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The Unity of God -- The Trinity
Frederick A. Farley
|IF any doctrine can be
called fundamental to Revealed Religion, it must be that of the
strict, simple, unqualified Unity of God. I take this to be
universally admitted, nay, insisted on. There is not a more obvious
truth in the Scriptures; none more coincident with their whole tenor
and drift, or with their most express and positive declarations.
Rightly interpreted, rightly understood, there is not even an
intimation or hint of any thing else. The language of the Bible upon
this point is every where plain and explicit.
The declaration recorded in the fourth verse of the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, then so solemnly made to the people of Israel through Moses; and afterwards in the coming in of the new and better dispensation, quoted and so emphatically affirmed by our Lord Jesus Christ in the twenty-ninth verse of the twelfth chapter of St. Mark's Gospel - "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is One Lord" - is clear and indisputable. Unitarians, therefore, not only without hesitation, but in perfect harmony with the unambiguous language of Scripture, - and on the express authority of Christ himself, affirm that God is ONE; in the strictest meaning of the word, ONE; One Person, One Being, One intelligent, conscious Mind. There are seventeen texts in the New Testament alone, in which He is expressly called the One or Only God. In thirteen hundred passages the word God occurs; in not one of them is there any necessary implication, but directly the contrary, of a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. In but very few of them has it ever been pretended that such a plurality is even implied.
Indeed, I know not, had the sacred writers proposed to guard against any different belief from that of the simple Unity of God, how their testimony on this point could have been more express. Besides the citation just made from one of the Gospels, St. Paul, in the eighth chapter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, having declared that "there is none other God but One," in the same breath adds, "to us there is One God, the Father" -- to us, Christians, that One God is the Father. So in the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians he says: "There is One God and Father of all, who is above all." In perfect correspondence with all this, we find in the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel that our Lord, when a man addressed him with the words "Good Master," declined the epithet; saying: "Why callest thou me good? There is none Good but One, that is, God." Thus clearly is the fact that God is One, strictly and only One, stated in Scripture. But that this One God is the Father -- in other words, that the Father, and the Father only, is this One God, is just as clear. The beloved Apostle John has recorded at length a most remarkable prayer, offered by our Lord when he was about to leave the world. If he would ever have spoken simply, unequivocally, according to his convictions, nay, his knowledge, it must have been at that solemn hour, in that most solemn act. Hear him, then, addressing the FATHER: "This is Life Eternal, that they might know THEE, the ONLY TRUE GOD -- and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."
Could any language be more explicit than this? Omniscience is an attribute essential to Supreme Deity; but to this, Christ not only makes no pretensions, he disclaims it in an emphatic manner when he says: "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels who are in heaven; neither the Son; but the Father." In the parallel passage in Matthew he says most expressly, "but my Father ONLY." No resort can here be had, as has been attempted by Trinitarians, to their favorite hypothesis - that merest hypothesis, that shallowest assumption, as I hope hereafter to show -- namely, the Double Nature, or, as it is technically and theologically called, the Hypostatic Union; according to which Christ is both God and man.
Whenever attempted, the conclusion has been only the more palpably impotent. The obvious difficulty of the text, on the supposition of the truth of the doc trine of the Trinity, cannot be overcome "by supposing that our Lord spake of himself here only as a man." For as the orthodox Macknight says: "The name Father following that of Son, shows that he spake of himself as the Son of God, and not as the Son of man. Besides, the gradation in the sentence seems to forbid this solution. For the Son being mentioned after the angels, and immediately before the Father, is thereby declared to be more excellent than they, which he is not in respect of his human nature; and therefore he cannot be supposed to speak of himself in that nature."
Macknight here recognizes the ordinary Trinitarian idea, that the phrase or title "Son of God" implies the Divine Nature of our Lord, as "Son of Man" his Human Nature. Suppose, then, that our Lord was conscious of being possessed of this Double Nature; and that he actually meant what Trinitarians say he meant, that as "Son of God" he was God the Son, the second Person of the Godhead, and that as "Son of Man" he was indeed "the man," preeminently the man, but nevertheless man only, having, as they often allege, a human body and a human soul; how stands the case? Assuredly, his language, as recorded by St. Mark, must then be understood to admit, nay, with emphasis to declare his ignorance both as man and as God, both in his human and in his divine nature, "of that day and hour." If ignorant in that respect, if ignorant on any one, and but one point, he was not Omniscient. And I cannot help adding, though not discussing that topic now, that if in his divine nature, if as God the Son, he was not Omniscient, then that; divine nature was not the highest; then, as God the Son he was not the Supreme; he was God only in an inferior and subordinate sense, or as he himself, on another occasion, expressed it, as being one "to whom the word of God came." The argument is not weakened by reading "no one" instead of "no man" in the first clause, as the Greek might at least with equal correctness be rendered. For the words "the Son" are still there; they still stand in full force, used by Christ himself to distinguish himself from the Father, whom he describes as "the ONLY TRUE GOD"; while the expression "no one" is so sweeping of itself as to carry with it all other beings, even if none of them were specified, and unless some were excepted. One glorious exception, as we have seen, is made- "the Father only." The Father alone being Omniscient, is GOD alone and supreme.
The frequency with which God is called or described as "the Father," is also in this connection to be borne in mind. In the New Testament He is called simply "the Father" in no less than one hundred and twenty-two passages; in nineteen, "God the Father"; in various places, "God our Father," "Our Father," "God, even our Father," "God, even the Father," "Father of Mercies," or merciful Father, "Father of Glory," or glorious Father. He is declared in express terms to be "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"; while our Lord himself described Him as "your Father which is in heaven," "thy Father," "your Heavenly Father," "your Father"; and after his Resurrection, directed Mary to say to his disciples: "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Never in Scripture, not in one solitary instance, is there the phrase God the Son which is so familiar to our ears that its profanity passes unnoticed.
Then the Father is the only object of supreme religious worship. Christ worshipped and prayed to the Father; and when asked by his disciples to teach them to pray, begins the form which he gave them with the invocation- "Our Father who art in Heaven." To the woman of Samaria he declared-mark the words "The hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father." His precepts and his example were uniform and harmonious on this point. He always directed his followers to "pray to the Father," as he always himself prayed. Alluding to the time when he should be taken from them and go to the Father, he expressly forbids them from praying to himself, and points them to the Father. " In that day ye shall ask me nothing: verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, He will give it you." One might almost suppose the Saviour had in view that gross corruption of Christian worship, in which he, and not the Father -- his Father is the Deity adored. Hence the constant practice of the Apostles, as may be seen throughout the Book of Acts and the Epistles. Nowhere do they pray, or teach to pray, to Christ.
Now, in direct opposition to this great, fundamental doctrine of the simple Unity of God, the vast majority of the Christian Church accepts, and for long centuries has accepted, the mysterious, irrational, unscriptural dogma of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead. But not only is the dogma unscriptural, which is our cardinal objection to it, the very term "Trinity" is not of Scriptural derivation; and, as all who are familiar with the Scriptures know, is not to be found there, nor any word or term corresponding to it. The word first occurs in its Greek form in the writings of Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, near the close of the second century; but even there it is not in the ecclesiastical sense in which the word was afterwards and is now used. In its Latin form, (Trinitas) with a more comprehensive doctrinal import, it is first found in Tertullian, a Presbyter of Carthage in Africa, who flourished about the same time; and from whom it seems to have been at once adopted by his pupil Cyprian and by Novatian.
To justify the epithets which I have applied to the doctrine, let us look at some of the popular statements and expositions of it. I beg especial attention to the fact, not simply how various and often astounding in themselves are these statements and expositions, but how dissimilar to the language of Scripture -- that Scripture which those churches and divines who make them, hold to be plenarily inspired; and, so far as they are Protestants, to be the sufficient rule of faith as well as practice. One would think that a scriptural doctrine or truth could be expressed in the language of Scripture; a Christian doctrine or truth, in the language of the Christian Scripture, "the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." To do this with the Trinity, is simply impossible, and therefore never attempted. Recourse must of necessity be had, not to "words which the Holy Ghost but which man's wisdom teacheth." Turn then to the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church. In its First "Article of Religion" it declares: "In unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The Episcopal Church in this country, did not attain uniformity of worship, till seven years after the war of the Revolution. Just two years after the Treaty of Paris, by which our national Independence was secured, the first Convention of that Church was held in Philadelphia, in September, 1785. Besides other omissions and alterations from the Liturgy of the English Established Church, to which the churches represented in this Convention had of course belonged, it reduced the number of the "Articles of Religion" from thirty-nine to twenty; struck out entire the Nicene and the Athanasian, and the clause, "He descended into Hell," from the Apostles' Creed; and, by a Special Committee, published the Prayer-Book in this form.
This was a remarkable testimony to the then state of feeling and opinion in that Church, honestly and openly given. For although no essential difference may be detected as to points of faith between the twenty and the thirty-nine articles, there must have been some good reason for such a marked departure from the Liturgy of the Church of England as the rejection of two of its three Creeds; retaining the one which has so very little in it to be objected to-except its name, and that is not in it but of it, giving the false impression that it is the work of the Apostles, which notoriously it is not. That it was the Apostles', was never claimed by And then the Presbyterian Church. In the Third Article of the Second Chapter of its Confession, it says: "In unity of the Godhead, there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost." In its "Larger Catechism" it says more fully: "There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory, although distinguished by their personal properties." But aside of these statements of the doctrine by leading Protestant churches amongst us, and which are any till the time of Ambrose of Milan, in the fourth century; although substantially but in various forms, all admit its very high antiquity.
That the Episcopal Church then in its first attempt at independent organization, should have retained only this Creed which, as regards the Godhead, is plainly and purely Unitarian, and not Trinitarian, is remarkable; and that in one year afterwards it should have unanimously admitted the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, though by a majority it still persisted in keeping out the Athanasian, is only to be accounted for by the in terrorem letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which he said: "Whether we can consecrate any (Bishop) or not, must yet depend on the answers we may receive to what we have written." The last Convention had repeated their request to the English hierarchy "to confer the Episcopal character on such persons as shall be chosen and recommended to them for that purpose, from the Conventions of their Church in their several States;" and for this immense boon, and to satisfy that hierarchy, through which the Apostolic succession must be had unbroken, (Heaven save the mark!) no appeal to the Gospel record, no stand on impregnable Scripture and right reason was taken; but so far, at least, submission was made before the implied if not express threat of an English Archbishop. In the same way it happened, that the obnoxious clause in the Apostles' Creed -- "He descended into hell" - which on the best of grounds had been struck from the Creed by the first Convention, was restored. But how restored? How is the doctrine stated or expounded by eminent orthodox writers? Richard Baxter, the eminent English non-conformist, says: "The Three Persons, are God understanding Himself, God understood by Himself, and God loving Himself."
Doolittle, commenting on the Assembly's Catechism, says: "My admiring thoughts of God are of one single essence, yet Three in subsistence; of Three, that One cannot be the others, yet all Three are One; that are really distinct, yet really are the same." But the famous Robert South says: "There It appears, indeed, in the body of the Creed; but a rubric is prefixed to the Creed, in which we read: "Any churches may omit the words, 'He descended into hell;' or may, instead of them, use the words, He went into the place of departed spirits,' which are considered as words of the same meaning in the Creed." This seems a good deal like child's play. The English Archbishops and Bishops in their letter, had informed their American brethren, that the article "was thought necessary to be inserted, with a view to a particular heresy, in the very early age of the Church." But even if so, the article is not found in the primitive or earliest forms of the Creed, which doubtless best expressed the faith of the earliest age, that nearest the Apostolic age of the Church; and the very permission to omit the article, concedes its unimportance, let it mean what it may. No unimportant article of faith should have place in any Creed, especially one to be constantly recited in public worship "by the Minister and the People." And a Creed which is professed either as Apostolic should at least have the merit of being an exact transcript of its expression in the highest Christian antiquity where it is found.
I have given this matter the more space, because I take "the Apostles' Creed" so called, in its oldest form extant, to be the most Christian Creed extant; and what is even more important in this connection, utterly and emphatically anti-Trinitarian, and so far entirely unobjectionable is One, infinite, eternal Mind, and three somethings that are not distinct minds." While Bishop Sherlock says: "The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are as really distinct persons as Peter, James, and John-each of which is God. We must allow each person to be a God. These three infinite minds are distinguished just as three created minds are by self-consciousness. And by mutual consciousness, each person of these has the whole wisdom, power, and goodness of the other two." Dr. Wallis, of the English Church, holds, that "The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are no more three distinct intelligent persons than the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, is three Gods; the three Persons are only three external relations of God to his creatures, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier." But Dr. South says: "The three Persons are internal relations of the Deity to itself." Dr. Hopkins warns us that "It must be carefully observed, that when the word Person is applied to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as three distinct persons, it does not import the same distinction as when applied to men." While on the other hand, Bishop Waterland calls them "proper, distinct persons, entirely equal to, and independent of, each other; yet making up one and the same being." Archbishop Seeker says: "Since there is not a plurality of Gods, and yet the Son and Spirit are each of them God no less than the Father, it plainly follows, that they are in a manner, by us inconceivable, so united to Him, that these Three are One; but still in a manner equally inconceivable, so distinguished from Him, that no only of them is the other."
Bishop Burnet's statement is this: "If I say the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be three, and every one distinctly God, it is true; but if I say, they be three, and every one a distinct God, it is false. I may say, the divine persons are distinct in the divine nature; but I cannot say, the divine nature is divided into the divine persons. I may say, God the Father is one God-and the Son is God-and the Holy Ghost is God; but I cannot say, the Father is one God -- the Son another God --- and the Holy Ghost a third God. I may say, the Father begat another, who is God; yet I cannot say, he begat another God. And from the Father and the Son proceedeth another, who is God; yet I cannot say, from the Father and the Son proceedeth another God." Bishop Gastrell takes the ground that "The three names of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, must denote a threefold difference or distinction belonging to God, but such as is consistent with the unity and simplicity of the divine nature: for each of these includes the whole idea of God, and something more." Upon which it has been well remarked that, according to this view, "The Father includes the whole idea of God, and something more -- the Son includes the whole idea of God, and something more -- the Holy Ghost includes the whole idea of God, and something more; while altogether, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, make one entire God, and no more!"
Bishop Burgess insists, that "The Father is a Person, but not a Being; the Son, a Person, but not a Being.; the Holy Ghost, a Person, but not a Being. And these three non-entities (!) make one perfect Being." The celebrated Bishop Heber, one of the most brilliant members of the English hierarchy, discovered, that "The Father is the First Person in the Trinity; the Archangel Michael, the Second; and the Angel Gabriel, the Third." The learned Barrow goes a trifle more into details, and says: "There is one divine nature or essence common to the Three Persons, incomprehensibly united and ineffably distinguished; united in essential attributes-distinguished by peculiar relations; all equally infinite in every divine perfection; each different from the others in order and manner of subsistence. There is a mutual existence of one in all, and all in one; a communication, without any deprivation or domination in the communicant; an eternal generation and an eternal procession, without proper causality or dependence; a Father imparting his own -- the Son receiving the Father's life and a Spirit issuing from both, without any division or multiplication of essence. These are notions which may well puzzle our reason, in conceiving how they agree; but should not stagger our faith in asserting that they are true."
And, to close my citations of statements and expositions by eminent men of this great dogma, let me place on record in these pages the words of Henry Ward Beecher: "My God? Christ Jesus is his name. All that there is of God to me is bound up in that name. A dim and shadowy effluence rises from Christ, and that I am taught to call the Father. A yet more tenuous and invisible film of thought arises, and that is the Holy Spirit. But neither are to me aught tangible, restful, accessible." While Dr. Nehemiah Adams, of Boston, says: "'Do you worship three?' is often asked. Surely we do, nor do we strive to make them appear like one. They have specific offices; we have specific wants, which lead us appropriately to worship, now one, now an. other, now the third."
I stop not to analyse any of these various and utterly contradictory opinions. But I ask whether the various and contradictory ways in which the doctrine is stated and expounded do not raise a strong presumption at the outset against the doctrine itself? One thing must be granted -- all of them cannot be true, for they make essentially different and inconsistent doctrines. And if so, surely it is possible that even admitting the Trinity to be a Scriptural doctrine, the true, the only true, the absolutely orthodox mode of receiving and holding the doctrine, remains to this hour unknown, since every one of all that has been ventured may be false. Is it, then, to be believed that such a doctrine, known in reality only by its name, can be an essential, fundamental doctrine of Revelation?
Would God, such a God as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" is represented to be in the gospel, have left a doctrine of that character -- on the belief of which it used to be said, and is even now said in some quarters, that the salvation of the soul depends -- so obscurely set forth in His revealed word? Forty particulars have been noted by one writer, in which learned Trinitarians differ among themselves on this subject. I do not wonder that a mind so thoughtful, active, and free as Mr. Beecher's, should have been driven from its moorings on any of the accepted expositions of the Trinity; even though it brought up on one which, while to all intents and purposes nullifying the doctrine itself, fixes him in a form of Unitarianism of his own devising, but leaves him at direct war with the plain teachings of our Lord: or that in the distraction of thought which Trinitarian worship must, in such a mind, engender, he should prefer to worship ONE GOD, whose distinctive "name is Christ Jesus." Especially, too, if " all that there is of God to him" is really "bound up in that name"; if the tremendous alternative in his mind was-no God, except Christ be He I But I do exceedingly wonder that to one who has so diligently studied the full and blessed words of our Lord, the all endeared, all-glorious, all-attractive Revelation of the FATHER which they declare, so rich in comfort, so inspiring by the light it throws on the Divine Purposes and Government, should seem to send up but "a dim and shadowy effluence"'! Rob me of any thing but this great, most precious faith in an ever-present, all gracious, personal Father in heaven I can better afford to part with any other article of my religious belief than this of the Divine Paternity, the All-Perfect FATHERHOOD of GOD. Without it I am orphaned indeed. Providence seems an inexplicable enigma.
Life a dark and stern problem. Human suffering and death stand in man's path to torture or to mock him. It is of no consequence to tell me that Mr. Beecher's Christ comprises all to him which the Father does to me. For if so, it is by exalting Christ into a place to which his fidelity and his humility alike forbade him to aspire; the place of that Being whom, in the first of these texts here, let them remember the comment of Ambrose - "He did not assert, or arrogate to himself, equality with God; so that he might show us an example of humility; but subjected himself, that he might be exalted by the Father." The late Professor Stuart, in his very and most solemn act of prayer, he not only addressed as "Holy Father," but testified to be "the ONLY TRUE GOD"! But it is "a Mystery," this great doctrine of the Trinity! This is the easy and constant resort of its advocates. From the days of Tertullian, who exclaimed, "Credo quia impossibile est" -- I believe because it is impossible-to our own, it has been their refuge, nay, even their ground of glorifying. "I ever did, and ever shall," says Bishop Beveridge, "look upon those apprehensions of God to be the truest, whereby we apprehend Him to be the most incomprehensible; and that to be the most true of God, which seems most impossible unto us."
Bishop Hurd admits that "Reason stands aghast, and Faith herself is half confounded" at the manner in which, on the Trinitarian scheme, "the grace of God was at length manifested." South says of the Trinity in its logical results: "Were it not to be adored as a mystery, it would be exploded as a contradiction." If we are provoked to a smile at such extravagance in Protestants, who thus put themselves at the mercy of Romish critics without the slightest means of defence, we admire the bold and consistent stand which has always been taken by Romanists on church authority. It well becomes them to say, nay, to argue, and however unnecessary labor that may seem to us, set themselves to prove, as they have done, that, in the words of one of them, "the Trinity is opposed to human reason." He says expressly, "My belief in the Trinity is based on the authority of the Church; no other authority is sufficient;" and then proceeds to show that "the Athanasian Creed" -- as, doubtless, the best statement of the Trinity -- "and Scripture, are opposed to one another."' All this is well enough -- what we might expect -in a man or a church, making from the start an utter surrender of Reason before the authority of ecclesiastical tradition. Not so in a Protestant; for only by the exercise of his Reason has he become a Protestant, or can he as a Protestant maintain his position. To us a doctrine might be mysterious, and yet be entirely reasonable, and harmonize with itself. We are surrounded by, we live amidst, we constantly act upon, things mysterious. What more mysterious than God! But who of us doubts His Being and great attributes? Who does not feel, mysterious though He be, infinitely removed from our comprehension, that it is far more reasonable to "believe that He is," than to deny it: nay, that to deny it, in the midst of all this design and contrivance, this wondrous order, variety, and beauty, this fitness of means to ends, these intuitions and aspirations of the soul, would be the height of folly or stupidity?
We may, we do, we often must, believe what we cannot comprehend; but never a contradiction or an absurdity. But whence came this doctrine of the Trinity, or, in other words, what was its origin? Its origin was clearly Platonic. It was brought into the Christian Church by those of the early Fathers who admired and had adopted the philosophic views of the later Platonists. I say advisedly, the later Platonists; because, in the words of Prof. Norton: "Nothing resembling the doctrine of the Trinity is to be found in the writings of Plato himself. But there is no question that, in different forms, it was a favorite doctrine of the later Platonists, equally of those who were not Christians as of those who were." There is an obvious distinction to be borne in mind between what is positively taught by the Athenian Philosopher, and what belongs to the Platonic philosophy as held and expounded by Philo Judseus, a contemporary of our Lord, who has been styled the Jewish Plato, and by the Fathers, or Christian writers of the first four centuries.
The most eminent of these men, especially those of Alexandria, the birthplace of Philo, and the scene of his labors, had in general embraced this philosophy to a greater or less extent; and they carried its modes of conception and reasoning into the faith to which they were converted. It was, as Mosheim admits, "the impure source of a great number of errors, and most preposterous opinions;" but of them all, none is more marked than this very doctrine of the Trinity, which Mosheim himself accepted. Basnage, in his History of the Jews, remarks, that these Fathers almost made Plato to have been a Christian before Christianity was introduced; in allusion to some of their efforts to show that Plato himself taught the doctrine. Cudworth, who in his "Intellectual System," has exhausted the ancient learning on this subject, says that "the generality of the Christian Fathers, before and after the Nicene Council, represent the genuine Platonic Trinity as really the same thing with the Christian, or as approaching so near it, that they differed chiefly in circumstances, or the manner of expression;" and declares that, "therefore does Athanasius send the Arians to school to the Platonists." Bishop Horsley, too, in his thirteenth Letter to Dr. Priestley, says: "The advocates of the Catholic faith in modern times, have been too apt to take alarm at the charge of Platonism. I rejoice and glory in the opprobrium; I not only confess, but I maintain, not a perfect agreement, but such a similitude as speaks a common origin, and affords an argument in confirmation of the Catholic doctrine (of the Trinity), from its conformity to the most ancient and universal traditions."
In one of his charges to his clergy, he says: "It must be acknowledged, that the first converts from the Platonic school took advantage of the resemblance between the Evangelic and Platonic doctrine on the subject of the Godhead, to apply the principles of their old philosophy to the explication and confirmation of the articles of their faith. They defended it by arguments drawn from Platonic principles; they even propounded it in Platonic language." It were easy to multiply, from Trinitarian authorities, proofs which must strike every thoughtful and candid inquirer, of the Platonic origin of the doctrine under consideration. Milman, writing of "The Trinitarian controversy" at the beginning of the fourth century, has significant words, with. which I close my remarks on this point. Having said, "This Platonism if it may be so called, was universal " -- and to a degree confirmatory of the words before quoted from Prof Norton -- that "It differed, indeed, widely in most systems from the original philosophy of the Athenian sage; it had acquired a more oriental and imaginative cast;" he adds: "This Platonism had gradually absorbed all the more intellectual class; it hovered over, as it were, and gathered under its wings all the religions of the world. Alexandria"' --- it will be remembered that this was the birth-place of the distinguished Jewish Platonist, Philo, the influence of whose writings is, as I have already hinted, so obvious on the early Fathers -- "Alexandria, the fatal and prolific soil of speculative controversy, where speculative controversy was most likely to madden into furious and lasting hostility, gave birth to this new element of disunion in the Christian world."
He alludes to the great Arian Controversy, which had its germ in the anathema and expulsion from Alexandria of Arius, one of its presbyters, by Alexander, the Patriarch of that metropolitan see, for what he was pleased to style, "blasphemies against the divine Redeemer." Arius held the Father to be alone the self-existent, unoriginated God, and the Son to be "the Only-begotten, the image of the Father, the Vicegerent of the Divine Power, the intermediate Agent in all the long subsequent work of Creation." This controversy, in the judgment of the Trinitarian Milman, turned upon a "question which led to all the evils of human strife, hatred, persecution, bloodshed." "From this period we may date," he says, "the introduction of rigorous articles of belief, which required the submissive assent of the mind to every word and letter of an established creed, and which raised the slightest heresy of opinion into a more fatal offence against God, and a more odious crime in the estimation of man, than the worst moral delinquency, or the most flagrant deviation from the spirit of Christianity."
But although the doctrine of the Trinity had a Platonic origin, it is not to be understood that it assumed at once its modern form. It advanced towards that by measured steps. Previous to the Council of Nice, A.D. 325, the nearest approach to the modern doctrine of the Trinity was, that the Father alone was Supreme God, and the Son and Holy Ghost beings created by and subordinate to Him, each called God, but in a lower sense. In the Nicene Creed, so called because voted in by the Council above referred to -- a mode of rather doubtful propriety for establishing what is Revealed Truth - "the Father" is alone described as "Almighty," and alone in the absolute sense called " One God." But "Jesus Christ "is described as "One Lord," "the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds." Could any language more plainly mark derivation? and if in such a case derivation were rightly predicable, it of necessity made the derived being, "the Son," inferior and subordinate to the Being from whom he was derived -- "the Father Almighty." The Holy Ghost is not even called " God" in any sense. Beyond this the church had not yet gone. The Council of Nice "established as the inviolable doctrine of the Catholic Church, that the Son is of the same essence with the Father; but sustains to Him the relation in which that which is begotten stands to that which begets." It decided nothing as respects the nature of the Holy Spirit. It contented itself with simply saying, "and in One Holy Ghost." In this unsettled state the doctrine remained for more than fifty years, as we shall by and by see, before another step towards modern Trinitarianism was taken.
Before closing this Lecture, I may remark, that the word "Persons" applied to the "Sacred Three," is not in general admitted by Trinitarians to be used in its strictly etymological, just, or accustomed sense. Some, indeed, so use and understand it, and accept all the legitimate consequences; and so long as the word is used at all in connection with this subject, we have a right to hold all the advocates of the doctrine there. They are not to take shelter under any plea of mystery, where the mystery is of their own making. No word in our language has a more obvious and simple significance. The late Prof. Stuart of Andover, lamented that it should have ever crept into the symbols of the churches, and preferred "distinctions," much as Dr. South did "somethings;" while the late Pres. Dwight of Yale College, says he does not know what the word means, but yet thinks it "a convenient term." Convenient! for what? when confessedly it is, in the connection used, so ambiguous as to be utterly unintelligible.
I Now come to consider the claims of the Trinity, or the grounds on which it is held as a doctrine of Revealed Religion, and especially of the Gospel. How often and how confidently has it been called preeminently the doctrine of the Bible-alleged to be written out, nay, standing out on its pages from Genesis to Revelation in such bold relief, that "he who runs may read" And yet nothing is farther from the truth. Beginning with the Hebrew race, in all their generations, and for whose special instruction the Old Testament was compiled, they are a standing testimony that it teaches no such doctrine. With a firmness and clearness of statement which admit of neither tampering nor evasion, they hold, and always held, that their Sacred Books declare most emphatically the doctrine of the strict, simple Unity of God. Christian Trinitarian expositors, Catholic and Protestant, affirm the same; and confess, with Bishop Burnet, "that it would not be easy to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament." Finally, the Christian Fathers did not so much as pretend that the doctrine was plainly taught in the New Testament, or by Christ and his Apostles. On the contrary, they often use the utmost ingenuity to account for the' obscurity in which it was kept by them, as well as for the total ignorance concerning it of the favored people. What Christ and his Apostles did not plainly teach, would not be likely to appear in what the latter wrote. Some of the Fathers, as Athanasius, assigned as a reason why Christ did not declare his Deity to the Jews, that the world could not yet bear the doctrine; and he affirmed that the disciples had no knowledge of it before Pentecost.
Theodoret declares, that before his death, Jesus did not appear as God either to the Jews or the Apostles. And Chrysostom not only says, that Christ did not immediately reveal his Deity, but that Mary did not herself know the secret that he was God Supreme. All through the writings of these men, so far as they are preserved to us, we have their acknowledgments that even after the death of Christ his Apostles did not openly teach the doctrine; alleging the fact as a proof of their prudence and wisdom-on the one hand as regarded the Jews, who held so tenaciously the Unity of Jehovah, and whose prejudices would be shocked; on the other, the Gentiles, who might thereby be confirmed in their polytheism. Chrysostom would have us believe that the Apostle begins his Epistle to the Hebrews by declaring that "it was God who spake by the prophets, and not that Christ himself had spoken by them, because their minds were weak, and they were not able to bear the doctrine concerning Christ. (Ecumenius, on the text in Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians, eighth chapter and sixth verse - "There is one God the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ" -- says: "The Apostle speaks cautiously of the Father and the Son, calling the Father One God, lest they should think there were two Gods; and the Son One Lord, lest they should think there were two Lords." And Theophylact, on 1 Tim. 2: 5 -- " For there is One God, and One Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" -- says: "Because polytheism then prevailed, the Apostle did not speak plainly of the Deity of Christ, lest he should be thought to introduce many Gods.")
None of these writers are later than A.D. 320. Of course, if Christ be not plainly taught by the Apostles to be God, no such Trinity as is alleged can have been. It were here pertinent to ask, what authority had these men-for whom no special illumination, not to say inspiration, can with any show of plausibility be pretended, nay, which is never assumed for them-to foist upon the Church this great "mystery," to charge upon the sacred writers this strange concealment? Every man of common-sense will answer, none whatever. The claim of such authority is preposterous, and not for a moment to be regarded. So far, however, as their admissions go to the point, that Holy Scripture, on its face and in plain language, does not teach the doctrine, the same have been made in every age since down to our own-alike by Romanist and Protestant. Learned men of the Romish Communion, though firmly holding to their Trinitarianism, make the same admissions. Sacroboscus, in his "Defence of the Council of Trent," declares that "the Arians appealed to the Scriptures in support of their opinions; and that they were not condemned by the Scriptures, but by Tradition." Alphonso Salmeron says: "Christ did not receive testimony from the Evangelists that he was God."
Cardinal Ihosius says: "We believe the doctrine of a Triune God, because we have received it by tradition, though not mentioned at all in Scripture." And, most distinctly and boldly, Remundus, addressing the Lutherans and Calvinists, warns them in these words: "You will be obliged to confess, however unwillingly, that if you rely on the Scriptures you will be compelled to yield to the modern Arians, no less than the Fathers were to those of ancient times; unless, like them, you appeal to Tradition, and the unanimous consent of the Church. They were taught by Tradition that there are Three Consubstantial Persons of the same nature and essence which we worship as One God in the fulness of the Trinity; and also, that in Jesus Christ there are Two perfect substances, but only One Person. Tell me, if you listen to the Scriptures, and the express word of God alone, with what arms can you expect to engage with these men? In what way can you extricate yourselves from the innumerable arguments which they advance, unless you cling to Tradition, and the consent of the Church, as the only anchor of safety?"
In our own day, Mr. Newman, a convert to Rome from the Church of England, in his "Arians of the Fourth Century," says: "It may startle those who are but little acquainted with the popular writings of this day, (fourth century,) yet I believe the most accurate consideratiol of the subject will lead us to acquiesce in the statement as a general truth, that the doctrines in question (the Trinity, Atonement, etc.) have never been learned merely from Scripture. Surely the Sacred volume was never intended, and was not adapted, to teach our creed. From the first, it has been the error of heretics to neglect the information provided for them, and to attempt for themselves a work for which they are unable -the eliciting of systematic doctrine from the scattered notices of the truth which Scripture contains." But Trinitarians of the Protestant Faith have confessed the obscurity of the Sacred Text upon this subject. The zealous French Reformer, Jurieu, though holding that, to deny the Trinity, was to be guilty of one of the deadliest heresies, allows, in his Pastoral Letters, that it was not known in its proper shape till the early part of the fourth century, at the Council of Nice -- nay, till the Council of Constantinople - and even proves, from the Fathers, that during the three first centuries it was the universal opinion, that the Son was not equal to the Father, nor his existence of the same duration.
Bishop Smallridge, of the English Church, has this language: "It must be owned that the doctrine of the Trinity, as it is proposed in our Articles, our Liturgy, our Creeds, is not in so many words taught us in the Holy Scriptures. What we profess in our prayers we nowhere read in Scripture, that the One God, the One Lord, is not one only Person, but Three Persons in one substance. There is no such text in Scripture as this, that 'the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped.' No one of the inspired writers hath expressly affirmed that in the Trinity none is afore or after other, none is greater or less than another, but the whole three persons are coeternal together and co-equal." But the most striking acknowledgment upon this point from a learned Protestant, was made in a speech delivered to the Irish House of Lords by Dr. Clayton, Bishop of Clogher, on the second of February, 1756. He said: "The strongest abettors of the Nicene Creed do not so much as pretend that the doctrine of the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son is to be found in the Scriptures, but only in the writings of some of the primitive Fathers. And I beseech your Lordships to consider whether it is not absolutely contradictory to the fundamental principles on which the Reformation of the religion from Popery is built, to have any doctrine established as a rule of faith which is founded barely on Tradition, and is not plainly and clearly revealed in the Scriptures?"
I cannot refrain from adding what has a strong bearing on this entire discussion, that he said: "As to the ecclesiastical history of this and the following century, (the third and fourth,) I must inform your Lordships that all those books which were published in opposition to the decrees of the Council of Nice have been destroyed -- so that all our information comes from the other side. And of all those histories suffered to come down to our hands, I do not know of one, except Eusebius of Cesarea, (who says little on the subject,) but what is so filled with falsehood, vagaries or contradictions, that their veracity is not to be depended on." If, then, the Trinity be not a doctrine expressly taught in Scripture, it can be at the best but a matter of inference. And so accordingly it is often declared to be by Trinitarian Protestants. The Romanist takes it on tradition, but they on inference. Mr. Carlile, in his "Jesus Christ the Great God our Saviour," admits that: "The doctrine of the Trinity is rather a doctrine of inference and of indirect intimation, than a doctrine directly and explicitly declared." And still further: "That a doctrine of inference ought never to be placed on a footing of equality with a doctrine of direct and explicit revelation." The celebrated Oxford Tracts ask: "Where is this solemn and comfortable mystery (of the Trinity) formally stated in Scripture as we find it in the Creeds?" and proceed to declare it a thing of inference. The same Bishop Smallridge, from whom I just now quoted, goes on, in close connection, to say: "But although these truths are not read in Scripture, yet they may easily, regularly, and undeniably be inferred from Scripture." And well does he add: "If, indeed, it can be shown that these inferences are wrong, they may safely be rejected." Beyond all question they may; and this is the very thing I am trying to show, and hope to make plain.
The case stands simply thus: There is not a shadow of pretence for calling it a plainly-revealed doctrine of Scripture. It is, as evidently, a doctrine of inference, and inference merely. Christ is never in Scripture styled God, identically, or, if you prefer, equally, the same being as the Father, the Infinite, the Supreme, "the Only True God." But, things are said of him, or by him, which it is supposed could have been spoken only of or by Jehovah, from which it is inferred that Christ is God. Many things are ascribed to the Holy Spirit which are supposed peculiar to Jehovah; therefore it is inferred that the Holy Spirit is God. Again: since this would look like having Three Gods, and yet God being undeniably and over and over again declared to be but ONE, it is further inferred that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, must all be that One God. And so, by heaping inference on inference, comes this Trinity in Unity. How unreasonable to call such a doctrine an essential, fundamental article of Christian Faith! The moment it is permitted to establish and require assent to one article on such grounds, where are we to stop? What might not be established in this way? By a little ingenuity, and false interpretation of Scripture language, we might infer the most absurd notions, and open a floodgate of scandal and reproach on the Truth. No; the very term inferred, negatives any allegation that the doctrine inferred is one revealed or declared to be true, and all claim to its being essential to be believed.
Holy Scripture, then, being our witness -- and our appeal lies there -- Holy Scripture nowhere affirms the doctrine. I say this deliberately. The direct, positive, literal, express declarations of Scripture affirm the opposite. "There is One God; and there is none other but He." No creed in Christendom expresses the doctrine in Scripture language, for the simple reason that it is impossible. Its stoutest advocates, who most insist on calling it a plain doctrine of the Bible, who are most ready to demand faith in it as a Fundamental, have never defined, because they cannot define it, in the words of Scripture. In saying this, it is with full knowledge that our Trinitarian brethren profess to hold, nevertheless, the doctrine of the Divine Unity; nor would I cast the least doubt or imputation on their sincerity in that profession. But they hold it in such a way as seems to me virtually to deny, and practically do it away, by merging it in this great "mystery." I repeat that I do not object to the Trinity for its mere mysteriousness. As I have already said, I find mystery every where. But I do object to its unscripturalness, self-contradictoriness, absurdity, polytheistic aspect. I can see it in no other light. I can think of nothing more absurd-nothing which savors more of polytheism. That many Trinitarians conscientiously and honestly, as well as devoutly, adore the Trinity as a Divine mystery, I gladly admit; but they make or find a mystery where I do not and cannot. In me, therefore, it would be plain polytheism to worship the Three Persons each as God; and all who do so worship, are solemnly bound to set to it by their allegiance to the Truth -- "the Truth as it is in Jesus" -- that they have express Scripture warrant. Moreover, I say, nay, I insist, and on this am ready to join issue, that they have no right in this or in any case to set that up as a fundamental article of Faith, to make that a condition of holding the Christian name, or of Christian fellowship, which is not taught with the utmost directness, explicitness, and perspicuity, in the Christian Scriptures. And such is not the Trinity.
Let us pass now to examine some of the arguments by which it is attempted to maintain the doctrine. We are referred to the use of the plural pronouns in the Old Testament, where God speaks of Himself, and of the plural form of the Hebrew proper names of the Deity. In the first case, only three instances occur in the whole of the Old Testament. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." "And the Lord said, Go to, let us go down." "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Now it is an obvious answer to any argument drawn from such citations, that if these three seem to indicate a plurality of persons in the Godhead, the supposition is utterly rebutted by the fact, that the singular pronoun is used thousands on thousands of times, implying that God is but one Person. Besides, it is a common idiom in all languages, and in every age, for persons in authority to speak of themselves in the plural; as, for example, "We, Victoria, by the Grace of God, Queen," etc. Nothing is more common in the Old Testament. In Ezra, Artaxerxes, king of Persia, begins his royal reply, "The letter which ye sent unto us" - and proceeds, as if to show the idleness of the argument under consideration- "hath been plainly read before me."
That this idiom is only a common one, and by no means indicative of any plurality of persons in the being using it, is proved conclusively in that the same Lord or Jehovah who in the second of the two passages cited from Genesis says, "Let us go down," says in another, with a precisely similar purpose, "I will go down." In the second case, the plural forms of Hebrew names of God, the simple explanation is found in what the best Hebrew Grammars say. Wilson, in his, says: "Words that express dominion, dignity, majesty, are commonly put in the plural." And Prof. Stuart, in his, l says even more distinctly: "For the sake of emphasis, the Hebrews commonly employed most of the words which signify Lord, God, etc., in the plural form, but with the sense of the singular. This is called the pluralis excellentice." Learned Trinitarians, Romanists, as Bishop Tostat, Cardinal Cajetan, Bellarmine-Protestant, as Calvin, Grotius, South, Campbell, Michaelis, Rosenmiiller, with a host of others, among whom are the best critics and lexicographers, alike recognize this rule of the Hebrew syntax. Trinitarians being our authority, the point is too plain to be longer dwelt upon. Not even a plurality of persons in the Godhead, much less any definite plurality such as a trinity, can be with any propriety argued from the plural form of Hebrew words.
Turning to the New Testament, the scene at the Baptism of our Lord by John is sometimes cited in proof of the Trinity, because the Sacred Three were obviously present together and united in one act; the Father by the voice from the opened heavens; the Son standing in the water; the Holy Spirit in the descending dove. But surely, if any three objects could be distinct, different, apart, these were. Besides this, there are really but three passages in the New Testament, which are cited with any show of reason. The first is the Baptismal Formula at the close of Matthew's Gospel. But nothing is there said of the oneness in any sense, of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; no hint the remotest given that they are one. Then as to the preposition rendered in, it were better rendered to or into; while the words the name of are in the original simply an idiom of the Hebraistic Greek, in which the New Testament is written, redundant in the translation and making obscure its meaning. "Go ye, therefore," says the Saviour, "and make disciples of all nations; baptizing them to or into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." In other words, consecrating them by Baptism to the faith and worship of the Father, the Supreme and All-bountiful Source and Giver of good, spiritual and temporal; to the open acceptance and service of that Gospel of truth and salvation which He has revealed and published by His Son; and to the right improvement of those exhaustless and gracious influences by which He moves on the soul, and is ever ready to aid, guide, quicken, and strengthen in all goodness and duty. The second passage is the Benediction with which the Apostle eludes his second epistle to the Corinthian church.
The same remark is true of this as of the previous passage, that there is no mention, no hint, of the oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is simply the expression of an affectionate, devout, and earnest wish on the part of Paul, that "The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ "- the divine favors, benefits, blessings, privileges, conferred on man through Christ and his Gospel -- "the Love of God" - of that Sovereign and glorious Being, that all-gracious Father, who in His own essential and perfect nature "is Love" itself -- " and the Communion of the Holy Ghost " -- the full participation of those gifts and graces, which are the earnest and seal of the Spirit of God shed abroad in the hearts of all faithful seekers-might be with all them whom he had brought into, the Christian church. Where, in either of these passages, is the least trace of this amazing dogma of "Three Persons in one God "? But the third passage to which I referred, is the famous text of the "Three Heavenly Witnesses." And in respect to this I feel bound to say, that did I not know that this text had been recently cited in a pulpit of this city, without a hint that its integrity had been even disputed, as an unquestioned and express scriptural proof of the doctrine under discussion, I should feel it labor wholly uncalled-for, and mere waste of time, to recapitulate even in the briefest manner, as I now intend, the evidence of its utter spuriousness.
Briefly, then. The verse is not found in any ancient Greek Ms.; that is, in any Ms. of an age prior to the sixth century. Bishop Marsh calls it "a passage, which no ancient Greek manuscript contains, and which no ancient Greek father ever saw." Of one hundred and fifty mss. of an alleged age as early as the sixteenth century, which are extant, and have been collated, and which contain the First Epistle of St. John, only two contain this verse. One of these, known as the Codex Ravianus, was considered by Wetstein a gross imposture; and Michaelis, who says, "it is the second of the two manuscripts which have 1 John 5: 7," and that "it contains one half the sum total of the evidence in favor of that passage," also pronounces it "' a mere imposture;" and adds: "' Let it be considered in future as having no critical existence, and never quoted in support of this verse." The other is known as the Codex Montfortianus. It comprises the whole New Testament, and is in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. It is really the only genuine manuscript which contains the verse; but it is of as recent date as the close of the fifteenth century.
Bishop Marsh says that "it made its appearance about the year 1520; and, that the Ms. had just been written, when it first appeared, is highly probable, because it appeared at a critical juncture, and its appearance answered a particular purpose." What this "particular purpose" was, we shall presently see. Michaelis pronounces the manuscript "unimportant -- on account of its modern date" and says that "the spurious passage in the first epistle of St. John, was admitted into no manuscript before the sixteenth century. The very tenacity with which Michaelis held the doctrine of the Trinity, made him the more desirous to keep this "spurious passage" out of the sacred text.
Speaking of the "immense weight of evidence against" it, this great critic says: "One should suppose that no critic, especially if a Protestant, would hesitate a moment to condemn as spurious, a passage, which is contained in no ancient Greek manuscript, is quoted by no Greek Father, was unknown to the Alogi in the second century, is wanting in both Syriac versions, in the Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, and Sclavonian versions, is contained only in the Latin, and is wanting in many manuscripts even of this version, was quoted by none of the Latin Fathers of the four first centuries, and to some of them, who lived so late as the sixth century, was either wholly unknown, or was not received as genuine." The "particular purpose" which the "appearance" of the Montfortian Mrs. "answered," according to Bishop Marsh, in the extract a little above, was this: The celebrated Erasmus published his first edition of the New Testament in the original Greek, accompanied by his own Latin translation, in the year 1516, and the second in 1519. From both he omitted the verse.
Assailed violently from various quarters, his answer was: "I will not undertake to add what is not in the Greek manuscripts before me." At last, however, so confident was he of his ground, he declared, that if any Greek MS. could be found which contained it, he would insert it in his next edition; and shortly after, the Dublin Ms., before referred to, the Codex Montfortianus, was produced. Suspecting it all the while to be a translation from the Vulgate or Latin, as he has left on record, he nevertheless felt compelled by the word he had passed; and therefore did insert the verse in his third edition, in 1622.
In that very year Luther published the first edition of his German Bible, and omitted it. He evidently, as Michaelis thinks, must have deemed the manuscript which compelled Erasmus to insert it, "of no authority;" and nothing, either of evidence or of censure, could induce him to admit the text into any of the subsequent editions which he issued. In the last edition, which was printed while he was living, that of 1546, he made this request: "I request my friends and my foes, my masters, printers, and readers, to let this New Testament continue mine. If they find faults in it, let them make another. I know well what I make; I see also well, what others make. But this Testament shall remain Luther's German Testament. Nowadays there is neither measure nor end of mending and bettering. Let every man therefore take heed of false copies, for I know how unfaithfully and untruly others have reprinted what I have printed." Yet, strange to say, Luther had hardly been thirty years dead, before, with "Luther's Translation" on the title-page, the passage was foisted into his German text I The verse is not in the old Latin Vulgate, or in any Latin version older than the ninth century. It is not in the old Syriac version of the third century, or in the manuscripts of the Ethiopic, nearly as ancient. It is not in the Egyptian Arabic, or indeed in any of the Arabic versions, or in the Armenian, all of the fourth century. It is not in the ancient French version, more than one thousand years old; or in the Illyrian, used in Russia, Muscovy, and by all the Slavonic races. It is rejected by the highest critical authorities of modern times, of every shade of theological opinion; besides Michaelis, as we have seen, by Wetstein, Simon, Griesbach, Le Clerc, Matthaei, Tischendorf, all Trinitarians.
Bishop Lowth denies the use of his understanding to the man who would defend it. Dr. Middleton, Bishop Marsh, Archbishop Newcome, Mr. Horne, Prof. Porson, the unrivalled Greek scholar, Dr. Adam Clarke, the great Methodist commentator, abandon it. The Eclectic Review says: "We are unspeakably ashamed, that any modern divines should have contended for retaining a passage so indisputably spurious." The London Quarterly, long considered the champion of the English Established Church, reviewing Bishop Burgess' vindication of the verse, says: "The Bishop, then, on his own avowal, has been able to dismiss every doubt respecting the genuineness of a verse which is found only in a single Greek manuscript, and that of recent date; which is not quoted by a single Greek Father, nor in express terms by any Latin Father, before the sixth century; which is wanting in the more ancient manuscripts of the Vulgate or Latin; and even in those in which it is found, appears in such a variety of shapes as clearly to show, that those transcribers, who thought proper to insert the verse, had no certain reading before them. We have the most sincere respect for the Bishop of St. David's, but we cannot peruse the declaration without astonishment."
The British Critic, the acknowledged organ of the Establishment, re viewed, in 1830, the whole controversy, and thus closed: "Believing that the verse is unquestionably spurious, and consequently that its authenticity cannot be maintained, except by the admission of principles which would tend inevitably to destroy our confidence in the authenticity of every other passage in the New Testament, we have witnessed with uneasiness the attempt of the learned Prelate (Bishop Burgess) to establish its claim to an inspired origin, and have wondered at the arguments by which he thinks its claim is proved." To cite one more name. Dr. Davidson, Professor of Theology in the Independent College, near Manchester, England, in his Lectures, summing up the evidence on both sides, says: "It is almost superfluous to add, that many of the most strenuous defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity have maintained the verse to be spurious; and that the great body of critics is opposed to its authenticity." Our American Prof. Stuart, of Andover, doubts, and Prof. S. HI. Turner, of New York, rejects it. All the above are Trinitarian authorities; but to any who know their reputation, quite as weighty are Unitarians like Newton, Locke, Lardner, Milton, Priestley, and our own Norton.
And yet this merest interpolation, this spurious text, is still retained in our Bibles, is read in and preached from the pulpit, by men who do or should know its spuriousness, and holds its place in the Book of Common Prayer of the English Church and the Episcopal Church in these United States; where, in the Epistle for the first Sunday after Easter, it is of course read publicly once at least in the year, and probably "without note or comment," as part and parcel of the "inspired word of God"! But admit for the sake of argument, that the verse is the genuine testimony of St. John, the Evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved. What then? Of what is it the proof? Of the doctrine of the Trinity? of the Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity? of Three Persons in one God? By no means. Nothing of the kind. Mr. Wardlaw says: "It has been allowed by Trinitarians of the highest fame not to be so." Calvin says, that "the expression, three are one, must signify in agreement, and not in essence." Beza interprets it in the same way; and Macknight, paraphrasing the verse, says: "These three are one, in respect of the unity of their testimony." The very structure and syntax of the Greek original, demand this interpretation, and will properly bear no other.
If you will turn to the passage in our received version, you will see, I think, as corroborating the results of the best criticism upon it, that the spurious words break and mar the sense of the context. No reference, no allusion, had been made to "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost," by the Apostle; but in the sixth verse he had mentioned the "water," the "blood," and "the Spirit." Hence very naturally and consecutively he proceeds, as the passage should read: " For there are three that bear record: the Spirit, and the water, and the Blood; and these three agree in one." I return now to my main course of argument; and I say, in the first place, that the doctrine of the Trinity, if the ultimate appeal lies to the Scriptures-as with all consistent Protestant Christians it surely must-is disproved by their general tenor and drift. That is uniform to the point of the simple and strict Unity of God. Who that is familiar with the Scripture, will deny this? But in the next place, the positive, clear, unmistakable declarations of Scripture, disprove it.
What can be more positive, clear, unmistakable in its import, than the language of Jehovah by Moses: "Hear, O Israel! the Lord, our God, is One Lord! And thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." This, too, cited and emphasized as it is by our blessed Saviour himself, as the first and great commandment. Moreover, note the care with which the sacred writers every where distinguish and keep distinct the Father from the Son, our God from his Anointed. So remarkable is this fact, so strong and emphatic the language in which it expresses itself, that one is almost tempted to think they foresaw this great corruption of subsequent ages, and would do what they could to guard the Church against any confounding of Christ with God. For example, St. Paul says: "There is none other GOD but ONE; for though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many;) but to us there is but One God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." So again: "One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; ONE GOD and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all"
In the introductory salutations of the Apostolic Epistles, mark how consistent with these statements is the language; holding this view, how naturally it expresses itself: "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God, our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort." This is from the second Epistle to the Corinthians; but you will find it but an example of the uniform style of St. Paul, and with the slightest possible variation of the other Apostles. Then further; by admission of distinguished Trinitarian scholars and divines, even of Protestant communions, as we have seen, the doctrine of the Trinity is not clearly, but at the most obscurely taught in the Scriptures; is to be learned by uninitiated readers, not from the Scriptures but from the Church. The entire Romish Church takes exactly this ground, and in its extreme form; holding that though the doctrine be in the Scriptures, the laity cannot find it there, since it is in charge of the Church through its traditions, and to the Church must they come to learn it. Since my residence in Brooklyn, the Rev. Dr. Seabury, of New York, one of the most learned ministers of the Episcopal Church, and at that time editing The Churchman, declared in its columns, that there were two rules for the guidance of Christian believers: the one, the Rule of Faith, which regarded all things plainly taught in Scripture, the conduct of life, and the duties of man; the other, the Rule of Tradition, which regarded things obscurely taught there, for example, the Trinity, etc. Again, the various and contradictory forms of stating and expounding the doctrine, the different senses in which it is accepted and held, raise a violent presumption against the doctrine as belonging to Christ's holy gospel; suggest and furnish reasons for the weightiest doubts of its truth; and, at the very least, stamp it as unimportant, and refute all pretension to its being fundamental and essential. Any doctrine essentially belonging to Revealed Religion, would be clearly stated in the Records of that Revelation; it would be so clearly stated there, that nobody could mistake it; it would be one and uniform in all ages of the Church, and every where in Christendom.
Here remember, that no such words or phrases as the Trinity, the Triune God, the God-man, occur in Scripture. They savor certainly far more of the subtleties of the schoolmen than of the simplicity of Holy writ. But not only are no such words and phrases to be found there, where is the known case of any man for the first time taking these Scriptures into his hands, whether in the original or in translation, in any language, in any land, with no previous knowledge of the religion they teach, with no preconceptions of Christian doctrine of any kind, and of himself finding there the dogmas which those words and phrases are made to cover? Where, in the authentic records of any Christian missionary labors, throughout the world, Pa pal or Protestant, is there such an experience? I confidently believe, nowhere. No such case can be cited. No such experience is recorded or known. On the other hand we can produce two, each beyond challenge for simplicity and integrity, though very opposite in personal conditions and circumstances, of men who found in their own independent search of the Bible, the one in the original languages in which it was written, the other in a translation into his vernacular tongue, the doctrine of the strict simple Unity of God, the Father, and the subordination and inferiority therefore of our blessed Lord.
I refer to the late Rajah Ram Mohun Roy, at Calcutta, and William Roberts, at Madras. The one, a high-caste Brahmin, accomplished in all the learning of the Orient; having every advantage of wealth, social position, and personal culture. The other, a native of the lowest caste, the servant of an English resident merchant, uneducated, obscure, and poor. The latter read the Bible in a translation into his own tongue, but could not find there the doctrine which the Liturgy of his master's Church, the Church of England, embodied, but only our own simple Unitarian faith. The former sought the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, and studied them profoundly, with the same result. The Baptist Mission House at Serampore, of which Dr. Marshman was at the head, anxious to show him his mistake, detailed, as their most learned associate, the Rev. Wm. Adam, to confer with and convince the Rajah of his error, and lead him to the truth. But lo! the Rajah refuted his teacher, and converted Mr. Adam to Unitarianism; and when the Rev. Mr. Schmidt of the Baptist Mission, and Dr. Marshman, saw fit to animadvert in The Friend of India, of which the latter was editor. upon the first Christian publication of Ram Mohun Roy, entitled "The Precepts of Jesus," etc., being extracts from the discourses of our Lord, a discussion arose between the Rajah and Dr. M., in which the former showed himself a most skilful, able, and learned critic, and as a controversialist displayed the most generous Christian temper. His "Final Appeal" closed the controversy. Such cases, though they do not absolutely prove the truth of Unitarianism, do yet, especially in the absence of similar cases on the opposite side, increase the antecedent probability that it has a prevailing Scripture basis, and in the Christian Church has a right to be.
Where, then, do we stand? We desire, we aim to get back to the original, simple, primitive Christianity the Christianity of Christ and his Apostles; to recover the faith which was in the beginning, long before the age of Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology what is it the world over, but the piling up of human opinions? "Jesus," says Hagenbach, "is not the author of a dogmatic theology, but the'author and finisher of our faith'; not the founder of a school, but emphatically the founder of religion and of the Church." Again he says: "The first disciples of the Lord were, like their Master, far from propounding dogmatic systems." Our appeal, therefore, is finally and confidently to the Scriptures. We hold no peculiar or distinguishing doctrine which cannot be stated in the express, unaltered, unqualified words of Holy Writ; a thing which our Trinitarian brethren cannot do for theirs.
But we are charged with holding mere denials, with holding a purely negative faith. We answer that we do deny, in every way and form in which it is ever stated by those from whom we differ, the Trinity. We do deny that God subsists in Three Persons, in every intelligible or proper sense of that expression. But is this all? Have we nothing but denials, negations? Far, very far from it. We affirm as distinctly, as emphatically as any, a positive, Scriptural faith. We affirm the strict, simple, undivided Unity of GOD. We affirm that He is One Person, One Being, One Conscious Intelligence. We affirm that the FATHER alone is the GOD of the New Testament. We affirm that to Him only are our prayers, supplications, confessions, adoration, thanksgivings, praises, our supreme homage and worship due. And finally, we affirm our full and unquestioning faith in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost; we affirm it as sincerely, devoutly, heartily, gratefully, as any who bear the Christian name, and call Christ Master and Lord.
Thus denying, and thus affirming, we stand fast by our faith. Our confidence is in God, who is "able to make us stand." "To his own Master" we know and rejoice that "each standeth or falleth." While, therefore, we repudiate all that weak human presumption which might wish or attempt to rule us out of the Christian Church, "by the grace of God" our place is there, and there we mean to stay. But we rejoice that we stand, however firm and unquestioning in our own positive faith, on a broad and generous platform of hope for the world, and the largest charity. We have neither hard names nor harsh treatment for any from whom we dissent. We see alike in all, the children of One God, the Universal Father of the one great family on earth and in heaven. Differ we may, nay, differ we must, on many points from our orthodox brethren; but differ as we may, we agree, too, in far more, and those the more important ones, would they but be just and informed. We will hold our differences firmly in proportion as they seem to us important, but even then charitably. And we will pray and strive, as the great consummation, that we may thus "all come at length into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
© 2003 American Unitarian Conference™