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Revealed religion expounded by its relations to the moral being of God online

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natural Beine are so involved one in the other
that they cannot be separated. And this is our
answer to those who consider it almost profane,
and at all events unprofitable, to reason on a
truth so mysterious as the doctrine of the Trin-



38 BEDELL LECTURES.

ity ; who imagine, perhaps, that our only duty in
regard to such a subject must be to submit our
reason unreservedly and absolutely to divine
revelation. But as life eternal consists in the
spiritual knowledge of God, and as we are
exhorted in Holy Scripture not to be content
with the first principles of divine truth, but to
press on to perfection, it must certainly be our
duty to exercise, humbly and reverently, and
relying on God's Spirit, the faculties which He
has bestowed, in regard to that truth which He
has revealed to the spirit of man in order that
it may be spiritually apprehended and thus be-
come our life. And although intellectual specu-
lations on those things that are out of the
range of the finite understanding cannot profit,
yet so long as we only seek to know more
fully and more distinctly the moral Being of
God in His relations to us men, it cannot be
either presumptuous or profitless to use in that
sphere of thought in which this knowledge is
life to our souls, the rational faculties which are
the reflection of God's own wisdom. This
question, however, requires somewhat more
consideration before we proceed with our argu-
ment, which it will touch on several points.
4. It has been truly observed,^^ that the chief

^' Coleridge, Aids to Rejieclio^i.



RT. REV. HENRY COTTERILL, D.D. 39

difficulties which sincere and inquiring minds
feel in regard to Christianity are moral difficul-
ties, and not merely those that are raised by
the articles of the Christian faith being Incom-
prehensible to the understanding. Indeed, a
religion not based on truths beyond the range
of the understanding, or in modern language
** unthinkable," could not possibly be a true
revelation of the Creator. If creation itself is
full of m3^steries, how much more must the
Creator be ? The first principles of physical
science, on which its apparently most intelli-
gible, and simplest, and, to our minds, almost
self-evident, interpretations of natural phenom-
ena are founded, are perceived, v/hen we look
at all below the surface, to be absolutely unthink-
able. And science, the more that it advances,
instead of solving these mysteries, as superficial
thinkers suppose, only increases them.3° " In-
stead of science holding out any prospect of
making all the problems of nature intelligible to
the human understanding, on the contrary the
explanation of that which is explicable does not
bring out into greater clearness the inexpllcable-
ness of that which remains behind." It has

^° See H. Spencer's First Principles, Chap. III., on " Ultimate
Scientific Ideas."



40 BEDELL LECTURES.

been truly said by Herbert Spencer of the man
of science, that, '' in all directions his investiga-
tions eventually bring him face to face with an
insoluble enigma ; and he ever more clearly
perceives it to be an insoluble enigma. * * *
He realizes with a special vividness the utter in-
comprehensibleness of the simplest fact consid-
ered in itself. He, more than any other, truly
knows that in its ultimate essence nothing can be
known." When we pass from inanimate nature
to the sphere of organic life, its incomprehen-
sibleness is yet more apparent to every thought-
ful mind. Evolution, by which some imagine
that all is made plain and easy, is, when we
look beyond the mere phenomena of its order,
and inquire into the causes of the growth even
of a single plant, found to be a mystery wholly
inscrutable.



Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of tiie crannies ;
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand.
Little flower, — but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.



And it must be remembered that the mysteries
of nature are such, not merely as being beyond
the sphere of human experience, so that we
can gain no relative knowledge of them through



RT. REV. HENRY COTTERILL, D.D. \\

comparison with other objects of knowledge ;
but, from the fact, that the human mind not be-
ing capable of the absolute knowledge of things
in themselves, the truths seem often paradoxical,
or self-contradictory. All the theories that
science or philosophy can form on such appar-
ently simple questions as the constitution of
matter, the nature of force and of motion, the
unity of each individual living organism, are not
merely incomprehensible to the intellect, but
seem to it to involve contradictions. What
Spencer says of the first of these is true of all :
'' Frame what suppositions we may, we find on
tracing out their implications that they leave us
nothing but a choice between opposite absurdi-
ties." In fact, the intellectual knowledge of any
ideal truth being, at the most, but a partial aspect
. of the truth, cannot comprehend at the same time
the opposite truth necessary to its completeness.
And if this is the case in nature, that no pro-
found truth is one-sided and without paradoxes,
it cannot be a surprise that the same should be
the case concerning the truths contained in a
revelation of the Infinite and Eternal God. It
could not be a real revelation, if to the intellect
the profoundest and most comprehensive of all
truths should appear simple. The intellectual



42 BEDELL LECTURES.

difficulties, therefore, which the Christian faith
presents to the mind, in such doctrines as the
unity of three personalities in one Divine Being ;
or in the incarnation of the Son of God — that is,
the union of infinite and finite beine, of the self-
existing and the created, in one Lord Jesus
Christ ; or the efficacy of the atonement to put
away the sin of man ; or the supremacy of the
divine will, and at the same time the self-deter-
mination of the human will, — cannot to
any sincere and thoughtful mind be a reason-
able cause of ofTence. We might with equal,
indeed with more, justice refuse to accept any
of the conclusions of physical science on the
ground that its first principles are '' unthink-
able."

5. And such considerations must lead to the
conclusion, that arguments derived from the
moral Being of God are by far the most
weighty arguments. Instead of endeavoring
to comprehend intellectually the mysteries which
revelation contains — which is impossible — if
only we can trace their relation to God's moral
Being, and thus discover their spiritual meaning
and value, the fact of their being to the intellect
incomprehensible, or even paradoxical, cannot
affect the moral argument. And an exposition



RT. REV. HENRY COTTERILL, D.D. 43

of the Christian faith, which meets objections
against it on the moral and spiritual ground,
must of all have the greatest force. For the
only a priori objection against Christianity that
could have any real weight would be that it
should require men to believe incomprehensible
dogmas as to the Divine Being, but at the same
time forbid us to inquire into their spiritual or
moral meaning, which is, indeed, the notion some
form of Christianity. But this is exactly the
opposite of that which is required of Christians ;
for on nothing does Holy Scripture more
insist than on the necessity of spiritual knowl-
edge to spiritual and eternal life, and the worth-
lessness of the belief of the intellect and of the
knowledo-e of the letter of truth, without its
spirit.

6. I do not, indeed, question that, as regards
the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, there are
metaphysical considerations which, to a philo-
sophical mind, may so far illustrate the mystery
from the analogies which philosophy suggests,
that to such a mind it may be apparent that the
intellectual objections to the doctrine are un-
tenable. And undoubtedly the language of St.
John as to the *' Logos" : *' Who was in the
beginning with God, and was God," and '' by



44 BEDELL LECTURES.

whom all things were made " ; and that of
other teaching of Holy Scripture as to the
Third Person, the Spirit of God, do sufficiently
justify our accepting arguments, whether from
psychology or general philosophy, and using
them for the illustration and confirmation
of the spiritual truth. And physical science
also, when it is philosophically examined, un-
doubtedly supplies illustrations and confirmations
from nature, not merely of the Unity of God,
but also of the co-operation of the three Divine
Personalities in the work of creation. And yet
it does not appear to me, I confess, that any of
these arguments, however legitimate as con-
firming faith, can of themselves bring us one
step nearer that spiritual knowledge of God
which is the essence of Christianity. At all
events, my object in these Lectures is simply to
exhibit the relation of God's moral Being to the
mysteries of the Christian faith, and first of all
to that mystery in which all Christian doctrine
is founded, that which is implied in "• the Name
of the Father y and of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost!' into which we are baptized.

7. As regards the Christian faith as to '* the
Father and the Son," that the Son of God, the
Redeemer of man, is one God with the Father,



RT. REV. HENRY COTTER ILL, D.D, 45

and yet not the same Person as the Father ;
this article of the faith is so immediately and
obviously connected (in the teaching of St. John
especially) with the revelation of God as Love,
that it seems almost unnecessary to reason on
the subject. And yet it is of such primary con-
sequence to the science of theology, that it
should be made distinctly manifest how essential
and fundamental this connection is, (for, indeed,
it carries with it, as we shall hereafter find, the
whole of Christianity,) that we cannot examine
too carefully how the Being of God, and the
Christian faith as to the true Sonship of Christ,
are involved one in the other. For He whom
Holy Scripture declares to be " the only begot-
ten Son," and, again, *' the effulgence of His
glory, and the very image (or impress, as from
a seal) of His substance," is also expressly called
'' the Son of His love," or, as it is figuratively,
but most emphatically, represented by St. John,
*' He who was " from the beginning *' in the
bosom of the Father!' Indeed, it seems impossi-
ble not to recognize, — in the use of the word
ayanrjrk, both in secular literature and in the
Septuagint, as almost synonymous with
lioyoyeyr]


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Online LibraryHenry CotterillRevealed religion expounded by its relations to the moral being of God → online text (page 3 of 7)