By Henry Sloane Coffin
(Originally published in 1915)
Bishop Burnet, in his History of His Own Time, writes of Sir Harry Vane, that he belonged "to the sect called 'Seekers,' as being satisfied with no form of opinion yet extant, but waiting for future discoveries." The sect of Sir Harry Vane is extraordinarily numerous in our day; and at various times I have been asked to address groups of its adherents, both among college students and among thoughtful persons outside university circles, upon the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. Some of my listeners had been trained in the Church, but had thrown off their allegiance to it; others had been reared in Judaism or in agnosticism; others considered themselves "honorary members" of various religious communions—interested and sympathetic, but uncommitted and irresponsible; more were would-be Christians somewhat restive intellectually under the usual statements of Christian truths. It was for minds of this type that the following lectures were prepared. They are not an attempt at a systematic exposition of Christian doctrine, but an effort to restate a few essential Christian convictions in terms that are intelligible and persuasive to persons who have felt the force of the various intellectual movements of recent years. They do not pretend to make any contribution to scholarship; they aim at the less difficult, but perhaps scarcely less necessary middleman's task of bringing the results of the study of scholars to men and women who (to borrow a phrase of Augustine's) "believe in thinking" and wish to "think in believing."
They may be criticised by those who, satisfied with the more traditional ways of stating the historic Christian faith, will dislike their discrimination between some elements in that faith as more, and others as less, certain. I would reply that they are intentionally but a partial presentation of the Gospel for a particular purpose; and further I find my position entirely covered by the words of Richard Baxter in his Reliquiæ: "Among Truths certain in themselves, all are not equally certain unto me; and even of the Mysteries of the Gospel, I must needs say with Mr. Richard Hooker, that whatever men pretend, the subjective Certainty cannot go beyond the objective Evidence: for it is caused thereby as the print on the Wax is caused by that on the Seal. I am not so foolish as to pretend my certainty to be greater than it is, merely because it is a dishonour to be less certain. They that will begin all their Certainty with that of the Truth of the Scripture, as the Principium Cognoscendi, may meet me at the same end; but they must give me leave to undertake to prove to a Heathen or Infidel, the Being of God and the necessity of Holiness, even while he yet denieth the Truth of Scripture, and in order to his believing it to be true."
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