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The Knowledge of God

(Trinity Sunday.)

John v. 19. Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

This is Trinity Sunday; and on this day we are especially to think of the mystery of the ever-blessed Trinity, and on the Athanasian Creed, which was read this morning. Now there is much in this Athanasian Creed, which simple country people, however good their natural abilities may be, cannot be expected to understand. The Creed was written by scholars, and for scholars; and for very deep scholars, too, far deeper than I pretend to be; and the reasonable way for most men to think of the Athanasian Creed, will be to take it very much upon trust, as a child takes on trust what his father tells him, even though he cannot understand it himself; or, as we all believe, that the earth moves round the sun, and not the sun round the earth, though we cannot prove it; but only believe it, because wiser men than we have proved it. So we must think of the Athanasian Creed, and say to ourselves--'Wiser men than I can ever hope to be have settled that this is the true doctrine, and the true meaning of Holy Scripture, and I will believe them. They must know best.' Still, one is bound to understand as much as one can; one is bound to be able to give some reason for the faith which is in us; and, above all, one is bound not to hold false doctrines, which are contrary to the Athanasian Creed and to the Bible.

Some people are too apt to say now-a-days, 'But what matter if one does hold false doctrine? That is a mistake of the head and not of the heart. Provided a man lives a good life, what matter what his doctrines are?' No doubt, my friends, if a man lives a good life, all is well: but do people live good lives? I am not speaking of infidels. Thank God, there are none here; to God let us leave them, trusting in the Good Friday collect, and the goodwill of God, which is, that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

But, as for Christian people, this I will tell you, that unless you hold true doctrines, you will not lead good lives. My experience is, that people are often wrong, when they say false doctrine is a mistake of the head and not of the heart. I believe false doctrine is very often not bred in the head at all, but in the heart, in the very bottom of a man's soul; that it rises out of his heart into his head; and that if his heart was right with God, he would begin at once to have clearer and truer notions of the true Christian faith. I do not say that it is always so; God forbid! But I do say that it is often so, because I see it so; because I see every day false doctrines about God making men lead bad lives, and commit actual sins; take God's name in vain, dishonour their fathers and mothers, lie, cheat, bear false witness against their neighbours, and covet other men's goods. I say, I see it, and I must believe my own eyes and ears; and when I do see it, I begin to understand the text which says, 'This is eternal life, to know thee, the only God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;' and I begin to understand the Athanasian Creed, which says, that if a 'man does not believe rightly the name of God, and the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, he will perish everlastingly; his soul will decay more and more, become more and more weak, unhealthy and corrupt, till he perishes everlastingly. And whatsoever that may mean, it must mean something most awful and terrible, worse than all the evil which ever happened to us since we were born.

There is a very serious example of this, to my mind, in what is called the Greek Church; the Greeks and Russians. They split off from the rest of Christ's Catholic Church, many hundred years ago, because they would not hold with the rest of the Church that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as from the Father. They said that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father alone. Now that may seem a slight matter of words: but I cannot help thinking that it has been a very solemn matter of practice with them. It seems to me--God forgive me if I am judging them hardly!--that because they denied that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son, they forgot that he was the Spirit of the Son, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, by whom he says for ever, 'Father, not my will but thine be done!' and so they forgot that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Sonship, the Spirit of adoption, which must proceed and come from Christ to us, that we may call God our Father, and say with Christ, 'Father, I come to do thy will;' and so, in course of time, they seem to have forgotten that Christian men were in any real practical sense, God's children; and when people forget that they are God's children, they forget soon enough to behave like God's children, and to live righteous and Godlike lives.

I give you this as an example of what I mean; how not believing rightly the Athanasian Creed may make a man lead a bad life.

Now let me give an example nearer home; one which has to do with you and me. God grant that we may all lay it to heart. You read, in the Athanasian Creed, that we are not to confound the persons of the Trinity, nor divide the substance; but to believe that such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Now there is little fear of our confounding the persons, as some people used to do in old times; but there is great fear of our dividing God's substance, parting God's substance, that is, fancying that God is made up of different parts, and not perfectly one God.

For people are very apt to talk as if God's love and God's justice were two different things, different parts of God; as if his justice had to be satisfied in one way, and his love in another; as if his justice wished to destroy sinners, and his love wished to save sinners; and so they talk as if there was a division in God; as if different attributes of God were pulling two different ways, and that God has parts of which one desires to do one thing, and one part another. It sounds shocking, I am sure you will feel, when I put it into plain English. I wish it to sound shocking. I wish you to feel how wrong and heretical it is; that you may keep clear of such notions, and believe the orthodox faith, that God has neither parts nor passions, nor division in his substance at all, but is absolutely and substantially one; and that, therefore, his love and his justice are the very same things; his justice, however severe it may seem, is perfect love and kindness; and his love is no indulgence, but perfect justice.

But you may say--Very likely that is true; but why need we take so much care to believe it?

It is always worth while to know what is true. You are children of the Light, and of the Truth, adopted by the God of truth, that you may know the truth and do it, and no mistake or falsehood can, by any possibility, do anything for you, but harm you. Always, therefore, try to find out and believe what is true concerning everything; and, above all, concerning God, on whom all depend, in whom you live, and move, and have your being. For all things in heaven and earth depend on God; and, therefore, if you have wrong notions about God, you will sooner or later have wrong notions about everything else.

For see, now, how this false notion of God's justice and love being different things, leads people into a worse error still. A man goes on to fancy, that while God the Son is full of love towards sinners, God the Father is (or at least was once) only full of justice and wrath against sinners; but if a man thinks that God the Son loves him better than God the Father does, then, of course, he will love God the Son better than he loves God the Father. He will think of Christ the Son with pleasure and gratitude, because he says to himself, Christ loves me, cares for me; I can have pity and tenderness from him, if I do wrong. While of God the Father he thinks only with dread and secret dislike. Thus, from dividing the substance, he has been led on to confound the persons, imputing to the Son alone that which is equally true of the Father, till he comes (as I have known men do) to make for himself, as it were, a Heavenly Father of Jesus Christ the Son.

Now, my dear friends, it does seem to me, that if anything can grieve the Spirit of Christ, and the sacred heart of Jesus, this is the way to grieve him. Oh read your Bibles, and you will see this, that whatever Jesus came down on earth for, it certainly was not to make men love him better than they love the Father, and honour him more than they honour the Father, and rob the Father of his glory, to give it to Jesus. What did the Lord Jesus say himself? That he did not come to seek his own honour, or shew forth his own glory, or do his own will: but his Father's honour, his Father's glory, his Father's will. Though he was equal with the Father, as touching his Godhead, yet he disguised himself, if I may so say, and took on him the form of a servant, and was despised and rejected of men. Why! That men might honour his Father rather than him. That men might not be so dazzled by his glory, as to forget his Father's glory. Therefore he bade his apostles, while he was on earth, tell no man that he was the Christ. Therefore, when he worked his work of love and mercy, he took care to tell the Jews that they were not his works, but the works of his Father who sent him; that he was not doing his own will, but his Father's. Therefore he was always preaching of the Father in heaven, and holding him up to men as the perfection of all love and goodness and glory: and only once or twice, it seems, when he was compelled, as it were, for very truth's sake, did he say openly who he was, and claim his co-equal and co- eternal glory, saying, 'Before Abraham was, I am.'

And, after all this, if anything can grieve him now, must it not grieve him to see men fancying that he is better than his Father is, more loving and merciful than his Father is, more worthy of our trust, and faith, and adoration, and gratitude than his Father is?-- His Father, for whose honour he was jealous with a divine jealousy-- His Father, who, he knows well, loved the world which shrinks from him so well that he spared not his only begotten Son, but freely gave him up for it.

Oh, my friends, believe me, if any sin of man can add a fresh thorn to Christ's crown, it is to see men, under pretence of honouring him, dishonouring his Father. For just think for once of this--What nobler feeling on earth than the love of a son to his father? What greater pain to a good son than to see his father dishonoured, and put down below him? But what is the love of an earthly son to an earthly father, compared to the love of The Son to the Father? What is the jealousy of an earthly son for his father's honour, compared with the jealousy of God the Son for God the Father's honour?

All men, the Father has appointed, are to honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. Because, as the Athanasian Creed says, 'such as the Father is, such is the Son.' But, if that be true, we are to honour the Father even as we honour the Son; because such as the Son is, such is the Father. Both are true, and we must believe both; and therefore we must not give to Christ the honour which we should to a loving friend, and give to the Father the honour which we should to an awful judge. We must give them both the same honour. If we have a godly fear of the Father, we ought to have a godly fear of Christ; and if we trust Christ, we ought to trust the Father also. We must believe that Jesus Christ, the Son, is the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person; and therefore we must believe that because Jesus is love, therefore the Father is love; because Jesus is long-suffering, therefore the Father is long-suffering; because Jesus came to save the world, therefore the Father must have sent him to save the world, or he would never have come; for he does nothing, he says, of himself. Because we can trust Jesus utterly, therefore we can trust the Father utterly. Because we believe that the Son has life in himself, to give to whomsoever he will, we must believe that the Father has life in himself likewise, and not, as some seem to fancy, only the power of death and destruction. Because nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus, nothing can separate us from the love of his Father and our Father, whose name is Light and Love.

If we believe this, we shall indeed honour the Father, and indeed honour the Son likewise. But if we do not, we shall dishonour the Son, while we fancy we are honouring him: we shall rob Christ of his true glory, to give him a false glory, which he abhors. If we fancy that he does anything for us without his Father's commands; if we fancy that he feels anything for us which his Father does not feel, and has not always felt likewise: then we dishonour him. For his glory is to be a perfectly good and obedient Son, and we fancy him--may he forgive us for it!--a self-willed Son. This is Christ's glory, that though he is equal with his Father, he obeys his Father. If he were not equal to his Father, there would be less glory in his obeying him. Take away the mystery of the ever-blessed Trinity, and you rob Christ of his highest glory, and destroy the most beautiful thing in heaven, except one. The most beautiful and noble thing of all in heaven--that (if you will receive it) out of which all other beautiful and noble things in heaven and earth come, is the Father for ever saying to the Son, 'Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. And in thee I am well pleased.' The other most beautiful thing is the co-equal and co-eternal Son for ever saying to the Father, 'Father, not my will, but thine be done. I come to do thy will, O God. Thy law is written in my heart.'

Do you not see it? Oh, my dear friends, I see but a very little of it. Who am I, that I should comprehend God? And who am I, that I should be able to make you understand the glory of God, by any dull words of mine? But God can make you understand it. The Spirit of God can and will shew you the glory of God. Because he proceedeth from the Father, he will shew you what the glory of the Father is like. Because he proceedeth from the Son, he will shew you what the glory of the Son is like. Because he is consubstantial, co-equal, and co-eternal with the Father and the Son, he will shew you that the glory of the Father and the Son is not the glory of mere power; but a moral and spiritual glory, the glory of having a perfectly glorious, noble, and beautiful character. And unless he shews you that, you will never be thoroughly good men. For it is a strange thing that men are always trying, more or less, to be like God. And yet, not a strange thing; for it is a sign that we all came from God, and can get no rest till we are come back to God, because God calls us all to be his children and be like him. A blessed thing it is, if we try to be like the true God: but a sad and fearful thing, if we try to be like some false god of our own invention. But so it is. It was so even among the old heathen. Whatsoever a man fancies God to be like, that he will try himself to be like. So if you fancy than God the Father's glory is stern and awful power, that he is extreme to mark what is done amiss, or stands severely on his own rights, then you will do the same; you will be extreme to mark what is done amiss; you will stand severely on your rights; you will grow stern and harsh, unfeeling to your children and workmen, and fond of shewing your power, just for the sake of shewing it. But if you believe that the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is all one; and that it is a loving glory if you believe that such as Jesus Christ is, such is his Father, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenting him of the evil; if you believe that your Father in heaven is perfect, just because he sendeth his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust, and is good to the unthankful and the evil-- if you believe this, I say, then you will be good to the unthankful and the evil; you will be long-suffering and tender; good fathers, good masters, good neighbours; and your characters will become patient, generous, forgiving, truly noble, truly godlike. And all because you believe the Athanasian Creed in spirit and in truth.

In like manner, if you believe that Jesus Christ is not a perfect Son; if you fancy that he has any will but his Father's will; that he has any work but what his Father gives him to do, who has committed all things into his hands; that he knows anything but what his Father sheweth him, who sheweth him all things, because he loveth him; then you will be tempted to wish for power and honour of your own; to become ambitious, self-willed, vain, and disobedient to your parents.

But if you believe that Jesus is a perfect Son, all that you would wish your son to be to you, and millions of times more; and if you believe that that very thing is Christ's glory; that his glory consists in being a perfect Son, perfectly obedient, having no will or wish but his Father's; then will you, by thus seeing Christ in spirit and in truth, see how beautiful and noble it is to be good sons; and you will long to try to be good sons: and what you long for, and try for, you will surely be, in God's good time; for he has promised,--'Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.' And all through believing the Athanasian Creed? All? Yes, all.

But will not the Holy Spirit teach us, without the Athanasian Creed?

The Holy Spirit will teach us. Must teach us, if we are really to learn one word of all this in spirit and in truth. But whether the Holy Spirit does teach us, will depend, I fear, very much upon whether we pray for him; and whether we pray for him aright will depend on whether we know who he is, and what he is like; and that, again, the Athanasian Creed will tell us.

Now, go home with God's blessing. Remember that such as the Son is, such is the Father, and such is the Holy Ghost. Pray to be made good fathers, after the likeness of The Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named; good sons, after the likeness of God The Son; and good and holy spirits, after the likeness of The Holy Spirit; and you will be such at last, in God's good time, as far as man can become like God; for you will be praying for the Holy Spirit himself, and he will hear you, and come to you, and abide with you, and all will be well.


Charles Kingsley