The Doctrine of Life: With Some of Its Theological Applications/The Trinity

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The Doctrine of Life: With Some of Its Theological Applications.
V—The Trinity.
Back. William B. Greene. Forward.

WE commence this chapter by giving several of the commonly received statements of the doctrine of the Trinity, with our reasons for not accepting them.

1st. 'That there is but one person in the Godhead; that the Word, and the Holy Spirit, are virtues, emanations, functions, or offices of the Deity; that he who is in heaven is the Father of all things; that he descended into the Virgin, became a child, and was born of her as a son; that, having accomplished the mystery of our salvation, he diffused himself upon the apostles in tongues of fire, and was then denominated the Holy Ghost; that the Son of God who redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit who exerts upon us his satisfying influences, are the same one God, one personality, manifesting himself in distinct, but harmonious offices.' But this view is in nowise trinitarian; and, although it may at first sight appear to be scriptural, we think we shall find little difficulty in demonstrating, in the subsequent part of this chapter, its utter inadequacy. This theory of a trinity of offices, is the heresy of the Sabellians, a sect somewhat numerous during the third century, but whose tenets the christian world, for nearly fifteen hundred years, has almost unanimously agreed to condemn. A great truth which is concealed under this statement, has however caused even its errors to be perpetuated to the present day. This truth, in the chapter on the Atonement, we shall endeavor to bring out. We come now to the second view.

2d. 'That the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are, in the legitimate sense of the word three distinct personalities.'

But this is Tri-Theism. They who hold to this statement, are unable to reconcile their opinions with the doctrine of the strict unity of God, and are obliged to take refuge in what they call an impenetrable mystery, asserting that the Divine Being is one in the sense he is three, and three in the sense he is one. The impenetrable mystery of the Triune nature of God, is not to be denied, but we hold that nature to be mysterious, not because it directly contradicts, but because it transcends, because it is above, reason. To say that any thing whatever is three in the sense it is one, and one in the sense it is three, is absurd. We come now to the third view.

3d. 'That the doctrine of the triplicity of the Divine nature is a vain imagination, invented by men in the days of gross darkness; that this doctrine throws a shadow over the clearest truths of religion, making that obscure which, if left to itself, would shine forth to the heart of man, bright as the noonday.'

But this unqualified denial of the Trinity is inadmissible, for in it is involved a denial of God's power to manifest himself; and, in the last analysis, this statement, upon which we are now commenting, in nowise differs from a statement of the most naked atheism. From this point of view, all things do indeed become clear, and beautiful, but that beauty is the beauty of death, the beauty of absolute negation, which must soon be replaced (as experience has repeatedly shown) by the most loathsome corruption.

Having disposed of the three preceding views, we now come to the statement, which, to us, seems to cover the truth.

Let us commence by establishing the postulate:


We cannot, by an argument à priori, establish this position; for we have no principle back of the Deity, in which to take our point of departure. We shall, however, in a subsequent chapter, prove the truth of this postulate by a train of à posteriori reasoning. For the present, we satisfy ourselves with showing that it is clearly taught in Scripture; and, for this purpose, we quote, from among many others to nearly the same effect, the following texts from the Gospel according to John.

As the LIVING Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.—Chap. vi. ver. 57.

For as the FATHER HATH LIFE IN HIMSELF, so hath he given to the Son TO HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF.—Chap. v ver. 26.

But there can be no life in strict unity. The being, that lives, the object in which he lives, and the relation between the two, are necessary to every fact of life: always, therefore, (if to the word life we may attach any meaning) a triplicity is necessary. If, then, we assert that God lives, we at once assert a triplicity.

If we assert that God is self-living, we assert that he has the object of his life in himself; in other words, we assert a TRIPLICITY IN UNITY.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.—John i. 1. Here the Apostle asserted the distinction between God and the Word, and showed that they were two; for the Word was with God.

And the Word was God.—Ver 1, continued. Here the Apostle asserted that the two, of which he spoke in the first part of the verse, were one.

In him (the Word) was LIFE.—Ver. 4. This expression completes the statement of the Triune nature of God.

As John must have intended to express himself in a way that would be understood by those for whom his book was written, the Signification of the term Logos (Word) must be sought in the meanings which were generally attached to it in those times.

One of these meanings was the Platonic, which (if we understand it) identifies the Logos with what we have called, the world transcending time and space. Another meaning, which was very probably that of the Jews, makes the term Logos equivalent to Wisdom. A third, that of Philo, distinguishes in God the state of [ ], being, and that of [ ], revealing himself; so that, according to him, [ ], is God, revealing Himself.

As these meanings, so far from being inconsistent, are incomplete without the light which they mutually lend each other, we conclude that the true meaning of the term must be found in the synthesis of the three.

And the Life was the Light of men. Light, in the New Testament, denotes knowledge of the truth. But this knowledge can never be obtained by the study of rules and definitions. As we have shown, in the first part of this essay, it is necessary, in order to know what justice is, to perceive it in actions through which it is manifested. By this perception the principle of justice becomes the object of our lives, and, as it were, a part of us.

Definitions and rules can never teach any one what holiness is—to be understood, it must be interwoven with the very life itself.

In the New Testament, therefore, the terms, the truth, a lie, knowledge, always comprehend at once the theoretical and the practical.

The source of this knowledge, this light, is the Word of God, and Christ, as the human manifestation of this Word of God, calls himself the light of the world—according to the Platonic use of language, [ ] <ref>Thurlock: Commentary on the Gospel of John.</ref>

By living in the Logos, man comes to live a divine life, for he lives in what God lives. This divine life is the medium of communication between man and the Logos, for which reason, the comparison of Christ to the sun, and of life to light, appears to have been made.

I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the LIGHT OF LIFE.—John viii 12.