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distinction between them, to be set forth, especially in the language of the Eastern nations, where the scripture was written, as three personal agents? Thus there are three that dwell in heaven, and bear witness to the gospel, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one; 1 John v. 7. For the proof of the divine authority of this text, see the learned Dr. Calamy's Sermons at the end of his Treatise of the Trinity, which contain arguments in them that are hardly to be refuted.
SECT. IV.-The Conclusion.
Far be it from me to assert this explication of the sacred doctrine of the Trinity with any positive airs, or in assured language: Much less would I demand the assent of others, and pretend to determine their opinion or faith of this mystery, by my manner of comparing it with things human, even though the comparisons and resemblances are borrowed from divine revelation. All that I aim at here, is to gain, and give as clear and distinct ideas as I can of the words which the scripture uses, that as far as possible, in explaining the word of God, I might secure myself and others from talking without ideas. And since I think it is evident, that the scripture represents each of the sacred three as true God, and yet represents them sometimes, under distinct personal characters, my only design and ambition is, to make out at least some possibility of this sacred doctrine to the understandings of men, to secure it from ridicule and contempt, and to wipe off that unreasonable reproach of nonsense and absurdity, which has been by too many writers so plentifully thrown upon the deep things of God, merely because they seem too hard to be perfectly adjusted and explained by men.
Though I have used some human comparisons in this and the foregoing dissertations, and have formed some resemblances between the great God and the soul of man, yet let none imagine, that things divine can be exactly paralleled, or adjusted by any precise conformity to things human. I presume no farther, than to exhibit a sketch, or distant shadow of heavenly things. The name of God has something in it so superior to all our human ideas, that it may be doubted, whether his very essence may not be something almost as much superior to our ideas of a spirit, as a spirit is superior to a body.
When God is pleased to represent his powers and actions by corporeal images, such as hands, ears, eyes, seeing, hearing, &c. we are sure this is not proper, but analogical language. When God is described as a spirit as to his essence or substance; when scripture speaks of his understanding, his will, his Word, and his Spirit, it may bear an enquiry, whether, this be a most exact, natural, and univocal description of him; or, whether it be not rather a sort of similar representation of God by way of
condescension to our human ideas. It is hard, if not impossible, for us, in some cases, to say infallibly, that this or that is true concerning God the Father, his Word, or his Spirit, because it is true concerning creatures; that this or that cannot be true concerning God the Father, his Word, or his Spirit, because, perhaps, it cannot be true concerning creatures; for the most exalted ranks of creatures that we know, are very poor imperfect shadows of the Creator.
I cannot think it reasonable, indeed, to interpret the natural divine attributes, or perfections, such as knowledge, power, goodness, so entirely in an analogical sense, as that ingenious author, the archbishop of Dublin has done, because our common ideas of these words, knowledge, power, goodness, are more applicable to the divine nature in an univocal sense: Yet this sacred doctrine of three personalities relating to one divine essence, may with much better reason be explained or construed in this analogical manner, since our common ideas of Father, Word, Spirit, person, are not so applicable thereto in an univocal signification. I am well assured, that if such analogical explications be allowable in any part of theology, the doctrine of the Trinity lays the best claim to it.
I add further also, that every scheme and explication of this sacred doctrine amongst the real or modal Trinitarians, which hath had any manner of claim to orthodoxy does suppose the divine essence to have something in it that is not univocal to our ideas of a spirit: The most orthodox explainers are all forced to represent the distinctions of persons in the godhead, as something for which there is no perfect parallel in created spirits, and are forced to recur to analogical ideas, and analogical language.
Now if it be so, then who shall determine what differences and distinctions may be found in a nature or essence so infinitely superior to all our thoughts, so much unknown, and so incomprehensible? And, why may not the blessed God represent these distinctions in his own nature, in a way of personality, or as three distinct persons, supposing that such a representation will easily lead the bulk of mankind into such conceptions of his economical transactions with us, as are fit to engage them to adore, worship, trust in, and love their Creator, their Redeemer, and their Sanctifier? All these duties we may practise by the influence of scriptural revelation, without a philosophical or univocal idea of what the great God is in his own sublime, abstruse, and unsearchable essence. "God is great, and we know him not." Thousands of saints and martyrs have gone to heaven with triumph by the practice of these duties, under the influence of a humble faith, without further philosophical enquiries.
Dr. William King.
It will be replied then, "What has made the christians of all ages so curious to penetrate further into these deep things of God, than was necessary for their own faith and practice in order to salvation?
To answer this let it be observed, that there may be some advantages for the increase of christian knowledge, for personal piety, and for the instructions of others derived from our pursuit of clear ideas in the great doctrines of the gospel. But to lay that consideration aside at present, there is another answer very obvious and easy, and it is this. The primitive christians found perpetual objections against the doctrines of their faith raised by the heathen writers; this constrained them to enter into a deeper enquiry, and the violent opposition that was made to those doctrines by the patrons of several errors in the first and following ages, set the christians in every age at work to draw out the matters of their belief into various human forms; and they did this in order to defend them against those who attacked them in a variety of methods of human reasoning and artifice. And particularly in the present controversy, when the opposers in all ages have endeavoured to represent the doctrine of the Trinity as utterly inconsistent both with reason and scripture, the believers of this doctrine have found it proper to search out some way and manner in which it is possible this doctrine may be conceived without such inconsistency.
For my part, I confess, that my faith, as a christian, had contented itself with more general ideas of this doctrine, without enquiring, so far at least, into the modus of it, had it not been for the various objections that are raised against the possibility of it in any form or modus whatsoever. And though I have now taken the freedom to declare, that I prefer the representation which I have given in these discourses above any other schemes of explication which I have seen, yet I am not so vain as to expect, that this hypothesis will immediately relieve every difficulty that attends the sacred doctrine of the Trinity. I am well aware of various exceptions that will be made, and I have carefully considered some of the most important of them in papers that lie by me. I have also made experiment, how happily this scheme furnishes out an answer to the chief exceptions of a considerable, but unknown writer, who has attacked my little discourse of the "Christian Doctrine of the Trinity," in a "Sober Appeal to a Turk or an Indian." Part of a reply to that book has been already made in the second and third dissertations printed last year. Several parts more are ready to follow this. But it was necessary to exhibit the scheme on which the solution of difficul ties is founded, before I could pretend to solve the difficulties themselves: And the printed sheets have swelled to such a bulk already, as renders it very inconvenient to crowd all my design
into this volume. According to the acceptance that these papers meet with in the world, I may be encouraged shortly to publish the rest.
After all, I am free to declare, that I am not so fond of any particular hypothesis, but I shall be ready to relinquish it for another, that will afford a better interpretation of all the scriptures that relate to the blessed three, and a happier solution of all the objections that have been raised against this article. I should rejoice to see so clear and bright an explication of it arise in the christian world, as shall overcome and scatter all be difficulties and darknesses that have hitherto hung about it, and shall set it in so divine and triumphant a light, as shall penetrate every soul, diffuse universal conviction, and demand a ready and unshaken assent. But, perhaps, it is above the privilege of a mortal state, to expect the accomplishment of such a wish. In the mean while, let us pay the homage of our understandings to the supreme incomprehensible, by firmly believing what God has plainly revealed, and wait for the favours of higher illumination in the regions of light and immortality. Amen.
TO “ USEFUL AND IMPORTANT QUESTIONS CONCERNING JESUS THE SON OF GOD FREELY PROPOSED, &c."
It cannot be of much importance for the reader to be informed who was the
writer of these papers: Yet if it will be any satisfaction, the author himself presumes to say, it is one who has spent many years of his life in diligent enquiries into the sacred doctrines of the gospel, by a constant and laborious'search of the holy scriptures, nor is he ashamed to add, with continual application to the God of all light and grace for the instruction of his holy Spirit that he might better understand the things discovered in his word. He also takes the freedom to say, these papers are the product of that part of life when the powers of mind and body were in full vigour.
The author has sometimes been ready to suppose, that several of the questions here proposed, may be very useful towards the further explaining some of those parts of scripture which have been less studied, especially concerning God the Father, and the divine and human natures of his Son Jesus Christ, whom to know, to trust in, and to love, is eternal life; and he thinks he can safely appeal to God concerning the honesty and sincerity of his own endeavours, to give a faithful answer to all these enquiries, according to the clearest light he could find in the holy scriptures.
He has one favour to beg of his readers, and that is, that they would not examine any of these papers by the mere dictates of their own reasoning powers, for the subject is a mere matter of divine revelation; nor that they would take the sentiments or schemes of elder or later writers, whether schoolmen or fathers or divines; of any party, for the perfect test of truth and orthodoxy in these sacred subjects.
Yet he freely and delightfully confesses these following articles borrowed from the Athanasian creed, viz. "We believe and confess the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, is both God and man; God of the same substance with the Father and man of the substance of his mother, born into the world; perfect God and perfect man; of a reasonable soul, and human flesh subsisting together: Equal to the Father, as touching his godhead, and yet inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood: One, not by conversion of the godhead into the flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God, so as to become one personal agent, or one person; and as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man are one Christ, who suffered for our salvation, &c.
Though I freely and chearfully acknowledge all this, yet I take no human writings for a test of the divinity or truth of my opicions: And I could wish all my readers would lay aside all other teachers, besides the mere writers of the holy scriptures, in such enquiries where the light of these divine truths will also shine brightest, which are not to be known by the mere light of nature, but are entirely to be learned by the revelation of God to his Son Jesus Christ, and to his holy apostles.
And if this practice be sincerely pursued, the author humbly hopes these papersmay find acceptance among the diligent and honest enquirers after the truth, so far at least as to have his unwilling mistakes pitied and forgiven, and his sincere endeavours accepted, to make known the scripture to his fellow-christians in those important articles that relate to God the Father, and