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of the early fathers will suffice to convince any one, that the sound principles of this art were very imperfectly understood by them. We need not be surprised, then, that they found the Logos of John, in the 8th chapter of Proverbs. At the present hour, after the lapse of more than fifteen centuries, and with all the advantages which commentaries and lexicons can now offer to the interpreters of Scriptures, there are mulitudes of expositors, who still find the Logos in the same passage of Solomon's writings. Shall it be thought strange, then, that the Fathers did so; when it was in perfect consonance with the reigning philosophy of the age in which they lived?
Permit me, after thus endeavouring to show how we may account for it that the early fathers reasoned as they did about the Logos, to add a few remarks, on the abuse of their opinions; which has often happened among those, who have been more zealous to promote party sentiments, than to obtain simple views of truth.
It has often been said, that "any thing can be proved from the fathers." And this is really true, provided one may be permitted to use them in the way in which those have done, who wished to prove any thing from them. I could refer to Dr. Priestley's History of Corruptions as a striking example. There can be nothing more certain, than that the great body of the Fathers never dreamed of defending sentiments such as those of Priestley. And yet, with profound unacquaintance with the nature and spirit of the times in which the fathers lived, and of the exegesis which must be applied to them, he has contrived to make them say many things, which, he would fain have us believe, accord with his own views. I cannot do better justice to such an effort, than in the words of Dr. Muenscher, a consummate patristical scholar, and at
least, one whose testimony will not be thought to be warped by any attachment to orthodoxy. "A late work," says he, (Dogmengeschichte, Band 1. s. 80.) "wherein the celebrated Dissenter, J. Priestley, aimed to shew the corruptions of Christianity, has, through the fame of its author, excited greater attention than its superficial contents, and its ignorance of the sources of history, which every where betrays itself, deserve."
So judges one of the best patristical scholars now living, from a merc sense of literary justice. And so might he judge of many others, who have walked in Priestley's steps; and of not a few, who have been his
opposers. Nothing is more evident, than that to form a correct judgment of the language of the early fathers, we must have a good acquaintance with their modes of reasoning and philosophizing. Having most of them been educated with polytheistic notions, they did not take offence, as we now do, at many things, which evidently appear to us to detract from the spirituality and immutability of the divine nature. We should make these allowances when we read them; and making these, we shall be disposed to think more favourably of their real sentiments in respect to religion, than we otherwise could do. Of their sincere attachment to Christianity, the testimony is written in blood. That they worshipped the Saviour-that they paid him religious homage-that they, in general, regarded the Logos or divine nature in the Saviour, as having in some manner or other existed from all eternity-I cannot doubt. I say this, after repeated and somewhat extensive examination. But that they taught what agrees with the Scriptures, or with reason, respecting the generation of the Son of God, is what I do not believe; and cannot, until the whole ground of my present convictions is removed.
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
If possible, I now more than ever feel the truth of your just and truly Protestant sentiment, that "what is not found in Scripture, however extensively and unanimously it may have been received by those who bore the Christian name, must be rejected, as forming no part of that precious system which God has revealed to man for his salvation." After passing through an investigation, such as that which is exhibited in the two preceding letters, I cannot but feel gratitude to God, that he has ordered my existence in an age, when more scriptural and rational views of his perfections are entertained, than were cherished by many of the distinguished writers, which have been passed in review. Not that I undervalue them, or feel in any measure disposed to treat them with contumely, or even with indifference. But I do feel, that it is a privilege to know and believe more fully and clearly than they appear to have done, that "God is a spirit ;" and that all his nature and attributes must be regarded in such a way, as never to obscure this plain and most interesting as well as awful truth.
But I have done with the fathers, and now proceed to the most important part of my object, viz, to inquire First, What is meant by the doctrine of eternal generation? And
Secondly, Is this doctrine taught in the Scriptures?
The present Letter will be devoted to the first of these questions.
You have not told us expressly what we are to understand by eternal generation. I cannot complain of this; for you did not undertake, in your Letters, to theologize on this point. But there are two passages,
which indirectly develope your conceptions, or at least your mode of expressing yourself, relative to the point in question. In p. 84, you say, " We find a certain threefold mode of existence in the Deity, frequently referred to in the Scriptures, but not explained;" and in p. 87, you ask," Where is the absurdity or contradiction of an eternal or necessary emanation from Him, (God the Father,) or if you please, an eternal generation ?”
The Scriptures then, as you aver, have left the threefold mode of existence unexplained. May I be permitted to ask, now, if teaching the doctrine of the eternal and necessary emanation or generation of the Son of God, (whom as Son you view to be the second person in the Trinity,) be not attempting an explanation of a subject, which the sacred writers leave unexplained? Is not existence or subsistence by emanation, a mode of existence? And does not the original and underived existence of the Father, differ in mode, from the emanative existence, or existence by generation of the Son?
It is not my design, however, to suggest difficulties in regard to particular positions which you have advanced. An examination of the subject itself, as it is developed in the leading orthodox writers, systematic and polemic, is my aim.
You will not understand me as engaging to pass in review, the great body of the theologians just named. This would be a task, tedious on account of the protract
ed discussion which must necessarily ensue; and useless, because the leading writers have, for the most part, been the models of all the rest.
Turretine may be selected from the Reformed or Calvinistic churches, as a fair and very distinguished representative of them. His extensive knowledge, his ardent piety, and his unblemished reputation, have very justly given great influence to his character and writings. Let us hear him.
"This wonderful generation, [the eternal generation of the Son,] is rightly explained as a communication of essence from the Father, by which the Son possesses without division the same essence with him, and becomes most like to him."*
Again; "In that [generation] the same numerical essence is communicated, without abscission and without alienation."+
Again; "In this, [the Father] generates within himself, and not without himself." And in the next section; "The Son is of the Father, but not posterior to the Father."§
The generation of the Son, then, according to this celebrated divine, consists in the eternal communication of the same numerical essence, without division or alienation, (i. e. the whole of the essence, as it is very often expressed) by the Father to the Son.
* Generatio ista admirabilis recte exponitur, per communicationem essentiae a Patre, per quam eandem cum illo essentiam Filius indivisibiliter possidet, illi fit simillimus. Turret. Inst. Theol. p. 322. § 4. edit. Traj. ad Rhenum, 1734.
In ista [generatione] communicatur eadem numero essentia, sine abscissione et alienatione. Ibid.
In ista [Pater] in se, sed non extra se generat. Ibid.