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Unitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches online

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in the being of God, with such distinction, and one would think . . the
absolute perfection of the Deity, and especially the perfect felicity
thereof, should be much the more apprehensible with us. When we
consider the most delicious society which would hence ensue among
the so entirely consentient Father, Son, and Spirit, with whom there
is so perfect rectitude, everlasting harmony, mutual complacency, unto
highest delectation, . . . we for our parts cannot but hereby have in
our minds a more gustful idea of a blessed state than we can conceive
in mere eternal solitude. — John Howe : Calm Eiiquiry concerning
the Possibility of a Trinity ; in Works, vol. ii. pp. 549-50.



284 THE TRINITY OF DISTINCT BEINGS.

It may be a question -vvhetlier the pious Howe, in tlie preceding extraci,
speaks of three self-existent beings, or of three imperfect Gods constituting
one perfect God; but tliere can be no doubt that he represents the Deity
as made up of a council of distinct but harmonious intelligences, relieving
what would otherwise have been the tedium of an " eternal solitude" by a
fi'ee, equal interchange of converse and love. The old Hebrew prophets
seem to have entertained very different conceptions of Jehovah: "Before
the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth
and the v/orld, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God." " I am
Jehovah that maketh all things ; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone;
that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself."

REMARKS.

I do, I confess, charge this author [Dr. William Sherlock] A\ith
asserting three Gods (although he does not in terminis express it)v
because of liis asserting three distinct infinite minds or spirits. . . -
The consequence of three Gods from three distinct infinite spirits i?
direct, manifest, and immediate ; or rather, in truth, is not so properly
a consequence, or one assertion following from another, as one and the
very same thing expressed in other words. . . . For the words, " infi-
nite mind or spirit," are but a periphrasis of the thing signified b}

the term " God." If self-consciousness be the formal reason of

personaHty in the three di\ine persons, then there is no repugnancy
in the nature and reason of the thing itself but that there might bt
three thousand persons in the Deity as well as three. ... If it be here
said that the three persons are not only three self-conscious spirits,
but also tlu'ee distinct mfinite self-conscious spirits (as our author sayt
they are), I answer that there may be as well three thouadud distinct
infinite spirits as three ; for infinity is as much inconsistent with \ht
least plurality of infinites as with the greatest. . . . But how, then,
comes there to be only three ? Why, upon these grounds no other
reason can be assigned for it but only that it was God's free determi-
nation that there should be three, and no more. And then the Trinity
of persons must be an efiect of God's will, and not a necessary condi-
tion of the divine nature ; and the further consequence of this must
be, that the three persons are three created beings, as proceeding from
the free results of God's will, by wtue whereof they equally might

or might not have been I shall now pass to his [Sherlock's]

other new notion of mutual consciousness, whereby those persons,
who were distinguished from one another by their respective self-
consciousnesses, are united and made one in nature by virtue of tliis
mutual consciousness : concerning which notion also, I must -Drofess



THE TRINITY OF DISTINCT BEINGS. 285

myself in the number of those who are by no means satisfied with it.
. . . No act of knowledge can be the formal reason of an unity of nature
in the persons of the blessed Trinity : but an act of mutual conscious-
ness is an act of knowledge; and therefore no act of mutual con-
sciousness can be the formal reason of an unity of natm'e m the three
divine persons. The major I prove thus : Every act of knowledge
supposes the unity of a thing or being from which that act flows, as
antecedent to it, and therefore camiot be the formal reason of the
said being. For still I affirm, that being, and consequently unity of
being (which is the first affection of it), must in order of natiirr

precede knowledge, and all other the like attributes of being

My reason for what I affirm — viz., that three distinct infinite minds,
or spirits, are three distinct Gods — is this, that " God " and " infinite
mind " or " spuit " are terms equipollent and convertible ; God being
truly and properly an uifinite mind' or spirit, and an infuiite mind or
spirit being as truly and properly God. . . . Whatsoever may be
affirmed or denied of the one may with equal truth and propriety
be affirmed or denied of the other. . . . Three infinite minds or spirits
are three absolute, simple beings or essences, and so stand distin-
guished from one another by their whole beings or natm-es. . . . Three
minds or spuits are three absolute bemgs, natures, or substances ; and
tliree distinct infinite minds or spirits are, accordingly, three distinct
infinite absolute beings, natm:es, or substances ; that is, in other words,

they are three Gods I desu'e this author to produce that

revelation which declares the three persons of the blessed Trinity to
be three distinct infinite minds or spuits ; for I deny tlmt there is
any such. . . . These two propositions — ^dz., " God is one infinite
mind or spuit ; " and that other, " God is three distinct infinite minds
or spirits " (which he must be, il' the three di\ine persons are three
distinct infinite minds or spirits) — are gross, palpable, and irrecon-
cilable contradictions; and, because they are so, it is demonstrably
certain that the said three persons are not three distinct infinite minds

or spirits If those three acts m the Godliead [original mind

and wisdom, — the knowledge of itself, — the love of itseK] are three
distinct infinite substances (as he plainly says they are, ... p. 130, . . .),
then in the Godhead there are and must be three distinct Gods or
Godheads; forasmuch as, an infinite substance being properly God,
every distinct infinite substance is and must be a distinct God. — Dr.
RoBEKT South : Animadversions on Sherlock^s Vindication, pp. xvi,
101-3, 106-7. 119-22, 133-4, 216



236 TUE TRINITY OF DISTINCT BEINGS.

I'he assertion, there are three infinite, distinct minds and substances
in the Trinity, is false, impious, and heretical, contrary to the doctrine
of the cathoKc church, and particularly to the received doctrine of the
chm-ch of England. — Vice-Chancellor and Heads of Colleges

BELONGING TO THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.

This censure was passed on Sheelock's doctrine, Nov. 25, 1695. See
Lindsey's Apology, p. 63.

An h}'pothesis which leaves out the a ery nexus, that natural eter-
nal um'on, or leaves it out of its proper j lace, and insists upon mutual
consciousness, -wliich at the most is but i , consequence thereof, wants
the principal thing requisite to the sohir g the unity of the Godhead.
If two or thi'ee created spirits had never i o perfect a mutual perspec-
tion of one another, that would not const! ute them one thing, though
it probably argue them to be so ; and but probably, — for God might,
no doubt, give them a mutual insiglit into one another, without mak-
ing the mone. — JoiiN How^e: Calm Emjdrij concerning the Possi-
bility of a Trinity ; in Works, vol. ii. p. 548.

Their explication of the Trinitarian doctrine is imscriptural who
assert that there are three infinite, eternal, self-existent Beings, as
distinct from each other as three men are; for this is to suppose
three Gods, each bemg asserted to be distinctly a God. Whereas the
Scripture says there is but one God ; which God, and no other, spake
by his Son Christ Jesus, being manifested in the flesh. — Dr. Benj.
Dawson : Illustration of Texts, pp. 129-30.

[i] Have these three infinite minds, at once self-conscious and
conscious of each other's consciousness, always the very same thoughts ?
If so, this mutual consciousness is unmeaning or derivative ; and the
three do not cease to be three, because they are three sanies. If not,
then there is Tritheism endently. . . . [2] Is not God conscious of
every thought of man ? and would Sherloci : allow me to deduce
the unity of the di^ine consciousness mth the 1 uman ? Sherlock's is
doubtless a very plain and intelligible account of three Gods in the
most absolute intimacy with each other, so tha ; they are aU as one ;
but by no means of three persons that are one God. I do not won-
der that Waterland and the other followers of Bull were alarmed.
• • • {^~\ Will not the Arian object, "You admit tie modus suhsistendi
to be a divine perfection, and you affirm that it is incommunicable.
Does it not follow, therefore, that there are perfections which the All-
perfect does not possess ? " This would not apply to Bishop Bull or



THE TRINITY OF DISTINCT BEINGS. 287

"Walerland. ... [4] Is not God conscious to all my thoughts, though
I am not conscious of God's ? "Would Sherlock endure that I should
infer : Ergo, God is numerically one with me, though I am not
numerically one with God ? . . . [5] Surely, never did argument
vertiginate more. I had just acceded to Sherlock's exposition of the
Trinity as the Supreme Being, his reflex act of self-consciousness and
his love all formmg one Supreme Mind; and now he tells me that
each is the whole Supreme Mind, and denies that three, each per st
the whole God, are not the same as thi'ee Gods ! I grant that division
and separation are terms inapj)hcable ; yet surely three distinct though
tmdi-sided Gods are three Gods. That the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
are the one true God, I fully believe ; but not Sherlock's exposition of
the doctrine. . . . [6] Three persons having the same natm-e are three
persons; and if to possess mthout limitation the divine natm'e, as
opposed to the human, is what we mean by God, why, then, three
such persons are three Gods, and will be thought so till Gregoby
Nyssen can persuade us that John, James, and Peter, each possessing
the human nature, are not three men. John is a man, James is a
man, and Peter is a man ; but they are not three men, but one man ! —
S. T. Coleridge : Literary Remains ; in JVorks, vol. v. pp. 389-94,
398-9.

The preceding observations are numbered to con-espond with those from
Sheklock, so marked, in pp. 282-3 of the present work.

That there is but one God, the Scriptm'es everj^where assert ; and
this is agreeable to reason, and the works of creation and providence
which we behold ; and the contrary supposition is most absurd and
undeshable, and really involves in it infinite eviL God must be a
self-existent Being, which is the same with existing necessarily ; but
necessary existence must be infinite. . . . Therefore there can be
but one fii'st Cause, who exists necessarily, and \vithout beginning, for
there can be but one infinite Being. To suppose another, or a second,
necessarily excludes the fii'st; and to suj^pose the fii'st, necessarily
excludes the second and any other infinite Being. The same is
endent fi'om the consideration of the divine perfections. God is infi-
nite power, infinite wisdom; but there cannot be two or more infinite
wisdoms, &c., because tliis is a contradiction. , Infinite power is all the
power there is or can be, and is clearly inconsistent "v^ith another pov/er
distinct from that, which is also mfinite. Moreover, if we make the
impossible supposition that there are two or more infinite Beings, they



288 THE TRINITY OF DISTINCT BEINGS.

must be perfectly alike in all resjDects, or not. If not perfectly aliiie,
and vdthout any difference in any respect, then one or the other must
be imperfect ; for absolutely infinite perfection admits of no variation
or difference ; so that, if any two beings differ in any respect, they
cannot both be absolutely perfect; therefore camiot both be God.
But, if they are perfectly alike in every respect and every thing, then
they are perfectly one and the same ; and the supposition destroys
itself, being a direct contradiction. And there can be no possible
need of more than one God ; and therefore, were this possible, it is
not desu'able. There can really be no more existence than one mfinite
Being, or any addition to infinite perfection and excellence ; therefore
no more can be desired, and nothing can be effected or done, more
than he can do. Li a word, he is all-sufficient, and no addition can
be made to this, or even conceived. — Dr. Samuel HorKES'S : System
of Doctrines, chap. 3; in Works, vol. i. ]). 61.

This demonstration of God's oneness is not made by its author in refer
ence to any theory of three divine persons; but it may be well applied to
all such propositions as convey the notion, that the Deity consists of several
distinct, eternal, and equal or unequal intelligences, whether called persons
or beings. Dr. Hopki::?s here virtually refutes his own Trinitarian or Tri-
theistic views, as will be quoted in p. 290.

Whatever disclaimer may be made as to Tritheism, the comparison
of mdiAiduality in the Godhead with that among men does essentially
involve theoretical Tritheism. If not, then how could the Greeks be
accused of polytheism, who believed in a common nature among the
Dii majores ? And if not, then we must come to the absiu:d conclu-
sion of Gregory of Nyssa, that it is catackresis when we speak of
Peter and Paul and Barnabas as thi'ee men, because in truth they have
but one common human nature. It is impossible to put the mind
upon receiving such an incongruity, without its reluctating. It instinc-
tively revolts. . . . Now and then, a zealous partisan of the Nicene
Sj-mbol — a Bull, a Waterland, a Jones of Nayland, or some
writer of tliis cast — lias told us of three distinct consciousnesses,
wills, and affections 'in the Godhead, and of the eternal " society "
wliich must have always been in it. But the ears of intelKgent Chris-
tians in general are not now open to these things. Yet still the
unwary and unthinking are affected by them, and. led unconsciously,

it may be, into real Tritheism Of some of these definitions,

i.e. those of Melancthox and jSIorus and some others, it might be
said, that the word " jjerson," as apphed to three different men, could



THE TRINITY OF DISTINCT AGENTS. 289

scarcely receive a more fall and complete sense than is given it in
respect to the Godhead. Tritheism in theory seems to be the un-
avoidable deduction from such definitions. . . . The theory of person-
ality which represents three mtelhgent beings, distinct in such a full
sense that each has his own individual consciousness, wiU, affections,
purposes, &c., must amount to theoretical Tritheism ; for such are the
principal distinctions that exist between three mdi^ddual men. . . .
Any definition of personality in the Godhead which represents person
to be ens per se, or substantia individua non sustentata in alia natura,
, , . seems plainly and substantially to infringe on the idea that there
is but one and numerically the same substance in the Godhead. 1
am not able to see why it does not clearly involve a logical contra-
diction. — Moses Stuaut, in Biblical Repositoi-y, vol. v. p. 314; and
vol. ^i. pp. 84, 92-4.

For other valuable remarks on this tritheistic Trinity, Stuakt's supple-
mentary note to his Second Letter to Channing (Miscellanies, pp. 60-2) may
be consulted. They will be found applicable also to the theory of a Triune
God presented in the following subsection ; for, except in mere terms, there
seems to be no diflference whatever between a Trinity of distinct minds or
beings and a Trinity of distinct persons, subsistences, or agents.



4 9. The Trinity of Distinct Persons, Subsistences, or Agents.

We should carefully study and duly be affected with that gracious
consent, and as it were confederacy, of the glorious Three, in design-
ing and prosecuting our good ; their unanimous agreement in uttering
those three mighty words of favor to mankind, Fadamus, Redima-
mus, Salvemus, — " Let us make man out of nothing ; Let us recover
him from sin and perdition ; Let us crown him with joy and salvation."
We should with grateful resentments observe them conspiring to em-
ploy their wisdom in contriving fit means and methods to exert their
power in effectual accompHshment of what was requisite to the promot-
ing of our welfare, . . in prosecution of that gracious design which their
joint goodness had projected for us. . . . We should set our mind on
God the Father, before the foundation of the world from all eternity, . .
resohing to send his own dear Son from his bosom, to procure and
purchase the redemption of mankind ; . . . then actually sending his
only Son, and clothing him with human flesh ; . . . also sending and
bestowing his Holy Spirit to dwell in them [who obey Christ]. — Dr.
L Barrow : Def. of the Blessed Trinity ; Works, vol. ii. pp. 157-8.

2o



290 THE TRINITY OF DISTINCT AGENTS.

[By " person "] I certai\ily mean a real person, an h}-postasis ; no
mode, attribute, or property, . . . Each dhine person is an individual
intelligent agent; but, as subsisting in one undinded substance, they
are all together, in that respect, but one undi\'ided intelKgent agent.
. . . The church never professed three h^^postases in any other sense
but as they mean three persons. — Dr. Daniel Waterland : Vin-
dication of Chrisfs Divinity, pp. 350-1.

The Scriptures teach us that there are three in this one God, —
not three Gods, for this would be a contradiction ; but that this infi-
nite Being exists in such a manner as to be three distinct subsistences
or persons, and yet but one God. . . . These three are spoken of or
addressed in the Scriptures in such terms as are used to denote a
distinct personaHty, such as I, thou, he, or him. Thus the Father
speaks of himself and the Son ; and thus the Son speaks to the
Father, and of him, and of the Holy Spirit The three per-
sons in the Godhead form an infinitely high, holy, and happy society,
— the original and perfect pattern of all true love, friendship, and
happiness. . . . Jesus Clu'ist, the Mediator, is the medium by wliich
the society of the redeemed in heaven will be united to the infinitely
more excellent and perfect society, — the eternal Trinity of persons,
who dwell in the mfinitely high and holy place, far beyond the reach
or comprehension of creatures ; from whom the same benevolence
and social love is shed down through the Mediator on these redeemed
ones, forming them into one most happy society, in union with the
blessed Trinity, and so as to be a Httle image of the Deity, — the
Three in One, and One in Three. — Dr. Samuel Hopkins : System
of Doctrines, chaps. 3 and 13 ; in Works, vol. i. pp. 62, 65, and
vol. ii. pp. 58-9.

The Scripture represents the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as
distinctly possessed of personal properties. The Father is represented
as being able to understand, to will, and to act, of himself; the Son is
represented as being able to understand, to will, and to act, of him-
self; and the Holy Ghost is represented as being able to understand,
to "will, and to act, of himself. According to these representations,
the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three distinct persons, or agents.
Accordingly, they speak to and of each other as such. . . . Thus the
Scriptiure leads us to conceive of the one ]i^dng and true God as
existing in three distinct persons, each of whom is possessed of all
personal properties, and is able to understand, to will, and to act, as a
free, voluntary, almighty agent. Hence the Scripture represents the



THE TRINITY OF DISTINCT AGENTS. 291

three persons in the sacred Trinity as absolutely equal in every divine

perfection If there be but one God, then it necessarily follows

that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not three Gods, but only
three persons in one self-existent, independent, eternal Being. The
three persons are not one person, but one God ; or the Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost are three in respect to their personahty, and but one
in respect to their nature and essence. . . . We find no difficulty in
conceiving of three di\'ine persons. It is just as easy to conceive of
tiu'ee di^ine persons as of three human persons. No man perhaps
ever found the least difficulty in conceiving of the Father as a distinct
person from the Son, nor m conceiving of the Son as a distmct person
from the Holy Ghost, nor m conceiving of the Holy Ghost as a dis-
tinct person from both the Father and Son ; but the only difficulty in
this case lies in conceiving these three persons to be but one. And
it is evident that no man can conceive three divine persons to be one
di\ine person, any more than he can conceive three angels to be but
one angel ; but it does not hence follow that no man can conceive that
three divine persons should be but one divine Being. For, if we only
suppose that " being " may signify something difierent from " person "
in respect to Deity, then we can easily conceive that God should be

but one Being, and yet exist in three persons The doctrine of

the Sacred Trinity, as represented in Scripture, gives us a clear and
striking view of the all-sufficiency of God. Since he exists in three
equally divine persons, there is a permanent foundation in his own na-
ture for the most pure and perfect blessedness. Society is the source
of the highest felicity; and that sgciety affords the greatest enjoyment
which is composed of persons of the same character, of the same dis-
position, of the same designs, and of the same pm'suits. The Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost, who are three equally divine persons in the one
Uving and true God, are perfectly united in all these respects ; and
therefore God's existing a Trinity in Unity necessarily renders him the

^U-sufficient source of his own most perfect felicity. We have as

clear an idea of these three divine persons as of three human persons.
There is no mystery in the personahty of the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost, though there is a profound mystery in then' being one God. —
Dn. N. Emmons: fVorks, vol. iv. pp. 107-8, 110-11, 114-15, 125.

This is perhaps as plain and intelligible a statement of the doctrine of an
hypostatic Trinity as can be found anywhere ; and is the less repulsiv'e from
its omission of the palpably inconsistent notions of eternal generation and
procession which have been inculcated in so many creeds and confessions.



292 THE TKINITY OF DISTINCT AGENTS.

That is, it is plain and intelligible in so far as it asserts, thut the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distindft persons or agents, equal in every
divine perfection; each capable of thinking, willing, and acting of himself;
and each deriving his happiness from the society of the others. To such
language, gros« and polytheistic as a portion of it seems, we can attach
definite conceptions. But, when it asserts that these three equally divine
persons are only one Being, it either expresses no ideas whatever, or utters
a manifest absurdity ; for, as applied to an intelligent, thinking, voluntary
agent, it is inconceivable that the term " person" can mean any thing else
but a being. The words are synonymous or convertible. God is a person
or being, because he is, thinks, feels, wills, and acts: Jesus Christ is a per-
son or being, because lie is, thinks, feels, wills, and acts. They are distinct
persons or beings, because each of them has his own separate consciousness,
will, and mode of action. To atfirm, then, that these persons, with another
called the Holy Ghost, constitute but one Being, is a contradiction in ideas;
or is equivalent to asserting that the three persons are only one person, —
which is a contradiction in terms.

BEMAKKS.

Although ... I would not drop the use of the word " person,"
yet I would protest against the license which is often taken in sj)eak-
ing of the persons of the Godhead. When authors speals. of their
eternal and mutual society, and converse together ; of their taking
counsel together and deliberating, just as if an effort were necessary
m order to harmonize them, or to bring them to one and the same
conclusion, or to be of one and the same mind, or in order to cast
light upon what it may be proper for them to do ; when they tell us
of one person entering into covenant with another, simply as divine,
and before the foundation of the \W)rld ; of one divine person com-
manding, and another, simply as divine, obeying, — all this, and much
more of the same nature, so long as it is indulged in, will continue to



Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 32 of 55)