« AnteriorContinuar »
it cannot admit of any question, that this portion of our venerable Liturgy should be thoroughly understood amongst us. And we design, by the blessing of God, to deliver to you a sufficient exposition of its several clauses, to this end; first, presenting a short statement of the reasons which may be assigned for the constant recital of the Creed, in our public worship; to which we shall add, in the present discourse, an explanation of the first clause, ' I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.'
I. Among the reasons which may be assigned for a constant recital of the Creed, the four following may be enumerated, as worthy of special consideration.
1. In the first place, the great antiquity of the custom, connected, as many presume it to be, with Apostolic sanction, ought, of itself, to recommend jt to us. For what consideration can endear this venerable relic of the early faith, more than the fact, that the disciples of the blessed Apostles, the holy martyrs and confessors, the workers of miracles and the eminent saints, who adorned the first ages of Christianity, made it a part of their solemn worship to recite these very words,—that this was the Creed, for which they lived and died, which they professed, in despite of the horrors of persecution, in imprisonment, in torments, and in death. Surely, if there be a spark of Christian sympathy within us, this single reflection would present the Apostles' Creed in the most affecting light, and render it impossible for us ever to repeat it without emotion.
2. But, in the second place, it serves the important purpose of bringing to our remembrance, at one view, the whole plan of the Gospel of salvation; and this, when we consider how apt our thoughts are to wander, and especially how difficult it is to bring them to the contemplation of a connected chain of truths, appears to gi/e great weight to the propriety of the practice in question. For in the Creed, we are reminded, by a brief but faithful outline, of the power and love of God the Father; of the advent, the birth, the sufferings and death of his well beloved Son, who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification; of the offices of Christ, as our High Priest, our Sacrifice, our Advocate and Judge; of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the heart, and makes us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light; of that Church which is the body and spouse of the Redeemer; of the necessity of Christian community and fellowship; of the perfect forgiveness and remission of our sins; and of the reunion of the purified body with the soul, in the glory of immortal life and joy. Here, therefore, the believer may take, as it were, a rapid glance .over the whole map of his celestial journey, and is reminded of every important object which is to guide him on his way; and he is not only safely directed along the path of truth, but cheered by the sight of the prize of his high calling which awaits him at the end.
3. The third reason for the recital of our Creed may be derived from the fact, that something of this sort is absolutely necessary, to preserve, unimpaired, the principles of Divine truth, and defend the Church from error. It is, indeed, easy to say and pleasant to hear, that the Bible is the Creed of a professing Christian, and that he needs no other regulator of his opinions than the Word of God. But experience has abundantly shown, that this general faith is entirely too broad and uncertain, to serve as a bond of union, or a ground of religious confidence amongst mankind. For every sect asserts the same reverence for Scripture; even those who hold the most opposite sentiments, appeal to its authority with confidence; and so we have innumerable varieties of profession, all asserting the sajne
standard of faith. Assuredly, therefore, it is wise, not only to appeal to Scripture, but also to be able, in a few words, to say how we understand Scripture; and this our Creed renders perfectly easy, explaining briefly the main principles of Christian truth, as the Church receives them, and erecting a bulwark against error, which it would not be easy either to undermine or overthrow. But it may be objected to this argument, that the alleged necessity for Creeds, derogates from the clearness and certainty of Scripture. Such an inference, however, would be most unauthorized and unjust. For every man knows that it is impossible, in the nature of things, to frame even an ordinary law about the most trifling earthly concerns, so as to prevent the variety of sense which the perversion of human ingenuity can put upon the plainest language. And hence the well known fact, that the most sagacious lawyer can never be sure that he understands the law aright, until the judges of the courts have settled its construction. Now Creeds are to the Bible, what judicial construction is to the law. And as, by a familiar maxim, the highest respect is always paid to a cotemporaneous exposition, so the Church places her greatest confidence, not in the notions of modern theology, but in the Creeds of the ancient Christians, who lived nearest to the Apostolic day.
4. But fourthly, the repetition of the Creed is important to the believer, as a solemn act of faith; which, when performed with a serious and devout mind, can never fail to excite within his own breast, the most salutary feelings of humble gratitude and pious hope. 'All things are possible,' saith our blessed Lord, 'to him that believeth;' and the Christian, remembering this promise, and recounting the precious articles of his belief, finds the light of faith and the joy of holy confidence increase within his soul.
II. Having thus briefly considered the reasons which may be assigned for the public recital of the Apostles' Creed, we proceed to the first clause, 'I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.' And here we may examine, First, what it is to believe; Secondly, the object of belief, God; and Thirdly, the title given to him, ' Father Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.'
1. To believe, is generally defined to be the assent of the mind to those truths which are proved by testimony; and faith is consequently distinguished into human and religious. Human faith is a reliance on human testimony; and almost all the actions of mankind are governed by this, in the ordinary affairs of life. The accounts of travellers, the descriptions of geographers, the annals of historians are all received and credited on this ground. It is human testimony that transmits to us the acts of the legislature which rule the land, and the operations of foreign governments which affect the measures of our own; the discoveries of science, the invitations of pleasure, and the calls of duty reach us by the same channel; and even the social intercourse of our homes and the arrangement of the smallest domestic comfort, must fail if the same faith did not support them. Notwithstanding, therefore, the distrust, the falsehood, and the imperfection which sometimes attend the testimony of mankind in relation to each other, yet it is this testimony at last which sustains the whole complicated machinery of society ; and the most determined sceptic is forced either to use this kind of faith, or to withdraw himself from all the business and the intercourse of his species. Now as human faith demands this reliance on the testimony of men, so religious faith demands a still stronger reliance on the testimony of God; and this for the manifest reason, that as God is all perfection, his testimony can be open to no possible doubt. 'If we receive the witness of men,' saith St. John, 'the witness of God is greater.' When men become witnesses, we know that we may possibly be misinformed, either through their ignorance, or their preju-* dices, or their interest, or their fears, or their dishonesty, or their infirmity; but when God condescends to testify, there is nothing to be apprehended. Being perfect in truth, he cannot deceive ; being perfect in wisdom, he cannot mistake; being perfect in goodness, he cannot mislead; and being perfect in happiness, he can have no other purpose than our advantage to serve by the disclosure. Hence a revelation from God is that testimony which demands the highest assent and most absolute confidence; and this proposition is so manifestly undeniable, that the question is never whether the testimony of God be true, but only whether it be true that God has spoken. ,
This leads us to observe, that of the modes of revelation adopted by the Deity, there have been three ; the first, immediate and direct; the second, through the agency of angels; and the third, through the agency of men. It is perfectly obvious, however, that the same faith must be required on our part to every manifestation of his testimony, whether direct or otherwise. It belongs to his prerogative to select the mode, and it is impossible for our limited faculties to devise any plan more suitable to our situation and circumstances, than the Deity has condescended to employ. It is for him alone, who seeththeend from the beginning, to say what method is the best; and it is for us gratefully to accept every form of communication which his wisdom and goodness may designate. Not that there is any difficulty in showing that reason must approve the instruments which God has chosen, as most wisely adapted to the establishment of his will. But as we trust that our late discourses