Trinity as “Necessary” Fact in Alexander Campbell’s “Christian System of Facts" John Mark Hicks


Alexander Campbell the Trinity opposed: In the Harbinger of 1833--pages 153-160--appears the following:

Dear Brother Campbell:

There are several of your readers, besides myself, in this vicinity, who respectfully solicit, for the truth's sake, and our fellowship in the same, a brief, but definite explanation of your remarks in the last Harbinger, page 9, on the nature of our blessed Lord. Whether it is to be attributed to obtuseness of understanding on our part, or to indefiniteness of statement on yours, the fact is, beloved, that from the closest attention we are capable of giving to all you have written on this subject, we do not yet understand you.

We are equally opposed with you to "Trinitarian, Arian, and Unitarian speculations on the divine essence." From the systems of fallible and erring man, we trust the Son has made us free. Our desire is, simply to understand what the Spirit of truth teaches on this and every other subject.

Most cordially do we, unite with you in acknowledging the Messiah as "a divine person, the only begotten of God." Most devoutly would we love, "worship and adore him" as "the only begotten of the Father, full of favor and truth." But we tremble at the word of HIM who will not give the glory to another, and we obey that word which teaches us to love and worship the Son "to the glory of God the Father."

Will you favor us with a definite answer to the following queries?

1. Who is the One God, besides whom there is none else--who is [97] to be acknowledged, loved, adored and worshiped as the eternal, unbegotten, independent ALL IN ALL, of whom are all things?

If you reply, in the words which the Holy Spirit teaches, (I. Cor. viii. 6,) "the Father," we ask--

2. Do you, in the term Father, used in the above sense, as "the one God," include or exclude the only begotten of the Father, who was with him "before the world was"?

3. Do you, or do you not, understand the terms first, only begotten Son, beginning of the creation of God, first born of every creature, "in the full import and meaning of (these) words," as we do, viz.: as teaching that the Son, in his highest personal nature, is a distinct being from the Father, and had a "beginning" of existence?

4. Do you understand our Lord's words, "My Father is greater than I," in a limited, or unlimited sense? Do you understand him to affirm this without any reservation? When the Son, or Word, was with the Father, before he came down from heaven, was he, or was he not, as independently wise, powerful, self-existent and eternal, as the Father?

5. Do you, or do you not, make distinction in the worship you offer the Father and the Son? Do you not worship the Son as the begotten of the Father? Do you not worship the Father as unbegotten? Do you not worship him as the one God, of whom are all things; who, by his own infinite, underived wisdom, power, and goodness, creates, upholds, saves, and judges? Do you thus worship the Son, also? or do you worship him as the one Lord BY whom are all things, by whom God made the worlds, by whom he saves, and by whom he will judge us? Do you not worship the Son to the glory of the Father, and the Father to his own independent glory?

I am aware that an answer to some, of these questions will necessarily involve an answer to others; but I have thus presented the subject, that we may, by a singleness of eye to truth and the favor of our Lord, obtain an understanding of what is written in our Father's book concerning his best beloved, and that believing we may have life through his name.

I have too much confidence in your kindness and candor to think that you will decline publishing this communication; nor can I imagine that you will excuse yourself from giving a definite answer (which many, for the truth's sake, are wishing to hear) with the plea that we have presented to your vain speculations. It will not be denied that Jesus Christ is the one God of whom are all things, or he is not. Nor can it be denied that it is important for us to know whether he is so or not, that we may worship with understanding and in truth.

Yours in the good hope through favor,
Hartford, Conn., February 6, 1833. [98]


Dear Sir:

With that promptitude and candor due to yourself and those of my readers whom you represent, I proceed to answer the questions which you have so affectionately and respectfully propounded to my consideration.

Averse to all speculations which can have no practical influence on the hearts or behavior of men, the only reluctance which I could feel in replying to some of these interrogatories is their apparent propinquity to the high and cold latitudes of metaphysical theology. In our ascent to these high and cold regions of abstract. speculation, it is no easy matter to keep the mercury from freezing. I will, however, attempt to give them as practical an aspect as the off-hand and desultory thoughts of an hour snatched from other pressing subjects of examination will afford.

Before replying to your queries in the form of direct answers, 1 would request your attention to the following preliminary reflections. These considerations will, indeed, explain some of the reasons which influence the answers which I may tender, and therefore I would urge the necessity of giving them due attention.

The modus of the Divine existence, as well as the modus of the Divine operations in creation, providence, and redemption, is, to our finite minds, the creatures of yesterday, wholly inscrutable and incomprehensible. On both, the Bible is silent. Becomes it us, then, to be dogmatical on such a theme, or to stretch our inquiries beyond the terra firma of revelation?

My principal objection to the popular doctrine of "the Trinity" is not that it is either irrational, or unscriptural, to infer that there are three Divine persons in one Divine nature.

That these three equally have one thought, purpose, will, and operation, and so one God;--or, to use the words of the Westminster Confession, "In the Unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity;"

I say I object not to this doctrine because it is contrary to reason, or revelation

but because of the metaphysical technicalities,
the unintelligible jargon,
the unmeaning language of the orthodox creeds on this subject,
and the interminable war of words without ideas
to which the word Trinity has given birth. 

For example, in the same section from which I have quoted the above words is found the following jargon: "The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son."

Were any one to ask me, Can there be three distinct persons, or even being, in one God? I would say,
        Reason informs me not,
        and revelation does not assert it.

But if asked, Can there be one, and [99] one three in the same sense?
I reply, Both reason and revelation say No.

But then no Trinitarian or Calvinist affirms that the three are one, and the one three, in the same sense.

Language fails and thought can not reach the relation in which the Father and Son have existed, now exist, and shall forever exist.

But that there is, and was, and evermore will be, society in God himself, a plurality as well as unity in the Divine nature, are inferences which do obtrude themselves on my mind in reflecting upon the divine communications to our race. I will add, that common sense, reason, and revelation, give one and the same testimony, in my ear, upon this subject. 

If you ask how this can be, I will ask you, How can there be one self-existent, independent, unoriginated, eternal God? You will say, I believe, but can not comprehend. So say I. But while our faith has in its first effort to encounter a truth so incomprehensible, and to receive it; a truth so mysterious, supernatural, unsearchable, transcendent; a truth which, in its stupendous dimensions, encompasses infinite space, an eternity past--the universe, natural, intellectual, moral; a truth which leaves out no existence, past, present, or future; which overwhelms every intellect, and sets at defiance the combined efforts of all created intelligence--I repeat it, since this must be the Alpha of our faith, where shall we place our Omega, on the mode of the Divine existence? He that comes to God, must first believe THAT HE IS.

But I am not more confounded than delighted with the idea of the One, Self-existent, and Eternal God. To me, its incomprehensibility is a source of joy. With exultation I ask, "Who by searching can find out God, or know the Almighty to perfection?" My child says, Who made God? and, methinks, I am no wiser in the estimation of my superiors. 

But, sir, the Alpha and Omega of all the scholastic strifes about trinity, and all the questions agitated for fifteen centuries on the mode of Divine existence, appear to me to spring from one source. None appears to me to have noticed, with sufficient attention, that there is but one word in the language of mortals which is absolute and irrelative. If angels have a language, although I am in perfect ignorance of their stipulated signs, one thing I can affirm, that they too have but one word in their language which is not relative.

All the names of God are, with the exception of this one, the names of relations. God, Almighty, Lord, Creator, Father, King, Governor, Judge--infinite, omniscient, eternal, etc. If no Satan, there could be no God: if no mighty, no Almighty; if no dominion, no Lord; if no creation, no Creator; if no Son, no Father; if no subjects, no King. etc But what sublimity, what unspeakable meaning, in the [100] address to Moses (Ex. vi. 2, 3): "And God said to Moses, I am Jehovah. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. 

I AM knows no relation to any creature, or being; to past, present, or future; to time or to eternity. It is equivalent to I exist, a name which can not be given to any being which by nature is not God, or self-existent. 

I repeat it, I am not more bewildered than delighted, in the idea of the incomprehensibility of the same JEHOVAH. And while this name is before us, let me ask the wavering to reflect, how man could be created social, and in the image of God; man, having in his nature plurality, incomplete in one person; for man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in nature or religion. I ask, 

How could man be created in the image of God, incomplete in one person, social, and necessarily plural; and that God, in whose image and likeness he was created, could be a solitary eternal unit, without society and plurality in himself! 

This I can not comprehend, when I believe that God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let him have dominion;" and, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

While, then, I do most cordially repudiate the whole scholastic phraseology of the Trinitarian, Arian, and Socinian speculations,

I do not, with some Trinitarians, regard my Lord Messiah 
as having always been an eternal Son; nor can I, with the Arian, view him as some super-angelic creature, filling an immense chasm between Jehovah and the supernal hosts; and still less can I degrade him, with the Socinian, to the rank of a mere man, the son of Joseph.  Common sense, reason, and revelation, put their veto on such hypotheses.

No; my Lord and Saviour is no creature, nor the son of a creature. In the beginning he was T
HE WORD OF GOD, is now the Son of God, and will, when government is no longer necessary, be again recognized as the Word of God, "a name which no man knows, but he himself."
All "trinitarians" I have read speak of this society in God as similar to that which exists within a solitary man: Paul in 1 corinthians 2 confirms that the Holy Spirit is to God what our spirit is to us and that is "the Mind of Christ." Jesus, too, was a "triad being" but not twins:
John 11:33  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled
God was never said to be along: He always had His Word and Wisdom with Him.  The Word used by John is the WORDS which the ONE God spoke and as they "emanated" out by His "breath" they became audible and powerful:

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:2 The same was in the beginning with God.

Gen. 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
    2822. choshek, figuratively, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness

John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. John 1:4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 
Gen. 1:3 And God SAID,
John 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
Let there be light: and there was light.
      215 light, happiness, brightness, prosperity
John 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
    2638 Katalambano take eagerly, comp;\rehend
Gen. 1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: [worked]
John 1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
and God divided the light from the darkness.
John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls John 1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Psa 33:6 By the
[1] word of the [1] Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the [3] breath of his mouth.
Psa 33:7 He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.
Psa 33:8 Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
Psa 33:9 For he SPAKE, and it was done; he COMMANDED, and it stood fast.
Psa 33:10 The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought:
        1011 bouleuo advice, or human volition, will
        he maketh the
devices of the people of none effect.
Psa 33:11 The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever,
thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Psa 33:12 Blessed
        is the nation whose God is the Lord;
        and the people whom he
hath chosen for his own inheritance.

Campbell: I must be born again, and be endowed with other reasoning powers and have another revelation, before I can become an Arian. I will give you one reason out of a hundred, and but one, because I feel that it alone, if I had not another, would forever preclude the hypothesis: it is, in one sentence, Because the Arian philosophy converts the wisdom of God into folly.

If I am asked to explain how this can be, I refuse not. The Arian toils and sweats, and taxes his ingenuity to show what a glorious creature the Son of God was in his pre-existent state. He fancies and represents the Son as filling some intermediate rank more than midway between the Arch Seraphim and the Deity. 

He thinks he devoutly consults the honor of the Son, when he finds for him some [101] vacant throne, nearest to the Self-existent and Eternal, beyond the aspirations of the cherubim and seraphim. There he places him, a sort of sub-deity, whence he descends to become incarnate. Yet, strange to tell, when this first and high-born One, of unrivalled glory amongst the creatures of God, appears in human flesh, he gives him nothing to do, which the son of Joseph could not have done as well!!! Was ever folly more consummate! What is folly, but the adoption of inadequate means to ends? Is it not folly to give a diamond for a straw?--to raise a tempest to move a feather?--to discharge the artillery of heaven against a worm?--to hurl the thunderbolts of Omnipotence against a fly?--to despatch the Archangel on an errand which: the son of Joseph could have as well performed?

When God appears in the flesh Jesus said that the Father was IN Him and He was IN the Father: when the apostles  were with Jesus Christ they were with the Holy Spirit. The Comforter's name is "Jesus Christ the Righteous." 

What creature could do more than Abel, Moses, John the Baptist, Stephen, Peter, James the just, or Paul did--tell the truth, the whole truth, lead an exemplary life, and as a martyr offer up his soul to God!

What, let me again ask, is folly, if this be not folly? To waste resources, or squander means, is as foolish as not to provide them. He who provides the materials for a palace, and builds a cottage, is as very a simpleton as he who attempts to build a palace out of the materials of a tent. Could not Gabriel, who waited on Daniel on the banks of Ulai; nay, could not Paul himself, do as much for the redemption of the world, as the Arian Son of God? When some philosopher appears, who with a dash of his pen can blot out sin, or show me that the tears of the penitent, or the blood of bulls and goats can wash it from the universe, then, but not till then, will I turn Arian.

For the same, or a similar reason, I can not be a Socinian. This is but a new edition of the fable--the mountain in labor, and a mouse is born. Heaven taught sages; legislators, kings, prophets, priests, and seers, for four thousand years, filled with the spirit of wisdom and revelation, exhaust all the similitudes, analogies, and imagery of this creation; impoverish the eloquence of heaven and earth, all figures and forms of speech, to raise the expectations of mankind in anticipation of a wonderful child, on whose shoulders the government of the universe was to remain, whose name was written, "Wonderful--Counsellor--the Mighty God--the Father of Eternity--the Prince of Peace--Immanuel"; yet when the prediction is accomplished, Mary travails, and the carpenter's son is born--a Son of God, it is true, as Adam was!!! 

With me, consistency must precede faith. I must see types, figures, prophecies, promises, harmonizing; I must see the means and the end correspondent; I must see wisdom, power, goodness; justice, mercy, love; condescension, truth, and holiness, shining in all the splendors [102] of Divinity, before I can subscribe to any proposition touching the personal dignity and standing of my Lord the King.

It will not suffice to puzzle me with hard questions about how this can be, since my faith has in its infancy to master the master truth of revelation--to admit that God is Jehovah; or, that God was, and always is, the self-existent, immutable and eternal, never-began-to-be, the eternal inhabitant of eternity. Believing this, I find no difficulty in believing that there was, and is, and evermore shall be, society and plurality--a liberal I, and thou, and he--a we, and our, and us, in one divine nature. 

This to me is as easy as the idea of SELF-EXISTENT; yea, more easy when I, and thou, and he deliberate on creation, providence, and redemption. I can not, for my life, even fancy a nature destitute of I, and thou, and he. I am certain it is not the human--I am certain it is not the angelic--certain, too, that it is not the divine.

In our nature there is no more than I, and thou, and he, as respects primary relation. There is no more in the angelic, and the Bible reveals no more than I, and thou, and he in the divine. But not turning aside to answer objections which are anticipated, be it observed that I make not this a matter of inference only

for there is an association of the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the revealed relation of the three persons, I, thou, and he, and just in the dignity of these three. "I send thee," "I and thou send him," "Jehovah and his spirit has sent me." On this principle the Christian economy is arranged and developed. So I read the volumes of revelation. These reflections premised, I proceed to answer your ingenious questions: 


Jehovah is the only living and true God. I can not adopt the answer you suggest (I. Cor. viii. 6), for that answers not your question. Had you propounded the question which Paul had in his eye, then I would have given his answer. It was not the contradistinguishing of the Father and the Son, as respects divinity, which Paul had in view; but the contradistinguishing of the "gods many," and the; "lords many" of Paganism, from the one God and one Lord of Christians.


As the phrase, "one God" (I. Cor. viii., 6), is not applied to the Father, but in contradistinction from "gods many;" so we can not say that in contradistinction from the Son or the only begotten, that it either includes or excludes; for that was not in the mind of the Apostle when he wrote to the Corinthians. 

The phrase "Son of God" in the New Testament imports a participation of the divine nature. [103] A little more reflection, and I presume you will perceive how I should err were I to answer your first question in the words of I. Cor. viii. 6. Were you asked, "Do you, in calling Jesus the one Lord, include or exclude the Father from the nature and essential attributes of the one Lord?" what would you answer? Would you not say, "The Father is not excluded; for certainly he is the one absolute Lord: for so the Prophets have named and addressed him a thousand times. But now he has made Jesus Lord. So that in the new economy the Father is our only God, and Jesus is our only Lord."


The word "being," in its full latitude, signifies simple existence; but in its appropriated sense here you mean something more than simple existence. I find the personal pronouns always used in the Holy Scriptures, speaking of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and therefore, if I must use an abstract term, I will use personbeing--though I am not much in love with either. 

The Scriptures nowhere teach me that the Son in his high personal nature had a beginning of being or existence; "the Word was in the beginning with God," even that Word "which was made flesh and dwelt among us." "The Word was God," and, as such, I venerate "the Word made flesh," "as God manifest in the flesh."  


"My Father is greater than I," I understand in an economical or restricted sense. But it militates not with the dignity of the Son of God, if, in some sense, the Father was always greater than he. The Trinitarians themselves, who make him an eternal Son, fairly concede this; for a Son is, in some sense, inferior to the Father; while, in another sense, he may be superior. But I regard all that was spoken by Jesus of this import as respecting his state of humiliation and its consequences.


In worshiping Jesus, I worship him as my Lord and Saviour, as the Son of God, to the glory of the Father. In worshiping the Father, I worship him through the Son; and therefore I honor both the Father and the Son. 

But, my dear sir, I do not think of worshiping with that exactitude of which you speak, as if I were to pay so much tax to the King and so much tithe to the Priest. I can not thus mathematically worship either the Father or the Son. The Father and the Son are one in my salvation. The Father is my God, and Jesus is my Lord. They are one in the admiration of my understanding--they are one in the adoration of my heart. [104] 

Thus, Brother Grew, if compelled to philosophize, I would answer your questions. I own that much depends upon our views of the personal dignity and standing of the Lord Messiah. 

Indeed, such was the glory which he had with the Father before the world was, 
and such is the glory which he now enjoys as Lord of all in our nature, that I think we are much more likely to fail in forming too low, than too high, conceptions of his essential dignity.

The Father has so glorified him as our head, and has so signified to us his delight in him, that, of all the texts in the Bible, there is none we could misapply in reference to Jesus more than that which says, "Jehovah will not give his glory to another." he has laid no restrictions upon the admiration and adoration of the human or angelic hosts in reference to his only begotten Son; nay, all angels and men are commanded to worship him. No idolatry in worshiping the King of glory!! I would not for the universe weaken the force of a single expression, or subtract from the boldest metaphor aught of its riches, designed to set forth the peerless claims of our Redeemer to the unqualified adoration of my soul. His is the temple of the universe--his the hallelujahs of the heavens--his the hosannas of the church. All things were created by him and for him. He made himself poor that he might make us rich; and shall our tongues falter in his praise, or our hearts not gladly bear their part in the general song? May it be your and my happy lot to stand before him, when he comes it his glory, approved; and to unite with the admiring and adoring throng, singing: 
To him who lov'd us, and has wash'd
Us from our sins in his own blood,
And who has made us kings and priests
To his own Father and his God,
The glory and dominion be To him eternally. Amen!

In this blissful hope, I remain yours,


1. Henry Grew. "Trinitarianism, Arianism, & Socinianism." The Millennial Harbinger 4 (April 1833):

2. Alexander Campbell. Extracts from "To Brother Henry Grew." The Millennial Harbinger 4 (April 1833):


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