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Any attempt of the editor, to recommend such discourses as deserving the attention of the public, could not well be exempted from a charge of officiousness. They are, therefore, cheerfully left to speak for themselves.
All Christians are agreed that the subjects, of which they treat, are very weighty and ecclesiastical history too sadly shews in what manner the contentions about them have been agitated.
Whatever may be the issue of the arguments suggested,-with respect to the measure of conviction they shall produce in favour of any particular doctrine,—if the temper, with which they are proposed, should prove sufficiently attractive to engage a general imitation, and excite a prevailing diligence to maintain and cultivate it, on all sides, the apparent chief design of the author, and most fervent wishes of the editor, will have their best accomplishment.
Maidstone, August 1, 1784.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God has highly exalted him, and given him a name, which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.-Philip. ii, 5-11.
In these verses we have at large the apostle's argument to the meekness and condescension before recommended: taken from the example of Christ's humility, and his exaltation, as a reward of it.
Within the compass of a few months I have delivered two practical discourses from the fifthverse of this chapter, explaining the duty of mutual condescension and forbearance, and enforcing it from the example and the reward of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But now I am desirous to explain in a more critical manner the words which have been read to you.
I shall be hereby unavoidably led into somewhat controversial: but I hope it will be also practical, and not unprofitable; were it only instructive to some who are not thoroughly ac-. quainted with some controverted points, which yet are thought to be of much moment. Indeed if people will decide in points of any kind, it is fit they should know and understand what they. affirm; especially if they take upon them to pass sentences upon those who differ from them. This needs no proof. Certainly no honest and upright man would willingly form a wrong judgment in any case; especially in such a case as this, where, if he be ignorant, he may pass sentence upon himself. I fear this is no uncommon thing. One cannot be disposed to insult any man's ignorance. But when censoriousness is joined therewith, and it becomes troublesome to others, it will be remarked. I think I have met with some good people who have severely condemned Arians, and yet were not orthodox themselves. And if they could have been persuaded to explain their own notion, it would have appeared that they were in the Arian scheme, or very near it. But they were too positive, and too well satisfied of being in the right, to hear any argument from those who would have debated with them, and led them into the merits of the controversy.
Disputes about the person of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity, as is well known, have been exceedingly prejudicial to the Christian cause and interest: and chiefly so, because those disputes have been managed with too much heat and contending parties on both sides,
have not been contented to dispute and argue, and then leave it to every one to determine conscientiously according to the best of his own judgment; but would impose their own sense. And if they had the authority, and civil power on their side, would require men under heavy pains and losses to profess, in a word or writing, an assent to their opinion, whether convinced Whereas serious and impartial, free and patient inquiries and debates might have been instructive, and let in light: and different sentiments have been allowed without detriment either to truth or piety.
I hope we may now have an example of this kind: and that all will hear with patience an argument which is intended to be proposed with mildness, though with plainness, free from all reserve and disguise.
In order to understand this text, and to give free scope to every one to judge of its design, according to several apprehensions concerning the person of Christ, it will be needful to consider the several schemes of divines relating to the doctrine of the Trinity. For, as Christians among us have before them, beside what is said in the scriptures, divers determinations upon the doctrine of the Trinity, in catechisms, articles, and liturgies, they will apply those determinations to this, and other texts of scripture.
I have therefore thought that no method will more directly lead to a clear judgment in this point, than to propose and consider the common schemes or ways of thinking of the Deity, which obtain among the professed disciples and followers of Jesus.
The first shall be that which is reckoned the commonly received scheme, and called orthodox and catholic.
In the Assembly's catechism it is said: There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; the same in substance, equal in power and glory.'
The first article of the Church of England is: There is but one living and true God, ever⚫lasting, without body, parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in the unity of this godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.'
Here certainly ariseth a difficulty. How are we to understand these expressions? And how are they understood by those who use them, and approve of them, and assent to them, as right? "One God, three persons, the same in substance, equal in power and glory: or of one substance, power and eternity." Is it hereby meant, that there are three really distinct minds, or intelligent agents? So we might be apt to conclude from the use of the word person, and saying, that "these three are equal."
Nevertheless there are two different sentiments among those who are called orthodox. Some believe three distinct persons or beings, of the same substance or essence in kind: as three men are distinct, but are of the same kind of substance. Others do not understand the word "person person" "in the common acceptation. They believe only a modal distinction. They openly say, that in discoursing on the mystery of the Trinity, they do not use the word "person in what is now the common meaning of that word. We might be disposed to think that these went into the Sabellian scheme, which holds one person only in the Deity, under three different denominations. But yet they deny it, and disclaim Sabellianism, and speak of it as a very pernicious opinion. They say, that though the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are not three distinct beings, or individuals, there is a distinction, which may be represented by that of three perons.
Here then are two different opinions among those who pass for orthodox.
And which is right? that is, which of these is the prevailing and generally received opinion? I answer the latter; [or the opinion of those] who hold only a modal distinction in the Trinity. This appears to me evident from what is calletl the Athanasian Creed, which is always allowed by those who bear the denomination of orthodox, to be the standard of the true doctrine of the Trinity. It is to this purpose: The catholic faith is this; that we worship one God in TrinityTrinity in Unity: neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is
* I say called the Athanasian Creed, for it is now generally allowed by learned men, that it is not the work of the celebrated Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who flourished in the fourth century, but of some other person long after his
time. Nor is it certainly known by whom it was composed.
⚫ one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty 'coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.-The Father 'eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals,. ⚫ but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one ⚫ uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God.'
According to this creed, there are "not three eternals, but one eternal, not three Almighties, but one Almighty." So this seems to me. However, let every man judge for himself. And. let every man who thinks himself orthodox, examine himself by this creed; whether he be so, or not. For it is not impossible that many well meaning people, of lower rank, may believe a real Trinity of distinct intelligent beings. Yea it is likely, that this is indeed the firm belief and persuasion of great numbers of the vulgar sort among Christians. It may be also the sentiment of some who make no small figure in the learned world..
Nevertheless, I do not think that to be what is called the commonly received doctrine of the church. This appears to me evident from the forecited creed.
Before we proceed to apply this doctrine to the words of the text, it may be proper to observe still more distinctly the received doctrine concerning the Son. The second article of the Church of England is thus. The Son, which is the word of the Father, begotten from • everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took 'man's nature in the womb of the blessed virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and • perfect natures, that is, the godhead and manhood were joined together in one person, never to be divided. Whereof is one Christ, very God, and very man; who truly suffered, was dead • and buried.'
I have taken the words of that article, that I may be sure to avoid all misrepresentation, and that there may be no suspicion of it.
Let us now observe the explication of the text, agreeably to this scheme; which I shall take in the words of a pious annotator.* ““Let_this_mind be in you, which was also in Christ • Jesus." As Christ denied himself for you, so should you for others. "Who being in the form ⚫ of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:" that is, who being the essential image of the Father, and enjoying the divine essence and nature with all its glory, knew that it was not • usurpation in him, to account himself so, and carry himself as such. "But made himself of no reputation." Yet he emptied himself of that divine glory and majesty, by hiding it in the vail of his flesh: "and took upon him the form of a servant:" that is, the quality and condition of • a mean person, not of some great man. "And was made in the likeness of men :" that is, subject to all the frailties and infirmities of human nature, sin only excepted. "And being. found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself." By what appeared to all, and by the whole 'tenour of his carriage, he was found to be a true man. "And became obedient unto death, ' even unto the death of the cross.' He manifested his obedience, as in all other particulars, so1 in resigning up himself to death, the death of the cross, the most cruel, contemptible, and accursed death. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name, which is above every name." Wherefore God advanced his human nature to the highest degree of glory, and has given him honour, authority and majesty above all created excellence.'
Upon this interpretation it is easy to remark, that it does not seem exactly to answer the apostle's expressions. It supposes two things to be spoken of, first the Deity, then the humanity of Jesus. I say, it is supposed, that the apostle first speaks of Christ's being "of the divine nature and essence," and therein humbling himself. And the human nature is exalted. Whereas✩ the apostle seems to speak all along of one thing or person. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who made himself of no reputation-Wherefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow." He who had humbled himself is exalted. Nor can true Deity either be abased or rewarded.
• Mr. Samuel Clark's Annotations upon the place.
There is therefore no small difficulty in applying the commonly received opinion concerning Christ, as God, of the same substance, and equal with the Father, to this text. Or, it is not easy to reconcile the doctrine of the apostle in this place, and the commonly received opinion concerning the Trinity.
I shall now conclude with these two remarks.
I. The commonly received doctrine of the Trinity, which is reckoned orthodox, and the doctrine of the Church, is obscure. Indeed it is generally acknowledged to be very mysterious. And it appears to be so from the authentic accounts which have been now given of it. For it is said that there are "three persons.in the godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost:" and they are said to be "equal in power and glory." Which expressions seem to intimate, that there are three distinct beings, and minds. But yet, on the other hand, it is as plainly said, that there is" but one eternal, and one Almighty."
These expressions must be allowed to represent an obscure doctrine. Some have said, that it is contradictory.
All I affirm is, that it is obscure, and difficult to be conceived and understood, if it be not absolutely incomprehensible.
II. Secondly, I would observe, that obscure doctrines ought not to be made necessary to salvation. They who consider the general tenour, and great design of the preaching of Christ and his apostles, to all sorts of men, in order to bring them to repentance and holiness, and thereby to everlasting happiness, by the good-will and appointment of God, will be easily led to think that there should not be any doctrines, necessary to be believed, which are of such a nature, that the most metaphysical and philosophical minds can scarcely know what they are, or reconcile them to reason. Therefore the commonly received doctrine of the Trinity, if it be obscure, should not be made a necessary article of a Christian's faith. And yet this is the introduction to the Athanasian Creed: Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary, that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith, except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity and the rest. And the more fully to enforce the necessity of this doctrine, it is repeated again at the end: This is the catholic faith. Which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.' This, and other like creeds, are inserted in almost all the established articles and liturgies in Christendom.
But is not this teaching uncharitableness by authority? And, if any join in such offices of religion, whilst they believe not the creeds which they recite, or are supposed to recite, they are made to pass sentences of condemnation upon themselves.
How great then is the privilege to be at liberty to choose our religion, and that way of worship, which upon a serious consideration, and after careful and impartial examination, we hink to be reasonable, scriptural, and edifying!
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.-Philip. ii. 5-11. And what follows.
In a late discourse on this text, I stated and considered the commonly received opinion concerning the Trinity, and the person of Christ in particular.
I now intend to consider another sentiment concerning the person of Christ, and consequently also concerning the Trinity.
Some then suppose the Son to be a spirit, or intelligent agent, subordinate and inferior to the Father. They think that this is what is meant by the Word, spoken of by St. John at the beginning of his gospel. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God:" or a God, as they would translate: not the same with the Father, or
equal to him, or of the same nature and essence: but said to be God, on account of his great excellence and power, derived to him by the will of the Father. "All things were made by him," that is, by him under the Father, as his instrument, and by his appointment. "And without him was not any thing made that was made."
To the like purpose they understand and explain Col. i. 15, 16. "Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature. For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible; whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by him, and for him."
Which words are thus paraphrased by an ingenious and learned commentator, of the sentiment, which I am now endeavouring to represent as fairly as may be Since he is the most lively visible image of the Father who is the invisible God, and is the first being that was derived from him. And that he must be the first derived from him, is from hence evident, that all other beings were derived from God the primary and supreme cause of all, through this his Son, by whom, as their immediate Author, all things were created, that are in heaven, or that are in visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by him, and to be in subjection to him. He therefore must be before all things. And by him all things are preserved. And he is the head of the church, which is • is his body.'
Heb. i. 1, 2. "God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." In his notes upon these last words, the same learned expositor says: As from other places it appears, that Christ was employed in, making the world, so this seems most agreeable to the scope of the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. His intention appears to be, to give the loftiest and most noble account of his
greatness and dignity, abstractedly from what he proceeds to afterwards, the honour conferred
upon him at his resurrection. Now since he so expressly mentions that which may seem a less⚫ instance of his greatness, that "he upholds all things;" it is not probable, that he would omit that which was greater, God's creating the worlds by him.'
Of the Word, or Son of God, these learned men do also generally understand Prov. viii. 22-81.
Well, then, the Son being, according to this scheme, the first derived being, and God having made the world by him: what was the station, what the employment, what the dignity of the Son of God before his incarnation?
The learned annotator before quoted, in his notes upon Philip. ii. 9, says: The scriptures 'seem to represent this to have been the state of things antecedently to our Saviour's coming into the world: that God allotted to the angels provinces and dominions, one being appointed to preside over one country, and another over another.The places as evidences of this, are all taken out of Dan. x; where is related a vision of an angel sent to Daniel in the third of Cyrus king of Persia. -Thus he speaks, ver. 13. "The prince of the kingdom of Persia 'withstood me one and twenty days: but lo, Michael, one," or the first "of the chief princes, 'came to help me."-Afterwards, in the two last verses of that chapter, the same angel says: "Now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia. And when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Græcia shall come. But I will shew thee what is noted in the scripture of truth. And there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince." So that, as this learned writer proceeds, we have here the prince of Persia, the prince of Græcia, and the prince of the Jews, spoken of. And what reason can we have to question, whether the like was not the case of the other countries, that they had in like manner their respective pre'sidents or princes? This leads us farther to consider the state of our Saviour himself before his incarnation-As the heathen nations were committed to other angels, the Israelites were 'committed to Christ, who was the angel of the covenant, or of God's covenanted people.' So that learned writer.
There may be different conceptions concerning Christ, among those who must be allowed to be in the main of this opinion. They all suppose the Word, or Son of God, to be a being distinct from God the Father, subordinate and inferior to him. But some may ascribe to him higher dignity than others. [And] we have just now seen, that one and the same person, who thinks