MY object in writing this sermon was twofold. First: to awaken some of our dear people to a livelier sense of their duty as in trust with the Faith of the Gospel, at this time, when breach of trust seems to be epidemic; and, secondly, to help, if possible, others who have become unsettled and anxious on the subject of Religion, by listening to the incessant discussion of that subject by persons with little reverence and less wisdom, and the assaults upon us by the independent thinkers of the day. To such I would submit, that for us, in the Church, the Faith is neither an unknown quantity nor an open question, but a precious gift to us when we were new born into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Creed states the Faith, fully and clearly, and the Faith is fixed for us in the Creed. And, as for the Creed, no well instructed churchman needs to be told, that, though two creeds are in use in our branch of the Church, those two are one.
The Creed of Holy Baptism, commonly called the Apostles', is but a condensation or abridgement of the Nicene, the Creed of Holy Communion; while the Nicene is the same as the other, only written more fully. We speak of "the Creed," therefore, as if there were but one, which is substantially the fact; and we use, interchangeably and alternately, those venerable Symbols as containing and expressing the Faith. Now, be it observed, that all we, clergy and laity alike, are in trust with the Faith of the Gospel as so stated, and that our character as such trustees remains the same, from the date of each one's baptism to the moment of departure out of this world. No one of us, be his place or office what it may, has the right to reject any statement in the Creed, or alter it, by elision, or addition, or substitution of new meanings for the old, nor to make any change in word, syllable, or letter, though but to the extent of one jot or one tittle: nor to recast, revise or restate it in terms heretofore unknown to the Catholic Church. If any layman should so undertake to tamper with the Creed, he does thereby repudiate the obligation contracted in his baptism. If any clergyman, having, as a condition sine qua non to ordination, sworn before God and the congregation and on the Holy Gospels so to "minister the Doctrine and Sacraments and the Discipline of Christ" as this Church hath received the same, and "to teach the people committed to his Care and Charge to keep and observe the same," shall deprave the symbol, by denying any article thereof in its plain sense, and foisting into it his private notions or whatever he sees or thinks he sees in the chamber of his imagery, while still retaining his official position, he commits a breach of trust, at the sacrifice of his integrity, to the loss of honour as men generally understand the word, and to the peril of his own soul. Therefore it behooves us all to examine ourselves whether we be in the faith. We are stewards in charge of the treasure of our Divine Master. Let us remember two things: that "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful;" and that the Lord will take care of the faith, and save it from loss, whatever men in their blindness may think, or do, or say.
Trinity Rectory, Advent, 1905.
THESE words are peremptory; not a suggestion, but a command. They should come home to us in these days when religion, as a motive and rule of conduct, is widely rejected, and when a polite agnosticism is all that is left in its place among many people of the cultured class. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith." The precept demands the attention of every one who still professes himself a follower of Christ. The call is to a very simple duty. I wish to speak of it as such; to emphasize it, now and here, in plain speech, without circumlocution, or metaphysical or philosophic discussion after the manner of the advanced thinkers; but rather avoiding their methods, in such a way that no one can mistake my meaning. It is a precept for you Christians, for you churchmen; for you, pilgrims and strangers here. St. Paul, when it came down to matters of duty, was one of the most practical of men. He was a strong, an intensely strong believer; no fibre, no microbe of agnosticism, in him. His is that grand declaration, "I know whom I have believed;" a life-word raising him far above the sphere of uncertainty, doubt, hazy mental confusion. "I know whom I have believed." And on that firm platform would he have his children in the gospel to stand, fearless of sword, or fire, or lions of the pagan ring. And to that end, anxious to prove them, and strengthen them, and hold them up to duty, to Christ, to life, he bade them examine themselves, and prove themselves from time to time, whether they were in the faith. His precept rings on, full and clear, to our day, and calls us to a duty which it is peril unspeakable to neglect.
What then, you ask, is the faith? Well, do not let us stray into the paths of discussion and discursive reason, but go back to a time in our own lives not so very long ago. I am speaking now, not to outsiders, not to stragglers from the camp, but to Christians with a record and a history. Let us go back a few years: to the hour when you were baptized into this dear, this beloved Church of Christ. At the font, perhaps here, or surely somewhere else, they who stood for you at that time were challenged thus:
"Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles' Creed?" That was the question put and answered in the affirmative, "I do," by those who then presented you to God. No circumlocution there; nor guess work; nor conundrums of any sort; but a plain demand, "Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith as contained in the Apostles' Creed?" That settles for us, the question, what is the faith? The faith, about which you are to examine yourself and decide whether, as St. Paul says, you are in it, is the Christian faith. That faith is stated, summed up, in a brief formula known and described as the Apostles' Creed.
Your parents, guardians, friends made a venture for you, while you were unconscious of the act. There is an old religion in this world, known as the Christian Religion. The life of that religion is faith, not sight; belief where we cannot prove; positive statements though we cannot see. That faith has an intelligible expression, and an inner and transforming power. It is proposed to mind; it is proposed to heart and soul. First, to the mind, the thought, the reason, in a very brief formula, known as the Creed of the Catholic Church. That formula is perfectly intelligible: I do not mean that the facts stated are, but the statement is; the facts are above and beyond the intellectual powers, but the statement is perfectly clear. Every intelligent person knows what sense the words convey. Now that, to you, is the Faith: fixed for you then and there; lest, later in life, and when the speculative faculty within began to work, you might find yourself like a sailor on an unknown sea, or a traveller in a trackless, pathless wood: without fixed belief, probably without any belief; a searcher for truth, an original enquirer, thrown on your own resources, thrown back on self, and coming out the Lord knows where, and no one else can tell. It was a bold thing which they did, who brought you to the font, to Holy Baptism, and there and then pledged you to the faith forever and ever. It was a venturesome thing; it was a splendid thing, worthy of the Citizens of a Royal Kingdom not of this world; and it was the best thing that could have been or ever was done for you; before you knew it, you were set apart as a Christian, and predestinated, so far as the thoughtful love and earnest devotion can predestinate, to the higher and better life; and so to you, and your keeping as a trustee, was committed the Christian Faith.
So that is what you are to ask; that is the subject of examination. First: Am I in that faith? Throw the Creed into the question-form: of each article make a question: and ask, Do I believe it, as they promised that I should? In the Office for the Visitation of the Sick, it is thrown into that form: the priest, beside the bed of the ill, the dying, puts the question, calmly, plainly:
"Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth? Does thou believe in Jesus Christ? And that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary?" One by one, they follow, these questions, addressed to him around whom are falling the shadows of the valley of death; on and on, till the end: "Dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the Remission of Sins: the Resurrection of the flesh, and everlasting Life after Death?" Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith. You ask how? And we refer you to that office of the Visitation for the answer; only do not wait till you are on your death bed, but do it now, while there is time. Put the questions, answer honestly and truly; and that will be the first step to the discovery, whether you are in the faith, or, awful alternative ! whether you have repudiated the act of your sponsors, and lapsed and fallen away.
But this is not all. The precept of St. Paul implies much more. We must proceed. Thus far we have discussed the assent of an intelligent person to certain clean cut propositions in a short formula to be learned by heart and recited day by day. Is that all? May not such an intellectual assent coincide with a general indifference to religion and a low standard of life? Are there not persons among us, and multitudes of them, who, though still reciting the creed parrot-like, by note, have never yet sounded its depths, and are living low, careless, worldly, perchance sensual or evil lives? There is much more to come: this examination must drive far down, much deeper than a printed formula in a book or in the memory, before we can tell whether we be in the faith. What does that Creed mean? What does it carry, in its sacred and wonderful words? Again I will go back to the simple lessons of childhood: would God, so far as they are concerned, we were children still! "What dost thou chiefly learn in these articles of thy belief?" Ah! child of God, answer that question, and see how it concerns, enwraps, enfolds, takes you in. What does the Creed mean? Is it then, as the objectors to all creeds say, a mere formula, of little use, changeable, ineffective, not for the broad, great fields of the world and life? Is the recitation thereof, as we recite it in the Church, and, I trust, at home, no more than the performance of children, who learn verses by heart and speeches by note, and, having recited them, step down from the platform and forget all about them, and go off to sport about and play? Can the light and frivolous of this world, the slaves of materialism, the fribbles of society, the hungry, wild-eyed crowds of our uneasy epoch, be said, on the score of outward compliance with Church rules and customs, to be holding the Articles of the Christian Faith? There is much, very much more: what it is we are taught by the Church, wise mother of us all.
"What dost thou chiefly learn in these articles of thy belief?" Well, let us see:
"First, I learn to believe in God the Father, who made me and all the world.
Secondly, I learn to believe in God the Son, who hath redeemed me and all mankind.
Thirdly, I learn to believe in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me and all the people of God."
That is the sense of the Creed; that is the inner heart and substance of the Faith: and it comes upon us with ample, overwhelming volume of meaning, and goes through to the roots of the being and touches the springs of life.
What does this mean? Who can fail to see what it means? I believe in God the Father; in the Fatherhood of God. There are those who speak the words glibly as if that were enough and all. It is not enough, it is not all. Fatherhood simplifies sonship. To call God your Father is to admit that you are His son. Sonship follows on Fatherhood; and of the two it is wiser for you to be thinking of the latter than of the former. If you are His son, what kind of a son are you? A loving, devoted, faithful son? or a careless, thoughtless, reckless son? A son who does honour to his Father's name, or one who disgraces it? Sonship includes certain obligations, duties, privileges: duty to lineage, to name, to house and home, to traditions going far back before you were born. There are the family name, the honour of the house, the reverence for ancestry, respect for the living and the dead. You are God's son: you admit it in saying that you believe in the Fatherhood of God. Tell us what sort of a son you are, and what your Father thinks of you. Examine yourself on that point closely for that is of the faith.
"I believe in God the Son, who hath redeemed me." So then, redemption; a redeemer; one who taketh away the sin of the world, and mine. That brings up another question; of your moral state; your vices; your virtues if you have any; the state of that soul of yours for which Jesus shed His blood. Examine yourself, and closely, sharply, in these days, when fools make a mock at sin, and deny the need of any atonement, and laud and magnify this nature of ours, though it is in worse order than any other working agency on earth. For heaven's sake, do not say, "I have no sin; I need no Saviour; I am in no danger, do I, think I, talk I as I will." To know whether you are in the faith, tell us, tell Him who searcheth the heart and from whom no secrets are hid, what you think about your sin, your need of redemption, your view of the way to get pardon and peace. Does your Lord ever see you on your knees in confession? Does He ever hear from you a long cry for mercy and pity? Do you ever tell him that you truly repent of some wrong act, and promise to resist, in future, the tempter who led you astray. "I believe in God the Son who hath redeemed me and all mankind." Do you?
If so, where is the proof? Show it to Him, and quickly, for the time passeth away.
Once more: "I believe in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me and all the people of God." That brings up the question of a holy life, a pure life, a sacrificial life. Sanctification: the making a man over, from what he was by nature, to what grace makes him. It means "Godlikeness." It ought to be the great desire of the soul; the discipline of every day; the growing of the child of God into the likeness of the Father. And that also is of the root and essence of the Christian Faith.
Thus it appears that the field of that examination to which the Apostle bids us is greatly enlarged. The Creed is lifted high above the level of a stiff, hard formula, proposed merely for intellectual assent, and made an Act of Faith in the fullest sense which that title carries. To examine one's self, on this wise, is much more than to say "Yes," in a dry, cold, uninterested way, to a few questions considered perhaps by you as of little practical importance in an age like this: But it is to go down deeply into the mystery of our life and our relations with powers over us, and arraign ourselves now, as we shall be arraigned by and by at the Bar of God, the Judgment seat of Christ. To examine one's self, whether one is in the faith is to put to conscience and heart these questions: Am I really a son of God, recognizing him as my Father, and honouring Him in that relation to me? Do I believe in the Blessed Cross, and feel that but for the blood shed on it to put away my sins, I could never have attained, and never shall attain to peace in this world or the next? Am I, for the love of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, an imitator of His example, a follower in His steps, renouncing the world and leading, or trying hard to lead, the higher life? Am I day by day fighting the lusts that are in my members, purifying myself, praying for light and help, and growing in the grace of the Holy Ghost? That is the scope of the problem; and a terrible problem it is, for every one who has been baptized into the faith of the Church, and made "a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.
What makes it a terrible problem? Four things:
The pressure of the world;
The weakness of human nature;
The effect of bad example;
The inertia of the sluggard soul.
As for the world, it is against us, first, last and all the time. It has rules of its own, precepts, maxims, all contradictory to the law of the Kingdom. And we are in it; surrounded; beset; and we cannot get out of it, before we die; and up to and in the hour of death, the Prince of this world will try, in our case, to defeat the saving work of Christ, and destroy our hope in him. Many are the children of the Kingdom, who, in fact, care nothing for the Kingdom, and love the world, and live for it, children of this world, men of the earth, fixed where, perhaps, no power can ever reach them and draw them away.
Then there is the weakness of human nature; we are only in an early stage of our transformation: the good work has begun, but how incomplete it is! How hard is the battle, and how little strength we seem to have, when the storms arise, and the winds blow and beat upon our spiritual house, and it looks as though its fall were certain, and the end destruction!
And then there is the effect of bad example. We see people about us who do not believe one thing that we believe, nor recognize one obligation to God or another order above, and yet they are bright, gay, happy, successful, they have riches in possession; they live as they like, and have it all their own way, and are admired, flattered, held up as examples of the right way to live; and some one envies them, and says, "Why cannot I live like them?" "What use is there in prayer, and self denial, and Bible study, and Church going?" "Why mope and fight nature any more?" "Let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die."
And then, there is, that common fault, the inertia of the sluggard soul. It is just as in the daily life. There are those who are always procrastinating, and putting off; you cannot rouse them to action; they say yes, and do nothing. You ask them a service to-day; to-morrow you ask, "Did you render it?" And they say, "No, I forgot, I am sorry." They never do to-day what they can put off till to-morrow. It is inertia; the sign of the sluggard. That, also, works against us, and leads to put off reform, till it is too late.
And so, these four are against you, and will, if you are not on your guard, prevent you from examining yourself whether you are in the faith: The pressure of the world; the weakness of nature; the seductive power of bad example; the inertia of the sluggish soul.
Brethren in Christ, we are at school here; learning how to grow up into likeness to our God. The lesson is set; and the Manuals of Instruction have been and still are in our hands. Fast speed the years of this schooling: the examination is coming by and by; when the brief term is at end. Are you ready to pass that examination; to take the diploma, the degree? Or are you but very ill-prepared so far, perhaps absolutely unprepared? It is best to ask one's self those questions now. May His Grace be with us, so that we may say, with our beloved apostle: I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; and so I go up to the Presence of my Lord, my Judge. His Will be done!