« PreviousContinue »
and with the practical views of Christians in relation to the Father and Son, may I not hope to escape the censure of those who profess not to know what is meant by Person as applied to the Godhead ?
It will probably be urged, that God is incomprehensible, and that the doctrine which affirms three Persons in one God or one Being, is no more above our comprehension than the eternity and self-existence of Jehovah.
It will readily be granted, that God is to us incomprehensible in his Being and all his attributes; yet in respect to any of his attributes, we can explain what we mean by the terms in which they are expressed. We can go explain as to make each other understand what we mean by the terms eternity and self-existence. Let it, then, be as intelligibly explained what is meant by Person, when we say that there are three Persons in one God, or one intelligent Being
The incomprehensibleness of an object is no reason why we should use terms without any definite meaning. God is an incomprehensible object; but in using the term, we may have an intelligible and definite meaning. We ought, at least, to have so much meaning to the terms we use, that we can explain our own meaning:
By some good writers it has been supposed, that the proposition which affirms a plurality of Persons in one intelligent Being, implies no contradiction. But I would ask, how is it known that it does not imply a contradiction? Can we affirm any thing of a proposition any farther than we understand the terms? Let the terms be explained, and then we stand on fair ground to judge whether the proposition does or does not imply a contradiction. But until this be done, it would be very improper, at least for me, to affirm any thing concerning it, one way or another. Until we understand the term Person, we know not what is affirmed in the proposition. And if there be no definite meaning to the term, he who states the proposition either affirms nothing, or he affirms he knows not what. If we think to give instruction by using terms in an indefinite and undefinable sense, we most certainly miss our aim. For no person can be enlightened by any proposition any farther than he understands the meaning of the terms. If then, in writing on Divinity, we use terms which are undefinable in our own application of them, what do we better than to dark en counsel by words without knowledge ?
The proposition supposed to be apostolic is this, “ There are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost." Neither the term Persons, nor the name God, is to be found in the text.
And if we know not the import of the term Persons, was it not very unsafe to insert it in a proposition intended to express the apostle's meaning? It was probably with a view to render the apostle's proposition more explicit, that the term Person was inserted. But however inexplicit or indefinite the proposition may be, as it stands in the Bible, it surely could not be amended by inserting an undefinable term, or by using a definite term in an undefinoble sense.
As to the improper use of the term Person, I consider myself as having been culpable as well as others. And while I frankly place myself on this ground, I do it in hope that the preceding remarks will not be viewed as designedly reproachful to any class of Christians or Divines.
Thus, Sir, I have attempted to establish one point in favor of the proposition, that the Supreme Being, or selfexistent God, is only one Person. If the account which has been given of the word Person be correct, to say that the one self-existent God is three self-existent Persons, is the same as to say that the self-existent God is three self-existent intelligent Beings. And if there be a propriety in saying that the one God is but ONE SUPREME BEING, there can be no propriety in saying that the ONE God is three SELF-EXISTENT PERSONS.-But there are still other considerations which may be brought into view in subsequent Letters.
The Scripture use of PRONOUNS and VERBS in relation to God.
ALTHOUGH the definition which has been given of the term Person should be admitted as correct, still it may be thought that a definition may be given of the term God, which will render it consistent to say three Persons in ONE GOD. And such a definition has been given by Mr. William Jones in his celebrated performance on “ The
Catholic doctrine of the Trinity." In page 9, he says, “ The word God, though of the singular number, is of plural comprehension.” In proof of this idea he has written a distinct chapter, in which he has evidenced both labor and ingenuity. And it will be admitted, that if, in the Scriptures, the term God be intended to import three selfexistent Persons, there is no more contradiction in affirming
that there are three Persons in one God, than there would be in affirming that there are three Persons in one Council, or one Senate, or one Triumvirate.
In support of his idea, Mr. Jones has not only mentioned some nouns which are plural in the Hebrew, which are in English translated God; but he has stated that there are also pronouns and verbs of the plural number agreeing with the term God. And it must be acknowledged that, at first view, these things appear much in favor of a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. For according to the established principles of Grammar, pronouns and verbs should agree with their nouns in number. It then behoves us to examine the subject with care and with candor.
Mr. Jones has exhibited several instances in which, in our translation, the pronouns us and our are used, as he supposes, as proper pronouns for God only, and as denoting a plurality of Persons in the one God. The first text which he mentions is Gen. i. 26.
" And God said, Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness." -In reference to this text, it may be observed, that these. pronouns do not necessarily imply more than two Persons, nor do they necessarily imply that both of them were self-existent. The representation is, that God spake to some other Person. And as he created all things by his Son Jesus Christ, the Son was probably the Person to whom God spake. And all the plural pronouns which Mr. Jones has relied on may be accounted for in the same manner.
In respect to the plural nouns which Mr. Jones has mentioned, I shall only say, that they go as far to prove a plurality of Gods, as they do to prove a plurality of selfexistent Persons.
But besides nouns and pronouns, he has suggested, that, in the Hebrew, several plural verbs and adjectives are found agreeing with the noun God. 'I his he also considers as evidence that the word God implies a plurality of Persons.
Being wholly unacquainted with the Hebrew language, I cannot pretend to dispute the correctness of his statemenis. Some things, however, may possibly be suggesterl, which may be sufficient ground on which to doubt the correctness of his inference.
1.' I think we have no evidence, that the sacred writers were perfrctly acquainted with the rules of Grammar, nor that the Divine Spirit, by which they wrote, secured them from every departure from the rules of Grammar in the construction of sentences. -But,
2. If it were certain that the inspired penmen never de. viated from the rules of Grammar, it would still be possib'e that as many as five or six mistakes, in regard to the number of verbs, might be made in copying the Old Testament five or six thousand times. For though we have evidence that great care was taken in copying the Scriptures, we have no evidence that the scribes were intallible. And if, in the innumerable copyings of the Old Testament prior to the art of Printing, not more than five or six verbs were changed from the singular to the plural number, we have great reason to acknowledge a superintending Providence. : Thus, Sir, I have endeavored candidly to reply to Mr. Jones's arguments from plural pronouns and verbs. Let it now be supposed, that instead of five or six plural pronouns of doubtful relation, he had found five or six thousand plus ral pronouns which obviously stand as substitutes for the names God, Lord, or Jehovah; wou d not his argument have been at least a thousand times more forcible than it is on the ground he has produced ? Yea, let it be supposed that, on the most careful examination, he had found in the Bible only
five or six pronouns for God of the singular num. ber, and those, too, of doubtful import; and that, on the other hand, he had found all the pronouns for God, of the plural number, excepting the five or six doubtful instances; would not his argument have been invincible in favor of a plurality of Persons in the Godhead?
Would any man of sense, after such an exhibition, ever have called in quesa tion the doctrine of three self-existent Persons ? Confident I am, that such an argument would have had more weight in my mind than all the arguments I have seen or heard in favor of that doctrine.
Permit me then, Sir, to retort the argument from the use of pronouns and verbs in the Bible. Excepting those
doubtful instances of plural pronouns mentioned by Mr. Jones, are not the pronouns for God uniformly of the singular number?
Instead of five or six doubtful cases, do we not find
five or six thousand instances in which personal pronouns of the singular number are unquestionably used as substitutes for the nouns God, LORD, or JEHOVAH ? And setting aside Mr. Jones's exceptions, do we noi find the verbs, agreeing with the noun God, uniformly of the singular number?
When God speaks of himself in the first Person, he uses the pronouns I, My or Mine, Me. When he is addressed in the second Person, the pronouns are Thou, Thy or Thine, Thee. When he is spoken of in the third Person, the pronouns are He, "His, Him.---This, you must be sent sible, is the general and uniform use of the pronouns for God, in the Old Testament and the New. It may be add. ed, that Myself, Thyself, and Himself, are also used as pronouns for God.
If God were THREE CO-equal Persons, it would be very natural to expect that we should find explicit evidence of this in the manner of giving the law, and in the prayers of saints. But when the law was given on Mount Sinai, God spake in the singular number, “ I am the Lord thy God thou shalt have no other Gods before ME.”
And is it not, Sir, a solemn fact, that in all the prayers throughout the Bible, in which God is addressed, that he is addressed as one individual Person?
Moses, David, and Daniel, may be considered as well acquainted with God. Each of them addressed God as one Person only.
Moses said, “ Yet now if Thou wilt, forgive my sin; and if not, blot me, I pray. THEE, out of the book.”
David said, “ O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shew THYSELF,”-not yourselves. “ Lift up THYSELF, THOU Judge of the earth.”
Daniel said, “ O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive ; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for THINE Own sake, O my God : for Thy city and Thy people are called by THY
We may here add, that Christ, who must be supposed to be better acquainted with God than any ancient Prophet or any modern Divine, addressed the Father not only as one Person, but as the “ ONLY TRUE GOD." As the Son,