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To "THE ARIAN INVITED TO THE ORTHODOX FAITH."
WHILE I was writing the little treatise of the "Christian Doctrine of
the Trinity," the subject carried my thoughts away into several occasional sentiments, and incidental truths. These would have interrupted the thread of my designed discourse too much, if they had been mingled with the several propositions to which they belong. I thought it proper therefore to throw them into distinct dissertations, several of which I had concluded before that treatise was made public.
It was my design to have finished them all at that time; but some providential occurrences broke off those studies, and I have been farther prevented by other requests of my friends, and my own promised engagements of various kinds, from resuming that subject again, till a few months ago this last winter. A man who through long weakness of body is rendered incapable of applying himself above six or seven hours in a week to any peculiar study, distinct from his necessary work, may be well excused if he is slow in the publication of any thing upon such a controverted doctrine.
1 confess when I wrote that little book, I had no purpose of engaging myself in controversy. My intention was only to exhibit the plain naked doctrine of the Trinity, viz. "That the Father, Son, and Spirit, are represented in scripture under three personal characters, and yet as having communion in one godhead," without entering into any particular modes of explication, and without pretending to say new things on that article, either by way of position or argument. My chief view and design was to establish plain, unlearned christians in the faith of that doctrine, by those scriptural evidences, which seemed to me strong and convincing; and to lay a foundation for extensive charity, by making it appear that no particular mode of explication was plainly and evidently determined in the word of God: And that the scripture has made our salvation to depend on those offices which these divine persons sustain, and on the honours due to them according to those offices, rather than upon any deep philosophical notions of their essence and personalities, any nice and exact acquaintance with their mysterious union and distinction.
I presumed therefore that if any persons who disbelieved the proper deity of the Son and Spirit, had a mind to signalize themselves by an opposition to the common faith, they would have chosen some author of superior rank, who had entered more largely into the merits of the cause, and by a full and particular explication of the scriptural proofs thereof, had vindicated that doctrine in a more complete and controversial manner. But I found myself mistaken; for some months after my treatise appeared in the world, there was published a professed answer to it, bearing this title, "A sober Appeal to a Turk or an Indian concerning the plain Sense of Scripture relating to the Trinity, being an Answer to Mr. I. Watts's late Book, intitled, The Christian Doctrine, &c." I have a very great disinclination to handle the saw of controversy, especially in matters so divine and sacred; and my imperfect health does by no means permit me to lay out many hours in such work. My life itself, that is, all the useful moments of it, are so shortened and diminished hereby, that I find them all much too few for the more agreeable parts of that service to which Christ has called me; and upon this account I shall not think
myself obliged to enter the lists with any antagonist whatsoever, upon matters of dispute and intricacy, either now or hereafter.
Yet since I had promised some occasional dissertations on this subject, I found it was much expected by the world, that I should then take some notice of this author and his work, which I have now done in several of the discourses which I have written, and endeavoured to lay a foundation for the support of the common doctrine of the Trinity, by obviating some of his most plausible objections.
And since I never designed to give a large and particular answer to the "Sober Appeal," for the reasons already mentioned, I think it proper here to make a few general remarks on the style and manner of that writing.
And first I acknowledge my obligations to the author, for the terms of detency and respect, and the language of friendship with which he treats me both in the preface and in the greatest part of his book. I receive them as the unmerited civilities of a courteous stranger: And had I the happiness of knowing his name, perhaps I should find just occasion to make an equal return.— But while I am permitted to learn his character no otherwise but from his writing, I can only treat my unknown friend with all that esteem which his writing deserves. For I must confess, how superior soever others may appear in learning and argument, yet I am not willing any writer should exceed me in the practices of a christian temper.
But I hope my respondent will not take it ill, if I mention a few instances, wherein he seems to have been awakened by his zeal to forget his usual style: As when he takes occasion to pity me and all my friends, for the shifts we are put to in the defence of our doctrine. When he tells me he will not triumph over the weakness of my arguments, and yet affects a triumph in several places; with some other such superior airs, which he assumes in the course of the debate. This language carries a sort of sovereignty and contempt in it, but adds neither force nor ornament to the paragraph or
Again, He seems to indulge the same insulting strain, when he repeats so often the words resistless and over-bearing, which I think I had never used but once or twice at most. This represents me as though I had supposed every single argument of mine to be over-bearing and resistless; whereas in those places where I use either of these words, they refer chiefly to the whole strength of all the arguments put together, and which, I confess, still I cannot resist; and multitudes of christians have confessed the same. If I any where use such language on slighter occasions I receive the reproof.
He seems again to forget his usual candour, when he construes my words in his preface, and his appendix, as casting damnation on all those who disbelieve the eternal deity of Christ, by my citing the words of the apostle; 2 Pet. ii. 1. "Damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them," page 489. I must confess, I do not think that scripture particularly refers to those that deny the godhead of Christ; but rather to those that deny him as a Holy Governor of his people: Or else it reproves in general all those that deny Christ in any of those powers, properties, offices, or characters, the belief of which is made necessary to salvation. Now when the first part of my book is spent in proving the deity of Christ and the Spirit, the second part of it in declaring their personality, and the third or last part in surveying their several offices and relations in which they stand to us, and upon a recapitulation I make this conclusion, "That there are such things as damnable heresies, when persons deny the Lord that bought them;" this should, with much more justice, be referred, as I designed it, to the denial of all or any of these preceding properties, characters, or offices of Christ, the belief of which the scripture makes necessary to salvation, and not merely be confined to the single doctrine of his deity.
Another thing I am constrained to take notice of is, that my unknown friend the appellant had written with a greater degree of open fairness and evidence, if he had attacked my propositions in the method in which I have placed them, wherein they give mutual light and force to each other: But he has chosen rather to single out for his first attacks some special paragraphs out of distant places of my book, whereby he seems to insinuate to the reader the weakness of my whole argument; and he spends above sixty pages upon these, till at last be himself confesses, that he thinks it high time to enter upon the arguments I have used," page 62. And even then he "intreats patience once more" for three pages, here he enters upon a regular form of objections, page 65. But however it be, I have this advantage by it, that as other circumstances permit me not to engage in any regular or continued 'controversy, so I am the better justified to all the world in taking notice of what this author hath objected, in several unconnected dissertations.
I have not much reason to complain of misrepresentations of my sense by the appellant, in the matters of argument. One of the most remarkable instances of this kind is, when he supposes me to believe a "greater distiaction between the sacred three in the godhead itself" than my words amount to, as page 10, and other places. For though I confess the scriptural representation of personal distinctions in some places is pretty strong, yet I have no where asserted three literal and proper distinct personalities to be internal and essential to the godhead itself. In general I must own he has written with a degree of impartiality and fairness in this respect beyond what is usual in such controversies; and if ever he has mistaken my sense, I persuade myself that it was not done with design, because, except the places mentioned, there is a general appearance of justice and candour running through his arguments. Yet I cannot but take notice of one passage, wherein he has not done the Rev. Dr. Waterland the same justice, in a citation, pages 12 and 153, where he twice represents him as declaring, that "the Doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly understood but by few in comparison," whereas that learned author had only asserted, that "the controversy of the Trinity is thoroughly understood but by few in comparison," which makes a great difference in the sense: for multitudes of the vulgar rank of mankind may understand the doctrine of the Trinity, sufficient for their own salvation, while the learned controversies that relate to it are much unknown by them.
I own the light I have received from this author in the different turn he hath given to some few of those scriptures which I had brought as proofs of my doctrine, which I must acknowledge carries such a degree of probability, as to weaken the force of my arguments derived from thence; such are John iii. 13. Zech. xi. 12, 13. and perhaps, one or two more; for I would not willingly pervert one text of scripture from its native and sacred sense, to support any article of my faith.
I take this opportunity here also, together with my thanks to this author, to acknowledge the goodness of some other friends, who by their obliging letters have made other occasional exceptions to any uncautious sentences which I had used in some part of my treatise; which being written chiefly for private christians, had not all that strict accuracy in it that controvery required. But these expressions 1 shall endeavour to correct in the next edition, which my booksellers tell me will be quickly wanted.
With regard to the business of charity, which I mentioned before, as well as the matters of argument for the defence of the deity of our blessed Saviour. I have other dissertations lying by me, which give some general solutions to the chief scriptural difficulties in this controversy, and make it appear that the common doctrine of the Trinity stands firm upon the greatest part of those scriptural proofs by which I have endeavoured to support it. And I hope it shall also be sufficiently proved, that the zealous contenders for this VOL. VI.
doctrine are not always so deficient in their charity as they are too often represented.
I know there are some things will be objected to these dissertations, viz.
Objection I. Since I have several more discourses by me already finished, it will be naturally demanded, "Why I have not published them at once? Why I have given the world at present only these three?" To this I answer, That these three essays enter not so far into the particular distinctions between the sacred persons, but chiefly maintain their communion in the same godhead: I thought therefore it was much more proper to send these abroad first; hoping that if my labours of this kind find acceptance among my friends, I might then be better encouraged to publish the rest in a few months time; in some of which I found myself constrained to speak more largely, and particularly of the “distinction of persons in the sacred Trinity."
But on the other hand, if the general doctrine of the communion of Christ in the deity; or the union of two natures in one person, or divine worship paid to Christ the Mediator, cannot be supported, our particular modes of explaining the distinotion of the divine persons are all destroyed and rendered useless.
11. It will be censured as a fault by many, "that I repeat the same things." Truly the reason is, because these essays were written at distant times: And besides, in such a controversy it is necessary sometimes to set the same things before the view of the reader, which would have but little force, or perhaps be forgotten, if they were only intermingled with other parts of the controversy, and by that means were out of sight.
HE. Some will make it a matter of offence and scandal, that " I do not write with that full assurance of every thing as others would do in the like To this I answer, That since the studies of these last years I think I am established afresh in the belief of the deity of Christ, and the blessed Spirit, and assured of it upon sufficient grounds, that they are one with the Father in godhead, though they are represented in scripture as distinct persons. But as to the various particular explications of this doctrine, and incidental arguments that attend it, I desire to believe and to write with a humble consciousness of my own ignorance, and to give my assent but in proportion to the degrees of light and evidence. I am persuaded, if every man would proportion his assent by the same rule, much of our modern assurance would be abated; we should have but few dogmatists amongst us, even in some important doctrines; and by this method perhaps the most positive and confident assertors of their own opinions would become the most doubtful and modest of all men.
Besides, when I consult the scripture, or human writers, on so sublime a subject, I do not come with all my opinions fixed and determined, but I read in order to receive further light, and therefore I would write as one who may be mistaken, and who is honestly seeking truth. I know the weakness of human understanding, and how easily we are led into error. I have often seen occasion to retract my former sentiments, and correct them by further discoveries; and I esteem a modest and cautious manner of speech, in most of the controverted points, to be one excellence of a fallible writer, and retraction of an error to be yet a superior attainment: And though this is made sometimes a matter of scoff among vulgar souls, it is always a honour among the wise.
IV. Some think, that I do not write with indignation and zeal enough, and that I treat the adversaries of the divinity of Christ with too much gen. tleness for any man who professes to be a friend to that sacred article, and a lover of the blessed Saviour."
I might make several replies to such an objection. As,
Answer I. If my blessed Saviour has loved his own enemies so as to die
for them, and to intreat them in the gentlest manner to be reconciled to God the Father by him, I persuade myself he will never be angry with me, if I shew so much love to those who dishonour him, as to intreat them in a gentle manner, after his example, to be reconciled to God their Saviour, to confess his sublime character, and to pay him divine honours.
II. I would not willingly call every man an enemy to Christ, who lies under some doubts of his supreme godhead. My charity inclines me to believe that some of them, both read their bibles carefully, and pray daily for divine instruction to lead them into all truth: That they honour and adore that glorious person whom they believe to be the brightness of his Father's glory, and by whom he created the worlds, who condescended to take a human body, and to die for sinners; and that they trust in him, and love him above all things, beside God the Father, though perhaps some culpable prejudice may cleave to their minds, whereby they are prevented from receiving that light and evidence of his divine nature, which, in my opinion, shines clearly in the word of God: And I cannot but hope, that such humble and sincere enquirers will not miss any of the necessary articles of faith.
III. I am well assured that the wisdom which comes from above is first pure, and then peaceable; that we are required in the gospel not to call for fire from heaven, even upon such Samaritans who will not receive Christ at all, but with all meekness to instruct those that oppose themselves, that they may be recovered out of any dangerous snares. The methods in which divine controversy bas generally been written, have proved fatal to religion, and utterly improper to promote the truth. When we rail we set our opponents a railing too; and in such a frame of spirit, we are neither fit to instruct others, nor are they fit to receive instruction. The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God, nor the knowledge of Christ. These angry fits of zeal do but awaken the disorderly passions of men, and tempt them to resist every argument that comes armed with such assumed sovereignty and fire. It is God only who has a right and a power to convince the obstinate by a spirit of burning: He may clothe an angel in flame, or inspire a prophet to be the minister of his shining vengeance, but I had rather be made a humble messenger of his light and love. The great God can send conviction in the language of death and ruin, but he does not exert this power till gentler methods have been tried in vain.
Besides, in contests and debates among meu much darkness is consistent with vehement beat. These qualities are found in greatest perfection in the nether world; and sometimes on earth the fiercest heat has the deepest darkness attending it. Light itself, when joined with noise and fire, has not the most happy influence to improve and refine the mind. A flash of lightning rather affrights than guides us: The voice of thunder carries more terror than instruction in it: The soul bars up all the avenues of its understanding against truth itself, when it demands entrance by such human methods of violence. It is only the gentle approaches of truth, like the morning light, which open the windows of the soul, and make it willing to receive all further discoveries. I add in the last place,
IV. That if by such methods as these I shall be so far honoured of God, as to recover any who have departed from their former principles, or estab lish those who doubt, I am well assured that my blessed Lord will esteem it as a better service done for himself, than if I had guarded his sacred doctrines by scattering all the terrors of hell round about them, than if I had thundered out damnation against disbelievers, and awakened the rage of every gainsayer without the least hope of conviction. There was once a great and strong wind that rent the mountains, and brake the rocks in pieces, after the wind an earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, in the earthquake, or in the wind; then a still small voice was beard; God was in that voice, and visited his prophet who was jealous for the Lord of hosts:" Kings xix 11—13.