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“God is one, but not solitary.”—Peter Chrysologus.
“Christian worship calls men away from the altars of Polytheism, and elevates their souls to the One God, but it does this in a threefold direction: for we know by faith that eternal life streams down to us out of three personal fountains of love—from God the Father, who has created us; from God the Son, who has redeemed us; and from God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifies us and makes us the children of God:—in the Trinity alone do we possess the whole of love.”—Martensen.
“The conceptions of speculative philosophy, where they are most profound, come nearest to the Christian doctrine; nor need webs anxious lest speculative philosophy should ever reach a height from which it may look down and say that the Christian element is left behind. No thought can transcend the Christian idea, for it is truth in itself.”—Brantiss (in Christlieb).
“For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him! Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God.”—Paul261
THE HIGHER CONCEPT OF GOD INVOLVED IN THE INCARNATION—
THE INCARNATION AND THE PLAN OF THE WORLD.
The point reached at the conclusion of last Lecture was that the facts of Christ’s Revelation are reconcilable with no lower estimate of His Person than that which we find in the apostolic writings. This conclusion is counterchecked by the circumstance that, in the history of doctrine, no lower estimate of Christ’s Person has been found able to maintain itself.
Theories, therefore, like that of Ritschl, which ascribe “Godhead” to Christ only in a figurative way, or like those of Rothe and Beyschlag, which aim at investing Christ with a real Divinity, but deny His personal pre-existence, are none of them in full harmony with Scripture testimony. The former sinks back into humanitarianism; the latter involve themselves in the difficulty that they must suppose a new Divine person to come into existence in the Incarnation. They literally add a new Person to the Godhead. This difficulty is not obviated by taking the predicate “Divinity” in a quasi-ideal sense to denote simply the ethical indwelling of God in Christ. There is no doubt a true presence of the Divine in Christ, just as there is a true presence of God by His Spirit in the heart of every believer; and what is imperfectly true of the believer may be held to be perfectly true of Christ. But no matter how entirely the believer is filled with the Divine life, and in this sense is a partaker of the Divine nature, we do not regard this as a reason for worshipping him. We may worship and glorify the God revealed in him, but we do not worship the believer himself. The worship paid to Christ, therefore, and that from the earliest period, marks a distinction between His Divinity and that of every other. Not simply as the possessor of a communicated 262Divine nature, but in the root of His own Personality, Christ was Divine.
I. Higher concept of God involved in the Incarnation—God as triune.
I. I come now to speak of the higher concept of God involved in this truth of the Incarnation—I mean the concept of God as triune. This is the first of the corollaries of the doctrine of the Incarnation, taken in connection with the related doctrine of the Spirit. It must be evident to any one who thinks upon it, that such a doctrine as that of the Incarnation cannot be seriously entertained without profoundly reacting upon and modifying our concept of God. Necessity is laid on us, as it was laid on the early Church, to reconstruct our concept of God so as to bring it into harmony with the new and higher Revelation which has been given us. The result is the Trinitarian view, which Christendom expresses in the formula—Father, Son, and Spirit, one God; and which is as essentially bound up with Christianity as the Incarnation itself.632632Kaftan says: “Christian faith in God is faith in the three-one God. That is the expression, alike simple and yet all-comprehending, of the Christian truth of faith.”—Das Wesen, etc. p. 387. Most modern theologians, as Schleiermacher, Biedermann, Lipsius, Pfleiderer, etc., express themselves similarly, though each has his own interpretation of the Trinitarian formula.
Here let me say, to begin with, that it is a mistake to shrink from the triune view of God as if it did nothing else than impose a mysterious burden on our faith,—as if it had no voice to reason, or brought no light into our view of the world, or had no practical relation to Christian life. This doctrine has not been gained indeed by speculation, but by induction from the facts of God’s self-revelation,—just, e.g., as the man of science gains his knowledge of the polarity of the magnet by induction from the facts of nature. Yet it is not a doctrine which the Church, having once gained it, could ever again willingly part with. Even from a philosophical point of view, the worth of this doctrine is very great. The more profoundly speculation has occupied itself with the mystery of the Divine existence, the more impossible has it been found to rest in the thought of God as an abstract, distinctionless unity, the more has the triune conception of God been felt to be necessary to secure the life, love, personality,—even the Fatherhood of God. Professor Flint says of this doctrine, that it is “a mystery indeed, yet one which explains many other mysteries, and 263which sheds a marvellous light on God, on nature, and on man.”633633Anti-Theistic Theories, p. 439. Professor Laidlaw says of it, “This doctrine is one of the most prolific and far-reaching among the discoveries of Revelation. Fully to receive it influences every part of our theological system, and of our practical religion. It is the consummation and the only perfect protection of Theism.”634634Bible Doctrine of Man, p. 126 (Cunningham Lectures). Martensen has declared, “If Christian dogmatics had not asserted and developed the doctrine of the Trinity, ethics must postulate it in its own interests.”635635Christian Ethics, i. 75 (Rug. trans.). Similar testimonies might be multiplied indefinitely.
It is well to keep clearly in view how this doctrine has originated. It has just been said that the doctrine of the Trinity is not a result of mere speculation,—not a theory or hypothesis spun by theologians out of their own fancies,—still less, as some eminent writers would maintain, the result of the importation of Greek metaphysics into Christian theology.636636Thus Harnack, Hatch, etc. It is, in the first instance, the result of a simple process of induction from the facts of the Christian Revelation. We could know nothing positively of this self-distinction in the nature of God save as He Himself discovers it to us in the facts of His self-revelation; we do not know it through the discovery of Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. We know it just as, e.g., we know of the existence of reason, memory, imagination, will, etc., in our own minds, through their actual manifestations; or as we know of the various modes of force in nature—light, heat, electricity, chemical force, etc.—through observation of their workings. Our faith in the Trinity does not rest even on the proof-texts which are adduced from the Scriptures in support of the Trinitarian distinction.637637E.g. Matt. xxviii. 19; 2 Cor. xiii. 14; 1 Cor. xii. 4-6; 1 Pet. i. 2; Rev. i. 4, 5. These. have their value as summaries of the truth we gain from the complex of facts of the New Testament Revelation, and serve to assure us that we are on right lines in our interpretation of these facts, but the fundamental ground on which we rest is the facts themselves. The triune conception of God is justified when it is shown to be the conception which underlies the triune Revelation God 264has given of Himself, and the triune activity in the work of Redemption.
For this same reason that the doctrine of the Trinity is one which properly arises only out of the facts of the completed Revelation in the New Testament, we do not look, or we look in vain, for any full discovery of it in the Old Testament. Yet, if the doctrine be true, we would anticipate that the older dispensation would not be without at least some foregleams or intimations of it,—that some facts which point in its direction would not be wanting,—and this we find to be actually the case. It is only, I think, a very superficial view of the Old Testament which will allow us to say that no such traces exist. I do not lay any stress upon the plural word “Elohim,” or on the plural pronouns sometimes associated with it, though this word is an indication of the deep feeling which the Hebrews had for that plurality of powers in the Divine nature, which Polytheism separated, and worshipped in isolation, or under some visible manifestation (sky, etc.). It is this which constitutes the Monotheism of the Bible from the first a living thing, and keeps it from degenerating into a hard, unspiritual monadism. More to the purpose is the large place allowed in the Old Testament to ideas and representations which naturally and almost necessarily suggest—if indeed they do not sometimes formally express—the thought of self-distinction in the Divine nature. I might refer here (1) to the remarkable series of facts connected in the older Scriptures with the appearances and Revelations of the “Angel of Jehovah.”638638“Angel of God” in Elohistic sections. Cf. Gen. xvi. 7-13, xviii. 20, 26, xxii. 11-19, xxiv. 7, 40, xxxi. 11-13, xlviii. 15, 16; Ex. iii. 2-6, xiii. 21, compared with xiv. 19; xxxii. 14 compared with Isa. lxiii. 9; Josh. v. 14, 15; Zech. i. 12, iii. 1, 2, etc. Discussion goes on to this day as to whether the mysterious Being who bears this designation in the older narratives of the Bible is to be viewed as a mere theophany, or as a created angel, or as a distinct hypostasis;639639Cf. on this subject Oehler’s Theology of Old Testament, i. pp. 188–196 (Eng. trans.); Schultz’s Alttest. Theol. pp. 600–606; Delitzsch’s New Commentary en Genesis, on chap. xvi. 7, etc. Delitzsch founds on Gen. xviii. in support of his view that the Mal’ach was a created angel, but Schultz shows that this was not so. Schultz holds a mediating view, but says: “There is certainly in the Angel of God something of what Christian theology seeks to express in the doctrine of the Logos,” p. 606. Delitzsch also holds that “the angelophanies of God were a prefiguration of His Christophany,” ii. p. 21. but I think a dispassionate review of all the facts will dispose 265us to agree with Oehler that, judged by his manifestations, the “Mal’ach” is best described as “a self-presentation of Jehovah, entering into the sphere of the creature, which is one in essence with Jehovah, and yet again different from Him.”640640Theology of Old Testament, i. p. 193. (2) We have again the very full development given to the doctrine of the Spirit. Ordinarily the Spirit appears only as a power or energy proceeding from Jehovah, but in function and operation the tendency is to represent Him as an independent agent, and there are several passages, especially in the later chapters of Isaiah, where this view receives distinct expression. Such, e.g., is Isa. xl. 13, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or, being His counsellor, bath taught Him?” where, in Oehler’s words, “The Divine Spirit acting in creation is a consciously working and intelligent power.”641641Ibid. p. 172. Cheyne observes on the same passage: “In Isaiah there is a marked tendency to hypostatise the Spirit: here, for instance, consciousness and intelligence are distinctly predicated of the Spirit.”642642On Isa. xlviii. 16, Cheyne remarks: “I cannot but think with Kleinert (who, however, makes ‘His Spirit’ the subject) that we have both here and in Gen. i. 2 an early trace of what is known as the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit”; and on chap. xliii. 10: “There is an evident tendency in this book to hypostatise the Holy Spirit (which it mentions no less than seven times) with special distinctness. The author has already claimed to have been sent in special union with the Spirit of Jehovah; he now employs another phrase which could not have been used (cf. ver. 14) except of a person.” Delitzsch confirms this view, remarking on chap. xlviii. 16: “Although ‘His Spirit’ is taken as a second object, the passage confirms what Cheyne and Driver agree in remarking, that in II. Isa. the tendency is evidently to regard the Spirit of God as a separate personality.” Schultz remarks, in speaking of Creation:—” The Spirit of God and His Word appear as powers enclosed in God. The Spirit appears as very independent, in the manner of an hypostasis.”—Alttest. Theol. p. 569. On the doctrine of the Spirit in the Old Testament, see Schultz, Oehler, and Kleinert in Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie for 1867 (referred to by Cheyne). (3) There is in the later books the doctrine of the Divine Wisdom, which in the Jewish and Alexandrian schools developed into the view of a distinct hypostasis. Still, whatever the measure of these approximations, it was not till the actual appearance of the Son in the flesh, and till the actual outpouring of the Spirit consequent on Christ’s exaltation, that the facts were available which gave this doctrine a distinct place in the faith of the Church.
The doctrine of the Trinity is first of all a doctrine of distinctions interior to the Divine essence, and as such it has frequently been objected to on the ground that it asks us 266 to accept an intellectual puzzle, or to believe in an intellectual contradiction—that three can be one, and one be three. No objection is more common than this, yet none is more baseless—more narrowly the product of the mere logical understanding.643643Cf. Hegel, Religionsphilosophie, ii. pp. 237–239. The objection does not turn peculiarly on the point of the attribution of Personality to the three modes of existence in the Godhead—to call them such for the present—but simply on the formal contradiction of “one and three.” But what is there to which the same objection would not apply? What is there which is not at the same time one and manifold? Take any object—it can only be conceived of as unity of substance, yet plurality of attributes. Take mind—it is one, if anything is, yet we distinguish in it a variety of powers—reason, memory, imagination, will, etc.—a plurality of faculties, yet all expressions of the one undivided spiritual self. Take any form of life—what an unfolding into multiplicity have we there of what is in its principle one. Is it not the very essence of life to unfold and maintain itself in the play of distinctions? Take a yet higher view, and the same contradiction meets us—if contradiction it is—in any explanation we may give of the ultimate ground of the universe. However we may choose to conceive of it, the many must in some way have come out of the One,—that One, accordingly, must have in it a plurality of powers, must be thought of as capable of expressing, or unfolding, or differentiating itself into a manifold. This is as true on the pantheistic hypothesis, or on Mr. Spencer’s theory of an Unknowable Power, which manifests itself in matter and mind, or on any of the monistic systems,—Haeckel’s or Hartmann’s, for example,—as in the Christian doctrine. It will be remembered how this question was one of the difficulties discussed in the early Greek schools, and what came of the attempts of the Eleatics and others to hold fast the unity of the Absolute in contrast to all distinctions. From the idea of one absolute distinctionless unity, excluding all plurality, all change, all mobility, all decay, came the relegation of the world of perception to the category of mere seeming, show, unreality, non-being—in brief, the denial of the reality of the existing world, or Acosmism.644644Cf. Zeller on the Eleatics Pre-Socratic Philosophy, i. pp. 533–642. It 267was in the attempt to overcome this difficulty that philosophy from Plato downwards felt the need of a conception of God which should embrace the element of self-distinction. Hence the Logos speculations of the Stoics and of Philo, the nous of the Neo-Platonists. In hike manner, self-diremption, self-distinction in God, is the key to all the higher speculative movements of the present century. Whether these speculative views be held to be satisfactory or not, they have at least served to show that the Trinitarian conception, instead of being the shallow thing it is sometimes represented to be, includes elements of the deepest speculative importance.645645“In philosophy,” says Hegel, “it is shown that the whole content of nature, of spirit, gravitates to this centre as its absolute truth.”—Religionsphilosophie, ii. p. 229.
It is not, therefore, to the mere fact that Christianity posits self-distinctions in God, but to the nature of these distinctions as personal, that the real objections to the doctrine of the Trinity must be addressed. And this is the point on which, within the Church itself, discussion on the nature of the Trinity really turns. What is the character of this distinction which we must ascribe to God, which exhaustively expresses, or does full justice to, the facts of the Christian Revelation? Is it a distinction of essence, or only of working? an immanent distinction, or one only of Revelation? a personal distinction, or one which is impersonal? Now, in applying this word “Person” to these distinctions in the Godhead, it is granted that we are conscious of inevitable limitations and drawbacks. The objection commonly made to the word is that it represents the Godhead as constituted by three separate individualities, as distinct from each other as human beings are distinct,—a conception which would, of course, be fatal to the Divine unity. This word Person, it is to be observed, does not occur in Scripture itself.646646Calvin on this ground objected to the term. “Specially was he annoyed by the attacks made on him by one Caroli, who impeached his orthodoxy, and even had him brought before a synod to clear himself of the charge of Arianism. It is curious to see Calvin—hard dogmatist as we are apt to think him—called to account for not using the terms ‘Trinity’ and ‘Person’ in his teachings on the Godhead, and having to defend himself for his preference for simple scriptural expressions. When blamed by Caroli for not accepting the ancient creeds, he ‘rejoined,’ say the Genevese preachers (in a letter to Borne), ‘that we have sworn to the belief in One God, and not to the creed of Athanasius, whose symbol a true Church would never have admitted.’ “—Lecture on “John Calvin” by the authors in volume on The Reformers (1885). It comes to us from the Latin, while the 268Greek Church employed the term ὑπόστασις, or substance; so that, as Augustine says, the Greeks spoke of one essence, three substances, but the Latins of one substance, three Persons, while yet both meant the same thing.647647De Trinitate, Book vii. chap. iv. (p. 189, trans. in Clark’s series). Cf. Book v. chap. v. p. 155. The same father even says, “Three Persons, if they are to be. so called, for the unspeakable exaltedness of the object cannot be set forth by this term,”648648Quoted by Van Oosterzee, Dogmatics, p. 289 (Eng. trans.). Cf. De Trinitate, v. 9: “When the question is asked, What three? human language labours altogether under great poverty of speech. The answer, however, is given, three persons, not that it might be spoken, but that it might not be left unspoken.” and he reminds us of what I have just stated, that Scripture does not anywhere mention three Persons.649649De Trinitate Book iv. chap. iv. sec. 8, p. 192 (Eng. trans.). Too much stress, therefore, must not be laid on the mere term. Yet I do not know any word which would so well express the idea which we wish to convey, and which the titles Father, Son, and Spirit seem to imply—the existence in the Divine nature of three mutually related yet distinct centres of knowledge, love, and will, not existing apart as human individualities do, but in and through each other as moments in one Divine self-conscious life.
Using the term “Person,” therefore, to denote distinctions in the Divine nature, properly described as I and Thou and He, without contradiction of the thought of the comprehension of these distinctions in a higher unity of essence, we certainly hold that the distinctions in the Christian Trinity are personal. This is already implied, as just hinted, in the names given to the members of the Trinitarian circle—Father, Son, and Spirit—at least the two former are personal, and for that very reason the third is presumably so also. But, apart from this, all those facts and testimonies which go to show that in Christ we have the Incarnation of a true Divine Person, distinct from the Father, establish this truth; while, finally, all the facts and testimonies which show that the Holy Spirit, sent forth by Christ as the Guide, Teacher, Comforter, and Sanctifier of His disciples, is a Divine Person, distinct from the Father and the Son, support the same view. I do not enlarge on this series of testimonies relating to the Spirit, for the reason that few who admit a real personal distinction in regard to the Son are disposed to deny it in regard to the Spirit. It has, indeed, 269 been said, and with justice, that in regard to the Son the dispute has not been as to His Personality, but as to His Divinity; while in regard to the Spirit the dispute has not been as to His Divinity but as to His Personality. Yet it is a rare thing to find those who admit the Personality and Divinity of the Son denying the Personality of the Spirit; rather it is felt that if the distinction of Father and Son is admitted there is a necessity for completing the triad in the Divine life by the acknowledgment of the Spirit also. The other view of a merely modal or economical Trinity—a Trinity, that is, not of essence, but only of Revelation—has had many advocates both in ancient and modern times, but falls to the ground if a true Incarnation of the Son be admitted.650650Biedermann and Pfleiderer grant that, with the presupposition of the Personal Incarnation in Christ, the ontological Trinity is inevitable. “The Trinity,” says Biedermann, “is the specific Christian concept of God, as it must necessarily develop itself out of the identification of the Divine principle in Christ with the Ego of Jesus Christ.”—Dogmatik, ii. p. 600. Pfleiderer says: “When we observe that dogmatic reflection had to work with the presuppositions set up by the Pauline and Johannine theology, and with the notions provided in the philosophy of the age, we can scarcely imagine any other result to have been possible than that embodied in the decrees of the councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon.”—Religionsphilosophie, iii. p. 218 (Eng. trans.). It is, besides, loaded with difficulties and contradictions of its own, which make it, whenever the matter is thought out, untenable as an hypothesis. In the old Sabellian view, for example, we had indeed a Divine Christ, but the distinction between Father and Son was abolished, because it was the same being who first appeared as Father, who afterwards appeared as Son. Modern theories escape this difficulty by ascribing to Christ only an ethical Sonship—that is, by denying His true Divinity; but this in turn deprives us of even a Trinity of Revelation. We have now God the Father and God the Spirit, but no longer, in the proper sense, God the Son. The Son is the bearer or medium of the Revelation of the Father, but does not Himself belong to the Divine circle. Or suppose that with Rothe and Beyschlag we seek to save Christ’s Divinity by asserting a “becoming” Godhead, then we involve ourselves in the old dilemma, that to complete the Trinitarian circle we add a new Person to the Godhead, and the Trinity is no longer economical. The only way of clearing ourselves of these entanglements is to hold fast to the scriptural idea of the true entrance of a Divine 270Personal Being—the Eternal Son—into the conditions of humanity; and, in accordance with this, to move back from an economical to an ontological and personal Trinity.651651“The anti-trinitarian movements of recent times have made it perfectly clear that there consequently only remains the choice either to think of God in a Unitarian manner, and in that case to see even in Jesus a mere man, or, if He is supposed to he the God-Man, to hold to eternal distinctions in God, and therefore to undertake to prove that the unity of God is quite consistent with such distinctions.”—Dorner, System of Doctrine, i. p. 415 (Eng. trans.). But has Dr. Dorner himself a truly immanent Trinity? See Note A.—Recent Theories of the Trinity.
The question is now to be considered, How does this doctrine stand related to rational thought and to experience? It may: be thought that at the best this doctrine is one to be received as a mystery of faith, that it can bring no light or help to the intellect, and that in point of simplicity and clearness it compares unfavourably with the Unitarian view. This, however, if the doctrine of the Trinity is true, is most unlikely; and I confess to have a great dislike to doctrines which are supposed to come to us in the form of absolute mysteries, and to have no point of contact with thought through which some ray of rational light may break in upon them. In proof that the Trinitarian view is not without relation to thought, I might appeal to the fact that it is to the influence of philosophical thought on Christianity that many would attribute the rise of such a doctrine in the Church at all. It is certainly not without meaning that, as already remarked, in the attempt to explain the Revelation of God to the world, we should see a Logos doctrine springing up in the schools of Alexandria; should find at a later period the Neo-Platonists developing on Platonic principles something like a doctrine of the Trinity; should find in the deep-reaching speculations of Böhme in the seventeenth century,652652Bohme’s “mode of imagining, of thinking,” says Hegel, “is certainly somewhat fantastic and wild; he has not raised himself into the pure form of thought, but this is the ruling, the ground tendency of his ferment and struggle—to see the Trinity in everything and everywhere.”—Religionsphilosophie, B. p. 246. and in the modern speculative philosophies, the self-diremption of God as an essential feature. These speculative constructions are sometimes far enough removed from the pure Christian view, but they have a value as bringing clearly to. light the reality of a threefold pulse or movement, involved in the very nature of thought, and the fact that the life of Spirit only maintains itself through this 271triple movement of distinction of self from other, and the resolution of this distinction in a higher unity. These thoughts of the speculative philosophy I heartily accept, and believe them to be in deepest harmony with Christian doctrine.653653“No wonder,” says Christlieb. “that philosophy too—and that not only the old mystic theosophical speculation, but also modern idealism, with all the acuteness of its dialectics—has taken up the idea of a Triune God, and endeavoured to comprehend and prove it. . . . Their efforts show us that modern philosophy (from Jacob Robins onwards) feels that this doctrine is the true solution of the world’s enigma. Moreover, these philosophical investigations cast a strong light on the unconscionable superficiality and shortsightedness of those who most reject this fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith untested, without a notion of its deep religious, philosophical, and historical importance.”—Moderne Zweifel, pp. 273, 274 (Eng. trans.). See Note A.—As above.
The attempts met with in Augustine and others to find an image of the Trinity in the constitution of the soul, need not detain us here. Augustine’s ingenious analysis of the mind’s relation to its own knowledge, and of both to its love of itself,—of the relations of memory, understanding, and will,—his comparison of the Divine Word to our own inner and mental word, and of the Holy Spirit to hove,—have profounder elements in them than is always recognised; but he himself is quite conscious of the imperfection of the analogies, and especially of the fact that what they give us is a Trinity of powers and functions in the one Person, and not a Trinity of personal distinctions.654654Augustine is constantly acknowledging the imperfection of finite analogies to express the ineffable reality of the Godhead. See specially Book xv. The following are some of the headings of chapters: “That it is not easy to discover the Trinity that is God from the trinities we have spoken of.” “There is the greatest possible unlikeness between our word and knowledge and the Divine Word and knowledge.” “Still further of the difference between the knowledge and word of our mind, and the knowledge and Word of God.”—“How great is the unlikeness between our word and the Divine Word! Our word cannot be, or be called, eternal,” etc. “We know but in an enigma,” and “Who can explain how great is the unlikeness also, in this glass, in this enigma, in this likeness, such as it is?”—De Trinitate, p. 402 (Eng. trans.). If I were disposed to look for a shadow of such distinctions in our own mental life, I am not sure but that I would seek it, as Augustine also hints, in that mysterious power which the soul has of dialogue with itself,—in that indrawn, ideal life of the spirit, when the mind, excluding the outward world,’ holds converse and argument with itself—divides itself as it were within itself, and holds discussion with itself, putting its questions and answering them, proposing difficulties and solving them, offering objections and repelling them,—all the while remaining, as we may say, in a third 272capacity the neutral spectator of itself, taking watchful note of what is advanced on both sides of the debate, and passing favourable or unfavourable judgment on the issues. Yet, after all, this trilogy is only shadow, and, in conjunction with other elements of our spiritual life, can but faintly suggest to us what, if the distinction went deeper, Trinity might mean.
We get more help when, leaving the ground of purely psychological analogies, we proceed to inquire into the conditions under which, so far as our thought can go, self-consciousness, personality, love, are possible. Here we begin to see the positive philosophical and theological value of this concept of God. There are several points of view from which its advantage over the Unitarian view of God becomes apparent.
1. First of all, there is the bearing of this doctrine on the Divine self-consciousness—on knowledge and Personality in God. The relation of knowledge seems necessarily to imply a distinction of subject and object. Philosophers have spoken of a transcendental kind of knowledge which is above this distinction,—in which subject and object melt into one. But their words convey no idea to the mind. The only kind of knowledge we are capable of conceiving is one in which the subject distinguishes himself from some object which is not himself, and through this distinction returns to knowledge of himself and of his own states. In our own case, this knowledge of self is mediated through knowledge of the outward world, and in the highest degree through intercourse with our fellow human beings. Seizing on this analogy, some have thought that the Divine consciousness might be conceived of as mediated by the idea of the world.655655Thus, e.g., Weisse. The idea of the world in this view takes the place of the Son in the orthodox theology. The objections to this are—
(1) It makes God dependent on the world, the idea of which is necessary for the realisation of His self-consciousness.
(2) The object in this case is an ideal one, and this seems inadequate to mediate a real self - consciousness. Hegel is consistent, accordingly, if this theory is to be adopted, in making not the idea of the world, but the world itself, the object through which the Divine Spirit attains to self-consciousness.273
(3) The world is a finite object, and cannot be an adequate means for the mediation of an infinite self-consciousness.656656It is besides only progressively realised, and thus would involve a growing self-consciousness.
(4) Finally, the world is not a personal object. But the true depths of personality are only sounded when the “I” knows itself in contradistinction from and in reciprocal relations with a “Thou”—a counter-self to its own.657657This objection is not obviated by assuming a world of finite personalities.
The result we reach by this line of thought is that we can only secure the reality of the Divine self-consciousness by regarding it as complete in itself—apart from the idea of the world; and this can only be done by positing an immanent distinction in the Godhead, through which the Divine consciousness carries its object within itself; and this neither an ideal, nor finite, nor impersonal object, but One in whom God sees His own personal image perfectly expressed,—who, in Scripture language, is “the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance” (ὑπόστασις).658658Heb. i. 3. Pfleiderer supposes that the Divine self-consciousness is mediated by God’s own thoughts (“His changing activities and states”)—but thoughts of what?—Religionsphilosophie, iii. p. 282 (Eng. trans.). The value of the doctrine of the Trinity from this point of view is very evident. The third moment—that which corresponds to the Holy Spirit—is more difficult to arrive at d priori, but one feels the need of it to complete the circle of the Divine life in bringing to light the unity which underlies the previous distinction.659659Cf. on this argument Dorner, System of Doctrine, pp. 422–426; Christlieb,Moderne Zweifel, pp. 271, 272 (Eng. trans.), etc. Hegel makes it the startingpoint of his deduction. “Knowing implies that there is another which is known; and in the act of knowing, the other is appropriated. Herein it is contained that God, the eternally in-and-for-Himself existing One, eternally begets Himself as His Son, distinguishes Himself from Himself—the absolute act of judgment.”—Religionsphilosophie, ii. p. 228.
2. A more familiar deduction is that from Divine love. Here, in realising what is involved in Divine love, we feel, quite as strongly as in the case of the Divine Personality, the need of sell-distinction. The proof of the Trinity from hove— if proof it can be called—is a favourite one with theologians.660660It is developed specially by Sartorius in his Doctrine of Divine Love (translated). See also Martensen’s Christian Ethics, i. p. 73; Christlieb’s Moderne Zweifel, pp. 272, 273 (Eng. trans.); Laidlaw’s Bible Doctrine of Man, pp. 126, 127; Murphy’s Scientific Basis of Faith, p. 377; Lux Mundi, p. 274“God is love.”6616611 John iv. 16. But love is self-communication to another. There cannot be love without an object to be loved. If, therefore, God is essentially love, this is in other words to say that He has from eternity an object of His love. This object cannot be the world—ideally or really—for the reason already given, that this would be to make God dependent on the world,—to make the world, indeed, an essential moment in God’s life,—whereas the true doctrine is that God has love in its fulness in Himself, and out of that fulness of hove, loves the world.662662This is an important point in the doctrine of Divine Love. The thought is already met with in lrenaeus. Cf. Dorner, Person of Christ, i. p. 306. Martensen says: “God’s love to the world is only then pure and unmixed holy affection when God, whilst He is sufficient to Himself and in need of nothing, out of infinite grace and mercy calls forth life and liberty beyond His own Being. . . . But this free power of love in the relations of God to the world presupposes the existence of perfect love realised within itself, the love of the Father and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.”—Christian Ethics, i. p. 74. Similarly Dorner in his Christian Ethics, p. 94 (Eng. trans.). The world, besides, is a finite object, and could not be an adequate object for the infinite love of God. If, therefore, God is love in Himself—in His own eternal and transcendent being—He must have in some way within Himself the perfect and eternal object of His love—which is just the Scripture doctrine of the Son. This view of God is completed in the perfect communion the Divine Persons have with each other through the Holy Spirit—the bond and medium of their love.
To see the importance of this view, we have but to contrast it with its opposite, and to ask, What can love in God mean on the supposition of His absolute solitariness? What can be the object of God’s love throughout eternity, if there is no triune distinction in God? What can it be but Himself? Instead of love, therefore, as we understand it,—affection going out to another,—what we have in the universe is an infinite solitary Ego; a Being who loves Himself only, as, indeed, there is no other to love. Either, therefore, we must come back to seek an object for God’s love in the finite, created world, or recognise that God has an infinitely blessed life of love within Himself, and this brings us to the doctrine of an immanent Trinity. The value of the doctrine in an ethical aspect is seen when we recognise that only through 275the Trinitarian distinction are we brought into communion with a Being who has within Himself a life of communion.
3. Connected with this as a third point of view—though it is really only an extension of the foregoing—is a deduction from the Divine Fatherhood. God, is Father. This is Christ’s own new name for Him, and expresses His relation to those who stand in moral dependence on Him, and who bear His image. But Father and Son are terms of relation.663663This is the mistake of those who, in a Sabellian way, take Father as the name for God as the Creator, etc. The Christian idea of the Father comes to birth only in the Revelation of the Son. The terms are reciprocal. See Note A. If, then, God be Father, where shall we find the Son who corresponds with this relation? If we say, men, created angels, creatures of any kind, we are led to this, that Fatherhood in God depended on there being a creation. God is not Father simply as God. Fatherhood is not of His very essence. This could not easily be better put than it has been by Mr. R. H. Hutton, in a well-known essay on the Incarnation in his volume of Theological Essays. “If Christ is the eternal Son of God,” he says, “God is indeed and in essence a Father; the social nature, the spring of love, is of the very essence of the Eternal Being; the communication of His life, the reciprocation of His affection, dates from beyond time—belongs, in other words, to the very being of God. . . . The Unitarian conviction that God is—as God and in His eternal essence—a single, solitary Personality . . . thoroughly realised, renders it impossible to identify any of the social attributes with His real essence—renders it difficult not to regard power as the true root of all other Divine life. If we are to believe that the Father was from all time, we must believe that He was as a Father,—that is, that love was actual in Him as well as potential, that the communication of life and thought and fulness of joy was of the inmost nature of God, and never began to be, if God never began to be.”664664Theological Essays, 3rd ed. p. 257.
4. Finally, this doctrine of the Trinity has a profound bearing on the relation of God to the world. Not without reason does Scripture connect the Son with the creation, and give His person and His work a cosmical significance. We may conceive of God in two relations to the world—either in 276His absolute transcendence over it, which is the deistic conception, or as immanently identified with it, which is the pantheistic conception. Or we may conceive of Him as at the same time exalted above the world—transcending it, and yet present in it as its immanent sustaining ground, which is the Christian conception. It was to maintain this double relation to the world that, as we have seen, Philo conceived of the Logos as a middle term between God and the creation, and the Neo-Platonists distinguished between God, the νοῦς, and the soul of the world. When a middle term is wanting, we have either, as in the later Judaism and Mohammedanism, an abstract and immobile Monotheism; or, in recoil from this, a losing of God in the world in Pantheism. In the Christian doctrine of the triune God we have the necessary safeguards against both of these errors, and at the same time the link between God and the world supplied which speculation vainly strove to find.665665This important aspect of the Trinity, as safeguarding the true idea of God in. relation to the world (His immanence and transcendence) against the opposite errors of Deism and Pantheism, is brought out with special fulness by Dorner in his discussion of Sabellianism and Arianism, Person of Christ, i. and B., and his System of Doctrine, i. pp. 365–378. Cf. also Martensen’s Dogmatics, pp. 103–106; Christlieb’s Moderne Zweifel, pp. 263–265; Lux Mundi, pp. 92–102, etc. The Christian view is, therefore, the true protection of a living Theism, which otherwise oscillates uncertainly between these two extremes of Deism and Pantheism, either of which is fatal to it.666666A remarkable illustration of how the deeper thought on God runs almost necessarily into a Trinitarian mould is furnished by an essay of Dr. Martineau’s on “A Way out of the Trinitarian Controversy,” in his recently published volume of Essays, Ecclesiastical and Historical. See Note B.—Dr. Martineau as a Trinitarian.
II. The Scripture view brings creation and Redemption into line—consequences of this.
II. It is a special service of the doctrine of the Trinity, from the point of view we have now reached, that it brings creation and Redemption into line, teaching us to look on creation and Redemption as parts of one grand whole, and on Christ, now exalted to supreme dominion in the universe, as at once the first-born of creation and the first-born from the dead.667667Col. i. 15-18. This thought of the Son as the link between God and creation—which is so prominent a thought in the New Testament—forms the transition to the other subject on which I propose to speak in this Lecture—the relation of the Incarnation to the plan of 277the world. The Revelation of the Trinity is given in the work of Redemption, but once given we can see that it has its bearings also on the work of creation. This is the view of all the leading writers in the New Testament,—of Paul, of John, of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews,—who go back, or reason back, to an original agency of the Son in the creation of the world.668668John i. 3; 1 Cor. viii. 6; Eph. iii. 9-11; Col. i. 15-18; Heb. i. Even the Apocalypse speaks of Christ as “the beginning (ἀρχή, or principle) of the creation of God.”669669Rev. ii. 14. But once started on this line, it is impossible to shut one’s eyes to the question which inevitably arises, and which has so frequently been discussed in the history of theology—more keenly than ever in modern theology—Did an Incarnation lie in the original plan of the world? Would there have been an Incarnation had man never fallen? Has the Incarnation any relation to the original ends for which the world was made? Or is the Incarnation connected solely with the entrance of sin and the need of Redemption?
To raise a question of this kind at all may be thought by many to savour of idle and presumptuous speculation. It may be thought that it is one which the Scripture directly and expressly settles in the negative, in connecting the Incarnation so intimately as it does with God’s great purpose of salvation to our race—making it, indeed, the crowning proof of His love to sinners that He has sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that the world might live through Him.6706703 There are, however, certain considerations which should give us pause before coming too hastily to this conclusion.
1. The first is that this is a question which does rise naturally out of so transcendent a fact as the Incarnation.
2. It is a question which has forced itself on the mind of the Church, and has been deeply and reverently discussed by its ablest thinkers for centuries. ‘It is a view which the late Principal Fairbairn, who reasons against it, admits undoubtedly to include among its defenders “some of the most learned theologians of the present day.”671671Typology of Scripture, 4th ed. I. p. 118.
3. But, mainly, the theory referred to is one not unsuggested by certain of the teachings of Scripture. The same objection 278which is taken to this—that it lies outside the field of view of Redemption—may be made against the Scripture statements as to the relation of the Son to creation; but it is the grandeur of the Christian view that, starting with our primary necessities as sinners, it opens up principles and views fertile and far-reaching vastly beyond their original application.
It is unnecessary for my purpose to enter at any length into the history of the question. A sketch of it may be seen in Dorner’s History of the Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ,672672Person of Christ, iii. pp. 361–369. This view was already Involved in the theology of Irenaeus. See Dorner, I. p. 316; and Article “Irenaeus,” in Dictionary of Christian Biography. or in the finely-toned essay on the subject, entitled “The Gospel of Creation,” appended to Bishop Westcott’s Commentary on the Epistles of St. John. These writers, with Archbishop Trench, in his Cambridge University Sermons, take the view that the Incarnation was not conditioned by human sin; and the same view is held by Rothe, Lange, Oosterzee, Martensen, Ebrard, and a large number of other theologians. The opposite view is stated with great temperateness and force by Principal Fairbairn in the fourth edition of his valuable work on the Typology of Scripture.673673Vol. i. pp. 117–135. It may perhaps be found as the result of a brief consideration of the subject, that the truth does not lie exclusively on either side in this profound and difficult controversy, but that a higher point of view is possible from which the opposition disappears.
The strong point in favour of the view that the Incarnation is conditioned solely by human sin, is the fact that in Scripture it is represented invariably in this connection. I need not quote many passages in illustration of this statement. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”674674Luke xix. 10. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”675675John iii. 16. “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem them which were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”676676Gal. iv. 4 (R.V.). “To this end was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”6776771 John iii. 8. These and numerous other Scriptures explicitly associate Christ’s coming with man’s Redemption 279Christ is the unspeakable gift of God’s love to men for their salvation.
On the other hand, it is argued that, while the Scripture thus directly connects the Incarnation with the work of Redemption, it leaves room for, and contains passages which necessarily suggest, a wider view. Such are the passages already referred to, which throw light on the original relation of the Son to creation—which declare that all things were made by Him, that all things consist or hold together in Him, that He is the firstborn of all creation—above all, that all things were created for Him—that, in the? language of Dr. Lightfoot, “the Word is the final cause as well as the creative agent of the universe”—“not only the ἀρχή but also the τέλος of creation, not only the first but also the last in the history of the universe.”678678On Col. i. 16. These past ages I shall advert to again. It is further argued—and this is a point on which great stress is laid—that an event of such tremendous magnitude as the Incarnation cannot be regarded as a mere contingency in the universe; that if it was in view at all, it must have governed the whole plan of creation; and that, in point of fact, it is through it that, according to Scripture, the creation does reach its end—not only redeemed humanity, but all things, both in heaven and in earth, being ultimately gathered up into Christ as Head.679679Eph. i. 10. A plan of such vast extent cannot, it is held, be conceived of as an afterthought,—as something grafted on creation outside its original design,—it must have lain in the original design itself.
It seems to me that the real source of difficulty in thinking on this subject lies in not grasping with sufficient firmness the fact that, however we may distinguish from our human point of view between parts and aspects of the Divine plan, God’s plan is in reality one, and it is but an abstract way of thinking which leads us to suppose otherwise. In our human way of apprehension, we speak as if God had first one plan of creation—complete and rounded off in itself—in which sin was to have no place; then, when it was foreseen that sin would enter, another plan was introduced, which vitally altered and enlarged the former. But if we take a sufficiently high point of view, we shall be compelled to conclude, I think, that the plan of the universe is one, and that, however harsh the expression may 280sound, the foresight and permission of sin were from the first included in it. An ultra-Calvinist would speak of the foreordination of sin; I take lower ground, and speak only of the foresight and permission of sin. Dealing with the question on the largest scale, I do not see how either Calvinist or Arminian can get away from this. It is not a question of how sin historically or empirically eventuated,—that we agree it must have done through human freedom,—but it is the question of fact, that sin is here, and that in the Divine plan it has been permitted to exist—that it has been taken up by God into His plan of the world. His plan included the permission of sin, and the treatment of it by Redemption. In a previous Lecture I referred to the view held by some, that nature, even before the Fall, had a prophetic reference to man’s sin, and that in this way is to be explained much that is otherwise mysterious and perplexing in its arrangements. We have only to enlarge our range of vision to see that this way of looking at the subject applies to the whole plan of God. It is idle to speculate whether, had there been no sin, the plan of the universe would have included an Incarnation or not. Had this been different, everything else would have been different also. What we do know is, in that the infinite, possibilities of things, God has chosen to create a universe into which it was foreseen that sin would enter; and the Incarnation is a part of the plan of such a creation. This being so, it may very well be conceived that the Incarnation was the pivot on which everything else in this plan of creation was made to turn. To state my view in a sentence—God’s plan is one; Christ was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;680680Rev. xiii. 8. Cf. the interesting remarks in Hugh Miller’s Footprints of the Creator, 23rd ed. p. 289 (1887). and even creation itself is built up on Redemption lines.
We must, I think, on this question allow great weight to the consideration of the revealed end. The Scriptures speak of an ultimate gathering together in one of all things in Christ—of a summing up of them in Him as Head.681681Eph. i. 10. It is then to be asked, Is this only the external unification of a universe not originally intended to be so unified, but in regard to which God’s original plan was something entirely different? Or did it not lie in its 281original destination? The end of a thing, we are to remember, is that which in the Divine plan determines the beginning of it. What a thing is to be it is fitted for being by its original make. To turn it from that end, and superinduce another upon it, would be to some extent to contradict its true nature. If this is so in general, must it not be so in the highest degree when the end we speak of is the end of the universe, and the plan in question is that of gathering together in one all things in the Incarnate Son. If such a destination did not lie in the original plan of creation, was it in the nature of things possible that it could afterwards be externally superinduced upon it? Then what, in this view, becomes of the statement that all things were made for Christ, as well as by Him?682682Col. i. 16. Can it be received at all, for such words go deeper than a mere economical adaptation? The longer these questions are pondered, the clearer will it appear that Christ’s relation to the universe cannot be thought of as something adventitious and contingent; it is vital and organic. This means that His Incarnation had a relation to the whole plan of the world, and not simply to sin.
Dr. Fairbairn himself really admits all that is here contended for, when he says, “The argument derived from the wonderful relationship, the personal and everlasting union into which humanity has been brought with the Godhead, as if the purpose concerning it should be turned into a kind of afterthought, and it should sink, in a manner derogatory to its high and unspeakably important nature, into something arbitrary and contingent, if placed in connection merely with the Fall;—such an argument derives all its plausibility from the limitations and defects inseparable from a human mode of contemplation. To the eye of Him who sees the end from the beginning,—whose purpose, embracing the whole compass of the providential plan, was formed before even the beginning was effected,—there could be nothing really contingent or uncertain in any part of the process.”683683Typology of Scripture, 4th ed. i. p. 133. That is to say, the Incarnation is not to be placed in connection merely with the Fall; but the plan even of creation had from the first a reference to an Incarnation for the sake of Redemption from sin, and the perfecting of humanity.
When, from this point of view, we look back to the 282Scriptures, we find them in full harmony with the ideas now indicated.
1. The Scriptures know of only one undivided purpose of God,—that eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus, and which embraces, apparently, both creation and Redemption.684684Cf. Weiss, Biblical Theology of New Testament, ii. pp. 97–100 (Eng. trans.). On Eph. iii. 9 he says: “If it is said that the mystery of salvation was hid from eternity in God, who created the universe, it is indicated by this characteristic of God, that the purpose of salvation is connected in the closest way with the plan of the world, which began to be realised in creation; and that purpose, having been formed by the Creator before the creation of the world, was regulative even in its creation.”
2. We have the clearest acknowledgment, as has already been shown, of a direct relation of the Son to the work of creation.685685John i. 3; 1 Cor. viii. 6; Col. i. 15-18; Heb. i. 3. It does not detract from the suggestiveness of the passages which declare this relation, but immensely adds to it, that, as Dr. Fairbairn says, the subject of the assertions is the historical Christ, He by whom believers have obtained Redemption, and in whom they have forgiveness of sins. For the drift of the passages is evidently to bring these two things more completely into line—the work of creation and the work of Redemption, and to show them to be parts of one Divine plan.
3. Still more significant is the fact already insisted on, that, in some of the above passages, Christ is not only represented as the agent in creation, but as the final cause of creation. “All things have been created through Him, and unto Him.”686686Col. i. 16. He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.687687Rev. i. 8, 17. Indirectly suggestive of the same idea are the passages which speak of “the kingdom prepared for (believers) from the foundation of the world”;688688Matt. xxv. 34. of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”;689689Rev. xiii. 8. of Christ as “foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world,” etc.6906901 Pet. i. 20 (R.V.).
4. There are the express statements, also already quoted, of the goal to which God’s purpose actually tends. I may here again avail myself of the words of Bishop Lightfoot, commenting on the phrase “unto Him.”691691Col. i. 16. “All things,” he says, “must find their meeting-point, their reconciliation, at length in Him from whom they took their rise—in the Word 283as mediatorial agent, and through the Word in the Father as the primary source. . . . This ultimate goal of the present dispensation in time is similarly stated in several passages. Sometimes it is represented as the birth-throe and deliverance of all creation through Christ—as Rom. viii. 19, sq. Sometimes it is the absolute and final subjection of universal nature to Him—as 1 Cor. xv. 28. Sometimes it is the reconciliation of all things through Him—as below, ver. 20. Sometimes it is the recapitulation, the gathering up in one head, of the universe in Him—as Eph. i. 10. The image involved in this last passage best illustrates the particular expression in the text; but all alike enunciate the same truth in different terms. The Eternal Word is the goal of the universe, as He was the starting-point. It must end in unity, as it proceeded from unity; and the centre of this unity is Christ.”
The conclusion I reach is that this question, Would there have been an Incarnation but for sin? is one which rests upon a false abstraction. There is but one plan of God from the creation of the world, and it includes at once the permission of sin and the purpose of Redemption from it. It includes, therefore, the Incarnation as an integral and essential part of that purpose. The Incarnation has, indeed, immediate reference to Redemption; but it has at the same time a wider scope. It aims at carrying through the plan of creation, and conducts, not the redeemed portion of humanity alone, but the universe at large, to its goal. There is, however, another inference which we are entitled to draw—one which remarkably illustrates the unity of the Christian view. If we rightly interpret that view as implying that the Divine plan of the world contemplates an ultimate gathering up of all things into one in Christ, it will readily be seen that this, in turn, reflects back light on the doctrine of Christ’s Person. It shows that we are right in ascribing to Him full and proper Divinity, not less than true humanity. For it is manifest that no other than a truly Divine Being is fitted to occupy this position which Scripture, with consentient voice, assigns to Christ. From the new height we have reached, light falls back also on Christ’s place in the universe, in remarkable agreement with our 284previous postulates as to the nature of man, his place in. creation, and the law of ascent and development to which God’s natural works so strikingly testify. As the inferior stages of existence are summed up in man, who stands at the head of the earthly creation, and forms a first link between the natural and the spiritual, so are all stages of humanity summed up in Christ, who in His Person as God-man links the creation absolutely with God.286
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