BENJAMIN BANNAN, PRINTER.
POTTSVILLE, May 27, 1853.
The clear statement of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and the forcible arguments by which it was supported in your Sermon on the morning of Trinity Sunday, gave so much satisfaction to those who had the privilege of hearing it, that we believe its publication will be a valuable contribution to the Theological literature of the Church, and therefore in behalf of those we represent request a copy of it for that purpose.
Respectfully and Truly Yours,
EDW. OWEN PARRY, A. RUSSEL, JAS. S. CARPENTER, BENJ. BANNAN, CHARLES M. HILL. G. M. GUMMING, RICHARD LEE, GEORGE H. POTTS, JAMES A. INNES,
Wardens and Vestry Men.
To the Rev. Daniel Washburn,
Rector of Trinity Church, Pottsville.
TRINITY CHURCH, P. E.,
Pottsville, Pa., A. D. 1854.
To MESSRS. PARRY, RUSSEL &c., Vestry Men:
Your request of a copy of the sermon preached on Trinity Sunday last in the regular discharge of my public duties was duly received. I have been reminded of your request by the approaching recurrence of the Trinity season. Upon reflection I am persuaded that the method of presentation and general treatment of what must ever from its very nature be a difficult subject for popular exposition, are so different in this discourse from what I have been able to meet with either in voluminous treatises or occasional sermons elsewhere, that unpretending as it is, it may nevertheless be useful to some one or more of the Christian Brotherhood. Praying for yourselves, dear brethren, and for every member of the Church, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, those unspeakable blessings of the ever adorable Trinity in Unity,
I remain your Servant in the Gospel,
"A three-fold cord of love binds me to this Church. I love her because she brings me the whole, unmutilated Gospel. I love her because she has embodied that Gospel inseparably in the perpetuities of her standards. I love her, because she has laid these standards on her Ministry, and thus bound that Ministry either to 'declare the whole counsel of God,' or to carry a woe on the ear of conscience to the bar of judgment."
THE TRIUNE GOD, A SERMON.
Our text may be found in the third verse of the Bible. It has been repeated many times in our hearing. Its words are very few, but full of meaning.--They are these, "God said."--GENESIS I. 3d.
A merely articulated word, as peculiar to man, and significant of thought or thing, is something wonderful.
That which it signifies is sometimes mysterious--incomprehensible--God.
The two small words of our text are signs of ideas great and awe-inspiring.
Twenty-nine times is the former uttered in the first chapter of Genesis.
And yet, with the sound so familiar, and the word so often present to the eye and ear, what is our idea of Him, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, whose Spirit then brooded vitally on chaos, and whose Word is now our only Light?
Men and brethren, there is something worthy of reverent attention in these words, "GOD SAID." The highest attainments of science in this enlightened day, [7/8] claim for their foundation the plain conclusions of inductive reasoning. Relying so confidently on induction in matters of sense, who will deny the propriety of the same confidence when the same method reaches beyond the sensible and material? This very process, which men everywhere employ in practical life, is that which leads the mind from the contemplation of familiar objects, to the conviction of the existence of their Maker.
The spirit of inquiry everywhere prevalent in man, ranging from volatile and childish curiosity to the calm investigations of philosophy, here alone, reaches its proper conclusion.
Consciously or unconsciously, such inquiry is a mental search after the cause of this new object, or of that development of being.
It finds inviting fields, whether for severe research or devout enjoyment, on the surface of the earth, where trees and flowers, beasts and birds, abound; or in more hidden researches, where restless art progresses; or in the changing atmosphere of vapor and sunshine; or even in the starry heavens beyond. And through them all and several, reflection leads, by dependent links, to the first great Cause, which works above all, and through all, and in all.
To the same grand conclusion, self-contemplation in like manner conducts us, whether regarding the individual or the species. While the order and beauty of external objects, joined, as they generally are, with utility, present in themselves, never-failing and peculiar proofs of a designing Cause.
 I. From the objects themselves, the mind turns with admiration to the intelligent Originator. And this is done, not always in consequence of a train of reasoning, but simply in accordance with the constitution of the human mind, which reaches thus directly from effect to cause.
For none are ignorant of the familiar objects about our persons and dwellings, which are the result of contrivance, united with more or less of skill and strength. And knowing the thought and effort of man, expended on works of art, if we turn from them to the sun, moon and stars, moving on in their appropriate orbits, and from their depths of space, contributing silently to our actual existence as well as comfort; or turn to the earth, fitted for man, and adorned with beauty; or, looking to the creatures upon it, find every one with its proper food, habitation and happiness--the insect no less than the beast with its parts and senses, and relative perfection in nicest provision for its preservation, and for the manner of life which it instinctively follows--if we will but observe the numberless traces of design, and the great fact, that the more the works of nature are investigated, the more clearly they appear as parts of one great adjusted system, it will not require what ought to be called reasoning, to reach the conclusion. The very constitution of our minds prompts the acknowledgement of God. His existence requires none of the obscure reasonings of philosophy to convince and impress us. With open eyes, we observe everywhere traces of His wisdom, and monuments of His power; leaving only for closer scrutiny [9/10] to deepen the impression and confirm conviction. That scrutiny will but add to our sense of His power, an idea of His adapting wisdom, and since that adaptation is for the happiness of sensitive creatures, the additional sense or idea of His goodness.
So that the belief of His being only requires the natural perceptions of the human mind. For the invisible things of Him, even His eternal power and God-head, being understood from the things that are made, are clearly seen from the creation of the world. And hence, if those natural perceptions should be, as, alas, they too often are, blunted or destroyed in man, still the foundation of the belief remains, unshaken and immovable in the various yet uniform phenomena of nature, proclaiming forever the existence of one supreme intelligent being, our sovereign GOD.
Thus it is, that the visible creation, proclaiming a Being antecedent to the human race, superior in strength, and independent in the mode of His existence, at the same time presents objects of such grandeur and beauty, such variety, harmony and utility, that there is left no room to doubt, either the power or the moral character, and much less the existence of that Being whose name we have uttered in the text.
Is not that word, then, the sign of an idea truly great and awe-inspiring?
Let us weigh it well. Ponder it all ye people.--Oh, take it not in vain!
But in the silent depths of adoration, let every soul aspire to such clearer apprehension of the perfect [10/11] attributes which it signifies, and to such lively consciousness of their reality, that it will sooner doubt all visible facts, that it would deny its own existence even, sooner than the being and sovereignty of its Creator, God.
From this incontrovertible position, at once the impulsive conviction of our nature, and the deliberate conclusion of inductive reasoning, we proceed to consider the reasonableness and the fact, that "God said." How utterly irrational it were to expect in such a Being mere negation, solitary uncommunicative silence.
How natural that original Intelligence should enunciate from its own spontaneity. And therefore, what an expansion of divine communion is intimated by the incidental declaration of the fact, that once "the voice of the Lord God was heard in the garden in the cool of the day." How beautifully this intimation of what might have been frequent, and certainly was unconstrained, how beautifully it suggests the interchange between the sovereign Lord and his intelligent, happy, embodied image, walking in Paradise.
And when circumstances were changed, when man transgressed and became afraid, hiding himself, and the holy Lord God, turning away, withdrew from the abodes of sin, still the divine nature was unchanged, and the same disposition to communicate of His fullness must have continued, notwithstanding the alienation of man. Enlightened reason, therefore, observing that something has transpired in the counsel of God, permitting mankind, the disobedient and unholy, still to live on earth, is ever ready to hear, and [11/12] waiting what God shall say. From her high watch-tower she surveys the race, and though unable to anticipate how God shall speak to mortal man, yet when he does so in the burning bush, or on trembling Sinai, or out of the Sheckinah in tabernacle or temple, to prophet, priest, king or shepherd; she can then perceive how wisely adapted is every such method to the perfections of the one, and the necessities of the other; how infinitely more so than to have cleft the firmament asunder, and bid the constellations of eternity roll out in fiery splendor amid convulsive thunderings, or any other procedure which man might suggest. In glad service she records the divine sayings whether to Abraham or Moses, to David or St. John, requiring only, yet always, the credentials inseparable from the voice of God.
His word she recognizes in its wisdom, authority, propriety and power. It comes in all its perfection through the severest ordeal of reason. So that the Word which was in the beginning, which was with God, and which was God in Creation and in Eden, should after years of disciplining mankind through his own invisible working, according to his unerring perception of their need, that He should, I say, in the fulness of time be "made flesh" to restore the divine image, and dwell among us, speaking as never man spake, all this, though as marvellous as man's creation was not only quite as reasonable, but even more to have been expected. For it was a renewal of God's direct communication with man. It was providing for every declaration of the Word that as [12/13] many as received it might have assurance that it was indeed what "God said." How readily then must enlightened reason attend to that utterance which brings with it the attestation of God.
The question thus becomes definite--not whether there have been men who felt themselves inspired--not whether certain men in communication with their fellows have seemed possessed of superior knowledge and more enlarged views--but whether any has ever shown an underived and absolute control over the course of nature, altering it by a nod or suspending its laws by an act of sovereign will. For who less than the Lord of the universe can of himself rule the raging sea and still the roaring tempest? Who less than the Author of life absolutely raise the dead? Who instantaneously unstop ears that had never heard, open eyes that had never seen, restore reason to distracted minds and action to withered, maimed and distorted limbs; who do these things with a word only, except the Creator of the body and the Father of its spirit?
2. If therefore the Man of Nazareth, appearing as man, yet acted as God; wrought works which required creative energy and unbounded power; by instantaneous action produced permanent effects without exhaustion of strength or skill, without even visible effort; poured out abundance whether for marriage feasts or gathered thousands, as if from the secret store-house of Omnipotence; if without any parade or attempt to dazzle, without a single instance of anxiety lest he should betray some poverty of [13/14] power or resources, but on the contrary always manifesting the calm repose of conscious majesty, He does all for others' good, living only to bless, encourage, and comfort--is it possible, not to say reasonable in the face of all this; for man like the brute of no understanding to disregard that which most of all should control his reason? Would not such accompaniments of unerring wisdom and unmixed goodness, if communicated to a creature entitle his sayings to the most implicit faith; and shall one possessing all these without communication, be refused equal confidence only because He has for our sake veiled his glory with a tabernacle of flesh? Forbid it reason, forbid that any intelligent being should refuse to credit the works because they confirmed the words of one proving himself that he was God. What though he declares "before Abraham was, I am"--what though he claims to be the first and the last, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end," "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning or even the earth was"--what though he "thought it not robbery to be equal with God," but even said that he was God--if his every work crowned with triumphant resurrection, and open, visible ascension, still confirmed His title to the divine name so repeatedly given Him, and to the divine attributes so always implied, has He forfeited any claim to credibility because of the resurrection and the life?
Has He not rather sealed unto us the word of God, by magnifying and unfolding the Law, by fulfilling and explaining the prophets, by appropriating to [14/15] Himself the teachings of the angel of the covenant, and solemnly proclaiming over all the record (REV. xxii, 16,) "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches."
Here it is that we delight to stand. In these ample fields of reason, enlarged, illumined and beautified by revelation, we find all truth, whether pertaining to creation or redemption, to sin or holiness, to life, death, eternity, and are vexed with no voice discordant in the kingdom either of Nature, or Providence, or Grace; because heeding only and everywhere what God has said.
We have dwelt thus long on the exposition of the text, because of the fundamental truth presented in the prime article of Christian faith.
There is but one living and true God, everlasting without body; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible; and in unity of this Godhead there be three persons of one substance, power and eternity--the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
If we have detained you too long in examining the foundation of this mighty truth, it is only that you may feel its firmness; broad and deep as the infinite and incomprehensible God, and permanent as the eternal Word, whereof not one jot or tittle shall fail, though the heavens and earth shall pass away.
In examining this foundation we have been led to trace its divine elements, intermingling till they rise from their base and grow aloft in on one firm-rooted, high-reaching, ever-living structure of God.
 We have thus already considered the being and attributes of God the Father.
And in determining how and what He has said, the Word which was in the beginning has appeared so manifestly a divine person, coming again to His own, that it is hardly necessary to add the crowning proof of His divinity, in His receiving that worship which belongs only to Gov.
"That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father," that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and "let all angels of God worship Him," are declarations in accordance with what was permitted at His final ascension, (ACTS I, 9 and 11) what the first martyr, looking into the presence of God, prayed aloud, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," (ACTS VII, 59,) and what is now breathing from every creature in Heaven, "Blessing and glory be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."
What a word is to thought, such is the Son to the Father; and what is God the Father, such is God the Son.
3. There remains, therefore, but another aspect of this Scripture pyramid of divine truth. In surveying this at a glance, we discern the light-giving Spirit. In this light we see light. This alone reveals what we may know of the unsearchable. Without this, every inscription is only a dead, unmeaning hieroglyphic. Without this light, man is but a blind wayfarer, groping and feeling at the foot of the pyramid, amid the sands of human opinion, unable to read, [16/17] unblessed by the angels ascending and descending its gorgeous flights, and undisciplined for that to which it conducts.
What then has "God said" in this regard? "I will pray the Father," said He to His disciples, "and He shall give you another comforter, that He may abide with you forever." Here evidently there is a person other than the Father, and the Lord who speaks. Again alluding to the holy Spirit He said: "When He cometh He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear that shall He speak. He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." Now to come and testify, to receive and show, to hear, speak and teach are acts of a person; and such person according as he exercises the essential and inalienable properties of God, is himself God. It was after our Lord had ascended to the Father, that the Holy Ghost said, "separate unto me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." Here He designates himself as the person to whom Barnabas and Saul were to be dedicated, and to show that His choice was authoritative and His call effectual, it is added, that "being sent forth by the Holy Ghost they departed." If therefore the giver of life and sovereign over the spirits of men, must be more than man, I need hardly remind you of the positive declaration, that where Ananias is said to have lied unto the Holy Ghost, it is immediately added, "thou hast not lied unto men but unto God." And therefore without dwelling on the wonders of Pentecost, or on the fact that the [17/18] Christian's body is called a temple, a name which designates the dwelling of God; if all spiritual gifts are ascribed to Him, if blasphemy against Him is alone unpardonable, if baptism is to be in His name as in the Father's and Son's, and if in fine the communion of the Holy Ghost is joined with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God; is He not proposed as the object of honor and worship even as we honor the Father and the Son? The Holy Spirit is, therefore, according to the scriptures the essential and eternal God.
* * * * * * *
But I feel a solemn awe in treating of this subject. I have some perception of the prescribed bounds of reason and revelation. It is for this cause that we inquire what the Omniscient God has said. In the visible creation he speaks a language of which reason is the rightful interpreter. In revelation though the Holy Spirit is the great interpreter, yet reason may and must search out, collate, and compare truth with truth. Both alike proclaim the one living and true God. But revelation, fulfilling its mission over nature, declares that three unite in this Godhead and co-operate in man's salvation.
And since these three cannot be one in the same sense in which they are three, so the unity of God cannot be a unity of persons. But a unity of a more intimate kind is not forbidden by any principle of reason. Nor may we reject it when declared by an authority proved reliable, any more than we deny because unable as yet to understand the origin of [18/19] animal heat or the principle of vegetable life. The Hindoo philosopher could not believe that water was ever hard enough to bear up a man because he did not know that under different degrees of heat, the same element becomes either ice, or water or vapor. We may not understand how three persons partake of the same divine nature, but we are very shallow philosophers, if we deem this any reason for concluding that they do not partake of it.
Creatures however intelligent, who cannot understand their own individual yet complex being, certainly know too little of the mode of divine existence to be warranted in asserting that the revealed distinction of persons is necessarily an infringement of the divine unity. It is strange boldness in men, says Stillingfleet, to talk of contradictions in things above their reach. If nothing is to be believed but what may be comprehended, the very being of God must be rejected and all his unsearchable perfections. If we believe the attributes of God to be infinite, how can we comprehend them? We are strangely puzzled about plain, ordinary finite things; but it is madness to pretend to comprehend what is infinite--and yet if the perfections of God are not infinite they cannot belong to Him.
Men and brethren, would you avoid the dark absurdities of blank atheism, behold the necessity that rests upon us.
You are fully convinced that God exists. You are no less convinced that Sovereign Intelligence does not reign in eternal silence but communicates with His offspring.
 You are persuaded by His essential perfections that His declarations can neither be contradictory nor unreasonable, though all should be wonderful, and some to us incomprehensible.
You have heard what He has been pleased to declare concerning His own existence, and as rational beings, acknowledging the glory of the eternal Trinity must adore and worship one only and everliving God in the power of His majesty.
All this is in accordance with the constitution and circumstances of your nature, reason sanctions it, revelation requires it--in a word God has said it.
* * * * *
The conclusion of this discourse must be brief.--The subject thus laid before you, too concisely in view of its magnitude and importance, is presented less from choice than from a sense of duty incumbent upon him who is "rightly to divide the word of truth."
Abstruse in itself, and asserting high mysterious truths, whose mode and essence are known only to God, it is too sober for the frivolous, too difficult for the indolent, too spiritual for the carnal. Reminding us that there are secret things which belong unto the Lord our God; it teaches the things that are revealed to us and our children that we may do them. Whatever things are thus graciously revealed are ours to hear and heed.
The Father's love has given up His dearest possession to deliver us from evil self-incurred--and can man knowing this, continue a disobedient persevering ingrate?
 The Son of God has stooped to earth, suffered, ignominiously died--and with such a demonstration of the curse of unpardoned sin, will not man eagerly accept any terms of salvation?
The Holy Spirit hovers in love over chaotic souls, to enliven, to enlighten, to comfort and sanctify, and will rational man always resist?
These things are revealed, and they who will do the works, shall know of the doctrine that there is One who speaks and it is done, who commands and it stands fast, and that whether man will hear or forbear, that is nevertheless true and unfailing which God has said.
Man, my brother man, intelligent, rational, immortal man, did it never occur to you that he who believeth not the record which God hath given of His Son maketh Him a liar? (1 John v, 10.) Doing this you ask in vain, "what is truth?"
But let us turn from these dire antagonisms, with all their direful consequences to creatures in the wrong let us turn for a moment where love meets responsive love, where sacrifice is acknowledged with gratitude, where spirit answers unto Spirit.
Beloved of the Lord, at the very threshold of the covenant ye were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And daily as ye walk the spiritual temple in its opening up of light, and its deepening experience of love, and truth, and holiness, ye hear with filial gladness the ever audible though unspoken, "Thou shalt have, thou canst have none other Gods but ME." In His service [21/22] ye have entered on that path of wisdom which is as the dawning light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
Advancing in this light ye may grow in grace and true knowledge.
Seeing now only darkly yet hereafter ye shall know even as ye are known.
As beings imperfect now, we are in a state of discipline not less of the intellect than of the passions.
Only partially delivered from bondage here, we are bidden to perfect freedom above.
We are learning in heart the lesson that swells the pan of spirits in glory, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty."
Whenever the idol of self rises against God, whenever the pride of reason (falsely so called) would reject "the truth as it is in Jesus," through whom alone "we have access by one Spirit unto the Father," oh let us remember who hath said, "this is the true God and eternal life."
Jehovah! Father, Spirit, Son,
Mysterious Godhead, Three in One!
Before Thy throne we sinners bend;
Grace, pardon, life, to us extend.