The Text of the three witnesses in heaven clear’d up, for the better understanding the importance and force of it, which were spoke of in the foregoing Chapter.
THE first thing, which here offers it self to be clear’d up, and which may create some difficulty in the minds of those persons, who rather seek for a pretence to doubt of the Text’s being genuine, than to be convinc’d of its authority, is that ’tis there said of the three witnesses, that they bear record in heaven: for how is it possible, they streight cry, that an Apostle should have said, that ’tis in heaven the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record in honour of Jesus Christ, in order to prove that he is really the Son of God, and the Messiah? A testimony is given in the places, and before the Persons, ’tis necessary it should be given, either thro’ ignorance of the matter in debate, or the contradictions that incredulity opposes to it; but as nothing of all this can be found in heaven, of what use are these witnesses and their testimony? I have slightly touched upon this small difficulty in my Dissertation, and in my Examination; but because without enlarging farther upon it, I contented my self with saying, that ’twas one of those transpositions of words, which are very common in all languages, especially in the more ancient; and that even divers instances were seen of it in Holy Scripture, without giving my self the pains to produce one, it will not be inexpedient, if as I design in this treatise to rake my leave of this passage, (that I may not return to it again,) I should here set down some instances of transpositions of words in the style of the sacred Writers. I say then, that these two words in heaven are transpos’d in the Text under examination, and put out of their natural and grammatical place; for instead of saying, there are three that bear record in heaven, the order of the construction in the Greek phrase should be, there are three in heaven that bear record, I have observ’d that Socinus himself has allow’d of this in his Commentary upon these words of the Epistle of St. John, and I have withal insinuated in favour of those, who are not acquainted with the Greek tongue, that the transposition of these words is far less sensible in the phrase of the Original, than in our Versions; but if instances are requir’d, here are some taken from the Old and New Testament.
We read in the book of Genesis, ch. xv. 13. these words of God to Abraham;
Know of a surety, that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years.
These words four hundred years are most certainly there out of their true place; for the bondage and persecution of the people of God in Egypt endur’d but about an hundred years, as I have shewn in my note upon this passage: thus these last words must be construed with that of being or sojourning, which is in the beginning of the verse; thy seed shall be a stranger four hundred years, &c. which was verify’d in the abode they made in Canaan and Egypt. Here then is a transposition somewhat more harsh, than the bare placing the two words of S. John’s passage out of their natural order.
In the Epistle to the Romans, these last words of the 4th verse of the 1st chapter, Jesus Christ our Lord should be join’d to these concerning his Son, which are at the beginning of the 3rd verse. In the first Epistle to the Corinthians, ch. i. v. 3. their Lord and ours, are also out of their natural place. In the 2 Cor. ch. 5. v. 19. we see a transposition, which small as it is, has yet given place to an observation not worthy the Divines who have made it: The words of the Text are, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself: The word reconciling is transpos’d from the verb was, with which it must be construed in this manner, God was reconciling the world, that is, God has reconciled the world to himself by Jesus Christ; this transposition is evident, yet for want of attending to it, many of those ancient Divines, who out of respect are styled by the venerable name of Fathers, reading God was in Christ, and stopping there, as if these words made the sense compleat without the word following, have form’d ’em into a proof of the essential unity of Jesus Christ with the Father, and to shew that the Divinity of the Father was the same as in the Son.
Lastly, (for to what purpose should we multiply instances in so clear a case?) in the 8th verse of the xviith chap, of the Revelation, mention is made of those, whose names “were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world: Now who is there that does not see these words from the foundation of the world are transpos’d, and that they should be join’d in this manner to the foregoing word, were not written from the foundation of the world? Thus then in the Text of the same Apostle by placing backward the words in heaven before that ofbearing witness or record, (for this word precisely answers to the Greek phrase,) our translation will stand thus; There are three in heaven which bear record, &c. for ’tis thus in reality that this Text is Quoted in the dispute printed among the works of St. Fulgentius, against Pinta the Arian; Ires funt in cœlo qui testimonium reddunt, &c. ” There are three in heaven which bear record, &V.”
After having thus first clear’d up the phrase of the sacred Text, we must come to the subject it self, and enquire narrowly into it.
I find three sorts of heresies which have been started one after another against the sacred Trinity, a sublime truth which has always been a stumbling stone to the pride and haughtiness of human understanding. The first of these heresies was that of Praxeas in the second Century, and push’d on with yet more vigour by Sabellius in the age following. It allow’d of the sole person of the Father in the Divinity, and reduc’d the Son and Holy Ghost to mere names, or attributes, of the persoo of the Father.
The second antitritarian heresy was that of Arius, a Century after. This at the first solely terminated in the person of the Son, depriving him of the degree of perfect and eternal equality which he has with the Father, in order to place him a degree lower, and leaving him only a sort of resemblance with the person of the Father; a God without being God. As to what regards the Holy Ghost, we don’t learn from history that Arius in the beginning fell foul upon his divinity, but we may well imagine, that his judgment was not more sound with reference to him than to the person of the Son: what follow’d soon made it appear; the Holy Ghost was degraded by that heresy of the dignity of God; they didn’t leave him the very name; they made him no more, as I have already observ’d, than a sort of Angel, created by the Son.
In these last times Socinus invented a third heresy, which is in a manner made up of the two foregoing: It approaches to that of the Sabellians in this, that it confounds the Holy Ghost with the person of the Father, not allowing the Spirit, or Holy Ghost, to be a person, but merely spiritual gifts, which being nam’d in Scripture the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, are there in some sort personalized, that is, describ’d and represented under the name of Spirit, as if they were a Person. On the other hand the heresy of Socinus adheres to that of Arius in this, that it takes away from the Son the quality of true God co-essential with the Father, and co-eternal; and makes him no more than a titulary God, in virtue of his offices and dignity: But Socinus does not pretend that the Son had any real existence before he was born of Mary; whereas Arius, in part at least, keeping more closely to the Texts of the Holy Scripture, which express the eternity of the Son, left him a part, or shadow of that eternity, by saying that he was created of the Father before all Worlds.
The Text, which I undertake to defend, is equally opposite to all these heresies. It manisfstly destroys that of Sabellius , who own’d but one Person in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, whereas this Text fays there are three.
By the same number of three thus distinctly specified, at the same time, the impious boldness of Socinus is confounded; for as he resolves not to own the Holy Ghost for a Person, but only for the spiritual and divine gifts of the eternal Father, ’tis then the same thing as the Father himself in these gifts; so that there remains no more than these two, the Father and the Son; whereas this Text of St. John reckons up three.
The heresy of Arius admits of all three, since it acknowledges three persons, but it cannot shew us three witnesses; and yet ’tis this the Text clearly teaches us. In short, if the Son, as Arius pretends by reducing him to the number of the creatures, be only the Minister of the Father, and the Holy Ghost the Minister of the Father and the Son, there will be no more than one witness, which is the Father; for whether he has given his witness himself immediately, or has caus’d it to be given by his Son, and by the Holy Ghost, ’tis always himself, properly speaking, who is the witness: Now St. John says three witnesses; in like manner as he says afterward, three that bear record in earth, the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood: and as these last are not really three witnesses, but because the Testimony of the one is not comprehended in the testimony of the other, so that ’tis not the Spirit it self, which bears record by the Water, nor by the Blood; in like manner that they may be three witnesses in Heaven, each of these three must be himself a witness, and not all be only one of them, who after having given witness himself, bears record again by the two others.
Thus these two heresies, that of Arius, which for above two hundred years stir’d up the East, the West, and the South against the Christian Faith; and the heresy of Socinus, the fatal off-spring of the former, are separately oppos’d by these words of the sacred Text, ‘there are three that bear record in heaven: But those which the Apostle adds at the close of the verse, fall upon all these heresies join’d together, and strike ’em down at one blow: These three, says he, are one. The Arian and the Socinian would willingly give us up the three, if this number, reduc’d to one, was not the total overthrow of their heresy; thus they do all they can to secure themselves from the stroke. By these extraordinary words, three are one, the unity of nature in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, presents it self without difficulty to the understanding and faith of a Christian, which has its nurture in the sacred Scriptures; and the whole ancient Church saw there this adorable unity with the same eyes, that we see it there now; we have proof of this in Tertullian, in St. Cyprian, in Vigilius, in S. Fulgentius, and in three or four hundred African Bishops, who all acknowledg’d and ador’d the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as being but one God; and have all said with St. John, these three are one.
The Greek word of the original, ἕν, which is of the gender which the Grammarians call the neuter, cannot be explain’d in our language but by the word thing, that is, one thing; and this expression is somewhat indeterminate, and does not give a distinct idea of the particular subject of which it is to be understood; so the Greek word ἕν is also a vague expression, the meaning of which depends upon the subject it is applied to. The Socinian and the Arian take an advantage from this general way of speaking, and by the thing of which St. John says, these three are one and the same thing, they understand one and the same will, one opinion, one testimony in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. To favour this explication, they defend themselves with some other Texts of Scripture, where the same word ἕν denotes this sort of moral unity, improperly so call’d, which is nothing else, but a sort of agreement of opinions, or state, and condition, between different persons. The most expressive of these passages are taken from the xviith chapter of St. John’s Gospel, in which the Prayer of Jesus Christ to God his Father is recited: Holy Father, says he recommending to him his disciples, whom he was shortly to leave behind him, keep through thine own name, those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one. – Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also that shall believe on me thro’ their word, that they also may be one in us. – And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, as we are one, that they may be made perfect in one. In all these verses, where the expression that they may be one, and we are one, which is the same with that of the Text in St. John’s Epistle, returns so often; it is evident, that ’tis there us’d in two different senses, in one it signifies an unity of opinions, in opposition to all schism and division among themselves; and in the other it denotes an unity of happiness and glory, after they shall have finish’d their ministry in holiness, that they may be made perfect in one. The first of these two senses only can have been transferr’d by our adversaries upon these words of St. John’s Epistle, namely, the unity of will, sentiment, and testimony.
The Abbat Joachim, who at the close of the 11th Century seems to have had a design of introducing Arianism afresh, did not fail to refer these words of Jesus Christ, that they may be one, to those of the Text of the three witnesses in heaven, these three are one, as parallel passages. The modern Arians, and the Socinians, their companions, urge the same conformity of passages in their defence, and not only make ’em their strong-hold, but I may venture to say, their only one.
Before I lay open the weakness of it, I shall make one general remark, the application of which will be very easy to the present subject; and this is, that in several Texts of Scripture one and the same expression, or one and the same phrase; has different meanings, according to the different subjects they relate to. I have given several instances of this in the 11th chapter of the second part of my Discourse of revealed Religion, at present I will content my self with these two. It is said in the viith chapter of the Book of Job, What is man that thou visitest him? We read also these words in the viiith Psalm, but the sense is certainly not the fame in these two places; as is easily to be seen. ‘Tis said in several places of the sacred Books, that God takes away Sins, and that he blots ’em out: The same thing is also said of Jesus Christ, that he takes away our sins, and that he blots ’em out, or wipes ’em away; yet this is in very different senses: God takes ’em away by pardon; Jesus Christ takes ’em away by expiation. A bare conformity sometimes sufficing thus to make use of the same terms upon different subjects. We have a proof of this ready in the passages of Jesus Christ’s prayer, which they compare with the Text of St. John’s Epistle. Will any one venture to say, that in the words of Jesus Christ, that they may be one as we are one, the expression to be one, which is found there twice together, is absolutely in the same sense, and not barely in a sense of conformity, and by a sort of resemblance?
I know very well that the Arian and Socinian would persuade us that the case is thus, in order to reduce the unity of the Son with the Father to a bare unity of will and sentiments, such as that of the Disciples with each other was, and thus to take away from Jesus Christ that adorable unity, by which he is co-essential with his Father. These unhappy hereticks turn all their thoughts this way; but to compass their point they must first take away from Jesus Christ the title of God, of true God, of the great God, which the Scripture ascribes to him; they must deprive him of the august dignity of Creator, and that of God over all, blessed for ever, which the same Scripture attributes to him. Could they indeed shew that Jesus Christ is no more than merely the Minister of the eternal Father, then truly they might find the unity he has with his Father to be no other than that which the Disciples had with one another, an unity of sentiments, and not an unity of essence and nature: But when will they be able to take away from Jesus Christ all these sublime characters of Divinity?
Let us suppose for a moment, with Arius and Socinus, that the Son is only a creature of the first rank, and that the Holy Ghost, as Arius taught, is of an order far inferior to the Son, a Spirit created by him; or, as Socinus has imagin’d, the spiritual gifts, personaliz’d under the name of Spirit; would there be the bare shadow of good sense in placing them in company with the person of the Father, the sovereign and eternal God, so as to say, that they are one with him, under pretext that they had no other Sentiments than he? I should as soon chuse to say it of an Angel, and of one of the glorifyed Saints, since this Angel and Saint can have no other will than that of God; and yet what man will attempt to make them one with God, and say of them, as St. John has said of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, these three are one? Let ’em own then, that these words of the sacred Text have a sense infinitely more profound than of an unity of sentiments and will, and consequently, that they express that unity of essence and nature, which makes the three to be but one God.
‘Tis with this passage as with that of the institution of Baptism, in the name of the Fathers of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The ancient Fathers, who have quoted these words against the Arians, have obscrv’d that it is not said, in the names, in nominibus, in the plural; but in the name, in nomine, in the singular, as designing an authority common to these three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; the unity of nature being thus included in the unity of Name, which is that of God, since Baptism is administer’d in the name of God alone. As then the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are join’d together in Baptism under this unity of Name, which is no other than the very unity of a God, it must necessarily be thus in these words of St. John, these three are one.
The illusion which is form’d in the explication of these wolds arises from the name of witnesses, Which is there given to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; for from thence they conceive that they may terminate in their testimony, and signify that these three are one, as witnesses and with regard to the record they have bore;
But the falsity of this notion may easily be perceiv’d by comparing a testimony with proofs. When these different proofs of one and the same fact are alledg’d, they will never say that they are one and the same thing, tho’ they all tend to the same purposes because the one is not the other. To be able then to say of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghosts these three are one, from an unity of Testimony their testimony must necessarily have been but one and the same; but this is not fact, for the Father has bore witness in one manner, the Son in another, and the Holy Ghost in another also; so that they were really three different witnesses of one and the same truth. And as the three proofs of a fact respect the same fact, yet without being one and the same thing, so these three testimonies, that of the Father, that of the Son, and that of the Holy Ghost, do not make these three witnesses to be one, since their testimonies are in number three, (very distinct, and not capable of being confounded one with another,) tho’ they have all three reference to the same subject. This is so evidently true, that St. John has express’d himself in a very different manner, when after having said of the witnesses in heaven, these three are one, he came to speak of the three witnesses in earth, the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood; for he did not then go on to say, these three are one, but changing entirely both the idea and expression, he has said, these three agree in one; because in reality these three last being each of a different nature from the other, he could only say, that they had relation to the same thing. Will they never open their eyes to see so clear a difference, and discern a truth which is so evidently display’d in the very Text of St. John?
From all that I have said in this and the foregoing Chapter, I deduce the confirmation and proof of what I had propos’d to make good, namely, that ’tis the honour and interest of every person, who is really orthodox, constantly to defend the genuineness of St. John’s passage, against the artifice of the modern hereticks, who use their utmost endeavour to degrade it, or if they cannot do that, at least to render it dubious.