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- Religious Reality - 5/25 -
The nature of GOD, in so far as the mind and affections of man are capable of knowing Him and entering into relationships with Him, is revealed in Jesus Christ His Son, and the revelation is completed and made intelligible by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. S. Paul expressed the practical content of GOD'S self-disclosure in his phrase "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of GOD, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost." Later Christian thinkers worked it out into the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the conception of GOD as at once Three in One, and One in Three.
To the plain man the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is something of a puzzle--on the face of it an arithmetical paradox; suggestive, moreover, of the abstract subtleties of speculation rather than of the concrete realities of religious life. But the doctrine did not have its origin, as a matter of historical fact, in any perverse love of subtlety or speculation. It certainly arose out of living realities of spiritual experience. It arose as the result of an attempt, on the part of the earliest Christian believers, to think out the meaning of what had happened in their religious lives, and to express it in speech and thought. What was this thing that had come to them, this thing which had changed their whole outlook upon the world, which had transformed their very inmost souls and made them new men, full of a new vision and a new hope? Something tremendous had happened in their lives. They were confident that it held the secret of _all_ life, for them and for others. It was a new, an overwhelming, a conclusive revelation of GOD. They proclaimed it: they were constrained also to think about it. They had to find ways of expressing it. They had to think out what it meant.
There was Jesus Christ. Who was He? What did He mean? What was His relation to man, and to GOD? Certainly He had shed light upon GOD, and upon GOD'S nature. Through His teaching, His character, His life and death, the conception of GOD was filled with a new meaning. In Him GOD was revealed with a fulness that had never been before. He disclosed more of GOD'S inmost character, and more of the relation which He bears to men. "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father"--the disciples felt that this witness was true. By admitting to their thought of GOD all that the life of Jesus brought, they filled with fresh glory Christ's favourite word for GOD--"your Father which is in Heaven."
In Jesus, they felt, GOD was expressed: His relationship to GOD was unique. They found the Divine in Him as in no other. They knew that GOD was in that life because He had spoken and acted there. "Through the eyes of Jesus" GOD looked out upon the world, and in Jesus' love and purity and yearning for the sinful and the heavy-laden, GOD Himself became visible. They knew now what GOD was like. GOD was like Christ. It was His glory that shone in Jesus' face. It was a new vision of Him when "Jesus of Nazareth passed by." In the grace--that is, the beauty, the glory and attractiveness--of the Lord Jesus Christ they saw a revelation of the love of GOD, a love that yearned over the fallen and the sorrowful, a love that suffered, and through suffering brought redemption.
But there was something more. It was not simply that in Jesus Christ GOD had been brought near, so that they felt they knew GOD as never before. There was in the experience which had come to them more than simply a Revealer and a Revealed. There was the Spirit which took possession of them, a transforming inward Power: a Power able to reproduce in them, by a process of growth from more to more, that character of Christ in whose lineaments they had discerned the nature of the eternal GOD Himself. There was a Presence abiding in their midst, dwelling within them, a Breath of the Divine Life which every Christian knew: a Presence which brought strength and comfort, power and love and discipline, and bore fruits of love and joy and peace. Who or what was it? An influence from on high? Yes: but it seemed more intimate, more personal than any mere "influence," more indissolubly one with them, knitting them into a fellowship in which they were united with the Father and the Son. "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." The Spirit which bore such fruits in them, which brought them into so intimate a fellowship with GOD in Christ, they recognized as the Spirit of GOD, as the Presence in them of very GOD Himself. GOD, they felt, was not a Being far off, an Influence telling upon men from a distance. He was the very secret of life, "closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet," so that each soul was meant to be a sacred "temple of GOD," "GOD abiding in him and he in GOD." GOD came in the Son, GOD had come also and equally in the Spirit. The Eternal Source of all things, who was known and worshipped as the Living One even before Christ came, was made more fully known in Christ, and now He was still more intimately made known in the inmost spiritual life of every day.
That was Christian experience. That was the experience out of which the doctrine of the Trinity arose. It arose out of an attempt to think the thing out. If we to-day find the doctrine difficult, at least the experience was and is both simple and profound. And we cannot help thinking about it.
It may be that sometimes we think we would rather be content to say simply with S. John that "GOD is Love." And that is truly the simplest of Christian creeds. If we were able fully to understand it, it would be sufficient. "Holy Trinity, whatever else it may signify, is a mode of saying 'Holy Love.'" But as a matter of fact it is only through the revelation of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that we can ever come to understand the love of GOD. In the Christian Gospel GOD is revealed first as Father, secondly as Sufferer, thirdly as the Spirit of eternally victorious Life: and it takes the whole threefold revelation to express with any fulness the rich wonder of what is meant by saying that GOD is Love. Our minds cannot help passing from the contemplation of the threefold character of GOD'S self-revelation to the thought of a certain threefoldness in GOD Himself. We have to find room and place for such a thought--the thought that GOD is _eternally_ Love, that He is _eternally_ Father, Son, and Spirit--and yet at the same time not depart from the fundamental Christian conviction that GOD is One.
It is to be feared that many Christian people do sometimes come dangerously near to believing in three separate Gods, and what we call Unitarianism is a one-sided protest against such a tendency. GOD is indeed a unity: and so far Unitarianism is right. But Unitarianism is less than the full Christian faith in GOD, because it fails to do justice to the full riches of Christian experience, the many-sided wonder of GOD revealed in Christ, and made real to us here and now by the operation of the Spirit in our hearts. We are driven to say that GOD is not only One, but Three in One.
Nevertheless, if any one finds the _theory_ of the Holy Trinity difficult let him not be overmuch dismayed. Let him learn to know GOD as Father and Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour: let him learn to know the Holy Spirit as an energy of eternal life and inspiration in his heart. He will then be _in effect_ a Trinitarian believer, even though the theologians seem to him to talk a language which he does not understand: even though--to tell the truth--he is not greatly interested by what they say.
At the same time, there is need that people should think out the meaning of the Christian revelation of GOD: perhaps that they should think it out afresh. It is possible to be technically orthodox and correct in doctrine and yet to miss the true reality of what GOD means. The conception of GOD as Father implies that GOD has eternally a Son: the life of Jesus Christ as Son of God reveals to us the quality of that Divine Fatherhood to which His Sonship corresponds. The Spirit, as the Divine Energy proceeding from the Father and the Son, is the assurance that the life of GOD can never be self-contained or aloof, but is for ever going forth from Himself, so as to be eternally operative and active, alike in the processes of Nature and in the lives of men. For "the Spirit of the Lord filleth the world," and the Divine Wisdom "reacheth from one end to the other mightily, and sweetly ordereth all things."
It follows that Christianity, the religion of the Spirit, can never stand still. Not stagnation, but life, is its characteristic note, even "that Eternal Life which was with the Father, and hath been manifested unto us." The Church which is truly alive unto GOD, and aflame with the spirit of allegiance to Him who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, the Church which is truly quickened and inspired by the Spirit of Truth and Love and Power, will always be ready to "live dangerously" in the world, not shrinking timorously from needed change or experiment, not holding aloof from conflict and adventure and movement, but facing courageously all new situations and new phases whether of life or of thought as they arise, shirking no issues, welcoming all new-found truth, bringing things both new and old out of her treasure-house, so that she may both "prove all things" and also "hold fast that which is good."
There are conceptions of GOD proclaimed from Christian pulpits which are less than the full Christian conception of GOD. The GOD who is eternal Energy and Life and Love, the GOD who is revealed in Christ, and whose Spirit is the Spirit of Freedom and Brotherhood and Truth, is neither the tyrant God of the Calvinist, nor the dead-alive God of the traditionalist, nor the obscurantist God of those who would decry knowledge and quench the Spirit. Neither, again, is GOD the God of militarists, a God who delights in carnage--even though it should be the carnage of Germans; or the God who is thought of by His worshippers as being mainly the God of the sacristy, a kind of "supreme Guardian of the clerical interest in Europe." Least of all is GOD the commonplace deity of commonplace people, a sort of placid personification of respectability, the GOD whose religion is the religion of "the Conservative Party at prayer."
He is a consuming Energy of Life and Fire. His eyes are "eyes of Flame," and His inmost essence a white-hot passion of sacrifice and of self-giving. At the heart of His self-revelation there is a Cross, the eternal symbol of the almightiness of Love: the Cross which is the source and the secret of all true victory, and newness of life, and peace.
This, and none other, is the GOD whom truly to know is everlasting life, and whom to serve is liberty. For He it is who has made us unto Himself, with hearts that are restless until they rest in Him. To do His will is to realize the object of our existence as human beings: for it is to fulfil the purpose for which we have our being, the end for which we were created; even to glorify GOD, and to enjoy Him for ever.
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
But are not the evil and misery of the world, is not all that which we know as "sin" and pain, in manifest contradiction to this Christian conception of a GOD of Love? Most certainly they are: and it has been the strength of Christianity from the beginning that--unlike many rival systems and philosophies, including the "Christian Science"
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