Thomas Smyth.

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

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ent knowledge merely, or by that it conceives to be the general
opinion of mankind merely, or whether in all matters that relate
to God and things spiritual and divine, it is to be glided by the
light which God has been pleased to impart in his word.



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32 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

Here we encounter the abuse of reason, and contend against
Deists, Rationalists and Unitarians, for the insufficiency of rea-
son, as a guide or judge in matters of religion, — for its true
nature, office and function, — ^and for the necessity, both of the
Divine Word, and the Divine Spirit, as a standard, and as a
guide to truth. And from what we have said, this controversy
may, we think, be summarily ended.

Reason, we have seen, is finite, limited, and imperfect, and in
reference to all Spiritual and Divine things, weaknened and
darkened. Reason, too, is only a faculty, a capacity of knowl-
edge. It is not knowledge. Whatever man knows, he knows
by observation, experience, instruction, through the processes
of his own reason, his intuitive beliefs, his original suggestions,
his sense of right and wrong, with all other attributes and
powers which together constitute his reason, and make him an
intelligent, moral and accountable being Now, what the rea-
son of a child is, compared with the reason of an educated man,
the reason of the most highly gifted and informed mind is to
that of angels ; and the reason and knowledge of angels is no
more than a single ray of light compared to the noontide bril-
liance of the sun, when contrasted with the infinite reason and
perfect comprehension of Him that knoweth all things past,
present and future, — whether material or immaterial, natural
or divine. And since it is the very nature and irresistible ten-
dency of reason to obtain whatever assistance, guidance and
instruction, it has the means and opportunity of securing, in
order to develope its powers and enlarge its sphere of knowl-
edge ; — since, without such light and guidance, it would know
nothing, even of things on earth, it is at once evident that
human reason only acts rationally when in reference to all
things divine, and which are, by their very nature, beyond its
observation and comprehension, it submits itself implicitly to
the teaching and guidance of revelation. Revelation, that is,
the testimony and instruction of God, in reference to the nature
of things spiritual, supernatural, and divine, is to reason just
what nature, observation and instruction, the testimony pro-
vided by God, is in reference to things natural. Deists, and
Rationalists, and Unitarians, might just as reasonably reject all
use of these means of obtaining and judging of the truth and
certainty and real nature of natural things, as to reject the light
and guidance of revelation in things supernatural. God can
give his testimony as to what is true in regard to things divine



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 33

by revelation, as well as give it as to things natural by his
works, and by the senses, faculties, observation and experience
of men. And it is the same exercise of reason when it en^loys
itself in finding out what God's testimony is, and believing what
God testifies to be true, in regard to what God makes known by
revelation, and what he makes known by observation, experi-
ence and argument. Christians, therefore, no more submit
their reason to authority and to subjection, in receiving implic-
itly as true, without comprehending it, what God testifies in
his word, than in receiving implicitly what God testifies in his
works. In both cases, God's testimony is the ground of our
belief. In both cases, we reply upon the infallibility of those
powers of knowing that it is his testimony which God, who will
not, and cannot deceive, has given us. — In both cases we gladly
avail ourselves of all the light and knowledge God is pleased to
impart to us. — In both cases, we comprehend nothing at all of
the real essence of things, but only what God is pleased to mani-
fest concerning them. — And in both cases, when we ascertain
with certainty what God has tfuide, what God has done, and
what God has said, we ascertain what is the truth, and all that
we can know of the truth. Reason, therefore, has precisely the
same office, and the same province, in regard to all truth. The
only difference is in regard to the nature of the evidence by
which truth is testified, and thus brought before it. In things
natural, the testimony is foimd in nature, and the evidence of
what that nature in fact is, is brought before it by the observa-
tion of the senses, by the perceptions of the mind, by education
and information, conveying to it upon testimony the experience
of others. It is in this way reason acts, and acquires all it
knows, all it can know, of natural things. On the other hand,
in things supernatural, that is, in things beyond the reach of
our senses, this testimony is found in the revelation of God,
and what God does reveal, is brought before the mind by the
evidence of prophecy, of miracles, and all the other external,
internal, and experimental evidences by which what claims to
be God's word, is proved to be indeed such. By education and
instruction, the mind becomes acquainted with these evidences.
By its intuitions and inferences, the mind is led to the convic-
tion of the truth and inspiration of the Bible. And being thus
assured that all Scripture is given by inspiration, and was writ-
ten by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,
reason receives what the Bible contains as infallible truth,

3— Vol. IX.



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34 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

although, of necessity, all that it reveals is above its comprehen-
sion, and can only be known so far as it has pleased God to
reveal it. For reason to judge of the truth of doctrines thus
certainly revealed, is as absurd and irrational, as for reason to
judge of the truth of the facts revealed in nature All that
reason can do in either case is to ascertain what are facts, and
then to believe in them, however incomprehensible, and how-
ever apparently contrary to other facts, and to its own precon-
ceived opinions, they may be, and in point of fact are, in regard
to much of our natural knowledge. Reason is unreasonable
whenever it attempts more than this, since to refuse to believe
on sufficient evidence what is incomprehensible or contrary' to
preconceived opinions, is a direct violation of all reason. The
truth and comprehension of a fact in nature, or of a doctrine in
revelation, is not the province of reason, but only the ascertain-
ing of the testimony and the determination of the evidence by
which they are proved to be facts in nature or doctrines of reve-
lation.

Let us, then, learn the true nature and ccmdition of man.
Let us be humble. Reason is exalted when it is abased, when
it is teachable, conscious of its weakness, imperfection and lia-
bility to mistakes. The greatest minds have been the humblest,
and the most extensive knowledge has ever been the result of
the most docile and patient research. And what we object to
in Deists and Rationalistic christians is, not that they reason,
but that they reason ill, — not that they claim a right to form and
to hold fast their own opinions, but that they claim the right to
hold wrong opinions, which is self -contradictory, — ^not that
they thus investigate by reason the evidence of what is true,
but that they attempt, by the finite line of reason, to fathom the
depth of what is infinitely below, to measure the height of what
is infinitely above, and to comprehend the nature of what is
infinitely beyond their reason.

"Matters of pure revelation are immediately from the
instruction of God, therefore most reasonable to be believed,
because most certainly true ; but cannot be believed, otherwise
than He has proposed them, either in manner or degree. From
the insufficiency of reason to guide us in all matters relating to
our final good, appears the necessity of revelation against the
cavils of those who would so exalt nature as to render it alto-
gether needless. And the evidence of its coming from God,
manifests the obligation we are under to receive and obey it.



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 35

against the atheistical objections of those who would" attempt
by- reason to judge, to comprehend and to reject it, "represent
it as a superstitious contrivance or invention of men. When,
therefore, reason refuses to submit to God's guidance, or assent
to what has all the inward and external marks of truth and
infallible testimony ; when it will deny, only because it cannot
comprehend and fathom the depths of God with its own short
line ; or attempts to give reasons, and accounts for things which
God has not thought fitting to explain ; then it transgresses the
bounds of duty, and instead of a guide becomes a deceiver and
destroyer of those who follow its directions."

It is this arrogance, self-sufficiency, and exalting reason to
an independency upon God, that has been the source of all fatal
error and impiety, and tempted men to revolt from religion and
from God. Such oracles of vain reasoning have all the
doubters and disputers against religion been, since the world
began. The more men have depended upon reason for the
measure of Divine things, the further always have they erred
from the truth. And what this is owing to, we may learn from
the confession of a noble author, Lord Shaftesbury, in the first
class among the despisers of revelation. "There is (says he)
a certain perverse humanity in us, which inwardly resists the
Divine commission, though ever so plainly revealed."



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ARTICLE III.

The Bible, and Not Reason, the Only Certain and
Authoritative Source of Our Knowledge, Even of
THE Existence of God.

The existence of God as an infinite Spirit would we suppose
in a natural and unvitiated condition of the soul, be a primary,
intuitive, and necessary belief, not founded on reason, or induc-
tion, or rationally demonstrated, but assumed and taken for
granted as true. But it is different with man now. His rela-
tion to God is the very one sin has most directly affected, and
God the very subject of which he is most **willingly ignorant."
The idea of an infinite personal God exists throughout Christen-
dom, it exists as an admitted axiomatic fact, not based upon
rational demonstration, but as a truth taken for granted, and
lying at the foundation of all other truths. This belief is
strengthened and confirmed by observation and experience both
of the inner and outer world. This we believe is the true posi-
tion of the idea of an infinite and personal God. It is an
axiomatic principle, the fundamental belief, capable of infinite
conformation, but not of origination, by reason, demonstration,
or proof. This is the position to which the Bible refers this
idea. It is there also assumed — taken for granted — ^authori-
tatively enforced — but not proved. The heavens and the earth
declare but they do not deliver it. They shew forth and pro-
claim, but they do not originate it. The Bible unites with these
in giving evidence of God's existence and working, but it
appeals to man*s nature as adapted to, and requiring the belief
of God as an axiomatic principle. But it is not with this as
with other axiomatic scientific principles. Man as now blinded
by sin and not liking to retain God in his knowledge, does not act
as intuitively in regard to the idea of God, as in reference to
other primary beliefs. He does not intuitively and without any
instruction originate it. The denial of it does involve, as the
denial of other primary beliefs does, absurdity, and impossi-
bility, and contradiction, many even reject the idea, and deny
the object, that is God as an infinite and personal moral being.
The question then is whether in man's present condition, he is
capable without instruction of originating the idea of an infinite
and personal God. We affirm he is not, and my object is to
shew so far is human reason from being able to prove any



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 37

thing about God which would demonstrate the absurdity of the
doctrine that God in the unity of an eternal Godhead exists in
a trinity of subsisting, relative personalities, it cannot originate
the idea of an infinite God, much less determine his nature. I
wish to bring this subject of God's trinity in unity to the teach-
ing of the Bible, free from any a priori improbabilities supposed
to be credited by a priori reasoning. The existence of God is
believed to be an axiomatic principle, and that God is one, we
believe to be an equally fundamental principle. But these
leave the question of God's triune existence in that unity to be
decided by proper, that is by supernatural evidence. Nay
more, in his present condition, man cannot untaught, even origi-
nate the idea of an infinite personal God and can therefore tell
neither less nor more about the Trinity of that God. All
thoughts of God, at present found in the world we believe
therefore to be consequent upon human instruction, based
either upon a present revelation or upon the traditions of an
original revelation. This position may be established 1, by
showing that the subject is one on which the human mind can-
not prove by reason ; 2, by showing that it never has done so; 3,
that as a matter of fact when left to itself, it never does do so,
and 4, that even now the existence of God is considered by
philosophy to be the insoluble problem, and one to which when-
ever reasoning is applied must be involved in scepticism and
doubt.

"We have also," says the Apostle Peter, "a more sure word of
prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a
light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the
day-star arise in your hearts." Without entering into the dis-
cussion of the various shades of interpretation to which this
passage of Scripture hks given rise, I would present what
appears to be implied as true in them all. The Apostle had
adduced the miracle of the transfiguration, of which he was an
eye-witness, as an irrefragable proof of the divinity and glory
of Christ and his gospel, and of the assurance of future and
everlasting blessedness. Of all this, the glory with which
Christ was transfigured, — ^the testimony given to him by Moses
and Elias, — and the voice of God openly declaring him to be
his Son, and authoritatively requiring all men implicity to
receive and obey his teachings, — are irresistible proofs. But,
adds the Apostle, strong as is this testimony, and infallible as is
this evidence of the truth and certainty of the things in which



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38 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

we have believed, we have the very word of God conveyed to
us through the instrumentality of holy men of God in every
age of the Church, in those Scriptures which are filled witfi
prophetical and inspired truths. The allusion is therefore to
the entire Scriptures, both of the old and new Testaments.
These Scriptures were "all given by inspiration/' as is
attested by miraculous and prophetical evidences, that is, by a
supernatural power, and a supernatural wisdom and foreknowl-
edge, which imply omniscience, and omnipotence, and omni-
presence. They are not, therefore, the result of private or
uninspired disclosure, impulse or discovery. They did not
originate from the intuitive or rational powers of the human
mind. The Prophets were, as Bishop Horsley states it, neces-
sary agents, acting imder the irresistible influence of the omnis-
cient Spirit, who made the faculties and the organs of those
holy men the instnunents for conveying to mankind some por-
tion of the treasures of his own knowledge." All the informa-
tipn, both as to doctrine and duty, contained in the Scriptures,
is the result of supernatural or divine influence, and is, there-
fore, as indisputably the Word of God, as the voice from "the
excellent glory heard upon the holy mount."

To those Scriptures, therefore, we are required to "take
heed," as being ail "profitable for" the infallible communica-
tion of "doctrine" and knowledge of duty. In the midst of
that obscurity and darkness which envelope the limited range
of human reason, and the ignorance and inability to compre-
hend divine things, even when revealed, in which sin has
involved the understandings of men, revelation shines as a
light in a dark place, to instruct and guide, and is completely
fitted to direct into all truth and all duty, the otherwise bewil-
dered inquirer. While he who trusts to his own, or to human
reason, is like the mariner without chart, compass or anchor,
driven about by every wind of doctrine, and "never in one
stay," he who takes heed to this divine light, possesses both a
divine compass, chart and anchor, which are "sure and stead-
fast," and by which he is made "wise unto salvation."

And what is more : the evidences by which the Scriptures are
found to be the only and infallible rule of faith and practice,
bright, and burning as they now are, are ever increasing.
Events which, at the time the Scriptures were in their several
parts written, were in the womb of time, have many of them
come forth, and many more shall yet be brought into existence,



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 39

giving by their testimony increasing magnitude and effulgence
to this radiant light of Divine truth. Monuments silent for
ages, and ruins buried for thousands of years from the notice
of mankind, are now vocal, and coming forth from the tomb
of their supposed oblivion, are proclaiming, as with the united
voices of all past generations, the truth, and certainty, and
inspiration of the Scriptures. Even now, the day has but
begun to dawn, and the day-star to arise upon our hearts, and
this evidence and attestation to the Scriptures, as the word of
God, shall shine more and more, until the unclouded blaze of
perfect conviction shines with noon-tide brilliance on every
darkened mind of man.

It is thus that the Psalmist also, describes the word of God,
— fully developed in the gospel, of his Son, — as being the true
light imaged by the light of the natural sun. Like the sim, it
is intended for all men, adapted to all, and to be commtmicated
to all. It is the only source of real, certain, and infallible
truth, on all subjects superhuman and divine. There is no
speech nor language, where its voice is not, or is not to be
heard. In its light alone, we see light, and destitute of it,
millions "sit as in the region and shadow of death," and "perish
for lack of knowledge." This word of God is, and it alone is,
perfect to restore the soul from error to truth, from sin to
righteousness, from doubt to certainty. It alone convinces of
sin, holds forth a Saviour, is the means of grace, a rule of
conduct, a standard of faith, a source of wisdom, unveiling to
the darkened vision of reason the wonderful nature, and works,
and ways, and will, and worship, and purposes, and mercy, of
God, and thus enlightening the eyes.

To be a christian, then, is to believe that Moses and the
prophets, Christ and his Apostles, were endued with divine
authority to teach all that they taught, and enforce all that they
enjoined, and that God will verify in this world, and in the
world to come, all that they have foretold, — it is, in short,
cordially and with our hearts, to believe and act upon the truth
that the Scriptures are the only rule of our faith and practice,
of our hopes and fears, and that to add to, or take from, to
modify or exchange any of their truths, is to endanger the
only "foundation which God has laid in Zion."

In what relation, then, does reason stand to Scripture and
Scripture to reason? To perceive this with clearness, let us
remember what has been determined concerning reason. Rea-



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40 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

son is that intelligent nature by which man is capable of think-
ing, — of discerning the relation of cause and effect, — of receiv-
ing and distinguishing testimony, — of weighing evidence, — of
forming opinions,— of attaining knowledge,— of becoming
acquainted with what is duty, — ^and of acting upon it imdcr a
sense of deep and solemn responsibility. This reason, we have
seen, is limited in its capacity, by its own finite nature, and in
its field of observation and experience by the senses, to which,
as inlets of sensation and organs of perception, it is at present
allied. What is beyond this sphere, reason can only know by
testimony, or remain ignorant of altogether, as is the case in
reference to a great part of the things by which it is sur-
rounded, and universally, as it regards their essences. Of
course, this must be much more evidently and necessarily the
case, as it relates to all things spiritual, supernatural and divine.
This is an unknown region, which, like the terra incognita of
earth, can only be surmised and conjectured, but of which we
can have certain knowledge only so far as our actual observa-
tion and discovery in the one case, and actual testimony in the
other, really exjend. Both may be, to a certain extent, compre-
hensible by reason, when the means of judging of their exist-
ence and attributes is brought within its reach. In both, there
will be much to be believed, as, for instance, the essense of
things, which, with its present capacity, it never can compre-
hend. The belief, in regard to both, of all that is proved to be
true, is most reasonable, and the attempt to explain or to dog-
matize upon what is not proved or revealed, or comprehensible,
is most unreasonable and absurd, yea, most sinful and impious.

But reason is not only limited. It is imperfect. It is not
infallible. It is not omniscient, nor are its bodily organs abso-
lutely perfect. It is, therefore, liable to misapprehension, per-
version and mistake. To err is human. Infallibility is the
prerogative only of Divinity. This imperfect and limited
nature characterizes man as a creature "made a little lower
than the angels," and not merely as a fallen and sinful creature.
Adam, in Paradise, needed, and received, and rejoiced in, the
instruction, guidance and holiness, imparted to him by his all-
gracious and merciful Creator.

But now, man is a fallen and sinful, as well as a limited and
imperfect being, and the Divine communion, holiness, and guid-
ance, originally imparted to him, are, by his own sin, with-
drawn. As it was in God's light man's reason saw perfectly.



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ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 41

holily and wisely, so, when that light is withheld, reason is left
to its own feeble imperfection, and sees but dimly. A disor-
dered heart ever enveloping it in a misty haze, it is seduced into
error, mistakes truth for falsehood and falsehood for truth,
regards evidence with attention or inattention, and investigates
it thoroughly or imperfectly, according to the wishes of the
heart. The understanding is itself darkened, and it will not
come unto the light.

Thought
Precedes the will to think, and error lives
Ere reason can be bom. Reason, the power
To guess at ri^ht and wrong, the twinkling lamp
Of wand'ring life, that winks and wakes by turns
Fooling the follower betwixt shade and shining.

While this limited, imperfect and perverted character of
human reason has been manifested in every department of
knowledge, it has been most lamentably exhibited in all
inquiries into things divine. This was to be expected. These
things lie beyond the field of sensible observation, experience
and proof. We know not what life is, or what the soul is, or
what spirit is, or how these act upon matter. And if thus
ignorant concerning ourselves, and of what is within us, and
constitutes ourselves, how can we know or comprehend that
great Spirit who is infinite, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent,
and omnipotent ! How God, thus infinite, can be good, and yet
man evil, — ^how God can be gracious, and yet man miserable, —
how man can be free, and yet absolutely dependent, — how all
things past, present and to come, can be present to God*s
knowledge, power, wisdom, and government, and yet the liberty
of second causes remain unhindered, — ^these are difficulties,
arising, not from revelation, but from the nature of things as
they exist, and which, independently of revelation, reason has
found to be incomprehensible, and the source of endless specu-
lations and contradictory theories.

In thoughts more elevate sages have reasoned high



Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 4 of 68)