John Wilson.

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

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contrariety, confusion, practical negation, not Hght. — Dr. Horace
BusHKELL : God in Christ, pp. 133-6.

^ 12. The Trinity of Names, Modes, Eelations, or Characters;
OF Imperso^^atioijs, Developments, or Manifestations.

As God afforded a clearer manifestation of himself at the advent
of Christ, the three persons also then became better known. . . . Nor
(an it be doubted but that, in this solemn commission, " Baptize them
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,"
Christ intended to testify that the perfect light of faith was now exhi-
bited. For this is equivalent to being baptized into the name of the
one God, who hath clearly manifested himself in the Father, Son, and
Spirit : whence it evidently appears, that in the divine essence there
exist three persons, in whom is known the one God. — John Calvin :
Institutes, book i. chap. xiii. 16.

It is exceedingly difficult to make out Calvin's opinion respecting the
Trinity. In some places of the "Institutes," he seems to speak ot' Father,



Son, and Holy Spirit as three self-existent subsistences, — wliicli is neither
more nor less than Tritheism ; in others, as if the Son and the Spirit de-
rived their peculiar properties from the Father, — which involve/ the doc-
trine of One Supreme Being and two unequal and dependent C /ds; and in
the passage just quoted, as if the Father, Son, and Spirit were only
manifestations of the one God, just as the sun, moon, and stars, or any
other object in creation, are manifestations of the Deity, or are the Divinity
himself, — which is either Sabelliauism or Pantheism. In the following
passage (book i. chap. xiii. 18), if the former part of it be interpreted by
the latter, Calvin will be thouglit to reason as if the terms Father, Son,
and Spirit signified, not distinct intelligences in the Godhead, but merely
attributes or operations of the Deity, — "Father" meaning a principle of
action; " Sou," wsdom, counsel, and arrangement; " Spirit," power or effi-
cacy: " To the Father is attributed the principle of action, the fountain and
source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the arrangement of
all operations ; and the power and eflScac}" of the action is assigned to the
Spirit. I^Ioreover, though eternity belongs to the Father, and to the Son
and Spirit also, since God can never have been destitute of his wisdom or
his power, and in eternity we must not inquire after any thing prior or pos-
terior; yet the observation of order is not vain or superfluous, while the
Father is mentioned as first; in the next place, the Son, as from him; and
then the Spirit, as from both. For the mind of every man naturally incUnes
to the consideration, first, of God ; secondly, of the wisdom emanating from
him ; and, lastly, of the power by which he executes the decrees of his

To find out the true sense of the word " person," as applied to the
Trinity, we are to consider what was the true sense of the word per-
sona in approved Latm authors. It did signify the state, quahty, or
condition of a man, as he stands related to other men. Hence are
those phrases frequent : Personam imponere, to put a man into an
office, or confer a dignity upon him ; inducre personam, to take upon
him the office ; sustinere personam, to bear an office, or execute an
office ; disponere personam, to resign the office ; so agere personam,
to act a person. So that there is notliing of contradiction, nothing
absm-d or strange, for the same man to sustain divers persons, or
divers persons to meet in the same man, according to the true and pro-
per notion of the word " person." Thus Tully : Sustineo unus tres
personas ; meam, adversarii, judicis, — " I, being one and the same
man, sustain three persons ; that of my own, that of my adversary, and
that of the judge." And Da\id was, at the same time, son of Jesse,
father of Solomon, and king of Israel. Now, if three persons, in the
proper sense of the word " person," may be one man, what hinders
but that three di\ine persons, in a sense metaphorical, may be one


God ? And what hinders but that the same God, distinguished
according to these three considerations [those of God the Creator, or
God the Father ; God the Redeemer, or God the >Son ; and God the
Sanctifier, or God the Holy Ghost], may j&tly be said to be three
persons ? Or, if the word " person " do not please, three someiohats,
that are but one God ? — Dr. John Wallis : Three Sermons,
pp. 58-61.

Other remarks, of a similar kind, by Dr. Wallis, will be found quoted
in the first Appendix to Whately's "Elements of Logic," and seemingly
approved by the archbishop.

Self-consciousness is not the formal reason of personality in the

three di\'ine persons The dinne persons are tliree relatives

(or one simple being, or essence, under tlii'ee distinct relations), and
consequently differ from one another, not wholly and by all that is in
them, but o ily by some certain mode or respect j^ecuhar to each, and
upon that account causing their distmction, ..." Person " here im-
ports o" y a relation, or mode of subsistence in conjunction with the
nature it belongs to; and therefore a multiphcation of persons, of
itself, imports only a multiphcation of such modes or relations, with-
out any necessary multiphcation of the nature itself to which they
adhere ; forasmuch as one and the same nature may sustain several

distinct relations, or modes of subsistence In God, besides

essence or substance, we assert that there is that which we call mode,
habitude, and relation ; and, by one or other of these in conjimction
with essence or substance, we give account of all the acts, attributes,

and personalities belonging to the di\Tne nature, or Godhead

A mode is properly a certain habitude of some being, essence, or
thing, whereby the said essence or being is determined to some par-
ticular state or condition, which, barely of itself, it would not be
determined to. And,, according to this account of it, a mode in things
spiritual and immaterial seems to have much the like reference to such
kind of beings that a posture has to a body, to which it gives some
difference or distinction, without superadding any new entity or being
to it. Li a word, a mode is not properly a being, either substance or
accident, but a certain affection cleaving to it, and determining it from
its common general nature and indifference to something more parti-
cular. . . . As, for instance, in created beings, dependence is a mode
determining the general nature of behig to that particular state or
condition, by virtue whereof it proceeds from, and is supported by,


another ; and the like may be said of mutabihty, presence, absence,
inherence, adherence, and such Hke, viz., that they are not bemgs, but
modes or affections of being, and inseparable from it so far that they
can have no existence of then* o^^^l, after a separation or division from
the things or beings to which they do belong. ... As every mode es-
sentially includes m it the thing or being of which it is the mode, so
every person of tlie blessed Trinity, by virtue of its projDcr mode of
subsistence, mcludes in it the Godhead itself, and is properly the
Godhead as subsisting with and under such a certain mode or relation.
. . . The dinne nature, subsisting under, and being determined by, such
a certain mode, personally differs from itself, as subsisting under and
determined by another; forasmuch as the divine nature, or Godhead,
so subsisting and determined, is properly a person. . . . There is one,
and but one, self-existmg, infinite, eternal, &c., bemg, nature, or sub-
stance, which we call God. . . . This infinite, eternal, self-existent being
or nature exists in, and is common to, three distinct persons, — Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost, — of which the Son eternally issues fr'om the
Father, by way of generation; and the Holy Ghost, jointly from
both, by way of spiration : which three di^'ine persons superadd to
this divine nature, or Deity, three different modes of subsistence,
founding so many different relations ; each of them belonging to each
person in a pecuhar, micommunicable manner ; so that, by \drtue
thereof, each person respectively differs and stands distinguished from
the other two ; and yet, by reason of one and the same numerical
dinne nature or Godhead eqiially existing in and common to all the
tlu-ee persons, they are all but one and the same God, who is blessed

for ever If there be any distinction m God, or the Deity, it

must be either from some distinct substance, or some accident, or
some mode of being. . . . But it cannot be from any distinct substance,
for that would make a manifest composition in the divine nature ; nor
yet from any accident, for that would make a worse composition : and
therefore it follows that this distmction must unavoidably proceed
from one or more distinct modes of being. — Dr. Robert South :
Animadversions on Sherlock^ s Vindication, pp. 91, 120-1, 217, 241-2,
246-7, 285.

According to him [to Sabellius], the whole Trinity is God re-
vealed ; but the Divine Being, as he is in and of himself, and in his

simple unity, is God concealed or unrevealed Sabellius

admitted only three TvpoGoira [persons], because, as a Christian, he
acknowledged only tlnree ways in which God had specially revealed


himsef; and these three he separated definitely fi-om each other.

It would seem that Sabellius maintamed the Trinity to

exist, as such, only in relation to the various methods and spheres of
action belonging to the Godhead. Li goverrnng the world, m all its
various operations on finite bemgs, the Godhead is Father; as re-
deeming, by special operations in the person of Christ and through
him, it is >S'o?i ; as sanctifying, and in all its operations on the commu-
nit)'- of behevers, and as a Unity in the same, the Godhead is Spint — -
ScHLEiEKMACHER, as translated by Stuart in Biblical Repository for
July, 1835; vol. \i. pp. 61, 67, 70.

The sum of Schleiermacher's opmion .... is, that the Unity is
God concealed, and the Trinity is God revealed. The Unity or Movaf,
as he supposes, is God i7i seipso, i.e. simply and in and by himself
considered, immutable, self-existent, eternal, and possessed of all pos-
sible perfection and excellence. But, as to the Trinity, the Father is
God as revealed in the works of creation, providence, and legislation ;
the Son is God in human flesh, the di\dne Logos incarnate ; the Holy
Ghost is God the Sanctifier, who renovates the hearts of sinners, and
dwells in the hearts of behevers. The personahty of the Godhead
consists in these developments, made in time, and made to mtelKgent
and rational beings. Strictly considered, personahty is not in his ^iew
eternal ; and, from the nature of the case, as thus "\dewed, it could not
be, because it consists in developments of the Godhead to intelhgent
beings ; and those developments could not be made before those beings
had existence. — Sciileiermacher's Sabellianism, as represented
by Moses Stuart in Biblical Repository for April, 1835 ; vol. v.
pp. 316-17.

This has very much the appearance of a kind of TJnitarianism, though
to us it does not seem to resemble that either of the Old Testament or of tho
New. Stuart, however, regards Schleiekmacher as a Trinitarian, and
says (p. 268) that he can truly say he has "met with scarcely any writer,
ancient or modern, who appears to have a deeper conviction of, or more
hearty belief in, the doctrine of the real Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy

What is personahty ? Is it essence or attribute ? Not the first,
one might answer ; for essence in the Godhead is numerically one and
the same. Not the second, in an essential and fundamental sense ;
because, as we have seen, all the attributes that are of this description
belong to the one substance or essence of the Godhead. " But, if
personahty be neither substance nor attribute," some one may exclaim,



" then can it be any thing, or have any existence at all ? "... It is
possible that there may be in the Godliead some distinctions which do
not consist in a difference of substance j and which, moreover, do not
consist in the high and pecuKar and exclusive attributes of that sub-
stance which constitute Godliead, but which are, as TURUETIN avers,
modal ; or they may be of such a natm-e that we have no knguage to
describe them, and no present abihty even to comprehend them if
they could be described. . . . There may be distinctions m the God-
head that lie beyond all our present logical and metaphysical concep-
tion or power of definition ; distinctions which are co-eternal with the
Godhead itself, and which, though neither essence nor essential attribute
in the highest sense, may still have an existence that is real and true.

The full sense of the words Father, Son, and Spu'it, can be

made out only by reference to God revealed. But the distinction in
the Godhead itself, in which this revelation has its basis, is eternal : the
development of it was made in time. . . . Why should it ever have any
more been overlooked, that the names Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
are names that have a relative sense, — relative, I mean, to the de-
velopments of the Godhead as made in the economy of redemption,
or as preparatory to it, — than that such names as Creator, Goveruer,
Redeemer, Sanctifier, Most High, and others of the like kind, have,
and from then' very nature must have, a relative sense, i.e. a sense
which connects itself with the developments of the Godhead in relation
to creatm-es ? — Moses Stuart, in Biblical Repository for June,
1835 ; vol. ^-i. pp. 90-1, 99, 100.

The only diflference between Saeellius or Schleiermacher and
Stuart seems to be, that the former regarded the trinal distinctions in the
Godhead — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — as having had a beginning; the
latter, that they were eternal, and had their ground or foundation in the di-
vine nature itself, in the same way as the attributes of creatorship and
lordship; the development, however, of all these distinctions or qualities
being equally made in time. But the fair inference to be drawn from either
of these views is, that there is no more reason for callmg God three persons
or distinctions than for extending the number so as to comprehend all the
relations which he bears to his creatures, as, for instance, those of Bene-
factor, Preserver, King, and Judge, as well as of Creator, Eedeemer, and

Thus we have three persons, or impersonations, all existing under
finite conditions or conceptions. They are relatives, and, in that view,
are not infinites ; for relative infinites are impossible. And yet, taken
representatively, they are, each and all, infinites ; because they stand


for and express the infinite, absolute Jeliovah, They may each de-
clare, " I am He ; " for what they impart to us of him is their true
reahty. . . , The Father plans, presides, and purposes for us ; the Son
expresses his intended mercy, proves it, brings it do'SMi even to the
level of a fellow-feehng ; the Spirit works within us the beauty he
reveals, and the glory beheld in his life. . . . Each and all together
di'amatize and brmg forth into life about us that Infinite One, who, to
our mere thought, were no better than Brahma sleeping on eternity
and the stars. . . . There is, then, a real and proper Trinity in th(
Scriptures ; tln-ee persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, — one God
.... Do you ask whether I mean simply to assert a modal Trinity
or three modal persons ? I must answer obscurely. . . . K I say that
they are modal only, as the word is commonly used, I may deny more
than I a"Qi justified in denying, or am required to deny, by the groimd
I have taken. I will only say that the Trinity, or the three persons,
are given to me for the sake of their external expression, not for
the internal investigation of their contents. . . . Perhaps I shall come
nearest to the simple, positive idea of the Trinity here maintained, if
I call it an Lxstrumental Trinity, and the persons Instrumental
Persons. ... In and through these Kving persons, or impersonations,
I find the Infinite One brought down even to my own level of huma-
nity, without any loss of his greatness, or reduction of his majesty.
... I perceive, too, that God may as well offer himself to me in these
persons, as through trees or storms or stars ; that they involve as Httle
contrariety, as few hmitations, and yield as much more of warmth as
they have more of life. . . . But some one, I suppose, will require of
me to answer whether the three persons are eternal, or only occa-
sional, and to be discontinued. Undoubtedly, the distinction of the
AVord, or the power of self-representation in God thus denominated,
is eternal. And, in this, we have a permanent ground of possibility
for the threefold impersonation called Trinity. Accordingly, if God
has been eternally revealed, or reveahng himself to created minds, it
is likely always to have been, and always to be, as the Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost. Consequently, it may always be in this manner that
we shall get our impressions of God, and have om' commmiion with
him. . . . That which most discom-ages such a behef is the declaration
of Paul, " When all things shall be subdued unto hnm, then shall the
Son also himself be subject unto Him that did put all things under
him, that God may be all and in all." — Dr. Horace Busiinell :
God in Christ, pp. 173-7.



We must allow the divine persons to be real substantial beings, if
we allow each pel-son to be God, imless we vdYl call any thing a God
which has no real being, as that has not which has not a real nature
and essence ; whereas all men grant that there are no accidents or
quahties or modes in God but a pure and simple essence, or pm-e act ;
and therefore the three divine persons are substantially distinct, though

in one undinded substance It is plain the schoolmen were no

SabeUians, They did not think the three di^ine persons to be only
three names of the same infinite being, but acknoAvledged each person
to be really distinct from one another, and each of them to have the
same numerical essence, and to be truly and properly God, and not to
be thi'ee modes of the same mfhiite God, which is little better than
three names of one God. . . . By these modi subsistendi [that the
Father is of himseh", or without any cause ; that the Son is begotten
of the Father ; that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Father and Son]
they did not mean, as some mistake them, that the three di\ane per-
sons are three modes of the Deity, or only modally distinguished;
for there ai'e no modes, no more than there are quahties and accidents,
in the Deity ; much less can a mode be a God. To be sure, all men
must grant that the Father is not a mode of the Deity, but essentially
God, and yet he has his modus subsistendi, as well as the Son and
the Holy Ghost ; and no man can think that the Father begat only a
modus, and called it his Son, whereas a son signifies a real person of
the same nature, but distinct from his Father. — Dr. AVilliam
Sherlock: Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, pp. 47,

Though the Latin word persona, as you say, according to the true
and ancient sense, may well enough admit to be so taken as that
the same man might sustain three persons, I offer it to your recon-
sideration whether ever you have observed the word " hypostasis," in
any sort of authors, when it signifies any person at all, ... to be taken
in that sense ; and whether one hypostasis so taken, as it uses to be
when it signifies a person, may not be capable of sustaining three of
those persons which you here describe ; and whether, according to
this sense, you mean not God to be only one such hypostasis. Be
pleased further hereupon to consider how well it agrees with this
supposition of God's being but one hypostasis, or intelHgent sufpo-
situni, so frequently to speak as the Holy Scriptures do of the
Father, Son or "Word, the Spirit or Holy Ghost, as three distinct Fa


or He's. . . . But the distinct predicates spoken of the three sacred
persons in the Godhead seem much more to challenge a greater dis-
tinction of the persons than \'^\^- notion of a person doth seem to
admit ; that of sending, and being sent, spoken so often of the first
in reference to the second, and of the first and second in reference to
the third, as not to need the quoting of places. If the same man
were a king, a general, and a judge, methinks it would not weR square
with the usual forms of spealdng among men (and God speaks to men
as men) to say, that, as the first, he sends the two latter, that is, him-
self. . . . How the incarnation of the Son can be understood, according
to your notion of person, without the Father's and Holy Ghost's
incarnation also, I confess I cannot apprehend. Yom- notion of a
person . . . seems to leave the Godhead to be but one hypostasis, or
person in the latter sense. . . . Doth not this civil or merely respec-
tive notion of a person, the other being left, fall in with the Antitrini-
tarkn ? . . . And consider whether, by your notion of a person, you
forsake not the generahty of them wiio have gone, as to this point,
under the repute of orthodox; who no doubt have understood, by
three persons, three intelligent hyjDostases Yourself acknow-
ledge three somewhats in the Godhead distinct, or else they could not
be three. I will not here urge, that, if they be three somewhats, they
must be three things, not three nothings. — John Howe : Letters to
Dr. Wallis ; in Works, vol. ii. pp. 562-3, 566. '

I have sometimes almost been led strongly to wish that the word
[" person "] had never come into use among Christians ; as it is a
stranger, at least in the sense of modern usage, to the Scriptures. . . .
Yet, after all the difficulties which lie in the way, I am not persuaded
that the word can now be dismissed from our theological vocabulary.
When the Father is represented as sending his Son into the world in
order to redeem it, and the Son as saving, " Lo ! I come, my God, to
do thy will ; " when God sends his Spirit, and pours out his Spirit ; when
/, thou, lie, are employed with verbs, &c., designating purposes, actions,
feelings, &c., of Father, Son, and Spirit; when we acknowledge that
there are works or developments appropriate to each, — in what way
are we to designate the distinctions which these things and modes
of representation seem to imply, if not by the use of the word " per-
son " ? Let any one who acknowledges the fact of such distinctions
make the effort to designate them conveniently, and yet avoid the use
of the word " person," and he will find himself embarrassed. — MoSES
Stuart, in Biblical Reposiiorij f3r July, 1835; vol. vi. p. 98.


The preceding extract we have made from Stuakt as an answer to his
own Sabellian views. It must indeed be embarrassing, if not impossible,
for any one to employ language clearly involving the idea of distinct per-
sonality, consciousness, and agency, as that quoted here from Scripture in
reference to God and Christ, without being reduced to the necessity of using
terms less vague than " distinctions " or " relations," — without being com-
pelled to use words unequivocally implying the conception or belief of more
beings than one. We know of no advocate for the theory of trinal develop-
ments who is not forced, b}'- the unifonn tenor of the Christian Kecords, to
speak of the j\Iessiah as a being altogether distinct from his God and Father.

In these broad and bold assumptions [that God is strictly and
simply one, but that he could not be sufficiently revealed without
evolving a Trinity of persons, and that these personahties are the
dramatis person(E of revelation] we have the germ of Dr. Bushnell's
theory. 1. It is assumed that God could not reveal himself without
evolving a Trinity of persons. By what process has this been ascer-
tained ? and where the giant intellect that has so comprehended the
essence of God, sweeping back to the very oneness of the Absolute
before it invented the triform dramatis personce that were to manifest
it to men and to angels, and becoming cognizant of the vain effort of

Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 34 of 55)