Monday, January 11, 2010

Founding Father John Jay's Quote About The Trinity


Jonathan Rowe, of American Creation blog, has written a post about private religious tests, and posted this quote by John Jay. Jay was the most decorated Founding Father. Washington told him he could have any post he wanted. He was the First Chief Justice:

"It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible by human Ingenuity. According to sundry Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy."

-- John Jay to Samuel Miller, February 18, 1822. Jay Papers, Columbia University Library.

Rowe goes on to say:

"Even the great "John Jay" has given rope with which the heresy hunters could hang him. Though Jay is conceded as one of the "authentic" orthodox Christian notable Founders, one could argue Jay may not have been a "Christian." Or at least that he doubted his Christianity and flirted with Arianism."

However, there is a flip-side to this statement, and there may be a better interpretation of the aforementioned quote.

You see, Mr. Jay was about as Orthodox as a person can be. He affirmed the Sacrificial Atonement of Christ, His Deity, and what I will attempt to show from that quote, The Trinity.

Here is Jay affirming the Trinity, claiming The Holy Spirit is God:

"Condescend, merciful Father! to grant as far as proper these imperfect petitions, to accept these inadequate thanksgivings, and to pardon whatever of sin hath mingled in them for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior; unto Whom, with Thee, and the blessed Spirit, ever one God, be rendered all honor and glory, now and forever." [bold face mine]

--William Jay, The Life of John Jay (New York: J & J Harper, 1833), Vol. I p. 518, Appendix V, from a prayer found among Mr. Jay’s papers and in his handwriting.

Jay also affirmed the Atonement; mandatory for believers, specifically shown in the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, Romans 5, 9, and Hebrews 9, 10, 12, and 13:

"The Bible will also inform them that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed – that this Redeemer has made atonement “for the sins of the whole world,” and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy, has opened a way for our redemption and salvation; and that these inestimable benefits are of the free gift and grace of God, not of our deserving, nor in our power to deserve." [bold face mine]

--John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, 1794-1826, Henry P. Johnston, editor (New York: Burt Franklin, 1890), Vol. IV, pp. 494, 498, from his “Address at the Annual Meeting of the American Bible Society,” May 13, 1824.

I believe here is the complete and correct quote of John Jay. The original is a little different, and there's more to it than meets the eye:

"I adopted no articles from Creeds, but such only as on careful examination I found to be confirmed by the Bible. It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible and consequently inexplicable by human Ingenuity. According to sundry [several] Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy." [bold face mine]
-To Samuel Miller 1822
http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/ldpd/app/jay/image?key=columbia.jay.01174&p=1&level=2

Mr. Jay is saying some Creeds, most likely Arianism, is the subject, and he doesn't go by those creeds. The Bible doesn't teach what he's writing; the Creeds do. The Scriptures teach The Second Person of the Trinity is eternal and always existed; that he wasn't generated by the Father. He searched for that heresy in the Scriptures and couldn't find it. He's saying that position; Arianism, is questionable Orthodoxy.

I can go further, and say it's not in the Bible at all. The Scriptures are clear, before Jesus became a man, He was God, an Eternal Spirit Being:

It was Jesus at the Burning Bush, for He used the same name He told Moses, which is why the Pharisees tried to stone Him:

John 8:57-58
"Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. [bold face mine]

Here, Peter says the Holy Spirit is God:

Acts 5:3-4
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. [bold face mine]

There are many more referring to the Deity, thereby Trinity, but here are a few:

Phillippians 2:6-7
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men."

Acts 20:28
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." [bold face mine]

Romans 9:5
"Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." [bold face mine]

Here is the Trinity in Genesis 1:26:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. [bold face mine]

Even the Jewish prophets knew the Messiah was Eternal:

Micah 5:2
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. [bold face mine]

Isaiah 9:6
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." [bold face mine]

The Everlasting Father refers to Jesus as the Father of Eternity, reigning like a Father.

No wonder the great John Jay believed the Trinity. Belief in Jesus' Deity, implies Trinity.

31 comments:

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think you are struggling with this. Belief in Jesus' deity is inconsistent with for instance, Socinianism and Deism. However, it's consistent with not just Trinitarianism but also Arianism, Mormonism, Swedenborgianism, Herbert Armstrong's Binaryism and Oneness Pentacostalism.

Looking at the evidence in total, I'd categorize Jay a cautious Trinitarian who had his "moments of doubt and pain," doubted it was biblical, and thought perhaps some other explanation like Arianism was what the Bible really taught.

Our Founding Truth said...

What I see is that Jay understands Arianism, (Jesus is Divine, but created) and he spells it out in the quote. The subject he's commenting on is some Creeds, that say Jesus was generated. The Bible doesn't teach that. Furthermore, it contradicts the whole of scripture.

"I came out from God" has the context of a place. "into the world" "to the Father" "thou did send me" etc. That everything Jesus has is from the Father.

How did Adams, Jefferson, and the Old Lights became Unitarian from the Bible?

Jonathan Rowe said...

The subject he's commenting on is some Creeds, that say Jesus was generated. The Bible doesn't teach that. Furthermore, it contradicts the whole of scripture.

Not exactly. Creeds were written by the "dominant" parties. Almost all (if not all) of them were orthodox Trinitarian. The problem for Protestant America was the Catholic creeds added what Protestants saw as extra-biblical, non-Protestant things that needed to be cleansed.

But then the "Protestants" -- using both REASON AND REVELATION -- turned their skepticism on the Trinity and orthodox doctrine itself as things created by ecclesiastical authorities and put into creeds.

That's what we see here with Jay. Though he doesn't like Chauncy, come out and reject the Trinity on biblical grounds.

It may be that the Bible, properly understood, teaches the Trinity. However, it's false to suggest that folks would just open their Bibles and see it in there and not struggle. They did.

Jonathan Rowe said...

How did Adams, Jefferson, and the Old Lights became Unitarian from the Bible?

Adams and Jefferson were pretty clear they became unitarian more so from presuppositions in reason. Others (Chauncy) claimed to become unitarian from Sola Scriptura. Yet, you could probably argue, as Gregg does, reading their arguments closely, they are really doing the same thing Jeff. and Adams did.

For others it's hard to say.

mroberts said...

OFT, I agree with you. It looks to me like he is explaining the creed, but is saying that he could not find proof of it in the Scriptures, which he wouldn't. There is nothing in Scriptures to indicate that Jesus was a created being. John chapter 1 makes this clear when it says that "In the beginning was the Word" and later says that the "Word became flesh". Jesus was around since the beginning, and any true biblical scholar would understand that.

Our Founding Truth said...

mroberts, yes, John 1 makes it crystal clear about Jesus' Deity, especially in verse 2 that reads, "The same WAS in the beginning with God." The was, refers to Jesus already being there with God at the beginning. Jesus wasn't created at the beginning, which Arians propose, but, was in essence, doing the creating.

Thomas Jefferson gave a strange explanation for that verse.

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT, I agree with you. It looks to me like he is explaining the creed, but is saying that he could not find proof of it in the Scriptures, which he wouldn't. There is nothing in Scriptures to indicate that Jesus was a created being.

Your last sentence is fine, if that's your understanding of the Bible. However, it's clear from the context that Jay is explaining TRINITARIAN Creeds and is noting he struggles to find the TRINITY in the Bible.

Our Founding Truth said...

However, it's clear from the context that Jay is explaining TRINITARIAN Creeds and is noting he struggles to find the TRINITY in the Bible.

From what I've read, there are no Trinitarian Creeds that claim The second Person of the Trinity was generated or begotten by the Father. What Trinitarian Creed is Jay speaking of?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Every single Trinitarian creed teaches that Christ was "eternally begotten."

http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/

That's what Jay struggles with. How is a son "eternally begotten"?

Our Founding Truth said...

Every single Trinitarian creed teaches that Christ was "eternally begotten."

It May be the Westminster Confession, however that isn't what the Bible teaches. I will check on that site. I'm not certain this is what Calvin and Luther believed.

The Bible says Jesus is Eternal, not begotten by anyone. The only person begotten is Jesus as a man; as John 3:16 says. The Bible says all Three of the Trinity are eternal, always have been as they are.

You could be right; that Creed et al. is what Jay is struggling with.
The correct Orthodoxy is what he, Sherman, and the others believed. There definitely is a separation in thought in his quote; the Creeds and what he received from the Bible.

The site you referenced says this:

"The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; [39] the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son."

The above is not what the Bible teaches.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT: If you don't mind. Could you inquire into the orthodox creed that your church follows and reproduce the exact wording on this comment thread.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; [39] the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son."

The above is not what the Bible teaches.


I'll leave to you your opinion on what the Bible teaches. But what is quoted above is the orthodox creed that historically has united Roman Catholics with reformed/evangelical Protestants. The capital O Orthodox Church actually split (I think) over whether the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from Father and Son (I'll have to research after I post this, but I think they believe the HS eternally proceeds from the Father alone).

I'm almost certain if your church doesn't adhere to it, the tradition from which is comes does. AND I'm almost certain that Roger Williams believed in this. This (that Christ is eternally begotten) is historic orthodox biblical Christianity.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I meant "Roger Sherman" whom you invoke, not Williams.

Our Founding Truth said...

You're probably right about what the Reformed Church historically believed, however, John Jay is using the same reasoning I do; reading the Bible as it is.

There's only one verse that implies generation from the Father, "proceedth from the Father, etc"

Even Psalm 1 speaks of "begotten" into flesh. Jesus speaking, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me,(Jesus) Thous art my Son; this day have I begotten thee."

I guess what Calvin and the Reformers believed doesn't matter, but it's awfully close to Arianism.

Here is what Sherman says:

Roger Sherman joined the Congregational Church in 1742 and faithfully served as clerk, deacon and treasurer. He spoke very highly of his pastor, the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, the younger:

In 1788, as a member of the White Haven Congregational Church, Roger Sherman was asked to use his expertise in revising the wording of their creed. In his own handwriting, he wrote the following (EXCERPTS):

I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance equal in power and glory.
http://reclaimoklahoma.org/FaithofourFoundingFathers.htm

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT: I think you can see how one might "slip" into Arianism by believing Christ begotten. But then again, one could slip into Arianism by simply reflecting to the Father v. Son dynamic. Sons proceed from fathers; fathers have authority over sons (until they rebel that is; but Jesus, being perfect, and having a perfect Father, as the story goes, never rebelled against His Father).

The history of orthodoxy teaches Christ is very God, equal with the Father, not created, but eternally preexistent as an eternally begotten son.

The Nicene Creed puts it much more articulately than I did.

Our Founding Truth said...

I never knew the Reformers believed Jesus was generated from The Father; the Bible doesn't teach that, and I'm certain my church, as well as Frazer's, doesn't either.

The pertinent idea must be what you wrote. It's best to have the idea Jay and Sherman did. Take the theology from the text.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT: There is a difference between being "generated" and "eternally begotten."

Ask your minister about Christ's status as "eternally begotten."

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