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THE HOLY TRINITY
Showing that the Doctrine of the Trinity is sufficiently
CLEAR to be admitted as a FUNDAMENTAL Article.
CLEAR may be considered in two views, either with respect to the matter of the doctrine, or with respect to the proofs upon which it rests. Let us examine the thing
1. It may be suggested, that the doctrine is not clear, with regard to the matter of it: it is mysterious doctrine. Be it so : the tremendous Deity is all over mysterious, in his nature and in his attributes, in his works and ways. It is the property of the divine Being to be unsearchable : and if he were not so, he would not be divine. Must we therefore reject the most certain truths concerning the Deity, only because they are incomprehensible, when every thing almost belonging to him must be so of course? If
so, there is an end, not only of all revealed religion, but of natural religion too; and we must take our last refuge in downright Atheism. There are mysteries in the works of nature, as well as in the word of God; and it is as easy to believe both as one. We do not mean by mysteries, positions altogether unintelligible, or that carry no idea at all with them : we do not mean unsensed characters, or empty sounds : but we mean propositions contained in general terms, which convey as general ideas, not descending to particulars. The ideas are clear, so far as they go; only they do not reach far enough to satisfy curiosity. They are ideas of intellect, for the most part; like the ideas which we form of our own souls: for spiritual substance, at least, (if any substance,) falls not under imagination, but must be understood, rather than imagined. The same is the case with many abstract verities, in numbers especially; which are not the less verities for being purely intellectual, and beyond all imagery. Reason contemplates them, and clearly too, though fancy can lay no hold of them, to draw their picture in the mind. Such, I say, are our ideas of the divine Being, and of a Trinity in Unity; ideas of intellect, and general; intelligible as far as the thing is revealed, and assented to so far as intelli. gible. We understand the general truths, concerning a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost : we understand the general nature of an union and a distinction; and what we understand we believe. As to the minute particulars relating to the manner or modus of the thing, we understand them not : our ideas reach not to them, but stop short in the generals, as our faith also does. For our faith and our ideas keep pace with each other; and we believe nothing about particulars whereof nothing is revealeda, neither expressly nor consequentially.
Such a general assent as I have mentioned is what we
* See the subject of mysteries treated of more at large, either in my First Defence, Qu. xxi. vol. i. p. 218, &c. or in Norris's Acconnt of Reason and Faith, p. 117, 118. or in Mr. Browne's Lecture Sermons for Lady Moyer, p. 257-262.
give to the truth of the divine perfections, necessary existe ence, eternity, ubiquity, prescience, and the likeb. Whatever obscurity or defect there is in our ideas of those divine attributes, we think it no good reason for denying either the general truths, or the importance of them. So then, no just objection can be made against the importance of any doctrine, from its mysterious nature. The most mysterious of all are in reality the most important; not because they are mysterious, but because they relate to things divine, which must of course be mysterious to weak mortals, and perhaps to all creatures whatever. But even mysterious doctrines have a bright side, as well as a dark one; and they are clear to look upon, though too deep to be seen through.
It has been sometimes objected, that however clear the doctrine may seem to be to men of parts and learning, yet certainly it cannot be so to common Christians. But why not to common Christians, as well as to others? It is as clear to them as most other high and divine things can be. It is as clear, for instance, as the divine eternity or omnipresence. Every common Christian professing Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to be so distinct as not to be one the other, and so united as to be one God, bas as clear an idea of what he says, as when he prays, “ Our Father “ which art in heaven;" or when he repeats after the Psalmist, “ Thou art about my path, and about my bed, "and spiest out all my waysc.” And, I am persuaded, upon examination, he will be as able to give as good an account of the one, as he will of the other. The thing is plain and intelligible in either case, but in the general only, not as to the particular manner.
Ask how three are one, and probably both catechumen and catechist will be perfectly at a nonplus: or ask, how God is in heaven, and how about our path, or our bed, and they
b See my First Defence, Qu. xxi. vol, i. p. 216, &c. Second Defence, vol.ii. Qu. xxi. p. 391.
< Psalm cxxxix. 2.
will both be equally confounded. But, by the way, let it be here considered, whether common Christians may not often have clearer ideas of those things, than the bolder and more inquisitive, because they are content to rest in generals, and to stop at what they understand, without darkening it afterwards by words without knowledge. The notion of eternity, for instance, is a clear notion enough to a common Christian : but to a person that perplexes himself with nice inquiries about succession, or past duration, that very first notion which in the general was clear, may become obscure, by his blending perplexities with it. The like may be said of omnipresence: the general notion of it is competently clear: but when a man has been perplexing his thoughts with curious inquiries about a substantial or a virtual presence, about extension or non-extension, and the like; I question whether at length he may come away with so clear or just ideas of the main thing as may be found in any common Christian. So again as to divine foreknowledge and free-will, they are both of them clearly understood, as far as they need be, by every plain Christian ; while many a conceited scholar, by darkening the subject with too minute inquiries, almost loses the sight of it. In like manner, to apply these instances to our present purpose, common Christians may sometimes better preserve the true and right general notion of the doctrine of the Trinity, than the more learned inquirers : and it is observable, what Hilary of Poictiers, an honest and a knowing man of the fourth century, testifies, that the populace of that time, for the most part, kept the true and right faith in the Trinityd, when their ministers, several of
Et hujus quidem usque adhuc impietatis fraude perficitur, ut jam sub Antichristi sacerdotibus Christi populus non occidat, dum hoc putant illi fidei esse quod vocis est. Audiunt Deum Christum; putant esse quod dicitur. Audiunt Filium Dei ; putant in Dei nativitate inesse Dei veritatem. Audiunt ante tempora ; putant id ipsum ante tempora esse quod semper est. Sarctiores aures plebis, quam corda sunt sacerdotum. Hilar.contr. Auxent. 1266. edit. Bened.