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Thoughts on the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity

EXTRACTED FROM THE

EVANGELICAL MAGAZINE.

THOUGHTS

ON THE

DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY TRINITY.

I BELIEVE that there are beings superior to us, at least in our present state, whom we call Angels. But what I can collect from the Scriptures concerning their nature and powers is very indistinct. I never saw an angel, and therefore am at a loss how to conceive of him. How poor, then, must be my conceptions of the great God! The revelation he has given of himself in his Word, is undoubtedly fully adequate to the state and wants of mankind ; but it can be rightly understood, so far only as it is accompanied by the farther revelation of his Holy Spirit. And as the knowledge of believers is progressive like the light, which advances from dawn to day, I hardly expect that any human form of words can equally and exactly express the apprehensions, even of all who are truly taught of God. A child may repeat such a form no less accurately than a man, but he will seldom annex the same ideas to what he says. There are likewise children, yea, babes in grace. All may be equally orthodox, but I think they cannot all be equally enlightened.

For myself, though [ trust the views I have received exempt me from the charge of worshipping I know not what; I am sensible I have not " already " attained." My conceptions are weak and .fault; and such as they are, I know not how to express them to others to my own satisfaction. I dare not indulge speculations upon this high subject; and when I speak of it, I wish to speak with reverence and caution, lest I should darken counsel by words

^ftthout knowledge.

^WThe principal effects attributed to faith are, that it purines the heart, works by love, and overcomes the world. I think that no other cause can produce these effects. Therefore, when I perceive these signs of faith, I am ready to take it for granted, that the principles of the persons who exhibit them are right; though they may, and I suppose they do per

- ceive them more or less explicitly, according to the will of Him who worketh all in all, or to the different stages of their standing or experience in the divine life. To judge otherwise, appears to me as unreasonable, as to expect that several persons viewing the same tower from different distances, should all perceive it precisely uftder the same angle.

I believe there is a God. That God is one, I am assured not only by Scripture, but even by reason. I see enough around me, to be convinced that he is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things. I see the traces and impressions of his wisdom, power, and goodness, wherever I turn my eyes. JBut the solitary idea of God, absolutely considered, would bring no comfort to my heart. Too long, while I said there was a God, 1 lived without him in the world ; and I should have always lived so, /had not my eyes been in some degree opened, to see him by the light of his Scripture. There,.besides strong declarations of the unity of the Godhead, and repeated warnings against idolatry, I meet with theterms, Father, Son, or Word (of God) and Holy Spirit. Whether men style" these, persons, subsistences, or by any other name, I find asqribed to each those attributes which I judge incommunicable to creatures, as much so to those of the highest order, . as to worm's or oysters : such as omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. Therefore, whether I attempt to think of Father, or Son, or Holy Spifit, #-. think of God, and yet I am sure there can be but onaf ~ God.

I read in the gospel of St- John, that the Word was God, that all things were made, or created by him in the beginning. This, therefore, is a fundamental article of my faith. I am told by the same authority, that the word was with God. I conceive that this clause, likewise, has its determinate meaning. It teaches me to attend to the above distinction ; but I think it does not require me either to comprehend or to explain it. I observe a distribution poirited out in the economy of redemption ; that the purpose is more peculiarly ascribed to the Father, the accomplishment to the Son, and the application to the Holy Spirit. But as these offices and engagements can only be sustained or fulfilled by the perfections of Deity ; and as God is essentially and immutably one, I hope that whether I bow my knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whether I pray to the Saviour himself, or implore the Holy Spirit forliis gracious light and influence, I still worship the same one God.

I sometimes hear of Sabellians, but I know not well who they are. 1 have been told the Moravians or United Brethren are Sabellians ; what they once were I cannot say; I judge of them at present by theif late publication, entitled in Latin, Idea Fidel,,

N. a

in English, an Exposition of Doctrine. If the word Sabellian imports any thing unscriptural or dangerous, I hope, for my own sake (according to this book), they do not deserve to be branded with it. For I am free to confess, that of all the systems of divinity I am acquainted with, none seems in the .main to accord more with my sentiments, and particularly in what relates to the Trinity, than the Brethren's Exposition of Doctrine.

But 1 apprehend that some good men, though not in their judgment and experience, yet in their more general manner of expression, seem to border upon another extreme;-for though they profess to believe, and I doubt not, cordially do believe, the deity of the Saviour, they do not seem to speak of him with that freedom, frequency, and fervency, of which the apostle Paul has given us such a pattern in his '•writings. I have heard excellent sermons, evidently upon Gospel principles, and well adapted to general edification, in which I could perceive but one defect (and I must think it a defect), that the name of Jesus Christ the Lord has hardly been mentioned, but only the word God, which has, perhaps, been so often repeated, as to sound in my ears almost like an expletive. On the other hand, I have known some ministers suspeeted of Sabellianism, for often addressing their prayers, directly and immediately, to the Lord Jesus.

For my own part, if the one be three, and the three one, as 1 believe, I am not afraid that there is a jealousy in the Godhead, lest one person should be over-rated or too much admirecf and adored to the disadvantage of the others. Rather I read it is the will of the Father that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. I endeavour to honour the Father by prayer, by praise, by intrusting and surrendering my all to him, by obedience,

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and proclaiming the glory of his, character. The same honour I owe, and endeavour to pay,,to the Son, and, by parity of reason, to the Holy Spirit. ^ \ If the Lord Jesus be verily and indeed God over all, blessed for ever, how can I possibly think or - speak of him too highly ; or pray to him, or praise him too often ? The question, how far, and when, we may warrantably pray to him, seems to me the same as to ask, how far, and when, we may warjrantably pray to God ? .

- I think the glory and grace of God, can only be duly perceived, at least by us sinners, in the person of Jesus Christ. His mediation, though it derives its efficacy from his divine nature, is performed in the human. With regard to this office, I consider him as the way to God, the mercy seat, the throne of grace. But 1 consider his human nature, likewise, as the temple in which the fulness of Gad substantially dwells. In prayer, as I am differently led, 1 come to God by Christ, or I come to God in Christ. In both I think I have scriptural precepts, promises, and precedents for my warrant.

Bishop Bonner ignorantly charged Philpot, that he was like the ancient heretics mentioned by Pliny. -These heretics were the primitive Christians ; and Pliny tells us, that they assembled together, to worship Christ as God. May such heresy ever be my privilege and my glory !

I have observed, that in revivals of religion, the word Lord has generally become more in use and repute than at other times. I admire this word. We have none that can better answer the Hebrew word Jehovah, and it is likewise the peculiar name by which the apostles speak of the Redeemer. He is Lord of all. Yet the Father and the Holy Spirit are frequently spoken of by the same title.

Dr. Owen in his Christiologia states, that the more general object of prayers in the New Testament is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he afterwards points out some especial .seasons in a believer's experience, in which, he thinks it may be helpful to faith to address prayer more immediately and directly to the Saviour. - Perhaps many of the Lord's people feel themselves always in one .or other of those situations, which the Doctor deems peculiar and occasional. But he has omitted one case, which I think well worthy of mention. I think the Lord Christ is he with whom we, who have the honour to be ministers of the Gospel, more especially have to do. Is he not the head of the church ? Do we not hope that we have received our designation from him I Is it not his flock we are engaged to feed ? To whom should we, like the apostle, report our discouragements or success, what we have taught, and what have we done ? On whom are we to depend that his grace may be sufficient for us, to enable us for service, or to support us under temptations ? What is the grand, the inexhaustible subject of our ministry ? Whom are we to preach ? Christ and him crucified ! Christ Jesus the Lord! from whom, as the great and righteous Judge, we hope to receive the crown of life, which he has promised to all who love his appearance.

I grieve to think, how often I have amused myself and my hearers (I fear it has been little more) with making grave remarks upon sin or holiness, which though, I hope; true in themselves, and important in their proper places', have, by the length of my proofs, reasonings, and illustrations, tended to hide the Saviour from our view. I have since compared this mistake to that of a painter, who in a historical piece should omit the principal figure. I have thought it like an attempt to point out the most striking parts of an extensive prospect afc.

midnight. In future, I wish when I preach (if I may so speak) to keep the sun in view above the horizon. Then I may hope that He will be seen by his own light, and will likewise diffuse a light upon" every part of my subject. >>

That there is an injudicious, improper way of N preaching Christ, and dwelling and chiming upon the name of Jesus, as though the sound of it could work like a charm, I readily admit. But I believe the most judicious preacher, if faithful, if warmly conscious of the Saviour's just right to appear glorious in every eye, and precious to every heart, will not escape censure, from fastidious, superficial, and incompetent hearers. They will allow us to speak of God in general terms, but they will not be pleased with hearing too much of Christ. His name is of small value with the careless,, and those who are at ease ; it is designed for the relief of the weak, the wounded, the helpless, and the misera'ble ; and they who truly know him, and have experienced his saving power, will be ready to speak of his name (if they could speak Latin) in the words of Austin, that it is " Mel in ore, melos in aure, 4• medicina in corde."

To draw to a close :^If the Lord shall be pleased to give me clearer and deeper views of this point than I have as yet attained, I believe it must be not by investigation on my part, but by a manifestation on his part. I cannot, by -searching, find out God. Nor am I ambitious of that moon-light knowledge, which chiefly qualifies for framing distinctions, and weighing words and phrases. The only knowledge I think worth praying for, is that which, while it enlightens, exhilarates, animates,' and sanctifies the heart: such as the good woman hud, who told her persecutors, when they would have disputed with her,—" I cannot talk for Christ,. " but I can burn for him."

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I conclude with my sincere and earnest prayers for myself and my readers, in the words of the apostle, " That Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith ; that " we, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able " to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, " and length, and depth, and height, and to know the " love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we " may be filled with the fulness of God !"

OMICRON.