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he will hardly be so absurd as to throw a dart that will so certainly rebound and wound himself. And thus, through the whole course of his conversation, let him keep an eye upon that one great comprehensive rule of Christian duty, on which hangeth not only the law and the prophets, but the very life and spirit of the Gospel too; “ Whatsoever ye would that
should do unto you, do ye even so unto " them.” Which rule that we may all duly observe, by throwing aside all scandal and detraction, all spite and rancour, all rudeness and contempt, all rage and violence, and whatever tendeth to make conversation and commerce either uneasy or troublesome, may the God of peace grant, for Jesus Christ his sake, &c.
Consider what hath been said; and the Lord give you a right understanding in all things. To whom, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and for ever.
(First printed in 1744.)
I EPISTLE GENERAL OF ST. JOHN, V. 7.
For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the
Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these
This day being set apart to acknowledge our belief in the Eternal Trinity, I thought it might be proper to employ my present discourse entirely upon that subject; and I hope to handle it in such a manner, that the most ignorant among you may return home better informed of your duty in this great point, than probably you are at present.
It must be confessed, that by the weakness and indiscretion of busy, or at best of well-meaning people, as well as by the malice of those who are enemies to all revealed religion, and are not content to possess their own infidelity in silence, without communicating it to the disturbance of mankind; I say, by these means, it must be confessed, that the doctrine of the Trinity hath suffered very much, and made Christianity suffer along with it. For these two things must be granted : first, that men of wicked lives would be
very glad there were no truth in Christianity at all ; and secondly, if they can pick out any one single article in the Christian religion, which appears not agreeable to their own corrupted reason, or to the arguments of those bad people who follow the trade of seducing others, they presently conclude, that the truth of the whole Gospel must sink along with that one article. Which is just
Which is just as wise, as if a man should say, because he dislikes one law of his country, he will therefore observe no law at all, and yet that one
very reasonable in itself, although he does not allow it, or does not know the reason of the lawgivers.
Thus it hath happened with the great doctrine of the 'Trinity ; which word is indeed not in Scripture, but was a term of art invented in the earlier times to express the doctrine by a single word, for the sake of brevity and convenience. The doctrine then as delivered in holy scripture, though not exactly in the same words, is very short, and amounts only to this ; that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are each of them God, and yet there is but One God. For as to the word Person, when we say there are three Persons; and as to those other explanations in the Athanasian creed this day read to you (whether compiled by Athanasius or not) they were taken up three hundred years after Christ to expound this doctrine ; and I will tell you upon what occasion. About that time there sprang up a heresy of people called Arians, from one Arius the leader of them. These denied our Saviour to be God, although they allowed all the rest of the Gospel, wherein they were more sincere than their followers among us.
Thus the Christian world was divided into two part, till at length by the
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zeal and courage of St. Athanasius, the Arians were condemned in a general council, and a creed formed upon the true faith, as St. Athanasius hath settled it. This creed is now read at certain times in our churches, which although it is useful for edification to those who understand it, yet since it contains some nice and philosophical points which few people can comprehend, the bulk of mankind is obliged to believe no more than the scripture doctrine, as I have delivered it; because that creed was intended only as an answer to the Arians in their own way, who were very subtle disputers.
But this heresy having revived in the world about a hundred years ago, and continued ever since; not out of a zeal to truth, but to give a loose to wickedness by throwing off all religion ; several divines, in order to answer the cavils of those adversaries to truth and morality, began to find out farther explanations of this doctrine of the Trinity by rules of philosophy; which have multiplied controversies to such a degree, as to beget scruples that have perplexed the minds of many sober Christians, who otherwise could never have entertained them.
I must therefore be bold to affirm, that the method taken by many of those learned men to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, hath been founded upon a mistake.
It must be allowed, that every man is bound to follow the rules and directions of that measure of reason which God hath given him; and indeed he cannot do otherwise, if he will be sincere, or act like
For instance : if I should be commanded by an angel from caren to believe it is midnight at noon-day ; yet I could not believe him. So if I
were directly told in Scripture that three are one, and one is three, I could not conceive or believe it in the natural common sense of that expression, but must suppose that something dark or mystical was meant, which it pleased God to conceal from me and from all the world. Thus in the text, “ There are Three that bear record,” &c. Am I capable of knowing and defining, what union and what distinction there may be in the divine nature, which possibly may be hid from the angels themselves ? Again, I see it plainly declared in Scripture, that there is but one God; and yet I find our Saviour claiming the prerogative of God in knowing men's thoughts ; in saying “ He and his Father are one;" and.“ before Abra“ ham was, I am.” I read, that the disciples worshipped him: That Thomas said to him, “ My Lord “ and my God:” and St. John, chap. i. “In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.” I read likewise that the Holy Ghost bestowed the power of working miracles, and the gift of tongues, which, if rightly considered, is as great a miracle as any, that a number of illiterate men should of a sudden be qualified to speak all the languages then known in the world, such as could be done by the inspiration of God alone. From these several texts it is plain, that God cominands us to believe there is a union, and there is a distinction; but what that union, or what that distinction is, all mankind are equally ignorant, and must continue so, at least till the day of judgment, without some new revelation.
But because I cannot conceive the nature of this union and distinction in the divine nature, am I therefore to reject them as absurd and impossible, as I