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Discourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy online

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shut his eyes, or open his mouth, or lift his finger, without
an incomprehensible mystery, should be startled and of-
fended, because in what God reveals concerning his own
infinite nature, he finds something which he cannot under-
stand ? — that a creature, who feels himself baffled, in his
greatest efforts of intellect, by the vegetation of a blade of
grass, or the nature of tlie vital principle, which moves the
wing of the smallest insect that glitters in the sun-beam,
should be startled and offended, because he cannot com-
prehend the essence, and the mode of existence, of the
infinite God ?

"In pride, in reasoning pride, our error lies ;
" All would be gods, and rush into the skies."
And we are not ignorant, when and whence this pride
originated. When the devil, presenting his allurements
to that ambition which his own suggestions insinuated into
the human heart, said to our first parents, " Fe shall he as
God ;" no sooner was the temptation complied with, than
man, becoming the victim of a disordered mind, began to
fancy himself what the tempter had promised he should .
be : and ever since, pride has swayed the sceptre of the
unrenewed soul. — But surely, if there be a subject, among
all that can occupy the mind, in the contemplation of which
we should be humble and self-diffident ; it is the nature
of the infinite Jehovah. " Canst thou by searching find
out God ? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfec-
tion? Ii is higher than heaven, what canst thou do? deeper
than hell, what canst thou know ? The measure thereof
is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea."*
The doctrine of which I now speak, is freely admitted
* Job xi. 7-— 9.


to be above I'eason. But it is of consequence to observe,
that, on tliis very account, it seems impossible to prove it
contrary to reason. It is a common and a just remark,
that there is an essential difference between any thing
being above reason, and being contrary to it ; and that it
may be the former without being tiie latter. I think we
may go a step farther ; and affirm, as I have just hinted,
that the very circumstance of its being the former pre-
cludes the possibility of proving it to be the latter. I
question whether any thing that is above reason can ever
be shew n to be contrary to it. For unless we have some
notion of the thing itself, on what principle can we possi-
bly make out the contrariety ? Were we to say that the
persons of the Godhead are one and three in the same-
sense, we should evidently affirm w hat is contrary to rea-
son ; because such a proposition would involve, in the very
terms of it, an irreconcilable contradiction ; but so long as
we do not pretend to know, or to say, how they are one,
and how they are three ; to prove that we assert w hat is
contrary to reason, when we affirm that they are both, is,
from the very nature of the thing, impossible. For what
is it which is to be proved contrary to reason ? Upon the
supposition made, we cannot tell : it is something w Inch
we do not know ; of the nature and circumstances of which
we are left in total ignorance. — The truth is, we are lost,
completely lost, whenever we begin, in any view of it
whatever, to think about the Divine essence. We can
form no more distinct conception of a Being that never be-
gan to exist, or of a Being that is every-where present, and
yet is wholly no- where, than we can of one essence, in
which there are, and have been from eternity, three dis-
tinct subsistences.

A subject sucii as this, is far from being without use.
It is eminently fitted to humble the pride of human intel-
lect, and to make us remember, and feel, that wc arc crca-


tures : a truth, it may be thought, sufficiently obvious ;
but one which we are in no small danger, on such subjects,
of at least practically forgetting. Incalculable mischief
has arisen from men's aspiring at knowledge beyond the
reach of their own, or of any finite powers, and beyond
the limits of the Divine declarations. Yet the attempt to
comprehend the mode in which the Divine Unity subsists
in three persons, is certainly not more foolish, than it is to
refuse credence to the fact, because it exceeds our com-
prehension. He, who does so, on such a subject as this,
must either, as we have seen, be guilty of the most palpa-
ble and glaring inconsistencies, or else the limits of his
belief must be narrow indeed. There is hardly a point,
in fact, at which a man of this description can consistently
stop, short of universal scepticism. the presumptuous
arrogance of the human mind, that will not be satisfied un-
less tlie nature of the infinite God is brought down to the
comprehension of a creature, whose faculties are so limit-
ed, that he is puzzled, confounded, and lost, in the con-
sideration of himself! and to whom there is not a single
object in existence which does not present mysteries, that
mock all his eliorts at explanation !

Let us not forget, what is the proper province of reason,
with regard to Divine revelation. We shall examine this
subject more at large hereafter. Meantime, it may be ob-
served in general, that we ought, beyond all controversy,
to exercise our reason, in determining the question, whether
this book contains a revelation from God. This we must
do, by an examination of the evidences, of various kinds,
external and internal, by which its high claims are sub-
stantiated. But suppose this great point ftiirly ascertained:
what is the province of reason then ? Is it not equally
beyond controversy, that, on this supposition y the only
rational conduct is implicit faith ? Once ascertain the
Scriptures to be " given by inspiration of God." and no-


thing can be more absurd, than to erect our reason into a
standard of the trutli or falsehood of what they contain.
This would be to deify reason : to " exalt it above all that
is called God. or that is worshipped." It would be to
admit that the declarations of this book possess the author-
ity of God, and, at the same time, to (juestion and deny
tiiem on the authority of reason ; — to question and deny
them, that is, on our own authority : thus assumini; to
ourselves the arrogant office of censors on the dictates of
infinite w isdom and infinite truth. — It is true, tiiat the con-
tents of this book ought to be examined, as forming what
has been called the internal evidence of its Divine author-
ity. If it could be shown to contain what was clearly
contradictory, the discovery would be a proof, sufficiently
convincing, of its not being from God. This, however, is
firmly, and without qualification denied. I am arguing,
too, at present, on the supposition of its being acknowl-
edged as a revelation from heaven. And I repeat, that
for any man to profess to believe that the Bible is the word
of God, and yet not implicitly to regulate his convictions
by the question, " what saith the scripture ?" is of all
conduct the most unreasonable and inconsistent.

For my own part, so far from being staggered by finding
mysteries in revelation, I am satisfied, that the entire ab-
fjence of them would have formed a much stronger ground
for suspicion. All analogy excites and jtistifies the ex-
pectation of them. J\*(tture, in its various departments, is
full of them : and sliall we, then, account it strange, that
there should be any in the department of s;r(irp P They
abound in the tforks of God : why, then, should we not
look for them in his word P They present themselves in
the nature and constitution of every one of his creatures :
and is it to be conceived, that in /?/s oirn nature and es-
sence, nothing of the kind should be found ? Is it reason-
able to think, that all should be plain and easily compre-


liensible, which relates to God himself, and that inexplica-
ble difficulties should embarrass and stop our researches,
only in what regards his creatures ? Ought we not rather,
on such a subject, to anticipate difficulties ? — to expect to
feel the inadequacy and the failure of our faculties ? — and
to expect this, with a certainty proportioned to the supe-
rior magnitude of the subject above all others that can en-
gage our attention, and its complete and absolute remote-
ness from the sphere of all our senses, and of all our
experience ? If finite things every moment confound us,
ought we to be surprised at finding that we cannot com-
prehend Avhat is infinite ? — Let us remember, my breth-
ren, the apostolic lesson, and let it be our desire, that we
may think, and feel, and act, on all subjects, and on all
occasions, consistently Avith the principle and spirit of it :
*^ I say, through the grace given to me, to every man that
is among you, not to think of himself, more highly


I shall conclude this Discourse with a single practical

While the unity of the Godhead is proclaimed in the text,
in terms fitted to impress the vast importance of the doctrine
on the minds of the Israelites, they are admonished, with
the same earnestness, to hear, and to retain in their remem-
brance, the duty which they owed to " Jehovah their God,
the one Jehovah :" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, until
all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and icith all thy might.^'
This, according to the testimony of our Saviour himself,
is " the first and great commandment :''■[ and it may be
considered as the principle and sum of all the rest. — It is
a righteous law : " holy, and just, and good," It finds
a testimony in every conscience, that is not seared to utter
insensibility. — But alas ! it is a law which we have bro-
ken. " The carnal mind is enmity against God." And

* Rom. xii. 3. f Matth. xxii. 37, 38.



in the violation of this law, which respects the inward
spring of all our conduct, is involved the breach, in their
great principle, of all the other comraan(hnents of God. —
We have not given to God the supreme, and affectionate,
and practical homage of our hearts. In withholding it,
"we have sinned : and having sinned, we are justly con-
demned. — This is the state in which the gospel iinds us :
this is the state, indeed, that renders the gospel necessary.
— The gospel is a manifestation of God's love to his ene-
mies. ^* Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that
he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our
sins.''* It is the object of the gospel, to reconcile these
enemies to God : to bring them to a participation of his
pardoning favour and paternal love, and to the renewed ^
exercise of love to him. It is the word of reconciliation :
and the ministry of it is "the ministry of reconciliation. '^
— "' Now then,'' says the apoi^tle of the Gentiles, ^* wc
are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech
by us ; Ave pray men in Christ's stead, Be ye reconciled
to God : for He hath made him, who knew no sin, to
be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of
God in him.''t — When a sinner, through the influence of
the Holy Spirit, believes this testimony, and complies
with this invitation, the enmity of his heart is subdued : —
love to God, for what he is, and for what he has done,
complacential and grateful love, takes possession of his
soul : and, although miugled and polluted with the foul
dregs of remaining corruption, it becomes the spriug of his
future conduct ; emitting, in all directions, streams of the
same nature with itself, altliough tainted prriportionally
with the same pollution. He is no longer " without law
to God," but is " under the law to Christ." He lives to
God. He " has his fruit unto holiness, and his end ever-
lasting life."

* 1 John iv. 10. t 3 Cor. v. 19—31.



1 John v. 20.
** his son jesus christ. this is the true god."

In last discourse, I endeavoured, from the words of
Moses to the Israelites in Deut. iv. 4 — " Hear, O Israel,
the Lord, our God, is one liord," to illustrate the great
doctrine of the Divine Unity.

After a few introductory remarks, on the unreasonable-
ness of Deists in smiling, with scorn, at the diversity of
sentiment among professed believers in revelation, while,
in proportion to the limits of their own creed, a diversity
no less striking is found to prevail among themselves ; and
also on some of the causes which may contribute to pro-
duce this difference of opinion, among those who agree
in rejecting the Divine authority of the Bible : — I pro-
ceeded to consider a little, how far this important doctrine
of the Unity of God is entitled to be ranked among the
articles of Natural Religion ; and closed some desultory
observations on this question, by remarking, that, whatev-
er judgment we might form concerning it, no doubt what-
ever could exist, as to the doctrine under consideration be-
ing a promiuent and essential article of revealed truth.

I then attempted to show, from a variety of passages,
in the Scriptures both of the old Testament, and of the
New, (the only source of information possessed by us on
the subject) that in the Unity of tlie Godhead there are
thi'ee distinct subsistences, which, wanting a more appro-


pviate term, ^\e denominate persons — the Father^ the
Word, and the Hobf Spirit. — On this subject I stated, that
ihc fart is revealed, Avhile tlie mode of (he fact, remaining
an nndiscovered secret, is not the proper ol)jeet of our
faith : — that, although this doctrine does, without doubt,
involve in it a mystery, that is, in the ordinary sense of the
term, something that is incomprehensible ; yet nothing can
be more unreasonable, than either to reject Christianity
because it contains uhat is mysterious, or to resolve on
expunging all mystery from its authenticated records ; for
that both the nature of the subject, and all analogy, fully
justified even a previous expectation that mysteries should
be found. I observed, that not only is the ordinary dis-
tinction well founded, between what is aboi^e reason, and.
what is contrary to it ; but that it seems, in the nature of
the thing, impossible to i)rove that to be contrary to reason,
which is admitted to be above it ; because nothing can l)e
shown to contradict reason, which we do not at all under-
stand : — that there are, in Natural Religion, mysteries not
less incomprehensible than those of the christian system :
— that he, who withholds his faith from a declared fact,
because tlie manner of it is beyond his comprehension,
must, if he would ])e consistent with himself, contrjict
within very narrow limits indeed, the range of his belief:
and that, while reason ought to be exercised, with a se-
riousness becoming the importance of the subject, in as-
certaining, by the examination of evidence, whether the
Holy Scriptures l)c a revelation from God ; yet, this im-
portant point ])eing once settled, so far is implicit faith
from being unreasonable, that the contrary is irrational in
the extreme ; an impious deification of reason ; an exalta-
tion of its authority above the authority of God.

It is impossible to resume the illustration of these various
and important topics. — Of one other observation, iu)wev-
cr, I must particnlarly remijid you : — that the argument


ill support of the doctrine of the Trinity was not, by any
means, completed, when those passages of scripture had
been adduced, in which that doctrine is asserted or im-
plied in its full extent ; in which, that is, all the three per-
sons of the Godhead are introduced together : that the
proofs of the Divinity of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit,
form distinct portions of the same body of evidence ; all
bearing directly on the one great, general truth.

I now, therefore, proceed to a part of my subject, which
is, without controversy, of pre-eminent importance : — the


To impress upon your minds the vast importance of this
subject, let me entreat you to consider it a little, in its own
nature, in its connexion with our most interesting and
solemn duties, and in its relation to other truths.

Contemplate this subject, in the first place, in its own
nature. — There are some doctrines Avhich we at once per-
ceive, as soon as they are stated, I do not say to be of no
value, (for nothing which God has been pleased to make
known is destitute of value) but to be doctrines of compar-
atively minor consequence ; while there are others, which
we as immediately discern to be of essential and vital im-
portance. To the latter of these classes the doctrine be-
fore us will, without hesitation, be referred, by every re-
flecting mind. If it be indeed a truth, that Jesus Christ
is " God over all," it is utterly impossible that it can be
a truth of subordinate magnitude. The simple statement
of it is enough to show that it must rank as 2i first prin-
ciple ; an article of prime importance ; a foundation-stone
in the Temple of Truth ; — a star of the very first magni-
tude in the hemisphere of christian doctrine. — For my
own part, I believe it to be even more than this ; a kind
of central Sun, around which the whole system of Chris-
tianity, in all its glory, and in all its harmony, revolves.


This view of its importance is coufiimed, when wc coii-
sider it, secondly, in its connexion with our most interest-
ing and solemn duties. I mean the duties which we owe
to the great object of supreme reverence, worship, and obe-
dience. — If Jesus Christ be not God, then we, who offer
to him that homage of our liearts which is due to God
alone, are, without doubt, guilty of idolatry ; as really
guilty as the worshippers of the deified heroes of Greece
or Rome. We are guilty, like them, of

Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 3 of 36)