Page images

sider it one of the characteristics of those views, that they are eminently scriptural,--that they believe the simple and proper unity of God, to be one of the fundamental doctrines of both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, that they regard the inferior and dependant nature of the Son as expressly asserted in numerous passages of the New Testament, and implied in the uniform strain of its whole language; that it is not true therefore, as he intimates, that the incomprehensible nature of the doctrine of the trinity is the principal source of every objection,' urged against it. The objection fully as often, we may say much more frequently urged, is, that it is unscriptural, that it is wholly a doctrine of inference, of inferences incorrectly drawn, and the falsehood of which is proved by the most explicit assertions of Moses, of Jesus, and his apostles.

But we will let this pass, and proceed to offer one or two remarks on the Bishop's mode of reasoning in opposition to what he conceives to be the unwarranted attempts of Unitarians, to bring a subject, which it is utterly impossible to comprehend,' down to the level of the human understanding.' The substance of his argument is this. The trinity is a subject which does not lay within the 'province of human reason,'-human reason is not competent to the 'investigation' of it, but it is not to be rejected because we cannot with our finite capacities comprehend' it, for there are many things we cannot comprehend, which we are yet bound to believe they who reject it for this cause, must 'in fair and unavoidable consistency,' reject the fact of 'their


own existence, all existences.' Now all this amounts in reality only to the old and exploded argument,―The doctrine is a mystery, a sacred mystery, not to be examined or questioned. Such language was once very common. The doctrine is a mystery, the attempt to explore which is impious; all reasoning on the subject is utterly fallacious, reason has no concern with the matter, the doctrine is one of faith, and it is our duty to believe' it, whatever profane objections arrogant curiosity' or 'pride of human intellect' may raise against it. What absurdity, we would ask in reply, may not be defended on this principle? The same principle is urged in support of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, and for aught we can see, with as much force and propriety as in support of the doctrine of three persons in one divine essence.

Much has been foolishly said and written on the subject of mysteries in religion. The term mystery, in the sense in which it is used in the scriptures, signifies what is secret or unknown, until stated or explained, but which admits of being explained and understood, after which it ceases to be a mystery. In the modern popular acceptation of the term, however, it means something incomprehensible, something incapable of being understood and explained. Now no argument is necessary to show that a mystery, in this sense, can never become an object of faith, for we can believe no further than we have determinate ideas. In opposition to this statement a species of declamation is often resorted to, of a nature to bewilder the minds especially

of the uninformed, and those not accustomed to much discrimination of thought. Not a little of it occurs in the Charge already repeatedly alluded to.

Why not, we hear it urged, believe in mysteries? We are surrounded by mysteries, man himself is a mystery, the growth of every blade of grass is a mystery. If we discard all we do not comprehend, we shall believe nothing. Such reasoning, if it deserve the name of reasoning, is extremely loose and inaccurate. That our faculties are finite, and we have an imperfect knowledge of surrounding nature, is true. But imperfection of knowledge is not indistinctness. There is a difference between knowing nothing relating to a particular subject, and not knowing all things. We may be acquainted with some of the attributes of that subject, we may have some distinct conceptions of it, so as to be able to believe and affirm something concerning it, though we may not be familiar with all its hidden properties.

Man, it is alleged, is a mystery. If by this observation be meant that we know nothing concerning him, it is not true; if any thing else be meant, the example is nothing to the purpose.

With regard to the growth of vegetables all is not unknown, though our knowledge concerning it is in several respects imperfect. When we use the proposition, grass grows,we state a fact, which every one understands. We have a precise and clear idea of what is meant by the proposition. With regard to the manner of its growth we know nothing, neither do we affirm anything concerning it.

When a man uses the proposition, God exists in three persons, he also means to state a fact. But, we may ask, does he understand what this fact is? has he any definite notion of what is meant by the proposition he employs? We all understand what is meant by the term person in its common and popular acceptation. A person is an intelligent agent. If we suppose the term employed in the same sense in the proposition, God exists in three persons, we make God three distinct beings, and fall into tritheism and absurdity. If we discard the term person, and affirm as some have, that there are three distinctions in the Deity, we only remove the difficulty one step further back. Still the proposition is unintelligible until we define what is meant by three distinctions, and all attempts to define render the proposition absurd.

Our knowledge of the doctrines and facts of Christianity is in many respects imperfect. There may be parts or adjuncts of those doctrines, which we are unable to comprehend, but we are not required to believe them on account of these parts, but on account of those we understand. We believe only what is intelligible in them. Thus the future existence of man is a doctrine or fact of Christianity. All understand what is meant by a future existence, but of the mode of it, and of the nature of our future employments, we are ignorant, neither do we believe nor affirm anything concerning them.

[ocr errors]

Difficulties may be started on almost all subjects connected with religion. But a doctrine may be in

cumbered with difficulties, yet be neither unintelligible, nor of such a nature as not to admit of being established by evidence. Such doctrines must never be confounded with those, which are in all their parts either unintelligible or absurd. The former may be received as articles of faith; the latter never can be.

But are not the doctrines alluded to, and pronounced incomprehensible, it may be asked, received and rever enced by a large class of Christians? how then can it be said that they are incapable of becoming objects of faith?—A large class of Christians receive a form of words, but we are disposed to believe, we say it not in a tone of reproach, that they have no very distinct conception of the sense of those words, that their faith, therefore, amounts to nothing more than a sort of shadowy and vague sentiment, which may be described as haunting the imagination, rather than as having a hold on the intellect. They cannot be said to believe certain doctrines so much as to venerate certain modes of expression.

For ourselves, we are sometimes tempted to doubt whether among the great mass of Christians of plain and unsophisticated understandings, there is, or ever was, a genuine, thorough, practical Trinitarian, that is, any one to whose mind God and the Saviour, whenever they incidentally present themselves, do not present themselves as two distinct beings, the one sending, the other sent. We know that Unitarianism was the belief of the primitive church, and that it long retained its hold on the minds of simple and unlettered Christians, not

« PreviousContinue »