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

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might bring to naught him that had the power
of death, that is the devil"; which only reminds
us how many reasons may exist which made
the atonement necessary, from the constitution
of the unseen spiritual world, and which we at
present cannot understand. But he dwells
specially on the spiritual efficacy of the work
of the Redeemer as having so near and inti-
mate a relation with us men : "Wherefore it be-
hooved him in all things to be made like unto
his brethren, that he might be a merciful and
faithful high priest in things pertaining to God
to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
For in that he himself hath suffered being
tempted, he Is able to succor them that are
tempted." 57 And again -.^^ ''For we have not a
high priest that cannot be touched with a feel-
ing of our Infirmities, but one that hath been in
all points tempted like as we are, yet without
sin." And this the apostle expounds when he
says that this Divine Redeemer,^^ "in the days
of His flesh, having offered up prayers and sup-
plications, with strong crying and tears, unto
him that was able to save him from death,
and having been heard for his godly fear,
though he was a Son, yet learned obedience

" Heb. II. 17, 18. " Heb. IV. 15. " Heb. V. 7-9.


through the things that he suffered, and hav-
ing been made perfect, he became unto all
them that obey him the author of eternal sal-

1 1 . We are here brought to the very essence
of Christianity, as distinguished from all other
religions — I mxean that it reveals God not merely
as perfectly just and holy, as supremely glorious,
as infinite in majesty and power. This, indeed,
it does ; but if this were all, Christianity could
bear no such witness to itself as when it reveals
God as giving His only Son, One with Himself,
to be '* a man of sorrows and acquainted with
grief"; to be "wounded for our transgressions
and bruised for our iniquities"; One on whom
was *'the chastisement of our peace," and on
whom "the Lord hath laid the iniquity of us all."
If the revelation had been destitute of this, it
might have given us a view of the Divine Being
to which the human mind would readily assent ;
• the speculative reason would not be offended
by any incomprehensible mysteries in such a
religion, and might accept it as rational and
quite intelligible. But the revelation could
carry no conviction whatever to the heart and
conscience of man, because, however suitable it
be for a world without evil, without suffering.


without sorrow, without death, in a world such
as ours actually is, the revelation of all these
moral perfections of Divine Being could give
to the spirit of man no light or life whatever,
but could merely intensify the darkness of death.
Such an idea of God would be to us no
revelation at all in the true sense of the word.
But the idea of a God who has taken our nature
into Himself, in order to feel for us in all our
sufferings and to bear them with us, is a revela-
tion indeed. It is the moral and spiritual solu-
tion, and the only solution, of the mysterious
problem of a world full of evil, sorrow, and
death. It may be incomprehensible to the in-
tellect, but it is, for that very cause, all the more
certain that it cannot be the invention of that
intellect, when to it the idea seems an impossi-
bility. In a different sense from that in which
the sturdy advocate of orthodoxy may have
used the words, we may truly say : Credo qiiia
impossibile est.

And it must be observed,— and this is one
great advantage of regarding and expounding
Christianity from the stand-point of the Being of
God as Love, — that we thus see how essential
to redemption being an exponent of that love,
is the true and eternal Sonship of Christ. For


it is the fact that God gave His own Son to
suffer and die for us, that alone proves the love
of God in redeeming us. If our Redeemer had
been the most exalted of created intelligences,
nay, even one who might be in some sense
divine, — His suffering for us, and His sympathy
with us through suffering, would indeed have
been a convincing proof of His own love, but
they would have been no manifestation at all to
us of the one God over all, as the God in whom
we might trust with confidence, unless He were
really one God with the Father. It is evident,
therefore, that a belief in the true divinity of
Christ is of the very essence of Christianity ;
because otherwise it is no revelation of the
Being of God Himself as Love. Every doctrine
short of that catholic faith which is confessed by
Christ's Church, is found, when tried by the
science of theology of which the fundamental
principle is the moral Being of God, to be
wholly destitute of the moral and spiritual
power of Christianity itself.

12. And, further, when we examine it, we
find that this is also the very gist of the witness
that Christianity bears to itself when it exhibits
its own characteristic features in the lives of
Christ's disciples, as our Lord prayed that it


might. For the power of the faith of Christ on
those that beHeve is derived from the revelation
of the love of God in Christ, as self-sacrificing
love; love that does not expend itself in senti-
ments and feelings, but is a real sacrifice of self,
even unto death, to fulfil its ends. '* Hereby,"
St. John says, ''know we love, because he laid
down his life for us : and we ought to lay down
our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this
world's goods and seeth his brother have need,
and shutteth up his compassion from him, how
dwelleth the love of God in him ? My little
children, let us not love in word, neither in
tongue, but in deed and truth. Hereby shall
we know that we are of the truth and shall
assure our heart before him." Such demands
on Christians for a life of self-denying and self-
sacrificing love may (as experience proves too
often is the case) fail to produce this effect on
individuals ; but, at all events, they prove what
Christianity itself means, and what are the
lesfitimate fruits of the relio;ion when its real
spirit is apprehended. The central idea of the
religion is God, as one whose love for man
has manifested itself in a life of practical sym-
pathy with him in all the trials and temptations
to which humanity is subject. It proclaims that


it is not only the duty of Christians to follow in
this respect the example of their Divine Master,
but that, if they truly believe in this manifesta-
tion of love for man, they must be animated by
the same spirit of love, without which all their
knowledge and spiritual attainments are worth-
less. And so fully is this spirit of practical
sympathy for man the distinguishing spirit of
real Christianity, that, in the Day of Judgment,
the one and the sure test of acceptance with
God as true disciples of His Son, is represented
to be their having shown such sympathy for
their suffering and afflicted fellow-men; in all
whom they could not fail, if they were Christ's
disciples indeed, to have recognized those whom
their Lord redeemed. Or, as the Apostle John
says : *' He that loveth not his brother whom he
hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath
not seen?"

13. It will, however, be necessary to the com-
pleteness of the argument, as to the witness
which Christianity bears to itself as the expo-
nent of the truth that God is Love, to consider
some points more carefully. This view of Chris-
tianity, as spiritually and vitally connected with
the Redeemer's work of love for sinful and suf-
fering man, is distinctly exhibited in the ele-


mentary constitution of the Church, or Christian
Society, which was ordained by Jesus Christ
Himself. Nothing is more emphatically affirmed
in Holy Scripture than that the propitiation
made for sin being for the whole world, — Christ's
ministers are sent to proclaim this gospel of
salvation to all nations, and administer to all
who are sufficiently instructed and willing to
receive it, the sacrament of their adoption into
the family of God on earth. But it must be re-
membered that the rite of baptism, ordained by
Christ, unlike the initiatory rites of other relig-
ions, ''is not only a sign of profession and mark
of difference, whereby Christian men are dis-
cerned from others that are not Christians," but,
much more, it Is " an outward and visible slo-n
of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us,
as a means whereby we receive the same, and
a pledge to assure us thereof " ; the grace
or gift of God, in the case of baptism, being "a
death unto sin and a new birth unto nVhteous-


ness." Thus St. Paul^° speaks of our baptism
as being ** hito the death of Christ " so that we
are *' buried with him through baptism into
death " ; that like as Christ was raised from the
dead through the glory of the Father, so we

" Rom. VI. 3, 4.


also might walk in newness of life." And
this mystical signification of baptism explains, so
far as it is capable of explanation, how the humi-
liation and death of the Divine Redeemer on
behalf of man can become, really, and not by
a mere fiction of imputation, the atonement for
sin, and justification before God, for every one
who believes on Christ. Because faith in the
sacrifice of Christ's death, by which God has con-
demned sin in the flesh,^' and into which he is
baptized, spiritually identifies him with Christ in
that death ; as St. Paul says again -/^ '' I have
been crucified with Christ ; yet I live, and yet
no longer I, but Christ liveth in me ; and that
life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith,
the faith which is in the Son of God who loved
me and gave himself for me." But it must be
observed that the language of St. Paul here and
elsewhere shows that this fellowship with Christ
in His death which is necessary in order to
make us partakers of the benefits of His propiti-
ation, must be no imagination of an excited
brain, but a spiritual reality ; one w^hich trans-
forms our spiritual being, and pervades our life
with the spirit of Him who lived and died for
the sins of the whole world. All the personal

=^Rom. VIII. 3-1 1. *-Gal. II. 20.


trials and chastisements of him who thus be-
lieves are spiritually associated, through this
faith, with Christ's own sufferings. Such an one
the apostle describes ^^ as '' always bearing
about in the body the dying of yesus^ that the
life also of Jesus maybe manifested in our mor-
tal body." True, visible Christianity, therefore,
is nothing else than the manifestation before
men of the Divine Redeemer's own work of
love for man. Christianity, far from claiming
for all that profess its doctrines, blessings su-
perior to others in the life to come, on the con-
trary distinctly and most emphatically teaches, as
a fundamental doctrine, that the benefits of re-
demption are possessed only by such as are in
spirit identified with the Redeemer Himself.^*
It cannot, therefore, be argued that Christianity
does not give, in its outward and visible form, as
well as by its doctrines, a patent and universally
intelligible witness to the world of its true char-
acter, as the manifestation of the love of God
for mankind, which Christians are bound them-
selves to exhibit in a life of self-denial and self-

^m. Cor. IV. 10.

^* This fundamental truth is no less clearly set forth in the other
divinely ordained Sacrament of the Gospel, which is commanded to
be observed by all Christians, for in this we continually have com-
munion with the sacrifice of Christ's Death.


sacrifice for other men. And, on the other
hand, in its ordinances it proclaims that Chris-
tians are not left to themselves to fulfil, by their
own natural and unaided powers, these respon-
sibilities to which they are pledged, for the
promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit, one God
with the Father and the Son, is sealed to each
one in these ordinances, to enable him to fulfil
the duties which are required of him, the duties
being those which are thus summed up : " Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart
and soul and mind, and thy neighbor as thy-

14. It is certain, therefore, that Christianity
reveals God as having, in His infinite love for
man, done all that divine love can do, not only
to remedy, through sending His own Son, the
sorrows and evils with which this world is filled,
but, further, to make all that profess and call them-
selves Christians workers with Christ by a life
of self-denying sympathy for suffering man. I
s-d^y all that love can do ; not because there are
any limits to that love, but omnipotence itself
cannot do that which is a self-contradiction.
Divine love, though infinite and almighty, could
not fulfil its purposes toward man, that is, re-
store God's image and likeness in him, except


he were one in whom such image and Hkeness
is possible ; which would be contradicted if we
should deny the reality of the will in man. It
is certain ^5 that any view of the will which
represents it as incapable of resisting God's
grace, makes the mechanical relation of cause
and effect the one law of the whole universe,
and subjects to its mechanism the moral world
no less than the physical, so that it must follow,
from such a view, that the whole of God's crea-
tion, visible and invisible, is unspiritual. For
the reality of will, and therefore of responsi-
bility, alone distinguishes that which is natural
from that which is spiritual. The theology,
therefore, which makes the will of man a nullity
does, equally with materialism itself, deny the
existence of spirit, and therefore the possibility
of any likeness to God in man. The power of a
finite and created spirit to refuse to receive the
grace of Almighty God is, no doubt, a profound
"mystery ; yet it is a mystery involved in the
very existence of spirit, — indeed, in every idea
of morality and religion, for the positive cannot
exist without the possibility of the negative.
Christianity certainly does not profess to be a
relio-ion which denies that in man which alone
makes morality and religion possible.

" Coleridge, Aids to Rejiection.


1 5. Let US consider, then, what is the Chris-
tian doctrine on this subject ? It is expressed
in two opposite truths, which, though finite reason
cannot reconcile them intellectually, are morally
consistent. The one is, that all that is spir-
itually good, every good desire, as well as the
power to do that which is good, must be of the
Spirit of God. The other, that to the operation
of the Spirit in us the concurrence of our own
will is necessary. It was observed before,^^ in
regard to the fellowship of God's Spirit with
man's spirit in prayer, that true prayer is both
our own prayer and yet, at the same time, the
Spirit's intercession in us. Even so, St Paul
says, on the one hand: *'To will is present
with me," and '' with the mind / myself serve
the law of God"; on the other, no less dis-
tinctly : *' Yet not I, but the grace of God that
is in me." And, therefore, our Lord's words
to the Jews at one time : *' Ye will not come to
me that ye may have life"; at another: ''No
man can come to me, except the Father which
hath sent me draw him," far from being contra-
dictory one of the other, are only opposite
aspects of the self-same truth. For, as those to
whom Christ is made manifest are prevented

•' Lect. II. § 13.


from coming to Him solely by their own will,
so also none can spiritually come to Christ and
be made partakers of His salvation, but those
who are drawn not only by the revelation of
His love in the Gospel of His Son, but also by
His Spirit of Love in their hearts, by whom
God '' worketh in us both to will and to do of
his good pleasure."

16. The relation of the human will to the
work of the infinite and almighty Spirit of God
in us is without doubt that which to the intel-
lect is incomprehensible, as are the doctrines of
the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atone-
ment. Yet the conscience has no difficulty in
recognizing the two opposite truths as funda-
mental and necessary principles, evident by
their own light. So that whereinsoever Chris-
tianity has produced the results which are the
legitimate and proper fruits of this revelation of
divine love, such results have been due to the
Spirit of God ; on the other hand, whereinso-
ever it has failed to produce such fruits, this has
been due solely to man, and cannot be laid to
the charge of Christianity itself. No doubt it
may often be due to misrepresentations of
Christianity by Christians themselves, who, in-
stead of teaching the Gospel of Christ as the


manifestation of God's love, have too often
obscured and perverted it by false theology in
one direction or the other, teaching instead of
divine truth the doctrines of men. But Chris-
tianity must not be held responsible for those
things which do not In any true sense belong to
it. The witness which it bears to itself as the
revelation that God is Love is undoubtedly
most apparent to the world, as was said at the
commencement of these Lectures, when its
characteristic features are exhibited in the lives
of those who call themselves disciples of Christ ;
but, as has been shown, it is none the less certain
from the revelation itself, even when professing
Christians fail to be what their own religion
demands that they should be — nay, what they
could not fail to be if they sincerely believed it.
For the truth of God is no less certain, though
men do not believe. And It must be remem-
bered that Christ Himself foretold that '' the
kingdom of heaven " on earth would be a
field in which tares would grow up with the
good seed, and that they would not be sepa-
rated until the time for judgment should come.
Instead of anticipating that His own example of
love would be universally followed by those
who should call themselves His disciples, He


foretells divisions, strifes, and false doctrines
amongst them ; and, as the ultimate result of
all, that ** because iniquity shall be multiplied,
the love of the many shall wax cold." The
Divine Author of our salvation knew before-
hand that however clearly the love of God
might be revealed, and however freely the
Spirit of His grace might be given, whatever
divine love might do for man, it could not per-
force constrain him, against His own will, to
love God even though He is Love ; for love
must be, in the nature of things, spontaneous.

17. It must be further observed, in regard to
the witness which Christianity bears to itself in
the lives of those who reflect in themselves its
true characteristics, that not only is this witness
actually defective, because of the resistance of
man's own will to the grace of God ; but also,
as I noticed in my first Lecture,^^ that, even
when there is in Christians a genuine represen-
tation of the love of God, and of the principles
of the Gospel in which that love is manifested,
the witness is often misapprehended by those
who do not appreciate or understand those
principles. For example, those who are by
faith spiritually united with Christ and like-

•^ See Lecture T. § 3.


minded with Him, for the very reason that they
dwell in that Love which God is, must '' hate
with a perfect hatred " the evil and sin which is
the contradiction of love, even as God hates it.
And all those errors and false doctrines which
directly or implicitly deny God's manifestation
of His love in His Son Jesus Christ, will excite
in those v/ho truly believe in Christ hostility
against such doctrines, and jealousy of those
that teach them, — not because they are wanting
in love, but for the very reason of the fervor
and reality of their love ; even as St. John bids
Christians, with regard to any one who does not
bring the true teaching of Christ, not to receive
him into their house, neither wish him God-
speed.^^ There is, no doubt, a false zeal for God,
which is not according either to knowledge
or to love ; but to the world in general, even
the zeal of the Apostle of Love appears unchari-
table. And so indeed it would be, were not
the doctrine of **the Father and the Son,"
which these deceivers did not teach, necessary
to the faith that '' God is Love." We cannot
expect others to recognize the charity of such
zeal, until they appreciate the force of this fun-
damental principle of Christian faith and doc-

" 2 John, 10, II.


trine. On the other hand, the conduct of
sincere and earnest Christians is Hable to be
misunderstood, from the world's ignorance of
the character of that love of God, in regard of
which God's servants are called to be followers
of Him, as His dear children. For while it is
revealed that God loved (i^yaitr^ai) the world
though at enmity with Him, the other word
(^zlf?r), which expresses the tenderer and
more intimate affection, is never used except of
God's love for Jesus Christ, His only begotten
Son, and for those who, by faith on Him, are
reconciled to God.^^ Even thus, those who are
like-minded with Christ have a special affection
for those who are the friends of God, different
from that with which they regard other men. The
former is distinguished by the word ^ikaSeXcpia,
*' brotherly love," the latter by ayocTti]. And
while the first-fruits of the spirit is " love "
itself, ^° because without it all religion is vain,
yet St. Peter ^^ reminds us that in the develop-
ment and manifestation of the Christian charac-
ter, love in its perfection is the highest grace,
and one which '* brotherly love " must precede.
So that oftentimes " brotherly love " is more

" St. John XVI. 27. ^o Gal. V. 22.

^^2 Peter I. 7.


manifest in the character of Christians than that
love to man as man, which should animate
them to follow the example of Christ in a life of
self-denying love for all without exception or
distinction. And too often also this brotherly
love takes the form of excluslveness and par-
tiality, and specially of a tendency to judge
others, which is expressly forbidden by Christ
Himself. Indeed, the world in general consid-
ers the '' brotherly love " which exists among
Christians, — and alas ! too often not without
reason, — as mere party spirit and the unity of
those who hold the same opinions. And it is
important to observe, in connection with this,
that in our Lord's prayer for the unity of Chris-
tians as a proof to the world of His own divine
mission, the emphasis is laid on this being a
universal and not a partial unity ; *' that they
all may be one, even as thou. Father, art in
me, and I in thee." For, in truth, the divisions
and strifes among even real Christians, which
are manifest to all men, do more, in the present
day especially, to obscure the witness of Chris-
tianity to itself, than all the '' brotherly love "
in the several sects Into which Christianity is
unhappily divided can do to confirm It. But
that unity of all that believe in one spiritual


body, for which our Blessed Lord prayed,— or ac
St Paul describes it '' one body and one spirit,"
''holding the unity of the spirit in the bond of
peace,"— cannot be the result of merely out-
ward ties or natural principles, which, as human
experience abundantly proves, are not powerful
enough to resist the influences which are ever
tending, in this sinful world, to mar the beauti-
ful Ideal of unity which has God's special prom-
ise. The only power that can in any degree
make that ideal a reality before the world Is the
gravitating power of genuine, vigorous love to
God and to Jesus Christ as the one Head of
His Universal Church ; which, even if the di-
vine order be disturbed for a time, will in due
time restore It. Is it too much to hope that in
proportion as Christianity Is understood by
Christians as the revelation of the love of God,
and not a mere system of doctrines, the prayer
of our Divine Lord will be more and more ful-
filled ?

After an examination. In these Lectures, of
Christian faith and doctrine as the exponent and
manifestation of the fundamental law of God's
moral Being, a few remarks In conclusion will
be sufficient reply to some popular objections

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Online LibraryHenry CotterillRevealed religion expounded by its relations to the moral being of God → online text (page 5 of 7)