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all their heart; but the best of the saints are only its imperfect friends; for they "are sanctified" but "in part."
Sinners, however, are more consistent with themselves; for as the Holy Scriptures state, they "are wise to do evil; but, to do good, they have no knowledge." The cause of error, has always been vindicated with ardor, and talents. When it is lost it is not, in general, for the want of an indefatigable, and learned defence. If there had never been any opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity, it is highly probable that the inspiration of the text before us would never have been called in question. It must be allowed, that if it is the word of God, its divine authority ought to be vindicated on fair and candid principles.
There is no place, in which a proper defence of the text in dispute is more necessary than in this town; for opposition to the belief of a Triune God, has taken a strong stand here for a number of years. All, however, that has been said and written to prove that the passage before us is an insertion; with all the concessions which have been made by Trinitarians on the subject, have failed of producing in my mind a conviction of its spuriousness: I still believe it to be the fruit of divine inspiration-the real word of God. To shew the reasons for this belief, will be a leading object in the subsequent investigation. I have no other apology for undertaking an examination of this subject, than that it appears to be necessary, here; and that I feel disposed to do it all the justice that lies within my power; the extent of which must be submitted to the candid judgment of my hearers. It would be inadmissible for me to boast, either of my talents or advantages; and to depreciate them, is unnecessary. I shall speak to you as unto wise men, whose province it is to judge according to the evidence laid before you. That the important subject may be fairly canvassed, it is designed,
1. To explain the doctrine which is obviously contained in the text,
II. Show its agreement with the Holy Scriptures in general. And,
III. Adduce evidence for the divine authority of the passage. In conformity with this plan, I am,
I. To explain the doctrine which is obviously contained in the text.
To deny its inspiration, and then argue, as many do, that it is not a sufficient evidence of the Trinity in Unity, is an extraordinary and vain attempt. If it is an insertion, as the Anti-Trinitarians contend, it was surely the design of the inserter, to have it received as an unquestionable proof of that doctrine. If it were not in itself a decisive passage, we have reason to believe, that there would have been less contention respecting it, in the christian world. Its real import, however, is very apparent, to the most superficial observer.
In defence of its proper meaning, we may observe,
1. That it speaks of three, who reside in heaven, who are expressly called, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. It will not be doubted, that the Father is that God, who possesses all possible perfection and glory. By the Word, the Son of God is undoubtedly intended, who is called the Lord Jesus Christ, and is the acknowledged Savior of men. He is frequently called the Word, in the Holy Scriptures. To labor this point, at present, is therefore, unnecessary. It must be admitted that he is a real Person, and distinct from the Person of the Father. That these two are now in heaven, and were in it in the days of St. John, is a truth not to be doubted.
The third Person mentioned in the text, is called the Holy Ghost. His personality is confessedly denied, by all who appropriate to themselves the dignified name of
Unitarians. It is sufficient to my present purpose, however, to show, that he is, in the passage before us, considered as a Person, and distinct from the Father and the Son. To view the Holy Ghost, as being only an attribute, or operation of the Deity, when he is represented as actually bearing witness with two real Persons, is a thing utterly inadmissible. No doubt can remain, that the text in debate explicitly declares the doctrine of three distinct agents in heaven, who bear the glorious names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This is all which is incumbent on me to show, under the present particular.
2. These three illustrious Persons are said, in the text, to bear a distinct witness or record. To "bear record," is a solemn testimony. This is evident from that saying of John the Baptist respecting Jesus Christ, "I saw, and bear record, that this is the Son of God." A proper witness must be a rational agent; and on this ground it is said in scripture, "In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established." If the Holy Spirit is not a Person, but a divine perfection or energy, it is remarkable that this should be represented as bearing witness 'with two real intelligent agents. It is very evident that this is not the meaning of the words in question. If the author intended to convey such an idea, he has given his readers no intimation of it, and on that account we must view him as having been very unhappy in the selection of his words. But, if he meant to speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as three distinct Persons, or agents, then his language is perspicuous and forcible. If the text is an insertion, the inserter, undoubtedly, was a Trinitarian, and intended to speak of these three witnesses in heaven as distinct agents. We need not hesitate in saying, that this is the literal and obvious import of the passage, whether it is viewed as spurious or genuine. To seltle
this point, is all that is necessary under the present subdivision; and this, I may now consider as being sufficiently evinced.
3. It is said in the text, that the "three who bear record in heaven, are one." An understanding of this point is of vast importance; and, therefore, a careful and clear explanation is requisite. It is not the design of the writer, to inform his readers, that the three witnesses in heaven, are one, merely in respect to the truth of their testimony. He appears to be very particularly guarded on this point; distinguishing between the witnesses on earth, "the Spirit, the water, and the blood," and the "three who bear record in heaven." Concerning the first class of witnesses, he says, "and these three are one;" but of the second, he states, "and these three agree in one." That "the Spirit, the water, and the blood, are one, only in regard to the nature and truth of their testimony, is clearly the object of the writer; for he does not say of the three who bear record in heaven, that "they agree in one;" but that they "are one." It is very mysterious to some people, as they say, to see how three can be one, and one three. Declining a humble and candid examination, they have the temerity to pronounce the sublime doctrine of a Trinity in Unity, an absurdity-an absolute contradiction.
We are ready to acknowledge that this would be true, if it were said, that they are three and one, in the same sense; but this is not the case. There is a sense in which they are really three, and there is a sense in which they are actually one. To communicate this incomprehensible and glorious mystery, was, undoubtedly, the serious intention of the writer of 1 John 5. 7. No words could be better chosen, to express the doctrine of a Triune God. It has been the belief of Trinitarians, in all ages, that
the Almighty is one in essence, and three in Persons. The insinuation of Anti-Trinitarians, that we believe in a plurality of Gods, is either founded on the want of proper information, or in real disingenuousness. We have no idea, that there are, or possibly can be, three distinct supreme Gods; but we fully believe, that there are three distinct Persons, in the one eternal and infinite Jehovah. We wish to have no dispute with any sect of men, about the existence of more than one Supreme Being. The contest between us and those who wish to be distinguished by the name of Unitarians, is entirely about the manner of the divine existence, and not about the number of Gods. If our doctrine is as absurd and easily confuted, as they in general pretend, it is astonishing that they are all so anxious to misrepresent it to the unthinking populace. A misrepresented doctrine, we readily grant, may be easily confuted. Let them state our views fairly, on the sentiment in question, and then demonstrate from Scripture its fallacy, and the dispute will be completely settled, and their triumph will be worth enjoying.
He that has a clear cause, would manifest great folly in resorting to misrepresentation and sophistry. Every disputant will be candid, who finds it possible to maintain his ground in that way; for truth requires no subterfuges.
In the view of what has been said, it appears with great clearness, that our text contains the common Trinitarian idea of God. It expressly states, that He is three and one-a Trinity in Unity. There is no attempt made by the writer of the text in debate, to show how the thing is; he merely asserts the fact. We are bound, therefore, to believe, on the testimony of God, who certainly best knows, the mode of his own being. The practical use of the doctrine, is easily seen; but the mystery of it remains unexplained, and probably will, through eternity.