EIGHTH LORD S DAY.
Question 25. Since there is but one divine essence, why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?
Answer. Because God hath so revealed himself in his word, that these three distinct persons are the only true and eternal God.
In this question we have contained the doctrine of the church in reference to the one true God, and the three persons of the Godhead. The principal questions which claim our attention, in connection with this subject, are the following :
That there is a God, is proven by many arguments common both to philosophy and theology. These arguments we shall present in the following order :
1. The order and harmony which we observe every where in nature, .gives evidence of the existence of God. There is, as every one must perceive, a wise arrangement of every part of nature, and a constant succession of changes and operations, according to certain laws, which could not exist and be preserved, unless by some intelligent and almighty being. The Scriptures refer to this argument, at considerable length, in the following places : Psalms 8, 19, 104, 135, 186, 147 & 148. Rom. 1. Acts 14 & 17.
2. A rational nature having some cause, cannot exist except it proceed from some intelligent being, for the reason that a cause is not of a more inferior character than the effect which it produces. The human mind is endowed with reason, and has some cause. Therefore it has proceeded from some intelligent being, which is God. There is a spirit in man, &c. Yet they say, the Lord shall not see, &c. We also are his off spring. (Job 32 : 8. Ps. 94 : 7. Acts 17 : 28.)
3. The conceptions or notions of general principles which are natural to its, as the difference between things proper and improper, &c., cannot be the result of mere chance, or proceed from an irrational nature, but must necessarily be naturally engraven upon our hearts by some intelligent cause, which is God. The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts, &c. (Rom. 2 : 15.)
4. From the knowledge or sense which we all have that there is a God. There is no nation, however barbarous or uncivilized, but has some notion or system of religion, which presupposes a belief in some God. That which may be known of God is manifest in them [that is, in the minds of men], for God hath shewed it unto them. (Rom. 1 : 19.)
5. The reproofs of conscience, which follow the commission of sin, and harass the minds of the ungodly, cannot be inflicted by any one except by an intelligent being one who can distinguish between that which is proper and improper who knows the thoughts and hearts of men, and who can cause such fears and forebodings to arise in the minds of the wicked. Their worm dieth not. There is no peace to the wicked. God is a consuming fire. They shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences either accusing or excusing them. (Is. 57 : 21. Deut. 4 : 24. Rom. 2 : 15.)
Addenda. These reproofs of conscience, which are common to all men, may be regarded as a sufficient answer to the objection that has sometimes been brought against the existence of God, that it is a mere subtle device, invented and published by philosophers and legislators for the purpose of restraining men from the commission of crime ; for if it be true that it is a mere device, why is it, we might ask, that these men who seem to have detected this fraud are most harassed by their consciences on account of this their blasphemy, as well as for their other crimes. How, too, we might ask, could the mere assertion of a few individuals be sufficient to persuade all mankind into this belief, and cause it to be maintained in all succeeding ages ? And if, to weaken the force of this argument, it be asserted that there are those who neither believe in a God, nor are troubled by their consciences, we reply, that this, which they imagine, is most false, for there are none of the wicked who are free from these compunctions of conscience ; for however much they may despise God and every form of religion, and endeavor to repress their fears, so much the more are they tormented, and made to tremble at every mention and approach of God.. Hence we often see those whose lives are for the most part profane and secure, die in despair when they are oppressed with the judgments of God.
6. The rewards of the righteous and punishments of the wicked as the deluge, the destruction of Sodom by fire, the overthrow of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the downfall of flourishing kingdoms, &c., are evidences of the existence of a God ; for these judgments, which are inflicted upon wicked men and nations, testify that there must be some universal and omnipotent Judge of the whole world. God is known by the judgments which he executeth. Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth. (Ps. 9:16; 58: 11.)
Addenda. And although the wicked often flourish for a time, whilst the godly are oppressed, yet examples which are few in number do not weaken the general rule with which most events agree. And if it were even so, that the wicked do not as often suffer punishment as the righteous, yet these very examples, although few in number, testify that there is a God, and that he is also displeased with the offences of others who seem not to be so severely punished. But it is not true of any of the wicked that they are not punished in this life, for all those who are unconverted are sooner or later overtaken by punishment ; yea, they most generally die in despair, which punishment is more grievous than all others, and is the beginning and testimony of everlasting punishment. And although the punishment of the wicked in this life is not as great as their sins deserve, yet it nevertheless has some correspondence with the most tragical crimes of the ungodly, so that we are taught, by the doctrine of the church, that the lenity which God here uses towards the wicked, and the severity which he seems to show to the righteous, do not at all weaken his providence and justice, but rather declare his goodness, in that he invites the wicked to repentance, whilst he delays their punishment, and perfects the salvation of the righteous by exercising them with crosses and chastisements.
7. A civil compact or commonwealth, governed wisely by just and wholesome laws, could not possibly be exhibited to men, except by some intelligent being approving of this order ; and as devils and wicked men generally hate and oppose this order, it must of necessity be God who has hitherto preserved it. By me kings reign and princes decree justice. (Prov. 8:15.)
8. Heroic enthusiasm, or that wisdom and excellent virtue in under taking and accomplishing works surpassing the ordinary powers of man, as the dexterity and delight of skillful artificers and of governors in discovering and furthering the arts, and in devising various counsel ; also such greatness of mind in performing deeds of renown, and in managing affairs, as there was in Achilles, Alexander, Archimedes, Plato, &c., all give evidence that there must be some superior and omnipotent cause that excites and urges men on to these things. Of Joshua it is said : The Lord him self will go before thee, he will be with thee. The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him. (Deut. 31:8. Ezra 1:1. Jud. 14:19.)
9. The prediction of future events which could have been foreknown neither by human sagacity, nor by natural causes or signs, as the prophecies which had respect to the deluge, to the posterity of Abraham, the coming of the Messiah, &c., are of necessity known only by being revealed by him who has both men and the nature of things so completely in his power, that without his will nothing can be done. He is truly God, who can thus foretell what is to come to pass. Shew the things that are to come here after, that we may know that ye are gods. (Is. 41 : 23.)
10. The end and use of things generally are not by mere chance, nor from a being destitute of reason, but proceed from a cause that is wise and omnipotent, which is God. All things now are wisely adapted and ordained to their own peculiar and certain ends.
11. The order of cause and effect is finite, nor can it come to pass that the chain or course of efficient causes can be of infinite extent. There must, therefore, be some first cause which either mediately or immediately produces and moves the rest, and on which all other causes depend ; for in every order that is finite there is something that is first and before every thing else.
God cannot be defined, for the reason that he is immense, and because we are ignorant of his essence. We may, however, describe him to a certain extent from the revelation which he has been pleased to make of himself ; yet in giving a description of God we must be careful to include in it those attributes, representations and peculiar works, which distinguish him from all false deities. God is philosophically described as an eternal mind or intelligence, sufficient in himself to all felicity, the best of beings, and the cause of good in nature. A theological and more complete description of God, the one which the church receives, is the following : God is a spiritual essence, intelligent, eternal, different from all creatures, incomprehensible, most perfect in himself, immutable, of immense power, wisdom and goodness ; just, true, pure, merciful, bountiful, most free, hating sin which is, the eternal Father, who from eternity begat the Son in his own image ; the Son, who is the co-eternal image of the Father; and the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, as has been divinely revealed by the sure word delivered by the Prophets and Apostles, and divine testimonies ; that the eternal Father, with the Son and Holy Ghost, did create heaven and earth, and all creatures, is present with all creatures, that he may preserve and rule them by his providence, and produce all good things in them; and that from the human race, made after his own image, he hath chosen and gathers unto himself an everlasting church, by and for the sake of his Son, that by the church this one and true Deity may, according to the word revealed from heaven, be here known and praised, and glorified in the life to come ; and that he is the judge of the righteous and the wicked.
This theological description of God, which the church gives, differs from the philosophical description, 1. In perfection, because it contains certain things unknown to men by nature, such as the distinction which exists between the persons of the Godhead, election, and the gathering of the church through the Son. It also explains more fully those things which are known from nature. 2. In its effect, inasmuch as men cannot by the mere light of nature arrive at a true knowledge of God, nor be excited thereby to holiness or to the love and fear of God.
This same description teaches that the true God, whom the church worships, may be distinguished from false gods in three ways : by his attribute*, personal distinctions, and works. God has declared by his works that he is such an one by nature as his attributes import. He also shows that there are three persons in one divine essence, since, according to his works, which are works either of creation, or of redemption, or sanctification, God has different titles attributed to him, and to each person of the Godhead there is a peculiar name applied. God, therefore, differs from idols, First, by his attributes. Out of the church no attribute of God can be rightly and fully known. Even his mercy is not properly known by those who are out of the church, because the Son is not known, or the doctrine concerning him is corrupted. Nor do they know his justice, because the wicked do not believe that God is so greatly offended at sin that any satisfaction was needed, or that redemption could be effected only by the death of his Son. Nor can the wisdom of God be known without the church, because the principal part of it is found in his word, which the Gentiles had not. The same thing may be said of the truth of God, because we do not gain a knowledge of his promises from nature ; and so of all the divine attributes. The church, however, attributes to God, in the highest -degree, righteousness, truth, goodness, mercy, loving kindness ; which attributes of God the various sects are either entirely ignorant of, or, if they have any knowledge of them, they misrepresent them.
Secondly, by the personal distinctions of the Godhead. The heathen philosophers and sectarists neither know nor acknowledge that there are three persons in one divine essence. The church, however, acknowledges and calls upon the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God, subsisting in three persons, as he has revealed himself in his word.
Thirdly, by his works. Those who are without the church have no proper knowledge of the creation and government of all things, much less have they a correct knowledge of the work of redemption and sanctification through the Son and Holy Spirit. The true God is, in these respects, distinguished from idols. The knowledge of God, which his word reveals to the church, is also different from that which the heathen have obtained from the light of nature. A short explanation of the description of God, as given by the Church. God is an essence, that is, a thing which neither springs from, nor depends upon any thing else, but exists of and by itself alone, and is the cause of existence to every thing else. God is for this reason called Jehovah, as if to say, that he exists from himself, and causes all other things to exist.
Spiritual: that is, incorporeal, invisible, and imperceptible by the senses ; also, living or existing from himself, and quickening all things else.
Obj. 1. But God has often appeared to men ; therefore his nature cannot be spiritual in the sense just explained. Ans. God, in these appearances, merely assumed a bodily form for the time, without exhibiting his proper substance, which no man hath or can see. Obj. 2. But he was seen face to face. Ans. This, however, does not mean that God was perceptible to the natural eye, but that there was a clear perception of him by the mind. Obj. 3. But the Scriptures very frequently attribute to God the various parts and members of the human body. Ans. These representations of God are to be understood figuratively, as spoken after the manner of men. Obj. 4. But it is said that man was made in the image of God. Therefore God cannot be spiritual, as explained above. Ans. The image of God, in which man was created, consisted not in the shape or form of the body, but in the essence of the soul, in its powers and integrity.
Intelligent: The human mind, with the notions or general conceptions which it has, which are from God, proves that he is endowed with this attribute. He that planted the ear, shall he not hear ? (Ps. 94 : 9.)
Eternal: that is, having an existence without beginning or end. From everlasting to everlasting thou art God. (Ps. 90 : 2.)
Different from all creatures and things. God is not nature itself, nor matter, nor form, nor any part of nature, but the efficient cause of all things ; neither is his essence mixed or blended with other things ; it is different from and unlike every thing else. Obj. 1. All things are from God ; therefore they cannot be different from him. Ans. All things are indeed from God, but only by having been created by him out of nothing. Obj. 2. We are the offspring of God. Ans. But only in respect to a resemblance of properties, and by creation. Obj. 3. The saints are born of God. Ans. This is, however, by regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Obj. 4. We are made partakers of the divine nature, according to the apostle Peter. (2 Pet. 1 : 4.) Ans. This means nothing more than that God dwells in us, and that we have a conformity with him. Obj. 5. Christ is God, and has a divine body. Ans. But this is by virtue of the hypostatical union and glorification.
Incomprehensible: God is incomprehensible ; 1. As it respects our thoughts or knowledge of him. 2. In the immensity of his essence. 3. In the communication of his essence, in number one and the same.
Most perfect in himself. 1. Because he alone has all things necessary to perfect felicity, so that nothing can be added unto him to increase his glory or happiness. 2. Because he has all these things in and from himself.
3. Because he is also sufficient for the happiness of all other creatures. Obj. 1. But God is said to have made all things for himself. Ans. God created all things, not for the purpose of benefiting himself, but for the purpose of communicating himself to his creatures. Obj. 2. But God employs his creatures in effecting his designs. Ans. This he does not from any want or necessity in the case, but that he may honor his creatures by making them dispensers of his bounty, and co-workers with himself. Obj. 3. We are bound to worship God. Ans. This we owe to God, and results in our good. Obj. 4. To whom that is given which is his due, to him something is added. Ans. This, however, is not true in regard to that which is due according to the order of justice, and which contributes to the happiness of the giver. Obj. 5. God delights in our obedience. Ans. This he does in as far as our obedience is an object, and not in as far as it is an efficient cause of joy.
Immutable. God is immutable ; 1. In his essence. 2. In his will. 3. As it respects place, because he is immense. Obj. 1. But God is said to have repented of those things which he did. Ans. This is spoken figuratively. Obj. 2. God has often promised and threatened things which he did not perform. Ans. These promises and threatenings were always conditional. Obj. 3. But God changes his precepts, observances, and works. Ans. He changes them according to his eternal decree.
Omnipotent. 1. God can do all things which he wills to do. 2. He does them by his will alone, without any difficulty. 3. He does them, having all things in his own power. Obj. But there are many things which God cannot do, as to sin, to lie, to contradict himself, &c. Ans. But these things are indicative of weakness and imperfection.
Of immense wisdom. This shows itself, 1. In seeing and understanding himself, and all things out of himself, with one view or glance, perfectly and at all times. 2. In being the cause of all knowledge in angels and men.
Of immense goodness. 1. The nature of God is such as has been revealed in the law and the gospel. 2. He is the cause and pattern of all goodness in his creatures. 3. He is the supreme good. 4. He is essentially good.
Just. God is just; 1. In respect to his general justice, willing and doing unchangeably those things which he has prescribed in his law. 2. In respect to his particular justice, according to which he distributes unchangeably suitable rewards and punishments. 3. In that he is the rule and pattern of righteousness in his creatures. Obj. 1. God sends evil upon the righteous and good upon the wicked. Ans. This, however, will not always be the case : eventually it shall be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. Obj. 2. God does not immediately punish the wicked. Ans. He defers punishment in their case for various reasons. Obj. 3. It ought never to go ill with the good. Ans. Not with those who are perfectly good, which is not the case with any one in this life. Obj. 4. God does certain things contrary to the law. Ans. He takes away certain things from his general will by his special, which he has a right to do, as he is bound by no one. Obj. 5. God bestows unequal rewards upon men who are placed hi similar circumstances. Ans. He does not, how ever, give to any one his just desert.
True. 1. God has a true and certain knowledge of all things. 2. He does not will or speak things contradictory. 3. He does not dissemble or deceive. 4. He never changes his mind. 5. Whatever he says he brings to pass. 6. He enjoins truth and veracity upon all. Obj. 1. But God has foretold things which he did not intend to bring to pass. Ans. These things were spoken conditionally. Obj. 2. God deceived the prophets. Ans. He, in his just judgment, delivered them over to the devil, that they should be deceived.
Pure. 1. His nature is most pure. 2. He loves and commands that which is pure. 3. He greatly detests and severely punishes all manner of uncleanness, whether it be internal or external. 8. He distinguishes himself by this notable mark from devils and wicked spirits. This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication ; that every one of you possess his vessel in sanctification and honor. Defile not yourselves in any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled. (1 Thes. 4:3, 4. Levit. 18:24.)
Merciful. God s mercy appears in this: 1. That he wills the salvation of all men. 2. That he defers punishment, and invites all to repentance. 3. That he accommodates himself to our infirmity. 4. That he redeems those who are called into his service. 5. That he gave and delivered up to death his only begotten Son. 6 . That he promises and does all these things most freely out of his mercy. 7. That he confers benefits upon his enemies, and such as are unworthy of his regard. Obj. 1. But God seems to take pleasure in avenging himself upon the ungodly. Ans. Only in as far as it is the execution of his justice. Obj. 2. He refuses mercy to the ungodly. Ans. Only to such as do not repent. Obj. 3. He does not save all when he has the power. Ans. God acts thus that he may exhibit Ms justice with his mercy. Obj. 4. He does not exercise his mercy without a sufficient satisfaction. Ans. Yet he has most freely given his Son, that he might make satisfaction by his death.
Bountiful. God is said to be bountiful ; 1. Because he creates and preserves all things. 2. Because he confers benefits upon all, even upon the wicked. 3. Because of the free and boundless love which he exercises towards his creatures, especially to man. 4. Because of the love which he cherished towards the church, and in giving eternal life and glory to his people. Obj. 1. But the Scriptures speak of God as cherishing anger. Ans. He is angry with sin arid depravity, but not with his creatures. Obj. 2. God often inflicts punishment upon his creatures. Ans. Only upon such as are impenitent.
Most free. God. is most free ; 1. From all guilt, misery, obligation, servitude and constraint. 2. He wills and does most freely and righteously all things, and wills and does them when and in what manner he pleases. Obj. 1. Second causes work necessarily, and yet they do not work without God. Ans. The necessity here spoken of is a necessity of consequence depending upon the first cause. Obj. 2. But God is unchangeably good. Ans. God is unchangeably good by a necessity of immutability, and not of constraint. Obj. 3. But what God has once decreed he wills necessarily. Ans. He wills them immutably, but not constrainedly. Obj. 4. God does not always do what he wills, as, How often would I, and ye would not. (Luke 13 : 33.) Ans. These and similar declarations show what God delights in, but not what he has fully purposed to do.
Hating sin : that is, God is terribly displeased with sin, and will punish it temporally and eternally.
The unity of God is proven, in the first place, by the express testimony of Scripture. Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, is one God. See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no God with me. I am the First and the Last, and beside me there is no God. We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. (Deut. 6:4; 32:39. Is. 44: 6. 1 Cor. 8:4. 1 Tim. 2:5.) See also Deut. 4: 35. Ps. 18: 31. Is. 37: 16; 45: 21. Hosea 13: 4. Mai. 2: 10. Mark 12: 32. Rom. 3: 20. Gal. 3: 20., &c.
Secondly the unity of God may be proven by many solid arguments, such as the following :
1. There is only one God the God whom the church worships, that has been revealed by such undoubted and sure testimonies, as miracles, prophecies, and such other works as can be accomplished only by a Being that is all-powerful. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? Among the Gods, there is none like unto thee, Lord ; neither are there any works like unto thy works. (Is. 44: 7. Ps. 86 : 8.)
2. He who alone reigns over all, and governs all things in the same way, and so possesses supreme power and majesty, cannot be more than one. But there is no one, beside God, who is so supreme and great, that no greater can either exist or be conceived of. Therefore, he is God alone, and beside him there can be no other God. I am the Lord ; that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, &c. Thou art worthy, Lord, to receive glory, and honor, and power, for thou hast created all things. (Is. 42: 8. 1 Tim. 1: 17. Rev. 4: 11.)
3. He who is perfect in the highest degree, can be only one; for he who alone has the w r hole and every part is absolutely perfect. God, now, is thus perfect, because he is the cause of all that is good in nature. There fore, nothing is more absurd, than to suppose any one to be God, who is not supreme and perfect, in the highest degree. Lord, who is like unto thee? (Ps. 89: 8.)
4. There cannot be more than one being that is omnipotent, for if there were many, they would mutually hinder and oppose each other, and so would not be omnipotent. It is by this argument that the monarchy of the world is ascribed to one God in the prophecy of Daniel, where it is said, No one can stay his hand, or resist his will. (Dan. 4: 35.)
5. If we suppose many Gods to exist, no one of them would be able singly and alone, to rule all the rest, and so all would be imperfect, and not Gods ; or else the rest would be at ease and superfluous. But it is absurd to suppose that God is such an one as has not sufficient power to govern all things, or who is at ease and superfluous. Therefore, there is, necessarily, but one God, who alone is sufficient for all things.
6. There cannot be more than one being that is infinite, or immense ; for if there were more than one, no one would be everywhere. Hence, there cannot be many Gods, but only one God, who alone is infinite.
7. There can be but one first cause of all things. God is that first cause. Therefore, he is one God, excluding all others.
8. The highest good can be only one ; for if there were besides this also another highest good, it would either be greater or less, or equal to the first. But if it were greater, the first would not be the highest, and yet it would be God, which would be reproachful to the Deity ; if it were less, then this would not be the highest good, and so would not be God ; and if it were equal, then neither would be the highest good, nor God.
The use, or benefit, of this question is, that seeing there is but one God, we must not worship or adore any one beside him ; neither must we look any where else than to this one God for all good things ; and be thankful to him alone for what we have received.
Obj. But the Scriptures declare that there are many gods: I have said, ye are gods. There are gods many, and lords many. (Ps. 82:6. 1 Cor. 8 : 5.) Moses is also said to have been made a god to Pharaoh. (Ex. 7 : 1.) Yea, the devil is called the god of this world. (2 Cor. 4 : 4.) Ans. The word God is used in a double sense. Some times it signifies him who is God by nature, and has his being from none, but of and from himself. Such a Being is the living and true God. Then again it designates one who bears some resemblance to the true God in dignity, office, &c. Such persons are, 1. Magistrates and judges, who are called gods on account of their dignity, and the office which they bear in the name of God, as it is said, By me kings reign. (Prov. 8:5. ) As God, therefore, administers his government through magistrates and judges, as his vicegerents and servants upon the earth, he in like manner bestows upon them the honor of his own name by calling them gods, that those under them may know that they have to deal with God himself, whether they obey or resist the magistrate, according as it is said, Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. (Rom. 13 : 2.) 2. Angels are also called gods, in view of the dignity and excellency of their nature, power and wisdom, in which they greatly excel other creatures ; and on account of the office which they exercise by divine appointment in defending the godly and punishing the wicked. Thou hast made him a little lower than the gods, that is, the angels. Arc they not all ministering spirits. (Ps. 8: 5. Heb. 1: 14.) 3. The devil is called the god of this world, on account of the great power which he has over men, and other creatures, according to the just judgment of God. 4. There are many things which are called gods, in the opinion of men, who regard and worship certain things and creatures for gods. So idols arc called gods, by imitation. The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens. Whose god is their belly. (Jer. 10: 11. Phil. 3: 19.) But here the question is in reference to the true God to him who is God by nature, having his power from no one else, but from and by himself Such a being is one only.
Essence, from the Greek oudia, signifies, as it is here used, a thing subsisting by itself not sustained by another, although it may be communicated to more. That is said to be communicable, or communicated, which, is common, or which may be communicated to many. That is incommunicable in which nothing else can participate. The essence of man is communicable, and common to many men, generically, but not individually. But the essence of God is communicable individually, because the Deity or nature of God is the same and entire in all the three persons of the Godhead.
Person is that which subsists, is individual, living, intelligent, incommunicable, not sustained in another, nor part of another. Subsisting^ by which we mean that it is not an accident, or a thought, or a decree, or a vanishing sound, or a created quality or motion. Individual, that is, not man generically, but individually, as this man. Living, something different from that which is inanimate, as a stone. Intelligent, not irrational, as the animal, which although it may have life and feeling, is nevertheless devoid of personality. Incommunicable , it cannot be communicated, as the divine essence, which may be in more than one, and be common to more than one personality, however, is incommunicable. Not sustained by another, because it subsists by itself ; for the human nature of Christ is subsisting, individual, incommunicable, intelligent, and yet it is no person, because it is sustained by the Word. So the soul of man subsists by itself, is intelligent, and not sustained by another, and yet it is no person, for that reason that it is a part of another subsisting individual. It is. therefore, added in the definition, nor part of another.
We may now readily perceive the difference between the Essence of God, and the Persons, subsisting in the divine essence. By the term, Essence, we are to understand, in reference to this subject, that which the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are considered, and declared to be, singly and absolutely in themselves, and which is common to the three. By the term, Person, however, we are to understand that which the three persons of the Godhead arc considered and declared to be individually and relatively, or as compared with each other, and which they are according to the mode of existence peculiar to each. Or, we may define Essence as the very being of God the very, eternal, and only Deity whilst the term Person refers to the mode, or manner, in which the being of God, or the divine essence, subsists in each of these three. God the Father is that Being who is of himself, and not from another. The Son is that self-same Being, or essence, not of himself, but of the Father. The Holy Ghost is in like manner the self-same Being, not of himself, but from the Father and the Son. Thus the Being, or divine essence, of the three persons of the Godhead is one and the same in number. But to be of himself, or from another from one, or from two; that is, to have this one divine essence of himself, or to have it communicated from another from one or from two, expresses the mode of existence which is three-fold and distinct ; to wit, to be of himself, to be begotten or generated, and to proceed ; and hence, the three persons which are expressed by the term, Trinity.
The sum of this distinction between the terms Essence and Person, as applied to God, is this : Essence is absolute and communicable Person is relative and incommunicable. Tins may be illustrated by the following example: It is one thing to be a man, and another thing to be a father; and yet one and the same is both a man and a father; he is a man absolutely and according to his nature, and he is a father in respect to another, viz : to his son. So it is one thing to be God, and another to be the Father, or Son, or Holy Ghost ; and yet one and the same is both God, and the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost ; that in respect to himself, this in respect to another.
Addenda. The essence of a man who begets another is communicated to him who is begotten, but the person is not communicated ; for he that begets does not bring forth himself, but another distinct from himself. The son, therefore, is not the father, nor the father the son, although both be real men. So in like manner the eternal Father hath by eternal generation communicated to the Son his essence, but not his person that is, he begot not the Father, but the Son ; neither is the Father the Son, or the Son the Father, although each is very God. Yet, although there is this resemblance, there is at the same time a great difference in the manner in which the divine essence, being infinite, and the human, being created and finite are communicated to another, which difference is to be carefully ob served ; for, first, in men, in the father and the son, the essence is as distinct as the persons themselves the father and the son are not only two persons, but also two men distinct in essence. But in God, the persons are distinct, whilst the essence remains common, and the same ; and there fore, there are not three Gods, but the Son is the same God in number which is the Father and the Son. Secondly, in persons created,! he that begets doth not communicate his whole essence to him that is begotten, for then he should cease to be a man, but only a part is made over to him that is begotten, and made the essence of another individual distinct from him who begets. But in uncreated persons, he that begets or inspires, communicates his whole essence to him that is begotten, or that proceeds ; yet so that he who communicates, retains the same and that whole. The reason of both differences is, that the essence of man is finite and divisible, whilst that of the Deity is infinite and indivisible. Wherefore, the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, constitute the one true God ; and yet the Father is not the Son, or the Holy Ghost ; neither is the Holy Ghost the Son ; that is, they are one God not three Gods, but three persons subsisting in one Godhead.
This distinction of essence and person is, therefore, to be observed, that the unity of the true God may not be impaired, or the distinction of persons be taken away, or something else be understood by the term person, than the truth which God s word declares. Therefore these cautions are to be diligently observed :
1. That person, in relation to this subject, never signifies a mere relation, or office, as the Latins are wont to say, Principis personam tueri, to preserve the person of the prince, as formerly Sabellius falsely taught; much less does it signify he countenance or visible shape, representing the form or gesture of another ; in which sense a stage-actor may play off the person of another, as Servetus of late years sported and trifled with the word person ; but it signifies a thing subsisting truly distinct from others to whom it has a relation and respect, by an incommunicable property ; that is, it signifies that which begets, or is begotten, or proceeds and not the office dignity, or rank of him that begets, or is begotten, or proceeds.
2. That the persons do not constitute something abstracted or separated from the essence which they have in common, nor that the essence is any fourth thing separate from the three persons ; but each of them is the en tire and self-same essence of the Divinity. But the difference consists in this, that the persons are each distinct from the other, whilst the essence is common to the three.
3. Concerning the word essence, it is also to be observed, that God or the Deity, or the divine nature, has not the same respect to persons as matter has to form, for the reason that God is not compounded of matter and form. We cannot, therefore, correctly say, that the three persons are or consist of one essence. Neither is it as the whole in respect to the parts, be cause God is indivisible ; therefore, we cannot correctly say that the person is a part of the essence, or that the essence consists of three persons ; for every person is the whole divine essence. Neither is it as the general to the particular, because essence is not the genus of the three persons, nor is person a species of essence. But God is a more common name, because the essence of the Deity is common to the three persons, and therefore may be affirmed of each of them. But the names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are not applied in the same general way, because the per sons are truly distinct, so that we cannot predicate the one of the other. We may, therefore, correctly say, God or the divine essence is the Father, is the Son, and is the Holy Spirit ; also, the three persons are one God, or in one God ; likewise, they are one and the same essence, nature, divinity, &c.; and again, that they are of one and the same essence, nature, &c. Yet, it cannot be properly said, that they are of one God, because there is no one of these persons that is not himself whole and perfect God. Where fore the divine essence is in respect to the persons as that which is communicated in an extraordinary manner is in respect to those things with which it is common. There is, however, not a similar or exact example of communication in any thing created.
Trinity, from the Greek tviaj, signifies these three persons, distinct in three modes of being, or existing in one essence of the Deity. But Trinity and triplicity, trinal and triple differ. That is called triple which is composed of three essences trinal is that which is but one in essence, having three modes of being or subsisting. God is, therefore, trinal, but not triple, because he is only one in essence, but three in persons, existing most simply.
Heretics, formerly, already opposed the use of these terms-, because they are not found in the Scriptures. We, however, correctly retain the form of speech used by the church in her early and purer days, by holding fast to these terms :
1. Because, although they are not found in the Scriptures in the very game syllables, yet words and forms of speech of very close affinity and similarity, yea, such as certainly signify the same thing, are found in the Scriptures ; as where it is said, for instance, in Ex. 3 : 14, I AM that I AM : he said, thus shalt thou say, I AM hath sent me unto you. Again, it cannot be denied that the name Jehovah corresponds with the word Essence. So the word Hypostasis is used for person in the Epistle to the Hebrews 1 : 3, Who being the express image of his person. Neither does the church call the persons, the Trinity, in any other sense than that in which John says, There are three that bear witness in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. (1 John 5 : 7.)
2. The object of interpretation requires that the words of Scripture should be expounded to those less learned by other words signifying the same thing and taken from common use ; otherwise, all interpretation would be taken away, if no words but such as are found in the Scriptures were used. It is proper, therefore, that the church should invent and use such forms of speech as express significantly the sense of Scripture, and her own under standing of it.
3. Because the frauds and sophisms of heretics, which they generally attempt to cover with the words of Scripture, are the more easily discerned and detected, if the same things are expressed in different words. And it is on account of the brevity and perspicuity of these words and phrases, that heretics are not able to conceal their impositions and sophisms. If there were a full consent or agreement concerning the thing itself, there would be no difficulty about the use of the words. We abhor a logomachy or contention about words. Neither is the church at controversy with heretics and sectarists merely in regard to words, but it is concerning this doctrine, that the Eternal Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God; and yet neither is the Father or the Son, the Holy Ghost ; nor is the Holy Ghost the Father or Son, &c. Were it not that heretics hold this doctrine in abhorrence, they would also easily admit the words. But they object to the use of the words because they do not receive the things expressed and signified thereby.
From these things we may easily answer this objection : Words which are not in the Scriptures, are not to be used in the church. These terms, such as Essence, &c., are not in the Scriptures. Therefore, they are not to be used. We reply to the major thus : Those things which are not in the Scriptures, neither as to the words nor as to the sense, are to be rejected. But in relation to the terms Essence, Person, and Trinity, as far as the things themselves are concerned, they are in the Scriptures, as hath been shown. Again, terms that are not found in the Scriptures must not be retained, if we are sure the omission of them will not endanger that which is expressed by them. But heretics seek nothing else than with the terms to reject the doctrine, or at least corrupt it.
It is also objected to the use of these terms, that they breed contentions. To this we reply that it does this only by accident, and with contentious heretics.
There are three persons that subsist in the one essence of God, really distinct by their peculiar properties, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. These three are con-substantial and co-eternal all, and each, being the one true and eternal God.
This is proven, 1. By many express declarations from the Scriptures of the old and new testaments. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. God said, let there be light. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. (Gen. 1 : 3, 4. Ps. 33 : 6.) The new testament scriptures furnish the clearest and most satisfactory testimony. Go teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, [that is, through and on account of me,] he shall teach you all things. When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me. There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. According to his mercy, he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost ; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ. Through him, [Christ,] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, &c. (Matt. 28:19. John 14:26; 15:26. 1 John 5:7. Titus 3:5, 6. Eph. 2:18. 2 Cor. 13:14. Gal. 4:6.)
2. Those passages of Scripture prove the same thing, which attribute to these three, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the name of Jehovah, and of the true God ; and also those places in which certain things are spoken of Jehovah, in the old testament, which in the new, are expressly and without any limitation, referred to the Son and Holy Ghost.
3. Those passages prove the same thing which attribute the same and the whole divine essence to the three persons of the Godhead, and teach that the Son is the proper and only begotten Son of the Father ; and that the Holy Spirit is in such a manner the proper Spirit of the Father and the Son, that he proceeded from both.
4. This doctrine is still further confirmed by those declarations of Scripture which ascribe to these three persons of the Godhead the same attributes and perfections ;* such as eternity, immensity, omnipotence, &c.
5. The same is true in regard to those passages which attribute to the three persons of the Godhead the same works which are peculiar to the Deity, viz : creation, preservation, and government of the world also miracles, and the deliverance and preservation of the church.
6. The same may be said to be true of those passages, which attribute to the three, equal honor, prayer, and worship, such as belongs to the true God alone.
From this agreement of the old and new testaments we know and prove that one God is three persons truly distinct, and that these three persons are one God. Hence it is also correct to say that the Father is other from the Son and Holy Spirit: and the Holy Spirit is other from the Father and the Son. But it is not correct to say that the Father is something else or another thing from the Son, and that the Son is another thing, and that the Holy Spirit is another ; for to be other signifies merely a distinction of persons ; whilst to be another thing signifies a diversity of essence.
We must now prove, in reference to the three persons of the Godhead, that they are truly subsistents, against Samosatenus and Servetus ; that they are distinct subsistents or persons, against Sabellius ; that they are equal against, Arius, Eunomius, and Macedonius; and lastly that they are consubstantial or of the same essence against the same heretics. Concerning the person of the Father there is no controversy. And as to the objections which have been raised against the personality of the Son and Holy Spirit, we shall hereafter notice them in their proper place.
We must here consider, first, what the Scriptures attribute as common to the three persons of the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which three are one God, and yet distinct in persons ; secondly, what is ascribed to each one singly, as peculiar to him, and how the per sons are distinguished from each other.
The things that are common to the three persons of the Godhead, are, 1. All the essential properties of God, which we comprehend in the single name of Deity, as eternity, immensity, omnipotence, wisdom, goodness, to have essence from himself, or to be God of himself. 2. All the external actions or works of the divinity, which are commonly called ad extra, that is, such as God exercises towards his creatures, and in them or through them, as creation, preservation, the government of the, world, the gathering and preserving of the church, &c.
These persons are distinguished in two ways. 1. By their works, ad intra. 2. By their works or mode of operating, ad extra. The first are called the inward works or operations of the divinity, because the persons have and exercise them one towards the other. By these internal works or properties, therefore, the persons are first distinguished from each other. For the Father is, and exists of himself, not from another. The Son is begotten eternally from the Father, that is, he hath his divine essence communicated to him from the Father in a way not to be explained. The Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father, and the Son, that is, has the same divine essence communicated to him from the Father and the Son, in an inexplicable manner.
The proofs of this are the following : In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. u The only be gotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, &c. (John 1:1; 14:18; 15:26.)
This is, therefore, the order, according to which the persons. of the God head exist: The Father is the first person, and, as it were, the fountain of the divinity of the Son and Holy Spirit, because the Deity is communicated to him of no one ; but he communicates the Deity to the Son and Holy Spirit. The Son is the second person, because the Deity is communicated to him of the Father, by eternal generation. The Holy Ghost is the third person, because the Deity is communicated to him from the Father arid the Son, by an eternal inspiration or procession. This is the order in which the persons of the Godhead are spoken of in the following passages of Scripture : Go baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.
(Matt. 18: 19. 1 John 5: 7.) And yet the Father is not prior in time to the Son and Holy Ghost; nor is the Son before the Holy Ghost, but only in the order of existing ; for no person of the Godhead is before or after the others in time, or dignity, or degree, but only according to the order in which they exist. The Father was never without the Son, nor the Son without the Holy Spirit, since the Deity is unchangeable. It is in this way that God has from everlasting existed in himself, and hath so revealed himself in his word.
Heretics are accustomed to ask, in relation to this subject, what the eternal generation of the Son is, and what is the procession of the Holy Spirit, and what the difference between them ? And although we confess that the mode of eternal generation and procession, together with the for mal and natural distinction between them is inexplicable by man. which all the orthodox fathers of former times have confessed, yet the Scriptures certainly teach the thing itself, viz : That generation is a communication of the divine essence, whereby only the second person of the Deity derives and takes from the first person alone, as a son from a father, the same essence whole and entire, which the father has and retains ; and that procession is a communication of the divine essence by which the third person of the Godhead receives from the Father and the Son, as the spirit from him whose spirit it is, the same entire essence which the Father and the Son have and retain.
Both of these differ from creation, which implies the production of something out of nothing by the command and will of God ; but to be conceived or begotten, and to proceed or emenate, is to produce from eternity some other or another person, from the substance of him who be gets, or of him from whom the procession is, in a way that is altogether beyond our comprehension ; yet so that the Son has his subsistence by being begotten, and the Holy Spirit by proceeding. Thus, therefore, we perceive the thing itself, or that thus it is, as far as God has seen fit to reveal this great mystery unto us, although we cannot arrive at the knowledge why it is so.
Concerning the question so warmly controverted by the Greek arid Latin churches, whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son, or from the Father only, we shall speak hereafter, when we come to treat the doctrine concerning the Holy Ghost.
We must also here notice the phrases or forms of speech used in Scripture, and by the ancient church in reference to the distinction which exists between the persons of the Godhead themselves. Thus, it is correct to say, God begat God, but it is not correct to say God begat another God, or begat himself. It is correct to say, the Father begat another, but not that he begat another thing, or another God. It is orthodox to say the Son is what the Father is, but not that the Son is the same person that the Father is. It is true to say, that the Son is begotten, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father ; also, the Son is of or from the Father, and the Holy Spirit is of or from the Father and the Son ; also, whatsoever the Son has, he has from the Father, and received it by being begotten ; and whatsoever the Holy Spirit has, he has from the Father and the Son, and received it by proceeding ; also, the Son and the Holy Spirit have a be ginning in respect to their person, and have their essence communicated from another ; but it is not true to say that they have a beginning in respect to their essence, or they are essenced, or have their essence produced from the Father, or from some other person. It is orthodox to say, the first person of the Godhead begat the second of his own essence, and the third person proceeded from the first and second, but not. the divine essence begot a divine essence, or the person is begotten or proceeded from the essence. It is proper to say, the divine essence is communicated, but not to say, the divine essence is begotten or proceeds, because to be communicated, and to be begotten, are not the same thing ; for, not whatsoever is communicated to the begotten, is begotten, but that is begotten to which the substance of him that begets is communicated.
There is another distinction between the persons of the Godhead, arising out of the former, which consists in the order in which the persons of the Godhead operate, ad extra, which embraces those actions which they exercise out of themselves, towards their creatures, and in them, and by them. These works are indeed wrought by the common will and power of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but yet the same order is preserved among the persona of the Godhead, in working, which there is as it respects their existence. The Father is the fountain, as of the persons so also of the working, of the Son and Holy Ghost, and does all things not by any other, that is, not by another working through him, not by the will of another preventing his, or communicating to him power, or efficacy but as existing of himself, so also knowing, working, &c., of himself. But the Son and Holy Ghost do not work of themselves, but by themselves, that is, the Son works, the Father s will going before ; the Holy Ghost works, the will of the Father und of the Son going before. The Father works by the Son and Holy Ghost, arid sends them, but he himself is not sent by them. The Son works through the Holy Spirit, sends him from the Father into the hearts of those that believe, but is not himself sent by the Holy Spirit, but of the Father. The Holy Spirit works and is sent from both the Father and the Son not from himself. All things were made by him. The Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do ; for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. I proceeded forth and came from God ; neither came I of myself. Whom the Father will send in my name. Whom I will send unto you from the Father. (John 1:3; 5:19; 8:42; 14:26; 15:26.)
But when the Son and Holy Ghost are said to be sent, we must not understand it in the sense of a local motion, or as though it indicated a change in God himself : but it must be understood of his eternal will, and decree to accomplish something by the Son and Holy Ghost ; and of the execution and manifestation of his will through the working of the Son and Holy Ghost. So the Son says that he was sent into the world by the Father that he came down from heaven, and yet that he was in heaven, when he was upon the earth. So the Holy Spirit, although he existed before, and dwelt in the Apostles, yet it is said that he was sent upon them on the day of Pentecost. Each of these persons was, therefore, sent into the world, not because they began to exist where they did not exist before ; but because they accomplished in the world what was the will of the Father, and showed themselves present and efficacious according to the will of the Father. Thus it is said, God sent forth his Son made of a woman. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into jour hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Gal. 4: 4, G.)
This doctrine of the Trinity should be taught and maintained in the Church: 1. On account of the glory of God, that he may thus be distinguished from idols, with whom he will not be confounded ; and that he may be known and worshipped as such an one as he has revealed himself to be. 2. On account of our comfort and salvation; for no one is saved without a knowledge of God the Father. But the Father is not known without the Son. No man hath seen God at any time ; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. (John 1:18. 1 John 2: 23.) Again, no man is saved without faith in the Son of God, our Mediator. This is the true God, and eternal life. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed, and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (1 John 5 : 20. Rom. 10: 14.) Like wise, no man is sanctified and saved without a knowledge of the Holy Spirit ; for he who does not receive the Holy Spirit is not saved, according to the declaration of Scripture, If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Rom. 8 : 9.) But no one receives the Holy Ghost who is ignorant of him, according as it is said, Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him. (John 14: 17.) Wherefore, he who does not know the Holy Spirit cannot be saved. It is necessary, then, that all who will be saved, should have a knowledge of the one God, the eternal Father, the co-eternal Son, and the co-eternal Holy Ghost ; for unless he is known as such an one as he has revealed himself, he does not communicate himself unto us, neither can we expect. eternal life from him.
1. One essence is not three persons, because that one should be three,, implies a contradiction. Jehovah is one essence. Therefore, there are not three persons. Ans. The major is true of a created or finite essence, which cannot be the one same and whole substance of three persons; but it is not true in regard to the essence of the Deity, which is infinite, individual, and most simple. Reply. A most simple essence cannot be the essence of three persons. God is a most simple essence, as is admitted in the above answer. Therefore, it cannot be three persons. Ans. The major is true of an essence, a certain part of which constitutes another person, or which may be multiplied into a number of persons ; but it is false when understood of such an essence as that which is the same and entire in each single person. The simplicity of such an essence is not in the least impaired by the number and distinction of the persons.
2. Where there are three, and one, there are four, distinct things. In God there are three persons and one essence. Therefore, there are four distinct things in God, which is absurd. Ans. Where there are three, an one really distinct, there are four. But in God, the persons are not really distinct from the essence ; for the three persons of the Godhead are one and the same divine essence. They differ from it, and from each other, only in the mode of subsisting.
3. To attach three names to one substance is Sabellianism. The doc trine of the Trinity attributes three names to one substance. Therefore, it is the heresy of Sabellius. Ans. There are four terms in this syllogism ; for the term, substance, in the major, either signifies a person, and in the minor an essence, or else one of the propositions is false.
4. He who is the whole Deity, beside him there is no person, in whom the whole Deity is, in a like manner. The Father is the whole Deity. Therefore, the whole Deity is not in another person. Ans. We deny the major proposition, because the same Deity which is entire in the Father, is also entire in the Son, and Holy Spirit, on account of the immensity of the divine essence, of which there is neither more nor less in each person, than in two, or the three.
5. Those persons to whom distinct operations are ascribed, must have distinct essences. There are distinct internal operations ascribed to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Therefore, their essences are distinct. Ans. The major is true of persons having a finite essence, but false when understood of divine persons.
6. The divine essence is incarnate. The three persons are the divine essence. Therefore, the three persons are incarnate, which is not true. Ans. The major speaks nothing of the divine nature generally, because the divine essence is incarnate in the person of the Son alone. We have, therefore, mere particulars, from which nothing can be concluded.
7. Jehovah, or the true God, is the Trinity. The Father is Jehovah.
Therefore, he is the Trinity that is, all the three persons. Ans. Here, again, the major declares nothing generally ; for, not whatever is Jehovah is the Trinity. Therefore, nothing can be inferred from what is here said.
8. No abstract term signifies substance. Trinity is such an abstract term. Therefore it signifies no substance. Ans. The major is false ; for Deity, and humanity, are also abstract terms, and yet they signify substance.
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