Thomas Smyth.

Complete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D online

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view, refines and exalts our ideas of the Divinity ; teaches us to
worship him in spirit and in truth ; trains men to the most pure
and perfect virtue, and at once inculcates and exemplifies the
most heartfelt and ennobling piety; — would, notwithstanding,
discover an opposite tendency in this leading point, the object

SRom. viii : 31 to end, and see also, 2 James, i : 7, 8 ; 1 Peter, i : 7 to
12; 1 Peter Hi: 22; 2 Peter iv: 14; 2 Peter i: 1 to 11; iii; 18; 1 John,
V ; iii : 1 to 6.

* Discourse on the Trinity, from which, we have condensed the previ-
ous argument.



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153 ARTICLES OX THE TRINITY.

of our religious affections; would, as to these, altogether lower
and debase the religious principle, and, in total repugnance to
every former revelation, teach men to look up, as to the
bestower of every important blessing, even redemption from
eternal misery, not to the great and supreme eternal Father
alone, but also to another being who is not God, (as is
affirmed,) yet concerning whom we are taught, "that he is the
only-begotten Son of God;" "by whom alone we can know
God," "or come to God," — the mediator and intercessor with
God for man, by whom we obtain remission of our sins ; — "that
he is the way and the truth, the life and light of the world;"
who is entitled to our most fervent gratitude, our perfect con-
fidence, our unreserved submission ; — by faith in whom "we are
turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan
imto God;" — who is "to appear with the holy angels, on the
throne of Divine glory, at the last great day of final judgment,
to call from the grave the whole human race, to try the secrets
of all hearts, and by his sentence fix the eternal doom of every
human being."

On the contrary, the view of the incarnation and divinity of
Christ, "at once truly God and truly man," the second person
in the glorious Trinity, which the Trinitarian doctrine imparts,
is most harmoniously connected ^ith the statement which the
apostolic writings exhibit of the grand scheme of redemption ;
of the feelings excited by the view of this scheme, of the affec-
tions with which believers should regard the Redeemer, and the
honor which is due to him: For does it not instantly follow,
that faith and obedience, gratitude and adoration, in the very
highest degree, are his unquestionable right? If the penitent
soul is certain that the same Jesus, who died for his sins, has
also risen for his justification ; if he is fully assured, that he is
not only Man but God, this faith removes that intolerable bur-
den which presses down the humbled sinner's soul, the load of
irrevocable and unpardoned guilt, and calms that terror which
would embitter to the heart every thought of the Divinity, the
terror of unsatisfied justice, which ought not to remit punish-
ment. Despondence is banished, hope revived, repentance
encouraged, exertion animated, devotion kindled, and the heart
drawn to God by the warmest gratitude, and the most attrac-
tive mercy.

Looking to Jesus, we behold in the Divine Lawgiver, our
unalterable steady friend. In the Divine Judge we behold our



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 163

all-merciful Redeemer. As man we are sure of his sympathy,
as God we are sure of his power; and from both united, we
look for our eternal deliverance. The immense gulf, which
appeared to divide the creature from his God, is closed, and
we are assured of access to the throne of grace, where our
Redeemer sits, to hold out the golden sceptre of mercy, that
we may touch and live. We are assured our prayers will be
heard, for he who is ever present and ever watchful, and
"knoweth what we ought to pray for," will asist our prayers.
Whatsoever "we ask of him, not doubting, we shall receive."
"And wheresoever two or three are gathered together in his
name, there is he in the midst of them."

Thus strip the Redeemer of his Divinity, and the whole
Gospel scheme would be doubt and darkness, inconsistency and
confusion. Admit him to be God and Man, and that Gospel
exhibits an object of faith and gratitude, admirably adapted to
all the affections and powers, all the wants and weaknesses of
human nature; admirably promotive of our reformation and
sanctification of our advancement in love to man and love to
God, and of the improvement of all the means of grace, the
accomplishment of all our hopes of glory.

The argument we have thus pursued in reference to Christ
as the second person in the adorable Trinity, and as the meri-
torious ground and ever-living medium of our acceptance with
God and of all spiritual and everlasting good, might also be
developed, and with equal force, respecting the absolute neces-
sity of the Holy Spirit in order to secure the regeneration,
sanctification and comfort of believers.

The doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, affects every truth in
the Bible which tears on man's salvation, — the nature, person
and work of a Redeemer, — ^the necessity, nature and way of
acceptance with God, — the nature of regeneration, repentance,
justification, sanctification and redemption, the principle and
motive of all acceptable obedience, — of holiness and hope in
life, — of peace and comfort in death, and of everlasting life
beyond the grave. It affects also, the nature and necessity of
prayer, preaching, and the other means of grace, of the church
and its ordinances, and of living, loving and experimental piety.
In short, compared with the truths which the Bible tmderstood,
as Trinitarians interpret it, discloses, all other knowledge is
vain and worthless; and compared with the hopes it inspires,
all other hopes are cold and comfortless.



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154 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

"The doctrine of the Trinity therefore, is, and must be, a
truth of supreme and practical importance. The simple state-
ment of it is — as Dr. Wardlaw remarks — enough to show that
it must rank as a first principle; — ^an article of prime impor-
tance ; a foundation stone in the temple of truth ; a star of the
very first magnitude in the hemisphere of christian doctrine.
For my own part, I believe it to be even more than this ; a kind
of central Sxm, around which the whole system of Christianity,
in all its glory, and in all its harmony, revolves.

"It is very obvious, therefore, that two systems, of which the
sentiments, on subjects such as these, are in direct opposition,
cannot, with any propriety, be confounded together under one
common name. That both should be Christianity is impossi-
ble; else Christianity is a term which distinguishes nothing.
Viewing the matter abstractly, and without affirming, for the
present, what is truth and what is error, this, I think, I may
with confidence affirm, that to call schemes so opposite in all
their great leading articles by a common appellation, is more
absurd, than it would be to confound together those two
irreconcileable theories of astronomy, of which the one places
the Earth, and the other the Sun, in the center of the plane-
tary system." They are, in truth, essentially different reli-
gions. For, if opposite views as to the object of worship, the
groundhope for eternity, the rule of faith and duty, and the
principles and motives of true obedience; if opposite views as
to these do not constitute different religions, we may, without
much difficulty, discover some principle of union and identity
amongst all religions whatever ; we may realize the doctrine of
Pope's universal prayer ; and extend the right hand of fellow-
ship to the worshippers at the Mosque, and to the votaries of
Brama. "I unfeignedly account the doctrine of the Trinity,*'
says Richard Baxter, "the sum and kernel of the christian
religion."

What other conclusion can be drawn from that final, authori-
tative commission given by Christ as the Divine Head of the
Church, when about to ascend to that glory which he had with
the Father from before the foundation of the world? The
evidences and effects of his Divine power had been everywhere
displayed. As Head of the Church, all power in Heaven and
Earth were given unto him. And in the exercise of that power
we find Christ making an express profession of faith in the
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the doctrinal foundation of the
Church of God which he had purchased with his own blood.



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 155

and the form of initiation into its membership. — (Matt,
xxviii: 16.)

The very learned Bishop Bull,* in his elaborate work on
proof of the fact that the Church of God in the earliest ages
considered it essential to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity,
observes, that his antagonist Episcopius admitted, that the most
ancient creed used in the administration of baptism, from the
very times of the Apostles, was this — "I believe in God the
Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost;" according to the form
prescribed by Jesus himself. Episcopius, it is true, wished to
weaken the force of the inference from this form, but the
"Bishop in answer, shows that in this creed, brief as it was, the
true divinity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is so distinctly
asserted, that in so short a form of words, it was scarcely pos-
sible it could be more clearly expressed; for first, it is plain,
that in this form, "I believe in God the Father, the Son and the
Holy Spirit," the word God is referred in common to the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, a fact which is still more
evident in the original Greek than in the translation. It is
most certain that the ancients thus understood this brief con-
fession.f For instance, TertuUian, expounding the common
faith of christians, with respect to the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit, affirms, "The Father is God, and the Son is God, and
the Holy Spirit is God, and each is God." Cyprian also, in his
epistle to Jubajanus, thus argues against the Baptism of Here-
tics: "If one can be baptized by Heretics, he can obtain the
remission of sins ; if the remission of sins, he is sanctified and
become a temple of God. "I ask, of what God? if of the Crea-
tor, it cannot be, for he has not believed on him : if of Christ,
how can he be the temple of Christ, who denies that Christ is
God? if of the Holy Spirit, since the three are one, how can
the Holy Spirit be propitious to him, who is the enemy either
of the Father or the Son ?" The attentive reader will here also
observe, that Cyprian most expressly teaches, that a belief of
the real Godhead of our Lord Christ was altogether necessary
to salvation, since he declares that "he cannot become the tem-
ple of God ;" which is the same thing as to say, he cannot be
saved who denies that Christ is God. "And to me, continues
this learned prelate, it appears, that in these few words, "I
believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost," this
great truth, even that the Son and Holy Spirit are one God

•Judicium Eccl. Cath. Ch. iv.

tThis we shall have occasion afterwards to prove.



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with the Father, is more clearly expressed than in some more
full creeds which were afterwards introduced, in which other
additions being made to the words: "I believe in God the
Father," and also after the mention of the Son, without repeat-
ing the word God in the clauses concerning the Son and the
Holy Spirit, it might seem, and did seem to some, that the title
God belonged to the Father alone, plainly contrary to the inten-
tion and opinion of those who formed these more enlarged
creeds. Secondly, in this form, the Son, as well as the Holy
Spirit, are united with the Father as partners of the dominion,
and sharers of that faith, honor, worship, and obedience, which
the person to be baptized vows and promises, and which he
who believes can belong to a mere man, or to any creature,
must be conceived totally ignorant of what it is which consti-
tutes the horrible guilt of idolatry."

But, in addition to the truth of this great doctrine, this
divine commission of our Saviour makes evident what is too
often unattended to, and what we now wish to illustrate, the
direct practical tendency of the doctrine of the Trinity, since it
is connected by him with that scheme of instruction which
"teaches men to observe and do all things whatsoever he had
commanded." Beyond any reasonable doubt or controversy,
the grand peculiar doctrine of the christian Revelation is here
declared to be the existence of Three Persons in the Divine
essence, forming together the one Godhead, the exclusive
object of our adoration and obedience; and in the Divine dis-
pensation towards man, and especially in the grand scheme of
redemption, contributing each their distinct parts, which sup-
ply distinct grounds of gratitude and reverence to each of these
divine persons. This great truth is, therefore, put forward by
the founder of our holy religion, the author and finisher of our
faith, not as an obscure and unconnected dogma, which may
be rejected because mysterious, or disregarded as unessential,
but as the great confession of faith, indispensably required
from all who seek admission into his church on earth, or hope
to be received as his followers in Heaven.

Is it not also evident, from the constant, affectionate, and
fervent repetition of this promise in the form of a benediction
by the Apostles, that this great truth of the divinity of our
Redeemer, and his union with God the Father, is not merely a
speculative dogma, necessary indeed, to our entrance into the
Church of Christ, by baptism, but which may be afterwards
neglected, or forgotten; but, that as with the holy apostle, so



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 167

with US, it should be ever uppermost in our recollection, as a
source of faith and hope, of gratitude and love, and adoration
to those divine persons, equally united in the Majesty of the
Godhead, and also equally united in the work of our salvation ?
How awful then, is the danger of rejecting those peculiar
doctrines of the gospel, which some men think unimportant,
because, as they suppose, they have no necessary connexion
with the truths or the duties of what they term the religion of
reason and nature, and to which exclusively they would confine
their regard.

Let no man, therefore, affirm, that the doctrine of the Trinity
is merely an abstract dogma, a mode of faith, which has no
bearing on practical religion. It is far more scriptural to
believe that the practical knowledge and belief of this doctrine,
and of the separate office of each person in the Godhead, is
necessary for eternal life. "For," says the Apostle, "it is
THROUGH Christ we both have access by one Spirit unto
THE Father/^ "Through Christ we are reconciled to God."
"No man," says Christ, "cometh unto the Father but by me. I
am the way." "There is but one Mediator between God and
man, the man Christ Jesus." "And this is eternal life, that
they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ
whom thou hast sent." But to know Christ as God manifest
in the flesh ; as a living, loving and all-sufficient Saviour, — to be
united to him, as our vital Head, so that our life may be hid
with Christ in God, — we must be assisted and taught by the
Holy Ghost. "It is the Spirit who searcheth all things, even
the deep things of God." It is he that worketh in us "to will
and to do." The preparations of the heart are from him.
"No man can call Jesus Lard but by the Holy Ghost," and it is
"the Spirit, who helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what
to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession
for us with groanings that cannot be uttered." And "as many
as are thus led by the Spirit," through the Son unto the Father,
"are the sons of God," for through Christ we have access by
one Spirit unto the Father.

But some man may say, that after all, we cannot compre-
hend this doctrine, nor know anything with certainty about it.
This objection, however, is founded upon the evident mistake
of confounding the doctrine with that which the doctrine
teaches — the fad, that there is a triune God with the compre-
hension of the essence and mode of existence of this trinity, —
the abstract term by which we express what is revealed to us



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158 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

of God, with the nature of that incomprehensible trinity, which
exists in the one ever-blessed Godhead, — and the clear enunci-
ation of the doctrine in Scripture with a clear understanding
of all that it implies.*

How God exists — ^what is God's nature — ^and how God can
be three and yet one — this we cannot comprehend, because
God's nature cannot possibly be revealed to us as it is in itself.
In this respect, however, not only the tri-unity, but all that
relates to God, is both ineffable and incomprehensible, — ^all that
relates to the self-existence, eternity, omnipresence, omnipo-
tence and omniscience of God, to his holiness, justice, goodness
and mercy, and to all these in combination of harmony with
each other. In this respect, also, all that is supernatural is
high and* inconceivable to us. And of the essence and mode
of existence and operation of every object in nature, we are as
really ignorant as we are of the Divine essence.

While, therefore, it is true of God, that his nature is incom-
prehensible, this is not any more true of the tri-unity of God,
than it is of the existence and attributes of God. We know
nothing of any of these as they are in their own nature. But
we can, and do know certainly and infallibly all that is revealed
to us by God, concerning himself in his word. We do know
certainly, that God best understood how, and in what language,
to convey us to that knowledge of himself as it relates to his
nature and attributes, which was comprehensible by us, and
which might become the proper foundation for our faith,
humility, adoration and pious resignation. We do know
assuredly, that (iod cannot mistake, and that he cannot deceive,
or lead us into mistake. In causing "holy men of God, there-
fore, to speak as they were moved by the Holy Ghost," we
must be, and we are, perfectly sure, that God caused the best
language to be employed in speaking of himself, which could
be done. And when we properly understand that language,
and attach to it all the meaning, and only that meaning which it
conveys to us, we are sure that our understanding of what is
in his nature and perfections, is certainly and infallibly correct,
although, of necessity, it is still very imperfect and far short
of what God really is, and of what is understood of him by
angels and by the spirits of just men made perfect, who now
"see him as he is."

♦Sec Note A, at end of this article, from Waterland's Works, vol. v.,
pp. 13-17.



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 159

The manner of the existence of the Trinity is, then, we
admit, a mystery; but that God is in nature only one, and in
persons three, is a reality, a fact of whose certainty we are
assured by God himself in his own word. The case is exactly
the same with every attribute of God. "The manner of their
existence is above comprehension," as is stated even by Dr,
Clarke,* and yet their existence and reality is, he allows,
demonstrable. In like manner, again to use Dr. Clarke's illus-
tration,* "though the manner of the Son's derivation is above
comprehension," the reality of it is strictly demonstrable. Omni-
presence is a mystery, the modus, or manner of which, is
beyond our comprehension, but which, as an actual attribute of
the Deity, is certain. The incarnation of the Son of God,
whatever may have been his previous dignity, is incomprehen-
sible, and yet the fact is believed to be indisputable by all who
regard Christ as having existed previous to his appearance
upon earth. The simplicity, the self-existence, and the eternity
of God are incomprehensible, and yet they are demonstrable
facts.

It is, therefore, only in accordance with our invariable beliefs
of supernatural truths, when we afBrm, that while the existence
of three persons, each God, and yet together, only one God,
inasmuch as they have but one common essence or nature, is an
incomprehensible mystery, the fact that God does thus exist is
certain, clear and intelligible. And let it be again and again
enforced upon our attention that in all such truths it is only
THE FACT that is revealed, and only the fact that we are
required to believe. Scripture neither gives, nor requires, any
accurate philosophical notions of any one of God's attributes,
or of any one supernatural truth. All such metaphysical diffi-
culties are avoided and even repudiated by Scripture, as apper-
taining neither to what is taught, nor to what is to be believed,
nor to what is to be done by us. The existence in one godhead
of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and their several
relations to us in the work of salvation, is all that in Scripture
we are taught or required to believe, and the reluctance of
human pride to acquiesce in this simple teaching, and its vain
attempt to bring the nature of God within our comprehension,
is the fruitful source of Unitarianism, and of every other error
on the subject of the Deity.

Let it then be borne in mind, that what, as creatures, we
cannot comprehend is the nature, essence and mode of oper-

♦Scripturc Doctrine of the Trinity, p. 99.



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160 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

ATiON of all that is supernatural and divine ; but that we can,
and do know certainly and infallibly whatever God is pleased
to reveal to us on those subjects, in his word. And if, there-
fore, the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Bible, then we
can both know and understand this doctrine as clearly and as
fully as any other doctrine in reference to any other super-
natural and divine truth, and as clearly as we do, the certam
existence of eternal objects, of whose nature and essence we
are, nevertheless, supremely ignorant.

This will show the very serious error of those who think that
no advantage can arise from discussing and controverting
objections to the doctrine of the Trinity. God has purposely
arranged the Scriptures so as to make inquiry, discussion and
controversy, necessary to come to the full and perfect knowl-
edge of the truth. Rational and scriptural investigation are
the appointed means, both for ascertaining, establishing and
propagating, the truth ; and the employment of those means in
maintaining and defending the doctrine of the Trinity, God has
often and in an especial manner, blessed and made effectual to
the renewal of his church, the restoration of those who had
fallen away from the truth, and the upbuilding and extension
of his kingdom. This truth I might illustrate from every age
of the church, and from every country, both in ancient and
modern times. The life and energy, and spirituality of the
church, have ever been found connected with the vital, practical
belief of the doctrine of the Trinity and its kindred tenets,
while coldness, worldiness and decay, have ever been found
leading to the abandonment, or following from the abandon-
ment, of these doctrines. This is true, also, of individual
christians, as may be seen in the experience of Newton and
Cowper, of Thomas Scott, and of Chalmers. This is equally
true of churches, as may be seen in the history of the churches
in England, in Scotland, in Ireland, and in New England; in
all of which, the renewal of a living and active Christianity is
to be distinctly traced to the restoration, after much dissension
and controversy, of the doctrines of the Trinity, and its asso-
ciated evangelical Christianity. And it is only necessary for
any church to allow these doctrines to be kept out of the pulpit,
and to assume that they are already sufficiently and securely
held, to give the enemy all the opportimity he desires to sow
tares, which will ere long spring up and choke the good seed,
and overspread the garden of the Lord with the weeds of
putrefaction and decay.



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 161

The following hymns of the Ancient Church, will illustrate
the practical nature of the doctrine of the Trinity :

MATINS.

Thrice holy God, of wondrous might,

O Trinity of love divine,
To thee belongs unclouded light,

And everlasting joys are thine.

About thy throne dark clouds abound,

About thee shine such dazzling rays
That angels, as they stand around

Are fain to tremble as they gaze.

Thy new-bom people, gracious Lord,
Confess thee in thine own great name ;



Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 17 of 68)