then leave it to every one to determine conscientiously according to the best of his own judgment ; but would impose their own sense. And if they had the authority, and civil power on their side, would require men under heavy pains and losses to profess, in word or writing, an assent to their opinion, whether convinced or not. Whereas serious and impartial, free and patient enquiries and debates might have been instructive, and let in light; and different sentiments have been allowed without detriment either to truth or piety.
I hope we may now have an example of this kind ; and that all will hear with patience an argument which is intended to be proposed with mildness, though with plainness, free from all reserve and disguise.
In order to understand this text, and to give free scope to every one to judge of its design, according to several apprehensions concerning the person of Christ, it will be needful to consider the several schemes of divines relating to the doctrine of the Trinity. For, as christians among us bave before them, beside what is said in the scriptures, divers determinations upon the doctrine of the Trinity, in catechisms, articles, and liturgies, they will apply those determinations to this, and other texts of scripture.
I have therefore thought, that no method will more directly lead to a clear judgment in this point, than to propose and consider the common schemes or ways of thinking of the Deity, which obtain among the professed disciples and followers of Jesus.
The first shall be that which is reckoned the commonly received scheme, and called orthodox and catholic.
In the Assembly's catechism it is said : • There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the • Holy Ghost; the same in substance, equal in power and glory.' VOL. IX,
The first article of the church of England is : There is .but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, * parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, • the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in the unity of this godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, • the Son, and the Holy Ghost.'
Here certainly ariseth a difficulty. How are we to understand these expressions? And how are they understood by those who use them, and approve of them, and assent to them, as right? One God, three persons, the same in sub
stance, equal in power and glory; or of one substance, • power, and eternity.' Is it hereby meant, that there are three really distinct minds, or intelligent agents ? So we might be apt to conclude from the use of the word person, and saying, that these three are equal.'
Nevertheless there are two different sentiments among those who are called orthodox. Some believe three distinct persons or beings, of the same substance or essence in kind; as three men are distinct, but are of the same kind of substance. Others do not understand the word “ person" in the common acceptation. They believe only a modal distinction. They openly say, that in discoursing on the mys. tery of the Trinity, they do not use the word “person in what is now the common meaning of that word. We might be disposed to think that these went into the Sabellian scheme, which holds one person only in the Deity, under three different denominations. But yet they deny it, and disclaim Sabellianism, and speak of it as a very pernicious opinion. They say, that though the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are not three distinct beings, or individuals, there is a distinction, which may be represented by that of three persons.
Here then are two different opinions among those who pass for orthodox.
And which is right ? that is, wbich of these is the prevailing and generally received opinion ? I answer, the latter ; [or the opinion of those] who hold only a modal distinction in the Trinity. This appears to me evident from what is called the Athanasian Creed, which is always allowed by
• I say, called the Athanasian Creed, for it is now generally allowed by learned men, that it is not the work of the celebrated Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who flourished in the fourth century, but of some other person long after his time. Nor is it certainly known by whom it was composed. For proof of this I refer to the Benedictine edition of Athanasius's works, tom. II. p. 719, &c.