Sermon XXI. The Doctrine of the Trinity. [A Sermon for Trinity Sunday.] St. John xx. 13. They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
THIS was the language of Mary Magdalene, when, seeking the body of her Saviour, she was asked by the angels, "Woman, why weepest thou?" It is a language which maybe adopted by the Church, when stooping from her lofty eminence, and looking into those creeds which ay well be compared to the empty sepulchre of Christianity, she seeks in vain for her Divine Redeemer--her risen, and all-glorious Lord.
My brethren, if there be any single point on which mainly rests the value of the whole Gospel revelation; if there be any one truth which may be called vital and fundamental in our religion; if there be one disclosure from God, which deserves to be considered as the last hope and the [304/304] best resource of sinful man; it is to be found in this, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses; that God hath given unto us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son.
The doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God, and of an atonement for our sins by his blood, connected, as it is, with the sublime mystery of the Trinity, presents things difficult to explain, and in many respects impossible to understand.
If, however, the doctrine be clearly revealed in the Scriptures, the difficulties which surround it are no reason whatever why we should reject it. The objection to these difficulties is, indeed, in a great degree obviated, when we consider that the fact being declared, it is not necessary that we be able clearly to explain, or perfectly to understand, all the relations in which it may be presented, but merely that with sincerity of heart, we believe and embrace the fact itself, upon the authority of God, and give all diligence in order to profit by it. This distinction between the belief of facts, and the perfect comprehension of all the relations of them, is very important to attended to, and should not be overlooked. We may believe most confidently many things which we must despair, with our present faculties, of ever understanding. The being of a God, every [305/306] where acting, but no where exclusively existing, no where seen; eternal duration, to which you can fix no point of beginning or of end, from which you may not equally go back or go forward, and commence the process; the original creation of matter out of nothing; or what they must maintain who disbelieve it, and what is equally difficult to understand, its eternal existence, though uncreated; these are a few of the many things which reason must assent to, though it can never fathom. Nor does this distinction only hold in matters of speculation and opinion; it exists in those which involve practical, daily, and familiar results. Where is the man who can explain how his will influences the motion of his limbs, how food nourishes and sustains him, or how medicine imparts its healing virtues! And yet who does not believe in all these effects? Who does not continually take them for true, and in all his actions govern himself by them, with as much confidence as if he could explain them?
This is a ready answer to all who object to mysteries in religion; and properly urged, it cannot but convict those of folly and inconsistency, who, surrounded as they are by things which they cannot understand, and accustomed, every day, to conform to what they cannot explain, set up their feeble reason as the measure and the standard of the nature and perfections of [306/307] God, and expect to have levelled to their narrow comprehension those things which the angels desire to look into.
But in respect of the doctrine of the Trinity, they who reject it, driven from their first ground, that they cannot believe it, because it is beyond their reason, assume another, that it is contradictory to reason. If this were indeed the case, they would be excused from not believing it; for belief of what is contradictory is utterly impossible; and if the doctrine were stated in Scripture in the terms in which its opponents are sometimes pleased to clothe it, that there are three separate and self-existent Gods, and that there is yet but one God; in other words, that in the same sense in which we assert that God is one, we also assert that he is three; this would, evidently, involve a. contradiction. "But the scriptural account of Jehovah is, that he is one perfect existence; and this one perfect existence is declared to be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost"
Now he who should assert that there is any contradiction here, might also assert that there as a contradiction in the idea of a body and a sold constituting but one man, or in that of three persons, equal in power, each of whose acts are free, legal, and authorized, constituting one political, one responsible, one social or confederate body. The almost universal reception of the doctrine [308/308] is, however, a proof that it is not against reason; and the traces, in every land, of a triad of Deity, of which a monad is the head, give countenance to the idea that God was thus originally revealed, and universally regarded. The truth is, that in respect of this doctrine, we know not enough to establish a contradiction; but what we do know is so amply vouched for, and so full of consolation, that there is the most abundant reason to be steadfast in defending it; and to this duty, which the Church this day exacts, your attention is now requested.
I have already said, that while the Scriptures declare Jehovah to be one, his all perfect existence is represented to be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. "These, in the language of Trinitarians, are styled Persons, because in the Scriptures the three personal pronouns, I, thou, and he, are continually applied to them." [Dwight's Theology, vol. ii. p. 8.] Their distinct personality is also evident from distinct personal actions being ascribed to them. This need not be proved of God the Father; nor of his Son Jesus Christ, the existence of whom, as a real person, cannot be disputed. And as to the Holy Ghost, is it not said, even from the beginning, that at the creation of the world, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters; that by his Spirit he hath garnished the [308/309] heavens. The Spirit of the Lord is that which rested upon and spake by the prophets; which descended upon Christ at his baptism; led him into the wilderness at his temptation; wrought with him in his miracles; quickened him at his resurrection; and after his ascension came with power upon his apostles, teaching them all things, and bringing all things to their remembrance; enabling them to do mighty acts in his name; and abiding with them as the promised Comforter. The same things are also ascribed to the Spirit which are ascribed to any intelligent agent. The Spirit searcheth all things--He speaketh--He beareth witness--He testifieth--He bestoweth gifts--He intercedeth--He helpeth our infirmities--He sanctifieth--He eonsoleth--He directeth--And he also may be lied unto, may be resisted, may be provoked, may be grieved.
Here then are three persons distinctly revealed; and these are uncreated, and have always existed; for God the Father is the eternal, the everlasting God; God the Spirit is the eternal, the everlasting Spirit; and God the Son is he who was before all things, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the ending; the first and the last; before Abraham was, the great I AM.
That the Son and the Holy Ghost are divine, is expressly declared; for St. John says of the former, the word was God; that by him all things [309/310] were made, and without him was not any thing made that was made. All power is his in heaven and in earth. He was God manifest in the flesh; and in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
The Holy Ghost is God, because they who tempt him tempt the Lord their God; they who lie unto him lie unto God; they who are the temples of the Holy Ghost are the temples, of God; they who go from the Spirit go from the presence of God. He alone knoweth the mind of the Lord, searcheth out the deep things of God, revealeth divine truth to men, whom he regenerates, renews, and converts; for it is the Spirit that quickeneth.
The united operation of this Trinity in unity is suggested in the plural term Gods, in the original, united with a singular verb, in many parts of the Old Testament. It is strongly indicated in the consultation of several persons, yet one, "Let us make man in our image;" in the declaration, "The man is become as one of us;" in the thrice repeated name which occurs in the form of blessing prescribed to the Jewish priest, "Jehovah bless thee and keep thee; Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." It is also recognized in several passages like that in 2d Samuel, "The Spirit of the Lord spake [310/311] by me, and his word by my tongue;" where we have Jehovah, the Spirit of Jehovah, and the Word of Jehovah, plainly and distinctly set down; as also in the 33d Psalm, "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath," that is, by the Spirit, "of his mouth;" and again in Isaiah 42d and 1st, "Behold my servant whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles;" where the Lord, the Son, and the Spirit, are distinguished. And this also seems to be the reason why the holy angels, when they praise God, say, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts;" repeating holy thrice, in reverence of the three persons they adore. [Beveridge, vol. ii. p. 63. Private Thoughts.] But most plainly and explicitly was this doctrine manifested in the baptism of our Lord, when there was heard the voice of the Father acknowledging his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased, and there was seen the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God, descending, like a dove, and lighting upon him. Our Saviour speaks of the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father should send in his name. And to the existence and distinct agency of each of these he continually alludes and refers. And it was his last act in putting the final seal to his religion, [311/312] and commanding it to be made known to all the world, to direct that they who received it should be baptized into the one name of the three persons of the Godhead, "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
I know of no evidence, my brethren, next to that which establishes our religion, which ought more perfectly to satisfy our minds, than that by which the doctrine of the Trinity is supported. If there be truth in the Scriptures, that doctrine is true. And it is one proof how strongly it is intrenched there, that they who reject it have, either first or last, some in a greater, and some in a less degree, showed a disregard or a denial of that solemn declaration of the sacred volume, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." Anxious, notwithstanding, to have the countenance of Scripture, even at the moment they are denying its authority, it is not uncommon to see this doctrine, which is so clearly revealed in the sacred volume, assailed on grounds which are pretended to be drawn from that volume itself. I speak not now of honest objections, nor of those which arise from misapprehension, or from imperfect knowledge, and which may be easily answered, as they have often been. But after making the largest allowance for prejudice, for ignorance, for the natural diversity of the human mind, there is but too much reason to think that the opposition which this doctrine has met with, [312/313] is worthy only of those who would make the Scriptures a doubtful or contradictory guide; the Spirit who indited it an imaginary attribute, or an empty name; and its writers a set of men who did not rightly understand the message with which they were charged; and who perpetually require to be set right by the greater wisdom of those whose faith they were commissioned to enlighten, and whose opinions they were sent to control. It is lamentable to think how the majesty of the revelation and word of God has been made to bow before the affected reason, the caprice, or the pride, of man; how objections, slight and trivial, have been sought out and magnified, to disparage the clear, and exalted, and beneficial truths of the Bible; how fair explanation has been disregarded, and objections often answered reiterated; how the substance of religion has been lost in speculating upon its shadow; how, in fine, the light of truth has been rejected, because it shineth upon darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
The cavils by which the doctrines of the Gospel have been assailed, the ingenuity by which they have been evaded, the boldness with which they have been arraigned, and the irreverence with which they are continually treated and discarded, are sufficient to show how far removed is the presumption of a boasting reason from the childlike docility of a converted and a Christian mind, [313/314] But if this conduct excite our astonishment, its folly demands our pity. For let it be granted that by forced construction, by daring omission, by conjectural emendation, or by whatever means the word of God be proved to mean any thing or nothing; let it be granted that there may thus be drawn from it a creed, if creed it may be called, which professes to believe nothing, or which leaves nothing to be believed; let it be granted that such a creed be framed, in which all things shall be level to human reason, and all be consistent with human opinion, a creed in which there shall be no mysterious doctrine of a Trinity, no incarnation of a divine Saviour, no God manifest in the flesh, no sacrifice of a spotless Lamb to take away the sins of the world, no Holy Spirit to quicken and reclaim, to enlighten and sanctify, no reconciled Father, no Mediator, no Intercessor; suppose such a creed, my brethren, to be even consistently, honestly, and sincerely framed from the Bible; and what, I ask you, would be its value? What would be its advantage over the most barren scheme which natural religion, in its utmost destitution, ever formed? Where is the man who feels that he is a sinner; where is he who has learned that he needs a Saviour, who would not weep as, with reluctant hands, he was forced to receive it? Where is the Christian who, missing all that now sustains him, deprived of all that gives life to his faith, and confidence to his [314/315] hopes, would not have reason to take up the language of the afflicted Mary, and in sorrow and despair to say, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him."
Truly, indeed, may we assert of all those creeds which thus reject the Saviour, we know not where they have laid him. But one thing we know; that whether, with Arius, denying to him the attribute of eternity, they have deprived him of the glory which he had with the Father before the world was; or with Socinus, accounting him a mere man; they have consigned him to the oblivion of a mortal grave; his name has been alike dishonoured; his authority, as our Ruler and Lord, disallowed; his truth and his veracity, in claiming to be divine, disputed and disowned.
Behold, my brethren, the importance of that injunction of St. Jude, which the Church this day obeys, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." It comprises the only ground of salvation on which even reason can be content to rely. It justifies your hope of acceptance by proclaiming that you are complete in him. But if Christ be left out of your creed; Christ, the Eternal Son of the Father; Christ, who knew no sin, made a sin-offering for you; Christ dying for your sins according to the Scriptures; Christ exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins; if he be left out of your creed, what [315/316] remains it is not worthy to inquire; it matters absolutely nothing. "For there is no other name under heaven given amongst men, whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ." Stand fast, therefore, in the truth. Be not ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Be not moved from the hope of the Gospel.
And however some may be found fulfilling the scriptural prediction, by denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction, let us remember that he who for our Sakes made himself of no reputation, but took upon him the form of a servant, was yet in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Let us, therefore, not hesitate, with St. Thomas, to address him whom all the angels of God worship as our Lord and our God. With St. Stephen, at our dying hour, let us commend to him our souls, which he has redeemed, saying, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit." And that we may do so with confidence, let us ever cherish the influence of the Holy Ghost; let us grow in grace, live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit, and seek to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.
Thus let us recognize our fealty; and acknowledge our obligations to honour that holy name into which we were baptized. Thus let us show forth our gratitude to God the Father, who sent his only-begotten Son to die in our behalf; to [316/317] God the Son, who achieved our redemption; and to God the Holy Ghost, who renews and sanctifies us for our immortal inheritance.
Brethren, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore." To whom, three Persons and one God, be all honour and glory, dominion and praise, world without end.