Essay / Theology

Moule’s Outlines of Christian Doctrine (1)

moule outlinesH.C.G. Moule (1841-1920) was a great expositor who served as bishop of Durham for 19 years. I would be hard pressed to name my favorite book from among the many that he wrote, but there’s something special about the brief systematic theology he published in 1889 (revised edition by Hodder and Stoughton, 1902). It began as a series of notes offering evangelical commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles, and grew into something more free-standing. Moule called it Outlines of Christian Doctrine. , and its table of contents goes like this:


What follows are a few of my favorite quotations from the first part of the book, with a few comments on them. Moule’s sound judgment is what draws me to him, and he can also turn a nice phrase.

On revelation, Moule deftly subordinates so-called general revelation to the word of God without sounding stingy:

The word Revelation may be used in a wider or a narrower sense. Man, rightly and fully studied, is to himself a revelation of the being of God. The external world is in some important respects a revelation, deeply connected with that conveyed through manhood. But common consent restricts the word Revelation to communications from and about God given otherwise than through the normal phenomena of man and the world. (p. 4)

On the authority of tradition in Christian theology, he makes a distinction that solves a thousand problems: relative authority as opposed to ultimate authority:

It is important to observe that authority may be real, yet not ultimate. A Creed has authority; a Council has authority; a Father has authority, and still more, many consenting Fathers, witnessing to facts of belief. But none of these has ultimate authority. The Scriptures have it. (p. 7)

On the Trinity, he admits that a little speculation may be fun now and then, but strongly urges that the doctrine be developed from Scripture alone:

For evidence on this supreme doctrine we go to the Holy Scriptures. A basis for it has often been sought, and thought to be found, in independent speculation on the nature of things, on the laws of being and of thought. But it is at least safer for those who accept the Scriptures to make them the whole basis. The existence of the supreme personal Cause and Lord may lawfully fall within the scope of natural evidence; but not so, surely, the mode of His existence. This He must Himself reveal. Nature and man may in certain ways harmonize with, or reflect, that mode of existence, but cannot be trusted to disclose it. (pp 19-20)

On monotheism and its spiritual implications, Moule is a powerful expositor:

This great truth appears in Scripture as a thing of warm and pressing practical importance. The Eternal One, being infinitely great, good, and holy, eternally and necessarily knows Himself to be such, and cannot, without ceasing to be Himself, “give His glory to another,” nor approve the slightest transference of the allegiance, adoration, praise, and love of the created being. Not in selfish jealousy but in eternal rightness, having justly caused all existence for Himself, He requires its right relation to Himself. And so far as that existence consists in personal wills, He eternally and necessarily requires all wills, if they are to be in right relation to Him, to will His will, to find their highest utterance in His praise, to work always in the line of adoring and loving homage to Him, to recognize their creaturely relation in everything. Personal beings must personally live as those who live by, in, and for God. He meanwhile is always, and necessarily, and at once, alike the righteous claimant of such worship and love, and its infinitely good and satisfying Object; glorifying and beatifying the creature so related to Him. (p. 20-21)

Moule utterly rules out any essential subordination of the Son to the Father, but carefully delineates the priority of the Father within the Trinity. He uses the unlovely term “internal Subordination,” but also hits on the phrase “a primacy of Relation, or Order.”

This Harmony presents with equal clearness the phenomenon of internal Subordination. The Father is not more divine than the Son, or than the Spirit; but He is the Father. Godhead is in Him as in the Eternal Fountain; in the Son and in the Spirit as in the Eternal Streams. They are not accidents of His will, any more than His holiness is an accident of His will (for without it He would not be God). Nevertheless, He is the Father of the Son, the Source of the Spirit. Such is His primacy that He is continually spoken of, by the side of mentions of the Son and of the Spirit, as simply God; while yet the other evidence forbids us, if we would submit, to explain this of a difference of Nature. It indicates a primacy of Relation, or Order. (p. 23)

Moule even introduces his readers to the technical terminology of immanent and economic Trinity, sorting the categories quite nicely:

There is a recognized distinction in theology between the Trinity ‘Immanent,’ or Essential, and the Trinity Economical, or Dispensational. The Immanent Trinity is a phrase pointing to the eternal inner relation of the Persons. The Economical Trinity is a phrase pointing to what may be called with reverence the redeeming activities of the Persons. It views the Father as the Giver of the Son, the Supreme Author of the Incarnation and Resurrection, and the Adopter in Him of the saints. It views the Son as the Son, not only Eternal, but also Incarnate and Mediating. It views the Spirit as not only the eternal Bond of love between the Father and the Son, but the Glorifier of Christ in human hearts, and the Regenerator of fallen men into children of God in Christ, and the Bond of life and love between Christ and His Church. The distinction is helpful and important as a formulation of great revealed facts. Meanwhile it is obvious that there is a deep and necessary relation and connexion between the two aspects of the Holy Trinity. (p. 25)

“The Fatherhood of God” is reserved for the soteriological sense:

It is plain that in Scripture the words Father, Son, Child, etc., in this connexion, tend habitually to refer, not to nature, but to grace; not to creation, but to redemption, and especially to adoption and regeneration; not to Adam, but to Christ; not to the world, but to the Church. (p.  34)

And finally, these excellent words on the presence of God, God in person, in Christian life and thought:

The practical solution of many spiritual problems lies in the fact that revealed truths, dark and bright alike, are never rightly studied apart from a view of the Real Personality of God. Solvitur ambulando cum Deo. This is eminently true in the matter of Assurance, whether of present acceptance and divine life, or of final glory. This the Christian will enjoy both the more warmly and the more lawfully the more he actually deals, not only with the promises, but with the Promiser. (p. 47)


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