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trines I always did, and never doubted the truth of them.
Criton. It is a maxim I have somewhere seen, that what a man never doubted of, he cannot be said to believe in; that is, those principles he never called in question, he never examined, and, consequently, what he calls a belief in them, is nothing more than a bare assent of the will, without the aid of the understanding. If such a man's creed be true, it is so to him by mere accident.
One great means which produced a change in my religious sentiments, was the examination of those I had been taught, and always considered as infallible. Now, I would have you to make trial of the same method, and if it be agreeable, you may do this by way of controversy; and I will give you what assistance I can, by be. coming your opponent.
Then, in the first place, pray let me know what is your belief concerning God?
Philo. Your proposal, my friend, is very agreeable, and I promise you, to state my opinions fairly, and to hear your objections candidly.
My sentiments of the Deity are the same as those of the greater part of the christian world. I believe there are three eternal, self-existent beings, united in one god-head, having all the same perfections and attributes; the one called God the Father, the other God the Son, and the other God the Holy Ghost; and yet these three,
being a Trinity in Unity, make but one God. I own it is not in my power to comprehend how such things can be; because three, so united as to become one, is a mystery, which, though made an object of our faith, does not fall under the cognizance of reason to define.
Criton. If the proper use of language is to convey our ideas one to another, what idea do you convey of the self-existent Jehovah, when you say, there are three eternal, self-existent beings? As the first, and greatest conception we have of God, is his self-existence, when you affirm there are three such beings, do you not convey the idea that there are three Gods? But you endeavour to do away this charge by an absurd contradiction; that is, by saying that three are not three, but one; and then attempt to define this absurdity, with these unintelligible words, a Trinity in unity; and, lastly, you call this contradictory doctrine a mystery, which, though you cannot comprehend, yet you must believe, because it is made an object of your faith. But pray, by what authority was the doctrine of three Gods in one made an object of faith? Why, by the same authority that deified the Virgin Mary, and instituted the worship of saints and angels; by the same authority that made it an object of faith, to believe that a quantity of wine, after a set form of words had been pronounced over it by a priest, was converted into the blood of Jesus, and that a little paste was transformed into his real
body; and these were the sentiments received by the greater part of the christian world, at the time of the reformation. What a pity that those brave men who effected that reformation, and swept away part of these errors, did not do away the whole. I have read some trinitarian writers, who seem fond of making witty para. doxes upon what they call the Godhead of Christ. When he, say they, was an infant in the manger, he was the ancient of days. When his mother held him by the arms, to keep him from falling, he supported the universe upon his shoulders. And when he was destitute of all things, he was then Lord of all.
"This infant is the mighty Lord,
Come to be suckl'd and ador'd."
I have read of a church in Italy, where the altar-piece represented an old man, a boy, and a dove over them was written, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and underneath, these three are one. But let us examine upon what ground your plurality of Gods stands, as it respects plain declarations of scripture. And is not the asserting that there are more Gods than one a manifest breach of the first commandment, Thou shalt have none other Gods but me! Moses said to Israel, Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God, there is none else besides him. See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no God with me. Deut. vi. 4. xxxii 39. Is there any God besides me? Isa.
xlv. 5. When one of the rulers asked Jesus, which was the first and great commandment, he answered, in the words of Moses, Hear! O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord; the ruler replied, thou hast answered right, for there is one God, and there is none other but he. This plain unequivocal language runs through the whole scripture. Upon what then do you found your doctrine of three Gods in one?
Philo. Surely you know better than to think that I believe in a plurality of Gods. What I say is, that there are three divine beings united in one Godhead; but if I give you an epitome of my creed, respecting man's redemption, it may answer the double purpose of stating my sentiments and proving them. I believe, when man, by his disobedience to the divine command, committed sin, and brought evil into the world, God was provoked to wrath against him. Divine justice must be satisfied, or the sinner suffer eternally. The holiness and dignity of God would have been liable to impeachment, had the offender been set free, without an atonement. Man was thus situated with respect to his Creator, when God the Son, out of pure benevolence, proposed, in order to appease the wrath of the Father, and satisfy his justice, to suffer all the pain and sorrow due to man for his disobedience, and become a sacrifice for sin. This proposal was accepted by God the father; and thus, mercy and justice met together in the person of Jesus Christ; for sin, being an
infinite offence, because committed against an infinite being, required an infinite satisfaction; therefore, Jesus Christ alone, who was of himself infinite, could appease the wrath of God, and satisfy his justice.
Criton. With what difficulty are our prejudices removed! How hardly are we persuaded to part with an opinion that has been nourished and brought up with us, though it be ever so absurd! I thought sufficient proof had been advanced from scripture, to do away the doctrine of divinities, of Gods many, and Lords many. However, the contents of your creed are of so serious a nature, that they deserve a very particular examination.
You say, that God was incensed to wrath against man for his disobedience, and that, had not justice been satisfied by an atonement, he must have been eternally miserable; but I cannot find any thing of this in the Bible. I there read that God is love, that he is good and merciful, and that he is unchangeable: he says, I am God, I change not, and with him there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. But if ever he became wrathful and vindictive, he must have undergone a change; and if the sufferings of Christ were meritorious, and took away that wrath, there was then another change in the unchangeable Jehovah. That God is merciful to all his creatures, without requiring any vicarious sacrifice to make him so, is clearly set forth throughout the whole scriptures. I will