Noble's 'Appeal': VII. The Trinity, As Centered In The Person Of The Lord Jesus Christ.:
B. All Objections to the Doctrine fall to the ground, when certain Truths are known relating to the Lord as the Son of God, and the Glorification of his Humanity.
the grand truth of the Sole Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ,—or that he is Jehovah clothed with Humanity, and that the Father and he are strictly One, has been, I trust, abundantly proved from Scripture: whence it necessarily follows, that the whole Trinity is centered in his Glorious Person. Doubts, however, may remain in the minds of some, unless they are made acquainted with certain other truths requisite for the elucidation of these very general ones, and capable of taking away the grounds of all the objections which can be raised against the doctrine. By presenting these, I trust we shall again, though by a different route, arrive at complete proof of the doctrine itself.
The objections to the doctrine that the whole Divine Trinity is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Person is thus the person of the Father, are chiefly drawn from these two sources: first, from the belief, that the Being who became incarnate was a Son of God born from eternity: here, therefore, I shall endeavour to show, That the phrase, "Son of God" is the proper title of the Humanity born in time, and that the Being who assumed that Humanity was the One Jehovah: secondly, objections are raised from the fact, that Jesus Christ, while in the world, sometimes spoke as if the Father were a separate Being from Himself: here, therefore, I shall endeavour to show, That, while in the world, he was engaged in the work of glorifying his Humanity, or making it Divine, as part of his great work of Redemption: thus, That so long as he was in the world there was a part of his nature which was not divine; but that the work of glorifying the whole was completed at his resurrection and ascension; that all belonging to him had then been made Divine; and that thus he now ever liveth and reigneth, with the Father an Indivisible One, the Only God of heaven and earth. When these truths are seen, the ground of all the objections which can plausibly be raised against the doctrine, that the whole Trinity is centered in his Glorious Person, will be taken away.
I. I am then, first, to meet the objections arising out of the belief, that the Being who became Incarnate was a Son of God born from eternity, by snowing, That the phrase, "Son of God," is the proper title of the Humanity born in time, and that the Being who assumed it was the One Jehovah.
The idea of a Son of God born from eternity includes such a contradiction in terms, that, if those who entertain it will pardon the remark, we may well wonder how it could ever have found a propounder; especially when, on searching the Scriptures, we discover, that nothing whatever countenancing such a notion is there to be found. Had there been such a being as a Son of God existing from eternity, governing the universe in conjunction with his Father, and the Head and particular Ruler of the church, is it to be supposed, that the church could have been left, for four thousand years, in total ignorance of his existence ? Yet such is incontrovertibly the fact.
The Old Testament, which contains the records of all the churches that ever appeared on this globe, from the creation till the coming of the Lord, never once speaks of a Son of God as then actually existing: it speaks indeed, prophetically, of a Son of God who, in the fulness of time, was to be born, but never makes the slightest allusion to a Son of God then born already.
The translators of the English Bible have, indeed, once used the term in such a manner, as might lead the uninformed to imagine there was a proper Son of God in the days of Daniel. For when Nebuchadnezzar had caused the three pious Jews to be cast into the furnace, he is represented as saying, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."(Ch. iii. 25.) But it is certain that the words of the original Chaldee, in which language this part of Scripture is written, ought to be rendered "a son of the gods:" and this is now admitted by all the learned; while it certainly is much more suitable to the character of the speaker, Nebuchadnezzar, a polytheist, and a worshipper of idols. Even if the Chaldee term for God, when in the plural number, will bear, like the Hebrew term, a singular meaning, still there is no ground whatever for calling the heavenly stranger whom the king saw "the Son of God," but he ought to be termed "a son of God;" in the same sense, according to a remark of the commentators, as the epithets, godlike, divine, &c., are applied by Homer to some of his heroes. Indeed, if the ancient Jews could have had an idea like that now entertained, of a Son of God from eternity, it still would be the height of inconsistency to make the heathen Nebuchadnezzar, who knew no more of the principles of the Jewish religion than he did of the modern Christian notions of the Trinity, speak according to such notions. Certain it is that the prophet Daniel, who writes this history, had no intention of making him do so; on the contrary, he represents him as saying, a little below, (Ver. 28.) "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel and delivered his servants." And, no doubt, the being sent to protect the faithful Jews was an angel, and is called a son of God, or, according to the creed of Nebuchadnezzar, a son of the gods, in the same sense as angels are called sons of God in Scripture. This is in fact acknowledged in the margin of the common bible, which at ver. 25, for the illustration of the phrase, son of God, refers us to Job i. 6; where we read, "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord." These, obviously, are the angels: and one of these sons of God, and not a proper Son of God born from eternity, was, doubtless the son of God seen by Nebuchadnezzar. It is greatly to be lamented, that so very important a mistranslation should remain in the English Bible to mislead the simple. Printed too, as it is, with the word "Son" commenced with a capital letter, none who are destitute of other means of information can avoid supposing, that there was a proper Son of God then existing; while no shadow of ground really exists for such an imagination.
Seeing then that Moses and the prophets give us no information about a proper Son of God as existing when that part of the Divine Code was composed, we must come to the New Testament for instruction: where the term is often used, and always in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Of all the places in which it here occurs, perhaps that in Luke i. 35, is best adapted to convey a full insight into its meaning. It is there applied by the angel Gabriel to the Lord Jesus Christ at his birth, or rather, prior to his birth, in a manner which plainly intimates that there was no Son of God before. In the other gospels, this epithet is given to Jesus Christ, or is assumed by him: but in this passage of Luke we learn the origin of the title, and the reason of it. Had there been a Son of God already existing, and it was this which became incarnate and was born of the virgin, we undoubtedly should have had some intimation of it when the angel announced to her the approaching event. He surely would have made some mention of the Being who was about to assume Humanity by her means. He would not merely have told her, that that Holy Thing which should be born of her should be called the Son of God; but, that the Son of God who had existed from eternity, was about, by her instrumentality, to come into the world. No such thing. He says: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Here is express mention of the Holy Ghost, and of the Highest, or Father, as operating in the divine conception: but nothing is said of a Son from eternity as being in any way concerned: and the omission most plainly implies, what all the perceptions of common sense must be outraged before we can doubt, that the Son does not assist to produce himself, nor exist before he is born. The Holy Thing that was to be born, it is said, should be called the Son of God; and so called, not because it had already been born from eternity, but because (what else does the illative particle, "therefore," intend?—because) it was now first conceived of the Holy Ghost and the Father.
Here, also, is another circumstance which it is impossible for the Tri-personalist to reconcile with his creed: that the Holy Ghost, as well as the Highest or Father, is represented as standing in the relation of a parent to the Son of God. It is commonly believed that the Holy Ghost is a distinct personal being, separate from both the Father and the Son: if so, then, according to the angel Gabriel, the Son had two distinct fathers. The Athanasian Creed says, that "the Son is of the Father alone, neither made nor created, but "begotten:" but the angel Gabriel positively declares, that the Son is of the Holy Ghost and the Highest, begotten alike of both. How evident then it is, that, before we can have clear and consistent notions of the Divine Incarnation, we must not only dismiss from our minds the wild belief of a Son of God born from eternity, but also, that equally extravagant and unscriptural notion, the separate personality of the Holy Ghost.
How inconsistent and perplexing (may we not exclaim ?) are such conceptions! How embarrassing and distressing would they be to those who entertain them, would they venture steadily to look at them! but this they dare not; for they feel that disbelief, which they dread as connected with perdition, must supervene, were they suffered to be made the subject of reflection. Inquiry, therefore, is silenced with the incessant cry, "It is a mystery, altogether beyond human comprehension." Thus the author of the Anti-Swedenborg occupies four pages (pp. 21—23) with the repetition of this cry, and with endeavours to prove, that ignorance in regard to the Object of their worship is the special privilege of Christians. And he here only follows the example of his superiors. The celebrated lexicographer, Johnson, defines the word "Trinity" to mean, "the incomprehensible union of the three Divine Persons of the Godhead:" and Bishop Tomline, in his Elements of Christian Theology, though he clearly proves the existence of a Trinity, and conclusively establishes the Divinity of Jesus Christ, yet, because he assumes the Trinity to consist of three separate Persons, repeatedly avows their Unity to be incomprehensible. Thus it is not the Trinity which the advocates of this creed affirm to be incomprehensible: they evidently have quite distinct notions of three distinct beings; for, admit a plurality of Gods to be possible, and there is no difficulty in conceiving the precise number to be three: but how to conceive that, nevertheless, these three are but one,—hic labor, hoc opus est! They justly apply, therefore, the epithet incomprehensible, not to the Trinity, which they acknowledge in fact, but to the Unity, which they only profess in words. Hence they tell us that we must not think about it, because it is a mystery. But pardon me if I ask, whether, when they who ought to be in the light of the gospel excuse their confused notions by the cry of "Mystery!" they do not in reality acknowledge that they are not the true disciples of Jesus Christ ? To his disciples the Lord says, "To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but unto them that are without all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand."* In another Evangelist, it is "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven."+ And in reference to this very subject the Lord says elsewhere, "The time cometh when I shall no more speak to you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father."# But the advocates of the common notions affirm, not only that this promise never has been, but that it never will be fulfilled; that any plain knowledge of the Father, as one of the characters of the Trinity, is utterly unattainable; that the whole is an incomprehensible mystery, which we are not so much as, with the angels, to "desire to look into."$
* Mark iv. 11, 12. + Matt. xiii. 11. # John xvi. 25. $ 1 Pet. i. 12
The whole subject, however, loses its imputed character of incomprehensibility, and becomes, agreeably to the divine promise just cited, plain; and the words of the angel Gabriel, in particular, become easy to understand; when we know that the Trinity in the Divine Nature does not consist of three Persons, but of three Principles or Elements in one Person. "The Highest" which is the term used by the angel instead of "the Father," most clearly denotes the Inmost Principle of Deity, or the Essence of the Divine Nature. Unquestionably, God is not called the Highest or Most High, in reference to any station which he occupies in space; for God is independent of space, and no more stationed in one place than in another. He who is Omnipresent, cannot literally be either high or low. The reason then of his title of Most High, is, because he is the Inmost, being everywhere present as the inmost source of the life and existence of all things. And with respect to the three Essentials of his own Nature, it must be his Inmost Divinity which is called the Highest. So when, elsewhere, this Inmost Principle is called the Father, it is, because the essence of Deity is Love, and Love is the Great Parent of all. The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, in like manner, is not a separate Person, but is the Divine Emanation of influences and energies proceeding from the Divine Being, by which all things are kept in existence, and especially by which the graces of heavenly life are imparted to human minds. Much the same is meant by the Power of the Highest as by the Holy Spirit: for as the Highest denotes the Divine Essence, so the Power of the Highest denotes the influence and operation thence proceeding; only there is this difference in the import of the two phrases: that the Holy Spirit means the Divine Emanation of life and influence more with respect to the Divine Truth and Wisdom, and the Power of the Highest is the same Divine Emanation more with reference to the Divine Goodness and Love. What then can be "that Holy Thing," "the Son of God," conceived by the energy of these two Principles within the sphere of Humanity, but themselves, and consequently the Highest with them, brought into open manifestation, concentrated in a Divine Human Form, and thus adapted to be an Object both of the love and the perceptions of finite and infirm human minds ?
The consequence of this assumption of Humanity by Jehovah, was, the redemption of mankind, by the subjugation of the powers of hell, which could not otherwise have been approached and conquered; and the communication of saving energies for the restoration of fallen man, with an efficacy which could no otherwise be obtained. But respecting this part of the subject we shall have occasion to say more in the Section on the Atonement.
It may be necessary to observe, that we are not to conclude from the fact, that there was no Son of God born from eternity, that, therefore, there was no Trinity from eternity. Though there was not such a Trinity as since the incarnation, there must always have been a Divine Essence, a Divine Form, and a Divine Influencing-Power. As the Divine Essence is identical with the purely Divine Love, the Divine Form is identical with the purely Divine Truth, which is the Word, of which it is said in the beginning of John that it was made flesh, or assumed the ultimate form of existence. The state of the Divine Trinity before the assumption of Humanity, or before the birth of the Son of God, is compared, by Swedenborg, to the state of an angel or spirit; who has a soul or inmost principle of life, a spiritual body, and a sphere of operation thence: but the state of the Divine Trinity since the assumption of Humanity, is compared to the state of a man in the world, in whom his soul and spiritual body are clothed with a natural body also, and thus have a sphere of activity in the world of nature.
We may now have advanced as much as was necessary to elucidate this branch of our argument. We were to meet the objections arising out of the belief, that the Being who became incarnate was a Son of God horn from eternity, by showing, that the phrase, Son of God, is the proper title of the Humanity born in time, and that the Being who assumed it was the One Jehovah. This has, I trust, sufficiently appeared: and with it, we have in some degree seen, how much light the view proposed throws upon the great doctrine of the Trinity.
II. I am next to meet the objections which are raised from the fact, that the Lord Jesus Christ, while in the world, sometimes spoke as if the Father were a Being separate from himself. To this end I am to show, That, while in the world, he was engaged in the work of glorifying his Humanity, or making it Divine, which was part of his great work of Redemption; thus, That so long as he was in the world there was a part of his nature which was not divine; but that the work of glorifying the whole was completed at his resurrection and ascension; that all belonging to him had then been made Divine; and that now he ever liveth and reigneth, with the Father an Indivisible One, the Only God of heaven and earth.
A psychological fact is necessary to be premised.
It is supposed by many, that nothing is derived by man from his parents except his bodily frame, and that when this has arrived to a certain stage of its growth in the womb, a soul, immediately created for the purpose, is infused into it from God. This notion involves such contradictions, that it is wonderful how any can admit it. How can the human race at the present day be infected with the sin of Adam, as is generally supposed; and how can there be a transmission of mental disposition and character from ancestors, as experience demonstrates to be the fact; if, as to the only part of us which is capable either of sin, or righteousness, or mental character, we are not Adam's descendants, and have no proper ancestors, but are as much original creations as was Adam himself? How much more rational is Swedenborg's doctrine; that the soul is not an independent principle that lives of itself, but is a spiritual form organised for the reception, from moment to moment, of life from God; which life is received and modified by it according to the peculiar character of the form; the form itself being propagated from the parents, and thus resembling what it was in them, as is the case with the body! Many philosophers have seen that such must be the fact. Watts endeavoured to combine both opinions; in which he succeeds in establishing the truth much better than in sheltering the error. "Though the spirit of man," says he, "be incorporeal, and is created by God without depraved or sinful qualities in it," [here is the error: how does it agree with the truth that follows ?] "yet it never exists, or conies into being, but as a part of human nature; and that not as a piece of new workmanship, but as a part of mankind propagated from parents, by the continued power of God's creating word, 'Be fruitful and multiply.' " (Works, vol. ii. p. 322.)
Now be it observed, that there was this difference between the Lord Jesus Christ, while in a body of flesh on earth, and all ordinary men: that whereas they take their soul or spiritual part from a human father, as well as their body or material part from a human mother, and thus are finite human beings as to both, Jesus Christ having no father but the Divine Father, had his soul or internal part from the Divine Essence; and as the Divine Essence is obviously incapable of division, the Divine Essence Itself, or the Father, was in fact his soul or internal part: while his body, or external part, including the affections, &c., of the natural man, was all that he took from the mother. So long as he had attached to him this body from the mother, he was necessarily an inhabitant of this material world; nor could he return, as he expresses it in John, to the Father, and "be glorified with the glory which he had with him,"—as the Divine Truth or Word in union with the Divine Good or Love,— "before the world was," (John xvii. 5.) until his external part, even to the very body, by the assumption of which "the Word was made flesh," (Ch. i. 14.) was glorified or made Divine: nor, till then, was the whole Humanity the appropriate Divine Form of the Divine Essence that was resident within, and which was continually endeavouring to bring it into a state of perfect agreement with itself, that it might impart itself to it, and thus dwell in fulness in. it, as the soul in its body. Thus our Lord's state by birth, bore an exact analogy to man's state by birth. Man has, we know, an internal man and an external man, which are by birth in opposition to each other, the internal man inclining to heavenly things, and the external only to earthly things; wherefore man, before he can be elevated to heaven must be regenerated, that is, his external man must be formed anew, so as to become the image of the internal, and to incline, like it, to heavenly things, and only to earthly in subordination to heavenly. But that which, in our Lord, may be called his internal man, was Jehovah, or the Essential Divinity itself; but his external man, being taken from a human parent, was at first merely human and finite, and partook of human, finite, and earthly things; wherefore, before the Lord could return to complete oneness with the Father, his external man was to be formed anew, so as to become the exact image of his internal, thus, like it, Divine and Infinite. Now this renewal of his external part was going on during the whole course of his life in the world.
That the Lord was not born Divine as to his external part, but only as to his internal part, is generally known: but that he was continually engaged in rendering his external part Divine also, which at last, was completely effected, is as generally overlooked. That, as to his external man, he advanced in intelligence as well as in bodily growth, is evident from the declaration of Luke, that, when a child, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man;" (Ch ii. 52.) where by his increasing in favour with God and man, is meant his approximation to union with his Divinity, and his reception of Divine principles from his Divine Essence in his Humanity. The same truth is further evident from the circumstance, that he is stated to have been about thirty years old before he entered on his public ministry. This is a fact which cannot possibly be accounted for on any principles but ours. Can it be supposed that these thirty years, of the history of which only two or three particulars are recorded, were spent by him in doing nothing ? Would a Divine Being have remained so long in a body taken from the elements of this world, were there not a gradual process going on essential to the accomplishment of the work for which he came into this world, and previous to the arrival at a certain stage of which he was not in a capacity of working those miracles, and of speaking those words of eternal Truth, by which his public career was distinguished ? When he had so far advanced to oneness with the Father that his external man, by which he spoke and acted in the world, was open even to him, that is, was in immediate communication with his Divine Essence, (of which the descent of the dove at his baptism, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, or Divine Life flowing into him immediately from his Divine Essence, was the token,) he went about the world performing the wonderful works which are recorded of him: and when his external man was perfectly united with the Father, thus was rendered Divine by the full reception of the Divine Essence in all its faculties, he appeared on earth no longer, but ascended up into heaven,* "and sat on the right hand of God."+ By this phrase is not meant that he literally sat down by the side of another Divine Person; but, as the hand is the part of the body by which all its powers are exerted, it is always used in the Word to signify power; as is also the practice in many eastern nations at the present day: hence by the right hand of God is signified Divine Omnipotence, to the possession of which the Lord, as to his Human Nature, was now exalted: as he says himself, in reference to the same subject in Matthew, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth."# "All power" is Omnipotence: by "me," he means the Human Nature, to which were now given, that is, communicated, all the attributes of the Essential Divinity, rendering it a perfect One therewith.
* See also above, pp. 17, 18. + Mark xvi. 19. # Matt. xxviii. 18
We are now in possession of everything that is requisite to the solution of all the objections to the doctrine of the Sole Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, which are drawn from the fact, that, while in the world, he sometimes spoke as if the Father were a Being separate from himself. So long as he was in the world, we have seen there was a part of his nature which was not divine; and so far as the sphere of his thoughts descended into it, he would have a sense of separate existence. Thus there are various occasions on which Jesus is recorded to have prayed to the Father, and at some times with the greatest distress and anxiety; the reason of which was, because he was then in his state of humiliation, or the sphere of his consciousness was chiefly in the infirm Humanity taken from the mother; and, being engaged in combats with the infernal hosts, these at such times prevailed so far, as to shut out the perception of communication with his Divine Essence, and to occasion doubt, to his unglorified human nature, whether its union therewith could ever be effected, and, of consequence, whether the salvation of the human race, which depended upon that union, could be accomplished. Man, in his Christian progress, undergoes states in some degree similar. He cannot always be kept in a state of elevation,—in the perception of those heavenly principles which he has received by the internal man from the Lord; but he sometimes sinks into the external man merely, and finds himself there so beset with impressions opposite to heavenly ones, as to be brought to doubt whether he has ever really received any thing of a heavenly nature or not. Such, also, was the case with our Lord; except that his internal part was not only, as with others, formed by principles of goodness and truth received from the Divine Being, but Divine Goodness and Truth themselves; and that, in his external part, he had to combat with the whole infernal host, under forms of horror and overwhelming terror that would infallibly have destroyed any merely finite being—any man whose soul was any other than Divinity itself. No wonder then, if, when in such states, he sometimes appeared at a distance from his Father, and prayed to him in a manner that might lead us to regard the Father as a Being different from himself! At other times, he gives thanks to the Father; which, though not implying so great an idea of distance as in the former case, still conveys, to the uninformed mind, an idea of separation. To give thanks to the Lord, in the language of Scripture, implies an acknowledgment, that all that we receive, which is the subject of our thanks, is from him. This also is the meaning when Jesus gives thanks to the Father: he acknowledges by the action, that it is from his Divine Essence that Divine Love, Wisdom, and Life, are imparted to his Humanity. Our Lord, accordingly, constantly declares that he does nothing of himself, but that "the Father that dwelleth in him, he doeth the works:" (John xiv. 10.) by which he instructs us, that his Humanity alone, were it separate from his Divinity, would be powerless, but that by union with the Divinity it has Omnipotence. This may be clearly illustrated by the case of the soul and body of man: the body separate from the soul would be a mass of dead matter; but in union with the soul it has all the power of the soul in it: nay, further: the soul, without the body would have no power whatever in this world of nature to which the body belongs; and just so, when man had sunk into a merely natural state, the divine influences were rendered incapable of affecting him in a saving manner, till they had invested themselves with the requisite instrument, by clothing themselves with a Humanity capable of making them felt in that sphere of life in which man then stood. It would, however, be absurd, because the body has nothing but what it receives from the soul, to regard the body as a distinct person from the soul: nor is it less so, because all the power of the Lord's Humanity is a consequence of the Divinity's dwelling within it, to consider it as a distinct person from the Father. Accordingly, it was only while the work of glorification was in progress, that Jesus either prayed to the Father or gave him thanks. After it was accomplished, he never did either the one or the other; but although, for the sake of conveying the notion of Divinity and Humanity in the Lord, distinct mention continues to be made of the Son and of the Father, both in the gospels after the resurrection and in the Apocalypse throughout, there is no hint whatever of any address from the one to the other. Only let this fact be fairly looked at and it must be seen to be decisive. From the period of the resurrection, there is no hint whatever of any address of any kind, from the Son to the Father or from the Father to the Son: all trace of inferiority on the part of the Son disappears: the angelic hosts, with equal reverence, sing "Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever." The reason is, because, the union between them being fully accomplished, all the Divine Essence belongs equally to the Humanity, and the Humanity is the perfect form and adequate instrument of action of the Divine Essence. While this work was in progress only, our Lord prayed and gave thanks to the Father—ascribed all to him; but after its accomplishment he does so no longer, because there is no longer any thing in him which is not absolutely one with the Father: on the contrary, he now assumes to himself the most absolute and incommunicable of the Father's attributes; a when He says, "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, the First and the Last, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
Thus, when it is known that there was no Son of God born from eternity, but this is the proper title of the Humanity born in time; and when it is known that this Humanity, though not Divine when born, was rendered such by a process which it was undergoing during the whole period of our Lord's existence on earth; it is obvious that all objections to the doctrine of the New Church respecting the Divine Trinity, as concentered in the Glorified or Divine Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, fall completely to the ground; and we see how it is true, that, notwithstanding his having appeared in the form of an ordinary man in the world,—in a form which was liable to infirmities, to sufferings, and to death,—he now ever liveth and reigneth, with the Father an Indivisible One, the only God of heaven and earth.