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Is it taught by our Saviour and his apostles, “in the clearest manner, and in the most express terms that language can supply," that "there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and that these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory?" If no single text contains thus much, let two, three, or a greater number be produced, in which the different members of this proposition are distinctly contained. The question at issue is not whether the doctrine is supposed to be taught in the Scriptures. That this is the prevailing opinion among christian professors at the present day, is a well known fact; but an opinion, however generally received, or however long it has prevailed, is not scripture authority.* It is matter of equal notoriety, that a few texts have been collected, which, taken in the aggregate, have been supposed to authorise the conclusion expressed in the language just quoted from the Presbyterian Catechism; although, when these texts are separately examined, it instantly appears, that not one of them contains the doctrine, which is said to be so clearly taught in scripture.--It rests, therefore, on the assumption of those who have imagined, that it was fairly deducible from such passages when compared with each other. But, is this evidence? Would such a species of proof be regarded as the clearest and most express in any matter involving life, character, liberty, or property? Rather, would it not be inadmissible; or only admissible after satisfactory proof had been received, that nothing better could be obtained?
To save time, I will only advert to the baptismal commission, Matt. xxviii. 19. “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in (ris into) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This is the passage, which is principally relied on to prove the doctrine of the trinity. But it is perfectly silent as to the Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The preceding verse, with which it is evidently connected, contains a declaration by our Lord expressive of his inferiority and dependence, and which is assigned as the reason why he commissioned his apostles to preach, and to baptize all nations. To infer a trinity on account of the manner in which baptism was here directed to be administered, is not to prove any thing. It simply declares the opinion held by the party making such an inference. By means of the same species of logic, a Jew might, with equal propriety and success, prove the deity of Moses; for we read that the Israelites “were all baptized unto (ers into) Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” I forbear to enlarge, because this text has been already considered in the Miscellany.
* Non theologia vera est theologia, quia constanter retinetur, aut diu durat; millerigria theologia potest esse omnium pessima.
It is not a little wonderful, that those, who assert the doctrine of the trinity to be a scripture doctrine, do not appear to have been able to give their sentiments respecting it in the words of scripture. Were such a call to be made on Unitarians, they could be at no loss to answer it. Out of a multitude of texts, which contain their alleged heretical opinions, they would only find it necessary to select such as convey their sentiments to their brethren in the most concise and distinct man
I will mention two, which would be amply sufficient. “To us there is but one God, even the Father,there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."
Let believers in the trinity produce passages equally explicit, then they can talk with a little more propriety of the express terms of scripture in their favour.
It is a curious fact, that the definition given of the trinity in the Shorter Catechism, although taught to children and catechumens, and represented in common with the rest of that Catechism and the Confession of Faith, as a summary of divine truth, does not accurately exbibit the belief of not a few ministers belonging to the Presbyterian church? If the doctrine of the trinity be clearly and expressly taught in scripture, it seems wonderful, that the united wisdom of a large body of ministers has neither enabled them to exhibit it in the language of scripture, nor in language, which they are prépared to defend, or disposed fully to adopt. I have never yet met with a trinitarian divine, who did not admit, that to assert that there are three persons in the Godhead would be incorrect, unless, at the same time, it were perfectly understood, that the word person was not to be taken in its usual and popular sense, but only as deno. ting a distinction. That is, there are three distinctions in the Godhead; at the same time it is maintained, that to each of these distinctions the personal pronouns, I, thou, and he, may be applied; that is, as I understand the matter, these distinctions are personified.
But is this the great doctrine of the trinity, on which so much stress has been laid by polemics, and which is said to be so clearly taught in scripture? Why then is it so ambiguously taught in an authorized and popular catechism, and in the public standards of churches claiming to be sound in the faith? Why are children and
young persons directed to repeat words, which are not calculated to convey a correct inpression to their minds of a doctrine said to lie at the foundation of chris. tian truth, and the right apprehension of which is regarded as essential to an acceptance with God? Why so much proscription and denunciation, sq inany harsh speeches,
and such professions of painful solicitude? Is the belief in three distinctions, supposed to exist in regard to the Supreme Being, an essential prerequisite to the supreme love of God, and the love of our neighbour as ourselves? Does it furnish a better or surer test of discipleship, or of loving one another agreeably to the spirit of our Lord's new commandment, and the model exhibited by bis illustrious example? Many more reflections offer themselves, but I leave it to every intelligent, serious, and inquiring reader to supply them.
In the mean time, if this doctrine be so exceedingly plain in the Scriptures, it is not a little remarkable, that many of the most learned trinitarians have laboured so hard to find it there, and that many others have given up the search in despair, and acknowledged their favourite doctrine to be supported by no other authority, than that of the church. I will state a few facts relating to this subject, beginning with the Fathers.
Theophilus, the good bishop of Antioch, and the first who used the word trinity to denote the three persons in the Godhead, found this doctrine in the three days, which preceded the creation of the sun and moon. These three days, he observes, "are types of the trinity, of God, his logos, and his wisdom."
It was a device as early as Tertullian to find the trinity in the language employed respecting the creation of man.
“Let us make man in our image,” implies, it was said, a plurality of persons. These persons, it was inferred, inust be three in number, though we are not told why three should be supposed in preference to two, or four, or ten. Austin refined upon this discovery, and ascertained, that notwithstanding there are three persons, they are nevertheless one.
Were it not so, 1 he observes, it would have been, “Let us make man in
our images, and not in our image."* Basil was pleased with Austin's improvement. Glycas, the annalist, was still more fortunate, and went so far as to discover the particular office, which each person of the trinity performed in the creation of man. “Who said,” he asks, "Let us make man? The Father. Who took the dust of the ground for that purpose? The Son. And who breathed into him the breath of life. The Holy Spirit.”
Austin found another proof of the trinity in the account of the creation. This was completed in six days, and six is twice three. Hence, according to Austin's logic, there are three persons in the trinity.
Cyril of Alexandria found a proof of the trinity in the dimensions of Noah's ark, which he sagaciously remarks was three hundred cubits long, and thirty highet
Novatian supposed it was the Son, and not God the Father, who came down upon
the tower of Babel, for as the Almighty fills all space, he cannot be said either to descend or ascend.
According to Austin, the three angels, who appeared to Abraham, were the three persons of the trinity; and the two who went to Sodom, he says, were the Son and Spirit, because they were serit, and the Father is never represented as being sent. This latter was also the opinion of Cyril and Athanasius. Glycas tells us, that it was the trinity, who entered the tent of Abraham, and
* Non diceretur ad imaginem nostrum, sed ad imagines nostras.
+ Aspice ergo quæso, quemadmodum in trecentis cubitis, quod arcæ longitudinem esse assignavimus perfectio sanctæ trinitatis consecratur.
Opera Vol. i. p. 17. He enlarges upon this thought, and shows how the several dimensions of the ark represent the three hypostases (tres hypostases] of the trinity.