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The first part of this argument, if I rightly understand it, is a petitio principii in respect to the point in question. Is God the Father so called in respect to his relation to the other persons of the Godhead, or, if you please, to the eternal Son; or is he styled Father, on account of his relation to his creatures, and to the Son supernaturally conceived in the womb of the Virgin, and exalted to the Messiah's throne? Here is surely a question; the answer to which cannot be assumed, but must be supported by arguments.
On p. 84, you have said, very justly, that the kind of distinction expressed by the word person in the God. head—we do not know; and that it is not explained in the Scriptures.” How then can it be said, (as in p. 90) that Father is the distinctive title of the first person in the Trinity, as such ? If we neither know what the distinction is, nor have it explained by the Scriptures, how can we affirm, that the terms Father and Son are used as a characteristic designation of original relations in the Godhead. The Scripture that would support this, must be the Scripture which would prove the Son to have been eternally generated ; and as I have already examined this subject, it would be improper for me to repeat my views of it in this place.
There is surely no more necessity of supposing that God always existed as a Father, than that he always existed as a Creator, or Governor. Surely he was not a creator before he created ; nor a governor before he had subjects. Nor is it any more congruous, to suppose
that he was a Father before he had a Son. The question then returns; When was the Son, as such, (not as Logos but as Son) generated ? To assume, that it was from eternity, and that Father expresses eternal relation, is therefore petitio principii.
On the other hand; if Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are words, which designate the distinctions of the Godhead as manifested to us in the economy of redemption, (which after the preceding investigation I cannot doubt;) and are not intended to mark the eternal relations of the Godhead, as they are in themselves, and in respect to each other; then we may easily account for these designations, without being obliged at all to recur to the supposition, which you seem to think inevitable.
As to the rest of the difficulty proposed by the argument; no great effort surely could be necessary to substitute other names for those of Father and Son, if it were expedient. Doubtless it is not expedient; for shall not Christians use, and delight to use, those appellations, by which God, in the economy of redemption, has revealed himself to us? And may they not view thein, (the names and the relations revealed to us, not the actual distinctions of the Godhead) as springing out of the economy of redemption? I see no more difficulty in it, than in supposing that the name Creator sprung from the act of Creation; or Lord from the act of
govo erning all things created.
But while I believe this, I have no imaginable objection to speaking of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in such a way now, as to designate the distinctions of the Godhead thereby. My reason is, that they have become, by usage, PROPER NAMES ; and therefore no objection can lie against such usage. But when the inquiry is, whether these names originally came from internal distinctions in the Godhead, or from the manner in which the Godhead is revealed to us in the economy of redemption, something more than a popular view of the names becomes proper.
But to the question, What title distinguishes the second
person of the Trinity as such, (i. e. as the Godhead is in itself,) an answer may surely be given ; and a Scriptural one too. John tells us that the Logos was in the beginning, and was God; and that when he became flesh, we beheld the glory of the Only Begotten. Here then is a name, for the second distinction of the Trinity as such, which is of apostolic authority—of inspired origin.
. After all, it seems to me that things rather than names, are the principal subject of our inquiry. If I might insist on names, I would ask, how can Christ be called the everlasting Father, as he is by Isaiah ? How can the Son be the Father ? But in doing this, I should think myself employed in a manner that would not well comport with sincere desires, to find what is true rather than what would perplex.
But it is time to bring this long letter to a close. I do not pretend to have examined in it all the texts or arguments, which have ever been adduced to support the doctrine in question ; but I have not purposely neg. lected any that are known to me, which I have deemed of sufficient importance to notice. My aim is to find what is true; not to use the art of a disputant, who is inerely desirous to maintain that side of a question which he has espoused.
And now, in view of this examination by the light of Scripture and reason, what says conscience to the doctrine of eternal and necessary generation? I am very far from undertaking to speak for others; but for myself, I cannot, in conscience, admit the doctrine in question. I do sincerely believe it is not only inconsistent with the fundamental predicates of that awful Being, who is self EXISTENT and INDEPENDENT and IMMUTABLE ; but I must believe, after as thorough an examination as I have been able to make of the Scriptures, that it has do support in the word of God. Nay, so far from this is it, that it does contradict and oppose the usus loquendi of the sacred volume. With such views, can I follow the Council of Nice; or must I follow what I regard as the plain dictates of Scripture and reason? I cannot hesitate a moment which to do ; nor, with my convictions, would you hesitate a moment in rejecting the doctrine in question. Whether the reasons which satisfy my mind will be sufficient to satisfy the minds of others, is more than I would venture to predict, and can be known only from the result of experiment. That experiment, the love of truth (unless I deceive myself) induces me to make, in submitting these reasons to your eye and to that of the public. It is time the question were settled in the minds of those who love the Saviour, and that it should no more be a cause of difference or alienation between them. If these Letters should contribute to elicit a discussion, in which truth, whatever it is, may be developed in a manner satisfactory to the minds of all, it will not be in vain that they have been written.
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
The design of the present Letter is to make several miscellaneous observations, which seem to me expedient, before I take my leave of the subject.
The strength with which you have stated your conviction of the error of those who reject the doctrine of eternal generation, when you say, “ It is a most presumptuous assumption of the principle, that God is a being altogether such an one as ourselves ;" that it is “ as UNPHILOSOPHICAL as it is IMPIOUS ;” and that " where this doctrine is abandoned, neither the doctrine of the Trinity nor the Divine character of the Saviour will be long retained ;” (pp. 86, 88, 90,) induces me to solicit your attention, for a few moments, to some considerations respecting this aspect of our subject. With you,
I can easily admit that it is philosophical, to suppose that God, who has existed from eternity, may have acted from eternity. There can be no objection to this. But is it philosophical, first to lay down the position, that it is an essential characteristic of God to be independent and self existent, and then to say that an emanated, derived, generated being is or can be really God, in this high and only true sense ? If it be replied, that the manner of generation, emanation, or derivation is totally different, in the case under consideration, from any thing of this nature, in respect to what is created or human; I accede. About the manner, I have not one word to say. Let it be as mysterious, or as different