Project Canterbury

A Bishop Among His Flock

By the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Bethlehem, U.S.A.

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1914.

Chapter III. What Shall I Believe?

IF we are justified in our conclusion that we are responsible beings and that each one of us shall give an account of himself to God; furthermore, if we have satisfactorily shown that God hath not left any of us without witness of Himself in our hearts, but has from the beginning spoken to men in divers manners, and at last, in the fullness of time, revealed His nature and will to us in the person of Christ, what follows?

First of all, the duty of asking ourselves what use we are making of this knowledge. Responsibility goes with knowledge, and our knowledge is the chief measure of our responsibility. "To him that knoweth to do right and doeth it not, to him it is sin." If a clear revelation has been vouchsafed us we are evidently not in the same moral category as men to whom no such light has been given. We have arrived unmistakably at three fundamental conclusions.

First, we know we are living in a world over which an intelligent Ruler presides; that this wonderful cosmos, with its laws of order, symmetry, and beauty, is not the result of chance, of blind fate, or the assembling of fortuitous atoms, but bears evidence of creative power and infinite wisdom. As thoughtful and reasonable beings we are in complete agreement with Lord Kelvin, perhaps the greatest scientific authority of modern times, who says, at the close of a long life devoted to the study of natural phenomena, "Of this I am absolutely convinced, that this universe has been brought into existence and is hourly sustained by the infinite intelligence of a personal Conductor."

In the second place, we cannot doubt the universal verdict of human history and the clear testimony of our own consciences that this being whom we call God has endowed us with a sense of accountability to Him as to the use we are making of our faculties, the investment of our time, and the influence of our lives.

And, thirdly, we are possessed of unmistakable evidence that this Ruler of the universe is not a far distant Creator, divested of all human attributes and sympathies with men, but is a Father who cares for His children and has demonstrated His love for us in countless ways and in ages past, and in these later days has crowned His work of redeeming love by a full and final revelation of Himself in sending forth His Son to make known His will.

Therefore, as He has committed all judgment unto His Son, the question which the Saviour propounded to His Disciples while yet on earth, "What think ye of Christ?" becomes, after all, the great determining question of every man's life. Who, then, was He, this Man of men; this Man who stood toward all other men by the mere facts of His being in so unique and unapproached relationship? What was it that thus lifted Him above the loftiest heights of human excellence and made His life so full of meaning for the highest interests of our race? Let Saint Paul give the only answer that can be given in reason: "God sent forth from himself his son made of a woman." As every human being has a human mother, these last words would be superfluous unless the Son of God were in Himself, in the roots and seat of His being, of a higher than human nature, which made His having a human mother of itself remarkable. God the Father did not create Him, but, as the original word means, "He sent forth his son out of himself," just as using the same words, He sent forth His spirit out of Himself, and His Son thus sent forth, and coming into our world, was made of a woman. That was His link with our race. He had no human father. We say in the Creed, "He was conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary." But if a human mother made Him truly human, truly representative of the race of man, she could not detract aught from His eternal Person. God's only begotten Son, though in the form of a servant, is still Lord of all. It is this mighty truth, the incarnation of the eternal Son, which is the keystone of the whole symmetrical arch of the Christian Gospel. Remove that, and the whole structure tumbles to the ground. Nineteen hundred years and more have passed since it happened, but in the presence of such a monumental event we think little of the lapse of years. The Son of God still wears, and will forever wear, the human nature which He took of His virgin Mother. Therefore we pray to Him, and say, "By the mystery of Thy Holy Incarnation, by Thy Holy Nativity, Good Lord deliver us."

He is a Christian who believes in Christ and accepts Him as God and Saviour. The facts of our Lord's human life are a part of the well-authenticated events of history. There have been times in the course of the Christian centuries when doubts have been entertained even about the reality of His existence, and efforts have been made to envelop His career in the mists of uncertainty and to relegate to the realm of fiction the record of His words and deeds. But such attempts have long since been abandoned as unworthy of serious consideration, and no one entitled to the respect of the world of scholars disputes the essential historicity of the Gospel message.

There are difficulties which confront the Christian believer to-day, and such difficulties have always existed, and shall probably never cease. But they are not difficulties as to the main facts in Christ's life and character, but rather as to the interpretation of those facts. There is a brief summary of the common faith held by the Christian community dating back almost to apostolic days, known as the Apostles' Creed. In this document, so familiar, so historical, and so venerable, we have a few positive affirmations of simple fact, but no expression of theological opinion. What has often proved a great stumbling-block in the way of accepting the religion of Christ have been the human opinions about the facts or the theological doctrines which men have read, often unwarrantably, into the facts. " It may be refreshing to us as we close this chapter on "What Shall I Believe?" to recall the words in which so many millions of Christian people have voiced their belief, and have triumphantly and happily found comfort and peace. The Apostles' Creed begins with the word which separates us from every other human being on earth--the word "I." A man's belief is a personal and sacred thing. No man can believe for another. His convictions, if they are to be of any value, must be not only strong, but individual. The Creed asks those who use this brief but sufficient summary of fundamental verities to believe in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, in the Holy Spirit who guides and enlightens us, in the Holy Catholic or Universal Church, which is the fellowship or communion of the saints, or people of God, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

If we believe in God at all, as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ, this confession of our faith, sanctified by the usage of so many centuries of Christian devotion, will serve as a helpful guide-post along the sometimes difficult and vague pathway leading to a clear and strong and reasonable faith.

In the next chapter we shall inquire what the great Master Himself asks of us, and how, with tender sympathy for our limitations, He helps us to co-operate with Himself in satisfying His demands.

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