J. M. Stephenson on the Trinity
JM Stephenson on the Trinity
“In reference to his dignity, he is denominated the Son of God, before his incarnation. Hear his own language: “He that speaketh of himself, seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true.” John 7:18. “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God.” Chap. 10:36. “In this was manifest the love of God toward us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:9, 10. The idea of being sent implies that he was the Son of God antecedent to his being sent. To suppose otherwise is to suppose that a father can send his son on an errand before that son has an existence, which would be manifestly absurd. “To say that God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” is equivalent to saying that the Son of God assumed our nature; he must therefore have been the Son of God before his incarnation.” (J. M. Stephenson, November 7, 1854, Review & Herald, vol. 6, no. 13, page 99, par. 10)
“But in the last place, on this point, What was the origin of this nature; or in other words, the origin of the Son of God. It is admitted by Trinitarians that the pre-existence, simply considered, does not prove his eternal God-head, nor his eternal Son-ship. Says Watson, a standard writer of the Trinitarian School, “His pre-existence, indeed, simply considered, does not evince his God-head, and is not therefore, a proof against the Arian hypothesis; but it destroys the Socinian notion, that he was a man only. For since no one contends for the pre-existence of human souls, and if they did, the doctrine would be confuted by their own consciousness, it is clear, that if Christ existed before his incarnation, he is not a mere man, whatever his nature, by other arguments may be proved to be.” This is an honest acknowledgment plainly expressed. And in reference to his nature, it has been shown to be Divine; and being such, it must have been immortal. Indeed this proposition is self-evident; for he who is Divine, must be immortal.
We cannot suppose that Christ was mortal, and, as such, would have been subject to death, had not the plan of redemption been devised; he must, therefore, in his original nature, have been deathless.
The question now to be considered, then, is not whether the only begotten Son of God was Divine, immortal, or the most dignified and exalted being, the Father only excepted, in the entire Universe; all this has been proved, and but few will call it in question; but whether this August Personage is self- existent and eternal, in its absolute, or unlimited sense; or whether in his highest nature, and character, he had an origin, and consequently beginning of days. The idea of Father and Son supposes priority of the existence of the one, and the subsequent existence of the other. To say that the Son is as old as his Father, is a palpable contradiction of terms. It is a natural impossibility for the Father to be as young as the Son, or the Son to be as old as the Father. If it be said that this term is only used in an accommodated sense, it still remains to be accounted for, why the Father should use as the uniform title of the highest, and most endearing relation between himself and our Lord, a term which, in its uniform signification, would contradict the very idea he wished to convey. If the inspired writers had wished to convey the idea of the co-etaneous existence, and eternity of the Father and Son, they could not possibly have used more incompatible terms.
And of this, Trinitarians have been sensible. Mr. Fuller, although a Trinitarian, had the honesty to acknowledge, in the conclusion of his work on the Son-ship of Christ, that, “in the order of nature, the Father must have existed before the Son.”But with this admission, he attempts to reconcile the idea of the Son’s being “properly eternal,” as well as the Father; two ideas utterly irreconcilable. The idea of an eternal Son is a self-contradiction. He must, therefore have an origin. But what saith the Scriptures? They speak right to the point. The apostle Paul says, speaking of Christ, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature.” Col. 1:15. Notice, 1st. This cannot refer to his birth of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem of Judea, because millions of creatures, in connection with this world, had been born previous to that time. Cain and Abel had been born more than four thousand years previously.
2nd. The following verse makes his birth antecedent to the creation of all things in heaven and on earth, including all worlds, all ranks and orders of intelligences, visible and invisible. “For by him.” By whom? Ans. By the first born of every creature. The pronoun him refers to this being for its antecedent. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” Verse 16. All things in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, evidently include all the orders of created intelligences.
Now, he must have been born, i.e., had a real intelligent existence, before he could exercise creative power. But all the works of creation are ascribed to him as the “first born of every creature;” hence the birth here spoken of, must have been previous to the existence of the first creature in heaven or in earth. To be such, it must refer to his Divine nature, unless he had two distinctive natures before his incarnation; for which no one contends. But the 17th verse fixes the priority of the birth here spoken of. “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Here the pronoun he refers to the same person for its antecedent, that the pronoun him does; and both refer to “the first born of every creature.” And the “all things, he is” before, in this verse, are evidently the “all things” named in the previous verse. Hence the point is fully established, that it is the Divine nature of our blessed Redeemer which is here spoken of; and that this nature was born: and in reference to his order, he was “the first born.”
Again, in John 1:1-3, 14, we have the same class of evidence. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” “In the beginning,” evidently refers to the commencement of the series of events brought to view in these verses, which was the creation of all things. This gives “the only begotten of the Father” (see verse 14) intelligent existence before the first act of creative power was put forth, and proves that it is his Divine nature here spoken of; and that too, in connection with the creation of all things. In verse 14, this Word, who was “in the beginning” “with God,” who “was God,” and by whom “all things were made, that were made,” is declared to be the “only begotten of the Father,” thereby teaching that in his highest nature he was begotten; and consequently as such, he must have had a beginning.
Associate the many occurrences of the term, “only begotten Son of God,” with the person, nature, and time, brought to view in the foregoing verses; and if any doubts still remain, in reference to the Divine nature of the only begotten Son of God having had an origin, you may compare them with those texts which exclude the possibility of his being eternal, in the sense of his never having had a beginning of days; such as “The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords,: who only hath immortality.” 1 Tim. 6:16. This cannot be understood in the sense of none having deathless natures, or being exempt from death, except the Father; for Christ at that time was immortal in this sense: so were all the angels who had kept their “first estate;” it must, therefore be understood in the same sense, that we all understand, his being the only Potentate; not that there are no other potentates; but that he is the only Supreme Ruler. There cannot be two Supreme Rulers at the same time.
Again, where it is declared, that there are none good except the Father, it cannot be understood that none others are good in a relative sense; for Christ and angels, are good, yea perfect, in their respective sphere; but that the Father alone is supremely, or absolutely, good; and that he alone is immortal in an absolute sense; that he alone is self-existent; and, that, consequently, every other being, however high or low, is absolutely dependent upon him for life; for being. This idea is most emphatically expressed by our Saviour himself; “For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” John 5:26. This would be singular language for one to use who had life in his essential nature, just as much as the Father. To meet such a view, it should read thus: For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath the Son life in himself.
If as Trinitarians argue, the Divine nature of the Son hath life in himself (.e., is self existent) just the same, and in as absolute a sense, as the Father, why should he represent himself as actually dependent upon the Father for life? What propriety in representing the Father as conferring upon him a gift which he had possessed from all eternity? If it be said that his human nature derived its life from the Father, I would answer, It does not thus read; or even if it did, I would still urge the impropriety of the human nature of the Son of God representing itself as being absolutely dependent upon the Father for the gift of life. Would it not be much more reasonable, in such case, for the human nature of Christ to derive its life, and vitality, from its union with the Divine nature, instead of from its union with the Father? I understand this passage according to the natural import of the language: “For as the Father hath life (i.e., existence) in himself, (i.e., self-existent,) so hath he given to the Son to have life (i.e., existence) in himself.”
I know I will be referred to the declaration of our Saviour, I have power to lay down my life, and to take it up again. John 10:18. Read the last clause of this verse: “This commandment (commission—Campbell) have I received of my Father.”
I will conclude the evidence upon this point by quoting one more passage. Paul says, “And again, when he bringeth the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Heb. 1:6. He must have been his Son before he could send him into the world. In verse 2, the Father declares that he made the worlds by the same Son he is here represented as sending into the world. His Son must have existed before he created the worlds; and he must have been begotten before he existed; hence the begetting here spoken of, must refer to his Divine nature, and in reference to his order, he is the first-begotten; hence as a matter of necessity he must have been “the first born of every creature.” Col. 1:15. “The first born of every creature.”…
Having investigated the original nature, glory and dignity of our Lord and Master; having gazed a few moments upon the face of him who is the fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely; having had a glance at the celestial glory he had with the Father, before the world was, and beheld that matchless form which is the image of the invisible God; and having looked with wonder and admiration upon this August personage, exalted far above angels and thrones and dominions, principalities and powers; we are prepared, as far as our feeble perceptions can comprehend, to appreciate that amazing love and condescension which induced our adorable Redeemer to forego all the glories and honors of heaven, and all the endearments of his Father’s presence.
Although all his Father’s treasures were his, yet he became so poor, that, he had not where to lay his head; oft-times the cold, damp earth being his only bed, and the blue heavens his only covering; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, scoffed at by the Jews, and mocked by the Gentiles; a houseless stranger, he wore out his life under the ignoble garb of a servant, and last of all “died, the just for the unjust,” and took his exit from the world under the infamous character of a malefactor. O! was ever love like this! Did ever mercy stoop so low?…” (J. M. Stephenson, November 14, 1854, Review & Herald, vol. 6, no. 14, pages 105, 106)
“I will select a few passages, in which, in the highest character ascribed to him [Christ] in the Bible, he is represented as humbling himself and becoming obedient unto death: where the same identical being who had glory with the “Father before the world was,” is represented as dying.
Paul, speaking of Christ’s highest nature, says, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Phil. 2:6. That this verse refers to his Divine nature, all admit, who believe he had a Divine nature; yet it is emphatically declared in the two verses following, that he “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death.” Here it is expressly declared that this exalted being who was “in the form of God,” humbled himself, 1st, by becoming man; 2nd, by becoming “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” “(J. M. Stephenson, November 21, 1854, Review & Herald, vol. 6, no. 15, page 113)
“We are prepared at this point of the investigation, to understand the relation the sacrifice of Christ, or the atonement, sustains to the law of God. In presenting this part of the subject, I shall compare what I understand to be the Bible view, with the two theories upon this point, believed by most of Christendom. They are the Unitarian and Trinitarian views. These views occupy the two extreme points. Many of the most eminent writers, in the Unitarian school, deny the pre-existence of the Son of God, as a real personality; but take the position that he was a good, yea, a perfect man.
I would look with the highest degree of admiration upon the magnanimity and self-sacrifice of a king of spotless purity, just and good, and loved by all his subjects, who, for the forfeited lives of a few rebellious subjects in a remote province of his kingdom, would voluntarily descend from his throne, and exile himself in the garb of the meanest peasant, wear out his life in acts of kindness toward them, and last of all, die the most infamous and ignominious death, to save their lives, and bring them back in allegiance to his throne. Such an act of disinterestedness and love would fill the world with the loudest songs of praise and admiration; but, however great and praise-worthy such an act might justly appear, it falls almost infinitely below the claims of Jehovah’s abused and violated law.
I cannot conceive how the life of one man, however good or perfect, or benevolent, could render an equivalent for the forfeited lives of all the millions of the human race, whose characters, in case of perfect obedience, would be equally exceptionless. I cannot conceive how the death of one good man could render an adequate atonement for the lives of so many millions. But, according to the views of these writers, we have only the death of a good man’s body, while all that is noble, dignified, responsible, and intelligent, survives death, nay, by this very act, is exalted to higher degrees of bliss and glory.
The Trinitarian view, I think is equally exceptionable. They claim that the Son of God had three distinct natures at the same time; viz., a human body, a human soul, united with his Divine nature: the body being mortal, the soul immortal, the Divinity co-equal, co-existent, and co-eternal with the everlasting Father. Now, none of the advocates of this theory, claim that either his soul or Divinity died, that the body was the only part of this triple being which actually died “the death of the cross;” hence, according to this view (which makes the death of Christ the grand atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world) we only have the sacrifice of the most inferior part—the human body—of the Son of God.
But it is claimed that his soul suffered the greater part of the penalty—yet it did not suffer “the death of the cross:” it deserted the body in its greatest extremity, and left it to bear alone the death penalty; hence, the death of the cross is still only the death of a human body. But even admitting that in his highest nature as a human being, he suffered, all of which his nature, as such, was susceptible, during his whole life, and then died the ignominious death of the cross—even then, such a sacrifice would come almost infinitely short of the demands of God’s just and holy law, which has been violated by all of Adam’s race, (infants excepted,) and trodden under foot with impunity, for so many thousands of years.
Of this Trinitarians themselves are sensible; hence, they represent his Divinity as the altar upon which his humanity was sacrificed; and then estimate the intrinsic value of the sacrifice by that of the altar upon which it was offered. But if I understand the theory under consideration, the Divine nature of Jesus Christ had no part nor lot in this matter; for this nature suffered no loss, indeed, made no sacrifice whatever.
Suppose a king to unite the dignity of his only son with one of his poorest peasants, so far as to call him his son; and then should subject this peasant under the character of his own son, to a life of poverty, privation and suffering, and then crucify him under the character of a malefactor, while his real son enjoyed all the blessings of life, health, ease, honor and glory of his father’s court—would any one contend in such case, that because he was called after the name, and clothed with honorary titles of the king’s son, and died in this character, that therefore his suffering and death would be entitled to all the dignity and honor of his real son? In this case, all the sacrifice is made by the peasant. The son has no part nor lot in the matter. It is emphatically the offering of a peasant, and worth just as much as he is worth, had just as much dignity, and no more. The same is true in reference to the sacrifice of Christ, according to the above view. His humanity suffered all that was suffered, made all the sacrifice that was made; his privation, suffering and death are, therefore, entitled to all the value, dignity and honor, this nature could confer upon it, and no more. Hence, according to this theory, we have only a human sacrifice; and the question still remains to be answered, How can the life of one human being make an adequate atonement for the lives of thousands of millions of others?
So, after all that has been said and written by these two schools, it appears that there is no real difference in their respective theories, in reference to the atonement; both have, in fact, only a human sacrifice: but with reference to their views of the highest nature of the Son of God, they are as far asunder as finitude, and infinitude, time and eternity. The former makes the “only Begotten of the Father,” a mere mortal, finite man; the latter makes him the Infinite, Omnipotent, All-wise, and Eternal God, absolutely equal with the Everlasting Father. Now, I understand the truth to be in the medium between these two extremes.
I have proved, as I think conclusively, 1st, that the Son of God in his highest nature existed before the creation of the first world, or the first intelligent being in the vast Universe; 2nd, that he had an origin; that “he was the first born of every creature;” “the beginning of the creation of God;” [Rev. 3:14;] 3rd, that, in his highest nature, all things in heaven and in earth were created, and are upheld, by him; 4th, in his dignity, he was exalted far above all the angels of heaven, and all the kings and potentates of earth; 5th, in his nature he was immortal, (not in an absolute sense,) and Divine; 6th, in his titles and privileges, he was “the only begotten of his Father,” whose glory he shared “before the world was;” the “image of the invisible God;” “in the form of God;” and “thought it not robbery to be equal with God;” “the likeness of his Father’s glory and express image of his person;” “the Word” who “was in the beginning with God” and who “was God.” This was the exalted, and dignified, personage, who was sacrificed for the sins of the world—these are the privileges he voluntarily surrendered; and although “rich, for our sake he became poor:” “he made himself of no reputation,” and became man; and “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” to declare the righteousness of God, “that he might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.”
Here was real humility; not a mere pretense or show; here, we behold the amazing spectacle of the well-beloved and “only begotten Son of God,” “the first born of every creature,” voluntarily divesting himself of “the glory he had with the Father before the world,” coming down from heaven, his high and holy habitation, and though “rich” becoming so poor that he had “not where to lay his head,” the blessed Word who “was in the beginning with God,” and who was God, actually becoming flesh, in the ignoble garb of a servant—subjecting himself to all the privations, temptations, sorrows, and afflictions, to which poor fallen humanity is subjected; and then to complete this unprecedented sacrifice, we see this once honored, but now humbled—this once exalted, but now abased personage, expiring, as a malefactor, upon the accursed cross; and last of all descending into the depths of the dark and silent tomb—a symbol of the lowest degree of humiliation.
This, this, is the sacrifice, the “only begotten of the Father” offered as an atonement for the sins of the world; this is the being who was actually sacrificed, and this the price the Son of God actually paid for our redemption. Hence, in reference to its dignity, it is the sacrifice of the most exalted and dignified being in the vast empire of God; nay, the sacrifice of the King’s only begotten Son. In reference to its intrinsic value, who can estimate the worth of God’s darling Son? It is, to say the least of it, an equivalent for the dignity, the lives, and eternal interests of the whole world; nay further, it is equal in value to all the moral interest of the whole intelligent creation, and equal in dignity and honor to the moral government of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. In reference to its nature, it is Divine; hence we have a Divine sacrifice, in contradistinction to the Trinitarian and Unitarian views, which make it only a human sacrifice. In reference to its fullness, it is infinite, boundless. Yes, thank God, there is enough for each, enough for all, enough for ever more; enough to save an intelligent Universe, were they all sinners; and lastly, in reference to its adaptation to man’s conditions and necessities, it is absolutely perfect. “(J. M. Stephenson, November 21, 1854, Review & Herald, vol. 6, no. 15, page 114, par. 1-6)
“The position I have taken in reference to the nature, origin, and incarnation of the Son of God, will be objected to by many. I am willing to suspend all the Bible objections, which may be urged against these views, upon the evidence therein adduced, except one; that is the supposed evidence of his being absolutely equal with the Father, the Supreme and only true God. This view is urged,
1st. From the fact that the highest titles the Father ever claimed are applied to the Son. If this were true, it would be unanswerable; but that it is not, is evident from the following titles of supremacy which are never applied to the Son. I will quote the following from Henry Grew’s work on the Sonship, p. 48.
“Although the Son of God… is honored with appropriate titles of dignity and glory, he is distinguished from ‘the only true God,’ by the following titles of supremacy which belong to the ‘invisible God’ alone.
Jehovah, Whose name alone is Jehovah. (Ps. 83:18)
The eternal God. (Deut. 33:27)
Most High God. (Mark 5:7; Dan. 5:18)
God alone. (Ps. 86:10; Isa. 37:16)
Lord alone. (Neh. 9:6)
God of heaven. (Dan. 2:44)
Besides me there is no God. (Isa. 44:6)
Who only hath immortality. (1 Tim. 6:16)
The only true God. (John 17:3)
The King eternal, immortal, invisible. (1 Tim. 1:17)
The only wise God. (1 Tim. 1:17)
Lord, God Omnipotent. (Rev. 19:6)
Blessed and only Potentate. (1 Tim. 6:15)
One God and Father of all. (Eph. 4:6)
The only Lord God. (Jude 4)
There is but one God, the Father. (1 Cor. 8:6)
2nd. He exercised power and prerogatives which belong to the supreme God alone. I cannot answer this objection more forcibly than by presenting the Trinitarian view, and Bible view, in contrast. In doing this, I will avail myself of a list of quotations presented by the same author. pp. 66, 67.
CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES
To us there is but one God the Father. (1 Cor. 8:6)
My Father is greater than I. (John 14:28)
Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature. (Col. 1:15)
The Son can do nothing of himself. (John 5:19)
But of that day, &c., knoweth no man, no not the angels, &c., neither the Son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32)
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth, (Matt. 28:18) As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. (John 17:2)
God who created all things by Jesus Christ.—(Eph. 3:9)
The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him. (Rev. 1:1)
For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 2:5)
Denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)
Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and signs, and wonders which God did by him. (Acts 2:22)
For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. (John 5:26)
I live by the Father. (John 6:57)
This is my Son. (Matt. 3:17)
That they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,… and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10, 11)
To us there is but one God, the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost.
The Son is as great as the Father.
Who is the invisible God, the uncreated Jehovah.
The Son is omnipotent [all powerful]. (Brackets Supplied)
The Son is omniscient [all knowing], and knew of that day as well as the Father. (Brackets Supplied)
No given power can qualify the Son of God to give eternal life to his people.
Jesus Christ created all things by his own independent power.
The revelation of Jesus Christ from his own omniscience [all knowing]. (Brackets Supplied)
There is one Mediator between God and man; who is also the supreme God and man in our person.
Denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also the only Lord God, and a distinct person
Jesus performed his miracles by his own omnipotence [all powerful]. (Brackets Supplied)
He is self-existent.
The Son lives by himself.
This is the only true God, the same numerical essence as the Father.
That they might know thee, who art not the only true God in distinction from the Word whom thou hast sent.
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow; and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to his own glory.
4th. I will consider a few of those passages of scripture which are so frequently, and confidently quoted to prove that Jesus Christ in his essential nature, is the very and eternal God. In Col. 2:9, we are told, that in Jesus Christ “dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” But a few verses before this, the same Apostle tells us, “it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.” Chap. 1:19. This same Apostle represents even the saints as being “filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19)” (J. M. Stephenson, December 5, 1854, Review & Herald, vol. 6, no. 16, pages 123, 124)