Page images

influence, or skill, or intelligence, sufficient to enable them to carry the object into successful execution. Christians must first become cultivators, to some extent, in their own proper persons, before they can understand the exact length and breadth of the work that lies before them. And is it not time to commence the work of preparation? Surely, the lame, the blind, the torn, and that which costs them nothing has long enough been offered in sacrifice. God is a Spirit, those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. He is a just God; he will not accept of robbery in the sacrifice of praise. He is a zealous God; he will not be mocked. His glory he will not give to another.


ONE of the most difficult points of knowledge, is, to know how much may be known; to decide where the limits are to be placed to the speculations of the inquisitive mind of man. Neither philosophers nor theologians, have, in any age, observed these limits, and the consequence has been, that philosophy and theology, instead of being a systematic arrangement of the phenomena of the material and spiritual world, so far as they come within the range of our observation, or of the facts revealed in the word of God, are to so great an extent, the useless and contradictory speculations of men on things beyond the reach of our feeble powers. These speculations, as it regards divine things, are so mixed and enwoven with the facts and principles contained in the sacred Scriptures, that it is no easy task to determine, in every instance, what is revelation, and what is human philosophy. Yet with respect to almost every doctrine of the

Christian faith, this is a task, which, every sincere inquirer after truth, is called upon to perform. The modes of conceiving of these doctrines, in different minds and in different ages, are so various, that it is evident at first view, that much is to be referred to the spirit of each particular age, and to the state of mind of every individual. The history of theology affords so much evidence of the truth of this remark, that it probably will not be called in question. It must not be supposed, however, that every thing either in philosophy or theology is uncertain; that the one and the other is an ever changing mass of unstable speculations. There are in each, fixed principles and facts, which, although frequently denied by men whose minds have so little sense of truth, that evidence does not produce conviction, have maintained, and will maintain their hold on the minds and hearts of men. With regard to theology, the uniformity with which the great cardina! doctrines of our faith have been embraced, is not less remarkable, than the diversity which has prevailed in the mode of conceiving and explaining them. The fact, that there is one God, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are this God, that there is such a distinction between the Father, Son, and Spirit, as to lay a sufficient ground for the reciprocal use of the personal pronouns, has been the faith of the Christian church from first to last. And yet there is probably, no one doctrine contained in Scripture, which has been so variously defined and explained, as this. In the earlier ages of the church, when the religion of the Gospel was glowing in the hearts of all the followers of Christ, when it was peculiarly a religion of feeling, it was not to be expected that this mysterious doctrine should be very accurately defined. To the early Christians, Jesus Christ was God, to him their prayers were directed, their praises given-in him all their confidence was reposed. In their preaching, sermons, and apologies, they presented God the Father, Son, and Spirit, as the

great object of their worship, as the Christian's God. It is true, that very early, some few of the fathers, who had previously been speculative men, introduced their speculations into the doctrine of the Trinity, but this was far from being the prevalent character of this period. Irenenus is a much better representative of this age, than Justin Martyr, and we find him expostulating against the various attempts which had been made to explain the inexplicable mysteries of the Godhead. When religion had in some measure, passed from the heart to the head, when the different modes of thinking and speaking on the subject of the Trinity, which had long prevailed, began to give rise to serious evils; and when opinions where adopted, inconsistent with the great Bible-fact, which had previously been almost universally admitted, then a necessity arose for those in authority, to state with more precision, what was the faith of the church on this important point. That the modes of expression employed in their authoritative exposition of this doctrine, were derived from the prevalent modes of thought of that age, and were intended to meet particular forms of error, may be readily admitted, while we maintain that the truth which they meant to convey, was nothing more than the great fundamental doctrine of the Christian church. It need not be concealed, that the expressions, which in various ages, and by distinguished writers, have been employed on this subject, have often been infelicitous and improper. Expressions, which if strictly interpreted and urged, would imply either, Tritheism on the one hand, or Sabellianism on the other. While at the same time, to the minds of those who used them, they implied only what all Christians recognise as the corner stone of their faith. It is much to be lamented, that so much animosity has been excited, and so much time and labor wasted on points of dispute, which arose from the imperfection of human language, or the weakness of the human mind. There has this good

effect, however, resulted from these controversies, that the church has been driven from one unguarded mode of expres sion to another, until it has come back to the simple statement of the word of God, and consented to leave the inexplicable unexplained. It is to be remarked too, that this advantage has been derived mainly from the opposers of the doctrine in question. They have seen and exposed the difficulties attending the various definitions of the doctrine of the Trinity, and have falsely imagined, that in showing the inconsistency of a theological definition, they have thereby refuted the doctrine itself. It would certainly be very unjust to accuse the modern defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity, of having renounced the faith of the Church, because in their statement of this article, they abstain from the excep tionable or unintelligible terms, which in former times, have been employed to set it forth. The Bible-fact has ever been, and still is, by the great body of the Christian community, maintained and defended, although we have been taught to confine ourselves more closely to what the Scriptures more immediately teach.

The same series of remark, may be applied with equal propriety, to the doctrine of the Sonship of Christ. With regard to this doctrine, even in a greater degree than the one just alluded to, it is true that the explanations and definitions of which it has been the subject, have obscured the great truth, meant to be taught. It may be stated with the consent of the opposers of what is called the eternal generation of the Son, that in every age of the church, the great body of Christians have believed that Christ is called the Son of God, on account of the relation existing between him as God, and the first person of the Trinity. Whether this doctrine is taught in the word of God, is disputed, but that it has been the faith of the church, is admitted. In the early ages, it is not impossible that the ideas attached to the expression, were more vague even than those, which from the

nature of the case, are still entertained by those who maintain the common doctrine on this point. Christians were taught to believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and they were led to consider these terms, as the appropriate names of the several persons of the Trinity as such. As soon, however, as men began to ask what was the nature of the relation indicated by these terms, we find the same variety of modes of thinking, and the same diversity of language, which have been exhibited in the explanation of most other leading doctrines of the Scriptures. In the first few centuries, almost every mode of explanation and illustration was adopted, which has ever been employed since. Some of the Fathers had recourse to the distinction between the Logos ἐνδιαθετος, and the Logos προφορικος. Το what extent this philosophical theory prevailed in the church, it is not our object to enquire. We merely wish to note the diversity which obtained among those who all united in believing that Christ as Logos, was the Son of God. Ireneus objected to this, and all other explanations of the doctrine, while he maintained the doctrine itself. What the nature of Christ's Sonship, or generation was, he pretended not to say, and complained of those who did. "When any one asks us," he says, "how the Son is produced from the Father? we answer, no one knows. Since his generation is inexplicable, they who pretend to explain it, know not what they say. That a word proceeds from the understanding, every body knows. What great discovery then, is made by those who apply what is familiar to every one, to the only begotten word of God, and undertake to explain so definitely, his incomprehensible generation."*

Origen's explanation was derived from the Platonic doctrine of the relation of the vous to the ov, as the latter was always revealed in the former, so the Father is from eternity

*Adv. Hær. L. II. C. 28.

« PreviousContinue »