Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hardshell Sabellianism III

Elder Samuel Trott, in response to the objections of Elder John Clark, regarding charges of Arianism, wrote (emphasis mine) the following in an article titled "Son of God and Godhead" (1850):

"Now to come to the points of difference. They contend that God exists as three persons and one God, that these three persons are alike equal and alike the self-existent God, but that they exist by distinct modes of existence, that the Father exists of Himself that the Word or Son exists by the generation of the Father, being begotten of Him, and that the Holy Ghost exists as He proceeds from the Father and the Son. This I presume will be admitted to be a simple and candid representation of their views. Now to this system I conscientiously object, that it presents palpable contradictions, and that as they represent this as the revelation of God, they charge Him with these contradictions. They say that the three are alike eternal, self-existent and independent, and yet that the Father alone has an underived existence, and that the other two exist by a derived existence and depend on the existence of the other; the Son on the existence of the Father, and the Holy Ghost on the existence of the Father and the Son. Can they then be alike independent in their existence? If I say of two persons, one is the father and the other is the son, do I not distinctly convey the idea that the one existed as a person before the other, and that the latter's existing as a person is a consequence of the previous existence and action of the former; and hence while the father's existence did not depend on the previous existence of the son, the son's existence did depend on the previous existence of the father?"

Clearly this is more evidence of how many Hardshells in the 1830s through the 1850s denied the doctrine of the Trinity, that God exists in three persons.  They denied an ontological Trinity in favor of the Sabellian economic Trinity.  They also did not believe in the eternal Sonship of Christ, not connecting sonship with his divinity.  They did not understand the doctrine of Christ's sonship.  The Athanasians do not believe that the Son of God derived his divinity from the Father, but that the term "Son of God" was not in all respects the same as when men use the term "son of" so and so.  Christ is the "only" begotten Son, his Sonship being unique and unlike that of creatures.    If the sonship of Christ was in all respects the same as sonship among humans, then his sonship would not be unique.  It was this failure to connect sonship with divinity that led Trott and other Hardshells to deny that Christ was the eternal Son of God.  If he was not the eternal Son of God, then when did he first become the Son?  If the sonship of Christ was in every respect like sonship among men, then Christ must have a divine mother, for who, among men, has a father but not a mother?

Historically, many have denied Christ's eternal Sonship and advocated that Christ, The Word, became the Son of God either at his birth, his baptism (adoptionism), or at his resurrection.  Even modern Hardshells had a small squabble over this in the early 1980s as Elders Conrad Jarrell and Ben Mott began to teach that Christ became the Son of God by his incarnation.  This led to the above named elders being disfellowshipped by the Hardshells.  But, the view of Trott was that Christ became the Son of God by an act of the Father before the foundation of the world.  It was this view that led Elder John Clark and others to accuse Trott of Arianism.  Elder James Osbourn correctly noted rampant Sabellianism among the Hardshells and Clark accused Trott of Arianism.  What is the difference?  Was the charge of Clark justified?  How can one be both an Arian and a Sabellian?

When Trott said "they say," he refers to Elder Clark and the trinitarian Hardshells.  But, the question must be asked - "who was keeping to the Old Baptist faith as expressed in the London and Philadelphia confessions of faith?"  Or, "who were the real Old Baptists on this point?" 

Trott continued:

"Now when they say there are three persons in the Godhead, and of these three, as persons, one of them is the Father, and of another, He is the only begotten Son of this Father, what reason is there that the same declaration made concerning these two divine persons does not tend to convey the same idea, as to the previous existence of the one, and the subsequent and dependent existence of the other, as in the case of two men? When, therefore, they contend that the one is the Father, and the other His Son in relation to their personal existence in the Godhead, how can they, without a plain contradiction to that declaration, say in reference to the same personal existence, that they are alike eternal and independent in their existence? Is this letting God be true, but every man a liar, in charging these, and several other contradictions in this system, to God's Word? Again, I object to this system because that by making the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost three persons in the Godhead, they make them to be three distinct individuals, for what less does the term person mean, than an individual being?

Again, Trott is plain enough, as was Wilson Thompson, in his denial of the historic doctrine of the Trinity, which is what all Baptists who endorsed the London and Philadelphia Confessions of faith believed.  Trott and Thompson cannot claim to be "primitive" Baptists in their denial of the doctrine of the Trinity.  So what if the Trinity makes God into "three distinct individuals"?  Is a "person" an individual?  Recently in some debates I have had with a local Baptist church over Sabellianism, I often heard them retort with the words - "God is not three selves."  So, whether Sabellians use the term "self" or the term "individual," they are affirming that it is ridiculous to say that God is three selves, or three individuals, and that this is what is being said when one says that God is three "persons."  Yet, they say such things in spite of the fact that Jesus often referred to the Father by the word "your self" and referred to himself by the term "my self," and often in the same sentence.  That makes two selves!  God is three persons, yet he is one in essence and substance, one in nature and attributes.

Trott continued:

"This, I think, at best is dividing the Godhead more than I believe the scriptural revelation of the one God will admit. But when we carry it out, that they contend that each of these persons is distinctively God, as each is a distinct individual, there must be three individuals existing by distinct modes of existence, and, of course, three Gods. Brother Clark says of the Apostles, that they were not afraid of making a plurality of gods by maintaining that the Son of God was Jehovah. Neither am I; but the Apostles never taught that the Son of God in His Godhead was a distinct person from the Father, so that his remarks are altogether out of place."

Again, this is clear Sabellianism.  Sabellians typically argue that belief in three persons as God means that one believes in three Gods (tritheism).  Yet, the Bible does use the word "Elohim" in reference to God, which is a plural.  God is Gods and God is God.  He is one and yet he is three.  John said - "three three are one."  (I John 5: 7)  Trott says that the the Son of God is the Father.  But, who was ever the father of himself?  Trott likes to make divine sonship in all respects the same as sonship among men, but has he ever met a person who was either the son or father of himself?  Trott thinks that it is ridiculous to believe in eternal sonship and yet his view is not free of such ridiculousness.  Jesus used language in regard to himself and to his Father that necessarily imply distinct persons.  For instance, he says of him and his Father - "WE will come in and dwell in him who believes."  (John 14: 23)  Can I say of myself - "we are going to the store"?  Is it not ridiculous for me to say that I am my own father?  Or, I am my own son?

Trott continued:

"When I was led to look at these inconsistencies, and contradictions in the Nicene system, I turned to an examination of the Scriptures on that head, and I found that they by no means sustained that system. I found that God has revealed Himself as three, and so as three, that distinct things are affirmed of each; but not so as three as to infringe upon the unity of God. Hence it is said, "These three are one." Hence, whenever God is spoken of He is spoken of as the one God, that is absolutely God, whether in reference to the Father, the Word or Son, or the Holy Ghost. Therefore, I conclude that each in His distinct relation is the one God, having all the fullness of the Godhead in that relation, whether as Father, as Son, or as the Holy Ghost."

So, according to Trott's modalism, God is one person.  The Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Spirit.  The terms Father, Son, and Spirit are but three modes or roles that the one person God manifests his singular person.  But, how can one person talk to himself or send himself?  How can one person be the son or father of himself?  "One" God does not mean "one person."  That is the error of Trott and the Sabellians.  As I have shown before in my writings against Modalism (in the Gadfly blog), Jesus said that all believers will be "one" in the same way that he and his Father are "one."  (John 17: 21)  But, surely no one will say that all believers are the same person!

Trott continued:

"The views which I have advanced have been charged with Sabellianism. But any candid reader of what I have written will see the falsity of such charge. They will see that I believe just what the Scriptures say, that "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one" I John 5:7; that is, that God exists as three, but so as three, as to be absolutely one, and therefore, not three persons or individuals."

Though Trott denies being a Sabellian, he clearly is nonetheless.  When he denies that God is three persons, he is a Sabellian.  When he says that God is one person, he is a Sabellian.  When he says that the Father is the Son and Spirit, he is a Sabellain.  When he says that the terms Father, Son, and Spirit simply denotes roles or modes of the one person God, then his is a Sabellian.  The charge that Trott, Beebe, and Thompson were Arians was not as accurate as the charge that they were Sabellians.  But, more on this shortly.

Trott continued:

"I have been charged with Arianism, so brother Clark charges me with denying the divinity of the Son of God. He says he has made it deliberately, but I must say he has made it wantonly. I cannot view it in any other light, though I presume he designed no such looseness. What I have written will, I think, show the entire incorrectness of the charge. I will, however, add that brother Clark, I think, will admit that the Word was made flesh, or became a perfect man, without in the least destroying His essential Godhead. Why then could He not exist with the life of His people, and therefore a begotten life in Him, and as personally one with Him without destroying His divinity? However, it is enough to sustain me against such a charge, that, in the same declaration of Him, in which it is said, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men," it is also said, "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." John l:1 & 4."

The reason for Elder John Clark charging Trott with Arianism is because he says that Christ became in time, by an act of the Father, the Son of God.  To Trott, as with traditional Baptist views on the Trinity, the term "Son of God" was a term that spoke of the divinity of Christ, just as the term "son of man" spoke of the humanity of Christ.  To say that Christ was made the Son of God is equivalent, in the mind of Clark, with affirming that Christ became God, or was made God.  And, this is Arianism.  The charge is not exactly accurate, since Trott does not deny that Christ was God before he became the Son of God.  Trott believes that God existed as a one person God before he took the roles or modes of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Still, the view of Trott is in many ways like the views of Arius.  Trott was a true Sabellian, not a true Arian.

Trott continued:

"Again he appears to think there is nothing in the Scriptures to warrant the idea of Christ's being anything else than God and man. Strange! Does brother Clark harbor the idea that God in His word has carelessly used descriptive and distinctive names and terms, where there are no distinctions designed? Is not the Lord Jesus Christ in the Scriptures declared to be God and Jehovah, and the Son of God, and man? Are not these three distinctive names, and is there nothing distinctive intended by them? Does not the name Jehovah imply absolute, independent, and self-existence? Does not the term Son, as used among men, and generally in the Scriptures, distinctively imply a begotten, and therefore dependent existence? And does not the term, man, imply a fleshly existence? Was He not a Son before He was made of a woman and made under the law? I cannot believe that our Lord is revealed to be what He is not. Why then are these three distinctive terms so often used of our Lord if He does not possess the three distinct existences thereby designated? Can brother Clark answer these enquiries so as to make them harmonize with the truth of Scripture declarations and yet so as to deny His distinct existence as the Son of God? In John 1st, as already noticed, we have the three natures, "The Word was God;" again, "In Him was life;" again, "The Word was made flesh," verse 1,4 & 14. In Isa. 9:6, we have A child born and a Son given, are not these distinct? And again, His names are The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Are not these names descriptive? I presume brother Clark could not say that the name Everlasting Father being given to the child born and the son given implies He is distinctively the Father in the Godhead."

Trott says that Christ was God before he was the Son of God.  That is, he was the one person God before he manifested himself in the role or mode as the Son of God.  Also, even though he says that Christ was the Son of God before his virgin birth (a denial of incarnational sonship), yet he does not believe that Christ has eternally been the Son of God.  So, when does Trott believe that Christ became the Son of God?  He believed that there was an instance before the world began when Christ was begotten or made the Son of God.  It was this view that made Elder Clark associate the views of Trott and of the Signs of the Times periodical with Arianism. 

The idea of Trott that Christ had "three natures" is most ridiculous. 

Further, the argument that Christ being called "everlasting father" (Isa. 9: 6) proves that he is the Father has been answered by Trinitarians just as has been the argument made from the words of Jesus where he says "he who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14: 9) and where he says "I and my Father are one."  These verses do not prove that the Son is the Father.  How can one be the father of himself?  How can one be the son of himself?

Trott continued:

"Brother Clark will probably shuffle these queries off by saying the subject of God's existence is a mystery. True it is a mystery, but does this imply that we should, by our constructions put upon God's word, involve it in contradictions? There is a material difference between mystery and contradictions. It is nowhere written, great are the contradictions of godliness. Contradictions in his system I have already pointed out, the above hint therefore will be sufficient. I have thus presented my views as contrasted with the popular system, by which it will be seen that I, in common with the advocates of that system, hold that God exists as three, and that these three are one, and so one, that either of the three is, in His distinct relation, the one God. They hold that there are three persons in the Godhead. I deny that, but say that the Son is a proper and distinct person from the Father and the Holy Ghost, in relation to His sonship; but that He does not exist in His sonship separate from His Godhead, any more than He does as man, so that in His distinct personality He is God, Son of God, and Man. They hold that His sonship relates to His Godhead, so that He is no otherwise God than as He is begotten of the Father; I deny this as contradictory to His being equal with the Father, and to His being the independent and self-existent God; and in distinction, I hold that His sonship consists in His being begotten of the Father as the Head of His church and life of His people and that they thus, in their spiritual life, were begotten in Him and proceed from Him, and that He is the "first born among many brethren" Rom.8:29."

It is ironic that Trott should decry contradictions in the Trinitarian scheme and yet contradict himself when he says that there are not three persons in the Godhead and yet says that the Son is a distinct person from the Father and Holy Ghost.  Trott denies that the sonship of Christ "relates to His Godhead."  Yet, in affirming this he is against the Old Baptist faith.  He certainly rejects the clear teaching of Dr. Gill on this matter, and Dr. Gill reflected the traditional Old Baptist faith.  Further, Trott holds that God begat himself!  But, in the realm of men, who ever begat himself?  Does Trott not frequently point to human begetting as being all the same as divine begetting? 

Trott continued:

"And now brethren, is there anything heretical, anything anti-scriptural in those points wherein I differ from you, anything contradictory to the Son of God's being absolutely the Jehovah, whilst He is the Son of God, and Man, possessing these existences distinct from His Godhead, yet inseparable from it, and personally one with it; any diminishing of His capacity to act as the one Mediator between God and men? If there is, then clear yourselves from the heresy by separating from me. But beware how you encourage splits among us, when that from which you would separate is sustained by the word of God. I am willing to join issue with brother Clark in an appeal to the saints of the most high God, which it is that denies that the Son of God is the Jehovah, he who says He is begotten of the Father as God, or I in contending that He is unbegotten, unproduced in His Godhead; and whether I any more diminish His essential Godhead by contending that He exists as the life of His people as well as man in His personal union with His Godhead, that he does in admitting that He exists as proper man in like union with His Godhead. Whilst having joined in this appeal to the saints, I would not forestall their decision, but wish them to consider and speak candidly if they are disposed to do so, and say which more denies the idea of absolute self-existence, he who contends that it is an unbegotten, underived existence, for this is the point; I would beg indulgence to lengthen this communication by stating what I believe to be the actual difference between me and brother Clark and other brethren whom I could name, and that reduced to the shortest span. It is simply this, that I believe that Christ actually existed from before the foundation of the world, in union with His Godhead as the Head and life of His people, and they deny His so existing, and therefore in effect, deny His actual existence as the Christ and Mediator until He was born of Mary. Also, we differ in the reference of His sonship, they referring it to His Godhead and I referring it to His existence as Head and life of His people. This is the amount on this subject; it, to be sure, extends itself to the subject of regeneration as to what constitutes that. Whether this be a sufficient ground for a split I leave them to judge for themselves. My opinion and my feelings are that it is no cause for a split or for hard feelings; but as I do not wish to intrude upon their fellowship after what brother Clark has developed by crowding myself upon their churches, or associations, I shall stand aloof, till invited."  (see here)

These views of Trott are radical and a mixture of Sabellianism and Arianism.  It is good that modern Hardshells have rid themselves of these errors.  However, it is to be noted that they come from this stock and is a monkey wrench in their Landmarker views of link chain succession. 

Concerning the eternal Sonship of Christ, Dr. John Gill wrote:

"X. When the Reformation began in the sixteenth century, and spread throughout many nations in Europe, great evangelical light broke forth among the Reformers; and Satan fearing his kingdom would greatly suffer hereby, went to his old game again, which he had played with so much success in the first ages of Christianity, namely, to stir up an opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the person of Christ...but the contrary has been maintained by all sound divines and evangelical churches, from the Reformation to the present time, as appears by their writings and harmony of confessions: so that upon the whole it is clear, that the church of God has been in the possession of this doctrine of the eternal generation and Sonship of Christ, from the beginning of Christianity to the present age, almost eighteen hundred years; nor has there been any one man who professed to hold the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the three distinct divine persons in the unity of the divine essence, that ever opposed it, till the latter end of the seventeenth century: if any such person in this course of time can be named, let him be named: none but the followers of Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Ebion, Carpocrates, the Gnosticks, etc. in the two first centuries, and then by the Sabellians, Samosatenians, Arians, Photinians, Mahometans, Socinians, and more lately by the Remonstrants, such as are Antitrinitarians."

"Now since it appears that all the sound and orthodox writers have unanimously declared for the eternal generation and Sonship of Christ in all ages, and that those only of an unsound mind and judgment, and corrupt in other things as well as this, and many of them men of impure lives and vile principles, have declared against it, such must be guilty of great temerity and rashness to join in an opposition with the one against the other; and to oppose a doctrine the Church of God has always held, and especially being what the scriptures abundantly bear testimony unto, and is a matter of such moment and importance, being a fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion, and indeed what distinguishes it from all other religions, from those of Pagans, Jews and Mahometans, who all believe in God, and generally in one God, but none of them believe in the Son of God: that is peculiar to the Christian religion."  ("Dissertation Concerning The Eternal Sonship of Christ, Shewing By Whom It Has Been Denied And Opposed, and By Whom Asserted And Defended In All Ages Of Christianity" -  see here)

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