THIS, the Central day of the Christian year, sums up the whole revelation of God in the mystery of the Trinity in Unity, even as Christ summed up His message in the baptismal formula (S. Matt. xxviii. 18-20), the passage taken for the Gospel of the day in the modern Roman use.
But Trinity Sunday, as the first of the long Trinity series, looks forward also to the godly life which must be lived by those who have received the full revelation of God. Thus Creed must issue in character, high motives in holy conduct, truth in practice, and a right faith in a right life.
THE EPISTLE. (REV. iv. 1.) THE VISION OF GOD IN HEAVEN.
We, as S. John was, are invited to “come up hither,” for there is a door left open for us by Christ into Heavenly mysteries. He Himself invites, for the voice, clear and distinct as of a trumpet, was the first voice heard by S. John as described in the first chapter, even the voice of Jesus. We are enabled for the vision by the Spirit. Thus the Godhead is revealed by the Son and Spirit.
A. The Eternal Mystery.
There is no personal description, for we read only of “One sitting on the throne,” and even the word “One” is inserted by the necessities of translation. He sits in all His purity “like a jasper” or diamond—brilliant, transparent, flawless. He sits in His justice to look upon like the fiery red of the sardine stone. Yet all around was the tender green of the rainbow of mercy and faithfulness, “in sight like unto an emerald.”
As the circling rainbow tells of the covenant love of God, so the circle of four and twenty elders represents the Church of God, the Church both of the Old and New Covenant, who by virtue of the Divine mercy sit near the throne wearing robes of purity and crowns of victory.
B. The Eternal Energy.
Out of the throne ever proceed lightnings, thunderings, and voices—symbols of eternal activity. Seven lamps of fire burning before the throne tell of the manifold influences of the Divine Spirit, and the variety and intensity of His holy light and fire. There is eternal activity, and yet eternal peace, for the glassy sea lies clear, deep, and locked in never-ending calm, a picture of Him Whose judgments are a great deep, and Whose crystal purity never changes.
C. The Eternal Source of Life.
In the midst of the throne as proceeding from God, and around the throne as distinct from Him from Whom they proceed, are the four mystic cherubim or living creatures. These are the representatives of creation shown in four typical forms—man in his intellect, the lion in his courage, the eagle in his swiftness, and the ox in his patient strength. They have six wings as ever ready to speed on the errands of God. They are full of eyes as unresting and wakeful in their intelligence. They look backward, forward, and inward, as instinct with Divine energy and purpose. Thus is all nature no dead work, but the living, developing work of a Living God, ever transcendent, but ever immanent in His Creation.
D. The Eternal Object of Worship.
The living creatures, as representatives of creation, and nearest the throne, begin the song everlasting, and adore the personal God, the self-existent Being, “Who was, and is, and is to come.” They adore not only His power as Almighty, but His character as All-holy, in their unresting song.
The chorus of creation is re-echoed to all eternity by the four and twenty elders, the representatives of the Church of God, but with signs of penitent lowliness befitting those redeemed from sin to salvation, as they leave their thrones and cast down their crowns in humble adoration, rendering back in praise what they have received in grace. Only through redemption can sinful men join in the song of the sinless creation and confess the righteousness of Him Whose laws they have broken, the wisdom of Him in Whose mind all things “were,” and His power by which all things “were created.”
THE GOSPEL. (S. JOHN iii. 1.) THE REVELATION OF GOD UPON EARTH.
Christ came to reveal the Eternal Mystery which is to sinful men not only the object of adoration, but the source of salvation. Such a revelation He gave to Nicodemus.
A. An Imperfect Faith.
Such was that of Nicodemus and other masters of Israel, who at most regarded Christ merely as a teacher come from God, being convinced that God was evidently with Him on the testimony of the miracles that He wrought. This view is held by many who hold Christ to be a man, though holier than other men, and a teacher like other teachers, only more highly gifted. Had Nicodemus come with the same confession to S. John the Baptist, we may believe that he would have been accepted, but warned not to think so highly of the teacher, but to listen rather to the voice of the message. Christ rejects what the Baptist would have accepted. He is not satisfied to be regarded as a new teacher of old truth. In the case of the Baptist the message was greater than the messenger, here the messenger is greater than the message.
B. Faith in the Spirit is Necessary.
Christ reveals the true teacher, the Spirit of God. It is not mere knowledge that is wanted, but a new power to know, a new and receptive nature. Christ has come to bring a new world, the Kingdom of God, and unaided flesh and blood cannot enter His Kingdom. Nicodemus desires merely to be a better man on the old lines; Christ desires a new man, and Nicodemus must break with his past and come out of the darkness into the light. This power is to be given by baptism of water and of the Spirit. It is mysterious as nature is mysterious, but as real as nature is real. Nicodemus was not to blame because he had not previously known his need of the Divine Spirit, but because when taught he could not “understand” (R.V.).
C. Faith in the Son Is Necessary.
Christ was, indeed, a teacher, but not as other teachers. Earthly teachers are just learners who are a stage in advance of their pupils. His teaching was measured not by His knowledge, but by human capacity, for His facts about Heaven could not be given to those who found His facts about earth as yet too difficult. Christ was a teacher, but not as other teachers, for none had yet ascended into Heaven to learn what He knew Who had descended from Heaven.
Other teachers taught truth, but He was Himself the Truth. He came not merely to teach men what to believe, but to give them One in Whom to believe and in Whom they might find healing and life, as did the Jew from the brazen serpent in the wilderness. Thus Christ dimly foretells His death and His exaltation through death.
Thus Christ revealed to Nicodemus the truth of the Spirit and of the Son at the very opening of His ministry, and that it is only through the Spirit that we can know the Son, and only through the Son that we can know the Father. The doctrine of the Trinity is necessary to salvation because it reveals the Son and Spirit through Whom alone we obtain remission of sins and are made partakers of the Kingdom of Heaven.
A. The Source of this Doctrine
Is not human speculation but the grace of God. We learn the Unity of God by witnessing the power of the Divine majesty. We learn the doctrine of the Trinity only by the confession of a true faith, for in itself it is far beyond our unaided reason.
B. A Two-fold Prayer.
We pray that we may be steadfast in our faith in the Trinity, holding it firmly as the very essence of our heritage; simply, since all our explanations will be sure to be derogatory to God; joyously, as the very delight of our spirits.
Thus we can also pray that the power of the whole Godhead, the Unity, may be our defence from all dangers ghostly and bodily. Those who trust in God shall be strong in God. Bishop Cosin altered the ancient form of the collect “that by the steadfastness of our faith we may be defended,” no doubt in order to teach that we are not to depend on our faith, but, by our faith, on God.