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BRIEF ANSWERS TO THE PRINCIPAL OBJECTIONS AGAINST THE
DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY.
The first objection to the doctrine of the Trinity, which I shall notice, is, that it is contrary to reason, and, therefore, not true.
Many excellent writers, on the doctrines of Christianity, appear jealous of reason in matters of faith, and desirous of depressing this great prerogative of our nature, below its proper rank. If, indeed, any doctrine of our religion were contrary to reason, it would, undoubtedly, not be true. But this is equally the case, with respect to every other subject. If a doctrine of philosophy, or a tenet in metaphysicks, is contrary to reason, it is, without hesitation, to be discarded.
It is not necessary to stop here, to inquire particularly into the nature of that faculty of our minds, which we are accustomed to call reason. We all, probably, have an idea of it sufficiently accurate, for my present purpose. Perhaps, it is sufficient to say, in defining it, with Professor Stewart, that “among the various characteristicks of humanity, the power of devising means to accomplish ends, together with the power of distinguishing truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, are obviously the most conspicuous and important; and accordingly it is to these that the word reason, even in its most comprehensive acceptation, is now exclusively restricted."* It is plain, that it is equally unwise and unnecessary, and, I may add, an offence against our Maker, to degrade, from its rank and influence, this high talent intrusted to our care. 6 Reason,” says Mr. Locke, “is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light, and Fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth, which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties."
The common prejudice against reason in matters of faith, has arisen from not distinguishing its use from its abuse; and from the circumstance, that the perplexing sophisms of Hume and other infidel writers have been absurdly dignified with the name of profound productions of the reasoning faculty. Each power of the mind ought to be exerted in its own peculiar department, and the proper use of our reasoning power is to be encouraged, wbile the abuse of it is to be cautiously avoided.
Philos. of Hum. Mind, vol. ii. p. 5.
† Essay, B. iv. c. 19. GOSPEL ADVOCATE, VOL. ill.
On this part of the subject an important distinction is to be made, between what is contrary to reason, and what is above it. Innumerable things are above our reason, which are no more contrary to it, than the simplest things possible. To say, that two and three make four, is equally contrary to reason, and to common sense. To say, that a part is equal to, or greater than the whole ; or that the same body can be in two places at the same time, is equally contrary to it. Every thing thus contrary to reason, is unquestionably false ; and no evidence can ever prove it to be true. On the other band, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is not contrary to reason, but it was certainly beyond the power of reason, unassisted by revelation, to discover it, and accordingly we find that the doctrine was ridiculed by the learned and polished Athenians, when St. Paul preached it before the chief council of the nation (Acts xvii.) That the soul will survive the de. struction of the body, is not inconsistent with reason, but the reason of a Socrates, a Plato, and a Cicero, after the greatest efforts, (and who will say that he could have made greater ?) left the matter extremely doubuul. Now let this he applied to the doctrine of the Trinity. Trinitarians affirm, that together with unity, there is a threefold dis. tinction in the Divine nature, such as constitutes in it a true and real personality. It is not affirmed that three persons are one person. This would be a contradiction, and contrary to reason. But it is merely affirmed that three persons are partakers of the one Divine nature, and constitute this Divine uature, whicb nature, is the one only living and true God.
It has often been the case, that men, whose minds were of the highest order, have pronounced things to be contradictory and inconsistent with reason, which have afterwards been found to be entirely agreeable to it. One sect of ancient philosophers, with Aristotle at their head, affirmed that this world had existed from eternity, and this affirmation was made on the ground, that a creation of it from nothing was contrary to reason and impossible. The Necessarian affirms that all mankind are machines, and not free agents; and it has even been affirmed, that it is impossible for God to create a free agent. Yet we know from our own consciousness, that free agents do exist. - We are sure,” says the celebrated Dr. Clarke, “ that the soul cannot perceive what it is not present to, because nothing can act, or be acted upon, where it is not.”* This affirmation of Dr. Clarke, at first sight appears perfectly evident, and to be supported by the best of reasons; yet we know it to be false, since the soul or mind can, by the sense of sight, perceive an object at the distance of many miles; and that without acting upon the object, or being acted upon by it. These instances, and a thousand others which might easily be cited, serve to show, that even the wisest of us should be very cautious, how we pronounce doctrines, received by the upiversal church, inconsistent and absurd. The facts, which are essential to the doctrine
* Reid, Works, vol. ii. p. 105.
of the Trinity, can never be proved false or inconsistent by any er. ertions of man's reasoning power.
A second objection to this doctrine, is, that it is incomprehensible. This objection is nearly allied to the former, but, as it is often insisted on, I shall give it a distinct consideration. The whole difficulty is removed by the single remark properly illustrated, that the doctrine of the Trinity, in common with almost every other subject with which we are acquainted, is in some of its relations incomprehensible by us, while in others, but especially as far as the facts are concerned, we have no difficulty in comprehending it. The facts, that the nature of God is one, and that there is at the same time a threefold distinction in it, are of no more difficult comprehension, than any other fact. But when we proceed to inquire how this unity and threefold distinction can subsist at the same time in the Divine nature, we are immediately involved in difficulty ; but it is difficulty of precisely the same kind and degree with that which we meet in numberless other instances. A few examples, will set this point in a more clear light. The almighty Maker of beaven and earth, even when contemplated without any reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, is the most incomprehensible to us, of all objects, about which our minds are ever employed. 6 Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection ? It is high as heaven, what canst thou do? It is deeper than hell, what canst thou know. ?” Who can comprehend an existence which had no beginning, and which will never have an end ? Who can show the agreement of the facts, that God exists, and yet that his existence was uncaused ? Who can comprehend in what manner God is present, at the same time, in every part of his universe? Who can explain the difficulties attending the universal government of God, and the free agency of man and angels?. Other examples to my present purpose, may be taken from the works of God. Who can comprehend the manner, in which the universe was created from nothing ? Yet for the facts that it was created, and that it was created from nothing, we have the decisive testimony of scrip. ture. To come still nearer to ourselves ; no skill and learning have been able to explain the impenetrable inystery of the connexion between the soul and the body. Who can explain the connexion between the act of the will, and' a motion of the hand? Who shall say, how a seed, deposited in the ground, sprouts, rises to the light, blos-. soms and brings forth a fruit fit for the service of man? Who can tell why the soil of the same garden, warmed by the same sun, and cheered by the same showers, should produce the sugar of the cane, the acid of the lemon, and the deadly poison of the hemlock ? The whole volume of nature is full of such instances, in which the difficulty both in kind and degree, is precisely the same, as in the doctrine under discussion. And shall an instance of this difficulty in the volume of revelation make us scepticks and unbelievers, when we cannot move a step in studying the volume of nature, without finding them before us, and behind us on our right hand, and on our left ?. We believe the
facts, notwithstanding the difficulty, in the one case, and why shall we not do the same in the other ? To reject them, would be a course equally unphilosophical and unreasonable. The facts, in each case, are of no difficult comprehension ; but the manner in which those facts can exist, consistently with each other, and the relations they sustain to each other, and to other objects, are alike impenetrable.
It is important in this connexion to observe, that because we do not know every thing which belongs to a subject, it does not follow, that the knowledge we bave of it, is, on that account, less certain or Jess valuable. What we do not know of a subject, can never affect the certainty or the importance of what we do know. What we do comprehend of the doctrine of the Trinity, can never be affected, as to its certainty or importance, by any thing which we do not understand, any more than the certainty and value of the navigator's skill in nau. tical science, can be affected by his ignorance of the construction of the sun which he uses in his observations, or of the chemical composition of the water by which he is supported.
A third objection to this doctrine, is, that it was not known in the churcb until the third or fourth century after Christ. On this part of the subject, I shall give my readers an opportunity to judge for themselves, independently of any reasonings of my own, by quoting to them pássages from the primitive Christian writers. Clemens Romanus, the earliest of the fathers of the church, who was made bishop of Rome in the 91st or 92d year after the birth of Christ,* in bis first epistle to the Corinthians says, “ have we not one God, and one Christ, and one Spirit of grace shed forth upon us?”? This Clemens died in the year 100, either the same, or one year earlier, than the death of the Apostle St. Jobo. He is mentioned in the New Testament, and was cotemporary and familiarly acquainted with most, if not all, of the apostles. Justin Martyr, in his first apology for Christianity, refuting the charge of atheism brought against Christians, because they did not acknowledge the gods of the gentiles, says, “ we worship and adore the Father, and the Son who came from him and taught us these things, and the prophetick Spirit.”I In the same apology, he undertakes to show the reasonableness of the honour paid by Christians to the Father in the first place, to the Son in the second place, and to the Holy Ghost in the third, and says that their assigning the second place to a crucified man, was by unbelievers denominated madness, because they were ignorant of the mystery which he then proceeds to explain. Justin Martyr wrote this apology (Schroeckb) about 40 years after the death of St. John. Athenagoras who lived soon after Justin, that is, in the latter part of the second century, in replying to a similar charge of atheism urged against Christians on account of their refusing to worship false gods,
• Schroeckbü Hist, Relig. Chris. p. 99.
says, " who would not wonder, when he knows that we, who call upon God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, showing their power in tbe unity, and their distinction in order, should be called atheists ?»'* Clement of Alexandria, who flourished before the end of the second century, not only mentions three Divine persons, but invokes them as one only God. Tertullian, who flourished also at the end of the second century, says, “ the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God :” and again, “ the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, believed to be three, constitute one God." And in another part of his works he says, “ there is a Trinity of one Divinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost." It would be easy to quote a page of passages equally decisive, from the writings of Tertullian. And he asserts that this doctrine had been the faith of Christians from the first promulgation of the gospel. In the preceding quotations, I have designedly confined myself to writers of the two first centuries. Indeed, the writings of the Christian fathers, after this period, are so full upon the doctrine of the Trinity, that their belief of it will not be denied.
We are sometimes asked, wby, if the Christian fathers of the two first centuries were acquainted with the doctrines of the Trinity, so few passages relating to it, are found in their writings. To illustrate this point, let us proceed to draw a comparison between the two first centuries of Christianity, a view of which has been taken by us as respects the Trinity, and the two centuries last past, during which New England has been settled by Christians. Some allowance must be made in the comparison for the circumstance, that many of the writings of the first fathers of the church are lost, while every thing valuable in the writings of the New England fathers, has been preserved. That our early fathers of this country were Trinitarians, will be universally admitted. But it is believed, that if we take the same number of writers having an equal extent of writings, from among our New England fathers, and from the Christian fathers, of the two first centuries, more will not be found on the doctrine of the Trinity in the writings of the former, than in those of the latter. And the reason is the same in both cases. During the two first centuries of Christianity, the doctrine was universally received among Christians, and little needed to be said in proof of a doctrine which was never disputed. So likewise with our fathers. They universally received the doctrine, and little was written in proof of what was universally acknowledged. It is, then, perfectly evident, that the doctrine of the Trinity was not an invention of the third or fourth century. Tertullian who wrote at the end of the second century, testifies as has been seen, that the Trinity had always been the common faith of Christians, and it is as improbable that he should have been deceived, as that we at this time are deceived respecting the faith of our New England ancestors.
• Elem. Chr. Theol. by Bp. of Lincoln, Vol. ii. p. 93. + Idem.
Idem p. 95.