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WHITBY'S LAST THOUGHTS,
It is rightly and truly observed by Justin Martyr, * in the beginning of his exhortation to the Greeks, “ That an exact scrutiny into things doth often produce conviction; that those things, which we once judged to be right, are, after a more diligent inquiry into truth, found to be far otherwise."
And truly I am not ashamed to say, this is my very case. For, when I wrote my Commentaries on the New Testament, I went on, too hastily I own, in the common beaten road of other reputed orthodox divines; conceiving, first, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in one complex notion, were one and the same God, by virtue of the same individual essence communicated from the Father. This confused notion I am now fully convinced by the arguments I have offered here, and in the second part of my Reply to Dr Waterland, to be a thing impossible, and full of gross absurdities and contradictions. And then, as a natural consequence from this doc
* Orat. Cohort. ad Græcos, p, 1.
trine, I, secondly, concluded that those divine persons differed only év teóru üzépžews, in the manner of their existence. And yet what that can signify in the Son, according to this doctrine, it will not, I think, be very easy intelligibly to declare.
That the difference can be only modal, even Dr South hath fully demonstrated ; and that this was the opinion generally received from the fourth century, may be seen in the close of my first part to Dr Waterland. And yet the right reverend bishop Bull* positively affirms, that this is rank Sabellianism, in these words; “A person cannot be conceived without essence, unless you make a person in divine matters to be nothing else but a mere mode of existence, which is manifest Sabellianism." And the judicious Dr Cudwortht tells us, “ That the orthodox Anti-Arian fathers did all of them zealously condemn Sabellianism, the doctrine whereof is no other but this, That there is but one hypostasis, or single individual essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and consequently that they were indeed but three names, or notions, or modes, of one and the self same thing. Whence such absurdities as these would follow, that the Father's begetting the Son was nothing but a name, notion, or mode of one
* Addo ego, personam sine essentiâ concipi non posse, nisi statueris personam in divinis nihil aliud esse quam merum ogórov úrácēsws, quod plane Sabellianum. L. 4.
+ Cud. System, ch. 4. p. 605.
Deity begetting another; or else the same Deity under one notion begetting itself under another notion. And when again the Son, or Word, is said to be incarnate, and to have suffered death for us upon the cross, that it was nothing but a mere logical notion, or mode of the Deity under one particular notion or mode only.”
That the doctrine of the Sabellians was exactly the same with that of those who style themselves the orthodox, asserting that the Father and the Son are numerically one and the same God, is evident from the words of Athanasius* and Epiphanius ;t both testifying, that to say the Father and the Son were μονούσιοι or ταυτοέσιοι, of one and the same substance, was Sabellianism. And surely, of consequence, to contend that this is the doctrine of the Church of England, is to dishonour our church, and in effect to charge her with that heresy, which was exploded with scorn by the whole church of Christ, from the third to this present century.
In a word, all other notions of the word person, besides the plain and obvious one, signifying a real and intelligent agent, have been already so excellently baffled and learnedly confuted, that I own I
* Ουτε γαρ υλοπάτερα φρονούμεν, ώς οι Σαβέλλιοι, μονοέσιον. Ευνος. Fidei, p. 241.
+ Και ου λίγομεν ταυτοέσιον, ίνα μή η λέξις παρά τισι λεγομένη Σα Esaním únuradla. Anomæorum Hæresis, 76, N. 7, See Dr Clarke, Mr Jackson, and others,
am not able to resist the shining evidence of truth ; nor am I ashamed to confess my former mistakes and errors in these matters after such strong and irresistible conviction, seeing, humanum est errare, “all men are liable to error.” And as, upon this principle, I cannot but think it the most gross hypocrisy, after such conviction, to persist in a mistake ; so, without question, it is the greatest abuse of humility and free thinking, to attribute such open and ingenuous acknowledgments to a wavering judgment, or levity of mind.
Neither are there wanting examples of good and great men amongst the ancients to bear me out in this matter. St Cyprian* frankly confesses, in his Epistle to Antonianus, that he was formerly in the rigid opinion of Tertullian, that the peace of the church was never to be given to adulterers, to murderers, and idolaters; and, having changed his opinion, he apologizes for it by saying, “ Mea apud te et persona et causa purganda est, ne me aliquis existimet a proposito meo leviter decessisse ; et, cum evangelicum vigorem primo et inter initia defenderim, postmodum videar animum meum a disciplinâ et censurâ priore flexisse.” And this honest procedure which he practised himself, he also approved in others, saying, † “Non, quia semel errratum est, ideo semper errandum esse; cum magis sapientibus et Deum timentibus congruat, patefactæ veritati libenter et incunctanter obsequi, quam pertinaciter atque obstinatè reluctari;" “ that a man's having once erred, is not a reason why he should continue to do so; for that it becomes wise men, and such as fear God, to yield freely and readily to truth, whenever made known to them, rather than to persist obstinately in rejecting it.”
* Epist. 55. of Epist. 73. Edit, Oxon. p. 208.
St Austin was not more renowned for any of his works, than for his two books of Retractations, in which he confesseth all the errors he had committed in all his other writings.
And this my retractation, or change of my opinion, after all my former endeavours to assert and establish a contrary doctrine, deserves the more to be considered, because it proceeds, and indeed can proceed, from me for no other reason, but purely from the strong and irresistible convictions, which are now upon me, that I was mistaken.
Nothing, I say, but the love of truth can be supposed to extort such a retractation from me, who, having already lived so long beyond the common period of life, can have nothing else to do but to prepare for my great change; and, in order thereunto, to make my peace with God, and my own conscience, before I die. To this purpose I solemnly appeal to to the Searcher of hearts, and call God to witness, whether I have hastily, or rashly, departed from the common opinion; or rather, whether I have not