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to clear the way by some preliminary observations concerning the several sorts of persons who deny the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, and their views in doing it; as also concerning the advocates, on the other side, who assert the importance of that sacred doctrine, and the general principles on which they proceed.
1. As to the persons who deny the importance of the doctrine, they are reducible to three kinds; being either such as disbelieve the doctrine itself, or such as are in some suspense about it; or, lastly, such as really assent to it as true doctrine. It is with this last sort only, that our present debate is properly concerned. But yet for the clearer apprehending those three different kinds of men, and their different views in joining together so far in the same cause, it will not be improper to say something severally and distinctly of each.
1. Those that disbelieve the doctrine itself, while they join with others in decrying the importance of it, are to be looked upon as a kind of artful men, who think it policy to carry on a scheme gently and leisurely, and to steal upon the unwary by soft and almost insensible degrees--a method which is indeed commonly slower in producing the effect, but is the surer for being so; as it is less shocking, and more insinuating. They are content therefore, at first, to make men cool and indifferent towards the doctrine; as thinking it a good point gained, and a promising advance made towards the laying it aside. With these views, both Socinians and Arians, who disbelieve the doctrine itself, may yet be content, for a time, to declare only against the importance of it. Deists also may join in the same thing, conceiving, that indifference, as to a prime article of Christianity, may in time draw on the same kind of indifference towards Christianity itself. They are disbelievers with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, and with respect also to all revealed religion: and they will of course favour and encourage the denial of any part, in order to bring on the subversion of the whole. However, our present concern is not directly with Deists, nor with such as deny the doctrine of the Trinity: for our dispute now is, not about the certainty of revealed religion, (which is supposed in our present question,) nor about the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity, (which is also supposed,) but about the importance, use, or value of it.
2. A second sort of persons, before mentioned, are such as seriously believe Christianity in the general, and do not disbelieve the doctrine of the Trinity in particular, but suspend their belief of it, and are a kind of sceptics on that head. These men deny the importance of the doctrine, because they think it doubtful whether it be a doctrine of holy Scripture or no: and they judge very rightly in the general, that a stress ought not to be laid upon uncertainties, upon things precarious and conjectural, which cannot be proved to the satisfaction of the common reason of mankind. They are right in thesi, and wrong in hypothesi, as shall be shown in the sequel. Only I may hint, by the way, that our present debate is not directly with this kind of men: for they are rather to be referred to what has been written for the truth of the doctrine, than to what more immediately concerns the importance of it. Yet because the presumed uncertainty or doubtfulness of the doctrine, is by these men made the principal objection against the importance of it, and the author of the Sober and Charitable Disquisition seems to lay the main stress of the cause there, quite through his performance; it will be necessary to give that objection a place in this discourse, and to return an answer to it in the general, or so far as may be proper; not to draw the whole controversy about the truth of the doctrine into this other question concerning the importance of it.
While I am speaking of men doubtful in this article, I would be understood of serious and religious men, and not of such persons whose minds are purely secular, and who are indifferent to every thing but what concerns this world : such persons are of no consideration in our present question; neither are they men proper to be reasoned with, as they have no relish at all for inquiries of this nature. But I proceed.
3. A third kind of men are those that believe the truth of the doctrine, but demur to the importance of it. And as Episcopius was, in a manner, their father or founder, and great leader, they have been frequently called after him, Episcopians. These are properly the persons whom we have here to dispute with : for they are the men who make the truth and the importance of the doctrine two distinct questions, admitting the one, and rejecting the other, or however demurring to it. The design of this middle way was to reconcile parties, if possible, and to favour the Socinians so far, as to condemn their doctrines only, without condemning the men.
But this new and fruitless expedient was very much disliked by all that had any warm and hearty concern for the true and ancient faith. Such coldness and indifferency, with regard to a prime article of Christianity, appeared to many, to be nothing else but an artful, specious way of betraying it, and likely to do more mischief than an open denial of it. The ablest and soundest Divines, as well Lutheran bas Reformed c, have reclaimed strongly against it, detesting the neutrality of the remonstrant brethren, as tending to undermine the Gospel of Christ. The Divines of our Church, however otherwise supposed to be against Calvinism, and to favour Arminianism, yet smartly condemned the Remonstrants in that article. Dr. Bull, particularly, appeared against them in a very accurate and learned treatised, in the year 1694. And it is worth observing, how Dr. Nicholls afterwards expresses himself, in the name of our whole body. “There is another Ar“ minian doctrine, which we avoid as deadly poison, their “ assertion that there is no necessity of acknowledging " three Persons in the divine nature, nor that Christ in “particular is the eternal Son of God: this heretical no“tion our Church abominates and detests, as an heinous
b For the Lutherans, I shall cite Buddeus only, who is as mild and moderate in his censure of Episcopius, as any of them.
Nimio enim concordiæ, dissentientesque tolerandi stu:lio, ea interdum ad fidem et salutem minime necessaria judicavit, quæ vetus Ecclesia ipsa, Scripturæ suffragio hac in re non destituta, adeo necessaria pronuntiavit, ut æternæ salutis spem non habeat qui ea negare aut impugnare ausus fuerit. Buddei Isag. p. 422.
• The learned Witsius may speak for the Reformed.
Injurii in Deum Remonstrantes sunt, quando palpum obtrusuri, quos plus justo amant, Socinianis, eos describunt quasi qui vitam suam ex Evangelii præscripto sic instituunt, ut Patrem in Filio ejus colant, et ab utroque Spiritus Sancti gratiam sanctis piisque precibus ambire studeant. Quid audiemus tandem ? Illine vitam ex Evangelii præscripto instituunt, qui satisfactionem Christi negantes, Evangelium evertunt ? Illine Patrem in Filio co. lunt, qui æternum Dei Filium fine å vIqwtov esse calumniantur, quem uti talem adorantes convertunt in idolum ? Mine piis precibus Spiritus Sancti gratiam ambiunt, qui Spiritum Dei accidens, et creaturam, vel saltem medium quid inter Deum et creaturam esse blasphemant? Wits. in Symbol. Apostol. p. 76.
impiety, and what was never heard of in the writings of “ the primitive Christianse.” Thus far he, in relation to our Divines of the Church of England.
As to the Divines of the separation, they are known to have been as zealous as any men could be, for the necessity of believing the doctrine of the Trinity, as the sum and kernel of the Christian religion, the basis, or foundation of the Christian faith. The testimonies of Mr. Baxter, Mr. Corbet, Dr. Manton, and Dr. Bates, to this purpose, may be seen at one view in a late writer f: to those might be added Dr. Owens, and Mr. Lob h, and perhaps
Judicium Ecclesiæ Catholicæ de necessitate credendi, &c.
Nicholls's Defence of the Church of England, part i. chap. 9. Mr. Scrivener, long before, (A. D. 1672.) had passed the like censure.
Hunc [Socinum) non minima ex parte secutus Episcopius, et ipse antiquitutis (quod norunt Docti) imperitus, novam credendi imo et philosophandi" licentiam, regulamque affectavit : et-mysteria Christianæ fidei summa, tam singulari et inaudito acumine, vel crasso potius fastu, tractavit, ut non pertimescat liberos cuivis fideli eos articulos de S. S. Trinitate permittere, absque quibus constans et fæderalis fides docuit, nullum ad vitam immortalem aditum patere Christianis. Scrivener. Apolog. adv. Dallæum, in Prefat.
Mr. Eveleigh's preface to a treatise entitled, The Deity of Christ proved fundamental.
& Owen's Vindiciæ Evangelicæ, præf. p. 64. " Growth of Error, p. 3, 50, 69, 75, &c.
many more. In short, all parties and denominations of Christians, who appear to have had the truth of the doctrine at heart, or any good degree of zeal for it, have contended equally for the necessity of believing it, and have refused communion with the impugners of it.
II. I come next to observe something of the general principles upon which they build, who assert the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, and who refuse communion with the open impugners of it.
1. They lay it down as a certain and indisputable principle, that there are some Scripture-doctrines of greater importance than others: and they generally make their estimate of that greater importance, by the relation or connection which any doctrine is conceived to have with Christian practice or worship, or with the whole economy of man's salvation by Christi; or by its being plainly, frequently, or strongly inculcated in holy Scripture. Doctrines of this character are commonly styled necessaries, essentials, fundamentals, prime verities, and the like. Not that I mightily like the word necessary, in this case, being a word of equivocal meaning, and great ambiguity, leading to mistakes, and furnishing much matter for cavils. For when we come to ask, necessary to what? or, necessary to whom ? and in. what degree? then arises perplexity; and there is need of a multitude of distinctions to set the matter clear, so as to serve all possible
A doctrine may be said to be necessary to the being of the Church, or to the salvation of some persons so and so qualified, or to the salvation of all: and many questions may arise about the precise degree of the necessity in every instance. But it is easily understood how one doctrine may be said to be more important than another; as more depends upon it, or as it more affects the vitals of Christianity, than doctrines of another kind : and we need look no further than to the nature and rea
See Dr. Sherlock's Vindication of the Defence of Dr. Stillingfleet, printed in 1682, ch. v. p. 256, &c.