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Discipline and Other Sermons, 7 - THE NAME OF GOD

By Charles Kingsley


      ISAIAH l. 10.

      Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.

      To some persons it may seem strange advice to tell them, that in the hour of darkness, doubt, and sorrow, they will find no comfort like that of meditating on the Name of the Ever-blessed Trinity. Yet there is not a prophet or psalmist of the Old Testament who does not speak of 'The Name of the Lord,' as a kind of talisman against all the troubles which can befall the spirit of man. And we, as Christians, know, or ought to know, far more of God than did even prophets or psalmists. If they found comfort in the name of God, we ought to find far more.

      But some will say--Yes. Let us think of God, God's mercies, God's dealings with his people; but why think especially of the Name of the Ever-blessed Trinity?

      For this simple reason. That it is by that Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, that God has revealed himself. That is the name by which he bids us think of him; and we are more or less disregarding his commands when we think of him by any other. That is the name which God has given himself; and, therefore, it is morally certain that that is God's right name; that it expresses God's very self, God's very being, as he is.

      Theology signifies, the knowledge of God as he is. And it is dying out among us in these days. Much of what is called theology now is nothing but experimental religion; which is most important and useful when it is founded on the right knowledge of God: but which is not itself theology. For theology begins with God: but experimental religion, right or wrong, begins with a man's own soul. Therefore it is that men are unaccustomed to theology. They shrink from it as something very abstruse, only fit for great scholars and divines, and almost given up now-a-days even by them. They do not know that theology, the knowledge of God, is full of practical every-day comfort, and guidance for their conduct and character; yea, that it is--so says the Bible--everlasting life itself. Therefore it is that some shrink from thinking of the Ever-blessed Trinity, not from any evil intent, but because they are afraid of thinking wrongly, and so consider it more safe not to think at all. They have been puzzled, it may be, by arguments which they have heard, or read, or which have risen up in their own minds, and which have made them doubt about the Trinity: and they say--I will not torment my soul, and perhaps endanger my soul, by doubts. I will take the doctrine of the Trinity for granted, because I am bidden to do so: but I leave what it means to be explained by wiser men. If I begin thinking about it I shall only confuse myself. So it is better for me not to think at all.

      And one cannot deny that they are right, as far as they go. If they cannot think about the Trinity without thinking wrongly, it is better to take on trust what they are told about it. But they lose much by so doing. They lose the solid and real comfort which they may get by thinking of the Name of God. And, I believe, they lose it unnecessarily. I cannot see why they must think wrongly of the Trinity, if they think at all. I cannot see why they need confuse themselves. The doctrine of the Trinity is not really an unreasonable one. The doubts which come into men's minds concerning it do not seem to me sound and reasonable doubts. For instance, some say--How can there be three persons in one God? It is contrary to reason. One cannot be many. Three cannot be one. That is unreasonable.

      I think, that if you will use your reason for yourselves, you will see that it is those words which are unreasonable, and not the doctrine of the Trinity.

      First. A thing need not be unreasonable--that is, contrary to reason--because it is above and beyond reason--or, at least, beyond our human reason, which at best (as St. Paul says) sees as in a glass darkly, and only knows in part.

      Consider how many things are beyond reason which are not contrary to it. I say that all things which God has made are so: but, without going so far, let us consider these simple examples.

      Is it not beyond all reason that among animals, like should bring forth like? Why does an eagle's egg always produce an eagle, and a dove's egg a dove, and so forth? No man knows, no man can give any reason whatsoever. If a dove's egg produced an eagle, ignorant men would cry out at the wonder, the miracle. Wise men know that the real wonder, the real miracle is, that a dove's egg always produces a dove, and not any and every other bird.

      Here is a common and notorious fact, entirely above our reason. There is no cause to be given for it, save that God has ordained it so. But it is not contrary to our reason. So far from it, we are certain that a dove will produce a dove; and our reason has found out much of the laws of kind; and found out that they are reasonable laws, regular, and to be depended upon; so that we can, as all know, produce and keep up new breeds whether of plants or of animals.

      So that the law of kind, though it is beyond our reason, is not contrary to our reason at all.

      So much for things which have life. Take an equally notorious example from things which have not life.

      Is it not above and beyond all our reason--that the seemingly weakest thing in the world, the most soft and yielding, the most frail and vanishing, should be also one of the strongest things in the world? That is so utterly above reason, that while I say it, it seems to some of you to be contrary to reason, to be unreasonable and impossible. It is so above reason, that till two hundred years ago, no one suspected that it was true. And yet it is strictly true.

      What is more soft and yielding, more frail and vanishing, than steam? And what is stronger than steam? I know nothing. Steam it is which has lifted up the mountains from the sea into the clouds. Steam it is which tears to pieces the bowels of the earth with earthquakes and volcanoes, shaking down cities, rasping the solid rocks into powder, and scattering them far and wide in dust over the face of the land.

      What gives to steam its enormous force is beyond our reason. We do not know. But so far from being contrary to our reason, we have learnt that the laws of steam are as reasonable as any other of God's laws. We can calculate its force, we can make it, use it, and turn its mighty powers, by reason and science, into our most useful and obedient slave, till it works ten thousand mills, and sends ten thousand ships across the sea.

      Above reason, I say, but not contrary to reason, is the mighty power of steam.

      And God, who made all these wonders--and millions of wonders more-- must he not be more wonderful than them all? Must not his being and essence be above our reason? But need they be, therefore, contrary to our reason? Not so.

      Nevertheless, some will say, How can one be many? How can one be three? Why not? Two are one in you, and every man. Your body is you, and your soul is you. They are two. But you know yourself that you are one being; that the Athanasian Creed speaks, at least, reason when it says, 'As the reasonable soul and the flesh are one man, so God and man is one Christ.'

      And three are one in every plant in the field. Root, bark, leaves, are three. And yet--they are one tree; and if you take away any one of them, the tree will die. So it is in all nature. But why do I talk of a tree, or any other example? Wherever you look you find that one thing is many things, and many things one. So far from that fact being contrary to our reason, it is one which our reason (as soon as we think deeply about this world) assures us is most common. Of every organized body it is strictly true, that it is many things, bound together by a certain law, which makes them one thing and no more. And, therefore, every organized body is a mystery, and above reason: but its organization is none the less true for that.

      And there are philosophers who will tell you--and wisely and well-- that there must needs be some such mystery in God; that reason ought to teach us--even if revelation had not--two things. First, that God must be one; and next, that God must be many--that is, more than one.

      Do I mean that our own reason would have found out for itself the mystery of the ever-blessed Trinity? God forbid! Nothing less.

      There surely is a difference between knowing that a thing must be, and knowing that the thing is, and what it is like; and there surely is a difference between knowing that there is a great mystery and wonder in God, and knowing what that mystery is.

      Man might have found out that God was one, and yet more than one; but could he have found out what is the essence and character of God? Not his own reason, but the Spirit of God it is which tells him that: tells him that God is Three in One--that these three are persons-- that these persons are, a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit.

      This is what God has himself condescended to tell us; and therefore this is what he specially wishes us to believe and remember when we think of him. This is God's name for himself--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Man may give God what name he chooses. God's own name, which he has given himself, is likely surely to be the most correct: at least, it is the one of which God means us to think; for it is the one into which he commanded us to be baptized. Remember that, whenever you hear discourse concerning God; and if any man, however learned, says that God is absolute, answer--'It may be so: but I was not baptized into the name of the absolute.' If he tell you, God is infinite, answer--'It may be so: but I was not baptized into the name of the infinite.' If he tell you, God is the first cause, answer--'That I doubt not: but I was not baptized into the name of the first cause. I was baptized into the name which God has given himself--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and I will give him no other name, and think of him by no other name, lest I be committing an act of irreverence toward God, by presuming to call him one thing, when he has bid me call him another. Absolute, infinite, first cause, and so forth, are deep words: but they are words of man's invention, and words too which plain, hard-working, hard-sorrowing folks do not understand; even if learned men do--which I doubt very much indeed: and therefore I do not trust them, cannot find comfort for my soul in them. But Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are words which plain, hard- working, hard-sorrowing men can understand, and can trust, and can find comfort in them; for they are God's own words, and, like all God's words, go straight home to the hearts of men--straight home to the heart of every one who is a father or mother--to the heart of every one who has a parent or a child--to the heart of every one who has the Holy Spirit of God putting into his mind good desires, and striving to make him bring them into good effect, and be, what he knows he should be, a holy and good man.'

      Answer thus, my friends. And think thus of the mystery of the Ever- blessed Trinity. For this is a thoroughly reasonable plan of thought: and more--in thinking thus you will find comfort, guidance, clearness of head, and clearness of conscience also. Only remember what you are to think of. You are not to think merely of the mystery of the question, and to puzzle yourselves with arguments as to how the Three Persons are one; for that is not to think of the Ever- blessed Trinity, but only to think about it. Still less are you to think of the Ever-blessed Trinity under names of philosophy which God has not given to himself; for that is not to think of the Ever- blessed Trinity at all. You must think of the Ever-blessed Trinity as he is,--of a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit; and to think of him the more earnestly, the more you are sad at heart. It may be that God has sent that sadness to make you think of him. It may be that God has cut the very ground from under your feet that you may rest on him, the true and only ground of all created things; as it is written: 'Who is he among you who walketh in darkness and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.'

      Some will tell you, that if you are sorrowful it is a time for self- examination, and for thinking of your own soul. I answer--In good time, but not yet. Think first of God; for how can you ever know anything rightly about your own soul unless you first know rightly concerning God, in whom your soul lives, and moves, and has its being?

      Others may tell you to think of God's dealings with his people. I answer--In good time, but not yet; think first of God. For how can you rightly understand God's dealings, unless you first rightly understand who God is, and what his character is? Right notions concerning your own soul, right notions concerning God's dealings, can only come from right notions concerning God himself. He is before all things. Think of him before all things. He is the first, and he is the last. Think of him first in this life, and so you will think of him last, and for ever in the life to come. Think of the Father, that he is a Father indeed, in spirit and in truth. Think of the Son, that he is a Son indeed, in spirit and in truth. Think of the Holy Spirit, that he is a Holy Spirit indeed, in spirit and in truth. So you will be thinking indeed of the Ever-blessed Trinity; and will worship God, not with your lips or your thoughts merely, but in spirit and in truth. Think of the Father, that he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that the perfect Son must be forever perfectly like the perfect Father. For then you will believe that God the Father looks on you, and feels for you, exactly as does Jesus Christ your Lord; then you will feel that he is a Father indeed; and will enter more and more into the unspeakable comfort of that word of all words, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'

      Think of the Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect Son, who, though he is co-equal and co-eternal with his Father, yet came not to do his own will, but his Father's; who instead of struggling, instead of helping himself, cried in his agony: 'Not my will, but thine be done;' and conquered by resignation. So you will enter into the unspeakable comfort of conquering by resignation, as you see that your resignation is to be like the resignation of Christ; not that of trembling fear like a condemned criminal before a judge; not that of sullen necessity, like a slave before his master: but that of the only-begotten Son of God; the resignation of a child to the will of a father whom he can utterly trust, because that father's name is love.

      Think of the Holy Spirit as a person; having a will of his own; who breatheth whither he listeth, and cannot be confined to any feelings or rules of yours, or of any man's; but may meet you in the Sacraments, or out of the Sacraments, even as he will; and has methods of comforting and educating you, of which you will never dream; one whose will is the same as the will of the Father and of the Son, even a good will; just as his character is the same as the character of the Father and of the Son: even love which works by holiness; love which you can trust utterly, for yourself and for all whom you love.

      Think, I say, of God himself as he is; think of his name, by which he has revealed himself, and thus you will--But who am I, to pretend to tell you what you will learn by thinking rightly of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? How can I dare to say how much you will or will not learn? How can I put bounds to God's teaching? to the workings of him who has said, 'If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him; and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him'? How can I tell you in a few words of one sermon all that that means? How can I, or any man, know all that that means? Who is one man, or all men, to exhaust the riches of the glory of God, or the blessings which may come from thinking of God's glory? Let it be enough for us to be sure that truly to know God is everlasting life; and that the more we think of God by his own revealed name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the more we shall enter, now and hereafter, into eternal life, and into the peace which comes by the true knowledge of him in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

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