The Father the only True God

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Lectures on The Principles of Unitarianism
Lecture 6 – (By J. S. Hyndman, 1824)

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

1 Corinthians 8:6
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Without adverting to the occasion on which these words were written by the Apostle, I proceed to remark that the passage has always been esteemed by us an evident and decisive proof of the exclusive Deity of the Father. To make our argument plain to the meanest capacity, I shall adopt the simplest illustration of it imaginable.

Suppose, then, I should say to you, “To us Britons there is one king,” would not my assertion imply that there was no other king of Britain but one? and if I should immediately afterwards mention some other personage, would it not be obvious that by that personage I did not mean the one British king of whom I had just spoken? Suppose again that I should say, “To us Britons there is one king, George the Fourth,” would it not be implied in my language that there was no other king of Britain but he? and if I should immediately afterwards name some other official personage, would it not be clear that by that personage I did not mean the one king, George the Fourth? When the Apostle declares, therefore, that to us Christians there is one God, the Father, is it not clear as sunbeam that the one Lord, Jesus Christ, is not God, and that there is no other God besides the Father?

The fourth verse concludes: “We know that there is no other God but one.” Suppose again that I should address you thus: “There is no other king of Britain but one,” and afterwards assert, “To us Britons there is one king, George the Fourth,” would it not be evident that by the one king in the latter case, I meant the personage to whom I referred in the former? If then I should immediately afterwards begin to speak of some other person of dignity, would it not be obvious that the latter personage was not the one king besides whom I had said there was no other?

When the Apostle says, ver. 4, “There is none other God but one,” and afterwards, ver. 6, “To us there is but one God, the Father,” is it not incontestably certain that he teaches the exclusive Deity of the Father? His speaking immediately afterwards of any other person could not therefore be understood as implying that that person was the one God, the Father, besides whom he had said there was no other.

But ingenuity has not been deficient in her exertions to shew the possibility of maintaining Christ’s supreme divinity in consistency with this passage of Scripture; and it has actually been adduced as proof of the doctrine. Thus the argument runs: “When the Apostle says, ver. 5, ‘Though there be that are called gods, as there be gods many, and lords many,’ it is obvious that ‘the gods many and lords many’ are both included in the more general and comprehensive phrase ‘ gods many.’ The same supposed beings which he first calls by the simple appellation ‘gods,’ he distributes under the appellations ‘gods and lords.’ ‘The lords many,’ then, belonged to the number of the heathen deities as well as the ‘gods many,’ and as the Apostle’s object was to shew that the Deity should receive supreme homage and worship, and to the gods many and lords many of the heathen, he opposes not merely God the Father, but the one Lord Jesus Christ, therefore the one Lord Jesus Christ is God as well as the Father, and is entitled to the worship belonging to Deity.”

This is plausible at first sight, but certainly nothing more. Supposing that the Apostle, in distributing the gods into two classes, had designated each by an appellation which, though peculiar to itself, was not in one instance more descriptive of Deity than in the other, we might have been led to understand that both classes of distribution ranked in the heathen mythology as divine beings or gods. But when in his supposed distribution of ‘gods’ into two distinct classes, he confines to one of these classes the appellation that he had given to the one general class, it clearly appears that there was no distribution in the case, and consequently that those alone ranked in the order of proper heathen deities, to whom he exclusively gives the name ‘gods.’ His confining the general appellation ‘gods’ in his subsequent specification of the one class of beings shews that by that one class he meant exclusively those whom he had mentioned under the same name.

And is not the very circumstance of the Apostle’s speaking of the gods and lords under the specific names by which they had been known, a clear and obvious proof that he spoke of them in the capacities which they were respectively to hold? Now we are informed by Hesiod, Plato, Plutarch, and other heathen authors, that their gods were superior to their lords. “The gods were their celestial and sovereign deities; the lords were the deified souls of worthy men, their Baalims and presidents of earthly things, their agents and mediators between the sovereign gods and men.” [1]

The parallel the Apostle draws between the lords of the heathen and the one Lord Jesus Christ, requires us to understand, therefore, that the latter is perfectly distinct in nature and personality from the one God, and wholly inferior to him; that he is the agent and mediator of God the Father.

Accordingly the capacity sustained by them in the Christian dispensation is denoted by the respective application of prepositions which have different meanings. “One God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.” All this is simple when considered according to the relative dignity and offices of the gods and the lords of the heathen. And nothing can be plainer than that dia universally signifies instrumentality of operation, while the prepositions applied to the Father denote original power and agency in the matter with respect to which they are used. In the application of these different prepositions, we see a clear and precise distinction made between the one God and the one Lord, such a distinction as the parallel of the Apostle exactly required, and such a distinction as cannot be made to comport with the idea that the Father and Christ are considered as of the same dignity and dominion.

It is therefore wholly unfounded to say that the proposition, “There is none other God but one,” must be considered as identified in the reasoning of the Apostle with the simple proposition, “To us there is but one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” And even supposing that under the general term ‘gods’ he includes the ‘lords’ of the heathen, might not the Apostle be supposed to have done so, merely because in the language of the heathen they could be called or actually were called so in an inferior sense? But the parallel he draws between the ‘gods many and lords many,’ considered in their respective dignity, (which was that of inferiority in the lords and superiority in the gods), and the one God and the one Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the prepositions used to denote their respective capacities in the heathen institute and the subsequent distinction of them by the appellations that were respectively given to them by the heathen to distinguish the one class or rank from the other, all decidedly shew that the Apostle spoke of the one God the Father as the only supreme God.

He may have mentioned the ‘gods’ first and generally, because it was his principal object to shew that there was only one God to Christians. This being his main object, the parallel between the gods many of the heathen and the one God would naturally enough come forth first in his statement. Or he may have mentioned the ‘gods many’ in the first place, because being supreme, they would first strike his mind, or because the lords would be understood from the mention of the gods, every god having had a lord as his mediator and agent.

It is further objected, that Christ being the Lord, if we do not allow his lordship or dominion to be one with that of the Father, we have more than one Lord. But this is merely assuming the point in dispute. The whole parallel and the application of the preposition dia, with respect to Christ, make it certain that though he is indeed the Lord, yet he is the one subordinate Lord. And the objection might be thus retorted: Since the lordship of the Father is confessedly absolute, if the dominion of Christ be the same, we have certainly two absolute Lords. Some of the ancient fathers argued, that as the Apostle by saying, ‘there is one Lord,’ cannot be reasonably supposed to exclude the Father from being also the Lord of Christians; so neither by saying, ‘there is one God, the Father,’ ought he to be supposed to exclude Jesus Christ from being also the God of Christians. But this either takes for granted the thing to be proved; or else proceeds on the principle which one would adopt were he to say, the king is not excluded from the dominion and authority of the mayor; therefore the mayor’s authority and power are equal to those of the sovereign.

The exclusive Deity of the Father appears therefore to be proved from this passage in the most clear and distinct manner; and we look not in vain for passages fully as explicit and determinate on the point. Let us advert to Ephes. iv. 4—6, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Now, as when it is said, ‘there is one faith and one baptism,’ it is implied that the one faith is not the one baptism, nor the one baptism the one faith; so when it is said, ‘there is one Lord,’ and afterwards, ‘one God and Father of all,’ it is as distinctly implied that the one Lord is not the one God of all, nor the one God the one Lord. They are as perfectly distinct as words can convey distinct ideas. The appellation ‘God’ is given to one person, and there being but one God on any scheme, the Father must alone be he.

Moreover, is it not very plain indeed, that among those respecting whom it is said, ‘the Father is above,’ the one Lord is included? And is this any thing more or less than that which the common phraseology of the New Testament justifies, which speaks of God as “the God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord;” a phrase clearly implying that in the same sense of superiority, (and not with relation to any incomprehensible mode of eternal generation), Jehovah is called the Father of Jesus in which he is called his God; an assertion that cannot be made plainer than by our Lord’s declaration to Mary, before his ascension, “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Indeed, when we attempt to prove the FATHER to be the only God, we have in the very name by which he is designated what marks and brands with the name of invention all the metaphysical conceits of ‘begotten, not made,’ ‘being of one substance with the Father,’ and at once determines the absolute superiority of the God of Jesus.

But as I wish to prove rather than to declaim, I shall leave the picture to those who love what is most mysterious and contradictory, and go on to observe that we have a clear and distinct declaration of the exclusive Godhead of the Father in the introduction to Christ’s intercessory prayer, which runs thus: “This is life eternal to know thee the only true God, and Jesus to be the Christ, whom thou hast sent.” It has indeed been said that he has here denominated ‘the only true God‘ in distinction from all false gods—to the exclusion of those “whom the false persuasion of the Gentiles had introduced.” But this is a mere supposition, to evade a plain and disagreeable consequence. Besides, the evasion will not prove effectual; for in the very same sentence in which Jesus states the glorious advantage that would attend faith in his mission, the only character in which he represents it as necessary that he should be known is that of the Christ, a capacity that distinguishes him from the Being whose Christ he is, and a capacity which Jehovah can never be supposed to hold, whether considered as forming part of the whole person of Jesus or as considered abstractly, which, however, we have seen, cannot be the case, since a nature cannot be said to hold any office or do any action whatever.

Indeed, though the possibility of God’s sustaining such an office of inferiority could not be controverted on any ground, still as it is held by Trinitarians, that to possess the divine as well as the human nature is necessary for the Christ in order to the discharge of the part he has to act in the economy of salvation, we may ask, why is not belief in the divine part of his constitution represented as necessary to salvation? As the Christ it is supposed that he is God and man; why then are not both these particulars specified as the subjects of faith in a summary, as this is, of these articles the belief of which is necessary to human salvation? Moreover, Jesus in this passage addresses the Father in prayer; so that unless we are prepared to admit that the character of the true God may be ascribed to more than one being, and that one person may address another and yet not be a totally distinct person, we must acknowledge the strength of the passage in favour of the doctrine that it would certainly convey to a mind unacquainted with orthodoxy. Nothing can be plainer than that the distinction here made by the word ‘only’ is between Jesus as the messenger of God, and God who sent him; and at the very least it may be said, that whether or not the word ‘only’ had reference to the heathen deities, it tacitly and effectually excludes Jesus himself from the rank of Sovereign of the world.

The only passage in which it is supposed to be affirmed that the appellation ‘true God’ is applied to Jesus, is 1 John v. 20. But, in the first place, supposing that the sense of the passage shewed Jesus Christ to be the immediate antecedent, we might understand that the pronoun this or he referred to the remote antecedent in the same manner as in 2 John 7, especially as they both occur in the same author. 2. The sense of the passage leads us to understand God to be the proper antecedent; for as the first occurrence of the phrase ‘him that is true’ certainly refers to God the Father, so, according to the structure of the words, the second occurrence of it must also refer to him. 3. To suppose that the first occurrence refers to God, which no one can deny, and that the second refers to Christ, is to make the Apostle affirm that the Son of God has given us an understanding to know him that is true (or God), and then to apply the same phrase to Jesus, who came to give us an understanding to know the being whom he had distinguished and described as “him that is true.”

The ambiguity arising from the use of the word ‘even’ has no foundation; for it is not in the original, and the preposition that follows may be understood in the sense of ‘through,’ which indeed it might be equally well rendered. Dr. Clarke understood the pronoun ‘this’ to refer to the knowledge of the true God communicated by the Son. “This knowledge is the knowledge of the true God and of eternal life.”

And indeed, supposing Jesus to be the subject of the last sentence for another reason than those already assigned, the passage would not prove that he is the true God; for as when it is said, “he is the eternal life,” the meaning is only that he is the way to, or the way to the knowledge of, eternal life; so when it is said that Jesus is the true God, the meaning could only be, that he is the way to, or the way to the knowledge of, the true God. This is a sentiment in exact accordance with all those Scriptures that represent Christ only as the medium by which we arrive at the knowledge and enjoyment of eternal life. Such as, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in or through his Son.” “Eternal life is the gift of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The exclusive Deity of the Father is also stated in the very terms in the following passages; “They sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy,” Rev. xv. 3, 4. “The only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ,” Jude 4. “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty,” Jude 25. Many copies read “through Jesus Christ,” Rom. xvi. 27. “But of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father,” Mark xiii. 32.

It has been observed with respect to the last passage, that no one can deny that ignorance of the minutest part of the plan of providence is as inconsistent with the nature of the Deity as ignorance of the whole; and that he could not be God to whom every atom in the boundless immensity of space, and every moment in the endless duration of eternity, are not perfectly known. They who maintain that Jesus Christ is Supreme God, must surely mean that in his mind were concentrated all the infinite attributes of Deity. But what can more directly and clearly refute this supposition than our Saviour’s express declaration, that there were, in the eternal counsels of the Father, a day and an hour that he knew not, or that were in fact hidden from him? Can we suppose for a moment that he who made this open declaration either regarded himself as the omniscient God, or wished to be so regarded?

I am well aware, however, that the maintainers of the doctrine in question have made an attempt, no doubt from the best and purest motives, to give this passage an interpretation corresponding to their general views. This attempt we are now to examine.

It is said that when our blessed Lord imputes to himself imperfection, or anything that implies it, we are to regard him as speaking, not of his divine, but of his human nature. As a human being, they say, he was ignorant of many things, though as God he was omniscient. Jesus Christ, the man, might not know what Jesus Christ, the second person of the Godhead, did. The remarks respecting the two natures of Christ, considered in itself and as a principle of interpretation, are, in my opinion, more than sufficient to shew the utter groundlessness, inconsistency, and absurdity of any interpretation of any part of Scripture, upon the foundation of that doctrine. But the following remarks of an admirable writer [2] are so very pertinent to the subject, and so clearly stated that I cannot help quoting them.

“Are we to understand that the divine and human nature, in the person of our Saviour, were perfectly distinct,—so much so that there were subjects on which they held no communication, and were variously informed? Are we to understand that those same organs of speech, of which the divine nature made use at one time, to proclaim its omniscience, were employed by the human nature at another, to declare the imperfection of its knowledge? Are we to understand, in short, that two different beings, a perfect and an imperfect, a finite and an infinite, occupied the same body; and spoke and acted, at different times, in a different and inconsistent manner? Is this the doctrine which we are required to receive as the doctrine of Scripture?—and must we, at the same time, believe that these natures, thus distinct and unconnected both in word and deed, were nevertheless so perfectly united as to form one indivisible person, one perfect deified man? Surely an opinion so monstrous, so made up of direct contradictions, cannot have the sanction of the Word of Truth. If the mind of Jesus was one, and this is not disputed, it could not, at the same time, have been informed and uninformed on the same subject;—the same idea could not, at the same moment, have been present to and absent from it.

Our Lord’s assertion is, that he knew not the day and hour. Shall we then suppose him to mean, that though he did know it as the Deity, he did not know it as man; or in other words, that the particular portion of his nature which was human was not the source of his knowledge? What is this but to ascribe to our blessed master words which, if explained by him, would have been found to contain nothing better, even upon the Trinitarian hypothesis, than a flat and unprofitable truism; and which, unexplained, could be regarded in no other light than as a mere equivocation. Let it be remembered, as a fair and legitimate, though I must think it will appear a startling consequence of this mode of interpretation,—that our Lord might, consistently with his character and with truth, have denied in one place, in terms as strong and direct as he affirmed in another,—saying I know, one moment, and I know not, as confidently, the next,—his knowledge of the human heart, of the circumstances of his own approaching death, of the destruction of Jerusalem, of the general resurrection and judgment, in short, of everything which, as a mere man, he could not have known. Those whose minds revolt against such a theory and such a consequence, and who would not put an equivocation in the mouth of him who was ‘the truth,’ as well as ‘the way and the life,’ will probably agree with me, that Jesus would not have professed himself ignorant of that which he really knew, in any character or nature whatsoever, whether human or divine.”

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


Endnotes:

1. Dr. Samuel Clarke. Back to top

2. Dr. Joseph Hutton, in his Sermon entitled “Omniscience the Attribute of the Father only.” Back to top