One Individual Essence?

In the following, Dr. Samuel Clarke confutes the Reverend Dr. Wells, who writes that the true scripture doctrine of the Trinity is that the three persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are one individual essence, i.e. one numeric being.

However, in your interpretation of this text, you declare explicitly what your notion of the Trinity is. And still more distinctly, p. 21; “The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity,” you say, “is truly this, that in the Godhead there are three persons of the same divine INDIVIDUAL essence.” Now this, I say, is an express contradiction in the very terms. For INDIVIDUAL essence, in all propriety of speech, and if the word has any signifigation at all, is (when spoken of an intelligent being) the very same as PERSONAL essence; that is to say, that by which a person is that individual person which he is is, and no other. Besides, it is a phrase not only not used in Scripture, nor in the three first centuries, nor in the fourth, (unless it be the true rendering of the word μονοουσιος [monoousios] or ταυτοουσιος [tautoousios], which was then universally condemned as heretical;) but seems to be the invention of the schools, in latter ages. Hear the very learned Dr. Cudworth upon this point. “It is evident,” saith he, p. 604, “that these reputed Orthodox Fathers, [viz. St. Cyril, St. Gregory Nyssen, and others,] who were not a few, were far from thinking the three hypostases of the Trinity to have the same SINGULAR existent essence: – that Trinity of persons numerically the same, or having all one and the same SINGULAR existent essence, is a doctrine which seemeth not to have been owned by any public authority in the Christian Church, save that of the Lateran Council only: that no such thing was ever entertained by the Nicene Fathers, &c.” Again: “The truth of this,” saith he, “will appear, first, because these Orthodox Anti-Arian Fathers did all of them zealously condemn Sabellianism; the doctrine whereof is no other than this, that there was but one hypostasis, or singular INDIVIDUAL ESSENCE, of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: In the next place, because the word ὁμουσιος [homoousios], was never used by Greek writers otherwise, than to signify the agreement of things NUMERICALLY DIFFERENT from one another, &c. – Lastly, that the ancient orthodox fathers, who used the word homoousios against Arius, intended not therein to assert the Son to have one and the same singular or INDIVIDUAL essence with the Father, appeareth plainly from their dsclaiming and disowning those two words, ταυτοουσιον and μονοουσιον.” Again: “It is plain,” saith he, “that the ancient orthodox fathers asserted no such thing, as one and the same SINGULAR or numerical essence of the several persons of the Trinity.” And this he proves by numerous most express quotations. Where now is your vain confidence in the concurrent testimonies of the fathers; when not only in the three first centuries your notion, in the manner you express it, was never heard of, but even in the fourth and following centuries it was universally condemned? But still I am willing to allow all this to besides the main question; for Scripture only is our rule.

Source: A Letter to the Reverend Dr. Wells, &c.

Note: Updated archaic spelling, italics, etc.

1 John 5:20 Commentary

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know the true God, and we are in the true God, by (or through) his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. – 1 John 5:20

Some moderns refer this to Christ, who is immediately before mentioned: But others with all the ancients, and more agreeably to St. John’s style, [See N° 5.] understand it of God the Father, who is also mentioned a little before. And the construction is not difficult: “We know,” says the Apostle, “that the Son of God come; and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, [τὸν ὰληθινὸν Θεὸν, the True God; so the most and best MSS have it, in like manner as John 17:3.] and we are in him that is true, [in the true God; so the construction manifestly requires it to be understood of the same person as before;  ἵνα γινώσκωμεν ΤΟΝ ΑΛΗΘΙΝΟΝ, (θεὸν,) καὶ ἐσμὲν ἐν ΤΩ ΑΛΗΘΙΝΩ, we are in that true God,] in (that is, by or through) his Son Jesus Christ; [so the words are rightly rendered in the Bishop’s English Bible in Henry the VIII’s Time:] This is the true God, and eternal life: Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The meaning is: This is the true God, whom the Son of God has given us an understanding to know, and in whom we are by his means: This is the true God, and the way that leads to him: This is, having the Father and the Son, John 2:9. That is to say, This is the true religion, and the way to eternal life, (viz. the worship of the true God by and through his Son Jesus Christ,) who is the way, the truth, and the life;) Beware of idol-worship. Thus ver. 11 of this chapter: “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in [that is, by or through] his Son. No writer before the time of the council of Nicea, interprets the words, “this is the true God,” concerning Christ. And how they were understood in the following age, appears evidently from the manner in which Epiphanius argues, that Christ ought to be acknowledged as true God, though NOT so stiled by St. John. “To God the only-begotten,” saith he, “the Apostle does not add the title of, true God. But the Father is stiled, the true God; and the Son, God the only-begotten. And here observe what accuracy the scripture speaks. Concerning the Son it is written that he is God; and though the title of, true God, is not ascribed to him; yet &c.–For, to the Father belongs the title of, the true God; to the Son, the title of God. On the other side, the Son is stiled, the true light; the Father, light.–Again: The father,” says he “is stiled, true God; the Son, God, without the addition of the title, true.”

Source: The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (Third Edition)

Note: Updated archaic spelling, italics, etc.

William Whiston on the Filioque

The Eastern Orthodox, denying that the Spirit is from the Son, ultimately deny that the Son’s generation was unique; and consequently, that the Son is the only-begotten Son of God. Augustinian Trinitarians who, unlike the Eastern Orthodox, believe in the Filioque clause, are still in the same boat. As much as they would like to say that there is a difference between “generation” and “spiration,” no meaningful distinction is actually made. The Enlightenment-era Homoians, such as William Whiston, on the other hand, have actually provided a meaningful distinction between the second and third person’s derivation from the Father:

Jesus Christ is in a peculiar sense the Son, the only, the only-begotten, and the most beloved Son of God, i.e. a Divine Person in an extraordinary and singular manner deriv’d from, and peculiarly near and dear to the Supreme God the Father. By the extraordinary and singular manner of the derivation of the Son from the Father, I mean, at the least, that he, and he only was deriv’d from the Father αμεσιτδιτως, immediately, and without the least ministration of any other being: which was only true of the Son of God. All the subordinate creatures, nay, the Blessed Spirit himself, being deriv’d indeed originally from the Father, but not without the ministration of the Son; or, in modern language, which will bear a true sense in this place, proceeding from the Father and the Son, or rather, from the Father by the Son.

Source: Primitive Christianity Reviv’d (Volume 4)

Note: Updated archaic capitalization and italics.

Does ‘Elohim’ Denote Triunity?

And it came to pass, when God (Elohim) caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother. – Genesis 20:13

Because the verb is here put in the plural number, I freely expound the passage as referring to the angels, who led Abraham through his various wanderings. Some, with too much subtlety, infer from it a Trinity of Persons: as if it had been written: The gods caused me to wander. I grant, indeed, that the noun אלהים (Elohim,) is frequently taken for God in the Scripture: but then the verb with which it is connected is always singular. Wherever a plural verb is added then it signifies angels or princes. 

Source: Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible

Acts 20:28 Commentary

…to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. – Acts 20:28

In this place, the word “God” might possibly be understood of Christ, in like manner as in John 1:1. But the best and most ancient copies read it, and the most ancient Fathers cite it, “the Church of the Lord:” And therefore that is probably the true reading. Or, if the word “God” be understood to mean the Father; (which, if that reading be allowed, is the most natural interpretation;) then, “his own blood,” must signify, the blood of his own Son. Or lastly, supposing, (as before) that the word “God” is genuine, and signifies the Father; still the following words, “he hath purchased with his own blood,” may be understood of Christ, in the same manner of speaking that we find used in Luke 1:16-17. Not much unlike to which, is the expression John in his first epistle frequently uses, and particularly 1 John 3:5, “And ye know that HE was manifested to take away our sins; and in HIM is no sin:” Where the words “he,” and “him,” must of necessity be referred to Christ, though without any antecedent mention of him, the Father only having been before spoken of, Ver. 1, “Behold, what manner of love the FATHER hath bestowed upon us, &c.” And the same seems to be the true construction of those words, Ver. 16, “Hereby perceive we the love of GOD, because [ἐκεῖνος] he (viz. Christ) laid down his life for us:” which Paul expresses more fully, Rom. 5:8, “God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, CHRIST died for us.”1

Source: The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (Third Edition)

Note: Updated archaic spelling, capitalization, italics, etc.

John 10:30 Commentary

I and my Father are one – John 10:30

He intended to meet the jeers of the wicked; for they might allege that the power of God did not at all belong to him, so that he could promise to his disciples that it would assuredly protect them. He therefore testifies that his affairs are so closely united to those of the Father, that the Father’s assistance will never be withheld from himself and his sheep. The ancients made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is (ὁμοούσιος) of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father, so that whatever is done by Christ will be confirmed by the power of his Father.

Source: Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible


The great question here is, whether these words are to be understood of the unity of the Father and Son, as to their same monadical essence, or (as many of the Ante-Nicene Fathers did interpret them) of an unity in will, design, affection and concord? That they could not be intended to declare an unity of their individual essence, seems highly probable, both from the context; from the like expressions in the Scripture; and from the very nature of the thing. First, from the context; for there our Savior saith, “The works that I do in my Father’s name” – that is, by his authority and power imparted to me – “bear witness of me” (ver. 25); which words are evidently repugnant to a numerical unity of essence in them both; since where the essence is one, the actions must be one, and done by the same authority and power. To which add, that the words, “I and my Father,” are words plainly importing two persons; for the word Father is personal, and the word I is a pronoun personal; so that if these two are one and the same God by virtue of this text, they must be one in person as well as essence. Moreover (ver. 29), “My Father which gave them me” (saith Christ) “is greater than all;” which again destroys the numerical unity of essence betwixt both; since no one essence can give any thing to itself, and much less a divine and all-perfect essence. Nor can one essence be greater than itself; whereas our Lord expressly saith, “My Father is greater than I” (John xiv. 28). Secondly: This will be farther evident from the parallel expressions used by our Lord in the same Gospel, where he prays that his disciples “may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they might be made perfect in one:” and yet, doubtless, he could not pray that his disciples might be one in essence with the Father and Son, but only that they might be one by having the Spirit of the Father and Son dwelling in them. In which sense, Athenagoras says the Father and Son are one, viz. ἐνότητι τοũ πνεύματος, by unity of the Spirit. Thus Origin interprets this verse. For, having cited these words, “I and my Father are one,”– If any one, saith he, is disturbed at these expressions, as if we favoured the opinion of the Noetians, who deny the Father and the Son to be δύο ὑποστάσεις, two singular existences, let him consider this text (Acts iv. 34), “All that believed were of one heart and one soul,” and then he will understand this, “I and my Father are one thing:” we serve, therefore, ὡς ἀποδεδώκαμεν, as we formerly explained it, one God the Father, and the Son; we worship the Father of the truth, and also the Son, who is the truth, being indeed two things in subsistence, but in agreement and consent and sameness of will, they are one. Here, indeed, he only saith we worship the Father of the truth, and the Son, who is the truth and wisdom; but in his comment on John (p. 70), he adds, that the Father is πλείων, μείζων ἀλήθεια, a fuller and greater truth, and, being the Father of wisdom, is greater and more excellent, as he is Wisdom, than the Son. Then he proceeds (p. 387) to shew, that among the multitude of believers, some, differing from the rest, rashly affirmed, as the Noetians did, that our Saviour was the God over all; which, saith he, we Christians, or we of the church, do not believe, as giving credit to the same Saviour, who said, “My Father is greater than I.” And, lastly, he saith (p. 38), We Christians manifestly teach, that the Son is not stronger than the Father, who is the Creator of the world, ἀλλ’ ὑποδεέστερος, but inferior in power to him; which words afford the clearest demonstration, that the church of that age did not believe that our Saviour was ὁ ἐπὶ πᾶσι Θεὸς, the supreme God, or one of the same numerical essence with the Father; and therefore could not interpret those words of such an unity, but only of an unity of concord, mind and will. Hence, in his comment upon St. John (p. 227), he saith, that this unity of will is the cause of why Christ said, “I and my Father are one;” and in his next page adds, that the will which is in Christ is the image of the first will, and the divinity which is in Christ is the image of the true divinity. Novatian is, if possible, still more express in this interpretation: for, in answer to the objection of the Sabellians from this place, he saith, that unum, being here put in the neuter gender, denotes not an unity of person, but a concord of society between them; they being deservedly styled one, by reason of their concord and love, and because whatsoever the Son is, he is from the Father. The apostle, saith he, knew this unity of concord with the distinction of persons, by writing to the Corinthians thus: “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” For who understands not that Paul is one person and Apollos another? and that they had divers offices, one to plant and another to water? And yet the apostle Paul saith of these two, ἔν εἰσι, “they are one,” though, as to the distinction of persons, they are two; with other things of like nature. And here it is to be observed, that Pamelius’s note upon these words is this: Nempe in hoc loco, non satis accurate scribere Novatianum, quod nullam essentiœ Patris, et Filii communicationem adferat, sed exemplum ab apostolo unitati essentiœ veluti contrarium; in quo certe hallucinatum fuisse auctorem non vereor dicere, quum postea ecclesia in diversis conciliis, diversum definiverit. That is, Novatian did not write accurately in this place, as making no mention of the communion of the essence betwixt the Father and the Son, but introducing an example from the apostle, as it were, contrary to it; in which thing I doubt not to pronounce him erroneous, seeing the church afterwards in divers councils defined the contrary. And yet it is certain that many of the Ante-Nicene fathers in effect said the same thing: for Justin pronounces the Son to be ἕτερος ἀπὸ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἀριθμῷ οὐ γνώμῃ, another from the Father in number, but not in consent. And his reason follows thus, because he never would do any thing but what ὁ τὸν κόσμον ποιήσας, ὑπὲρ ὃν ἄλλος οὐκ ἔστι θεὸς, βεβόληται καὶ πρᾶξαι καὶ ὁμιλῆσαι, the Maker of the world would have him do and speak. Where, first, this God the Father is plainly styled another in number from him that made the world; and, secondly, the Son is represented as one not doing his own will, but being in all things subservient to, and delivering the words of that God, from whom he is thus distinguished. Lactantius saith, that the Father and Son are one, quia unanimes incolunt mundum, because they unanimously dwell in the world. Eusebius pronounces the Father and Son to be one, οὐ καθ’ ὑπότασιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν κοινωνίαν τῆς δόξης, not as to the essence, but as to communion of glory. And lastly, the council of Antioch pronounceth the Father, Son and Holy Ghost to be τρία μὲν ὑποστάσει τῆ δὲ συμϕωνίᾳ ἓν, that is, three in subsistence, but one only in consent or concord. Terullian declares, in answer to this objection of the Sabellians, that these words, “I and the Father,” duorum esse significationem, signify two; and then adds, that unum neutrali verbo non pertinet ad singularitatem, sed ad unitatem, ad similitudinem, ad conjunctionem, ad delectionem Patris qui Filium diligit; et ad obsequium Filii qui voluntatis Patris obsequitur: which last words shew that it is impossible that this text should be interpreted of the numerical essence or unity of the Father and Son; seeing one and the same essence cannot be obsequious or obedient to itself. And yet there is nothing more common among the Ante-Nicene fathers, than to say with Novatian, who having affirmed that the Son, obedierit Patri, et obediat, always did and always doth obey the Father, thence make this inference–Quid tam evidens esse ptest hunc non Patrem esse, sed Filium, quam quod obediens Patri Deo proponitur? What more evidently shews that Christ is not the Father, but the Son, than this, that Christ is obedient to the Father? (Cap. xxiii.) And again (Cap. xxx.), Filius nihil ex arbitrio suo gerit, nec ex concilio suo fecit, nec a se venit; sed imperiis paternus omnibus, et preceptis obedit, ut quamvis probet illum nativitas Filium, tamen morigera obedientia asserat ipsum paternæ voluntatis, ex quo est, ministrum. Ita dum se Patri in omnibus obtemperantem reddit, quamvis fit et Deus, unum tamen Deum Patrem de obedientia sua ostendit, ex quo et traxit, originem; that is, in short, the Son of God,  by his dutiful obedience to all his Father’s commands, and to his will (he doing nothing by his own will and counsel), by this demonstrated, that though he was God, yet the Father, from whom he came forth, and whom he obeyed, was the one God, even that one God, of whom he saith, Nos scimus et legimus et credimus et tenemus, unum esse Deum, qui fecit eælum pariter ac terram, quoniam nec alterum novimus, aut noscere (cum multus sit) aliquando poterimus; that is, we Christians know, believe and hold, that there is one only God, the Creator of heaven and earth; nor know we, nor can we know any other, because there is no other. And again, God the Father is unus Deus, cujus neque magnitudini, neque majestati, neque virtuti quicquam non dixerim præfferri, sed nec cimparari potest; that is, that one God, to whose greatness, majesty and power, nothing can be compared (Cap. xxx.). And indeed all the Greek fathers, from Justin to Eusebius inclusive, do frequently inform us that the Son did ὑπηρετεῖν τῷ θελήματι τοῦ Πατρὸς, obey the will of the Father, that he did ὑπουργεῖν, διακονεῖν, ὑπηρετεῖν, minister, and was subservient to him. And all that writ in Latin, from Tertullian to Lactantius inclusively, that he did Patris voluntati administrare, administer to the will of the Father; that he did obedire in omnibus Patri, obey the Father in all things; that the Son voluntati Patris fidelitur paret nec unquam faciat aut fecerit, nisi quod Pater aut voluit aut jussit, faithfully obeyed the will of his Father, and never doth or would do any thing but what the Father willed or ordered him to do (Lb. iv. C. xxix.). It being therefore certain, that one and the same essence can have but one and the same will, and that one singular and numerical essence cannot administer to the will, obey, and be subservient to the will and commands of another; hence it is demonstratively evident that he who does so, cannot have the same numerical essence and will with the Father.

Source: The Last Thoughts of Dr. Whitby

Godhood = Dominion

As for all of the errors which the modern Christians have fallen into concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, they seem to be owing to one source in particular: their restricting the definition of God to mean the one self-existent Jehovah. In the Old and New Testaments, however, when polytheism was the reigning notion among mankind, the word God was much more “comprehensive.”1 Ancient Judaism was a popular religion, adapted to the common notions of the world at that time, and delivered in the common language, to men of no education; a mass of ignorant slaves, bred up to labour in the brick kiln. Nothing was known to these men of a Trinity in Unity, nor of a Hypostatic Union, nor any other scholastic term which men have since invented. But they understood the word God in the same plain sense in which it was understood by all the neighboring nations, and in the same plain and unscholastic sense in which it was understood by the most ancient fathers. It was understood by them to express relative dominion, as it is explained by Sir Isaac Newton:

This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God παντοκρáτωρ or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Source: The Apology of Benjamin Ben Mordecai (Volume 2)

Note: Updated archaic spelling, capitalization, italics, etc.