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Of this the most respectable Trinitarian writers seemn not to be insensible. How much they are pressed with this difficulty, and how impossible they find it to extricate themselves from it, appears in the variety of explanations which have been successively resorted to, and the dissatisfaction expressed with every attempt that has been made for the purpose. The last expedient, indeed, that of rejecting the use of the phrase " three persons," as applied to the Deity, and substituting for it that of “ three distinctions," if by distinctions be meant any thing short of separate persons or agents, may be considered as restoring the divine Unity. But it reduces the Trinity to a mere unmeaning name, and were it not an abuse of language of mischievous tendency, would leave nothing on the subject, that need be thought worth contending about.
Professor Stuart (p. 23) expresses regret that the term person had ever come into the symbols of the churches, sensible, as it appears, that it cannot be used in any intelligible meaning, without infringing on the Unity, and running into palpable Tritheism ; and the late President Dwight, though he contends for the propriety of the term, (vol. ii. p. 137,) as a convenient one for expressing the things intended by the doctrine, yet confesses, that if he is asked what it means, he must answer, I know not. But what is the particular convenience of the use of a term, which expresses no meaning, not even in the mind of him that uses it, we are left to conjecture.
Upon the other charge, which relates to the moral
perfections of God, the course which Dr. Woods has pursued seems to me liable to objection. In his fourth Letter, in stating what was necessary on his part, and the mode of reasoning proper to be pursued, in order to relieve the system he has undertaken to defend, from the charge of inconsistency with the moral perfections of God, he says, “ we have nothing to do with the inquiry, whether the common doctrine of depravity can consist with the moral perfection of God, nor with any difficulty whatever in the attempt to reconcile them." This is certainly a very extraordinary thought, that in defending his system against an objection to which it is thought liable, he should have nothing to do with the very objection itself, nor with the difficulty it involves. Did the question relate to the simple fact, whether the doctrine of depravity, as maintained by the Orthodox, were a doctrine of scripture or not, its consistency or inconsistency with the moral perfections of God would indeed make no part of the ground, on which the argument should proceed. But the question he had to consider was a different one from this. The doctrine of depravity, together with the associated doctrines, has a place in the system of Orthodox faith. It is upon the ground of these doctrines, as Dr. Woods expressly admits, (p. 25,) that Mr. Channing has used the language, which he understands as implying the charge under consideration, viz. “ that the Orthodox deny the moral perfection of God.” Now it certainly does belong to him, who would relieve the system from that imputation, to show, not only that
the doctrine of depravity, but that all the other doctrines connected with it in the Calvinistic system, are consistent with the moral perfection of God. This is the very point at issue, and the only point, so far as relates to this charge, with which he had any concern; and all that he has said to show, that he maintains many views respecting the divine government and purposes in common with Unitarians, and which are consistent with the moral perfection of God, will do nothing toward proving that he does not maintain other opinions, which are not reconcileable with it. He was required, therefore, in undertaking to repel this charge, not only to prove, which I shall afterward show he has not done, that the scheme of doctrine, which he defends, is taught in the scriptures, but also to prove
that it is in itself consistent with the moral perfection of God. But this he has not attempted to do. He has, on the contrary, said that, which implies, that whatever the fact may be, the consistency demanded cannot be seen to exist. Now if he, who believes the doctrines in question to be taught in the scriptures, is yet unable to perceive how they are reconcileable with the moral perfection of God ; ought he to be greatly surprised, or much disturbed, that another, who cannot find them taught in the bible, and who sees them therefore only as human opinions, without authority, should represent them as irreconcileable with that moral perfection, which he does find there clearly and constantly taught ?
There is another consideration also, not to be overlooked, to show that he had something to do with this inquiry. If the doctrine of depravity, as it is maintained by the Orthodox, cannot be perceived by us to be consistent with the moral perfection of God, the presumption is very strong, that it is not true ; since, if it actually be inconsistent, it certainly cannot be true. In proportion then to the difficulty of reconciling it, the proof of it from scripture and our experience ought to be clear, and not liable to objection. The neglect, therefore, to remove this fundamental objection to the whole system, you perceive, must have its influence upon all the reasoning employed in the direct proof of its several parts. Nothing but the most clear and satisfactory proof will be sufficient for the support of a doctrine, which labours under the weight of so much intrinsic incredibility, confessedly incapable of being removed.
I have one other remark to make in this place. Dr. Woods has stated correctly, (p. 26,) “ That independently of revelation, and well known facts, we are incapable of judging, what the goodness of God will require, as to the condition of man ; or what man's character and state must be under the government of a being infinitely wise and benevolent.” But the inference he would draw from this, I think you will perceive, is not warranted by the premises. For although it be conceded, that from the limitation of our faculties, we are incapable of saying what the goodness or justice of God would require ; we have faculties capable of deciding with certainty, what they will not admit. We can pronounce without hesitation with respect to some things, that they are absolutely irreconcileable with those attributes. To say that we have not faculties for this, is to say, not that our knowledge is limited and imperfect, but that it is actually nothing. There may be a thousand cases, like those stated by Dr. Woods, which, previous to experience, we could not have foreseen, nor should have expected, which when first proposed present difficulties, but which are yet capable of being accounted for in a satisfactory manner, and reconciled with that justice and goodness, with which they seem at first to be at variance. But other cases, it is evident, may be supposed, which would admit of no such explanation. And what I contend is, that the orthodox doctrine, as to the natural “ character of man, and the manner in which God designates the heirs of salvation” (p. 25) is of this kind ; and that Dr. Woods' assertion (p. 27) “ that the facts he has there stated, and which are known to all, are as far from being agreeable to what we should naturally imagine the infinite goodness of God would dictate, as the fact that men are subjects of moral depravity,” cannot be supported. There is no such analogy between the cases, as to warrant the conclusion. For we can see, with respect to the former, how they may be consistent with the moral perfections of God; but we can make no supposition, upon which we shall be able to perceive, that the latter can be so. The reason is, that, with