« AnteriorContinuar »
REV. AND Dear Sir, THE occasion of addressing the present letters to you may be briefly stated. A passage in the third of your Letters on Unitarianism, addressed to the first Presbyterian Church in the city of Baltimore, in which you have stated your feelings and views in regard to the eternal generation of the Son of God, led me to a re-investigation of this subject, so often agitated by the church in ages past. The design of the present letters is to submit to you, and to the Christian public, the result of this investigation, with the reasons by which it pears to me to be supported.
In my letters to the Rev. William E. CHANNING, on the doctrine of the Trinity, and of the divine nature of Christ, I have said, (p. 31. 2d edit.) “ I am unable to conceive of a definite meaning in the terms eternal generation; and I cannot regard them in any
other light, than as a palpable contradiction of language.” On this subject, however, your
different, as they are presented in the following passage from your third letter.
“ Nor ought it to give rise to the least difficulty in the minds of any, that the second Person of the Trinity is called the Son of God ; that He is said to be the only Begotten Son, and the eternally Begotten. I know that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of
appear to be
God is regarded by many as implying a contradiction in terms. But here again is a most presumptuous assumption of the principle, that God is a being altogether such an one as ourselves. Because generation among men necessarily implies priority, in the order of time as well as of nature, on the part of the father, and derivation and posteriority on the part of the son, the objection infers that it must also be so in the Divine nature. But is this a legitimate, is it a rational inference? It certainly is not. That which is true, as it respects the nature of man, may be infinitely removed from the truth, as it respects the eternal God. It has been often well observed, that, with regard to all effects which are voluntary, the cause must be prior to the effect; as the father is to the son, in human generation : But that in all that are necessary, the effect must be coeval with the cause ; as the stream is with the fountain, and light with the sun. Has the sun ever existed a moment without sending out beams ? And if the sun had been an eternal being, would there not have been an eternal, necessary emanation of light from it? But God is confessedly eternal. Where, then, is the absurdity or contradiction of an eternal, necessary emanation from Him, or, if you please, an eternal generation, —and also an eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son ? To deny the possibility of this, or to assert that it is a manifest contradiction, either in terins or ideas, is to assert that, although the Father is from all eternity, yet He could not acı from all eternity ; which, I will venture to assert, is as UNPHILOSOPHICAL as it is impious. Sonship, even among men, implies no personal inferiority. A son may be perfectly equal, and is sometimes greatly superior to his father, in every desirable power, and quality: and, in general, be does in fact partake of the same human nature, in all its fullness and perfection, with his parent. But, still, forsooth, it is objected, that we cannot conceive of generation in any other sense than as implying posteriority and derivation. But is not this saying, in other words, that the objector is determined, in the face of all argument, to persist in measuring Jehovah by earthly and human principles ? Shall we never have done with such a perverse begging of the question, as illegitimate in reasoning, as it is impious in its spirit ? The scriptures declare that Christ is the Son, the only begotten Son of the Father; to the Son the Father is represented as saying, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever: and concerning himself the Son declares, I and my Father are one. This is enough for the christian's faith. He finds no more difficulty in believing this, than in believing that there is an eternal, omniscient and omnipresent Spirit, who made all worlds out of nothing, and upholds them continually by the word of
“I am aware that some who maintain, with great zeal, the Divinity and atonement of Christ, reject his eternal Sonship, or generation, as being neither consistent with reason, nor taught in scripture. It does not accord, either with my plan or my inclination, to spend much time in animadverting on this aberration, for such I must deem it, from the system of gospel truth. I will only say that, to me, the
doctrine of the eternal Sonship of the Saviour appears to be plainly taught in the word of God, and to be a doctrine of great importance in the economy of salvation. Of course, I view those who reject it, not merely as in error, but in very serious error; an error which, though actually connected with ardent piety, and general orthodoxy, in many who embrace it, has, nevertheless, a very unhappy tendency, and cannot fail, I fear, to draw in its train many mischievous consequences. If the title Father, be the distinctive title of the first Person of the adorable Trioity, as such, does not the correlative title of Son seem to be called for by the second Person, as such ? If the second Person of the Trinity is not to be distinguished by the title of Son, what is his distinguishing title? By what appropriate name are we to know Him, as distinguished from the other Persons? In the form of Baptism, all the friends of orthodoxy grant that the Father and the Holy Ghost are expressive of divine personal distinctions ; but if so, what good reason can be given why the Son should be understood differently? In short, my belief is, that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, is so closely connected with the doctrioe of the Trinity, and the Divine character of the Saviour, that where the former is generally abandoned, neither of the two latter will be long retained. I must therefore, warn you against the error of rejecting this doctrine, even though it come from the house of a friend. It is a mystery, but a precious mystery, which seems to be essentially interwoven with the whole substance, as well as language, of the blessed economy of mercy.
"Concerning this eternal generation of the Son, the early Christian writers constantly declared that it was firmly to be believed; but, at the same time, that it was presumptuous to attempt to inquire into the manner of it.
6 Irenæus asserts, that THE SON, FROM ETERNITY, CO-EXISTED WITH THE FATHER ; and that from the beginning, he always revealed the Father to angels, and archangels, and principalities and powers, and all to whom it pleased him to reveal him.'*
“ Lactantius, in his fourth book De vera Sapientia, says · How, therefore, did the Father beget the Son ? These divine works can be known of none, declared by none. But the holy scriptures teach that He is the Son of God, that He is the Word of God."
" Ambrose, in his treatise, De Fide, ad Gratianum, speaks in the following decisive and eloquent strain—I inquire of you when and how the Son was begotten? It is impossible for me to know the mystery of this generation. My mind fails; my tongue is silent; and not only mine, but the tongues of angels: it is above principalities, above angels, above the Cherubim, above the Seraphim, above all understanding. Lay thine hand upon thy mouth. It is not lawful to search into these heavenly mysteries. It is lawful to know that he was born, but not lawful to examine how he was born. The former I dare not deny; the latter am afraid to inquire into. For if
CONTRA HÆRESES, Lib. II. cap 30.
Paul, when he was taken up into the third heaven, affirms that the things which he heard could not be uttered, how can we express the mystery of the Divine Generation, which we can neither understand nor see?
“Let not, then, my Christian Brethren, the charge of mystery,' or the cant proverb, that where inystery begins, faith and religion end,' in the least move you. That mystery should be readily allowed to exist every where in God's Creation, and in God's Providence, and at the same time be unceremoniously rejected from God's Revelation, is indeed more than strange! That creatures who acknowledge that the nature of God is infinitely unlike, and infinitely above, that of any other being in the Universe ; and that their own share of reason is so small that they can scarcely think or speak intelligibly about it, or so much as define their own faculties of reasoning ; should yet refuse to believe any thing of Jehovah which does not accord with human notions; is, surely, as weak and irrational as it is presumptuous. But that creatures who confess themselves to be miserable sinners, lying at the footstool of mercy, and standing in need of a revelation from God, to teach them, what they could not otherwise know, concerning his perfections, and the way of acceptance with Him; should yet, when they acknowledge that such a Revelation has been given, undertake to sit in judgment upon it, and to reject such parts of it as are above the grasp of their disordered and enfeebled reason ; argues a degree of daring and infatuated impiety, which, if it were not so common, we should be ready to say could not exist. Wherein does it essentially differ from that temper by which angels became apostate spirits ? ” pp. 86–93.
· I must frankly acknowledge to you my regret, that I have expressed myself on this subject, in terms so strong. The only apology for this which I can make, is, that at the time when I wrote my Letters, I was not at all apprehensive that the doctrine of eternal
generation was looked upon, by Christians in our country, to be so precious and important a truth, as your third Letter represents it to be. I knew, indeed, that there were theologians, who received and maintained the doctrine. But I was not conscious that it was regarded in such a light as to call for zealous effort to defend it, or that the denial of it would make any breach of entire confidence and charity between Christian brethren. Nothing was more natural than for me to have felt thus. During all