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ON THE PRACTICAL NATURE OF THE DOCTRINE
OF THE TRINITY.
1. SINCE religion especially refers to God, and has him for its object, it is of the utmost importance that we have correct notions of his nature and attributes. For if our notions of the Deity be either erroneous or incorrect, our worship, sentiments, and conduct, will receive an influence, pernicious in proportion to the extent of our false notions and conceptions. That this is true, is proved by the history of all nations; for though the heathen believed that there was a Deity; yet when they held" the truth in unrighteousness," the consequence was, that, “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things :” thus they“ changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.”i Nor are the pernicious consequences of false notions respecting the Deity confined to worship and sentiments, but extend themselves to moral practice; for in proportion as men do not “ retain God in their knowledge,” they are given
1 Romans i. 21-25.
over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient ; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication ... covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit ... haters of God... proud... disobedient to parents ... covenant-breakers... implacable, unmerciful.”'Such are the immoral consequences of false notions respecting the Deity; and which nothing but a true knowledge of him can correct: consequences which are proved by the history of every heathen nation, in every age and country.
2. But though correct notions respecting the nature and attributes of God, be of such vast importance both in religion and morals; yet of his SUBSTANCE we neither know nor can know any thing : " Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” For though we should say, as our Lord has graciously taught us, that “ God is a Spirit ;” yet the question recurs, What is a Spirit ? And here our faculties fail, for such knowledge is beyond our comprehension. Nor ought we to be surprised that this knowledge is beyond our comprehension ; for we know not the subSTANCE of any one thing whatever. We see only the figures and colours of bodies ; we hear only sounds; we touch only external surfaces; we smell only odours ; and possess
the sense of taste. But the intimate, the REAL SUBSTANCE of bodies we cannot distinguish by any of our senses, nor by any reflex act of the mind; and much less have we an idea of the subSTANCE of God. We know him only by his properties and attributes;
1 Rom. i. 22-31:
Job xi. 7.
by his most wise and excellent structure of the universe ; and by final causes; we admire him on account of his perfections; and we adore and worship him on account of his dominion over us as his creatures and servants.
3. But though we can know nothing of the subSTANCE of the Deity; yet still, by reason, we may know something of his nature and attributes; and, by Revelation, we may know much more. To reason it is that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech ; and night unto night sheweth knowledge. The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead. He left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and glad
And not only do the greater and more magnificent works of the Universe shew the eternal power and Godhead of the Deity to our reason,
but also those things which may appear to us the most minute and insignificant. For a blade of grass, a nettle, a worm, as well as the eye, the planets, and the constellations, all prove that there is a God, the Creator of whatever exists. But revelation increases our knowledge of the nature and attributes of God, and shews us many things respecting them which reason never could have discovered. Christianity discovers to us not only that there is but one God, the Creator of all things ; but that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost : “ for there are three
| Scholium generale. Newt. prin. ? Psalm xix. 1, 2; Rom. i. 20; Acts xiv. 17.
that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. "1 It should always be remembered that “Christianity is not only an external institution of natural religion, and a new promulgation of God's general providence, as a righteous Governor and Judge of the world; but it contains also a revelation of a particular dispensation of providence, carrying on by his Son and Spirit, for the recovery and salvation of mankind, who are represented, in Scripture, to be in a state of ruin. And, in consequence of this revelation being made, we are commanded to be baptized, not only in the name of the Father, but also of the Son and of the Holy Ghost ; and other obligations of duty, unknown before, to the Son and the Holy Ghost are revealed.” 2
4. But, whatever we know of the nature and attributes of God, either from reason or Revelation, it implies his relation to us and ours to him. If we derive the word God, from the Saxon yod, which signifies also good; then we perceive that he is kind to us, and consequently that we owe gratitude to him : in his very name there is conveyed an idea, not only of the purity, but also of the benevolence of his nature ; for “ God is love ; or, if we derive Deus, God, according to the learned Pocock, from an Arabic word Du ; then it will signify his dominion over all his creatures, and that authority and power which he exercises over creation. If we take the Greek word Theos and derive it from Theein, to run ; then we perceive his relation to us, by pervading all things by his power: or should we derive it from Theasthai, then will it convey the idea of his omni
1 1 John v. 7.
? Butler's Anal. p. 188. Edit. 1813.