John Wilson.

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

. (page 33 of 55)
Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 33 of 55)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

bring upon Trinitarians the reproach of Polytheism ; and I had almost
said that the reproach is not destitute of at least a semblance of jus-
tice. — Moses Stuart, in Biblical Repository for July, 1835 ; vol. vi.
pp. 99, 100.

A very large portion of the Christian teachers, together mth the
gCT.sral mass of disciples, undoubtedly hold three real living persons
in the interior nature of God; that is, three consciousnesses, wills,
hearts, understandings. Certain passages of Scripture, supposed to
represent the three persons as covenanting, co-operating, and co-
presiding, are taken, accordingly, so to affirm in the most literal and
dogmatic sense. And some very distinguished Hving teachers are
frank enough to acknowledge, that any intermediate doctrine, between


the absolute unity of God and a social unity, is impossible and incre-
dible ; therefore, that they take the latter. Accordingly, Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost are, in their view, socially united only, and preside in
that way, as a kind of celestial tritheocracy, over the world. They
are one God simply in the sense that the three will always act together
with a perfect consent or coincidence. This view has the merit that
it takes consequences fairly, states them frankly, and boldly renounces
orthodoxy, at the point oj)posite to Unitarianism, to escape the same
difficulties. It denies that the three persons are " the same in sub-
stance," and asserts, instead, three substances ; and yet, because of its
clear opposition to Unitarianism, it is counted safe, and never treated
as a heresy. However, when it is applied to Christ and his work,
then it breaks downi into the same confusion as the more common
vdew, reducing the Son to a really subordinate and subject jDosition, in
vvhich the proper attributes of Deity are no longer visible or supposa-
ble. — Dr. Horace Bushnell : God in Christ, pp. 130-1.

The moment we conceive of the Deity as consisting of three dis-
tinct individuals, each possessing consciousness, affections, will, of his
own, we contradict and virtually abandon the true scriptural, simple
idea of one God. "Whatever guard we may throw about our language,
we do in fact, from that moment, believe not in one God, but in three.

A leading New England divine [Dr. Nathanael Emmons] . . .

thus discourses upon the mode of the divine existence : " We find no
difficulty in conceiving of three divine persons. It is just as easy to
conceive of three divine persons as of three human persons. . . . There
is no mystery in the personaKty of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
though there is a profound mystery in their being one God." Using
the term " personahty " in this sense, conceiving of the three divine
persons as we do of three human persons, we are quite ready to admit,
with the author, that there is both a difficulty and a profound mystery,
nay, we should certainly add an utter impossibility, in conceiving of
these three as one Being. It does not remove the difficulty to say,
that " being may signify something different from person in respect to
Deity," and therefore " we may easily conceive that God should be
but one Being, and yet exist in three persons." For " being " and
" person " signify different things as respects man also, yet it is not
easy to conceive of three human persons constituting one human being.
Nor is it any advance towards the removal of this difficulty to say,
what is doubtless true, that " the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are
three in respect to their personality, and but one in respect to their



nature and essence." Personality is here supposed to be something
distinct from natm-e and essence, so that what pertains to the one
does not perfcim to the other. Very true. But the personahty of
the Father, Son, and Spirit, according to the author, consists in this,
that each " is able to miderstand, to mil, and to act, of himself," and
to do so " as a Jh'ee, voluntary, almighty agent." But do not under-
standmg, "will, and free voluntary action, pertain, we ask, to the very
nature and essence of Deity ? Can we conceive of Deity as essentially,
and in his original natm-e, destitute of these properties ? K not, then
as personahty consists in these things, what becomes of the distinction
just made ? and how is it that a thi-eefold personahty, in this human
sense, does not also involve a threefold nature and essence ? ... If the
doctrine of the Divine Unity be not essentially swept away and aban-
doned by these and the like representations, then we are at a loss to
conceive wliat idea can be attached in any man's mind to that word
" unity." It is rephed, the Scriptm-es nowhere teach that the Unity
of God is just like our unity. True. But what, we ask again, is the
projDcr and primitive meaning of that word " unity " ? Are there
several kuids of unity, as there are several shades of a color, or several
races of men ? Strictly speakmg, is there any other unity but nume-
rical unity ? And when we think of a thing as being one, or as more
than one, is not this one of the simplest ideas that the human mind
can form, — one of its elementary conceptions ? Is it not evident,
that, when we speak of three or more personal, individual, distinct
agents, each wilhng and acting for himself, as being one, we use the
term in a secondary, and not in its proper and primitive, sense ? We
mean they are one in sentiment, one in heart, one in purpose and
action, &c. In this sense, any three men, or any number of men, may
be one. ... It devolves on those who conceive of the three divine, as
they do of three human, persons, not merely to admit that it is a
mysterious thing how these three are one Being, but to show that in
any intelhgible sense, or any 23roper use of terms, they can be one ;
that three conscious, intelhgent, voluntary agents, thinking, feeling,
wilhng, acting, each for himself, distinct from each other, do or can in
any proper sense constitute one Being. . . . The view under considera-
tion has led those who adopt it to a method of speaking of the Sacred
Trinity whicih seems to us altogether objectionable. They are accus-
tomed to represent the divine persons as consulting together, formmg
plans, and enjoying mutual intercourse and companionship. [Here the
critic takes from Dr. Emmons a passage which appears in the latter part


of our extract, p. 291 ; and he goes on to say :] We ask, now , whether
there be not, in all this, the essential element of Tritheism. We put
it to every candid and inteUigent mind, whether, if the doctrine of
Divine Unity were altogether stricken out of the Bible, and in place
of it stood the revelation of thi-ee Gods, it would be postiiblp to
speak of the society and companionship mutually enjoyed by the three,
in terms plainer, more du-ect, and appropriate, than the above. —
Joseph Havex, Jun., in the JVew Englander for February, 1850 j
vol. viii. (new series, vol. ii.) pp. 17-21.

The article from Avhich we have made so long an extract seems to us to
contain a masterly exposure of a theory of the Trinity, which, with son»
slight varieties, has been advocated by many distinguished divines. It ia
not the less effective because it proceeds from the pen of one who, in oppfe
sition to the views of Unitarians, believes {id. pp. 5, 6) that " the Son and
Spirit are really and absolutely divine."

^ 10. The TKI^'lTY of the Ipseity, the Alteritt, and thb


In the Trinity there is, 1. Ipseity ; 2. Alterity ; 3. Community.
You may express the formula thus : —

God, the Absolute Will or Identity, =


The Father = Thesis. The Son = Antithesis. The Spirit =-


The Trinity is, 1. The Will; 2. The Reason, or Word; 3. The Love,
or Life. As we distinguish these three, so we must unite them in

one God. The union must be as transcendent as the distinction

My faith is this : God is the Absolute Will : it is his Name, and the
meaning of it. It is the Hypostasis. As begetting his own Alterit}',
the Jehovah, the Manifested, he is the Father ; but the Love and the
Life — the Spirit — proceeds from both. — Samuel T. Coleridge .
Table Talk; m JFork^, vol. vi. pp. 289-90, 314, 517.

We make no pretension to understand Coleridge's formulas of ttie
Trinity. But the curious reader may, if he choose, study what is further
said on this subject in the " Literary Remains " of the same author (Works,
vol. V. pp. IS, 19, 355-6, 404). In one of these passages, he regrets that
" the total idea of the 4 = 3 = 1, — of the adorable Tetractys, eternally
self-manifested in the Triad, Father, Son, and Spirit, — was nevar in its
cloudless unity present to " Dr. Waterlakd, whose writings he so much



We are free to say for ourselves, that we think Colericge com*
mitted an error m lea\ing the scheme of the Triad for that of the
Teti-ad, in his construction. The symbols of the church, and the Chris-
tian mind, proceed upon the h}730thesis of a simple Triad, which is
also a Monad, and hence teach a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in
Trinity. Coleridge, on the other Land, proceeds upon the scheme of
the I\igan Trinity, of which hints are to be found in Plato, and which
can be traced back as far as Pythagoras, — the scheme, namely, of a
Monad logically anterior to, and other than, the Triad, — of a ]Monad
which originally is not a Triad, but becomes one, — whereby four
factors are introduced into the problem. The error in this scheme
con-lists in this its assumption of an aboriginal Unity existing prima-
rily by itself, and in the order of natm-e, before a Trinity, — of a
ground for the Trinity, or, in Coleridge's phrase, a prothesis, which is
not in its ovra nature either triune or personal, but is merely the
impersonal base from which the Trinity proper is evolved. In this
way, we think, a process of development is introduced into the God-
head which is incompatible wdth its immutable perfection, and with
that golden position of the schoolmen that God is " actus purissimus
sine ulla potentiahtate." There is no latency in the Divine Being.
He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We think we see, in
this scheme of Coleridge, the influence of the pantheistic conception
of potentiahty, instead of the theistic conception of self-completeness j
and that, if he had taken the distinct and full personahty of the finite
spirit as the image and likeness of the Infinite Personahty, and, having
steadfastly contemplated the necessary conditions of seK-consciousness
in man, had merely freed them from the limitations of the Finite, —
of time and degree, — he would have been more successful, certainly
more continuous and progressive. While we say this, however, we
are far from beheving that Coleridge's practical faith as a Christian
in the Trinity was in the least affected by this tendency to modahsm in
his speculative construction of the doctrine ; a modahsm, too, which,
as we have remarked above, is logically, and ought actually to have
been, precluded by the position, which he heartily adopted, of the in-
trinsic rationahty and necessity of the doctrine. Few minds in the
w^hole history of the Christian church, as we beheve, have had more
awful and adoring \iews of the Trimie God, or have bowed down in
more absolute and lowly worship before the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost. — Prof. Shedd : Int. Essay to Coleridge's f forks, vol. i. p. 44,


§ 11. The Trinity of Distijsctions, or Mysterious Persons.

If there be in our gospels a doctrine concerning which a good logi-
cian has apparent cause to exclaim, it is this : A God who has but one
essence, and who nevertheless has three persons; the Son, and the
Holy Spirit who is God ; and these three are but one. The Father,
who is with the Son, does not become incarnate when the Son becomes
incarnate. The Son, who is with the Father, no longer maintains the
rights of justice in Gethsemane, when the Father maintains them.
The Holy Sphit, who is with the Father and the Son, proceeds from
both in a manner ineffable ; and the Father and the Son, who is with
the Holy Spuit, do not proceed in tliis manner. Are not these ideas
contradictory ? No, my brethren. K we should say that God has
but one essence, and that he has tliree essences in the same sense that
we maintain he 1ms but one, — if we should say that God is three in
the same sense he is one, — it would be a contradiction. But this is
not our thesis. We beheve, on the faith of a divine book, that God
is one in the sense to which we give the confused name of " essence."
We beheve that he is three in a sense to which we give the confused
name of " persons." We determine neither what is this essence, nor
what is tliis personahty. That surpasses reason, but does not revolt

it To find a contradiction, it is requisite to have a distinct idea

of what I call " essence," and of what I call " person ; " and, as I pro-
fess to be perfectly ignorant of the one and the other, it is impossible
I should find an absurdity. — James Sauein : Sermons, No. XCHL
vol. ii. p, 357.

On this passage we have to observe, that the reasoning is either wholly
unintelligible, and therefore useless ; or it proves, notwithstanding the dis-
claimer, if it can prove any thing, that there are three Gods. If, in using
the terms "essence" and " personality," we cannot determine what their
meaning is, — if we cannot discriminate between the one expression and the
other, or have only a " confused" notion of their import, — it is the merest
verbiage to say that God is one in his essence, and three in his personality.
We might as well, in addressing another, employ the words of a language,
the elements of which were understood by neither of the parties. If, how-
ever, by the " essence " of God we mean his properties or attributes, — and
of these we can have clear, though limited, conceptions, — then, by attri-
buting the divine properties severally to the Father, to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost, by regarding them each as God, or by treating of them as really
divine persons, acting in different and opposite capacities, as the pious and
eloquent writer represents them, and not as mere characters or relations, wa
nnquestionably think and speak of them as three distinct Gods. To ^.ayj


then, that three essentially divine persons are only one God, is as absurd as
to say that three persons, partaking each of the characteristics of humanity,
are only one man ; and, so far from being a mystery, — something either
hidden or incomprehensible, — it is a manifest absurdity, and thus not only
" surpasses reason," but " revolts it."

We are led to infer from several incidental glimpses afforded us
by revelation, that there are certain distinctions in the divine nature,
which correspond in some measure with the several relations to our-
selves in which God has -manifested himself to us. But what these
distinctions are, we are quite unable to comprehend ; nor are we en-
couraged to indulge in curiously inquiring. Scripture chiefly teaches
us wliat they are not, guarding us carefully against the notion of
thi'ee Gods : but what are the relations to each other of the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it leaves unexplained ; dwelhng strongly
on their relations to us, as constituting a threefold manifestation to
mankind of the one God. — Archbishop Whately: Sermons on
Various Subjects, pp. 199, 200.

The archbishop goes on to say, that, " in relation to ourselves," this three-
fold manifestation " is, in one respect, as if there really were three distinct
beings." Such a result is, we think, not surprising; for it seems scarcely
possible, so far as regards God and Christ, tliat any " inference from inci-
dental glimpses " should overcome the irresistible conclusion derived from
every page of the New Testament, that, however one in disposition, design,
and works, they were really and truly distinct beings. On " the threefold-
manifestation " theory, which regards the word "person," when applied
severally to the Father and the Son, as denoting "character" {id. p. 203),
Christianity, instead of being a revelation, would be a riddle.

I beheve, — I. That God is one, numerically one, in essence and
attributes. Li other words, the infinitely perfect Spirit, the CreatOi.
and Preserver of all things, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, has
numerically the same essence and the same perfections, so far as they
are known to us. To particularize : the Son possesses, not simply a
similar or equal essence and perfections, but numerically the same as
the Father, without division and without multiplication. H. The Son
(and also the Holy Spirit) does, in some respect, truly and really, not
merely nommally or logically, differ from the Father. . . . We profess
to use it [the word " person "] merely because of the poverty of lan-
guage ; merely to designate our behef of a real distinction in the
Godhead ; but not to describe independent, conscious beings, possess-
ing separate and equal essences and perfections. — MoSES Stuart :
Letters to Channing ; in Miscellanies, pp. 18, 21.


In this definition of a Triune God, it will be noticed that the cautious
and acute theologian who penned it avoids the use of the wcrd "person,"
though he afterwards tries to explain it in conformity with his theory. But
does he escape from the necessary consequences of all definitions of the
Trinitarian doctrine? Certainly not. The first article of his belief — so
expressed as to speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with a verb in
the singular number — • implies only that the Son and Holy Ghost are one
and the same existence or intelligent agent as the Father, or that all the
three are but names of the one God, "the infinitely perfect Spirit." This
form of faith might, we think, be subscribed by any believer in a nominal
or modal Trinity. The second article is of a diff'ei'ent character, and denies
the Son and Spirit to be the same as the Father; asserting that they are
truly and reall}^, not nominally, different from the Father; or, as we cannot
avoid explaining the proposition, that they are distinct intelligent beings,
tigents, or persons. Not having used the latter term, however, and taking
for granted that his doctrine is the same as that which is commonly defined
b}^ the word "person," but knowing that it is employed and understood by
many to denote a living, self-conscious, and determining agent, the writer
affirms that it should designate merely real distinctions in the Godhead, and
not independent, conscious beings. That is to say, it should be used as signi-
ficant of no ideas whatever. Yet, strange as it may seem, though perfectly
natural", this vague and meaningless theoiy — this " Trinity of Distinctions"
or Non-entities — is usually lost sight of by its propounders, who, both in
their polemical and practical writings, are forced by the laws of language,
of common sense, and of Scripture, to treat of God and Christ as separata
existences, having each his distinct, individual consciousness, will, and

Triiiitarians have said a thousand times, that they use the word
" person," in this connection, not in its ordinary acceptation, as signi-
fying a separate, indi\idual being ; not as denoting a perfectly distinct
consciousness, understanding, and will. They use it, in place of a
better word (as they have a perfect right to do, defining the sense), to
set forth one of the ineffable personal distinctions in the mysterious
and adorable Unity of the Godhead. — Dr. Enoch Pond : Review
of Dr. BushneWs "God in Christ," pp. 18, 19.

And, in defining it, do they ever assign any sense, capable of being
understood, which does not necessarily involve the notion either of a mere
character or relation, or of a real, perfect, individual agent or being; either
of a property or representation of God, or of one of the Deities in the God
head? Does not the definition imply either Sabellianisra or Tritheism;
either a shadowy and unscriptural form of Unitarianism, or a plurality of
distinct Gods?

While it [the modem Trinitarian theory] admits a certain distinc-
tion etenmlly existing in the nature of the Godhead, to which it


applies the term " hj^ostasis " or " subsistence " or " person/' it does
not for a moment attach to tliis distinction the idea of so many sepa-
rate individual existences. Not in any such sense does it employ the
word " person." Cal\tn himself is careful distinctly to disavow any
such idea : " They deceive themselves in dreaming of thi-ee separate
individuals, each of them possessing a part of the divine essence. . . .
The names of Father, Son, and Spirit, certainly imply a real distinc-
tion ; let no one suppose them to be mere epithets by which God is
variously designated from his works; but it is a distinction, not a
division." . . . Just what that distinction is, just what relation these
hypostases hold to each other and to that di-sine nature in which they
subsist, it is neither for this theory nor any other to define. Neither
Cahin has attempted this, nor any other man in his right mind. —
Joseph Hayen, Jun., in the JVew Englander for February, 1850 j
vol. ym. (new series, vol. ii.) pp. 6, 7.

Unless we misapprehend the import of the precedinf;; extract, the writers
mean that the cue God is to be regarded under three different aspects; that,
for reasons inherent in his very nature, the one Infinite Being disclosed
himself to mankind under the totally dissimilar characters of a Father and
a Son, as well as that of a Holy Spirit. Of this theory of a Triune God, we
shall, in the following subsection, offer a variety of representations.


While the Unity [of God] is thus confused and lost in the Three-
ness [namely, by the representation that the three persons are three
sets of attributes inhering in a common substance], perhaps I should
also admit that the Thi-eeness sometimes appears to be clouded or
obscured by the Unity. Thus it is sometimes protested, that in the
word " person " nothing is meant beyond a " threefold distmction ; "
though it will always be observed, that nothing is really meant by the
protestation ; that the protester goes on to speak and reason of tho
three, not as being only somewhats, or distinctions, but as metaphysi-
cal and real persons. Or the three are sometimes compared, in their
union, to the soul, the Hfe-principle, and the body, united in one
person called a man, — an illustration which, if it has any point or
appositeness at all, shows how God may be one, and not three ; for
the life and the body are not persons. Or, if the soul be itself the
life, and the body its external development, which is possible, then, in
a yet stricter sense, there is but one person in them aU. Probablv
there is a degree of alternation, or inclining from one side to the
other, in this view of Trinity, as the mind struggles, now to embrace


one, and now the other, of two incompatible notions It is a

somewhat curious fact in theology, that the class of teachers who
protest over the word " person," declaring that they mean only a three-
fold distinction, cannot show that there is really a hair's breadth of
difference between their doctrine and the doctrine asserted by many
of the later Unitarians. They may teach or preach in a very different
manner ; they probably do ; but the theoretic contents of their opinion
cannot be distingiushed. Thus they say that there is a certain di\dne
person in the man Christ Jesus ; but that, when they use the term
" person," they mean not a person, but a certain indefinite and indefina-
ble distinction. The later Unitarians, meantime, are found asserting
that God is present in Christ in a mysterious and pecuhar communi-
cation of his being, so that he is the h\ing embodiment and express
image of God. If, now, the question be raised, Wherein does the
indefinable distinction of one differ from the mysterious and pecuHar
communication of the other, or how does it appear that there is any
difference ? there is no Hnng man, I am quite sure, who can invent an
answer. Such is the confusion produced by attempting to assert a
real and metaphysical Trinity of persons in the divine nature.
Whether the word is taken at its full import, or diminished away
to a mere something called a " distinction," there is produced only

Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 33 of 55)