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Il civility, and decency, and politeness" of whose Apology, are (in Jortin's opinion) observable.
Theophilus was a Convert from heathenism to Christianity, as Justin and Athenagoras were, and in the Second Century. He writes like a Man, who believed on conviction, after diligent research and serious reflection. It is true, we find him not exempt, from what is vicious in point of good taste ; but fanciful and farfetched conceits in any author, will not invalidate his credit as a Man, when cited to prove the existence of a fact. Theophilus then by his expressions demonstrates, that the doctrine of a Trinity was holden in his days.
Of Justin, Athenagoras, and Theophilus, it is to be observed, they imbibed not this doctrine in their childhood, nor, were Tripitarians through the prejudices of early education. They were Heathen Philosophers : were converted to Christianity : and embraced this as an original principle of Christian Faith.
LXXVII. For the opinions of Plato, for the opinions of Aristotle, we refer to Academic, or to Peripatetic Commentators. For Christian Opinions in early days, why we should not appeal to Christian Commentators, who lived in those days, no sufficient reason has ever yet been given. The question here is not, Whether these opinions were in themselves right or wrong? but, Whether the Commentators have treated of those opinions, and given illustrations of them, and thus proved they were then Christian opinions ?
LXXVIII. If before the Reformation too great deference was paid to the Fathers, as though they were infallible ; since the Reformation too little respect has been shewn them, as though they were absolutely incompetent to judge, and incapable of speaking truth. So prone are we to run from one extreme to another : and so easy is the transition from error on one side, to error in a direction entirely opposite.
LXXIX. Why the most early Fathers should not be at least as competent to interpret Scripture, as we ourselves are, no just cause, can be assigned. Why they should be much more competent than we are, may be adduced reasons, which will appear strong to those, who consider the proximity of the times, in which many of the Fathers wrote, to the commencement of Christianity; and the opportunities they had of collecting the sentiments of the Apostles themselves, some by personal intercourse, and others by not very remote tradition.
LXXX. Speaking of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan explications of the Christian Doctrine, Ridley observes, “ The Fathers, who lived about those times, a little before or after the latest of those Councils, such as Basil, the two Gregories, Didymus, and Cyril of Alexandria, in their Discourses on the Holy Spirit, drew their doctrines entirely from the Scriptures, and did not then fashion, but succeeded to the Faith, by tradition of those, who presided in the Church from the Apostolical age to their own times. To which they appeal, producing their testimonies, and tracing it up to the New Testament; where they challenge a cloud of witness
es.” Ridley's “ Eight Sermons” shew him to have been a man of erudition, and well acquainted with the Writings of Heathen and Christian Antiquity.
LXXXI. Philostorgius (says Suidas) hath made mention of Basil, in words to this effect; “In those times flourished Basil of Cesaria of Cappadocia, and Gregory at Nazianzen, and Appollinarius in Laodicia of Syria. These three men contended for the doctrine of “ Consubstantiality," against that of " Different-Substance," by excelling all the advocates of that heresy, who had ever written before, or who have written since from that time to my own ; so that even Athanasius was thought a child when compared with them. For they had made very great proficiency in what is called extraneous, i. e. profane learning ; and in the Sacred Writings with respect to whatever perfecter the reading and quick recollection of them, they had great experience; and Basil the most of all.” Philostorgius was an Arian. He was nevertheless candid enough not to witnhold from these eminent persons their due praise, although they were of a different persuasion. In this he gave an example of moderation to be commended and imitated.
LXXXII. Whether, among the early Christian Writers, the most approved by the Christian World in general did or did not maintain the doctrine of a Trinity, is as much a question of Fact, as whether Sir Isaac Newton did or did not maintain the principles of gravitation and attraction. That such Writers did maintain that doctrine, no man can possibly doubt, who will read the work to which we have before referred, and which (to use Waterland's words)“ will stand as long as clear sense, sound reasoning, and true learning have any friends left," the “ Defensio Fidei Nicænæ.”
LXXXIII. By ascribing divine attributes to Three Persons, the ancient Christian Writers asserted a Trinity in the quality of Godhead ; by maintaining the “ Father” to be the only source of Divinity, they asserted Unity in the Power of Divine government.
LXXXIV. Whence did the primitive Christians collect their ideas respecting the Trinity ? From examining, and comparing with each other, various texts and various passages in the Scriptures; and by reasoning on the whole put together.
LXXXV. St. Paul confuted the Jews who denied that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, cupbox? äv, “ by bringing together” a variety of texts from the Scriptures of the Old Testament. These he applied to Christ; and by shewing the correspondence of real character in him, with intimations given and delineations marked out, in the Sacred Writings of Moses and the Prophets, the Apostle proved what he wished to demonstrate (Acts ix. 22.) This method is analogous to the process of reasoning in the human mind. We put together various facts, and then draw our conclusion from those, facts. It is the very characteristic of Man's nature, as Rational, to proceed thus.
LXXXVI. We act in conformity with St. Paul's practice, and with the ordinary course of human reasoning, when we bring together various texts of Scripture, and thence prove the doctrine of a Trini
ty and Unity. Divine Nature is One. Three Persons have the attributes of divine nature ; in divinity of nature they must be One. Divine Goveroment is One : Three Persons direct their energies to effectuate the self same ends of that One Government : in the purposes and power of divine Government they must be One. But divine nature and divine government are the very qualities, which essentially constitute Godhead. In Godhead then, the Three must in quality (we repeat the words to obviate misconception,) must in quality of Godhead be One. But if one in Godhead, they must essentially be One God.
LXXXVII. In all concerns of moment, before, we depart from what has been long received, we may properly ask the question “ Cui Bono?" " for what good purpose” are we to innovate? Let this question be proposed in the case before us. “For what good purpose of obtaining more distinct knowledge concerning the Essential Nature and Eternal Existence of God, should we reject the doctrine of a Trinity ? For none. It would in that point of view answer no purpose whatever to reject the doctrine of a Trinity. Men, good and acting on the most pure intention, have indeed imagined they could comprehend God's Essential Nature and Eternal Existence better in Unity, than in Trinity. Their thought however could be but imaginary. For, provided they maintained (what most have maintained) not any Materiality, but the Spirituality of God, they could then no more form an accurate idea of God's Essential Nature and Eternal Existence in Unity, than they could in Trinity. They could precisely and distinctly know nothing in one, or in the other case. And wherefore ? For the same reason that a Man born blind knows nothing of Light in the Solar Orb.
We have no powers of mind commensurate to any particle of such a subject as diviné Essential Nature and Eternal Existence.
LXXXVIII. Supposing, for the sake of argument, we reject Christianity; and reverting to what is called Natural Religion, let us stand upon that ground. The degree of knowledge, which could be acquired in Natural Religion, can be collected only from considering those, who have actually lived under that Religion. With that knowledge then, “what more perfect ideas respecting God's Essential Nature and Eternal Existence, could we form in our Minds, than those we now form ?" The Master Moralist will tell us. “Οτι μεν γαρ τα θεια υπερ ημας, παντι δηλον. Αποχρη δε το κρειττανι της δυναμιέως αυτες C: Cety.
ετε εύρειν ραδιον, ετε ζητειν θεμιτον. (Xenopl on's Epistle to Aschines, vol. V. part ii. p. 173. ed. Wells.) “ That there are divine Beings above us, is to every person evident, And it is enough to worship them, on account of their superiority in power. But of what nature they are, it is neither easy to discover, nor lawful to inquire.” That there really did exist divine power, and that the exercise of such power for the happiness of Man was demonstrable in the works of creation, and providence, Socrates in his valuable dialogues with Aristodemus and Euthydemus very forcibly maintained. But that we can know the essential nature of those Beings, in whom such power resided, that he denied; as may
be seen in several passages similar to the above, in the Writings of his modest and accomplished encomiast. What reason have we to think, that if we were standing on the same ground of natural Relig. ion as Socrates, we should have more perfect knowledge of divine things, than Socrates ? Did the philosophers of Rome know more? Did our British ancestors, who were Druidical ; or our Anglo Sason progenitors, who were Idolaters, know more ? Certainly not, so long as they were heathens. Their more pure wisdom came from Christianity : And from the same source comes our wisdom. But Christianity brought to them, delivers to us, and carries with it, wherever it goes, the doctrine of a Trinity.
LXXXIX. Supposing we reject Christianity, and adopt Judaism ; let us see what satisfaction concerning the point in question, we shall thence derive. We no sooner open the Sacred History, than we find a word implying Plurality introduced as the title of the Almighty. However we may labour to account for this, yet after all it is a very striking circumstance, that when the Sacred Writer might have used a word of singular import (as he does elsewhere) and thus have precluded all ambiguity, he nevertheless uses a word of plural import thirty times, at the beginning of his History and in its primary chapters, and thereby admits ambiguity. And knowing, as we do, that from this and other circumstances, it has been maintained by very learned and considerate men, that the Jews held a Plurality in the Godhead, we should be led to conclude, that at least the doctrine of Unity is far from having been unquestionably the doctrine of the Jews. The point has been disputed, and is still controverted. With respect therefore to deriving any certain. ty on this doctrine from Judaism, we should be disappointed. The matter is doubtful.
XC. He that should say, “the doctrine of the Trinity has been disputed among Christians, and is therefore questionable,” would say what is fact. But if he should urge this as a sufficient plea for rejecting the doctrine altogether, he would judge hastily, and conclude erroneously. For he should consider on which side of the question by far, very far the major part of Christians, from the Apostles to the Fathers, from the Fathers to us, through all ages of Christianity, have most decidedly determined. He should consider, that while only individuals, comparatively few, have occasionally denied the doctrine of a Trinity, whole nations in a continuance and in the most public manner have asserted that doctrine, through successive generations during the long course of Eighteen Centuries. On these considerations, as the weight of general and public judgment is evidently against him, he should see there are strong grounds for suspecting, that they, who deny the doctrine of a Trinity, merely because it has been controverted, may possibly be wrong, and are probably wrong, in their dissent from that doctrine.
XCI. To him that should say, “ the supporters of the Trinitarian doctrine were fallible men, and therefore might be mistaken ;" the reply would be, “ your remark is partly inaccurate, and partly Correct. Inaccurate in the highest degree with respect to our
Lord, whose doctrine it is, and, who in his divine wisdom was absoa lutely infallible ; inaccurate also according to the ideas of all Christians, with respect to the Apostles, whose inspiration, taken in the most limited sense, at least prevented them from being mistaken, when delivering fundamental Truths. With regard to other Writers, your remark is correct ; they certainly were fallible men, and as such might be mistaken. But upon the same principle, you also may be mistaken. And among the infinitude of Writers, whether long since dead or still living, who on principles conscientious, and with talents adequate, have interpreted Scripture Texts relating to this subject, the most able and the most numerous Expositors will prove that you are mistaken ; but that the maintainers of a Trinity are right in their opinion ; on the grounds of Scripture, the grounds on which the question must ultimately stand.
XCII. For our religious principles, whilst they are confined to ourselves, we are responsible to God only. For the manner in which we openly declare our religious principles, and for the conduct we pursue under the influence of them, we are responsible to society also.
XCIII. As the forming of right opinions depends upon a como bination of many circumstances, how far it may or may not be in our own power to form right opinions, admits of a question. But about the impropriety of injuring society by any mode of propagating our opinions, there should be no question. For, nothing can be more clear, than that man, living in society, is bound by moral and political obligations not to injure such society either by word or deed.
XCIV. Those, who hold the doctrine of a Trinity, however in. dividually they may give different explications of it, are nevertheless Trinitarians : as those, who protest against a particular Church, although unhappily among themselves they have separated from each other, by multifarious divisions, and discriminate each other by subtile distinctions implying even dimidiation, are nevertheless all Protestants. In the former case, disputes about exposition do not prove that therefore the doctrine of a Trinity does not exist in Scripture. In the latter case, dissensions about difficult and nice points do not prove that therefore the religion of Protestants is not to be found in Scripture.
To particular minds, particular passages of ancient Au. thors will frequently recur. What if these sentiments were often recollected ?
αναριθμητοι κρεμανται. . “ around the minds of men hang innumerable errors." (Pind. 01. 7.) “ Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee; neither search the things that are above thy strength. But what is commanded thee think thereupon with reverence : for it is not needful for thee APPEx. .