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The best illustration of the dean's intentions in preaching this
sermon, occurs amongst his 'Thoughts on Religion. move opinions fundamental in religion is impossible, and the attempt wicked, whether those opinions be true or false, unless your avowed design be to abolish that religion altogether. So, for instance, are the famous doctrine of Christ's divinity, which has been universally received by all bodies of Christians, since the condemnation of Arianism under Constantine and his successors; wherefore the proceedings of the Socinians are both vain and unwarrantable, because they will never be able to advance their own opinion, or meet any other success, than breed ing doubts and disturbances in the world.—Qui ratione sua disturbant mænia mundi.-The want of belief is a defect that ought to be concealed, when it cannot be overcome. The Christian religion, in the most early times, was proposed to the Jews and heathens without the article of Christ's divinity, which I remember Erasmus accounts for, by its being too strong a meat for babes. Perhaps if it were now softened by the Chinese missionaries, the conversion of these infidels would be less difficult; and we find by the Alcoran, it is the great stumbling, block of the Mahometans. But in a country already Christian, to bring so fundamental a point of faith into dispute, can have no consequences that are not pernicious to morals and public peace.”
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 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 con
tent 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 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 law may be 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 the 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 parts, till at length, by the 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 already 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.
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 a man. For instance: if I should be commanded by an angel from heaven 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 Abraham 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 commands 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 would if any one told me that three men are one, and one man is three? We are told, that a man and his wife are one flesh; this I can comprehend the meaning of; yet, literally taken, it is a thing impossible. But the apostle tells us, “ We see but in part, and we know but in part; and yet we would comprehend all the secret ways and workings of God.
Therefore I shall again repeat the doctrine of the Trinity, as it is positively affirmed in scripture: that God is there expressed in three different names, as Father, as Son, and as Holy Ghost: that each of these is God, and that there is but one God. But this union and distinction are a mystery utterly unknown to mankind.
This is enough for any good Christian to believe on this great article, without ever inquiring any farther. And this can be contrary to no man's reason, although the knowledge of it is hid from him.
But there is another difficulty of great importance among those who quarrel with the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as with several other articles of Christianity; which is, that our religion abounds in mysteries, and these they are so bold as to revile as cant, imposture, and priestcraft. It is impossible for us to determine, for what reasons God thought fit to communicate some things to us in part, and leave some part a mystery : but so it is in fact, and so the holy scriptures tell us in several places. For instance: the resurrection and change of our bodies are called myste