Monday, May 27, 2013

Jeremy Belknap on Watts' Sabellianism

Rev. Jeremy Belknap was a notable Patriotic Preacher.  Isaac Watts influenced him away from orthodox Trinitarianism to Sabellianism (or modalism). Orthodox Trinitarianism, you see, teaches not just that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God, but that they are three eternally distinct PERSONS, who together are ONE GOD.

Sabellianism believes in the full divinity of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, but denies they are eternally distinct persons.

Anyway we blogged about the story of Belknap on Watts here.  A taste from the mouth of Rev. Belknap:
"With respect to the idea of Personality, as applicable to the Father, Son and Spirit. Dr. Watts differed from many Trinitarians, as he denied (and I think with sufficient reason) that there are in Deity three distinct Infinite Spirits, or really distinct persons, in the common sense of that term, each having a distinct intelligence, volition, power, &c., thinking such a supposition inconsistent with the proper Unity of the Godhead; which is doubtless one of the most obvious and fundamental doctrines of revelation.


Bill Fortenberry said...

You know, Jon, it would be really helpful if you would discuss this with me in a single thread rather than posting each of your responses as a separate blog post. Belknap appears to have been mistaken in his estimation of Watts' view of the Trinity. Here are a few statements from Watts which contradict Belknap's claims:

Though the deity of Christ considered as the eternal word or wisdom of the Father may be siad to be or dwell in the Father, yet God the Father is not said to be in his wisdom, or to dwell in his wisdom; whereas this inbeing and indwelling of Christ and the Father are mutual in the text, "I am in the Father, and the Father in me:" it denotes the union of two really distinct beings in one.


Objection. But does not this represent Christ as being the Father? Doth not this suppose God the Father to be incarnate, which is contrary to the common expressions of scripture, and the sense of the primitive church?

Answer III. Though in general we may suppose the very godhead of the Father to be united to the man Christ Jesus, according to these expressions in the tenth and fourteenth of John, and elsewhere, yet some have supposed there are other scriptures which represent Christ in his divine nature, as the word or wisdom of the Father, as a peculiar essential principle of self-manifestation in the divine nature: And if scripture does represent the great God under the peculiar idea or character of his wisdom or word, as manifesting itself in flesh, it is not so proper to say, God the Father was incarnate, but that the word or wisdom of God was made flesh, though the godhead of the Word is the same with that of the Father; for the wisdom of God is God. But I insist not on this answer, and therefore proceed.

Answer IV. The pre-existent soul of Christ, in whom the divine nature or godhead always dwelt, is properly the Son of God derived from the Father before all worlds, as his only begotten Son, the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person." Heb. i. 3. And this glorious human soul who lived many ages in an angelic state, and was the angel of God's presence, does seem to be the more immediate subject of incarnation. This Son of God properly took flesh upon him, and, shall I say, became as it were a medium, in an by which the divine nature of godhead was united to glesh and bloud. Thus Christ is properly called God manifest in the flesh, because true godhead always dwelt in this human soul who is now incarnate: and he is properly called the Son of God manifest in the flesh, or Christ come in the flesh, because this human soul, who was properly the Son of God, was more immediately the subject of union to flesh and boud. And thus the expressions of St. Paul and St. John are reconciled, I Tim. iii. 16. "God was manifest in the flesh:" and I John iii. 8. "The Son of God was manifested;" and I John iv. 2. "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."

This sort of exposition of these texts wherein Jesus Christ and God the Father are represented as one, or as mutually inbeing and indwelling in each other, seems more exactly agreeable to the whole tenor of scripture, and best maintains the unity of the godhead, which is the foundation of all religion both natural and revealed; nor is it liable to those cavils, objections and inconveniencies with which other expositions are attended.


This account of things plainly, intelligibly, and effectually secures true, proper, and eternal deity to God the Father, and to our blessed Saviour, and that in two distinct persons, without introducing any other godhead besides the godhead of the Father.

( ) Emphasis mine.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think the problem may be that the orthodox Trinity is difficult for some people and that Watts may have contradicted himself leaving room for different sides of those who want to claim him to draw different conclusions.

Belknap may have misunderstood Watts (likewise, Rutherford et al. may have misunderstood Calvin on the resistance issue).

But given Belknap was a part of it, he more directly impacted America's political theology than did Watts.

So I guess that's relevance of stressing Belknap's interpretation of Watts (whether he is right or wrong) for this website.

Bill Fortenberry said...

I don't think that you can use Belknap's being contemporary with the Revolution to prove that he had more of an influence that Watts. With that kind of argument, we could say that every colonial soldier had more influence on our founding than say Montesquieu or Locke. It seems to me that you need to provide some kind of written evidence which shows that the founding fathers were more influenced by Belknap than Watts in order for that claim to be valid.

The same is true of your claim that Watts contradicted himself. This is certainly possible, but merely asserting it as a possibility does not in any way prove it to be true. You need to demonstrate that such a contradiction actually exists by providing quotes from Watts which are actually contradictory. Do you have any such quotes that you would care to present?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Now you know me better than that to write such things as "[y]ou need to demonstrate," as though I would accept you getting to draw those lines.

"It seems to me that...." On the other hand, that's a more reasonable sentiment.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"you need to demonstrate"

That's a formal rebuttal, about form more than content: "In order to offer proof for your assertion, you would need to supply quotes saying X."

in this case,

You need to demonstrate that such a contradiction actually exists by providing quotes from X which are actually contradictory.

is a valid formal objection, not a personal one, nor a substantive or even probative* one. "Facts not in evidence**" I believe they call it, making an assertion without supplying the factual groundwork for it.

Objection sustained.

*i.e., "Having the effect of proof, tending to prove, or actually proving.." You could supply quotes, although they might not be good enough or relevant enough to make your case.


Jonathan Rowe said...

The "you failed to prove" or "you need to demonstrate" game is something that can go on indefinitely. It's called punching your fist into the tar baby. Going down the rabbit hole. Or a potential black hole on your time.

Maybe there are good reasons for assertions regardless of whether I prove them here to satisfy a peculiar level of scrutiny.

If this is about getting at the truth instead of winning a law office argument (remember, good lawyers win even when the Truth is NOT on their side) then others can investigate the claims on their own using these assertions as pointers.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Allow me to rephrase my comment:

That's a very nice opinion that you have there Mr. Rowe. It's a shame that you haven't provided us with any reason to suspect that it might be true.

Jonathan Rowe said...

What opinion? In the original post? I don't think it has much original content from me. It's mainly Jeremy Belkin's content.

But to play your game, let me turn it around on you. You failed to prove, with your direct quotations, that Watts believed in three eternally distinct persons in the Triune Godhead, necessary to make him a believer in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. The emphasized portion of your quotation references "two distinct persons," not three. Where does Watts reference the Holy Spirit as a distinct Person in the sense that he (perhaps) believed the Father and Son distinct PERSONS in the Godhead?

Bill Fortenberry said...

Now to the Father, the Son, and the holy Spirit, three persons and one God, be all honour and glory, and everlasting praise, amen.
( )

This is a direct quote from Isaac Watts taken from the same source that you referenced yesterday. Perhaps you overlooked it in your haste.

Jonathan Rowe said...

But you failed to prove from Watts' own words that he thought each PERSON was ETERNALLY DISTINCT.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Is this sufficient to answer your question?

In order to illustrate the happiness of the sacred Three, may we not suppose something of society necessary to the perfection of happiness in all intellectual nature? To know, and be known, to love and to be beloved, are perhaps, such essential ingredients of complete felicity, that it cannot subsist without them: And it may be doubted whether such mutual knowledge and love, as seems requisite for this end, can be found in a nature absolutely simple in all respects. May we not then suppose that some distinctions in the divine Being are of eternal necessity, in order to complete the blessedness of godhead? Such a distinction as may admit, as a great man expresses it, of delicious society, "We, for our parts, cannot but hereby have in our minds a more gustful idea of a blessed stated, than we can conceive in mere eternal solitude.

And if this be true, then the three differences, which we call personal distinctions, in the nature of God, are as absolutely necessary as his blessedness, as his being, or any of his perfections.

( )

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Is this sufficient to answer your question?"

Of course not. I'll see if I can answer you this weekend sometime. (I make no promises, however.)