The Personal Unity of God

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Lectures on The Principles of Unitarianism
Lecture 5 – (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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this lecture, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

Deuteronomy 6:4
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Adopting the maxim which applies to all reasonings from effects to causes, viz. that no more causes ought to be acknowledged than are sufficient to account for the effects, we come to the conclusion, from the light of nature, that the universe was formed by one Supreme Power. Without entering into the details which would be necessary to make out this inference, I shall advance to the evidence of the unity of God which is to be found in Scripture. To reveal, establish, and propagate this tenet, to which, however sublime and rational, men have in all ages evinced a strong aversion, was the grand end proposed to be accomplished by the Hebrew prophets.

It would be endless to quote all the passages that might be adduced to prove the Divine unity; they are innumerable. The following are a specimen. “I am God, and there is no god with me,” Deut. xxxii. 39. “To whom will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One,” Isaiah xl. 25. “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,” Isaiah xlvi. 9. In these passages, as in every other in which the Almighty speaks of himself or is spoken of, his unity as one individual person is denoted by the use of singular pronouns. The word ‘God,’ which occurs in those passages, does not denote a collection of intelligent agents, but one existence in the natural and only intelligible sense of the word. And as those texts declare that there is no other God than the Being who excludes all from that character but himself, Unitarianism is proved to be the doctrine of Scripture.

The Jews, who were made the depositaries of God’s Word, and to whom he would certainly address himself in a language they could understand, could have no idea that by the appellation ‘God’ was meant three distinct persons subsisting in unity of essence, or that singular pronouns were used to denote a plurality of persons. How could they understand that God’s unity was a quite different thing from the unity of other intelligent beings? What other idea than that of unity could have been attached to the current language which Jehovah used concerning himself without an express admonition? And where is that intimation to be found?

We also find that Jesus Christ himself speaks of Jehovah as one being, and affirms, in the language of the Old Testament, that there is no other than he. Now what effect was such language fitted to have upon the minds of the Jews, to whom he wished to be intelligible? Could they imagine that the appellation ‘God,’ which he was constantly in the habit of applying to his Father in distinction from himself, was ever used by him to denote himself? Certainly not. By the appellation ‘God,’ he was universally understood to mean the Father; and yet he continually uses language similar to that we have quoted, in which we have seen it unequivocally affirmed that God is one being, and in which also all other beings are excluded from Deity in the very terms.

Thus, as when Jesus says “There is one God, and there is no other but he,” or quotes any language of similar import from the Old Testament, the term ‘God’ must be understood to signify the Father; so the declaration of Christ in these words is a statement of the exclusive Deity of the Father. We cannot suppose that the meaning of the term ‘God,’ as used by Jesus, was different from that which it bears in the Old Testament. In the latter it cannot mean three persons in unity, while it is used by Jesus to signify the Father. Hence every passage in the Old Testament in which it is declared that there is one God, or that God is one, is a declared proof of Unitarianism. And as the meaning of personal pronouns as used by Christ, when applied to the Father, and as employed in the Old Testament by Jehovah when speaking of himself, must also be the same; in every declaration of God in which singular pronouns are used by him there is a clear and pointed confirmation of our opinions. Thus again, as when Christ declares “There is one God, and none other but he,” the pronoun he, being used in reference to the Father, denotes one individual being; so when it is said, “I am God, and there is none besides me—To whom will you liken me, or shall I be equal, saith the Holy One;” the pronouns I and me imply that one being is spoken of.

Moreover, there are many passages of Scripture directly implying that it is the Father, and not the Son also, who uttered those declarations of the Old Testament that so clearly assert the exclusive Deity of the being who speaks. For instance, Christ declares, John viii. 54, “It is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God.” The same conclusion may be drawn from Heb. i. 2, where it is said, “God, who spake in time past unto the Fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” For God, who spake to the Fathers by the prophets, being the person who hath spoken to us by his Son, he cannot be the Son. [1] Since, then, the Father was the author of such passages as Deut. xxxii. 39. Isa. xi. 25. xlvi. 9. and our text, it necessarily follows that none but the Father is Jehovah. Indeed, this must appear evident from almost every passage in the Old Testament in which Jehovah is represented as speaking of himself or as being addressed by others.

With Trinitarians, however, all these forcible considerations are ineffectual, as long as they conceive their mysticism to be supported by a single passage. Accordingly, in opposition to the tens of thousands of passages in which God is spoken of as one person, the language he is represented as having used when about to create man, is adduced as a proof that in the one essence of Deity there is a plurality of subsistences. Thus the passages runs:—“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” or more literally, “We will make man in our image.”

The true explanation of this is to be found in the practice which has prevailed in all nations with which we are acquainted, of persons of majesty and power speaking of themselves in the plural number. “Given at our palace,” “It is our pleasure,” are common expressions of kings in their proclamations, &c. Thus Rehoboam speaks to the young men of whom he asks counsel, 1 Kings xii. 9. See also the letter of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra iv. 18. Christ also speaks of himself in the plural number, and Paul’s common expressions concerning himself run in this style.

If, therefore, we consider how common throughout the world has been the use of plural pronouns to express the dignity and authority of the speaker, is it surprising that God should have used this language on an occasion or two, especially on one which was so eminently to display his moral and natural perfections as the creation of man? To this it has been objected, that were such language that of majesty, it would have been frequently used, and on such occasions as the promulgation of the law, in which Jehovah acted in the dignity of lawgiver. To this we answer, that this form of expression was purposely avoided in order to preserve the great doctrine of the unity of God as one person from the possibility of misapprehension; and we retort thus: Why, if the doctrine of the plurality of the Divine Being be true, is the intimation of it confined to a passage or two, when the general strain of the Old Testament language so clearly seems in direct contradiction to it?

It is urged, however, that it is reasonable to suppose that the language, “We will make man in our image,” was addressed to the same beings to whom Jehovah said on the fall of Adam, “Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” But this supposition is not necessary, and cannot be shewn to be so. Further, there is this reason for understanding the one to have been addressed to beings distinct from God, and the other not: We know that inferior beings possess the knowledge of good and evil, whereas we have no evidence that God employed any assistants in the work of creation. On the contrary, his own declaration on the subject runs thus: “I am he that stretched forth the heavens alone, and that formed the earth by myself.” And supposing this and similar passages did not prove the point, and that we maintained the language “Let us make man, &c.” was addressed to angels, what could Trinitarians consistently urge against it? The notion of God’s having created the world by means of instrumental agents is not contrary to reason. [2] The language would not imply more than that God endowed them with the power of fashioning matter into its present form, and that as his instruments, he addressed them to call that power into exercise.

Moreover, it is said, “God made man in his image.” Now, if the plural pronouns us and our indicate a plurality of persons in the Godhead, because they are plural, then I and me imply one person, because they are singular. To say the one relates to the Divine Being in his distinctions and the others considered in his unity, is to interpret according to the disputed principles of theology, taking for granted the thing to be proved. It is to take the pronouns us and we as implying plurality on an undisputed principle of grammar, but not to take the singular pronouns I and me as implying one person, though such is the meaning of them on the same principle also. It is to suppose that a plurality of persons may speak both in the singular and the plural, contrary to all usage, and to overlook the correct account that can be given of the use of plural pronouns by an individual.

It is further said, that by the plural Elohim, in the declaration of the tempter, “Ye shall be as gods,” we are not to understand angels, but God himself; and that the language, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil,” and that uttered by the tempter being correlatives, we are to understand by the Elohim mentioned in the proposal of the serpentine seducer, the Deity in his distinction of plurality.

In opposition to this conclusion be it observed, that if Elohim means the supreme God, and denotes a plurality of subsistences in the Godhead, it proves also a plurality of Gods, while the expression ‘one of us’ understood in the Trinitarian sense, implies precisely the same. Unless angels are understood by Elohim, an appellation which is not unfrequently given them in the Old Testament and by which the Jews were accustomed to denominate them, it must be supposed that the object of ambition held up by the tempter to our parents was likeness to the Supreme. But could this have been that which overcame the virtue of our first parents? Could their judgment have been so perverted as to suppose that they could become as the Supreme in any point of excellence? Would they not have considered such a thing as most impious an extravagant? And we may suppose that the tempter was too wise to use such unlikely means to accomplish his purpose as setting before them the prospect of obtaining so singular an object. We may rather suppose that the object of allurement was the prospect of arriving to the likeness of the next order of beings above themselves; and this was a much greater temptation than the other would have been.

Allowing that Elohim signifies God, and not angels, this would only suppose that the tempter had represented this knowledge as possessed by the Supreme, in order to give the more pompous view of its excellence, and by this means insinuating that, by the possession of it, Eve should become like him; or it might only suppose that the serpent had misrepresented it as knowledge peculiar to the Deity, in order to exaggerate its value in her estimation. Moreover, the correlation of the phrases we are considering is not quite evident, because the latter may be rendered, “Behold, the man was or hath been like one of us, now knowing good and evil.”

It has been further objected that it is inconsistent with the majesty of God to include his creatures with himself, (speaking as if he had been only primus inter pares), which, on the supposition that the words “Behold, &c.” were addressed to angels, it follows that he did. This does not appear, I think; for the only common ground in which he includes them with himself is that of knowing good and evil, and the language does not exalt angels so much as the Trinitarian view of it exalts man. According to it the persons of the Trinity address one another in language that would seem to imply that man had become superior to all creatures, that the knowledge of good and evil had elevated him in the scale of intelligence, that he could not be compared to any being but the Deity.

[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. Macknight. Back to top

2. Dr. Paley. Back to top