(1) Length of duration, how unlimited forever, either a parte post or a parte ante, in a person begotten by the Power and Will of Him that begat, does not imply Necessary Existence. And 'tis a great Presumption to affirm that, what the Scripture always expresses by a word denoting an Act, may as well be expressed by a word denoting not an Act. As to Antiquity; The Doctrine of Necessary Emanations, sprung from the Notions of Valentinus, Cerinthus, Manes, Montanus, &c. But in opposition to the numerous Passages cited by Dr. Clarke, wherein the Fathers expressly affirm the Son to be begotten by the Power and Will of the Father; 'tis observable, Dr. Waterland has not been able to produce so much as ONE single Passage out of any One Ante-Nicene Father, wherein the Son is affirmed to have emaned or been emitted by Necessity of Nature. Even They who supposed him, in an unintelligible manner, to have been the internal Reason or Wisdom of the Father, before his Generation; still suppose him to have been Generated into a real person by the Power and Will of the Father. And They who compared his Generation, to the Sun's sending forth his Rays of Light, or to One Fire lighting Another; yet All of them suppose, and Some of them expressly distinguish in this Similtude, that whereas the Sun emits his Light, and one Fire lights another, by Necessity of Nature; the Father begat the Son by his Power and Will. See Dr. Clarke's Scripture Doctrine, Part II, 17.
(2) "A Necessary Emanation from the Father, by the Will and Power of the Father;" is an express contradiction. Because Necessity, in its very Notion, excludes all operation of Will and Power, though it may be consistent with Approbation. Whatever is by Necessity of Nature, cannot, without the highest Absurdity, be said to be By any one's Will and Power; though it may well be Agreeable and Pleasing to him. A Necessary Emanation from the Father, can no more be said to be Begotten of the Father, to be Begotten by his Power and Will; than the Father can be said to have begotten, or given Being to himself, or to his own Reason or Understanding. On the contrary, Such an Emanation, and the Essence from which it emanes, would Both be as equally self-existent, as 'tis equally necessary for God to be an Intelligent Being, and to Be at all. Whatever necessarily and essentially belongs to That which is self-existent, is itself Self existent, as being indeed only the very same thing apprehended under a partial consideration. "God" (as this matter has been expressed in the Letter to the Author of the True Scripture-Doctrine, &c. pag. 267,) "is necessarily Omnipresent and Eternal; doubtless, not without [much less against] his own Liking and Approbation: But was ever any Man therefore so absurd, as to say that he was Omnipresent and Eternal BY his will? He is likewise by Necessity of Nature, Wise and Good; that is, he always necessarily sees and knows what is right, and approves what is good; And in all this, his will is no way concerned: But whenever he Acts, whenever he Does any thing, then 'tis not by Necessity of Nature, but by the Choice of his Will." The contrary Supposition, is, in the truth of things, making him No Agent at all; 'Tis devesting him (as Mr. Hobbs has done) of the Prime Glory of all his Attributes.
(3) But (says Dr. Waterland), "Will is One thing, and Arbitrary Will another." I answer. This is one of the greatest and most unreasonable Abuse of words, that I have ever met with in Any Writer. For the only true difference between Will and Arbitrary Will, is, that Arbitrary Will signifies Willing a thing unreasonably, and without any just Cause. But to make Arbitrary Will signify barely the Choice or Free Act of the Will, and to make Will signify mere Approbation without Any Choice or Act of the Will at all; is taking away all Sense from words. For, at This rate, a Man's Heart may be said to beat by the Will and Power of the Man, though his Will and Power have no influence at all upon it. And the Sun may be said, in the same sense, to rise and set by the Will of Man, that is, with his good Liking and Approbation. And a Balance, if it could feel itself Necessarily turned by a Superior Weight in One Scale, might justly be said to Turn itself by its Will and Power. If this be not indeed in the highest degree (to use Dr. Waterland's phrase) "elusive and equivocating," 'tis hard to say What is.
This is similar to the position of American Unitarians, a group to which Sean at one time thought and perhaps still thinks I should belong (link):
But in regard to all such accounts of the doctrine, it is an obvious remark that the existence of the Son, and of the Spirit, is either necessary, or it is not. If their existence be necessary, we have then three beings necessarily existing, each possessing divine attributes, and consequently we have three Gods. If it be not necessary, but dependent on the will of the Father, then we say that the distance is infinite between underived and independent existence, and derived and dependent, between the supremacy of God, the Father, and the subordination of beings who exist only through his will. In the latter view of the doctrine, therefore, we clearly have but one God, but at the same time the modern doctrine of the Trinity disappears. The form of statement too, just mentioned, must be abandoned, for it can hardly be pretended that these derived and dependent beings possess an equality in divine attributes, or are equal in nature to the Father. Beings whose existence is dependent on the will of another cannot be equal in power to the being on whom they depend. The doctrine, therefore, however disguised by the mode of statement which we are considering, must, in fact, resolve itself into an assertion of three Gods, or must, on the other hand, amount to nothing more than a form of Unitarianism. In the latter case, however objectionable and unfounded I may think it, it is not my present purpose to argue directly against it, and in the former case, it is pressed with all the difficulties which bear upon the doctrine as commonly stated, and at the same time with new difficulties, which affect this particular form of statement. That the Son and the Spirit should exist necessarily, as well as the Father, and possess equally with the Father all divine attributes, and yet be subordinate and inferior to the Father—or, in other words, that there should be two beings or persons, each of whom is properly and in the highest sense God, and yet that these two beings or persons should be subordinate and inferior to another being or person, who is God—is as incredible a proposition as the doctrine can involve.
The arguments are easy enough to reproduce, so I will do so in turn, explaining why each fails. In this last paragraph, we find a few arguments: 1) if the Father, Son, and Spirit each necessarily exist, then there are three Gods; 2) if the Son and Spirit are derived, then the Son and Spirit cannot be consubstantial or of the same essence or nature as the Father, as, for example, the Father’s power is supreme; 3) the Son and Spirit cannot exist necessarily yet be subordinate to the Father.
In reply, we may note that 1) and 3) both beg the question: why? No supporting arguments are provided, and I can think of none. Clarke provided a more nuanced argument which I will turn to in a moment, but no immediate objection sprang to mind when considering the possibility that the Son and Spirit necessarily exist because the Father necessarily eternally generates the Son and spirates the Spirit; in that case, then, we may say the subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father is precisely found in the fact that they are [necessarily] derived from Him. In reply to 2), the presumption is that “power” is a divine attribute. What sort of power is the author referring to? Obviously, the Son and Spirit have power or authority, but that is because such has been given to them by the Father. The Father alone is called “Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18, Revelation 1:8, 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 14, 19:6, 15, 21:22) and ultimate “Sovereign” (1 Timothy 6:15). This, I think, is a sufficient reply to American Unitarianism.
Turning to Clarke, one of his first objections is that his opponent produced neither Scripture nor an early church father which taught that the Son or Spirit existed necessarily. Now, if this is one area of disagreement I have with the majority of the early church as Clarke thought, is it not ironic that it is on a point which would imply I am against rather than for American Unitarianism? And yet Clarke has exaggerated, for a Nicene father no less than Athanasius thought that eternal generation was according to a “necessity of nature” (link):
If then there is another Word of God, then be the Son originated by a word; but if there be not, as is the case, but all things by Him have come to be, which the Father has willed, does not this expose the many-headed craftiness of these men? That feeling shame at saying 'work,' and 'creature,' and 'God's Word was not before His generation,' yet in another way they assert that He is a creature, putting forward 'will,' and saying, 'Unless He has by will come to be, therefore God had a Son by necessity and against His good pleasure.' And who is it then who imposes necessity on Him, O men most wicked, who draw everything to the purpose of your heresy? For what is contrary to will they see; but what is greater and transcends it has escaped their perception. For as what is beside purpose is contrary to will, so what is according to nature transcends and precedes counselling. A man by counsel builds a house, but by nature he begets a son; and what is in building began to come into being at will, and is external to the maker; but the son is proper offspring of the father's essence, and is not external to him; wherefore neither does he counsel concerning him, lest he appear to counsel about himself. As far then as the Son transcends the creature, by so much does what is by nature transcend the will. And they, on hearing of Him, ought not to measure by will what is by nature; forgetting however that they are hearing about God's Son, they dare to apply human contrarieties in the instance of God, 'necessity' and 'beside purpose,' to be able thereby to deny that there is a true Son of God. For let them tell us themselves—that God is good and merciful, does this attach to Him by will or not? If by will, we must consider that He began to be good, and that His not being good is possible; for to counsel and choose implies an inclination two ways, and is incidental to a rational nature. But if it be too unseemly that He should be called good and merciful upon will, then what they have said themselves must be retorted on them—'therefore by necessity and not at His pleasure He is good;' and, 'who is it that imposes this necessity on Him?' But if it be unseemly to speak of necessity in the case of God, and therefore it is by nature that He is good, much more is He, and more truly, Father of the Son by nature and not by will.
Finding Scriptures which deal with this issue will require consideration of logical implications, for to my knowledge there is no explicit passage which addresses it. My current response would be that nothing which occurs is unnecessary, for that would imply, as Clarke wishes to avoid, that God’s will is arbitrary. Sure, on the assumption that there are multiple possible worlds, God may have a reason for instantiating some particular possible world, but as on Clarke’s view such a reason would not be necessary, it would still be arbitrary. I may as well ask what God’s reason was for choosing His reason for creating this possible world over against any other reason capable of being chosen which might have led to the instantiation of another possible world, and there could be no answer because the reason itself was chosen arbitrarily. There are, however, several objections to my own position – some made by Clarke and others I have received from those who are in most other respects in agreement with my Trinitarian views – so I will try to address them in a short amount of space.
Clarke thinks the idea that something can be willed necessarily is a contradiction in terms. Thus, he, Athanasius, and others dichotomize that which is willed from that which is a “necessity of nature.” But I do not find his reasons for saying so persuasive: he mentions that I might as well say that a man’s heart beats by his will, the sun rises by man’s will, and a balance which turns necessarily turns by its will. These are just examples of what a proof by example fallacy looks like. What Clarke rather ought to have done is define what it means “to will” or “to choose” or “to act.” As a Calvinist, I don’t have any problem with a definition of these terms which excludes the notion of freedom of contrariety – the ability to have willed, chosen, or acted differently than one did. In fact, freedom of contrariety itself presupposes a definition of willing, choosing, and acting. I would define these words in terms of the mind’s volitional selection, determination, or performance.
Where the line is between providing mere synonyms and providing a clear metaphysical definition can be challenging, but in any case, I am in no worse a position than Clarke, who must also define these terms. Until he does, the burden of proof is on him to explain why necessity is mutually exclusive with will. Anyway, I don’t suppose Sean will have any issue with my explanation, as this is entirely consistent with Gordon Clark’s view 1) that God’s existence is necessary yet by His eternal will and choice, and 2) that the generation of the Son is voluntary and necessary like creation (see his chapter on Eternal Generation in The Trinity).
This last remark brings me to the objection from the other side to my position, viz. my thinking creation is necessary as well as the Son and Spirit. Whereas Sean thinks I bring the Son and Spirit down to the level of creation by making the them contingent – a counter which backfires, as [I would hope] Sean would not say the person[al property] of the Son is created even though he holds that the person[al property] of the Son is contingent – the objection here is that I raise the creation to the level of divinity (see here and here for examples).
Now, I admit I have perhaps missed some solution which would resolve the tension between an unnecessary creation and a seemingly arbitrary God, but if so, I have not encountered it. It seems easier for me to explain why a necessary creation is not divine than it is to explain why an unnecessary creation is not arbitrary. As I understand it, the reason there is an objection to the idea that who the Father is determines everything He wills is that such means the Son, Spirit and creation all originate from the Father in the same way. I suspect the argument is that since “like causes like,” one whose nature is divine must, if He acts according to a “necessity of nature,” cause another with a divine nature.
But I do not see why this needs to be the case. The nature or person of the Father may determine His causation of this possible world as well as the Son and Spirit, but I assert that creation is not consubstantial with the Father because the Father did not [and, therefore, could not on my view have willed to] communicate His nature to creation. Thinking about this question recently, I found myself asking: is divine nature communicated to the Son and Spirit because they are eternally begotten and spirated, or are the Son and Spirit said to be eternally begotten and spirated because the divine nature is communicated to them? If the latter is possible, then is this not a reasonable answer as to why the necessity of creation would not imply consubstantiality with its Creator?
Putting these questions to the side as I wait for an answer to them, I return to some last statements by Clarke concerning whether the necessary existence of the Son and Spirit would somehow imply their self-existence. The first argument is that it is equally necessary for God to be an Intelligent Being, and to Be at all; the second seems to suggest that if eternal generation is necessary, that which is eternally generated would be a predicate of that which is self-existent and thus itself be self-existent.
To be honest, I didn't follow either of these arguments. They were too short for me to tease out the intended implications. If the first argument relies on divine simplicity, I would have to know what sort of simplicity Clarke held to. Obviously, “intelligent being” and “being qua being” are distinct. If the point is that for God to be He must also be intelligent, I have no idea how I am supposed to connect that to the conclusion that the Son is self-existent if necessarily existent. Perhaps Clarke is conflating divine attributes with divine properties. I just don’t know.
As to the second argument, I don’t understand why Clarke thinks that something which is necessarily generated belongs to that which is self-existent as the very same thing apprehended under a partial consideration. What “very same thing” is Clarke referring to? The Father? Is he saying the Son “belongs to,” is “partially apprehended under,” and is a mere predicate of the Father? Why? And even so, is it not the case that to assert that a particular predicate is self-existent because the sum of a (i.e. the Father’s) set of predicates is self-existent an instance of the fallacy of division (see the comment section here)?
Perhaps Clarke has elsewhere dealt with these issues more in depth, but he breezed by them too quickly here. Regardless, I hope this post puts into perspective why this particular argument that I am a Unitarian is groundless.