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Mode of the Divine Existence.
and style of the sacred writers. Isaiah and Paul, as well as Moses, David and Solomon, who were men of education and refinement, write in a more pure and elevated style than the Prophet Amos, who lived among the herdmen of Tekoa, and the Apostle John, who lived among the fishermen of Galilee. But this is easy to be accounted for, by only supposing that God dictated to each sacred penman a manner and style corresponding to his own peculiar genius, education, and manner of living. Were a parent to dictate a letter for a child, would he not dictate it in a manner and style somewhat agreeable to the age, genius, and attainments of the child? And is there not as much reason why God should dictate a different manner and style to the different authors of the Old and New Testament, as why he should employ so many men of such different degrees of knowledge and refinement to write the sacred Scriptures? We do not discover, therefore, any greater diversity in the manner and style of the sacred penmen, than we might reasonably expect to find, in case they wrote exactly as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
The ease and ingenuousness with which he meets and disposes of objections, show that he had carefully studied the subject, not from one only, but from many points of view. He sought for the strongest arguments of his opponents on this, as on other topics, and, after stating them fairly and allowing them all the force which he thought they were entitled to, he aimed to detect and expose their divergence from the line of truth, and thus annul their power to impair the conclusiveness of his own reasoning. Sure of his own ground, he could afford to be even generous to his antagonist. That there are no difficulties connected with Christianity as a revelation from heaven, he would have been among the last to affirm. But with all its difficulties, he had mastered the sound proofs of its truth, and infinitely preferred the faith which accepts it, to the credulity involved in its rejection.
Entertaining no doubt, then, that the Bible is what it purports to be the revelation of God's will to man, Dr. Emmons made this his counsellor and guide respecting particular doctrines and duties. To ascertain what is the mind of the Spirit,' was the great study of his life. We pass on to consider his views of what the word of God teaches respecting the
§ 3. Mode of the Divine Existence.
This topic engaged his earnest attention, and required, as it rewarded, laborious research. Unwilling to accept the results of another's investigations on trust, he instituted for himself the inquiry, 'What do the Scriptures teach respecting the manner of God's existence.' The practical answer which he returned to this question is this — he
was a decided Trinitarian. Believing in the perfect unity of the Supreme Being, he yet accepted it as the obvious teaching of Scripture, that the one God exists in three persons-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. These three persons are so distinct, that they are designated by the use of the personal pronouns, I, thou, and he; they perform distinct offices in the work of redemption; to each, divine perfections are ascribed; and yet they are the one, living and true God. The results of his investigations on the subject may thus be summed up in his own words:
"The Scripture leads us to conceive of God, the first and Supreme Being, as existing in three distinct persons." "The Scripture represents the three persons in the sacred Trinity as absolutely equal in every divine perfection." "The Scripture represents the three equally divine persons in the Trinity as acting in a certain order in the work of redemption. Though they are absolutely equal in nature, yet in office the first person is superior to the second, and the second is superior to the third." "The Scripture teaches us, that each of the divine persons takes his peculiar name from the peculiar office which he sustains in the economy of redemption." Finally, "the Scripture represents these three divine persons as one God. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are three in respect to their personality, and but one in respect to their nature and essence."
To this doctrine of the Trinity in unity, our author was accustomed to attach the highest importance. An intelligent belief of it he regarded as essential to a correct understanding of the system of Christianity. The denial of it virtually subverts the Gospel; for the whole Gospel is founded on it. The ingenuity that can refute and the boldness that can discard it, will also reduce Christianity to a system of cold morality, and take from the sinner his last hope of pardon. 2
That it involves a mystery which human reason is incompetent fully to explain, he was ever ready to admit. For the attempts which are sometimes made to illustrate the doctrine by analogies drawn from material objects or from created intelligences, he had no great respect. What the Bible teaches concerning it, taken in its plain and obvious import, he would receive with the simplicity and confidence of a child listening to the instruction of a father, without cavil or misgiving. Inquisitive, discriminating as he was, it contented him to hold this truth as a sublime mystery, plainly and positively taught in the revelation from heaven, sustaining and illuminating the grand system of revealed religion, and yet, in its nature, inexplicable by the feeble. powers of the human mind. At the same time, so clearly defined 2 Ib. pp. 115 and 124.
Works, Vol. IV. pp. 106-110.
Character of God.
were his own views respecting its relation to the other doctrines of Christianity, and so exalted his conceptions of its relative importance, that it was exceedingly difficult for him to see how a man can be a Christian at all, in the strict sense of that term, or how he can render to the true God, as revealed in the Scriptures, acceptable worship, unless he understand and believe the doctrine of the Trinity. Mystery though it be, he was convinced that it is a solemn reality.
In his mind there was a wide difference between a mystery and an absurdity. He would not admit that the doctrine of the Trinity, as represented in Scripture, is any more repugnant to the dictates of sound reason, than many other truths which all Christians believe concerning God.' He averred that we can no more explain the essential idea of self-existence, or omnipresence, or creative power, than that of the Trinity. To say that God exists by a necessity in his own nature, or that the ground of his existence is wholly within himself; that God's presence fills the whole created universe; and that God by an act of his power spoke the world into being, or produced something from nothing; is to say what involves as great a mystery as the Trinity in unity. That it is incomprehensible, therefore, was not a sufficient reason for his disbelieving it; that it involves a contradiction, he denied, and for his denial assigned reasons. 2
Passing from these views of the mode of God's existence, we will consider, in the next place, the opinions of our author respecting the
§ 4. Character of God.
On this topic he dwelt with an interest and frequency surpassed by no writer of our acquaintance. Correct views of the revealed charac ter of God were, in his opinion, essential to the very existence of right feelings in the human heart, and one of the most effectual preventives of a false religious experience. If Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come,' then what can be of greater moment than the knowledge of God in his true character. Hence the earnest endeavor with which Dr. Emmons sought, and the fulness with which he communicated, this knowledge.
From the text, "God is love," he has left an instructive discourse, designed to illustrate the proposition that God is possessed of affections. In opposition to the sentiments of the heathen philosopher, Epicurus, and some eminent divines who have agreed with him, that 'the Deity could neither be influenced by favor, nor resentment, because such a being must be weak and frail; and also, that all fear of 2 Ib. p. 111. 3 Ib. p. 202.
1 Works, Vol. IV pp. 112, 113.
the power and anger of God should be banished, because anger and affection are inconsistent with the nature of a happy and immortal being;' he taught distinctly that God has real and proper affections; that he is pleased with some objects and displeased with others; that he feels and exercises love, pity, compassion, and every affection which can flow from perfect benevolence. In order to guard against misapprehension and prevent his reasonings from ministering to low or unworthy views of the Deity, he was careful to affirm that God is infinitely above all instincts, passions, or affections, which proceed from either natural or moral imperfection.'
Aware that exceptions would be taken to these statements, he promptly meets the most imposing of them, and aims to show their fallacy. To the objections, that 'the passages which ascribe affections to God are figurative; that 'affections are painful, and consequently cannot belong to God, who is perfectly happy;' and that his position is inconsistent with the divine immutability; he gives such replies as candor delights in, though prejudice may not be convinced by them. We quote but one of them, and that the shortest. Affections are painful, and therefore cannot be predicated of God.'
"It is true, affections are always painful when they cannot be gratified; and this is often the case among mankind. Sometimes their affections give them pain because they want the power to attain the objects of their desire; and sometimes because their desires are so selfish and inconsistent, that if they gratify one of their affections, they must necessarily mortify another. But since all the affections of the Deity are only different modifications of pure, disinterested benevolence, they admit of a constant and perfect gratification; and since he is able with infinite ease to attain every desirable object, his affections are always gratified, and always afford him a source of complete and permanent felicity."
Some have imagined that Dr. Emmons inculcated opinions inconsistent with the perfect moral rectitude of God. But if there be, in the whole catalogue of theological writers, one who had more exalted conceptions of the benevolence and holiness of the Supreme Being, we have yet to learn his name and read his writings. He ascribed to God a goodness absolutely pure, and free from everything of a selfish or sinful nature;' 'not only pure, but permanent;' 'universal;' and 'perfect in degree, as well as in purity, permanency, and universality."3 He believed that His infinite goodness forms the supreme excellence of Jehovah, adds glory to all the attributes of His being, the works of His hand, the course of His providence, and the revealings of His
1 Works, Vol. IV. p. 202.
2 Ib. p. 204-206.
3 Ib. pp. 210, 211.
Decrees of God.
He taught that this goodness of God is seen in His doing all things right, or treating all his creatures according to the dictates of perfect moral rectitude; that when he punishes the wicked and rewards the good, 'the Judge of all the earth does right; that even his 'vindictive' or punitive justice is a constituent element in his pure and universal benevolence ;3 and that 'in displaying all his goodness,' he 'necessarily displays all his glory.'4 On these thoughts he delighted to dwell. He opened his mind spontaneously for their incoming. He gave them room for occupancy and growth in his inmost spirit. It was these which, to his eye, invested the name of Jehovah with such inexpressible grandeur, and gave such earnestness to his tone when he called upon man to adore with profoundest reverence, and enthrone on his best affections, the all perfect and infinite God.5
In close connection with our author's views of the divine character, it is natural to inquire what he believed respecting the
§ 5. Decrees of God.
Indeed he could not complete his idea of what the Deity is, without the inquiry, What has He purposed to do? From this inquiry he did not shrink. To a mind trained like his, it could not but have extraordinary attractions. It was both instructive and entertaining to him, to investigate any subject which brings men near to God, and God near to men. Hence, he could not endure any theory of God's purposes which seems even to take men out of the control of God's sovereignty. It appeared to him contrary alike to reason and Scripture, to deny that the decrees of God comprehend all worlds, with all the individuals and events in each. He accepted the definition given by the assembly of divines at Westminster, as the best that ever has been, and perhaps the best that can be given.' "The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his own will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass." He affirmed that the divine foreknowledge is founded on the divine purposes, and that it was not possible in the nature of things that God should declare the end from the beginning,' unless he had determined what the end should be. He ascribed to this the dignity and importance of being a 'fundamental doctrine of the Gospel. It was a favorite idea of his, that 'the other essential truths of Christianity are based upon the divine decrees, and are supported by them. To deny or disprove this doctrine, would be to deny or disprove the whole Gospel."7
I Works, Vol. VI. pp. 16-18.
2 Ib. Vol. IV. p. 222.
6 Ib. p. 268.
3 Ib. p. 242.
Ib. p. 277.