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furnished satisfactory explanations, but \\ hich, to the unen-
lightened mind, appear utterly strange and inexplicable,
and either suggest the suspicion, or ripen it into belief, of


the agency of different beings, various in character and in

But further : even supposing harmony of plan demon-
strated, and, by consequence, unity of design completely
ascertained ; is this, after all, a certainly conclusive proof
of only one designer? Clearly not. It is admitted by the
best writers on the principles of natural theology, that the
whole of their argument for the Divine Unity, drawn from
harmony of plan in the universe, ^' goes no further than to
an unity of counsel.''* Now, however high may be the
degree oijirohahility, arising from this, of the unity of the
Divine Being, it is evident that it must be taken in con-
nexion with other considerations, to give it conclusive ef-
fect. For the 'possibility is abundantly obvious, of unity
of counsel subsisting among a plurality of counsellors. f

But whatever may be the views we entertain as to the
extent of natural evidence in support of the Unity of the
Godhead, there can be no doubt, that this doctrine forms
one of the first and fundamental truths of Divine revela-
tion. It is in many places of the inspired volume distinctly
and plainly affirmed ; and it appears pervading the whole,
as one of those great leading principles, to which it owes
the peculiarity of its general complexion, and to which all
the subordinate parts of the system bear a constant refer-

The people of Israel, accustomed to the idolatries of
Efgypt, and possessing, in their nature, the same evil pro-
pensities, which produced departure from God among the
Gentile nations, had manifested, in the wilderness, long-
before the time when Moses addressed to them the words
of our text, a strong tendency to idolatrous defection. The
same disposition continued to display itself during all the
subsequent period of their history, till their return from the

* Paley's Nat. Theol. chap. 25, page 487. second edition.
t See note A. at the end of the volume.


captivity iu Ba])ylon ; after which time, tlieir corruption,
still retaining its inward dominion, appeared under other
fonns of outward transgression. — Against the indulgence
of this propensity to depart from God, they were often
warned, in the name of Jehovah, in the most solemn and
awful terms ; the warnings pronounced by their commis-
sioned lawgiver, and by the prophets of after times, were
frequently verified and impressed by the execution of sig-
nal judgments ; and the continued repetition of the oftence,
in defiance both of warnings and of judgments, strikingly
showed the strength, and the infatuating influence, of the
corrupt inclination which led them astray.

That the Unity of God is a leading doctrine of the Scrip-
tures, and that this doctrine is pointedly aflirmed in the
text, as an admonition to the Israelites against the polythe-
ism of the surrounding nations, I need not, I apprehend,
take time to prove. — I would rather proceed to observe, in
consistency with the olyeet which I have principally in
view, that while the Unity of the Godhead is thus clearly
affirmed, and forms a characteristic feature of both the Jew-
ish and Christian revelations, we are, by tlie same scrip-
tures, tau2:ht also to believe, that in this one Godhead
there are three distinct subsistences, which, for want of
a better word, we are accustomed to denominate persons :
— the Father, the SoNor Woim, and tlie Holy Simrit.
Whence, or on what accounts, these distinguishing appel-
lations are given, is not the subject of our present inquiry.
I only remark, in general, that we do not consider them as
expressive of a distinction that is merely official, or as ex-
hibiting the same Divine person under tbree different as-
pects : — but as implying a real, personal distinction, which
has subsisted from eternity, and is essential to the nature
of Deity.

Of tlie precise import of the term personalityy as applied
to a distinction in the Divine essence, or of the peculiar


nature and mode of that distinction, I shall not presume to
attempt conveying to your minds any clear conception. 1
cannot impart to you what 1 do not possess myself : — and
convinced as I am, that such conception cannot be attained
by any, it had been well, I think, if such attempts at ex-
planation, by comparisons from nature, and otherwise, had
never been made. They have afforded to the enemies of
the doctrine, much unnecessary occasion for unhallowed
burlesque and blasphemy. — The Scriptures simply assure
us oi the fact : — of the mode of the fact they offer no ex-
planation. And where the Bible is silent it becomes us to
be silent also ; for when, in such cases, we venture to
speak, we can only " darken counsel by words without
knowledge." — The fact, and not the manner of it, being
that which is revealed, is the proper and only object of our
faith. We believe that it is so ; but how it is so, we are
not ashamed to say, we do not presume even to conjecture.

But, before proceeding further, it will be proper to show,
that what has been stated is indeed tlie doctrine of the

Here, then, I would, first of all, observe, that while the
text as it stands in our English translation, appears simply
to affirm the Unity of God, it affirms it, according to the
proper import of the words in the original language, in
connexion with the plurpJity of persons in the Godhead : —

" Hear, O Israel, Jehovah, our Gods (Aleim) is one

Unity and plurality are both here asserted ; and the
plurality is emphatically declared to be consistent with the

The use of a plural noun for GOD, in the Hebrew lan-
guage, and the construction of that noun with other nouns,
and with verbs and pronouns, sometimes in the singular
number, and sometimes in the plural, have often been no-
ticed as remarkable anomalies : and these anomalies, or


irregularities, are, at the same time, connected, on some
occasions, with particular modes of expression, such as
seem to be utterly unaccountable, on any other principle
than that of a plurality of persons in the Divine Unity.

For example : In Gen. i. 26. Jehovali is rej)resented as
saying, with regard to the creation of man, " Let us make
man in our image^ after ouu likeness.

This, it will not be denied, is very remarkal)le language :
and attempts have, accordingly, been made to account for
it, on various principles.

In the first place: It has b}- some been alleged, that
Jlngels are liere associated with Jeliovah. — But surely no-
thing can be more unnatural and unworthy than such a
supposition. Wliat ! the only living and true God sliaring,
w ith his creatures his peculiar glory ! consulting with them
in terms of equality, about a work, which is necessarily
the exclusive j)rerogative of iniinitc power ! — even tliat
God, who so often claims this work, the work of creation,
as entirely his own, and as distinguishing liim from all pre-
tenders to Divinity, and who so solemnly declares, that He
will not give his honour to another ! Such an idea is too
flagrantly inconsistent, to merit any lengthened exposure.
— 1 may just add, however, that the Scriptures nowhere
give any countenance to the notion of Angels having been
employed in the creation of man, or of man's having been
formed in the image of Angels.

^dly. By others, Jehovah has been considered as using,
on tliis occasion, the language oi Majesty, according to the
practice of eartlily potentates.

One should be apt to think the converse of this propo-
sition more prol)al)le ; and that if Moses employed the
plural number, as the peculiar style of Divine dignity, it
had been afterwards, in tlie presumption of pride and van-
ity, assumed by the rulers of this world. — But, i?i the first
place, it is not consistent with fiict, that the Supreme Being


is ever represented in the Scriptures as using this particular
style. It is indeed quite the contrary. In the most sublime
and solemn portions of Holy writ, in which the Divine
Majesty of heaven and earth is introduced as speaking, it
is uniformly the singular number that is used. — '2>dly. Nei-
ther was it, in point of fact, the style of the kings of the
earth themselves, in the time of Moses ; nor, indeed, can
any instance of it be produced from the whole Bible. —
^dlij. When do we ever find an earthly monarch, consult-
ing it'ith himself? — addressing jproposals to himself?
Even if it had been the style of royalty in the days of
Moses, the interpretation would be inadmissable : for in
times and places in which it is the style of royalty, the
expressions in question are still without a parallel ; nothing
of the same kind can be produced. — 'Mhhj. There is an-
other passage which occurs soon after in the same book,
and which is akin to the one now before us, only, if possi-
sible, of still more unexampled singularity ; to which,
consequently, these remarks apply, with even a greater
degree of force and conclusiveness. In Gen. iii. 22. Je-
hovah is introduced as saying, after the fall of Adam,
^^ Behold the man has become as one of us, to know good
and eviV^ — "t^^s one of us .'" What can this language
mean, when considered as the language of the one God ?
An earthly king might use such an expression, to compre-
hend his fellow-kings ; all who possessed the same rank
and authority with himself. But Jehovah stands alone.
As the sovereign of the universe, he has no compeers — no
fellow-gods. No potentate among men could use an ex-
pression like this, in reference to himself alone, unless un-
der the influence of a disordered mind. Yet thus the in-
spired historian represents Jehovah as speaking : and
there seems to be here no principle of easy and natural
interpretation, but tliat which is afforded by the doctrine
of the Trinity. — An expression precisly of the same des-


cription witli the one I have just been considering;, oecurs
in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, the 6th and 7th verses,
in the account there given of the confusion of languages
at Babel : *^ The Lord said, behold, the people is one,
and they have all one language : and tliis they begin to
do : and now nothing will be restrained from them, which
they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and
there confound their language, that they may not un-
derstand one another's speech.'' — I need not say, that
to this passage the observations which have been made
apply, with the same force as to the one on whicli they
have been founded.

The plural name of God is most generally connected
with verbs in the singular number. It is so in the words,,
from the first cliapter of Genesis, which we have just been
considering ; and a])out thirty times, indeed, in the course
of the same chapter. It is worthy of notice, that while,
in the declaration of ihe Divine purpose, *^God said let us
make man in our image,'^ terms arc employed expressive
of plurality, tlie style of unity is resumed, in the record of
the execution of the purpose : '^ So God created man in
his image ; in the image of God created he him."

Not unfrequently, however, as before noticed, this name,
itself in tiic plural, is associated, in syntax, with verbs,
adjectives, and pronouns, in the same number. For ex-
ample : '''Ye cannot serve Jehovah ; for he is a/io/y/ GodP^
the adjective hoUj as well as the name of God, is, in the
original, in the plural number. — '• Remember now thy
Creator in the days of thy youth :" In tlie Hebrew " thy
Creators/^ — " Thy maker is thy husband : Jehovah of
hosts is his name :" — both the nouns maker and husband
are plural, — thy makers — thy hushands. — *• If I be a mas-
ter, (in tlie Hebrew, *'If I be masfprs'-) wlicre is my fear?*'
— '• The fear of Jehovah is tlie beginning of wisdom ; and
the knowledge of tlic Holy, (in the original the holy ones)


is understanding/"* — These are quoted as a specimen,
merely to shew you what I mean. A very considerable num-
ber of instances, of various descriptions, might be added.

This kind of anomaly, which pervades the phraseology
of the whole Old Testament revelation, where the writers
appear at liberty, under Divine inspiration, to use some-
times the one mode of expression, and sometimes the oth-
er, finds a principle of solution, sufficiently natural, in the
truth of the doctrine which I am endeavouring to defend ;
nor is it easy to assign to it, if this doctrine is proscribed,
an origin equally simple and satisfactory.

A variety of other proofs might be adduced, on this sub-
ject, from the Old Testament scriptures. They are to be
found, for example, in such expressions as these : — "And
now the Lord God, and his Spirit hath sent me."! —
" Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read ; for my
mouth it hath commanded, and his Spirit it hath gather-
ed them :" Jwith others of a similar description : — but as
it is not my purpose, (for which my reason will appear by
and by) to enter at large into the evidence of the Trinity
in general, I shall rather go forward to those of the New ;
proceeding, at the same time, with regard to them also, on
the same principle ; selecting only one or two of the most
prominent passages.

Of these, most of you will doubtless expect, that one at .
least, if not the very first, should be the remarkable verse
in the fifth chapter of the first epistle of John. " For there
are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word,
and the Holy Ghost ; and these three are one.''^ And cer-
tainly this text should have been entitled to hold the first
place, had its genuineness been undisputed, or disputed,
as that of many texts has been, on slender grounds. I free-
ly acknowledge, however, that the evidence of the spuri-

* Joshua xxiv. 19. Eccl. xii. l. Tsa. liv. 5. Mai. i. 6. Prov. ix. 10.
+ Isa. xlviii. 16. 1 Isa. xxxiv. 16.


ousness of tlils celebrated passage, if it were even much
less conclusive than, in my mind, it appears to be, "Nvould
be quite sufficient to prevent me from resting upon it any
part of the weight of this argument.

I shall confine myself^ at present, to a few remarks on
two passages only.

The first is the form of baptism, prescribed by our Lord,
in the commission, which he gave to his apostles, immedi-
ately before he left the world ; and which you will find
in the nineteenth verse of the twenty-eighth chapter of the
gospel according to Matthew : — '• Go, teach all nations,
haptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.''

On the very first asj)ect of this text, it seems most un-
reasonable to suppose, that the one true God is here asso-
ciated with two of his creatures ; or with one of his crea-
tures, and an attribute, or energy, or mode of operation.
It appears to me, that the simple statement of such an in-
terpretation should be sufficient to insure its immediate and
unqualified rejection.— Yet the unreasonableness is increas-
ed, when the words are considered as the terms of an ini-
tiatory rite, connected with a religion, in which all wor-
ship but M'hat is addressed to the one Jehovah, is, under
every form, whether expressed or implied, so decidedly
and totally condemned. — The apostles were to teach the
Gentiles, that they should ^' turn from those vanities which
they worshipped, to the living God v' and those who re-
ceived their instructions they were to baptize '^ in the name
of the Father, the Son, and tlie Holy Spirit." What,
then, must have occurred to their hearers and converts,
from the use of these words, but that they were now, in-
stead of the multitude of their former deities, to adore and
serve the Father, the Son, and tlie Holy Ghost, as the one
living and true God ? — Baptism was to be administered,
in the name of all the three, in the very same way ; and


surely, thereforej there is the fairest reason to conclude,
in the same sense. It is not, " baptizing them in the name
of the Father, and of his two servants, the Son and the
Holy Spirit ;*' — nor even, " baptizing them in the name
of (rod, and of Christ, and of the Spirit :" — but, without
the slightest intimation or symptom of any change in the
meaning of the expression, in its application to one of the
persons more than to another — " baptizing them in the
name of tlie Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spi-
rit." — The very same kind, and the very same degree, of
honour and reverence, that are paid in this rite to one, are
paid, as far as language can indicate the meaning of the
speaker, alike to all.*

The second passage is the form of apostolic benediction,
used in the conclusion of the Second Epistle to the Corin-
thians : — " The grace of our Lord Jesus Christy and the
love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, he with
you all ! Amen /''

That this form of blessing includes in it a prayer, it
would be a waste of words to prove. To whom, then, is
this prayer addressed ? — Had it been simply said, " The
love of God be with you all ! Amen /" no one, I suppose,
would have hesitated to say, that, when the apostle thus
expressed himself, he presented, in his heart, a petition to
the Father of mercies, for the manifestations of his love to
the believers at Corinth. — On what principle of criticism,
then, are we to interpret the expression, " the grace, or fa-
vour, of our Lord Jesus Christ,'^ an expression so precise-
ly the same in form, in a different sense ? in a sense that
does not imply Jesus Christ's being the object of a similar
inward aspiration ? And the same question might be ask-
ed, with regard to the remaining phrase, " the communion
of the Holy Spirit.'^ — It should be considered, too, that

* See some further observationis on this text, in the beginning of the
eighth discourse.


the Corinthians, to whom he thus wrote, would at once as-
sociate the phraseoloi^y employed with the terms of the in-
itiatory ordinance of baptism, to which they had submitted
on their entrance into the Christian church. They would
perceive the coincidence between the one and tiie otiier ;
and would understand the apostle as addressing; himself,
in their belmlf, to the three persons in >vhose name they
had, upon his own instruction, been baptized. — I would
only further ask at present, how we can suppose an inspir-
ed man, or even a man of common understanding, to re-
commend, in the solemn lansjuage of prayer, his converts
and brethren, to the love of God, and to the favour and
communion of two of iiis creatures ; or to the love of God,
/ the favour of a man, and the communion of an attribute,
or influence, or energy ? and that, too, not only in terms
so exactly alike, but w ith a precedence given to the crea-
ture, in the order of address ?

I must now remark, that these are proofs of the doctrine
of the Trinity in general. The argument, however, is
cumulative. It is my design, in a series of discourses, to
prove, distinctly, the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Ciirist,
and of the Holy Spirit : and the evidence in suj)port of
the general doctrine is not properly closed, till all this
mass of separate proof has been adduced, and illustrated.
You must not, therefore, imagine, that we have now done
with the proof of the subject which has been under c(Ui-
sideration. Much more of a general nature might have
been said ; but as all that will come to be advanced, on
the particular topics of the Deity of Christ and of the Spi-
rit, will l)e found to bear, directly and fully, on the doc-
trine in question, I have purposely forborne entering into
it more at large.

15ut, in answ er to all our reasonings, it is by many
thought sufficient to say, — The dodriue of which you have
been speaking is a mi/stcri/. — I shall not here enter into


any critical explanation of the sense in which the term
mystery is employed by the New Testament writers ; —
but, understanding it according to its ordinary acceptation,
as signifying something that is either difficult to be con-
ceived, or entirely incomprehensible, (the latter of these
being obviously the meaning affixed to it in the terms of
the objection) — I freely and explicitly admit, that the doc-
trine in question is a mystery, — a mystery in the strongest
sense of the word. But while I admit, without hesitation,
the truth of tlie proposition expressed in the objection, I
as distinctly deny the validity of the objection itself. — If
the mysterious and incomprehensible nature of the doctrine
in question, be a sufficient reason for its rejection, then
may this reason be, with safety, generalized, and reduced
to a principle, of universal application. The principle
will be : Every tlimg that is mysterious and incompre-
hensible ought to he disbelieved. — Supposing, then, for a
moment, the correctness of this principle, let us see what
will become of some of the fundamental trutlis even of
Natural Religion. — Take, for example, the omnipresence
of Deity. We believe this to be one of his essential at-
tributes. We are accustomed to say, without any feeling
of hesitation, that God is here. Yet we believe and affirm,
with quite as^ little hesitation, that he is at tlie same mo-
ment, equally present in the remotest part of the universe,
at the distance of millions of millions of miles : — that he is
present here, and present there, in the possession and ex-
ercise of all his infinite perfections. But while certain
modes of expression are, on this subject, familiar to our
minds, have we ever endeavoured to analyze the concep-
tions which these modes of expression appear to convey ?
Have we ever tried to answer to ourselves the question.
How is it, that this infinite Being is everywhere present?
Hoic is it, that he exercises, at the same instant, in every
point of space to which his presence extends, all the infinite


perfections of his Nature ? — Is he a sjnritnul substance^
iniinitely extended ? A^^ainst tills notion of injinite exten-
sion there have been advanced powerful, perhaps insur-
mountable objections : and the truth is, that if we imasjine
we possess any conception at all of the mode of tlie Divine
omnipresence and omniscience, we greatly deceive our-
selves. That the Sujireme God is so present with every
creature, as to have a perfect knowledge of that creature,
and an absolute power over it, is a truth susceptible of the
strictest demonstration. But as to the manner m which the
iniinite Spirit is thus every-where present ; as to the man-
ner in which he possesses this knowledge, and exerts tills
power, we are safest when we say. We cannot tell.

But why illustrate the falsehood of the principle I anr
now considering, from what regards the essence and per-
fections of Deity? Is there no mystery in any thing beneath
his infinite nature ? Is not the observation as true as it is
trite and common, that every thing around us is full of
mystery ? — We are a mystery to ourselves. We have no
sort of accurate conception of the nature of that union which
subsists, in our own persons, between the body and the
soul ; between gross corporeal substance, and invisible,
immaterial spirit. This union, with all its singular phe-
nomena, has been, still is, and I believe we may with safety
say, ever will be, an inscrutable mystery. Philosophical
men have marked, with increasing attention and accuracy,
the various and complicated results of this union: and they
have often fondly deceived themselves, by imagining they
have discovered a cause, when, after all. they have only
been applying the terms expressive t>f causation, to some
effect less obvious to ordinary discernment, than the one
for which they were endeavouring to account. The various
theories of nervous influence, Avith their different degrees
of ingenuity and plausibility, are no more than physiolog-
icjil guesses at a particular fact. Of the manner in which


inind is united to matter : — of the way in which the one
operates upon the other : — of the question how nerves con-
vey volitions and transmit intelligence ; they leave us in
as profound ignorance as ever. — What then shall we say?
Is it reasonable, that a creature, who cannot, voluntarily,

Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 2 of 36)