Samuel Clarke’s 55 Theses, Part 1: Theses 1-15

Here is the beginning of section 2 of Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, in which, after having presented the biblical data organized categorically in section 1 of the book, he sets out to systematically sum up the teaching of the Scriptures in 55 theses. This is taken from the 2nd Edition. The very useful introduction to the book can be read here. God willing, the remainder of the theses will follow soon.

The

Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity.

Part II.

     Being the foregoing doctrine set forth at large, and explained in more particular and distinct propositions.

I.

     There is one * supreme Cause and Original of all things; one simple, uncompounded, undivided intelligent Agent, or ** Person, who is the + Author of all being, and the # Foundation of all power.

This the great foundation of all piety; the first principle of natural religion, and every where supposed in the scripture revelation. And the acknowledgment of this truth in our faith and worship, is the first and great commandment, both in the Old Testament and the in the New. See, in Part I, the texts No 1—-532.

* See beneath, thesis 7.

** For, intelligent Agent, is the proper and adequate definition of the word, person; neither can it otherwise be understood, with any sense or meaning at all. See Dr. Bennet on the Trinity, p. 231.

+ See beneath, theses 12, 19, & 35.

# See beneath, thesis 6.

II.

     With this First and Supreme Cause or Father of all things, there has existed * from the beginning, a second divine + Person, which is his Word or Son.

See the texts, No 567, 568, 569, 574, 584, 586, 588, 591, 607, 612, 619, 638, 641, 658.

* See beneath, thesis 15.

+ See beneath, thesis 18.

III.

     With the Father and the Son, there has existed # from the beginning, a third divine + Person, which is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

See the texts, No 1124, 1129, 1132*, 1148.

# See beneath, thesis 20.

+ See beneath, thesis 22.

IV.

     What the proper metaphysical nature, essence, or substance of any of the divine persons is, the Scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes them always, by their personal characters, offices, powers, and attributes.

See beneath, theses 13 & 21, and the notes on thesis 25.

All reasonings therefore, (beyond what is strictly demonstrable by the most evident and undeniable light of nature,) deduced from their supposed metaphysical nature, essence, or substance; instead of their personal characters, offices, powers, and attributes delivered in the Scripture; are uncertain and at best but probable hypotheses.

V.

     The Father alone, is self-existent, underived, unoriginated, independent; made of none, begotten of none, proceeding from none.

See the texts, No 8, 13, 339, 361, 372, 385, 393, 411.

Also No 413, 414, 416, 417, 419, 425, 427, 431, 583, 798.

See beneath, theses 12 & 19 & 34 & 40.

VI.

     The Father is the Sole Origin of all power and authority, and is the Author and Principle of whatsoever is done by the Son or by the Spirit.

See the texts, No 756 —- 995, 1148 —- 1197.

See beneath, theses 35, 36, 37 & 41.

VII.

     The Father alone, is, in the highest, strict, and proper sense, absolutely Supreme over All.

See the tests, No 337, 342, 343, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 350, 357, 360, 361, 363, 365, 372, 380, 382, 382*, 389, 393, 398, 411, 414, 415, 416, 417, 420, 425, 426, 427, 428, 429, 430, 433, 434, 435, 436, 440.

See beneath, these 34 & 40.

VIII.

     The Father alone, is, absolutely speaking, the * God of the Universe; the + God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the # God of Israel; of Moses, of ++ the prophets and apostles; and the ** God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

* See the texts, No 337, 357, 361, 363, 365, 372, 380, 382*, 393, 411, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 421, 423, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 432, 434, 435, 436, 439, 440.

+ No 356.

# No 338.

++ No 441.

** No 18 —- 336, 767, 854, 894, 904, 911, 917, 922, 935, 950, 974, 989, 991, and the Note on 542.

See also the passage cited below in thesis 9, from Irenaeus, lib. 2. c. 55.

IX.

     The Scripture, when it mentions the One God, or the Only God, always means the Supreme Person of the Father.

See the texts, No 1—-17.

See beneath, thesis 39.

Notes on thesis 9.

     The reason is; because the words, “one” and “only,” are used, by way of eminence, to signify Him who is absolutely supreme, self-existent, and independent; which attributed are personal, and evidently impossible to be communicated from one person to another.

Wherefore, not only the Scripture, but also the ecclesiastical writers in all antiquity, do thus speak.

“Have we not, [says Clement Romanus,] One God, and one Christ, and one Spirit?” (Ad Cor. 1)

And Ignatius: “There is [saith he] One God, who hath manifested himself by His Son Jesus Christ, who is his eternal Word:” Or, (as it is in the larger copy of the same epistle,) “There is One God, Supreme over all, who hath manifested himself by his Son Jesus Christ, who is his Word; not a word spoken forth, but substantial; For he is not the sound of an articulate voice, but a substance begotten by the divine power.” (Ad Magnes.)

And Justin Martyr: “If ye had considered [says he] the things spoken by the prophets, ye would not have denied Christ to be God, who is the Son of the Only and unbegotten and ineffable God.” (Dial. cum Tryph.)

And Irenaeus: “St John [says he] preached One God supreme over all, and one only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.” (lib. 1. c. 1.)

Again: “The Church dispersed over all the world, has received from the apostles this belief, in One God the Father, Supreme over all, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, etc.” (lib. 1. c. 2.)

Again: “We hold fast the rule of truth, which is, that there is one God Almighty, [Gr. pantokrator, Supreme over all;] who created all things by his Word. —- This is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (lib. 1. c. 19.)

Again: “This God, is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and of Him it is, that St Paul the apostles declares, There is One God, even the Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.” (lib. 2. c. 2.)

Again: “Our Lord acknowledges one Father; and that He is the God over all.” (lib. 2. c. 12.)

Again: “The One only God, the Creator, who is above all principality, dominion and power. —-This is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; —- whom both the Law shows forth, and the prophets declare, and the Spirit reveals, and the apostles preach, and the Church has believed in. This is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (lib. 2. c. 55.)

Again: “The doctrine delivered by the apostles; viz. that there is One God Almighty, —- and that He is the father our our Lord Jesus Christ.” (lib. 3. c. 3.)

Again: “Believing in One God, the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things that are therein, by Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (lib. 3. c. 4.)

Again: “Settling in the Church, the rule of truth; that there is One God Almighty, who made all things by his Word, [viz. by Christ.]”  (lib. 3. c. 11.)

Again: “The only-begotten Son came to us from the One God; For no man can know the Father, but by the revelation of the Son.” (lib. 4. c. 14.)

Again: “First of all, believe that there is One God, who made all things. —- As saith the apostle; There is One God, even the Father, who is above all, and in us all.” (lib 4. c. 37.)

Again: “In One God Almighty, of whom are all things: and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things: and in the Spirit of God.” (lib. 4. c. 62.)

And again: “Thus therefore [says he] our Lord manifestly shows, that the true Lord and One God, which the law had declared, etc. —- For he shows that the God, preached and declared in the Law, was the Father.” (lib. 5. c. 18.)

Clemens Alexandrius in like manner: “The nature of the Son, (saith he) which is most closely allied to Him who alone is Supreme over all; is most beneficent.” (Strom. 7.)

And again: “This eternal Jesus, [saith he] the one great High Priest of One God, who is also his Father.” (Protreptic. ad Gentes.)

And Tertullian: “As [says he,] the Word of God is not the same Person whose Word he is, so neither is the Spirit; and if he is called God, yet it is not thereby meant that he is That God [or that same Person] whose Spirit he is. For no thing, which belongs to another, (or, is the relative of another,) can be that same thing to which it belongs, (or, whose relative it is.)” (Adv. Prax. c. 16.)

And again: speaking of those who did not approve His (or Montanus’s, and perhaps * Valentinus’s) explication of the doctrine of the Trinity:

* See Tertullian. advers. Prax. cap. 8,  [latin and Gr text] Et advers. Valentin. c. 7, [latin text] compared with that passage in Irenæus, lib. 1, c. 1, referred to by the Learned Bp. Bull, Defens, Sect. 2, c. 5. s 4, [Gr text.]

“The unlearned people [saith he,] which are always the greatest part of believers; not understanding that they ought indeed to believe in One God, but yet so as at the same time to take in the Economy; [that is, that notion of the Trinity which he says in this book he learnt more perfectly from Montanus, whom he calls the Paraclete;] are the frightened at the notion of the Economy. And pretending that we teach two or three Gods, but that they are the worshippers of the One God; they perpetually cry out, We hold fast the Monarchy, [or the Supreme Government of the One God, over the universe.]” (ibid. c. 3.)

And again: speaking of the Creed received in the universal Church; “The rule of faith [saith he,] is that, whereby we believe in One God only who made all things out of nothing, by His Word emitted first of all; Which Word is called his Son.” (Preser. adv. Haeres. c. 13.)

And Origen: “We worship [saith he] the One God, and his one Son or Word; offering up our prayers to the Supreme God, through his only-begotten Son.” (Cels. lib. 8.)

And Novatian: “We believe [says he] in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our God, but God’s Son; namely, the Son of Him, who is the One and Only God, the Maker of all things.” (de Trinit. c. 9.)

And again: “God the Father therefore is alone unoriginated, —- the One God. —- The Son indeed as proceeding from God, is also God, constituting a second Person, but not therefore hindering the Father from being the One God. —- The Son is begotten, and derives his original from Him who is the One God. —- For since the Principle or First cause of all things, is that which is Unbegotten; (which God the Father only is, as being without any Original at all;) this shows, that though He which is begotten is also God, yet the One God is He whom the Son hath declared to be Unoriginated. —- Whilst the Son acknowledgeth the whole power of his divinity to be derived from the father, he declares the Father to be the One True Eternal God, from whom alone that divinity of the Son is derived. —- The Son indeed is shown to be God, as having divinity derived and communicated to him; and yet nevertheless the Father is proved to be the One God, as being the Communicator of that divinity.” (Ibid. cap 31.)

And Eusebius, in the following passages, (which are most of them cited by Dr. Cave in his dissertation against Le Clerc in defense of Eusebius’s orthodoxy:) “The Son, [saith he,] hath his divinity by derivation from the Father, as being the Image of God; so that there is but one divinity considered in both, according to this similitude, [namely as the light of the sun, and of an image of the sun seen in glass, is but one;] and there is but One God, viz. he who exists of Himself without cause and without original, and who is manifested by his Son as by a glass and an Image.” (Demonstr. Eveng. lib. 5. c. 4.)

And again: “Though the Son [saith he] is by us acknowledged to be God, yet [properly speaking] there is but One God only; [or, there is but One who is the Only God;] even He who alone is underived and unbegotten, who hath his divinity of Himself, and is the Cause both of the Son’s Being, and of his being what he is, [viz. of his being God]. —- This is the One God, even the Father of the only-begotten Son. —- Is not He alone the One God, who acknowledges no superior, no cause of his Being, but hath his divinity and supreme dominion absolutely of Himself, underived and unbegotten; and communicates to the Son, both his divinity and life? —- whom the Son himself teaches us to acknowledge as the Only True God? [Joh. 17:3.]” (De ecclesiast. Theol. lib. 1. c. 11.)

And again: “The Son himself declares the Father to be even His God also. —- And therefore the Church preaches, that there is but One God.” (Ib. lib. 2. c. 7.)

And again: “As all other things, so the glory of his divinity also has he received from the Father, as a true and only Son. But the Father did not receive His from any; but being Himself the Original and Fountain and Root of all Good, is therefore justly styled the One and Only God.” (Ibid.)

And again: “The Church preaches the One God, and that He is the Father and Supreme over all; and that Jesus Christ is God of God.” (lib. 1. c. 8.)

And again: “The apostles styles Christ the Image of God, that no man might imagine two Gods, but One only, even Him who is over all. For if there be One God, and there be none other but He; ’tis plain this must be He, who is made known by his Son as by an Image.” (Lib. 1. cap. 20. s 15.)

And Athanasius: “One God, [saith he] and one [who is the] Word of God.” (contra Gentes.)

And again: “The One and Only True God; I mean the Father of Christ.” (Ibid.)

Again: “That Jesus Christ our Lord and God incarnate, is not the Father; is not, as Sabellians would have it, The Only God: this the Holy Scriptures every where testify; Declaring, that it was the Son of God, which came in the flesh; and that he always spake of his Father, and professed that he came forth from his Father, and was to return to his Father. In proof of which, there is no need to allege particular passages; For (as I said) all the Gospels, and all the Writings of the apostles tend to this very point.” (contra Sabellianos.)

Again: “There is but One God, because the Father is but One; yet is the Son also God, having such sameness as that of a Son to a Father.” (Ibid.)

Again: “Because He only [viz. the Father] is unbegotten, and He only is the Fountain of Divinity; therefore He is styled the Only God.” (Ibid.)

Again: “What person, when he hears Him, whom he believes to be the Only God, say, This is my beloved Son; dares affirm, that the Word of God was made out of nothing?” (De Sententia Dionysii Alex.)

And again: “When therefore the Father is styled the Only God, and the Scripture says that there is One God, etc.” (contra Arian. Orat. 3.)

And again: “We acknowledge but One Original of things; and affirm that the Creating Word has no other sort of divinity, but that which derives from the Only God, as being begotten of Him.” (Ibid.)

And again: “The One God, is the Father; who exists by Himself, as being over all, and is manifested by his Son, etc.” (Ibid.)

And again: “Because Christ is God of God, therefore the Scripture declares there is but One God: For, the Word being the Son of the Only God etc.” (contra Arian. Orat. 4.)

And Hilary: “The Son’s being God, does not hinder the Father from being the One God; For He is therefore one God, because he is self-existent God.” (Hil. de Trin. lib. 4.)

And again: “We profess our belief in One God: —- because upon account of his self-existence, he [viz. the Father] is the One God.” (Id. de Synod.)

And Epiphanius: “Do you not perceive how these words, There is one God, of whom are all things, and we in him, show there is but one Original of Things?” (Heres. 57.)

And Gregory Nazianzen: “There is but One God; the Son and the Holy Ghost being referred to the One Cause; [Namely, as being divine persons by whom the One God, or One Cause and original of things, made and governs the world.] (Orat. 29.)

And Austin; (mentioning objections against his own notion of the Trinity;) “But what shall we do [saith he] with that testimony of our Lord? For ’twas the Father he spoke to, and ’twas the Father he directed himself to, when he said; This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the One True God. [The reader that pleases to consult the passage, will find the answer much weaker than the objection.]” (De. Trin. lib. VI. cap. 9.)

And, among later divines, Zanchy: “The Father [saith he] is called the One and Only God, by way of eminence.” (de Trib. Elohim, Lib. 5. c. 5.)

And the learned Bishop Pearson: “That One God [saith he] is Father of all; and to us there is but One God, the Father.” (Expos. on the Creed, p. 26.)

Again: “And thus to us there is but One God, the Father, of whom are all things; To which, the Words following in the Creed may seem to have relation, The Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.” (pag. 26.)

And again: “From hence He [viz. the Father] is styled One God, (1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6;) the True God, (1 Th. 1:9;) the Only True God, (Joh. 17:3;) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3;).” (pag. 40.)

Again: “I shall briefly declare the creation of the world to have been performed by that One God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (pag. 63.)

And again: “But as we have already proved that One God to be the Father; so must we yet further show that One God, the Father, to be the Maker of the World.” (p. 64.)

And the learned Bishop Bull: “When He [viz. Socinus] affirms that all the ancients, till the time of the Nicene Council, believed the Father of Jesus Christ to be alone the One True God; if this be understood of that preeminence of the Father, by which He alone is of Himself [by self-existence] the True God; we confess that this assertion is most true. But this makes nothing in favor of Socinus: And ’tis certain that this doctrine continued in the Church of Christ, not only till the Council of Nice, or a little after; but always.” (Defense. Proaem. S 4.)

Again: “Which subordination [saith he] of the Son to the Father, is expressed by the Nicene Fathers two ways. First, in their calling the Father, the One God; and then in their styling the Son, God of God, Light of Light.” (Ibid. S 11.)

Again: To an Arian writer, who alleged that Polycarp, in his prayer, manifestly styles the Father only, the true God and maker of all things; and that he invoked Him through the Son, whom he calls only our High Priest; and lastly that he so speaks, as to seem to acknowledge the Father only, to be the Supreme God: He replies; “We readily grant, that the Father alone is in some respect the Supreme God; namely because, as Athanasius speaks, He is the Fountain of Divinity; that is, He alone is of Himself [by self-existence] God; from whom the Son and Holy Spirit derive their divinity: And that for this cause the Father is most commonly styled properly [or peculiarly] the True God, both in the Holy Scriptures, and in the writings of the ancients; especially where the divine persons are mentioned together.” (Defens. Sect. 2. cap. 3. S 10.)

Again: “Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho, expressly affirms, that the Father is the Cause of the Son’s Being. Upon which account, both Justin and the other Ante-Nicene Writers commonly call God the Father, by way of distinction, sometimes God absolutely, sometimes The God and Father of All, (according to the Texts, 1 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 4:6; Joh. 17:3;) namely, because the Father alone is God of Himself [by self-existence;] but the Son, is only God of God.” (Defens. Sect. 4, cap. 1, S 2.)

Again: “They also [viz. the fathers after the Council of Nice,] make no scruple to style the Father the Origin, The Cause, The Author of the Son; nay, to call the Father therefore, The One God.” (ibid. S 3.)

And again: “Lastly, [saith he,] the ancients, because the Father is the Original Cause, Author, and Fountain of the Son; made no scruple to call Him the One and Only God. For thus even the Nicene Fathers themselves began their Creed; I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, etc.” (ib. S 6.)

And Mr Hooker: “The Father alone [says he] is originally that Deity, which Christ originally is not; For Christ is God, by being of God.” (Ecclesiast. Pol. Book 5. S 54.)

And Dr. Henry More: “By the term God, [saith he,] if you understand that which is First of all, in such a sense as that all else is from Him, and He from None; the Son and Spirit cannot be said to be God in this signification; because the Father is not from Them, but They from the Father.” (Myst. of Godliness, Book 9, chap. 2.)

And the learned Dr. Payn: “Had we gone no further [says he] than Scripture, the only rule of our faith, in this matter; and held, with that, that to us there is One God, the Father, 1 Cor. 8:6; One God and Father of all, who is above all, Eph. 4:6; And had we known Him the Only True God, (as Christ called him, Joh. 17:3, not exclusively, but eminently and by way of excellency and prerogative, by which the Name and Title of God is peculiarly predicated of God the Father in Scripture; —- which is the great reason given by the fathers, of the divine unity; —-) Had we considered this plain Scriptural account and observation, that One God is spoken and predicated of the Father, and meant of Him, when it is said both in the Old Testament, and in the New, the Lord thy God is One God, and there is none other but he, or besides him; we had not given occasion for that objection of our adversaries, against our faith, of its implying a contradiction, or of its setting up more Gods than One. The One God, whom we pray to in the Lord’s prayer, and in other Christian offices and addresses; whom we profess to believe in, in our Creed; and whom the Scripture calls so; is God the Father Almighty. And He hath an only-begotten Son, etc.” (Payn’s Sermon on Trinity-Sunday, June the 7th, 1696; pag. 18.)

Again: “The One God [saith he] is spoken of God the Father in Scripture, as I have shown you; and as a great many, and particularly,  Bishop Pearson upon the Creed observes; that “the Name of God taken absolutely, is often in Scripture spoken of the Father, and is in many places to be taken particularly of the Father; and from hence (says he) he is styled One God, the True God, the Only True God: and this 9he says further) is a most necessary truth to be acknowledged, for the avoiding multiplication and plurality of Gods:” He saying the Unity mainly here, as I have done. So that though the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; which they are not often called in Scripture; (which rather reserves and gives the name of God absolutely and peculiarly to the Father; as, God loved the world, God sent his Son, and the like;) yet neither of them are meant by that One God, which the Scripture speaks of, when it speaks peculiarly of the Father. —- The word God, —- generally (if not always) in Scripture, taken absolutely and spoken so of One God, is meant of God the Father. Which may give us such an account of the Trinity and of the Unity, as may take of all the charge of a contradiction. Since they are not One and Three; nor is each of them God, and All of them God or One God, in the same respect, sense and meaning of the words; but in different. —- The Father  is the Only Self-existent unoriginated Being, the Cause and Root of the other Two, as the ancients often call him; and so is the most absolutely perfect Being, and God in the highest sense: And the Scriptures, Creeds, and Christian offices, call him so absolutely and by way of eminence and prerogative. The Son is produced of the Father, and so is not Autotheos, or God in that sense as the Father who is from none; but is God, of God etc.” (Ibid.)

Again: “He is not indeed God the Father, or God from none, Autotheos. 9In that sense, we believe in One God, the Father Almighty; and to use there is but One God, the Father, as the apostles speaks, 1 Cor. 8:6; And Christ is the Son of this God the Father, who had his Being and Nature from him:) But he is God of God, etc.” (Serm. on Spet. 21, 1696; pag. 87.)

Again: “The Father [saith he] is the only self-existent, unoriginated Being; —- and so, in the words of a right reverend and excellent person, God in the highest sense —- The word Deus, [God,] as it signifies a self-existent, unoriginated Being, is predicated only of God the Father; and not, secundum eandem rationem [upon the same account,] of the other two divine Persons, neither of which are self-existent and unoriginated, nor God in the highest sense of Autotheos. —- But He [viz. the Father] —- is called eminently and absolutely, and by way of excellence and prerogative, the One God, and, in the words fore-quoted God in the highest sense.” (Letter from Dr. P. to the Bishop of R. in Vindication of his Sermon on Trinity-Sunday, pag. 15, 16, 17.)

And again: “This is the explication of the ancients, which they hold; with this more plain Scriptural account of the Trinity, that needs no explication: One God the Father, with an only-begotten Son, etc.” (Postscript, pag. 26.)

Lastly, the learned author of the History of the Apostle’s Creed: “This Clause [saith he] of One God, was inserted [in the Creed,] to require our belief, that there is but one Infinite, Supreme, Beginningless, and Eternal God; and that this One God, and none other, was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of all other beings whatsoever; Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. So that this expression of One God, is to be understood either absolutely, without regard to any other article in the Creed; and so it denotes our faith, that there is but one Eternal, Independent, Self-existent God: or relatively, as it hath reference to what immediately follows; as so it signifies, that One and the same God, and not a different or diverse Being from him, is the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

X.

     When the word, God, is mentioned in Scripture, with any high epithet, title, or attribute annexed to it; it generally, (I think, always) means the Person of the Father.

See the texts, No 337-441. Wherein He is styled;

The Lord of heaven and earth, No 337, 365.

The God of Israel, No 338.

The Living God, No 339, 341, 354, 361, 370, 378, 379, 385, 390, 391, 394, 397, 400, 401, 403, 406, 422.Which liveth for ever and ever, 417, 419, 425, 430.

The Good God, No 340.

The Power, No 342.

The most High God, No 343, 350, 360, 364, 398.

The Blessed, No 344.

The Highest, No 345, 346, 348, 349.

The Mighty One, No 347.

Who is above all, No 382**.

The Invisible God, 384, 389, 402.

Whom no man hath seen or can see, 351, 352, 353, 393, 409.

The True and Only True God, No 355, 385, 410.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, No 356.

That made heaven and earth, etc. No 357, 361, 365, 425, 428.

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. No 382*, 634.

The God of our fathers, No 356, 358, 366.

The God of Glory, No 359.

Which searcheth the hearts, No 362, 369*, 386.

Which doth or maketh all things, No 363.

The incorruptible God, No 367.

Which raiseth the dead, and quickeneth all things, No 368, 377, 392.

Who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, No 369, 858, 859, 864, 866, 867, 870, 873, 875, 876, 877, 878, 879, 881, 882, 885, 887, 889, 893, 899, 901, 908, 912, 913, 923, 924, 939, 942, 972, 974, 975.

The Lord of Hosts, No 371, 405.

Of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things, No 372.

The God of Peace, No 373, 374, 381, 383, 387, 404.

The Everlasting God, No 375.

The Only Wise God, No 376, 389, 412.

The Lord God Almighty, No 380, 414, 416, 427, 429, 432, 434, 435, 436, 440.

Which worketh all thing s after the counsel of his own will, No 382.

The Blessed God, No 388.

The King eternal, immortal, etc. No 389.

The Blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the Light which no man can approach unto, etc. No 393.

The Great God, No 395, 437.

The Majesty on high, and in the heavens, No 398, 399.

The excellent Glory, No 407.

The Holy One, No 408.

The Only Supreme Governor, No 411.

He which is, and which was, and which is to come, No 413, 414, 416, 427, 431.

Which sitteth on the throne, No 415, 417, 418, 421, 423, 424, 435, 439.

Who created all things, and for whose pleasure they are, and were created, No 417.

Supreme, Holy, and True, No 420.

The God of heaven, No 426, 433.

Who only is the Holy One, No 429, 431.

From whose Face, the earth and the heaven fled away, No 438.

The Lord God of the Holy Prophets, No 441.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, No 767, 854, 894, 904, 911, 917, 922, 935, 950, 974, 989, 991.

XI.

     The Scripture, when it mentions God, absolutely and by way of eminence; always means the Person of the Father.

Particularly when ’tis the subject of a proposition, as God does, etc. But when ’tis predicated of another, (as, the Word was God,) the case is different. Concerning the single text, 1 Tim 3:16; See No 540.

See the texts No 18—-336.

Notes on thesis 11.

     This is the language, not only of Scripture, but also of all antiquity.

Thus Justin Martyr: “The Word [saith he] is the first Power (next after God, the Father and Supreme Lord of all;) and it is the Son.” (Apol. 1.)

And Tatian: “Of the Trinity, [saith he;] namely, of God, and his Word, and his Wisdom.” (Lib. 2.)

And Origen: “We [saith he] acknowledge the unspeakable supereminent divinity of God; and moreover [the divinity] of his only-begotten Son also, who excelleth all other beings.” (Cels. lib. 5.)

[Of these words, the learned Bishop Bull sets down the following translation: [Latin text]: That is: We acknowledge the divinity of God and his only Son, to be unspeakably supereminent, and far excelling all other things.) But this translation quite spoils the emphasis of what Origen intended to say; by running the two distinct members of the sentence, into one; and wholly omitting the words, ([Gr text], and moreover;) and rendering [Gr term], as if it had been again [different Gr term].

And Athanasius: “It is necessary to acknowledge God the Governor of the Universe; and that he is One, and not many: And one Word of God, which is the Lord and Ruler of the creation.” (contr. Gentes.)

Again: “Not, as God himself is far above all, so also is the Way to him [viz. Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,] far off and beyond us.” (Ibid.)

Again: “Concerning the eternal existence of the Son and the Spirit, with God.” (contr. Sabellianos.)

Again: “When you reason concerning God, and the Word, and the Spirit.” (Ibid.)

Again: “By the Son, and in the Spirit, did God create, and does preserve all things.” (Ibid.)

And again: “The Spirit being in the Word; ’tis manifest that consequently through the Word, it was in God.” (Epist. ad Serap. altera.)

And the Council of Sirmium: “The head, which is the Original of all things, is the Son; but the Head, which is the Original of Christ, is God.” (apud Hilar. de Synod.)

And Hilary: “For the Head of all, is the Son; but the Head of the Son, is God.” (Ibid.)

And Basil; ‘As there are many sons, but One properly the true Son; so though all things may be said to be from God, yet the Son is in a peculiar manner from God, and the Spirit in a peculiar manner from God; the Son from the Father by generation, and the Spirit from God in an ineffable manner.” (Homil. 27. contr. Sab. & Arium.)

Again: “But the title of Unbegotten, [or self-existent.] no man can be so absurd to presume to give to any other than to the Supreme God.” (contr. Eunom. 1. 3.)

And Theo. Abucara, cited by Bishop Pearson: “the apostles [saith he] and almost all the Scriptures, when they mention God absolutely and indefinitely, and commonly with an article [ho theos,] and without personal distinction; mean the Father.” (Abucara Opusc.)

And, among modern divines, Calvin: “We freely confess, [saith he,] that the name, God, by way of eminence, is properly ascribed to the Father.” (Calv. in Valent. Gent.)

And Flac. Illyricus: “‘Tis to be observed, [saith he,] that St. Paul in his epistles commonly styles the Father, God; and Christ or the Son of God, Lord: —- Because, in the mystery of our redemption, the supreme dignity is ascribed to the Father, as the True God —-. And this is the reason, why in the New Testament the first person only is usually styled God.” (Clavis Script. in voce, Dens.)

And the learned Bishop Pearson: “It is to be observed, [saith he,] that the name of God, taken absolutely, is often in the Scriptures spoken of the Father: As when we read of God sending his own Son; of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God: and generally wheresoever Christ is called the Son of God, or the Word of God; the name God is to be taken particularly for the Father, because he is no Son but of the Father. From hence he [viz. the Father] is styled the One God, the True God, the Only True God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Which, as it is most true, and so fit to be believed, is also a most necessary truth, and therefore to be acknowledged, for the avoiding of multiplication and plurality of Gods: For if there were more than one which were from none, it could not be denied be there were more Gods than One. Wherefore this origination in the divine paternity, hath anciently been looked upon as the assertion of the unity. (p. 40.)

Again: “As we believe there is a God, and that God, Almighty; as we acknowledge that same God to be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in Him of us; so we also confess that the same God the Father, made both heaven and earth.” (pag. 47.)

And again: “I acknowledge this God, Creator of the world, to be the same God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And the learned Bishop Bull: “God the Father [saith he;] who was usually by the catholics of that age, [viz. in Origen’s time,] called, by way of distinction, the Supreme God, [or the God of the Universe.] (Sect. 2. cap. 9. S 12.)

And again: “For which reason also, [viz. because the Father alone is God of Himself, or self-existent;] the writers before the time of the Council of Nice, when they mention the Father and the Son together, generally give the name, God, to the Father; styling the second Person, either the Son of God, or our Savior, of our Lord, or the like.” (Id. Sect. 4. cap. 1. S 2.)

And the learned Dr. Payne: “I doubt not but the great God, and my blessed Savior, and their Holy Spirit, etc.” (Letter from Dr. P. to the Bishop of R. in Vindicat. of his Serm. on Trinity Sunday, pag. 21.)

XII.

     The Son is not self-existent; but derives his Being, and all his attributes, from the Father, as from the Supreme Cause.

See. the texts, No 619, 769, 798, 801, 937, 950, 953, 986, 992.

Notes on thesis 12.

     Thus Basil, speaking of the Person of the Father: “But [saith he] the title of Unbegotten, [or self-existent,] no man can be so absurd as to presume to give to any other than to the Supreme God.” (contr. Eunom. lib. 3.)

And the learned Bishop Bull: “they [says he] who contend that the Son can properly be styled God of Himself, [or self-existent;] their opinion is contrary to the catholic doctrine.” (Def. Sect. 4. cap. 1. S 7.)

And again: “The Council of Nice itself decreed, that the Son was only God of [or from] God: Now He that is only God of God, cannot without manifest contradiction be said to be God of Himself, [or self-existent.] —- I earnestly exhort all pious and studious young men, to take heed of such a Spirit, from whence such things as these [viz. ridiculing the distinction between God self-existing, and God of God,] do proceed.” (Ib. S. 8.)

See above, thesis 5; and below, thesis 34.

XIII.

     In what particular metaphysical manner, the Son derives his Being from the Father, the Scripture has no where distinctly declared; and therefore men ought not to presume to be able to define.

See the texts, No 619, 658.

See beneath, thesis 21.

Notes on thesis 13.

     For generation, when applied to God, is but a figurative word, signifying only in general, immediate derivation of Being and life from God himself. And only-begotten, signifies, being so derived from the Father in a singular and inconceivable manner, as thereby to be distinguished from all other Beings. Among men, a son does not, properly speaking, derive his being from his father; father, in this sense, signifying merely an instrument, not an efficient cause: But God, when He is styled Father, must always be understood to be [aitia,] a True and Proper Cause, really and efficiently giving life. Which consideration, clearly removes the argument usually drawn from the equality between a father and son upon earth.

‘Tis observable that St. John, in that passage, where he not only speaks of the Word before his incarnation, but carries his account of him further back, than any other place in the whole New Testament; gives not the least hint of the metaphysical manner, how he derived his Being from the Father; does not say He was created, or emitted, or begotten, or was an emanation from him; but only that he was, that he was in the beginning, and that he was with God, and that he was [theos] partaker of the divine power and glory with and from the Father, not only before he was made flesh or became man, but also before the world was.

Accordingly Irenaeus: “If any one [saith he] inquire of us, how then was the Son produced by the Father? We answer that this his production, or generation, or speaking forth, [alluding to his name, the Word;] or birth, [adaperitonem; alluding, I suppose, to the Hebrew phrase, adaperiens vulvam], or how else soever [tis observable he does not here add the term, creation,] you in words endeavor to express his generation, which in reality is ineffable; it is understood by no man, neither by Valentinus nor Marcion, neither by Saturninus nor Basilides, neither by angels nor archangels nor principalities nor powers, but by the Father only which begat, and by the Son which is begotten of him. Wherefore, since his generation is ineffable, etc.” (lib. 2, cap. 48.)

And Novatian: “Of whom, and at whose will, was generated the Word His Son. The secret manner of whose sacred and divine generation, neither have the apostles known, nor the prophets discovered, nor the angels understood, nor any creature comprehended: It is known only to the Son, who understands the Father’s secrets.” (De Trinit. c. 31.)

And Alexander Bishop of Alexandria: “The pious apostle St. John, [saith he,] considering that the manner of existence of God the Word, was far superior to, and incomprehensible by, all created beings; avoided saying of Him, that he was made; [but said only, that he was] Not as if he were unoriginate; (for nothing is unoriginate besides the Father;) but because the ineffable manner how the only-begotten God received his subsistence, is far beyond the comprehension not only of the evangelists, but probably even the angels also. —- For if the knowledge of many things very far inferior to this, be hid from human understanding; —- how dare any man curiously pry into the manner how God the Word received his subsistence; concerning which the Holy Ghost saith, Who shall declare his generation?” (Epist. as Alex. apud Theodorit. lib. 1. cap. 4.)

And Eusebius: “The church [saith he] preaches Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all ages: being not the same Person with the Father; but having a real subsistence and life of his own, and being with him as his true Son; God from God, Light from Light, Life from Life: Begotten of the Father after unspeakable and ineffable and to us wholly unknown and inconceivable manner, for the salvation of the world.”  (De Eccles. Theol. lib. 1, c. 8.)

And again: “If anyone [saith he] will be so curious as to inquire, How God begat the Son; the boldness of this question is justly reproved by Him that said, (Ecclus. iii. 21) seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength; but what is commanded thee, think thereupon with reverence; for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret. He that would presume to go further; let him himself first show, how and in what manner those things, which be says were made out of nothing, received their subsistence, having before had no being at all. For as this is impossible in nature, for men to explain; so, and much more, the manner how the only-begotten was produced, is unsearchable and inscrutable, not only to us (as a man may say,) but also to all the powers far beyond us.” (De Eccles. Theol. lib. 1. cap. 12.)

And Basil: “Thou believest that he was begotten? Do not inquire, how. For, as it is in vain to inquire how He that is unbegotten, is unbegotten; so neither ought we to inquire how he that is begotten, was begotten. —- Seek not what cannot be found out —- –. Believe what is written; search not into what is not written.” (Homil. 29.)

XIV.

     They are both therefore worthy of censure; both they who on the one hand presume to affirm, that the Son was made ([Gr text]) out of nothing, and they who, on the other hand, affirm that He is the Self-existent Substance.

Notes on thesis 14.

     That the Son is not self-existent, see above in these 5 and 12.

That, on the other hand, the ancients were generally careful not to reckon Him among beings made ([Gr text]) out of nothing, but (on the contrary) thought themselves obliged to keep to the Scripture-language, which styles him the only-begotten of the Father, and ([Gr text]) the first-born (not [Gr text] the first created) of every creature; may be judged from the following passages.

“The Son of God [saith the Pastor of Hermas] is ancienter than all creatures, insomuch that he was present in consult with his Father at the making of the creature, [or, at the creation.]” (Simil. 9.)

And Ignatius: “Who [saith he] was with the Father, [or, as it is in the other copy, was begotten of the Father, before all ages;] and appeared at the end of the world. (Ad Magnes. epist. contractior, S 6.)

And again: “If anyone confesses the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and praises the creation, [viz. acknowledges all the creatures of God to be good,] etc.” (Epist. as Philadelph. largior sive interpol. S 6.)

And Justin Martyr: “But the Son of the Father, even he who alone is properly called his Son, the Word which was with him before the creation, because by Him He in the beginning made and disposed all things; He etc.” (Apol. 1.)

And again: “But this Being, who was really begotten of the Father, and proceeded from him; did, before all creatures were made, exist with the Father, and the Father conversed with him.” (Dial. cum Trypho.)

And in all other places of his works, he speaks with the like caution; calling Christ, [Gr text], the first-begotten of God before all creatures; and, [Gr text], a Being which was begotten absolutely before all creatures; and the like.

And Irenaeus, reckoning up the several words, by which the generation of the Son [or Word] might be expressed; such as production, generation, speaking forth, or birth; did not think fit (as I before observed) to add, creation. (Lib. 2. c. 48.)

Origen calls the Son, ([Gr text], contr. Cels. lib. 1.) ancienter than all creatures, (so the learned Bp Bull translates the words; in like manner as the phrase, [Gr text], in St John, must be rendered, before me. See above, the note upon a passage of Origen, cited under No 937.) But I think the words should rather be understood in a larger sense; as appears from that passage in Athanasius contra gentes, [[Gr text], The Lord of all creatures, and the Author of every subsistence;] where he calls God the [Gr text] Author of [Gr text] subistencies, which are distinguished from [Gr text] the creature.

And Eusebius: “The Church [saith he] preaches One God, and that He is the Father and Supreme over all: The Father indeed of Christ alone, but of all other things the God and Creator and Lord. (De Eccles. Theol. lib. 1. c. 8.)

And Athanasius: “Who, [says he,] when he hears Him, whom he believes to be the only true God, say, this is my beloved Son; dares affirm that the Word of God was made out of nothing?” (De Sentent. Dionys. Alexandr.)

XV.

     The Scripture, in declaring the Son’s derivation from the Father, never makes mention of any limitation of time; but always supposes and affirms him to have existed with the Father from the beginning, and before all worlds.

See the texts, 567, 569, 574, 584, 586, 588, 591, 607, 612, 619, 641, 642, 658, 666, 667, 668, 672, 686.

See above, thesis 2; and below, thesis 17.

The Introduction of Samuel Clarke’s ‘The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity’

I have for some years now desired to write a book on the doctrine of the Trinity; but when I read Samuel Clarke’s work, the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, I was so impressed both by the quality of the work itself, and the similarity of my own views with those of Clarke, that I thought I may not need to write a work of my own at all, but simply recommend his work to others for the same basic purpose. Small differences between our views, and the desire to treat aspects of the subject in addition to those which Clarke addresses, and Clarke’s inclusion of extensive sections of the book which, while important to the Church of England in his day, bear little immediate relevance to the churches of the twenty-first century, continue to provide sufficient motivation for me to still aspire to write in the future. I continue, however, to strongly recommend Clarke’s work above any other written in the last millennia and a half, as the best book I am aware of written on the Trinity within the last fifteen-hundred years.

Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity is an excellent work, one which is not only largely unknown, but also in some respects inaccessible to most modern Christians. The text of the book itself, scanned from very old editions, my be readily found online, free to read, and is searchable in such format. However, the mode of expression and style of the print make it a difficult (although worthwhile) read for modern students. The old font used in the scanned editions makes the letter ‘S’ appear much more like the letter ‘F’ than most modern readers are used to, making the work as a whole slow and difficult to read for those accustomed only to modern English fonts.

I have therefore set out to update the style and language of the original work here on Contra Modalism, in an effort to make this work more widely accessible to those interested. The main alterations are an updated font, and the removal of the very frequent use of capitalization and italics, in order to make the book appear in a style more comfortable for modern readers. This removes the added emphasis these provide in the original, but make it much simpler for modern readers. If the details of a specific passage are in question, the passages should be kept in mind, and the scanned originals available on the web referred to, so that any special emphasis provided by such things may be taken note of by the reader. For simplicity, the extensive parallel columns of the Greek and Latin of quotations in the original are left out here; anyone wishing to see the Greek or Latin basis for Clarke’s quotations is referred to the scans of the original work available on the web. I have inserted the citations for such quotations into the English text, where they were only present in the Greek or Latin column.

The content of Clarke’s work combines at once careful exegesis of scripture with an equally careful handling of relevant patristic data, making this book highly useful for all Christians, and of special interest to those who are interested in the teaching of church fathers as they relate to the doctrine of the Trinity. Those who follow this blog will find Clarke’s views closely aligned with my own, although there is not perfect agreement between our views, as is to be expected. The points of disagreement are generally quite minor, enough so that I would happily profess myself to hold the same general view as Clarke, with only a few areas wherein our views differ on details. This work has been a great help to me, and I hope it will be for others as well. My hope is that this work will abound to the glory of God and His Son, and for the good of His people.

The Introduction.

     As, in matters of speculation and philosophical inquiry, the only judge of what is right or wrong, is reason and experience; so in matters either of human testimony or divine Revelation, the only certain rule of truth is the testimony or the revelation itself.

The Christian revelation, is the doctrine of Christ and his apostles; that is, the will of God made known to mankind by Christ, and by those whom Christ instructed with infallible authority to teach it. For the right apprehending of which doctrine, men are (as in other matters of the greatest importance to them) sincerely to make use of their best understanding; and, in order thereunto, to take in all the helps they can find, either from living instructors or ancient writers: But this, only as a means to assist and clear up their own understanding, not to over-rule it; as a means to afford them light to see what Christ has taught them, not to prejudice them with supposing that Christ has taught any thing, which, after the strictest inquiry and most careful examination, they cannot find to be delivered in his doctrine.

If in all things absolutely necessary to be believed and practiced in order to salvation, the revelation of Christ was not itself so clear, as that every sincere person, using the best helps and assistances he can meet with, could sufficiently understand it; it would follow, that God had not at all made sufficient provision for the salvation of men. For the doctrine of Christ and his apostles being the only foundation we have to go upon, and no man since pretending to have had any new revelation; ’tis evident there can never possibly be any authority upon upon earth, sufficient to oblige any man to receive any thing as of divine revelation, which it cannot make appear to that man’s own understanding (sincerely studying and inquiring after the truth,) to be included in that revelation. For if any man can by any external authority be bound to believe any thing to be the doctrine of Christ, which at the same time his best understanding necessitates him to believe is not that doctrine; he is unavoidably under the absurdity of being obliged to obey two contrary masters, and to follow two inconsistent rules at once. The only Rule of Faith therefore to every Christian, is the doctrine of Christ; and that doctrine, as applied to him by his own understanding. In which matter, to preserve his understanding from erring, he is obliged indeed, at his utmost peril, to lay aside all vice and prejudice, and to make use of the best assistances he can procure: but after he has done all that can be done, he must of necessity at last understand with his own understanding, and believe with his own, not another’s, faith. For (whatever has sometimes been absurdly pretended to the contrary,) ’tis evidently as impossible in nature, that in these things any one person should submit himself to another, as that one man should see or taste, should live or breathe for another.

Wherefore in every inquiry, doubt, question or controversy concerning religion, every man that is solicitous to avoid erring, is obliged to have recourse (according to the best of his capacity) to the rule itself, to the original revelation. Using (as is before said) all the helps and assistances he can obtain; but still taking care to use them, only as helps and assistances; not confounding and blending them with the rule itself. Where that rule is to be found by every sincere Christian, is very evident. Whatever our Lord himself taught, (because his miracles proved his divine authority,) was infallibly true, and to us (in matters of religion) the rule of truth. Whatever his apostles preached, (because they were inspired by the same Spirit, and proved their commission by the like testimony of miracles,) was likewise a part of the rule of truth. Whatever the apostles wrote, (because they wrote under the direction of the same Spirit by which they preached,) was in like manner a part of the rule of truth. Now in the Books of the Scripture is conveyed down to us the sum of what our Savior taught, and of what the apostles preached and wrote: and were there as good evidence, by any certain means of tradition whatsoever, of any other things taught by Christ or his apostles, as there is for those delivered down to us in these writings; it could not be denied but that such tradition would be of the same authority, and in every respect as much a part of the rule of truth, as scripture itself. But since there is no such tradition (and indeed in the nature of things there can be no such tradition) at this distance of time;  therefore the Books of Scripture are to us now not only the rule, but the whole and the only rule of truth in matters of religion.

This notion is well expressed by Irenaeus: “We have not [saith he] been taught the method of our salvation by any others, than by those from whom the Gospel itself was delivered to us: which the apostles, at first, preached; and afterwards, by the will of God, delivered down to us in writing, that it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith. And it is impious to imagine, that they preached before they had perfect knowledge of what they were to deliver; as some, who boast themselves to be the amenders of the apostles doctrine, have presumed to affirm. For after our Lord was risen from the dead, and they were indued by the Holy Spirit with power from on high; they were fully instructed, and had perfect knowledge in all things; and went forth into the ends of the world, declaring the good things which God hath provided for us, and preaching peace from heaven unto men; having all and each of them the Gospel of God. Thus Matthew set forth the Gospel in Writing, etc.”

Nevertheless, though the whole Scripture us the rule of truth; and whatever is there delivered, is infallibly true; yet because there is contained in those writings great variety of things, and many occasional doctrines and decisions of controversies, which though all equally true, yet are not all equally necessary to be known and understood by all Christians of all capacities; therefore the church from the beginning, has out of scripture selected those plain fundamental doctrines, which were delivered as of necessity to be known and understood by all Christians whatsoever. And these, all persons were taught in their Baptismal Creed: Which was therefore usually called, the rule of faith: not that itself was of any authority, any otherwise than as it expressed the sense of scripture; but that it was agreed to be such an extract of the rule of truth, as contained all the things immediately, fundamentally, and universally necessary to be understood and believed distinctly by every Christian.

As in process of time men grew less pious, and more contentious; so in the several churches, they enlarged their creeds, and confessions of faith; and grew more minute, in determining unnecessary controversies; and made more and more things explicitly understood; and (under pretense of explaining authoritatively,) imposed things much harder to be understood than the scripture itself; and became more uncharitable in their censures; and the farther they departed from the fountain of catholic unity, the apostolical form of sound words, the more uncertain and unintelligible their definitions grew; and good men found no where to rest the sole of their foot, but in having recourse to the original words of Christ himself and of the Spirit of Truth, in which the Wisdom of God had thought fit to express itself.

For, matters of speculation indeed, of philosophy, or art; things of human invention, experience, or disquisition; improve generally from small beginnings, to greater and greater certainty, and arrive at perfection by degrees: but matters of revelation and divine testimony, are on the contrary complete at first; and Christian Religion, was most perfect at the beginning; and the words of God, are most proper significations of his will, and adequate expressions of his own intention; and the forms of worship set down in scripture, by way of either precept or example, are the best and most unexceptionable manner of serving him.

In the days of the apostles, therefore, Christianity was perfect; and continued for some ages, in a tolerable simplicity and purity of faith and manners; supported by singular holiness of life, by charity in matters of form and opinions, and by the extraordinary guidance of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Peace, Holiness and Love. But needless contentions, soon began to arise; and faith became more intricate; and charity diminished; and human authority and temporal power increased; and the regards of this life grew greater, and of the next life less; and religion decayed continually more and more, till at last (according to the predictions of the apostles) is was swallowed up in apostasy. Out of which, it began to recover at the reformation; when the doctrine of Christ and his apostles was . again declared to be the only rule of truth, in which were clearly contained all things necessary to faith and manners. And had that declaration constantly been adhered to, and human authority in matters of faith been disclaimed in deeds as well as words; there had been, possibly, no more schism in the church of God; nor divisions, of any considerable moment, among Protestants.

But although contentions and uncharitableness have prevailed in practice, yet (thanks be to God) the Root of Unity has continued amongst us; and the Scripture hath universally been declared to be the only rule of truth, a sufficient guide both in faith and practice; and those who differ in opinion, have done so only because each party has thought their own opinion founded in Scripture; and men are required to receive things for no other cause and upon no other authority, than because they are found (and consequently in no other sense than wherein they are found) in the Holy Scriptures. Wherefore in any question of controversies in a matter of faith, Protestants are obliged (for the deciding of it) to have recourse to no other authority whatsoever, but to that of the Scripture only.

The incomparable Arch-Bishop Tillotson, has made this sufficiently appear, in his Rule of Faith; particularly, Part I, Sect. 3; and Part IV, Sect. 2.

And the very learned and judicious Bp Wake: “I choose rather [saith he in the Name of ever Christian,] to regulate my faith by what God hath delivered, than by what man hath defined.” Comment. on Ch. Catech. pag. 21.

And the excellent Mr Chillingsworth: “By the religion of Protestants [saith he,] I do not understand the doctrine of Luther, or Calvin, or Melancthon; nor the Confession of Augusta, or Geneva; nor the Catechism of Heidelberg; nor the Articles of the Church of England; no, nor the harmony of Protestant Confessions: but that wherein they all subscribe with a greater harmony, as a perfect rule of their faith and actions; that is, the Bible. The Bible, I say, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants. Whatsoever else they believe besides it, and the plain, irrefragable, indubitable consequences of it; well may they hold it as a matter of opinion: but as matter of faith and religion, neither can they, with coherence to their own grounds, believe it themselves; nor require the belief of it of others, without most high and most schismatical presumption. I, for my part, after a long and (as I verily believe and hope) impartial search of the true way to eternal happiness, do profess plainly, that I cannot find any rest for the sole of my foot, but upon this Rock only. I see plainly and with mine own eyes, that there are Popes against Popes, Councils against Councils, some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves, a consent of fathers of one age against a consent of fathers of another age against the church of another age. Traditive interpretations of Scripture are pretended, but there are few or none to be found. No tradition, but only of Scripture, can derive itself from the fountain; but may be plainly proved, either to have been brought in, in such an age after Christ; or, that in such an age it was not in. In a word, there is no sufficient certainty but of Scripture only, for any considering man to build upon. This therefore, and this only, I have reason to believe: this I will profess; according to this, I will live; and for this, if there be occasion, I will not only willingly, but even gladly lose my life; though I should be sorry that Christians should take it from me. Propose me any thing out of this book, and require whether I believe it or no; and seem it never so incomprehensible to human reason, I will subscribe to it hand and heart: as knowing no demonstration can be stronger than this; God hath said so, therefore it is true. In other things, I will take no mans liberty of judgement from him; neither shall any man take mine from me. I will think no man the worse man, nor the worse Christian: I will love no man the less, for differing in opinion from me. And what measure I mete to others, I expect from them again. I am fully assured that God does not, and therefore that men ought not, to require any more of any an than this; to believe the Scripture to be God’s word, to endeavor to find the true sense of it, and to live according to it.” Ch. 6. S 56.

In the Statutes given by Queen Elizabeth of glorious memory, to Trinity-College in the University of Cambridge, the following oath is appointed to be taken by every fellow in the chapel, before his admission. “I, N. N. do swear and promise in the presence of God, that I will heartily and steadfastly adhere to the true religion of Christ, and will prefer the authority of Holy Scripture before the opinions of men; that I will make the Word of God the rule of my faith and practice, and look upon other things, which are not proved out of the Word of God, as human only; —- that I will readily and with all my power oppose doctrines contrary to the Word of God; that, in matters of religion, I will prefer truth before custom, what is written before what is not written; etc”

And, in the same university, ever Doctor of Divinity, at his taking that degree, does [profiteri in Theologia] make his profession in the following words: “In the Name of God, Amen: I A. B. do from my heart receive the whole sacred Canonical Scriptures of the old and new Testament: And do hold, or reject, all that the True, Holy, and Apostolical Church of Christ, subject to the Word of God, and being governed by it, holds or rejects: And in this profession I will persevere to my lives end, God of his great mercy giving me grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And every Priest at his ordination, (and Bishop at his consecration,) being solemnly asked, “Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity to eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the same holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach (or maintain) nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture?” answers in the following words; “I am so persuaded, and have so determined by God’s grace.”

And the whole church, in the 6th, the 20th, and the 21st Articles, declares; that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; So that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an Article of the Faith, or be though requisite or necessary to salvation: That it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s word written; neither may it so expound one place of scripture, that it be repugnant to another: wherefore, although the church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation: that even general councils, —- [forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and the Word of God,] may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God: Wherefore things ordained by them, as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.”

To apply this general doctrine (which is the whole foundation of the Protestant and of the Christian Religion,) to the controversies which have been raised in particular, with great animosity and uncharitableness, concerning the manner of explaining the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity; I have in the first part of the following treatise, (that it might appear what was, not the sound of single texts which may easily be mistaken, but the whole tenour of the Scripture,) collected all the texts that relate to that matter, (which I am not sensible has been done before,) and set them before the reader in one view, with such references and critical observations, as may (’tis hoped) be of considerable use towards the understanding of their true meaning.

In the second part, is collected into methodological propositions the sum of doctrine, which (upon the carefullest consideration of the whole matter) appears to me to be fully contained in the texts cited in the first part. And I have illustrated each proposition with many testimonies out of the ancient writers, both before and after the Council of Nice; especially out of Athanasius and Basil; of which, are several not taken notice of either by Petavius or the learned Bp Bull. Concerning all which, I desire it may be observed, that they are not alleged as proofs of any propositions, (for proofs are to be taken from the Scripture alone,) but as illustrations only; and to show how easy and natural that notion must be allowed to be, which so many writers could not forbear expressing so clearly and distinctly, even frequently when at the time they were about to affirm, and endeavoring to prove, something not very consistent with it. The greatest part of the writers before and at the time of the Council of Nice, were (I think) really of that opinion, (though they do not always speak very clearly and confidently,) which I have endeavored to set forth in those propositions. But as to the writers after that time, the reader must not wonder, if many passages not consistent with (nay, perhaps contrary to) those which are here cited, shall by any one be alleged out of the same authors. For I do not cite places out of these authors, so much to show what was the opinion of the writers themselves, as to show how naturally truth sometimes prevails by its own native clearness and evidence, even against the strongest and most settled prejudices: according to that of Basil: “I am persuaded [saith he] that the strength of the doctrine delivered down to us, has often compelled men to contradict their own assertions.” (De Spiritu Sancto, cap. 29.)

In the third part there is, first, brought together a great number of passages out of the Liturgy of the Church of England, wherein the doctrine set forth in the former parts is expressly affirmed; and then in the next place are collected the principle passages, which may seem at first sight to differ from that doctrine: and these latter I have endeavored to reconcile with the former, by showing how they may be understood in a sense consistent both with the doctrine of Scripture, and with the other before-cited expressions of the liturgy. And this is absolutely necessary to be done by every one, who when he prays with his mouth, desires to pray with his understanding also.

It is a thing very destructive of religion, and the cause of almost all divisions among Christians; when young persons at their first entering upon the study of divinity, look upon human and perhaps modern forms of speaking, as the rule of their faith; understanding these also according to the accidental sound of the words, or according to the notions which happen at any particular time to prevail among the vulgar; and then picking out (as proofs) some few single texts of Scripture, which to minds already strongly prejudiced must needs seem to sound, or may easily be accommodated, the same way; while they attend not impartially to the whole scope and general tenour of Scripture. Whereas on the contrary, were the Scriptures first thoroughly studied, and seriously considered, as the rule and the only rule of truth in matters of religion; and the sense of all human forms and expressions, deduced from thence; the greatest part of the uncharitable divisions that have happened among Christians, might in all probability have been prevented. The different states, which controversies concerning predestination, original sin, free will, faith and good works, and the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity, have at different times gone through, are a sufficient evidence of this truth.

The Church of Rome indeed requires men to receive her particular doctrines (or explications of doctrines) and traditions, as part of the rule itself of their faith: and therefore with them no good Christian can possibly comply. But the Protestant Churches, utterly disclaiming all such authority; and requiring men to comply with their forms, merely upon account of their being agreeable to Scripture; ’tis plain that every person may reasonably agree to such forms, whenever he can in any sense at all reconcile them with Scripture.

The first Reformers, when they had laid aside what to them seemed intolerable in the doctrines of the Church of Rome, in other matters chose to retain the words they found; yet declaring that they meant thereby to express only the sense of Scripture, and not that of tradition of the schools. If tradition or custom, if carelessness or mistake, either in the compiler or receiver, happen at any time to put a sense upon any human forms, different from that of the Scripture, which those very forms were intended to explain, and which is at the same time declared to be the only rule of truth; ‘its evident no man can be bound to understand those forms in such a sense; nay, on the contrary, he is indispensably bound not to understand or receive them in such a sense. For (as the learned Mr Thorndike rightly observes,) “That which once was not matter of faith, can never by process of time, or any act the church can do, (or by any interpretation of words, that custom or carelessness or contentiousness may have introduced,) become matter of faith.” Epilog. Part II. pag. 155.

As in reading a comment upon any book whatsoever, he that would thence understand the true meaning of the text, must not barely consider what the words of the comment may of themselves possibly happen to signify; but how they may be so understood, as to be a consistent interpretation of the text they are to explain: so in considering all forms of human composition in matters of religion, it is not of importance what the words may in themselves possibly most obviously signify, or what they may vulgarly and carelessly be understood to mean; (for there is in almost all words, some ambiguity;) but in what sense they can be consistent expositions of those texts of Scripture, which they were intended and are professed to interpret. Otherwise it may easily happen, that a comment may in effect come into the place of the text, and another interpretation afterwards into the place of that comment; till in process of time, men by insensible degrees depart entirely from the meaning of the text, and human authority swallows up that which is divine. Which evil can no otherwise be prevented, than by having recourse perpetually to the original itself; and allowing no authority to any interpretation, any further than ’tis evidently agreeable to the text itself.

Not to mention many examples of this kind, in almost all the confessions of faith that ever were published; there is one very remarkable instance of it, in the Apostles Creed itself. The word, Hell, in the English language, signifies always the place or state of the damned; and every vulgar English reader, when he professes his belief that Christ descended into hell, is apt to understand the article, as signifying Christ’s descending into the place of the damned: and probably they who first put the article into the Creed, about the beginning of the fourth century, might mean and intend it should be so understood. Nevertheless, since all learned men are satisfied, that the Greek word (hades) in those texts of Scripture upon which this article was founded, does not signify Hell, but in general only the invisible state of those departed out of this world; they now with great reason think themselves obliged to understand it in the Creed, not as the word my in modern speech seem to sound to the vulgar, but as it really signifies in the original Texts of Scripture.

The same is to be understood of every part of all human compositions whatsoever. According to that excellent observation of the learned Bp. Pearson: “I observe [saith he] that whatsoever is delivered in the Creed, we therefore believe, because it is contained in the Scriptures; and consequently must so believe it, as it is contained there: whence all this exposition of the whole, is nothing else but an illustration and proof of every particular part of the Creed, by such Scriptures as deliver the same, according to the true interpretation of them.” Expos. on the Creed, 4th Edit. pag. 227.

And the whole church has made the like declaration, in the 6th, the 20th, and 21st of the 39 Articles, before-cited; and in the eighth Article, which declares that the creeds ought only to be received and believed, “because [and consequently only in such sense wherein] they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”

In what sense the most difficult passages in the liturgy, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, can be understood agreeably to the doctrine of Scripture, I have endeavored to show in the following papers. And (as I think the sincerity of a Christian obliges me to declare, ) I desire it may be observed that my assent to the forms by law appointed, and to all words of human institution, is given only because they are, and in that sense wherein they are, (according to the following application,) agreeable to that which appears to me (upon the most careful and serious consideration of the whole matter) to be the doctrine of Scripture; and not in that sense which the popish schoolmen, (affecting, for the sake of transubstantiation, to make everything look like a contradiction,) endeavored to introduce into the church.

Every sincere Christian, assenting (for the sake of peace and order) to the use of any forms of words; must take care to assent to them in such a sense, as may make them consistent with the Scripture; (otherwise he assents to what is false:) and in such a sense, as may make them consistent with themselves; (otherwise he assents to nothing.) This is what I have attempted to do in the third part: and I am sure it is no more a putting of violence upon the expressions cited in the second chapter of that part, to make them consistent with Scripture, and with the expressions of the liturgy cited in the first chapter of that part; than it is on the contrary a putting of violence upon Scripture and upon the expression cited in the first chapter of that section, to make them consistent with the expressions cited in the second chapter of that section.

I am well aware it may to many seem needless, to enter into questions of this nature; and that, in matters of such nicety and difficulty as this, it were better (in their opinion) to let every man frame to himself such obscure notions as he can, and not perplex him with subtle speculations. And indeed, with regard to Scholastic and philosophical inquiries concerning the metaphysical nature and substance of each of the Three Persons in the ever-blessed Trinity, this manner of judging is so right and true, that had these things never been meddled with, and had men contented themselves with what is plainly revealed in the Scripture, (more than which, they can never certainly know;) the peace of the Catholic Church, and the simplicity of the Christian Faith, had possibly never been disturbed. But that which is properly theological in this matter; viz. the distinct powers and offices of each of the Three Persons, in the creation, government, redemption, sanctification, and salvation of man; and the proper honor due consequently from us to each of Them distinctly; this is the great foundation, and the main economy of the Christian Religion; the doctrine, into which we were baptized; and which every sincere Christian ought, according to the best of his ability and the means he has of informing himself, to endeavor thoroughly to understand. The Supremacy of God the Father over all, and our Reconciliation and Subjection to him as such our Supreme Governor; the Redemption purchased by the Son; and the Sanctification worked in us by the Holy Spirit; are the three great articles of our Creed: and in maintaining these rightly, so as seriously to affect men’s understandings, and influence their lives accordingly; is the honor of God, and the interest of True Religion greatly concerned. Tritheism, Sabellianism, Arianism, and Socinianism, have, to the great disparagement of Christianity, puzzled the plain and practical doctrine of Scripture, with endless speculative disputes: and it has been no small injury to religion, in the midst of those disputes; that as on the one hand, men by guarding unwarily against Tritheism, have often in the other extreme run into Socinianism, to the diminution of the honor of the Son of God, and to the taking away the very Being of the Holy Spirit; so on the contrary, incautious writers in their zeal against Socinianism and Arianism, have no less frequently laid themselves open to Sabellianism or Tritheism, by neglecting to maintain the honor and supremacy of the Father. The design of the following papers, is to show how this evil may be prevented, and in what manner both extremes may rationally be avoided.

There are others who have thought, that we ought not at all to treat concerning any of these matters, because they are mysterious. By which if they meant, that the words of God were mysterious, and that therefore we ought not to be wise beyond what is written; no man could say that herein they judged amiss. But if they mean, that the words of men are mysterious; and that we must not reason concerning them, nor inquire whether or no, and in what sense, they are agreeable to the words of God: what is this, but substituting another mystery in the stead of the true one; and paying deference to the mystery of man’s making, instead of the mystery of God? The true veneration of mysteries consists, not in making them ourselves, and in receiving blindly the words of men without understanding them; but it consists, either in taking care there to stop, where the Scripture itself has stoped, without presuming to go further at all; or else, in taking care to understand all words of human institution in such a sense, as that they be sure to signify neither more nor less than the words of Scripture necessarily and indisputably do. Whosoever puts any meaning upon words of human institution, which does not appear to another (upon his sincerest and most careful examination) to be the same with the sense of the words of Scripture; must not complain that the other opposes his own reason to the authority of God, when indeed he opposes it only to those who would make human authority the same with divine. Affecting to speak unintelligibly, where the Scripture itself has not done so; is indeed promoting skepticism only, not true religion: nor can there be any other so effectual a way of confuting all heresies, as it would be to restrain men within the bounds of the uncontested doctrine of Scripture; and give them as few advantages as possible, of raising objection against human and fallible forms of speaking.

Lastly; as to those, who, in the whole, are of opinion that every man ought to study and consider these things according to his ability; and yet, in the particulars of the explication, have quite different notions from those which I have thought reasonable and necessary to set forth in the following papers; I have, with regard to such persons as these, endeavored to express myself with all modesty and due submission. And if any learned person, who thinks me in an error, shall in the Spirit of Meekness and Christianity, propose a different interpretation of all the texts I have produced, and deduce consequences therefrom different from those which seem to me unavoidably to follow; I shall think myself obliged, either to return him a clear and distinct answer in the same Spirit of Meekness and Candor, or else fairly and publicly to retract whatsoever is not capable of being so defended. But if, on the contrary, any nameless or careless writer shall, in the spirit of popery, contend only that men must never use their own understandings, that is, must have no religion of their own; but, without regarding what is right or wrong, must always plead for what notions happen at any time to prevail; I shall have no reason, in such case, to think myself under the same obligation of answering him.

Sola Scriptura And the Trinity

The idea of sola scriptura is, simply put, that every point of Christian doctrine must be demonstrated to be true, and every practice must be demonstrated to be legitimate, from the holy scriptures in order to be accepted as true and legitimate and binding on Christians.

The logic of this stems from scripture itself: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21 NKJV). This command, given to believers in the scriptures themselves, is short yet clear; all things are to be tested, and those which are good we are to hold fast to. When doctrine is presented to us, we must test it, and if it is shown to be good, we must hold fast to it; if a practice is suggested to us we must likewise test, and hold fast to those shown to be good.

What, then, is “good” doctrine? What is “good” practice? Simply, good doctrine is that which is true. Good practice is that which is legitimate and acceptable in God’s eyes. How then, do we know what doctrines are true, and what practices are legitimate?

Second century church father Clement of Alexandria explains well:

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves… He, then, who of himself believes the Scripture and voice of the Lord, which by the Lord acts to the benefiting of men, is rightly [regarded] faithful. Certainly we use it as a criterion in the discovery of things. What is subjected to criticism is not believed till it is so subjected; so that what needs criticism cannot be a first principle. Therefore, as is reasonable, grasping by faith the indemonstrable first principle, and receiving in abundance, from the first principle itself, demonstrations in reference to the first principle, we are by the voice of the Lord trained up to the knowledge of the truth.
For we may not give our adhesion to men on a bare statement by them, who might equally state the opposite. But if it is not enough merely to state the opinion, but if what is stated must be confirmed, we do not wait for the testimony of men, but we establish the matter that is in question by the voice of the Lord, which is the surest of all demonstrations, or rather is the only demonstration; in which knowledge those who have merely tasted the Scriptures are believers; while those who, having advanced further, and become correct expounders of the truth, are Gnostics. Since also, in what pertains to life, craftsmen are superior to ordinary people, and model what is beyond common notions; so, consequently, we also, giving a complete exhibition of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, from faith persuade by demonstration.” (Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16)

The way by which we as Christians can know that a doctrine is true, or a practice legitimate, then, is by seeing it demonstrated from the holy scriptures, which, as Clement says, are for us a first principle which we as Christians take on faith, as the infallible and inerrant word of God. From this infallible first principle, other knowledge can be safely attained by way of demonstration. The way in which we arrive at a knowledge then of what is good doctrine and practice is by way of demonstration from the scriptures- that which we see proven, we know is good.

We must then see every point of doctrine and every practice proven from the scriptures, in order to know that they are good. To seek demonstration of a given point from the scriptures then is the way which we can “test all things, and hold fast that which is good”. Upon which demonstration, any point of doctrine will appear more to us than mere opinion, but is known with certainty to be true and good; and any practice will no longer appear merely a human invention, but a practice genuinely given by God for His church.

It is worth noting here that what is proven good is to be accepted and held fast to, according to the command of scripture. This is not the same thing as simply saying that that which is proven bad- that which is proven to be false from the scriptures- is to be rejected, for in that case, any opinion which is not disproven might be accepted, even if it also lacks positive proof. What we are commanded to hold fast to is that which we know is good- which is exclusively that which we see proven from the scriptures.

This view has grown very uncommon among most Christian traditions. Even those which hold sola scriptura in name frequently insist that those traditional doctrines their churches teach should be accepted on the basis of tradition, despite lacking positive proof from the scriptures. Yet in the early church, there were more than a few who understood the importance of sola scriptura. Clement of Alexandria has already been mentioned; Cyril of Jerusalem will also bear witness when he says:

“Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” (Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4)

The view of both Clement and Cyril is clear; a doctrine stated without demonstration from the scriptures, even if given from an ecclesiastical authority, is to be regarded as mere opinion until proven from the scriptures. This is to safeguard believers from, like those in the world, simply building their beliefs off of mere opinions of men, and holding mere plausibilities as truth. “Ingenious reasoning” is not enough- demonstration from the holy scriptures is required, and by this means we “test all things, and hold fast to that which is good”.

What about the command given by the apostle to keep the traditions he had given the church, whether in writing or by spoken word? 2 Thess 2:15 NKJV says “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” Is this a contradiction? Is there an oral tradition in the church which scripture tells us to regard as authoritative?

The answer is ‘no’. The command given does not mention a tradition passed down from generation to generation, but the oral and written instruction that first century believers received from the apostles directly. The written part is clear; the oral part, some wish to present as more than it is. But what is actually said here must be admitted to be simply that believers are to regard instructions they receive *from the apostles* as authoritative, whether those be received by writing or by word. After the apostles fell asleep, however, no one in the church is ordinarily receiving instruction from the apostles by any means other than their writings in the holy scriptures. Were we able to learn orally from the apostles, we should for reason of this verse regard what they say as a standard, as we do with the written scriptures; but we do not have their oral instruction today, and so the only ordinary standard we have is the holy scriptures.

From the scriptures we may learn what the apostles taught, and what traditions they handed down. Most are not truly interested in their traditions- “apostolic tradition” is simply an excuse to shoehorn into the Christian faith doctrines and practices which we have no knowledge of being legitimate. From the scriptures we have an actual knowledge of apostolic tradition. But beyond the scriptures, we have no knowledge of it.

Many are inclined to point to the earliest fathers as a source for this oral tradition. However, there is no legitimate grounds for taking what the church fathers say as though it were the words of the apostles. The fathers do not share their authority, and we have no way of knowing the accuracy with which their traditions reflect those taught by the apostles. Reading the church fathers is probably the most profitable exercise one can undertake besides reading the scriptures in a study of Christian doctrine; this is not meant in any way to denigrate the fathers or their teachings- I highly recommend them.  But we must be realistic about their limits- their teaching is not infallible, and cannot be made a standard the way scripture can. Scripture is our infallible first principle by which we must test all things- including the teachings of the fathers. Indeed, as we read above, some of them very clearly wanted those who learned from them to test what they said by the scriptures.

The fact is, traditions found recorded in the writings of the fathers, ascribed to the apostles, can only be regarded as mere plausibilities, until they are demonstrated to be apostolic traditions from the scriptures. For even well-intentioned and godly men err; they make honest mistakes, and are not wholly free from sin. They can be deceived, and they can misunderstand. This does not mean we should cast aside their teaching, which is such a valuable resource as a help to understanding the scriptures, as any good teacher is, but we cannot make their teaching into more than it is by treating it as a first principle or rule of faith, when it is rightly neither, but is rather subject to being tested by the holy scriptures.

Having then examined ‘sola scriptura’, and seen it itself demonstrated from the scriptures, let us then examine the role this doctrine played in the trinitarian controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries.

We already saw a quote from Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures on the topic. Cyril is a noteworthy fourth-century bishop, whose theology is marked by a clear commitment to scripture as its source, which is reflected in how biblical the doctrines he teaches are. His lectures on the persons of the Trinity are among the best treatments of the Trinity we have from this era. Avoiding the extra-biblical speculation that marked both the Arian and Homoousian camps during the Arian controversy, Cyril’s lectures both reject Arianism and Sabellianism, clearly, and biblically, without needing to bring the extra-biblical language of ‘ousia’ into the discussion at all. His beliefs on the Trinity can be summed up:

“There is One God, the Father, Lord of the Old and of the New Testament: and One Lord, Jesus Christ, who was prophesied of in the Old Testament, and came in the New; and One Holy Ghost, who through the Prophets preached of Christ, and when Christ was come, descended, and manifested Him.” On the Article, And In One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Which Spake In the Prophets. (Lecture XVI)

Cyril’s commitment to sola scriptura can be seen again in Lecture 16, when he says, speaking of the Holy Spirit “And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance : for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Thus Cyril’s basic approach to the intense controversies of his time can be seen; rather than siding with one side or the other in “ingenious reasonings”, he insists on sticking to “demonstration from the scriptures”, and purposefully avoids going beyond the scriptures. Thus questions of the Spirit’s metaphysical substance are not to be entertained, because scripture does not treat the subject.

Cyril’s methods, of avoiding unscriptural language, and attempting to stick closely to what could be demonstrated from scripture without going beyond it, were shared by others as well.

The ‘Homoians’ were a party that came to prominence in the late 350s. They sought to resolve the Nicene controversy by returning to scriptural language and leaving the metaphysical speculation that had both caused the controversy, and characterized the major parties in it. Rather than insisting on a dogmatic assertion of the Son’s metaphysical essence in relation to that of the Father, the Homoian position advocated sticking to scriptural language about the person of the Trinity. Thus rather than using “homoousias” or “Homoiousias” they advocated simply “homoi” (like) from which they took their name. Their confession was a simple and unoffending one- that the Son is “like the Father according to the scriptures”. This embraces the scriptural teaching that the Son, as a distinct individual from the Father (Who is the one God) is the ‘brightness of the Father’s glory’, the ‘exact representation of His person’, and ‘the image of Him, the invisible God’, without getting into questions of metaphysics.

On the subject of “ousia”, the Homoian position was articulated thus:

“But the name of ‘essence,’ which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures do not contain it, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine scriptures have made no mention of the essence of Father and Son. For neither ought ‘subsistence’ to be named concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach; and all the heresies, both those which have been already condemned, and whatever are of modern date, being contrary to this published statement, be they anathema.” (Creed of Constantinople, 360)

Old heresies, like Arianism, were still anathematized. But the decision of Nicea to include ‘homoousias’ in the Creed was regarded as a mistake, as going beyond scriptural revelation. This exceeding of scriptural revelation was the cause of the doctrinal controversies of the fourth century; the way to heal them, it was felt, was to return to a strictly scriptural doctrine of the Trinity.

But the Homoians were not merely an obscure party in the Nicene controversy. Their position gained imperial favor, and in 359, became the official position of all the churches in the Roman empire, and beyond. The emperor, setting about to resolve the ongoing doctrinal disputes surrounding the Trinity which had only grown more intense after Nicea, sought to call a second ecumenical council to end the controversy and bring the whole church to agreement. In order to make this practically easier, the council was to be held in two locations, one in the West at Arminium, and one in the East at Seleucia.

The second ecumenical council, then, met in the joint sessions of Arminium and Selucia in 359. It is reported that over 400 bishops attended the western council. The details of the council are obscure; most of the reports of it we have are from the standpoint of extreme hostility to the Homoian confession, after the Homoousians gained ascendency in 381. Such reports regard the councils as secretly Arian, and all Homoians as Arians in disguise; not because of actual evidence that suggests the Homoian confession was an insincere cover for Arianism, but because the polemic of the homoousians was to slander every opposing viewpoint as Arian in an attempt to discredit them. That the Homoian creed left Arianism anathematized gives firm enough evidence for any moderately fair-minded observer to understand that the Homoians were not Arians, and the Councils of Arminium and Seleucia were no Arian victory.

For some time, these councils provided a greater degree of peace to the churches. For almost 20 years this remained ‘the second ecumenical council’ and its creed, with its rescinding of the Nicene ‘homoousias’, remained the official doctrine of the whole church. The churches among the Gothic tribes also subscribed to this Creed; bishop Ulfilias was present at the Council of Constantinople in 360 when the Homoian Creed was officially ratified.

That the church agreed to this confession is significant. For a time, at least, the church was officially committed to a position resembling sola scriptura.

After the Council of Constantinople sought to invalidate and replace the councils of Arminium and Seleucia as the next ‘second ecumenical council’ in 381, making the homoousian confession in the form a modified Nicene Creed the dogma of all the churches within the Roman Empire, the Homoians did not simply disappear. When they were kicked out of the churches, and their bishops banned from their offices to be replaced by homoousians, they continued meeting in private.

Outside the Roman Empire the Homoians did not need to hide, however. The Gothic and vandal churches were still committed to the confession ratified at Arminium; as time passed and distance grew between the semi-modalism of the Latin homoousians and the Homoian faith of the barbarian churches, the homoousian position would become known to them at the “Roman Religion”, while they continued to see themselves as holding “the catholic faith” (E.A. Thompson, The Goths in Spain (Oxford, 1969), 40).

As to the view of the Homoians on sola scriptura, we have a debate between a Homoian bishop named Maximinus, and Augustine of Hippo, which shows quite well the Homoian commitment to sola scriptura. Maximinus’s statements give us quite a bit of detail. He said:

“If you produce from the divine scriptures something that we all share, we shall have to listen. But those words which are not found in the scriptures are under no circumstance accepted by us, especially since the Lord warns us, saying, In vain they worship me, teaching human commandments and precepts” (Mt 15:9).”

“I wanted the decree of the Council of Ariminum to be present, not to excuse myself, but to show the authority of those fathers who handed on to us in accord with the divine scriptures the faith which they learned from the divine scriptures.”

“My reply is clear: I believe that there is one God the Father who has received life from no one and that there is one Son who has received from the Father his being and his life so that he exists and that there is one Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who enlightens and sanctifies our souls. I state this on the basis of the scriptures. At your bidding, I will follow up with testimonies.”

“The authors of religion never resort to false accusations. You asked for testimonies in order that I might show by testimonies what I have professed, and you yourself have professed three that are the same and equal, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And, though you professed that the three are equal, you now turn around and produce the testimony of the divine scriptures that pertains not to their equality, but to the singleness of the omnipotent God, that there is one author of all things.†28 You take precedence by your age and have greater authority; hence, go first and show by testimonies that there are three equals, three omnipotents, three unbegottens, three invisibles, three incomprehensibles. Then we would have to yield to these testimonies. But if you cannot give an account of this from the divine scriptures, then I must produce testimonies to the extent that you want for everything I have said in the foregoing: either that the Father alone receives his life from no one or that the Son†29 has received his life from the Father, as I have professed, or what I have said of the Holy Spirit.”

“You yourself are caught doing what you blamed in us. It is certain, as the divine scripture warns us, that with much talking you will not escape sin, but that you will be wise, if you spare your lips. Even if one produces testimonies from the divine scriptures all day long, it will not be truly counted against one as wordiness. But if one uses some literary skill or cleverness of mind and makes up words which the holy scriptures do not contain, they are both idle and superfluous.”

“Hear†57 him as he cries out, speaking of the invisibility of the omnipotent God, that no one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son who is in the embrace of the Father has revealed him (Jn 1:18). Instructed by this, Paul cries out and says, The blessed and alone powerful, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in inaccessible light. No human has seen or can see him; to him be honor and power forever. Amen (1 Tm 6:15-16). Again he says of him, To God who alone is wise, through Jesus Christ, to him be glory forever. Amen (Rom 16:27). And so, we speak of one God, because there is one God above all, unborn, unmade, as we went on to say.†58 But if you do not believe Paul when he calls the Son born, the firstborn of all creation, at least believe the Son when he speaks to Pilate who asked him, Are you then a king? Christ says, For this was I born (Jn 18:37). I read born; I profess what I read. I read firstborn; I do not disbelieve.†59 I read only-begotten; even if I am tortured on the rack, I will not say otherwise. I profess what the holy scriptures teach us.”

“Those who read can test whether I made this point on my own authority and with many words, as you charge, or whether I have answered with the authority of the divine scriptures.”

““You say that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Son.†91 Provide the scripture passages in which the Holy Spirit is adored, in which those beings in heaven and on earth and under the earth bend their knee to him. We have learned that God the Father is to be adored from the exclamation of blessed Paul, Therefore, I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in the heavens and on earth has its name (Eph 3:14-15). By the authority of the holy scriptures we adore the Father; likewise, taught by these divine scriptures we worship and adore Christ as God. Do the scriptures anywhere say that the Holy Spirit should be adored? If the Father bore witness to him to that effect, if the Son did so, if he himself has made such claims concerning himself, read it from the scriptures against what we have said.”

“We believe the scriptures, and we venerate the divine scriptures. We do not want a single particle of a letter to perish, for we fear the threat that is stated in these divine scriptures, Woe to those who take away or add! (Dt 4:2).”

“We ought to accept all the things that are brought forth from the holy scriptures with full veneration. The divine scripture has not come as a source of our instruction so that we might correct it. How I wish that we may prove to be worthy disciples of the scriptures!”

“I pray and desire to be a disciple of the divine scriptures; I believe that Your Holiness recalls that I earlier gave the response that, if you produced the evidence that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one power, one substance, one deity, one majesty, one glory, that, if you state this from the divine scriptures, if you produce any passage of scripture, we are eager to be found disciples of the divine scriptures.”

From these quotes, Homoian reliance on the scriptures, and the insistence that systematized doctrine should not exceed the scripture, can be seen clearly.

Once the Homoian position fell out of favor and was replaced by the homoousian position, however, sola scriptura seems to have been abandoned by the churches in the Roman Empire. The rejection of Homoian theology and the Homoian creeds, and the ongoing association of sola scriptura with the Homoians, led to the Roman churches to seemingly entirely abandon sola scriptura and instead place a newfound emphasis on tradition and ecclesiastical authority.

For instance, rather than, like Cyril of Jerusalem and the Homoians, leaving the Holy Spirit’s substance in the realm of mystery as something not spoken of in scripture, the churches embraced the position of Basil of Caesarea, which affirmed the co-essentiality of the Holy Spirit, and the need to worship the Spirit- not on the basis of scripture alone, but “ingenious reasoning” and appeals to tradition, as Basil famously appealed to the traditional benedictions and doxologies as support for the worship of the Holy Spirit in the apparent absence of sufficient scriptural data.

It is interesting then to note that there was indeed significant support for a ‘sola scriptura’ approach to the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth and fifth centuries. Sola scriptura is so far from being a novel doctrine of Protestantism that it was effectively the official position of the churches for nearly 20 years in the fourth century. Prior to that, and after that, testimony is mixed of course. But from scripture itself, and plain reasoning, we may understand both the importance of sola scriptura, and its application to our understanding of the Trinity, with the Homoians of old giving us a useful though imperfect pattern of what an understanding of the Trinity built upon the foundation of ‘sola scriptura’ looks like. Once the Protestant reformation did come, and with it a return to sola scriptura, there was a revival of Homoian views, including in the church of England among such men as Sir Isaac Newton and Samuel Clarke.

Samuel Clarke, Sir Isaac Newton, And Homoian Theology

My last post, Highlights from Sir Isaac Newton Concerning the Trinity, featured a number of highlights from Sir Isaac Newton’s personal writings, relating to his research in theology and church history. One of those quotes is, in my opinion, an especially noteworthy observation:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually a signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Newton’s observation is a valuable one: in the scriptures, the word “God” is used as something relative, relating to authority. To be “God” is to have dominion; “deity” or “Godhood” is dominion, not some metaphysical quality relating to a being’s substance.

Newton went so far as to suggest that God’s metaphysical substance is something which to us is unknown, neither being known by our senses, nor elucidated on in the scriptures:

“We have ideas of his [God’s] attributes, but what the real substance of any thing is we know not. In bodies, we see only their figures and colours. We hear only the sounds. We touch only their outward surfaces. We smell only the smells, and taste the flavours; but their inward substances are not to be known either by our senses, or by any reflex act of our minds: much less, then, have we any idea of the substance of God.” (Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. tr. Andrew Motte (3 vols.; London, 1803), II, Bk. III, 312-13.)

Samuel Clarke, a personal friend of Newton, made similar observations in his published work The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. Clarke’s theology is summed up in 55 theses, a couple of which deal with this same point:

“4. What the proper Metaphysical Nature, Essence, or Substance of any of these divine Persons is, the scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes them always, by their Personal Characters, Offices, Powers and Attributes.”

“25. The Reason why the Son in the New Testament is sometimes stiled God, is not upon account of his metaphysical Substance, how Divine soever; but of his relative Attributes and Divine Authority (communicated to him from the Father) over Us.”

A section of Clarke’s note on thesis 25 is also of interest:

“The word, God, when spoken of the Father Himself, is never intended in Scripture to express Philosophically his abstract metaphysical Attributes; but to raise in us a Notion of his Attributes Relative to us, his Supreme Dominion, Authority, Power, Justice, Goodness, &c.”

The point that Clarke and Newton make is a compelling one. If “Godhood” in scripture pertains to authority rather than metaphysical nature, then verses which speak of the Father and Son as each being “God” cannot be taken as referring to metaphysical substance or essence at all. While throughout the scriptures, the “Personal Characters, Offices, Powers and Attributes” of God and His Son are spoken of, none of these amount to a treatment of the metaphysical nature of either person. Thus, if we limit ourselves to what God has revealed in the scriptures, rather than philosophical speculation, we will be left with agnosticism as to the metaphysical nature of God and His Son.

Such a view was by no means a novelty of Clarke and Newton. In the trinitarian debates of the fourth century, the leading view for a time, which gained the ecumenical approval of the church, was basically that of Clarke and Newton. After a few decades of bickering over the philosophical categories of ousia and hypostasis, and whether substance, or essence, or ousia, should be understood to be like or the same, whether homoousias denoted numerical or generic unity, etc, the bulk of the church was tired of the confusing and extra-biblical debates that had rent the unity of the church asunder. The majority of bishops, east and west, were willing to recognise that the church had erred by making matters of philosophical conjecture into dogma. These bishops- called ‘homoians’, for their favoring of simply describing the Son as “like” the Father, without reference to metaphysical nature- recognised that the scriptures do not speak of God’s essence, as such. They tell us about Who God is, what He is like, what His attributes are, what He has done and will do, etc, and likewise, the same sorts of things about His Son- but all without giving lessons on metaphysics.

Rather than pry into things which God has left a mystery to man, this majority of bishops agreed to end the divisive debates by repenting of the previous decisions to make matters of philosophical speculation about the metaphysical essence of God’s Son into dogma. The term “ousia” was to be eschewed altogether, and scriptural language about God and His Son was to be maintained.

Thus the ‘Homoian Creed’ of Constantinople in 360 declared that the Son was “begotten as only-begotten, only from the Father only, God from God, like to the Father that begat Him according to the Scriptures”, and went on to say:

“But the name of ‘essence,’ which was set down by the Fathers in simplicity, and, being unknown by the people, caused offense, because the Scriptures do not contain it, it has seemed good to abolish, and for the future to make no mention of it at all; since the divine scriptures have made no mention of the essence of Father and Son. For neither ought ‘subsistence’ to be named concerning Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But we say that the Son is like the Father, as the divine Scriptures say and teach”

This decision remained the official position of the churches within the Roman empire until the ascension of emperor Theodosius and subsequent changes he made to the church and her doctrine in 381.

Samuel Clarke on Why Classical Trinitarianism is Not Tritheism

(From Clarke’s answer is recorded in the the fourth edition of Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity and Related Writings.)

OBJ. “Three Divine Beings – must needs be conceived as Three Gods, notwithstanding any Subordination of the Second and Third Being to the First; or else we must free the Pagan World from the Absurdity of Polytheism, and the Guilt of Idolatry; these being generally, if not always, founded upon a Subordination of many Deities to the One Supreme.”

ANSW. The Difference between Christianity and Paganism, is This. The Pagans acknowledged many FALSE (fictitious) Gods, and many FALSE (fictitious) Lords: On the contrary, Christians acknowledge only One True God, and only One TRUE Lord or Mediator. There are (saith St. Paul) that are called, (that is, that were feigned1 by the Heathens,) Gods many, and Lords manyBut to US [Christians,] there is but One God,[viz.] the Father, Of whom are all things; and One Lord, [viz.] Jesus Christ, By whom are all things. Now to say, that besides the One True God, there cannot be also One True Lord or Mediator; is an Argument, not against myScheme in particular; but ’tis the Argument which Deists use, (with what Reason, I have elsewhere shewn,) against Christianity in general. Or to say, that there is also indeed One True Lord or Mediator, but that That One True Lord is the same Individual with the One True God; What is This, but to affirm in other Words, that the One Lord Jesus Christ, BY whom are all things, is the One Godthe FatherOF whom are all things? Which is overturning the Apostles whole Argument, and introducing an absolute Confusion of Persons. Our One God, says the Apostle, is the Father: If then the One LordJesus Christ, be That One God, whom the Apostle defines to be the Fatherof whom are all Things; is not this expressly affirming that the Son is the Father? Than which, nothing can be more hard to understand, or to reconcile with the whole Doctrine of Scripture.

But why must Three Divine Beings, of Necessity be conceived as Three Gods? One Godthe Almighty Father; and One Lordthe Only-begotten Son of That Almighty Father; and One Holy Spirit of Godthe Spirit of That Almighty Father; are in our Creed represented to us as Three distinct Agents: And yet they are no more Three Gods, than they are Three Almighty Fathers, which is (according to the Creed) the Definition of GodOne God, to whom Mediation is made; and One Mediator, making Intercession for us to That One God, (which is St. Paul’s manner of speaking;) are no more Two Gods; than an Advocate with the Father, and the Father with whom that Advocate is, (which is St. John’s manner of expressing the same thing,) are Two Fathers. One Spirit, One Lord, One God and Father of allwho is above all; are by the Apostle represented to us, as Three distinct Agents: And yet they can no more truly be said to be Three Gods, than Each of them singly, (or than All of them together,) can be truly said to be The God and Father of All, who is Above All; Which is the Apostles Definition of the One Supreme God. Three perfectly co-ordinate, and equally Supreme Persons or Agents, (whatever Distinctness, or whatever Unity of Nature be supposed between them,) must of Necessity be conceived to be Three Gods, that is, Three Supreme Independent Governors of the Universe; because the proper notion of God in Scripture, and in natural Reason also, as to all moral and religious Regards, is his being absolutely  ὁ παντοκράτωρSupreme Ruler over All, and ὁ πατὴρ πάντων, (Eph. 4:6) the Father or Author of all things: But, This Character being preserved entire, no other Power whatsoever ascribed or communicated to other Agents or Persons, can justly cause us to conceive more Gods than One. How and in what Sense the Son, though he be not That One God and Father of Allwho is above All, may yet truly and properly be stiled God; has been largely explained the the foregoing Papers.2

But now on the other side, if the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be conceived to be All but One Individual Being; it follows of Necessity, that the Son and Holy Spirit have no Being at all; Which is an insuperableDifficulty in This learned Author’s Scheme. For if each of these Characters belong to One and the same Individual Being; and the Father Alone be (as is acknowledged) that Whole Being; it follows evidently that the Son and Holy Spirit, either are Themselves The Father, (which he is not willing to allow;) or else have no real Beingno Existence at all, but can only be ModesPowersCharacters or different Denominations of That One Supreme, that One Simple and Uncompounded Being, which is the Father of All. The plain Consequence of which is, that our Mediator and Redeemer is only a Mere Man, in whom God the Father manifested himself after an extraordinary manner; and that the Holy Spirit is nothing but a mere Virtue or Operationof the Father. Which Notion, how much soever it may be defended, as an Hypothesis, by bare Reason, (as may be seen in the Socinian Writers;) yet I can by no means see how it is to be reconciled with what is taught in Scripture. Besides: Since this Learned Writer always supposes his own Scheme, to be the same with That which from the Time of the Fourth Century has been stiled Orthodox; it deserves to be remarked on the contrary, that by his plainly making the Son to be, homoousios, but tautousious with the Father, that is, One and the same Individual Being; his Assertion in reality appears to be the same with that, which from before the Days of Photinus to the Times of the Schoolmen, has by the Council of Nice, and all following Councils been condemned as Heterodox.

Special thanks to Alexander Ascuitto for transcribing this. See his site here.

That the Word “God” Never Refers to Multiple Persons of the Trinity Together in Scripture

As we examined some in The Priority of the New Testament in Trinitarian Doctrine, semi-modalists have their own special hermeneutic by which they insist that the scriptures must be interpreted. This hermeneutic is nothing other than insisting that every time the word “God” is used without qualification, this refers to the entire Trinity. They then employ this to say that the vast majority of places in scripture in which God speaks, it is in fact the Trinity in view.

This hermeneutic has no basis in either scripture or rationality, but rather serves the end of semi-modalists by inserting their absurd concept of a person who is three persons into everywhere in scripture that does not explicitly state that this is not what is meant.

This is quite contrary to the plain sense of the scriptures. In most places scripture speaks of “God” there is something in the context which indicates that a single person is in view, such as a singular personal pronoun. This then excludes the Trinity from being in view in such places, as the Trinity is not a single person, but a group of three persons. When scripture tells us there is a single person in view by using singular personal pronouns, we must acknowledge that only one person, and thus not the entire Trinity, is in view.

The word “God” (except perhaps when speaking of idols) is in scripture only ever used for a single person in any given instance; there are myriad places in scripture where this is obvious from the context and grammar. It is only natural to read any ambiguous places the same way, since scripture is consistent with itself, and reason teaches us to interpret those passages which are less clear by those that are more clear. And if we take our hermeneutics from scripture, we will quickly see that not only is the word “God” used for a single person, but that usually the person in view is the Father, although sometimes it is used of the Son as well.

We can again arrive at this understanding from scripture itself. Throughout the New Testament, when the term “God” is used absolutely and without qualification, it is in reference to the person of the Father. This is ubiquitous throughout the New Testament. Only a few times the word is used for the Son. If then we read the the Old Testament with the aid of the New, so that we are interpreting those older scriptures in which were hidden many things in type and shadow and mystery with the aid of those scriptures which provide us with a fuller and clearer revelation, then we will likewise understand that normally in the Old Testament, as in the New, the term “God” is usually used to denote the person of the Father.

Several of Samuel Clarke’s theses from The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity are related to this:

VIII. The Father (or First Person) is absolutely speaking, the God of the Universe; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel; of Moses, of the Prophets and Apostles; and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

IX. The scripture, when it mentions the One God, or the Only God, always means the Supreme Person of the Father.

X. Whenever the Word, God, is mentioned in Scripture, with any High Epithet, Title, or Attribute annex’d to it; it generally (if not always) means the Person of the Father.

XI. The Scripture, when it mentions GOD, absolutely and by way of Eminence, always means the Person of the Father.

XXIV. The Word, God, in the New Testament, sometimes signifies the Person of the Son.

XXXIII. The Word, God, in Scripture, never signifies a complex Notion of more persons than One; but always means One person only, viz. either the person of the Father singly, or the person of the Son singly.

Clarke’s assessment of the manner in which scripture speaks is attested to by several early church fathers as well:

Justin Martyr

“Accordingly, it is shown that Solomon is not the Lord of hosts; but when our Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the rulers in heaven, under appointment of God, are commanded to open the gates of heaven, that He who is King of glory may enter in, and having ascended, may sit on the right hand of the Father until He make the enemies His footstool, as has been made manifest by another Psalm. For when the rulers of heaven saw Him of uncomely and dishonoured appearance, and inglorious, not recognising Him, they inquired, ‘Who is this King of glory?’ And the Holy Spirit, either from the person of His Father, or from His own person, answers them, ‘The Lord of hosts, He is this King of glory.’ For every one will confess that not one of those who presided over the gates of the temple at Jerusalem would venture to say concerning Solomon, though he was so glorious a king, or concerning the ark of testimony, ‘Who is this King of glory?'” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 36)

“But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them. For sometimes He declares things that are to come to pass, in the manner of one who foretells the future; sometimes He speaks as from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; sometimes as from the person of Christ; sometimes as from the person of the people answering the Lord or His Father, just as you can see even in your own writers, one man being the writer of the whole, but introducing the persons who converse. And this the Jews who possessed the books of the prophets did not understand, and therefore did not recognise Christ even when He came, but even hate us who say that He has come, and who prove that, as was predicted, He was crucified by them.” (First Apology, Chapter 36)

“And that this too may be clear to you, there were spoken from the person of the Father through Isaiah the Prophet, the following words: The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel does not know, and My people has not understood. Woe, sinful nation, a people full of sins, a wicked seed, children that are transgressors, you have forsaken the Lord. And again elsewhere, when the same prophet speaks in like manner from the person of the Father, What is the house that you will build for Me? Says the Lord. The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Isaiah 66:1 And again, in another place, Your new moons and your sabbaths My soul hates; and the great day of the fast and of ceasing from labour I cannot away with; nor, if you come to be seen of Me, will I hear you: your hands are full of blood; and if you bring fine flour, incense, it is abomination unto Me: the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls I do not desire. For who has required this at your hands? But loose every bond of wickedness, tear asunder the tight knots of violent contracts, cover the houseless and naked, deal your bread to the hungry. Isaiah 1:14, Isaiah 58:6 What kind of things are taught through the prophets from [the person of] God, you can now perceive.
And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks from the person of Christ, the utterances are of this sort: I have spread out My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, to those who walk in a way that is not good. Isaiah 65:2 And again: I gave My back to the scourges, and My cheeks to the buffetings; I turned not away My face from the shame of spittings; and the Lord was My helper: therefore was I not confounded: but I set My face as a firm rock; and I knew that I should not be ashamed, for He is near that justifies Me. Isaiah 50:6 And again, when He says, They cast lots upon My vesture, and pierced My hands and My feet. And I lay down and slept, and rose again, because the Lord sustained Me. And again, when He says, They spoke with their lips, they wagged the head, saying, Let Him deliver Himself. And that all these things happened to Christ at the hands of the Jews, you can ascertain. For when He was crucified, they did shoot out the lip, and wagged their heads, saying, Let Him who raised the dead save Himself. Matthew 27:39
And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:3 And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn, might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.” (First Apology, Chapter 37-39)

Irenaeus of Lyons

“it is necessary to say that it is not David who speaks, nor any one of the prophets, in his own person: for it is not a man who speaks the prophecies; but the Spirit of God, assimilating and likening Himself to the persons represented, speaks in the prophets, and utters the words sometimes from Christ and sometimes from the Father.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

Origen

“But if he were dealing honestly in his accusations, he ought to have given the exact terms of the prophecies, whether those in which the speaker is introduced as claiming to be God Almighty, or those in which the Son of God speaks, or finally those under the name of the Holy Spirit.” (Against Celsus, Book 7, Ch 10)

All these ancient theologians attest to the fact that throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit speaks sometimes in the person of men, as recording what they said, and at other times in His own person, and at other times He speaks in the person of the Son, or of the Father, as communicating Their words. They never consider it possible nor make any mention of the possibility that “a complex notion of more persons than one” is speaking as a single person.

Samuel Clarke’s ‘The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity’

Samuel Clarke was an eighteenth century Anglican clergyman and philosopher, and a friend of Sir Isaac Newton. He participated in the trinitarian debates following the Reformation, and authored his book The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity to sum up, prove, and defend his views on the Trinity.

The book is divided into three parts, proceeded by an introduction, in which he lays out the principle of sola scriptura as necessary for a right understanding of Christian doctrine, and qualifies certain aspects of the following work. In the first part of the book, he endeavors to extensively categorize all New Testament texts which refer to the Trinity or some aspect of it. In the second part, he gives a series of theses or propositions, in which he states his views. He grounds these propositions in the texts listed in the first section. In the third section, he compares his views, which he believes to be none other than what scripture teaches regarding the Trinity, with the liturgy and doctrinal standards of the church of England, wherein he shows firstly the many areas of agreement, and then treats those which appear to disagree.

Samuel Clarke’s book on the Trinity is one of the best written in the last millennium, in the opinion of this author. He is careful in his examination of scripture, precise in his articulation and argumentation, and is generally correct on nearly all the points he contends for.

Leaving aside the essence or essences of the persons of the Trinity, Clarke insists on limiting the discussion to the persons and Their attributes, roles, and properties. As this is the way scripture speaks of the Trinity, this is helpful.

Here are some highlights from Clarke’s 55 propositions:

I. There is one Supreme Cause and Original of Things; One simple, uncompounded, undivided, intelligent Being, or Person; who is the Author of all Being, and the Fountain of all Power.

II. With This First and Supreme Cause or Father of all Things, there has existed from the Beginning, a Second divine Person, which is his Word or Son.

III. With the Father and the Son, there has existed from the Beginning, a Third divine Person, which is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

IV. What the proper Metaphysical Nature, Essence, or Substance of any of these divine Persons is, the scripture has no where at all declared; but describes and distinguishes then always, by their Personal Characters, Offices, Powers and Attributes.

V. The Father (or First Person) Alone is Self-existent, Underived, Unoriginated, Independent; made of None, begotten of None, Proceeding from None.

VI. The Father (or First Person) is the Sole Origin of all Power and Authority, and is the Author and Principle of whatsoever is done by the Son or by the Spirit.

VII. The Father (or first person) Alone, is in the highest, strict, and proper sense, absolutely Supreme over All.

VIII. The Father (or First Person) is absolutely speaking, the God of the Universe; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel; of Moses, of the Prophets and Apostles; and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

IX. The scripture, when it mentions the One God, or the Only God, always means the Supreme Person of the Father.

X. Whenever the Word, God, is mentioned in Scripture, with any High Epithet, Title, or Attribute annex’d to it; it generally (if not always) means the Person of the Father.

XI. The Scripture, when it mentions GOD, absolutely and by way of Eminence, always means the Person of the Father.

XII. The Son (or second Person) is not self-existent, but derives his Being or Essence, and all his Attributes, from the Father, as from the Supreme Cause.

XIII. In what particular Metaphysical Manner, the Son derives his Being or Essence from the Father, the Scripture has no where distinctly declared; and therefore men ought not to presume to be able to define.

XIV. They are therefore equally worthy of Censure, who either on the one hand presume to affirm, that the Son was made out of Nothing; or, on the other hand, that He is the Self-existent Substance.

XV. The Scripture, in declaring the Son’s Derivation from the Father, never makes mention of any Limitation of Time; but always supposes and affirms him to have existed with the Father from the Beginning, and before All Worlds.

XVI. They therefore have also justly been censured, who pretending to be wise above what is written, and intruding into things which they have not seen; have presumed to affirm that there was a time when he Son was not.

XVII. Whether the Son derives his Being from the Father, by Necessity of Nature, or by the Power of his Will, the Scripture hath no where expressly declared.

XVIII. The Word or Son of the Father, sent into the World to assume our Flesh, and die for the Sins of Mankind; was not the internal Reason or Wisdom of God, an Attribute or Power of the Father; but a real Person, the same who from the Beginning had been the Word, or Revealer of the Will, of the Father to World.

XIX. The Holy Spirit (or Third Person,) is not Self-existent, but derives his Being or Essence from the Father, (by the Son,) as from the Supreme Cause.

XX. The Scripture, speaking of the Spirit of God, never mentions any Limitation of Time, when he derived his Being or Essence from the Father; but supposes him to have existed with the Father from the Beginning.

XXI. In what particular metaphysical Manner the Holy Spirit derives his Being from the Father, the Scripture hath no where at all defined, and therefore men ought not to presume to be able to explain.

XXII. The Holy Spirit of God does not in scripture generlly signify a mere Power or Operation of the Father, but a real Person.

XXIII. They who are not careful to maintain these personal characters and distinctions, but while they are solicitous (on the one hand) to avoid the errours of the Arians, affirm (in the contrary extreme) the Son and Holy Spirit to be (individually with the Father) the Self-existent Being: These, seeming in the Words to magnify the Name of the Son and Holy Spirit, in reality take away their very Existence; and so fall unawares into Sabellianism, (which is the same with Socinianism.)

XXIV. The Word, God, in the New Testament, sometimes signifies the Person of the Son.

XXXIII. The Word, God, in Scripture, never signifies a complex Notion of more persons than One; but always means One person only, viz. either the person of the Father singly, or the person of the Son singly.

XXXIV. The Son, whatever his metaphysical Essence or Substance be, and whatever divine Greatness and Dignity is ascribed to him in Scripture; yet in This He is evidently Subordinate to the Father, that He derives his Being and Attributes from the Father, the Father Nothing from Him.

XXXV. Every Action of the Son, both in making the World, and in all other his Operations; is only thr Exercise of the Father’s Power, communicated to him after an ineffable manner.

XXXVI. The Son, whatever his metaphysical Nature or Essence be; yet, in this while Dispensation, in the Creation and Redemption of the Worl, acts in all things according to the Wil, and by the Mission or Authority of the Father.

XXXVII. The Son, how great soever the metaphysical Dignity of his Nature was, yet in the whole Dispensation entirely directed all his Actions to the Glory of the Father.

XXXIX. The reason why the Scripture, though it styles the Father God, and also stiles the Son God, yet at the same time always declares there is but one God; is because in the Monarchy of the Universe, there is but One Authority, original in the Father, derivative in the Son: The Power of the Son being, not Another Power opposite to That of the Father, nor Another Power co-ordinate to That of the Father; but it self The Power and Authority of the Father, communicated to, manifested in, and exercised by the Son.

XLIII. Upon These Grounds, absolutely Supreme Honour is due to the Person of the Father singly, as being Alone the Supreme Author of all Being and Power.