This week, our guest website preacher is - without question - the greatest theologian in the history of the church. It is the famous Saint Augustine of Hippo.
Augustine (354-430 AD) was born in Africa. He spent his youth following after the philosophies and intellectual fashions of the day; and lived the wild life of a student. His Christian mother, Monica, prayed much for him; and did live long enough to see God answer her prayers for her son's conversion. But she didn't live to see the dramatic mark he would then go on to make for centuries to come in almost every area of Western Civilization.
After his theological training, this brilliant young man was chosen by the people of the North African city of Hippo to be a priest; and then, he was appointed Associate Bishop of Hippo - only five years after his conversion! He became the sole Bishop of Hippo in 395; and he held this position until his death thirty-five years later. Among the most famous of his many, many books which influence the theology of the church, he wrote the first great Christian autobiography, "The Confessions"; and the first book to present a truly Christian philosophy of history, "The City of God". He held a great influence on the Catholic tradition; and the Protestant Reformers considered his works to be of the utmost importance. His books are still read and studied today - over one and a half millennia after they were written!
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Below is a sample of one of his sermons. I have given it what is - I hope - an appropriate title; and I have taken great liberties in trying to paraphrase it into a more modern style. A paraphrase is, by nature, a highly interpretive thing; and so, I have done my best to try to capture what I thought the great theologian would have said if he had preached at our church some Sunday morning. But understand; it's my effort to put into my own words - including my own paragraph breaks and punctuation choices - what I understood him to have said.
As you read this sermon, you'll find that Augustine tried to do many things at once. He sought to deal with the problem of doubt and the importance of faith; but he also sought to defend the faith against the early church heresy called "Arianism." He wanted to deal with a particular passage from the Gospels about Jesus; but he also wanted to defend a good theology of Jesus. It was a sermon that did a lot of work! He may not have always said things in a way that we would have preferred; but then, many theological issues that we have carefully defined today had not yet even become debated in his day. Be that as it may, though, I hope youšll get a sense from Augustine of what great preaching was like sixteen hundred years ago.
So let's welcome our guest to the website pulpit; as he preaches to us about...
"Seeing With Faith's Eyes"
By Bishop Aurelius Augustine
(Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
"Then Jesus answered and said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner'" (John 5:19)
The mysteries and secrets of the kingdom of God hunt for believing men, so that they may make them into understanding men. And this is because faith is understanding's first step - and understanding is faith's full attainment. This is what the prophet Isaiah clearly says to everyone who, prematurely and in an improper order, seeks understanding to while neglecting faith: "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established" (Isaiah 7:9). Faith itself, therefore, has a certain light of its own in the Scriptures - in prophecy, in the Gospel, and in the writings of the Apostles. For all these things which are read to us in this present time are lights in "a dark place"; and this is so that we may be nourished up unto "spiritual daylight". The Apostle Peter says, "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts ..." (1 Peter 1:19).
You see then, dear brothers and sisters, how extremely irregular and out-of-order everyone is who, in a great hurry - like a premature baby - seeks to be born before the time of birth? - that is, those who say to us, "Why do you ask me to believe what I do not see? Let me see something, so that I can believe. You ask me to believe in something while I do not yet see it. I want to see first; and then, by seeing it - not by hearing about it, but by seeing it for myself - I can be established in it!" Well; what does Isaiah say? "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established." Such people, you might say, want to climb the ladder without placing their foot on the steps! That's taking things way out of order! (And besides, if I could show you something that you already see, what would be the point of urging you to believe?)
Faith, then, is as the writer of Hebrews has defined it: "... the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). If they are things not seen, then what evidence do we have that they exist? Well; look around you. Don't you see things now? Where do these things which you CAN now see come from, if not from that which you CANNOT see? Obviously, you do see 'something' and have no trouble believing in it when you see it; and this was given to you so that, as a result of seeing what you CAN see, you might be enabled to believe in what you CANNOT see.
Don't be ungrateful to Him who has made it possible for you to see, and thereby made you able to believe what you cannot yet see. God has given you eyes in your head and reason in your heart. So then, arouse the reasoning ability in your heart and open the eyelids of your spiritual eyes. Look out the spiritual "window" as it were; and examine God's creation! Let your inner self look out and see what it can see with the physical eyes - and let that inner self think carefully about what it beholds! Don't let your inner self turn away from the window and become distracted by other thoughts - and thus not really "see" what the physical eyes behold. There's no point in opening the window to look out with they eyes, if the inner self turns away and doesn't see. It's not the "eyes" that see; but the inner self that sees through them! Awake that inner self! Arouse that inner man! For the ability to truly "see" has not been denied you. God has made you a rational creature. He has made you greater than the animals. He has formed in His own image. Should you then "see" no better than an animal does - only looking for what will fill your belly, and not to what will satisfy your soul?
Stir up, I say, the eye of reason! Use your eyes as someone that has been made in God's image should use them! Consider the heavens and the earth, the planets and stars, the fruitfulness of the earth, the flight of the birds, the swimming of the fish, the power of the seeds to produce food, the order of the seasons! Consider all these works - and look to the Author of them. Take a good look at what you CAN see; and from them seek Him who you CANNOT see. Believe on Him who you CANNOT see, because of that which you CAN see! And just to show you that I'm not exhorting you with something that has come out of my own head, hear what the Apostle Paul says; "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made ..." (Rom. 1:20).
In the past, you've paid no attention to such things; nor did you look upon them as if you were someone made in the image of God. Instead, you looked upon them as if you were an unthinking animal. King David cried out to you - but cried in vain - "Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding ..." (Psalm 32:9). These things, as I say, are things you saw and disregarded. God's every-day miracles were held in low esteem by you - not because they were insignificant; but because you saw them over and over. What, for example, is more perplexing a wonder than the birth of a baby? A person who was in existence, by dying, departs into darkness; and another person, who had not existed, by being born, comes forth into light! What is more marvelous than that? What could be more difficult for us to understand? But such things are easy for God to do. Marvel at these things! Wake up!! You stand in wonder at His "unusual" works; but are they really that much greater than those "ordinary" works of His which you have grown used to seeing?
People marvelled that the Lord God, Jesus Christ, fed so many thousands of people with five loaves of bread; and yet, do they not marvel that, through just a few seeds of grain the whole earth is filled with crops? When Jesus turned the water into wine, men saw it and were amazed; and yet, does anything different occur when the rain water travels up the root of the grapevine? He who did the one thing also did the other - the one thing that you may be fed, the other that you may marvel. But both things are truly wonderful; for both things are the works of God.
Man sees unusual things, and marvels at them; but where did that man who marvels come from? Where was he before then? How did he come into being? How was it that his body was fashioned? How was the distinction of his body parts brought about? How did the beauty of his form come to be? Just compare the full growth of a man with the humble way in which he began! Don't you see that man wonders at other things, when the whole time long he - the wonderer - is himself a great wonder? Where then do all these things which you CAN see spring forth from but Him whom you CANNOT see?
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But as I was saying, because these "usual" things cease to be esteemed by you, God Himself came to do "unusual" things; and this was so that, in seeing these "usual" things you might then acknowledge your Creator. He came to this earth - He to whom it was said, "Renew signs"; to whom it was said, "Show Your marvelous lovingkindess" (Psalm 17:7). And the fact is that He always was dispensing signs. He dispensed them; and no one marvelled. Therefore He came - a Little One to the little. He came a Physician to the sick - He who was able to come when He willed, to return when He willed, to do whatsoever He willed, to judge as He willed. And this - that is, His will - is very righteous; indeed, whatever He wills, I say, is very righteous. For that which He wills is not unrighteous; nor can that be right which He does not will. He came to raise the dead; and men marvelled that He restored a man to the light who was in light already - He who, day by day, brings forth to the light those who were not.
He did these things; yet He was despise by the many, who didn't so much consider what great things it was that He did, as how "little" He Himself was - as if they said within themselves, "These are divine things, but He is a mere man." There are two things you see with your eyes, then: (1) divine works, and (2) a man. If divine works cannot be brought about but by God, then be careful - lest in that mere "little" visible Man, God be concealed. Pay careful attention, I say, to what you CAN see; and from it, believe what you CANNOT see. He who has called you to believe has not abandoned you. Even though He invites you to believe that which you cannot see, He hasn't abandoned you so that you can't see anything at all, by which you may be able to believe what you do not see. Is the creation itself such a small thing, a small indication of the Creator? He also came to this earth and did miracles. You couldn't see God; but you COULD see a man; and so, God became Man, that in that one Man you might have both what to see, and what to believe.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1) - so you have heard, and as yet do not see. Behold, He comes; behold, He is born; behold, He comes forth of a woman - He who made man and woman. He who made man and woman was not made by man and woman. Since it may be that you would have been prone to despise Him for being born, He came in such a way that you cannot despise His birth; since He eternally existed before He was born. Behold, I say; He took a body! He was clothed in flesh! He came forth from the womb!
Do you now see? Can you understand what I'm trying to say? I'm asking you questions regarding Jesus' flesh; but I point out in that "flesh" something that you CAN see; and something that you CANNOT see. Behold how, in this very birth, there are at once two things: (1) that which you may see, and (2) another which you may not see. But so that by the thing which you CAN see, you can believe that which you CANNOT see. It may be that you, at one time, despised Him, because you simply saw Him as someone who is "born". But now, believe what you do not see - that He was born of a virgin. "How insignificant a person," someone might say, "is he who was 'born'!" Ah, but by contrast, how great is He who was "virgin-born"! And He who was born of a virgin has brought before your eyes a temporal miracle - that is, that He was not born of a father (meaning He did not have a man as His father); yet He was born of the flesh. But don't let it seem like such an impossible thing to you, that One was born by His mother only who - Himself - made man before there ever was such a thing as "father" and "mother".
So then, He brought a temporal miracle before your eyes; so that you may seek and admire Him who is eternal. For He 'who came forth as a Bridegroom out of His chamber' - that is, who came forth out of the virgin's womb, where the holy marriage was celebrated of the Word and the Flesh - He brought about, I say, a temporal miracle; but He Himself is eternal, and co-eternal with the Father. He is the same one who, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." He did that for you by which you may be cured, so that you might be able to see what you did not see. What you despise in Christ (that is, His physical birth) is not all that there is to Him, but rather the medicine to the sick. Do not hurriedly mistake what you see to be the whole view of Him. The angels really "see"; they rejoice; they feed upon the whole truth, and therefore their "nourishment" does not fail, nor does their "food" ever diminish. In the thrones of glory, in the regions of the heavens, in the parts which are above the heavens, this Word is truly "seen" by the angels; and He is their joy and their food which endures. But in order that mankind might eat "angel's food", the Lord of the angels became Man. This is our salvation, the medicine to the sick, the true food for all.
And it's in this context that He spoke, and said (as it reads in our text), "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..." (John 5:19).
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Now you tell me; can we really think that anyone truly understands this? Can we imagine that there is anyone in whom the "eye-salve" of the flesh has now had such an effect as to make it possible for them to discern - in any respect - the brightness of the Divinity? Ah; but because He has so spoken of Himself, let us so speak also - He, because He is the Word; and we, because we are of the Word.
And why do we speak - however we do it - of the Word? It's because we are made by the Word after the likeness of the Word. As far then as we are able - as far as we can be partakers of that which is 'indescribable' - let us also speak; and let us not be contradicted. Why? Because our faith is in the proper place - that is, first in order - so that we can say, "I believed and therefore I spoke" (2 Corinthians 4:13). I speak, then, that which I believe; whether or not I also see it, or however it may be that I see. Jesus sees; you cannot see it. But when I shall have spoken, what difference does it make to me whether he who hears what I speak of believes that I also see what I have spoken of, or believes that have not. Let that person only really "see" - and he can believe whatever he wishes about me.
At this point rises up an error of the Arians [that is, those who argue that the Son was a created Being]; but it rises up that it may fall; because it is not humbled, that it may rise. What is it, O follower of Arius, that has set you off? You would say that the Son is less than the Father; because you read that it says, "... The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..." From this, you would argue that the Son is less than the Father. It's this, I know - I know it is this that has set you off. To believe that 'He is NOT less' is something that you cannot yet "see". Yet, you must "believe" it - as I was saying to you a little while ago. "But how," you'll say to me, "am I to 'believe' in contradiction to His own words? He Himself has said, 'The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ...'" But you need to pay attention to that which follows: "For whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner."
Let me pause to urge you, beloved: Think carefully as we enter into this subject, so that you do not cause confusion to yourselves. There is a need in dealing with these things to possess a tranquil heart, a godly and devout faith, and a reverently earnest attention - not to me, the poor vessel, but to Him who puts the bread into the vessel. Give careful attention then for a while. For in all that I have said thus far in exhorting you to faith (that the mind saturated with faith may be capable of understanding) all that has been said has had a pleasing, glad, and easy sound. It has cheered your minds. You have followed my line of argument. You have understood what I have said. But as for what I am now about to say, I hope there are some who will understand; and yet I fear that all will not understand. And seeing that God has, through the course of our study of this Gospel, proposed to us a subject to speak on; and that we cannot avoid that which our Master has proposed; I am concerned, lest it happens that those who will not understand, who perhaps will be the greater number, should think that I have spoken to them in vain. But yet, because of those who will understand, I do not speak in vain. Let the one who understands rejoice, and let the one who does not understand bear patiently with what I have to say. What he does not understand, let him bear; and let him put up with our taking the time to talk about this, so that he may understand.
Jesus does not say, then, "For whatever things the Father does, the Son does 'similar' things;" as if to say that the Father does some things, and the Son does others. For it did seem as though He had meant this when He said, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..." But note that, even there, He did not say, "... what He hears the Father command Him to do ...", but "... what He sees the Father do ..." If we consult our fleshly understanding - that is to say, our fleshly senses - get a picture of two workmen, the Father and the Son. The Father is presented as working without seeing anyone else; and the Son is presented as working from seeing the Father. This is, of course, a "fleshly" way of looking at the matter; but in order to fully understand the things which are 'higher', let's not turn away from 'lower' and 'common' illustrations of them.
First, let's set put the matter before our eyes in this way: Let's suppose there are two workmen, a father and a son. The father has made a chest, which the son could not make unless he saw the father making it. He keeps his mind on the chest which the father has made; and he makes another chest like it, but not the same. Now setting aside the words that follow for the moment, let me ask the follower of the teachings of Arius; Isn't this the sense in which you understand these words? In your view of it, the Father has done something, which the Son saw Him do; and then, He too has done something like it. Don't the words which perplex you seem to have that meaning?
Now, He doesn't say, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He hears the Father command;" but rather, "The son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..." See? If you understand it in that way, then the Father has done something, and the Son pays attention so that He may see what He Himself also has to do - specifically, some other thing like what the Father had done. Well; the question is this: This thing which the Father has done, by whom has He done it? If you say that it was not by the Son - that is, if not by the Word - then you have brought the charge of blasphemy against the Gospel upon yourself; because "all things were made through Him" (John 1:3). So then, what the Father has done, He has done through the Word; and if He has done it through "the Word", then He has done it through the Son. Who then is that "other" who stands by watching, that He may do some other thing which He sees the Father do? You, O follower of Arius, have not been afraid to say that the Father has two sons! There is but One Son - One only-begotten of Him. This One stands alone with respect to His divinity; but, by His mercy, He is not alone with respect to the inheritance. The Father has made co-heirs with His only Son - not by having begotten them like Him who is of His own substance; but by having adopted them through Him out of His own family. For it's just as the Scriptures have testified; "having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself ..." (Eph. 1:5).
What then do you say to that? It is the only-begotten Son Himself that speaks. The only-begotten Son speaks in the Gospel. The Word Himself has given us the words; we have heard Himself saying, "The son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..." Now then; the Father 'does' so that the Son may see what to do; and yet, the Father does nothing but through the Son. No doubt, you are confused, O heretic - no doubt, you're dizzy with confusion! But it's the kind of confusion that comes from taking a purgative, so that you might be cured.
Even now, you can't find your own self; you yourself are even, I suspect, condemning your own judgment and your fleshly view of things. Well; set aside your fleshly eyes, open the eyes of your heart, and behold divine things! These words we have been discussing are, indeed, men's words; and by a man - by the Evangelist John, and by his Gospel - you have heard men's words as a man. But more than that - it is the Word of God you hear; so that by hearing what is human, you may come to know what is divine.
The Master has presented a problem so that He might instruct - sown a quandary that He might excite an earnest attention. "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..." He might have gone on to say, "For whatever things the Father does, the Son does 'similar' things;" but He did not say this. Instead, He says, "For whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner." The Father, in other words, does not do some things, and the Son other things; because the Father does all things that He does through the Son. The Son raised Lazarus, for example (John 11); but didn't the Father raise Him? The Son gave sight to the blind man (John 9); but didn't the Father give him sight? 'The Father, by the Son, in the Holy Spirit' - this is the Trinity. But remember that the operation of the Trinity is one operation - the majesty is one, the eternity is one, the coeternity is one; and the works the same. The Father does not create some men, and the Son other men, and the Holy Ghost other men still. Rather, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost create one and the same man; and the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost do so as one God.
You observe in this a plurality of Persons; but you also must acknowledge the unity of divinity. For, because of the plurality of Persons, it was said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). The Father didn't say to the Son, "I will make man, and You pay attention while I'm making him so that You'll be able to then go and make another." "Let Us make ...", He said - and in these words I hear the plurality. "... After Our image ..."; and again, I hear the plurality. Where then is the singularity of the divinity? As we read on, it says, "So God created man ..." It is said, "Let Us make man ..."; and it is not then said, "So the Gods made man ..." The unity is understood in that it was said, "God made man ..."
Where then is that fleshly view of things? Let it be confounded, hidden, brought to nothing; but let the Word of God speak to us. Even now, as godly people - as already believing, as already saturated with faith, and as having gotten some grasp on understanding - let us turn to the Word Himself, to the Fountain of light; and let us say together - "O Lord, the Father always does the same things as You; for whatever the Father does, through You He does them. We have read that You are the Word in the beginning. We haven't seen this with our eyes; but we have believed. And there too, we have read what follows: that 'all things were made through' You. Everything that the Father does, He does through You. Therefore, You do the same things as the Father."
Now; let's suppose I were then to go on to ask the Son; "Why then did You see fit to say, 'The Son can do nothing of Himself'? I ask this, Lord, because I clearly see an equality in You with the Father, in that I read that you said, '... Whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner ...' I recognize an equality; and understanding that, I comprehend - as far as I am able - that statement, 'I and My Father are one' (John 10:30). So then, what do you mean that You can do nothing but what You see the Father do? What is the meaning this?"
If I were to ask that, let me suggest what answer He might give to me - indeed, to all of us: "Now as for that saying of Mine, '... The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..."; My 'seeing' - how do you understand it? My 'seeing' - what is it?" Put aside for a moment the form of the servant which He took for your sake. For in the servant's form, our Lord had eyes and ears in the flesh; and that human form was the same figure of a body as we have - the same set of body parts. That "flesh" had come from Adam; but He Himself was not as Adam. So then, the Lord - walking either on land or on the sea, whichever pleased Him (since He could do whatever He wished) - looked at whatever He wished. He fixed His eyes on something and saw it; and He turned His eyes away and did not see it. If someone walked behind Him and someone else walked before Him, He could only see with the eyes of His body whoever was before Him.
But, from His divinity, nothing was hidden. Put aside for a moment - put aside, I say - the form of a servant. Look at the form of God in which He was before the world was made. Think in terms of the form in which He was equal to the Father; and then you'll receive and understand what He meant in giving us the Scriptures which say to you, "... Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God" (Phil. 2:6). See Him in those terms - if you can; so that you might be able to see what His "seeing" is. "In the beginning was the Word"; How does the Word see? Does the Word have physical eyes, or are eyes like ours found in Him? - not the eyes of the flesh, but the eyes of godly hearts? For, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
In Christ, you see both Man and God. He manifests "Man" to you; but as for the glory of God, He, as it were, 'holds it back' for you. Now consider how He - who manifests "Man" to you - reveals just a bit of the glory of God to you: He says, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him ..." (John 14:21). And as if He were then asked, "What will You give to him who You love?"; He then adds, "... and manifest Myself to him."
What does this mean, brethren? He, whom the disciples saw already, promised that He would manifest Himself to them. To whom? To those by whom He was seen, or to those by whom He was not seen? It was in this same sense that a certain apostle, who had asked to see the Father, that it might satisfy him, said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us" (John 14:8); and then Jesus - standing before His servant's eyes, in the form of a servant Himself; but reserving the glory of God for that servant's eyes until a time when that servant was himself glorified - said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (v. 9). It was as if He was saying, "You ask to see the Father, do you? Well; look at Me. You see Me; but you do not yet "see" Me. You see the form I have assumed; but you have not seen what I have reserved for you. Listen carefully to My commandments, and purify your eyes; because, 'He who has My commandments and keeps them ... I will love Him.' To the one who keeps My commandments - and who, by My commandments, is made whole - I will manifest Myself."
So then, brethren; if we are not able to see what the "seeing" of the Word is, where are we going? What kind of sight is it that, with what may be a very irreverent spirit, we are demanding to look at? Why are we wishing to have something shown to us that we are not able to see? These things, therefore, are spoke regarding that which we desire to see - not regarding what we are able to yet understand. For if you see the "seeing" of the Word, it may come about that in that "seeing" of the Word that you will see the Word Himself - so that the Word may not be one thing, and the "seeing" of the Word another; and thus anything be joined, and coupled, and double, and compacted. I'm telling you something that is simple - but it is a kind of simplicity that is indescribable. It's not like it is with a man - in which the man is one thing, and the man's seeing another thing. Sometimes, the man is blind; but the man remains.
This is what I was talking about when I said I would be saying something that not everyone would be able to understand - although the Lord may grant that some would understand. You see, my brethren; it's to this end that He exhorts us that we may see - because the "seeing" is beyond our abilities. Those to whom He gives this exhortation are too weak to see; and they need to be brought to nourishment and perfection. How is this done? By His commandments!
What commandments, you may say? Because we remember that He says, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me." So, what commandments? - since we certainly wish to be increased and strengthened and perfected; so that we may see the "seeing" of the Word. "Tell us, Lord", we cry out; "Tell us now; what commandments?" And He answers; "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another" (John 13:35).
This love toward one another then, dear brethren, let us draw from the abundance of the Fountain; and let us receive it - let us be nourished by it. Receive; that thereby you may be able to receive more! Let active love for each other give you birth; let love nourish you. May acts of love bring you to perfection. May it strengthen you; so that you may be able to see this "seeing" of the Word - that the Word is not one thing and His "seeing" another; but that the "seeing" of the Word is the very Word Himself. And then, perhaps you will soon understand that the thing which He said - "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do ..." - is as if He had said, "The Son would not be, if He had not been born of the Father".
Let this be enough, brethren. I know that I have said that which perhaps, if thought upon carefully, may become clear in the minds of many - even though it is something that often, when put in many words, may run the risk of becoming obscured.
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