« ZurückWeiter »
here mentioned, implies that they are persons, for none ljut persons can confer grace or fellowship; and these three great blessings of grace, love, and fellowship, being respectively prayed for by the inspired Apostle, from Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Ghost, without any intimation of disparity, we conclude that these three persons are equal and divine. This solemn benediction may therefore be considered as another proof of the trinity, since it acknowledges the divinity of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Ghost.
The third and last passages which I shall quote upon this subject, is the following salutation of benediction in the beginning of the Revelation of St. John: “Grace and peace from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come ; and from the seven spirits which are before his throne ; and Jesus Christ.” Here the Father is described by a figure of speech taken from his attribute of eternity, and the seven spirits is a mysterious expression for the Holy Ghost, used upon this occasion either because the salutation is addressed to seven churches, every one of which had partaken of the spirit, or because seven was a sacred number among the Jews, denoting both variety and perfection, and in this case alluding to the various gifts, administrations, and operations of the Holy Ghost. Since grace and peace are prayed for from these three persons jointly and without discrimination, we infer an equality in their power to dispense those blessings; and we farther conclude that these three persons together constitute the Supreme Being, who is alone the object, and is alone the giver of every good, and every perfect gift.
It may be right to remark that the seven spirits cannot mean angels, since prayers are never in scripture addressed to angels, nor are blessings ever pronounced in their name.
It is unnecessary to quote any of the numerous passages in which the Father is singly called God, as some of them must be recollected by every one, and the divinity of the Father is not called in question by any sect of Christians, and those passages, which prove the divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost separately, will be more properly considered under the second and fifth articles. In the mean time we may observe, that if it shall appear, as I trust it will, from scripture, that Christ is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, it will follow, since we are assured that there is but one God, that the three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, by a mysterious union, constitute the one God, or as this article expresses it, that there is a trinity in unity; "and in the unity of this godhead there be three persons of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
But while we contend that the doctrine of the Trinity in unity is founded in scripture, and supported by the authority of the early Christians, we must acknowledge that it is not given to man to understand in what manner the three persons are united, or how, separately and jointly, they are God. We know not the essence of our own minds, nor the precise distinction of its several faculties; and why then should we hope to comprehend the personal characters which exist in the godhead? “If I tell you earthly things, and you under
stand them not, how shall ye understand if I tell you heavenly things?” John, iii. 12. “We cannot by searching find out God.” Job, xi. 7. “ Behold Godis great and we know him not.” Job, xxxvi. 26. “ Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for us; it is high; we cannot attain unto it.” Psalm, cxxxix. 6.
The following extract from one of Tertullian's apologies, or vindications
of the primitive Christians, contains many things concerning their man. ners and customs, useful to be known. This Tertullian lived and wrote not far from the year 200 after Christ, and was among the most learned and able advocates for Christianity, in his day. AN EXTRACT FROM TERTULLIAN'S APOLOGY.
CHAP. XXXIX. CONCERNING THE DISCIPLINE OF CHRISTIANS; THEIR EMPLOY.
MENTS, AND MANNER OF LIVING. HAVING vindicated our seet from the calumnies of rebellion, &c. I come now to lay before you the Christian way and fashion of living.
We Christians then are a corporation or society of men most strictly united by the same religion, by the same rites of worship, and animated with one and the same hope ; when we come to the public service of God, we come in as formidable a body as if we were to storm heaven by force of prayer, and such a force is a most grateful violence to God. When this holy army of supplicants is met and disposed in godly array, we all send up our prayers for the life of the emperors, for their ministers, for magistrates, for the good of the state, for the peace of the empire, and for retarding the final doom.
We meet together likewise for the reading of holy scriptures, and we take such lessons out of them as we judge suit best with the condition of the times, to confirm our faith either by forewarning us what we are to expect, or by bringing to our minds the predictions already fulfilled. And certainly our spiritual life is wonderfully nourished with reading the holy scriptures, our hopes thereby are erected, and our trust fixed and settled upon God. However, besides the reading, we continually preach and press the duties of the gospel with all the power and argument we are able ; for it is in these assemblies, that we exhort, reprove and pass the divine censure or sentence of excommunication; for the judgments in this place are delivered with all solemnity, and after the maturest deliberation imaginable, as being delivered by men who know they are pronouncing God's sentence, and act with the same caution as if God stood visibly among them; and the censures here pronounced are looked upon as an anticipation of the judgment to come, and the sinner precondemned by God, who has sinned to such a degree as to be shut out by his ministers from the fellowship of the faithful, the communion of prayers and sacraments, and the rest of that sacred commerce.
The presidents or bishops among us, are men of the most venerable age and piety, raised to this honour not by the powers of money,
but the brightness of their lives; for nothing sacred is to be had for money. That kind of treasury we have, is not filled with any dishonorable sum, as the price of a purchased religion ; every one puts a little to the public stock, commonly once a month, or when he pleases, and only upon condition that he is both willing and able ; for there is no compulsion upon any: All here is a free-will offering; and all these collections are deposited in a common bank for charitable uses, not for the support of merry meetings, for drinking and gluttony, but for feeding the poor and burying the dead, and providing for girls and boys who have neither parents nor provisions left to support them; for relieving old people worn out in the service of the saints, or those who have suffered by shipwreck, or are condemned to the mines, or islands, or prisons, only for the faith of Christ; these may be said to live upon their profession, for while they suffer for professing the name of Christ, they are fed with the collections of his Church.
But strange! that such lovely expressions of Christian charity cannot pass with some men without a censure; for look (say they) how these Christians seem to love each other, when in their hearts they hate each other to death ? How forward are they to stake their lives for one another, when inwardly they could cut one anothers' throats ? But the true reason of this defamation, upon the account of styling ourselves brethren, I take to be this, because the name of brother is found, with these men, to be only a gilded expression of a counterfeit friendship. But you need not wonder at this loving title among Christians, when we own even you yourselves for brethren by the right of one common nature ; although, indeed you have cancelled this relation, and by being inhuman brethren have forfeited the title of men; but by what diviner ties are we Christians, brethren! We who acknowledge but one and the same God, as our universal Father; who have all drank of one and the same holy Spirit, and who are all delivered as it were from one common womb of ignorance, and called out of darkness into his marvellous light! But it may be we cannot pass for real brothers with you, because you want a tragedy about the bloody feuds of the Christian fraternity; or because our brotherly love continues even to the division of our estates, which is a test few brotherhoods will bear, and which commonly divides the dearest unions among you.
But we Christians look upon ourselves as one body, informed as it were by one soul; and being thus incorporated by love, we can never dispute what we are to bestow upon our own members. According. ly among us, all things are in common, excepting wives : in this alone we reject communion, and this is the only thing you enjoy in common; for you not only make no conscience in violating the wife of your friend, but with amazing patience and gratitude, lend him your own! This doctrine I suppose came from the school of the Grecian Socrates or the Roman Cato, those wisest of Sages, who accommodated their friends with their own wives, wives which they espoused for the sake of children of their own begetting, as I imagine, and not of other men !
Whether the wives are thus prostituted with their own consent, in
truth I cannot tell, but I see no great reason why they should be much concerned about that chastity,.which their husbands think not worth keeping. O never to be forgotten example of Athenian wisdom!
But is it any great wonder that such charitable brethren as enjoy all things in common, should have such frequent love-feasts? For this it is, you slander us, and reflect upon our little frugal suppers, not only as infamously wicked, but as scandalously excessive. Diogenes, for ought I know, might have us Christians in his eye, when he said, that the Magarensians feast as.if they were never to eat more, and build as if they were to live for ever; but every one sees a straw in another's eye, sooner than a beam in his own; or else you must be sensible of your own beastliness in this case : for the very air in the streets is soured with the belches of the people coming from their feasts in their several wards; the Salii cannot sup without the advance of a loan, and upon the feast of tythes to Hercules, the entertainment is so very costly that you are forced to have a book-keeper on purpose for expences. At Athens, likewise, when the Apaturia, or feasts in honour of Bacchus for a serviceable piece of treachery he did, are to be celebrated, there is a proclamation for all choice cooks to come in, and assist at the banquet ; and when the kitchen of Serapis smoaks, what baskets of provisions come tumbling in from every quarter! But my business at present is to justify the Christian supper: and the nature of this supper you may understand by its name; for it is the Greek word for love. We Christians think we can never be too expensive, because we think all is gain that is Jaid out in doing good; when, therefore, we are at the charge of an entertainment, it is to refresh the bowels of the needy ; you gorge those parasites among you, who glory in selling their liberty to satiate their appetites; but we feed the hungry, because we know God takes a peculiar delight in seeing us do it. If therefore, we feast only with such excellent designs, I leave you, from hence, to guess at the rest of our discipline in matters of pure religion; nothing earthly, nothing unclean has ever admittance here; our souls ascend in prayer to God, before we sit down to meat : we eat only what suffices nature, and drink no more than what is strictly becoming chaste and regular persons. We sup as servants who know we must wake in the night to the service of our master, and discourse as those who remember that they are in the hearing of God. When supper is ended, and we have washed our hands, and the candles are lighted up, every one is invited to sing praises to God, either such as he collects from the holy scriptures, or such as are of his own composing: and by this you may judge of the measures of drinking at a Christian feast. And as we began, so we conclude all in prayer, and depart not like a parcel of heated bullies, for scouring the streets, and killing and ravishing the next we meet, but with the same temperance and modesty we came, as men who have not so properly been a drinking, as imbibing religion. This assembly of Christians, therefore, is deservedly ranked among unlawful ones, if it holds any resemblance with them; and I will not say a word against condemning it, if any man will make good any one article against it which is charged upon other factions. Did we ever come together to the ruin of any person? We are the same in our assemblies as at home, and as harmless in a body, as apart; in neither capacity injuring nor afflicting any person whatever. When therefore, so many honest and good, pious and chaste people are met together, and regulatd with so much discipline and order; such a meeting is not to be called factious, but is as orderly an assembly as any of your courts.
ADVICE TO A STUDENT, CONCERNING THE QUALIFICATIONS AND DUTIES OF A CLERGYNAN.
THE COMPOSITION OF SERMONS. THE DOCTRINES OF RELIGION.
WITH respect to the doctrines of religion, you will think it your duty “ to keep back from your congregation nothing that is « profitable to them ; nor shun to declare unto them all the counsel « of God:” that is, you will endeavour to lay before them, in the course of your ministry, the whole Christian faith ; as well those articles of it which are common to all religion, but are more clearly discovered by the gospel, as those which are peculiar to that dispensation. Some of each kind it will be proper to set forth in appropriate discourses; others, as a part of some general topic; others again incidentally, as occasions may arise. Your own good sense and consideration will instruct you, which of them are most frequently to be handled ; which are to be more briefly stated; and which more copiously explained. Thus, the attributes of God, being the vital substance of religion, must pervade every discourse, whether doctrinal or preceptive : they must occur continually as a ground of obligation, and as an incentive to practice: in these views they cannot be too often recalled to the remembrance and meditation of your hearers. But subtle disquisitions concerning them are not likely to edify any congregation. The divine omniscience, for example, is a powerful argument, often inculcated in scripture, for purity of heart and life. But few of your hearers will be able to follow you, and still fewer to any useful purpose, if you pursue the operation of this attribute, through all its objects and effects, into the question of predestination, or the consistency of divine prescience with human liberty. The trinity of persons may be considered as a revealed attribute of the Deity. The divine essence, which is the subject of this doctrine, being incomprehensible, the doctrine cannot be explained : it can only be stated as a truth demonstrable from divers passages of the scriptures, and interwoven with the whole procedure of the evangelical dispensation : for the same reason (by the way) it cannot be called into question on any other ground, than on the written word from which alone we have received it. The assistance of the holy spirit is another doctrine which we owe entirely to revelation ; al. though, now that it is discovered, it appears philosophically credible and probable : for why the supreme intellect may not act im. mediately upon created spirits, as effectively as it does upon matter; or as it does upon the same spirits by the intervention of matter; or as the same spirits act, by the intervention of matter, upon each other; no metaphysician can tell: nor can any one reasonably deny the