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It is said that when St. Augustine was writing his discourse on the Trinity, he strolled by the seaside in meditation. There he saw a child digging a hole in the sand, and then attempting to fill it with sea water. In answer to the student, the child said he intended to empty the great deep. "Impossible", said Augustine. "Not more impossible", said the child, "than for you to explain the Trinity ". These are the kind of tales which men tell to save themselves from giving any explanation of a doctrine which they are taught to say is fundamental in religion.
The late Archbishop Sumner, in his sermon on "The Duty of Acquainting Ourselves with God", says:—"Here, however, I am scarcely less foiled than before, if I attempt to form to myself any distinct idea of this mysterious Godhead. I am not able to comprehend, with any clearness, the union of Person, and the distinction of Person, represented in Scripture. I am at a loss to conceive how the nature of God should be incorporated with that of man in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I cannot understand the operation of the Holy Spirit upon the human heart; much less can I explain that operation in the extent and degree which Scripture asserts, and still leave room for the developement of individual character, which the same Scripture obliges me to recognise. A very short inquiry is sufficient to convince me, that if I am not to be at peace till I am acquainted with God in all these mysteries of his nature, I must sit down in despair".
We are disposed to ask, what command or injunction could this dignitary point out, in the religion of Christ, that made it incumbent on him to believe in a union and distinction of persons in the Godhead, that was so perplexing? We have referred to the confession of Dr. Hey, a Trinitarian, who says on the Trinity: "My understanding is involved in perplexity, my conceptions bewildered in the thickest darkness. I confess and proclaim my confusion in the most unequivocal manner". Similar is the language of the learned Jeremy Taylor, in a sermon before the University of Dublin,—that "if you go about to speak of, and to understand, the mysterious Trinity, and do it by words and names of man's invention, you will in the end find your understanding, like St. Peter's on Mount Tabor, at the Transfiguration—you may build three tabernacles in your head, and talk something, but you will know not what".
We offer but one quotation more; the words are those of Bishop Beveridge:—"I cannot set myself to think of the Trinity, or to screw up my thoughts a little concerning it, but I immediately lose myself as in a trance or ecstacy". How widely different are these assertions from certain others, which we are disposed to think more nearly approach the truth and the simplicity of a religion which was level to the understanding of "the common people" and which "they heard gladly"! Our Lord says, "The poor have the Gospel preached to them"; and it is not uncommon now to hear the words, "The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein". Such passages imply that we have in Christianity a religion that meets the mental capacities and the wants of the labourer and the artizan. Dr. Parr, the distinguished scholar and divine, places this fact in its proper light when he says:— "Christianity is a religion intended for general use: it "appeals to the common feelings of our nature, and never clashes with the unbiassed dictates of our reason. We may therefore rank it among the beneficial tendencies, as well as the peculiar evidences, of such a religion, that the Author of it abstained from all abstruse speculations". Endless is the testimony, that the Christian religion is not a mass of riddles and mysteries, but a simple thing, intelligible to the humblest intellect.
We have seen that the doctrine of the Trinity is said to "perplex the understanding"; "bewilder the mind"; we cannot "comprehend it"; "when thinking of it, I lose myself as in a trance or ecstacy"; "it is strange and unaccountable"; "it is the mystery of mysteries"; "seemingly incredible"; "it contradicts our reason"; "it makes us use words without meaning". Such are the exclamations of learned and devout men who say they believe it. Is it possible, we ask, that they are contemplating a doctrine of that Gospel which "the poor had preached to them", and "the common people heard gladly", when they thus speak? Certainly not. The schoolmen of the Church have invented, or imported, this view of our heavenly Father, and so done a great injury to the religion of Christ. It was in view of this perplexing theme, the Trinity, that Dr. Watts, in his last days, expressed himself, in his Solemn Address to God, as "embarrassed and bewildered":—
"Dear and blessed God, hadst Thou told me plainly in any single text, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are three real distinct persons in Thy divine nature, I had never suffered myself to be so bewildered in so many doubts, nor embarrassed with so many strong fears of asserting to the mere inventions of men, instead of divine doctrine; but I should have humbly and immediately accepted Thy words, so far as it was possible for me to understand them, as the only rule of my faith. Or hadst Thou been pleased so to express and include this proposition in the several scattered parts of thy book from whence my reason and my conscience might with ease find out, and with certainty infer, this doctrine, I should have joyfully employed all my reasoning powers, with their utmost skill and activity, to have found out this inference, and engrafted it into my soul".