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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" God struggling to reveal liimself " ? But wherein consists the
insuperable difficulty of manifestation in oneness of personality, — a
difficulty so great that even the " struggling " " Absolute " could not
surmount it ? Is one less explicable than three ? and if pliu-ahty be
requu'ed, simply as a mean of manifestation, why may not two answer ?
or why may not seven be required ? "We have a twofold reason for
the rejection of this theory, — first, its intrinsic absiu'dity ; and, second,
because it passes all the bounds of reason and knowledge, and claims
a cognizance of the ontology of Jehovah before he has revealed him-
self, — claiming to know what he is, and what he can do. 2. Again :
this theory resolves the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — persons
revealed — into mere manifestations of the actions and feelings of the
one Absolute. They art not God, but only factitious representations ;
false in fict, but true in design, — designed to " import God into
knowledge." They are not God, but represent him ; just as the actor
is not Shakspeare, but only " imports " Shakspeare " into knowledge."
I'he actor may develop fully the genius of Shakspeare ; but, alas for
the Absolute, with all -his " strugglings " ! even the Trinity fails to
" import him into knowledge ; " for these dramatis persorKB are, after
ail, only " finite forms," and must therefore fail to represent " the
Infinite." This Trinity, then, is also a Trinity of " forms," and not of


substance. Three shadows are bound together, and to the Trinity ! —
a God ! — Dr. D. W. Clark, in the Methodist Quarterly Review fo^
Januaiy, 1851; fourth series, vol. iil. j)p. 136-7.


In the preceding pages of this chapter, we have given at some length the
piiacipal views of the doctrine of a Trinity, and particularly of that of a
Trinity in Unity, which have been held by various sections and members
of the Christian church; and have shown, by copious extracts from the
writings of eminent Trinitarians, that all these representations of the Deity,
except that in the creed attributed to the apostles, and called by their name,
are either vague, mystical, unintelligible, or uTational and unscriptural;
that, in some of them, the language is so obscure or so abstract as to be
altogether incomprehensible by the human understanding; that, in others,
the propositions laid down are mutuall}^ contradictory and mutually de-
structive; and that, in all of them which are capable of being understood,
the ideas involved are of a character totally different from that which appears
in the formal profession of " three persons in one God," — namely, in repre-
senting the Deity as consisting eithei', — 1. Of only one supi-eme, iinderived,
and infinite Intelligence, the Father; and the Son and Spirit, though par-
taking of the same nature with the Father, as dependent, finite, and inferior
existences: 2. Of three self-existent and independent Minds or Beings, who,
though harmonious in will, purpose, and action, are, and can be nothing less
than, three equal Gods : or, 3. As merely one Person or Being, sustaining
the three characters or relations of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; of Crea-
tor, Eedeemer, and Sanctifier.

The same remarks will be found to apply to all the definitions which can
be given of a Triune God, — that they are either unintelligible or absurd;
either tritheistic or unipersonal; either indicating a real personal identity of
God, Christ, and Spirit, that is at war with the whole tenor of the Jewish
and Christian revelations, or necessarily implying a polytheism which Sacred
Scripture rebukes, which right reason rejects, and Avhich the very symbols
and confessions that involve the absurdity dare not openly express. To
coiToborate the truth of our statement, Ave shall give an abstract of some
of the terms which have been employed on this subject in venerated creeds
and by eminent theologians, — a very imperfect list, indeed, but, in connec
tion with the extracts already made, sufficiently copious to show the perver-
sity and daringness of the human intellect in penetrating into the essence
of the Unsearchable, — in diving into mysteries, of which nature and the
Bible are silent, — in being unsatisfied with that simple and sublime declara-
tion of Moses, which was reiterated by Jesus, and taught in various forms
by prophets and apostles, that '" Jehovah our God, Jehovah is 0^'E."

In the foUownig tables, we shall give the precise words- of the authors
refer! ed to, imless where, for the sake of room, abridgment is necessary.


"three persons" IX THE ONE GODHEAD.

Three substances Hilary, apiid Calvin's Instit

Three independent and co-ordinate individuals, as ) Gregory Nyssen and Cyrel of

Peter, Paul, and John . . ) Alex., apud Cudworth.

Three numerically distinct natures or subsistences, all ^ Ascusxage and Philoponus,

perfectly alike ) apud Murdock's Mosheim.

Three things distinct from each other, as three men . Roscelin, apud Stillinglleet.

Tres nescio quid [Three I know not what] .... Anselm, apud Dr. Ilampden.

Tres proprietates per se subsistentes Wirtejiberg Confession.

Three subsistences, each disting. by a peculiar property Calvin: Inst. bk. i. c. xiii. 6.

Three distinct individuals Genebrard, ap. Stillingfleet.

The substantial beings to whom we stand related, &c. Barrow : Works, vol. ii. p. 149.

Three persons • . . equally infinite in every perfection Same, vol. ii. p. 150.

Three divine hypostases H. More: Mjst. of Godl. bk.i.

Three essences; our Creators and Governors . . . Same, book i. chap. iv. 3, 4.

A Trinity of essentialities or active principles . . . Baxter: Wks. vol. xxi. p. 308.

A Trin. of divine primalities, principles, & perfections Same, vol. xxi. p. 312.

A Trinity of divine hypostases or subsistences . . . CijDWORTn : In. S. vol. i. p. 725.

All other beings, besides this Iloly Trinity, are finite . Same, vol. i. p. 737.

Three differences. . . The Scripture everywhere speaks

of them as we use to do of three distinct persons . Tillotson : Sermon 44.

Three distinct persons ; three distinct subsistences . Stillingfleet : Yin. pp. 56, 75.

A person is a complete intelligent substance, with a

peculiar manner of subsistence Same, p. 261.

Three divine persons in a sense metaphorical . . . "Wallis : Three Ser. pp. 58-61.

God distinguished according to three considerations . Same.

Three somewhats Same.

Uncreated beings Evelyn: True R. vol. i. p. 131.

4 trinal distinction, or three persons truly distinct . Howe: Works, vol. ii. p. 56&

Three distinct intelligent hypostases Same, vol. ii. p. 563.

Three intelligent natures ; intellectual subsistences . Same, vol. ii. pp. 583, 592.

Three spirituaFor intelligent beings Same, vol. ii. p. 598.

Real substantial beings Wm. Sherlock : Vindic, p. 47.

Three distinct infinite minds Same, pp. 51, 66.

Three substantial acts ; three divine subsisting persons Same, p. 130.

Three infinite distinct minds and substances . . . Bingham, apud Chambers.

Three really distinct hypostases or persons .... Boll : Life by Nelson, p. 316.

Distinct beings or persons, according to the proper sig-
nification of tliis word, from each other .... Bishop Fowler: Propos. p. 8.

Three relatives, or one simple being or essence under

three distinct relations; three distinct modalities . South: Animad. pp. 120, 160.

Three different modes of subsistence Same, p. 247.

Several, particular, intelligent substances .... Leibnitz, apud Stuart's Misc

Relative and incommunicable modes of subsisting . Same.

Substantial relations Same.

Three different titles or characters Gastrell, apud Huntingford.

All three, ... authors of our salvation Same.

Three real persons; a real Father, Son, and H. Ghost Waterland : Vin. pp. 20, 336

Each divine person is an individual intelligent agent . Same, p. 350.


Tte different relations supported by the same person, [pp. 169, 185.

intelligent agent, or conscious being Doddridge : Lectures, vol. ii.

Three benefactors Edw. Young: Let. IV. part 2.

Three beings Soame Jentks : View, p. 141.

The authors of every blessing Wai. Jones: Cath. Doct. p. 6.

Three distinct agents; Creators, masters, &c. . . . Same, chaps, iii. 8, and iv.

Each person by himself is God HoKSLEr : Tracts, p. 262.

But these persons are all included in the very idea of

a God Same.

Equal in all the attributes of the divine nature . . Same, p. 263.

Three distinct independent powers ; three substances Toellner, apud Flatt.

Three distinct subjects; three equal subjects . . • Knapp: Ch. Theol. sect. xliv.

Three persons [who] direct their energies to effectuate IIuntingford : Thoughts,p.99

Tliree divine intelligences Same, p. 17.

Holy Gods; Creators Same, p. 23.

Three distinct objects: . . each has real subsistence . Same, pp. 27-8.

Three distinct subsistences or persons Wardlaw : Soc. Con. pp.40, 62.

That which can contrive, which can design, is a person Same, p. 330.

" Person " and " intelligent agent " are synonymous . Same, p. 334.
Three intelligent & active subjects, which we may call

hypostases, subsistences, subsistents, or persons , J.P.Smith: Scr. Test. vol. ii.
The Holy Spirit, a real, intelligent, personal, divine [App. IV.

agent, distinct from the Father and the Son . . Same, Appendix m.

Relations Arnold, in Life and Cor. p. 52.

A threefold manifestation to mankind of the one God Whatelt : Sermons, p. 200.

Characters standing in three relations to us . . . . Same, p. 203.

Manifestations of the Godhead Milman: H.ofCh. vol.ii.p.425.

Distinct and separate beings Same, vol. ii. p. 431.

Three distinct subsistences ; Creators Hopkins: Works, vol. 1. p. 62.

Three divine beings or persons Dwight, Ser. 71, near end.

Not three infinite beings Same, Ser. 39, in vol. ii. p. 8.

The meaning of the word " person " I do not know . Same, p. 9.

The Holy Ghost a divine person ; a percipient being . Same, pp. 371-2.

The Holy Ghost a living agent Same, p. 375.

All the attributes and actions of a person are ascribed

to the Holy Spirit [the third person in the Trinity] Same, p. 373.

Three distinct agents Emmons : Wks. vol. iv. p. 107

Three equally distinct and divine persons .... Same, vol. iv. p. 118.

A threefoid distinction ; real distinctions Stuart : Miscel. pp. 28, 40.

The Logos is really and verilj' divine, self-existent, un-
caused, and im m utable in himself Same, as quoted by Miller.

Equal agents in works of creation, providence, &c. . Miller: Letters on the Eter
Three persons, partaking equally and mthout limit, of [Sonship, pp. 51-2.

the essential predicates of Div., as self-existence . Same, p. 272.
We cannot say that each person possesses in himself

complete, separate, and independent Divinity . . Same, p. 107.

A threefold personality or impersonation of God . . Bushnell : God in Christ, pp.

A threefold denomination of God Same, p. 167. [147-8.

Three impersonations existing under finite conditions Same, p. 173.

Ineffable personal distinctions Pond : Review of BushneU.

A threefold distinction, out of which arises a threefold

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§ 14. The Apostolic or Unitarian Trinity {resumed).

As a brief escape from the labyriuth of darknesses and contradictions in
which we have been groping, we would again advert to the simple and more
scriptural Trinity mentioned in pp. 260-2, and, with the liberal writers whom
we quote, breathe an atmosphere of a purer and a more sacred kind.

He that goes about to speak of and to understand the mysterious
Trinity, and does it by words and names of man's invention, or by
such which signify contingently, if he reckons tliis mystery by the
mythology of numbers, by the cabala of letters, by the distinctions of
the school, and by the weak inventions of disputing people ; if he only
talks of essences and existences, hypostases and personahties, distinc-
tions without difference, and priority in co-equalities, and unity in
pluraHties, and of superior predicates of no larger extent than the
inferior subjects, — he may amuse himself, and find his understanding
will be like St. Peter's upon the mount of Tabor at the transfiguration j
he may build three tabernacles in his head, and talk something, but
he knows not what. But the good man that feels the " power of the
Father," and he to whom " the Son " is become " wisdom, righteous-
ness, sanctification, and redemption ; " he in " whose heart the love of
the Spu'it of God is spread ; " to whom God hath communicated the
"Holy Ghost, the Comforter," — this man, though he understands
nothing of that which is unintelligible, yet he only understands the
mysteriousness of the holy Trinity. — Jeremy Taylor : Via Intelli-
gerdifB ; in Works, vol. vi. pp. 402-3.

Let it be remarked, that apostoKc Trinitarian doctrine — so utterly
milike the crabbed definitions of a wrangKng and unevangeHc age —
brings the mscrutable mystery of the divine nature to bear immedi-
ately upon the afiections, under an aspect of pleasurable emotion.
How Kttle has this been regarded by angry disputants ! How griev-
ously have those misunderstood apostoKc orthodoxy who have pursued
each other to the death, because not consenting to the same jargon as
themselves ! We cannot too attentively regard the apostolic method
of teaching this great truth, — of shedding it into the heart. Olu'
creed, if derived from the Scriptures, speaks to us of " the grace of
the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the love of God, and of the communion
of the Holy Ghost." This is the orthodoxy which, when cordially
entertained, impels Christians to love each other and all men, and to
abound in good works, at sacrifices and offerings, with which " God is
well pleased." — Isaac Taylor : Led. on Spir. Christianity, p. 173.


The author of these catholic and Christian views unqnestionably means
to speak of the " apostolic Trinitarian doctrine," not only hi contrast with
an orthodoxy, which, while wrangling in unintelligible terms about evan-
gelic faith, is found wanting in the first duties of morality, but also in oppo*
pitiou to Unitarianisra. There is, however, no Unitarian who would not
cordiallj' admit the apostle Paul's method of teaching Trinitarianism, here
recommended; a Trinitarianism which, speaking of Christ, God, and his
spu'it, restricts the usual name of the Deity to one bemg or person, in con-
nection with the spiritual benefits of the gospel.

Both John and Paul pkce the essence of Christian theism in
worshipping God as tlie Father through the Son, in the communion
of the divine hfe which he has estabhshed, or in the communion of
the Holy Spirit, the Father through the Son dwehing in manldnd,
animated by his Spirit, agreeably to the triad of the Pauline benedic-
tion, — the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the communion of
the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. xiii. 14) ; and this is the basis of the doctrine
of the Trhiity in the coimection of Christian experience. It has an
essentially practical and historical significance and foundation : it is
the doctrine of God revealed in himianity, which teaches men to
recognize m God not only the original Source of existence, but also
of salvation and sanctification. — Neaxdee. : Histoi-y of the Planting
and Training of the Christian Church, vol. ii. p. 56.

We quote the remainder of our author's paragraph, which, though exhi-
biting his approval of the full development of the Triune doctrine, — or
rather, as we should express it, of a gradual change from Theism to Tri-
theism, — shows at the same time that that development, or that change,
was the product, not of " revelation," but of a prying and a diseased intel-
lect: " From this Trinity of revelation, as far as the divine causality images
itself in the same, the reflective mind, according to the analogy of its own
being, pursuing this track, seeks to elevate itself to the idea of an original
Triad in God, availing itself of the intimations which are contained in
John's doctrine ot the Logos, and the cognate elements of the Pauline
theology." — Had the monotheistic Trinity of Paul and John, so well de-
picted by NEA^'DEK, been the only Trinity that had prevailed in the church
of Christ, what an amount of logomachy, of error, of strife, and of perse-
cution, would have been avoided! But, unhappily for the interests of
Christian truth and love, the professed disciples of Jesus, not content with
the practical simplicity of the gospel, sought to " elevate " their minds " to
the idea of an original Triad in God," by "availing" themselves of the
supposed " intimations which are contained" in the writings of Paul and
John, and by blending them with the reveries of heathen philosophers,
and the tendencies of the people to give a false direction to their feelings of
reverence for moral and spiritual worth.




I am well assured, that God, who made our faculties, will never offer any thing to
us to believe that upon close debate does plainly contradict them, — Henky MoaE.

§ 1. This Dogma, no less than Transubstantiation, opposed to

Common Sense.

Indeed, that Transuhstantiation is openly and violently against
natural reason is no argument to make them disbeHeve it who be-
lieve the mystery of the Trinity in all those niceties of expHcation
which are in the school (and which now-a-days pass for the doctrine
of the church), with as much violence to the principles of natural and
supernatural philosophy as can be imagined to be in the point of
Transuhstantiation. — Jeremy Taylor : Liberty of Prophesying,
sect. XX. 16.

On another passage, of a similar character, in Jekemy Taylor's woi'ks,
Coleridge, in his "Literary Remains" (Works, vol. v. p. 229), says, "It
is most dangerous, and, in its distant consequences, subversive of all Chris-
tianity, to admit, as Taylor does, that the doctrine of the Trinity is at all
against, or even above, human reason in any other sense than as eternity
and Deity itself are above it." Undoubtedly, the prelate's admission would
be " subversive of all Christianity," if a Trinity of co-equal persons in one
God were proved to be a Christian doctrine; but this, in our opinion, nevei
has been, and never will be, proved.

I was half converted to Transuhstantiation by Tillotson's common,
senses against it ; seeing clearly that the same grounds, totidem verbis
et syllabis, would serve the Socinian against all the mysteries of Chris-
tianity. — S. T. Coleridge : Lit. Remains ; Worlis, vol. v. p. 333.

But, my brethren, as I before hinted, are we safe in at all admitting
this principle of contradiction to the law of natiu^e, of apparent viola-
tion of philosophical principles, as a means of interpreting Scripture?
What, I will ask, becomes of all mystery ? . . . What becomes of that
very mystery which we observed Faber put in a parallel with that of
Transuhstantiation when he commented upon this argument '? What
becomes of the Trinity? What becomes of the incarnation of our
Saviour ? What of his birth from a virgin ? — and, in short, what
of e^-ery mystery of the Christian religion ? Who will pretend to say,
that he can, by any stretch of his imagination or of his reason, seo



how, by possibility, three persons in one God can be but one Gad-
head ? If the contradiction, the apparent contradiction, to the laws of
natui'e, is so easily received, without being understood by us here, ia
it to be a principle for rejecting another doctrine as clearly laid down
in Scripture ? and if the doctrine of the Eucharist, which is even more
plainly expressed than it, is to be rejected on such a ground, how is it
possible for one moment to retain the other ? Its very idea appears,
at first sight, repugnant to every law of number ; and no philosophi-
cal, mathematical, or speculative reasoning will ever show how it
possibly can be. You are content, therefore, to receive this important
dogma, shutting your eyes, as you should do, to its incomj^rehensibi-
lity : you are content to beheve it, because the revelation of it from
God was confirmed by the authority of antiquity ; and therefore, if
you wish not to be assailed on it by the same form of reasoning and
arguments as you use against us, you must renounce this method,
and, simply because it comes by revelation fi'om God, receive the real
presence at once, in spite of the apparent contradiction to the senses ;
for He hath revealed it who hath the words of eternal life. — •
QjlRDINal Wiseman : Lectures on the Doctrines of the Catholic
Cliurch, voL ii. pp. 171-2.

§ 2. The Dog:ma op a Triune God utterly Incomprehensible, and
Eepugnant to Eeason.

1. A Christian is one that beHeves things his reason cannot com-
prehend. ... 2. He believes three to be one, and one to be three ;
a Father not to be elder than his Son ; a Son to be equal with his
Father; and one proceeding from both to be equal with both; he
believing three persons in one nature, and two natures in one person.
3. He believes a vh"gin to be a mother of a son, and that very son of
hers to be her Maker. He beHeves Him to have been shut up in a
narrow room whom heaven and earth could not contain. He believes
Him to have been born in time who was and is from everlasting. He
believes Him to have been a weak child, carried in arms, who is the
Almighty ; and Him once to have died who only hath life and immor-
tahty in himself. — Lord Bacon : Works, vol. ii. p. 410.

The whole article consists of thirty-four " Christian Paradoxes," so
strangely expressed as to have given rise to the suspicion that they are not
the genuine production of Lord Bacon, and may have been written for the
purpose of deriding a belief in Christianity. But there is no doubt, that,
however absurd they may appear when compared with the dictates of


reason or with the teachings of the New Testament, the sentiments quote(?
above are quite Trinitarian in their character; and it is undeniable tha
Bacon himself was a Trinitarian, and, with all his greatness, not entirely
free from the errors of the age in which he lived. These " Paradoxes "
have been esteemed so orthodox, and so full of " godly truths," that, about
the middle of the last century, they were several times republished in
London as a penny tract, with a Preface by"-a clergyman of the name of
F. Green, for the use of "the poorer sort of Christians." See note in
Bacon's Works, vol. ii. p. 401.

That the great philosopher to whom we have refeiTed was capable of
penning such contradictions, is confirmed by the following remark from his
Be Aug. Scieni., lib. ix., as quoted by Mr. Yates in Vindication of Unitarian-
ism, p. 278, fourth edition: " The more absurd and incredible any divine
mystery is, the greater honor we do to God in believing it, and so much the
more noble the victory of faith." Well may Papists, in their defences of
Transubstantiation, triumph over Protestants who adopt such principles.

This is the great mystery, Three and One, and One and Three.
Men and angels were made for this spectacle : we cannot comprehend
it, and therefore must admire it. O luminosissimcB Tenebr(E ! Light
darkness. . . . They were the more Three because One, and the more
One because Three. Were there nothing to draw us to desire to be
dissolved but this, it were enough. — Dr. Thomas Manton : Sermons
on John xvii. ; vol. ii. p. 307.

That there is one divine nature or essence, common unto three
persons incomprehensibly miited, and ineffably distinguished ; united

Online LibraryJohn WilsonUnitarian principles confirmed by Trinitarian testimonies : being selections from the works of eminent theologians belonging to orthodox churches → online text (page 35 of 55)