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from human or created productions or emanations as can be imagined, and I have nothing to oppose. But the manner must not be confounded with the fact itself. If generation, or (to use the word which you seem to prefer, p. 87,) emanation from God do not mean derivation, in some sense or other, as a fact ; then, without the fear of being unphilosophical, I make bold to say
that to my mind it appears an unmeaning term. But if it do mean derivation, in any method, then it is impossible, for me, with the views which I now have of the nature of things and of language, to see, that a being derived can be a being self existent and independent; and impossible for me to regard as God supreme, a being that is not self-existent and independent. These predicates enter essentially into your definition and mine of Godhead ; at least they do in every case, where we are not in a polemic attitude.
May I now be indulged in a few remarks, on the allegation that those who reject the doctrine of eternal generation will not long hold to the doctrine of the Trinity and of the Divine character of the Saviour?
I know not what ground, in point of fact, there is to draw this conclusion. The second generation of ministers is now passing from the stage in New England, who have rejected this doctrine ; and apostasy has been no more frequent among them, than among their brethren, who have embraced it. It is indeed true, that the strong hold of Unitarianism, in this country, is in the heart of New England. But it is not true, that one third of the clergymen even in Massachusetts belong to the Unitarians; and without the pale of Massachusetts the number is too small to be worth computing, in comparison with the orthodox. But it remains to be shewn, that the rejection of the doctrine of eternal generation was the leading or introductory step to our Unitarianism. Far different causes have operated, in producing this effect; causes which it is not my object now to describe; and the consideration of which should not be mingled with the present discussion.
I am unable to see any approximation in our opinions to Unitarianism. We do believe there is a distinction in the Godhead, the nature of which, as you yourself justly state, p. 84, the Scriptures have not explained. On this distinction, (which we can hardly venture with you to explain as merely a three fold mode of existence, p. 84, but which we suppose may be sometbing more than mode of existence,) are founded the various appellations and exhibitions of the Godhead, in the Scriptures. We believe that the Logos is truly divine ; divine in a supreme, not in a secondary sense ; and that the Logos did unite himself with “ the holy child, that was called the Son of God," so as to form, in a manner inscrutable to us, one person ; of whom could be predicated, with equal truth, a nature human and divine.
Does your sentiment, now, offer any advantages to those who believe in the essential divinity of Christ, either in comprehending this truth, or in defending it, which are not offered by the sentiment which we embrace? I confess, for myself, I cannot help feeling, that the idea of a derived God is, in reality, a vastly greater approximation to Arianism, than that which we adopt; and that the antagonists of Arius had much less reason to dispute with him than they apprehended. For one, I am altogether inclined to say, with good Irenaeus, “ There is nothing in God which is previous or subsequent, or more ancient; consequently no emanation
of this kind can take place.” (Lib. II. c. 13.) I cannot but rejoice, at finding in the disciple of Polycarp, the intimate friend of the apostle John, ideas of God which appear to me so rational and Scriptural.
The fathers in general, nurtured in the bosom of heathenism and emanation philosophy, and being concerned with those to whom an emanated God would not be objectionable, do not appear to have apprehended any thing repulsive in the doctrine of generation as to the divine nature. I am unable to accord with them here. The
and spiritual, and immutable nature of God, (a truth equally consonant with the Scriptures and with reason,) is so deeply impressed upon me, that I feel an instinctive repulsion to any approximation towards such an idea of the Godhead, as interferes with these essential predicates. And I must confess, that with the views which I now entertain, if I could be persuaded that the doctrine of eternal emanation or generation is true, I should feel that the first step was taken towards embracing the Arian system.
I am no Subordinarian, in any shape whatever, as it respects the Logos, previously to the incarnation and in himself considered. A subordinate God is, to my mind, a contradiction of terms; unless the word God is used in a metaphorical sense.
I believe in the full
, proper, supreme divinity of the Logos ; that be is self-existent, uncreated, unbegotten, not emanated.
Is this approximation to “ denying the Trinity and divinity of the Saviour ?" If it be, I am greatly in error, and wholly unable at present to discern it.
Supposing now I were to accuse my Brethren, who embrace the doctrine of eternal generation, of verging to Arianism; would it be a well grounded accusation? By no means. They assign to Christ the attributes which make him the object of their religious homage, gratitude, and love. They worship him sincerely. I would aim to do the same ; but I cannot speculate with them, in every respect, about his nature. I go farther than they do. As God, I assign him self existence and independence. They refer these only to the Father; at least if they speculate with Bishop Bull, and Subordinarians in general, they do so.
Now which of these speculative views attributes the highest honour to the Saviour? But I forbear to press this question. With all my heart I believe them to be sincere disciples and worshippers of the Saviour, and esteem and love them as such. I say only, that with my views of the nature of the Godhead, the doctrine of eternal generation would be the first step for me towards Arianism; and that it appears to me in reality to differ much less from it, than has been generally supposed.
I would not intimate a doubt that the Nicene fathers meant, with full and sincere purpose, to oppose the doctrines of Arius. But in what respects was the opposition made? On what points did it light? The answer is not difficult to any one who reads attentively and understandingly the history of those times, when the disputes with Arius were carried on. The great fact, that the Son of God, in respect to his nature as Logos, was a derived Being, both parties fully acknowledged. In regard to Arius, this will not be questioned; and in regard to his opponents, the Nicene creed is demonstrative evidence of this. The point mainly disputed was, whether Christ was derived from God by generation and from eternity; or whether he was produced by creative power, and was “the beginning of the creation of God.” I am not supposed to call in question the comparative superiority of the Nicene doctrine, over that of Arius, in respect to spiritual ideas of the divine nature; or in respect to consistency. Both believed Christ to be the creator of the world, and the object of religious worship. With what consistency Arius could maintain this, is a question that can be solved, only by a view of the imperfect notions of the divine nature, that pervaded the age in which he lived. And the Nicene fathers (more consistent and more spiritual in their views, because they represented the Creator of the world as eternal,) fell far short of ascribing that exalted character to the Logos, which he truly sustains. While both parties, then, acknowledged a derived Divinity ; while both agreed to call him God; and to represent him as the creator of the world, and the object of religious worship; and only disputed about the manner and time of his generation; I have felt it to be no presumption to say, that Arius and the Nicene fathers differed much less, in real sentiment, than is generally supposed.
What was wanting in respect to cause of dispute, however, they supplied by vehemence of manner, and warmth of feeling. Both parties were bent on carrying their point. That the Nicene fathers succeeded, is matter of sincere joy to me.
I look on Arianism as a very great advance towards heathenish ideas of the nature of the Divinity. The Nicene fathers were surely more rational, in maintaining that the Creator of the world and the object of religious homage must be eternal, and homoousian with the Father. But after all, to represent him as derived and dependent; what is this but to stop short of assigning full
, essential, supreme divinity to the Logos ?