One of the principal arguments of the Unitarians is, that there can be no difference shewn between three divine persons and three beings. This is examined, and the distinction between the Father and the Son is somewhat elucidated.
That God is but one being is admitted by all Christian denominations, and also by Mahometans, Deists and Devils. I shall therefore offer no proof in behalf of his unity. But that three persons are God, deserves an investigation, to ascertain whether, or not such an idea is repugnant to his unity. Since God is but one being, Unitarians conclude that he is also only one in person: for they do not seem to perceive the least difference between a divine being and person. Accordingly, they employ this as one of their principal positions, from thence deducing sundry apparent formidable objections against the doctrine of Christ’s eternal Godhead. For if no difference can be shewn between a divine being and person, then consequently, as the Father is God, Christ cannot also be God, without admitting a plurality of supreme Gods.
The rev. James Miller in a pamphlet entitled “Trinitarianism unmasked” says: “I defy Trinitarians to make a plain and scriptural distinction between a self-existent and intelligent substance, and a self-existent and intelligent subsistence; or to prove that it takes three self-existent and intelligent subsistences to make one substance.” p.37. Again, “But notwithstanding the variety of opinions which have been formed on the subject, I shall endeavor to maintain the position that intelligent person, and intelligent being, are the same, or terms of synonymous signification ; &c.” p. 43. He then proceeds, endeavoring to shew from sundry texts of scripture that human beings and persons are terms of a synonymous signification. It must be admitted that the term person generally denotes an intelligent being, having own separate existence, not subsisting in another. This term is also used with respect to God. Notwithstanding it would be incorrect to infer that the term person relative to God, indicated the very same in all respects as when applied to men and angels. Indeed, the scriptures employ terms relative to God and heavenly things, answering to things in nature. Without such terms the scriptures would be utterly unintelligible. Notwithstanding this analogous language, it does not follow, that heavenly and divine things in their substance, and in all their relations are precisely like things in nature. As for instance: God is called a father, which is a term corresponding to a relation among men, i.e. to a human father; yet it is evident that he in many respects is not like a human father. For all human fathers have a beginning of their existence, they are changeful and mortal; whereas God is very different in these respects, for he is self-existent, eternal, immutable and immortal.
If the term person relative to God, implied the same in all respects as when applied to man, then the term being would imply the same in either case.
Mr. Miller taking for granted that a human person implies the same as a divine person, he presumes that the idea of three persons being God is highly absurd. For he says: “Can any person believe that three human persons make but one man? How then can any man of common sense believe that three divine persons, each possessed of infinite perfections, make but one God?” p. 93. Thus comparing God to a man, the same as Mr. Miller compares human to divine persons, he might also easily prove away all his supreme perfections. For if, as Mr. M. says: person and being are the same, and if the absurdity of three persons be inferred from the impossibility of three human persons being one man, then upon the same principle, it might be concluded that God is neither self-existent, nor eternal, nor omnipotent, nor infinite. Why so? Answer. Because according to Mr. M’s. logic, it might be said: can any person believe that a human person is self-existent, eternal, omnipotent and infinite? How then can any man of common sense believe that God is self-existent, eternal, omnipotent and infinite? Such a conclusion is groundless. Nevertheless, Mr. M. has introduced such, to overthrow the doctrine of the trinity: viz. because three human persons are not one man, therefore three divine persons cannot be one God. Is it congenial to correct logic, to conclude that the mode of God’s existence is like that of man? Is it not an invariable rule in sound reasoning, never to admit any thing in the conclusion, which cannot be deduced from the premises? As for instance: how absurd it would be, if one introduced a subject relative to an angel, and then brought out his conclusion upon a reptile! A correct reasoner never concludes any thing, which is not susceptible of being deduced from the premises. In reasoning on the being and relations of God, it would be absurd to confound him with any thing that is created, or to illustrate his character in this manner: unless he himself has indicated the clue in the scriptures. If any person would properly prove the doctrine of the trinity absurd, he ought by no means to conclude that three divine persons are not one God, because three men are not one man: for thus God and created things would be confounded, which would be incorrect, in as much as not every thing deducible from created things, is also deducible from divine things, since there is a great difference between that which is created, and that which is uncreated. Let such as consider this doctrine absurd, prove it if they be able, by shewing it to be repugnant to God’s essence, character, attributes and relations; and thus constitute their premises of divine things, then their conclusion may be correct.
I should by no means venture to illustrate the distinction between the Father’s and Christ’s persons by any comparison in nature; unless such be clearly indicated by the scriptures. In distinguishing Christ from the Father, I shall briefly view the following text:
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” Heb. 1,3.
If Christ be the brightness of the Father’s glory, then the Father himself must be a light: for a brightness presupposes a light. God in the scriptures is called a light, a fire, a sun, as for instance: “God is light,” 1 John 1, 5. comp. Isa. 60, 19,20; “the Lord thy God is a consuming fire,” Deut. 4, 24—comp. ch. 9, 3, Heb. 12, 29 ; “For the LORD God is a sun and shield.” Ps. 84, 11. As the nature of the light is, so is also the nature of its brightness.
A created light reflects a created brightness, but an uncreated light reflects an uncreated brightness. God is an eternal, uncreated light, Christ is the brightness of his glory, consequently Christ is eternal and uncreated. The brightness of a light is also truly light, yet distinguished from the light by which it is reflected. Or, properly the brightness of the luminary, is the luminary itself reflected. Christ is the brightness of God’s glory, God is a light, a sun, hence Christ is God reflected. As God is a light, even so Christ is a light; hence not such a light as John the Baptist, who was a burning and shining light. John 8, 35. John is called ο’λύχνος, which signifies a lamp, or a candle made of wax or tallow; hence no original light; whereas Christ is called τὸ φῶς ἀληθινὸν, the true light. Indeed, he cannot be otherwise than the true eternal light, for he is the brightness of the glory of God, who is the true uncreated light. The brightness may be distinguished from its luminary: for the brightness does not reflect the luminary, but the brightness is reflected by the luminary. Christ being the brightness of God’s glory, he is distinguished from God, inasmuch as God is not reflected, or begotten by him, but he is reflected, or begotten by the Father. Although, the brightness may be distinguished from its luminary; yet it is not another luminary; and it cannot be properly said, that because the luminary and brightness may be distinguished, they are two luminaries. Neither is the brightness merely one of the qualities, nor only a part of the luminary: for the luminary with its plenitude is indivisibly reflected in the brightness. Christ is the brightness of God’s glory, but he is not merely one of his attributes, nor only a part of the Father: for he is God himself reflected; all the divine fulness is in this resplendence; therefore Christ is the Father’s substance in the reflection, and as little as the luminary and its brightness constitute two luminaries, even so little the Father and Christ are two Gods, or beings. If as the Unitarians suppose, Christ were a distinct being from God, how then could he be the brightness of his glory? To suppose Christ to be a distinct being from God, would also suppose this text to be false, because the brightness of no luminary is a separate luminary from the one, from which it proceeds. Now Unitarians in asserting that Christ is a distinct being from the Father, are in a dilemma: for as much as they must either suppose, that a brightness can be separated in such a manner from its luminary, so as to constitute a distinct substance; or they must utterly deny that Christ is the brightness of God’s glory. To suppose the former, would be contrary to fact: for no brightness can be separated from its luminary, even not for a moment, because the brightness always perpetually adheres to, and flows from its luminary; and to deny that Christ is the brightness of God’s glory, would be roundly denying the declaration of God’s word. Whatever objections Unitarians may alledge, they shall never be able to overthrow this invincible truth, that Christ is the brightness of God’s glory; consequently, though distinct as a brightness, yet the same God.
Christ is not only said to be the brightness of God, but the brightness of his glory. His glory must be his chief excellence, an uncreated prerogative above all creatures; or his supreme perfections. The prophet saith: “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” Isa. 42, 8. The glory of God according to this text is something, which is not at all to be communicated to any other being: for it declares: “my glory will not give to another;” hence is his exclusive prerogative and characteristic. The Psalmist says: “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work.” Ps. 19,1. The heavens in declaring his glory, manifest his supreme perfections: such as omnipotence, wisdom, &c. St. Paul also says: “the invisible things from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,even his eternal power and Godhead.” Rom. 1, 20. To see the eternal power and Godhead by the creation, is the same as the heavens declaring his glory. Thus God’s glory is his supreme perfections, of which he declares that he will not give to another, and which exalt him in the sight of intelligent creatures as the only object of adoration. What then is the brightness of his glory? Ans. All the supreme perfections of God in the reflection. But can this reflection, or brightness constitute a separate and distinct being from God? By no means. For if so, God’s glory, which he declares that he will not give to another, would be the glory of another being, i.e. Christ, who is the brightness of his glory. The brightness of God’s glory, is the self-same glory reflected. Now since God declares that he will not give his glory to another, and yet as Christ is this glory in the reflection, it is evident, that he is by no means a separate being from his Father, though different in so far as he is reflected.
Christ is not only the brightness of God’s glory, but also the “express image of his person.” The word χαρακτήρ, rendered by the translators express image, properly signifies an impression by a stamp or type. It also signifies the impression on coins of gold and silver, and engravings in stones, wood and metals. Not every image is an express image, for some images are mere painted resemblances of things and persons; but χαρακτήρ implies much more, it being an impression of a stamp. The word ὑπόστασις, rendered person, from ὑφίστημι, to place under, properly denotes a reality, substance, or existence. Christ is the impression of God’s substance, or existence. Now if the very substance of a stamp were impressed, would not also the nature and all the qualities of which it consisted, be conspicuously and substantially in the impression? Christ is the impression of God’s substance; hence God’s own substance, or existence is perpetually, essentially, absolutely and indelibly impressed in him; so that the Father is in, and identified with his person: for he saith: “he that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” Joh. 14, 9.
The difference between a stamp and its impression is easily perceived. Christ is an impression, which has the Father’s substance: for he is the express image of his person; consequently he is the same substance of the Father, and yet he is distinct from him; because the Father is impressed in him, but he is not impressed in the Father. Now since Christ is the impression of God’s substance, how then can he be a separate being? If he were a separate substance, he could not be an impression of God’s substance.
It has been shewn that God is a light, he is not a created, but a self-existent light. No light exists without a resplendence: for it is peculiar to every light to reflect itself. Where is there any light, which ever existed one moment prior to its brightness? Is God an uncreated self-existent light, then surely, he never existed without reflecting himself; or he never was without an uncreated self-existent brightness. It is by an absolute necessity that God reflects himself, because he is a light, and no light can exist without a brightness. God, the eternal light did therefore, never exist one moment prior to his brightness. Christ is the brightness of his glory, he therefore never existed prior to Christ, and according to his own nature, he could never have existed without him: for he is a light, and no light can exist without a brightness. God does not exist by the will of another being, but he exists necessarily, absolutely and independently; whereas every other being owes its existence to the will of the creator. But does Christ like another being, owe his existence to the will of a creator? He that owes his existence to another one, might have been left in non-existence. Now does the brightness merely exist by the will of the light, so that it might have been left in non-existence? By no means: seeing that the brightness could as little have been left in non-existence as the light itself, and if it were possible to extinguish the brightness, the light itself would be extinguished. God exists absolutely and independently, and it is utterly impossible for him not to exist; he is a light, Christ is the brightness thereof. Hence as little as God could be in non-existence, so little Christ could be in non-existence; and if it were possible to annihilate Christ, it could not be done without annihilating the Father; because God is a light, and no light can possibly exist without a brightness; hence this brightness exists as absolutely and independently as the light itself. Now if it be asked: is not Christ dependent on God for his existence? I answer: if the brightness depend upon the light, then is Christ also dependent on God. The light itself is independent, and the brightness is the light itself reflected. God is an eternal, self-existent, independent light, and what is the brightness of such a light but the same eternal, self-existent light reflected? Christ is this brightness. He is therefore, eternal and independent; nevertheless he by no means possesses a separate self-existence and independency, but the Father’s self-same self-existence and independency.