A Guide to the Holy Sacraments in a Series of Lectures on the Baptismal Service, Delivered in Trinity Church, New Haven, Preparatory to Confirmation.
By Harry Croswell.
New Haven: G.B. Bassett and Co., 1857.
"With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."--Romans x: 10.
What do you understand by "the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles' Creed?" And when can you truly say that you believe all the Articles of this Faith?
Nothing tends so much to the promotion of unity in the Church, as the simplicity of her creeds. Christian men do not often differ about the great and essential articles of faith. But the sharpest controversies generally arise out of some intricate points in theology, which are put forth with as much boldness, and adhered to with as much pertinacity as if the salvation of the soul depended on their acceptance. A simple creed, expressed in few words, and embracing all the clear and undisputed doctrines of the Bible, constitutes a perfect bond of union, under which may be gathered the whole body of believers in the Gospel. Such is what is called, in the standards of the Church, "the Apostles' Creed," in the articles of which every person is required to profess his belief, when presented for baptism. When, [61/62] therefore, the question is asked, what is understood by "the Christian faith, as contained in the Apostles' Creed," but one answer can be given. It is that brief and comprehensive summary of Christian doctrine, which contains every fundamental article of belief, and which, if sincerely and honestly professed, is considered as a sufficient test of Gospel faith. This formulary is called the Apostles' Creed, not because it is claimed that the Apostles actually drew up a form of profession or belief in precisely these words. There is no evidence of this, nor is it scarcely probable. But as the form is, in substance, of very ancient date, it is reasonable to suppose that it may have been collected from such articles of belief as were prepared for the use of the early disciples when they assembled for prayer, and for instruction in the fundamentals of their religion. It is well known that these assemblies were commonly held in privacy and seclusion, to avoid interference and persecution from the enemies of the cause. And »n such occasions nothing could be more natural than an open rehearsal of the great and leading points in their belief. And that this might be done in harmony, and with one voice, some sort of compendious form would be almost indispensable. That such a practice was adopted in the earliest days of Christianity, there is no reason to doubt. A few prominent and essential truths were collected and recited for mutual understanding and support, as well as for edification. That these articles of belief were [62/63] commonly recited in a standing posture is generally admitted, for which two plain reasons are given--1st, it was done in honor of the Divine Majesty, whose name was professed; and 2d, it might lead to the detection of any false pretender or enemy who might intrude upon their assemblies. It is also asserted by some writers, that on occasions of this nature, those of the early disciples who bore arms would lay their hand upon their swords, or make some other significant gesture, while reciting their belief, in token of their determination sooner to relinquish life than deny the faith. And it is further said, that bowing the head, on pronouncing the name of Jesus Christ in the Creed, was a very ancient custom. But these are matters not essential to our present inquiry. It is sufficient to be satisfied that this formulary was collected from articles of belief which were in use in the days of the Apostles. But this summary of our faith may be called the Apostles' Creed for another reason, and that is, to distinguish it from the Nicene Creed, and the Creed of St. Athanasius, which were drawn up at a subsequent period of the Church, for the purpose of repelling and refuting the early heresies by which the true faith was corrupted. These creeds are both received and acknowledged in the Church, and the Nicene Creed, in particular, is held in high veneration, on account of the clearness and precision of its definition of some points of doctrine which are expressed only in general terms in the Apostles' Creed. But [63/64] the Apostles' Creed being the only one mentioned in the baptismal service, we may adduce yet another and still more obvious reason for giving it this name. It is called the Apostles' Creed, then, chiefly because it contains the substance of the doctrines maintained and taught in their writings. It will be found, on examination, that there is not an article or expression in this Creed that may not be traced directly to Apostolic authority. And hence we perceive the propriety of giving it the title which it bears in the standards of the Church. We understand this Creed to be a brief and simple compendium of that faith which was taught and held by the inspired Apostles. It is a summary of that "faith which leas once delivered to the saints," and for which the cotemporaries of the Apostles were charged earnestly to contend. That the Church should require of every person who desires to become a member of the Christian family, an acknowledgment of a creed, or form of belief, expressed in a few simple and comprehensive words, is both reasonable and proper. This was the practice of the Apostles when they began to propagate the Gospel. They required of those whom they admitted into the Christian Church by baptism, an open profession of their belief. This is strikingly exemplified in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, who was taught and baptized by Philip:--"See, here is water," said the eunuch, "what doth hinder me to be baptized?" And Philip said, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." And [64/65] he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And he was forthwith baptized. And we may remark in passing, that experience has shown the propriety and importance of placing the Creed in the formularies of the Church, that the whole congregation may repeat it whenever they come together for public worship. For it is well known that many of the congregations of sectaries, which have adopted a different practice, and rejected the use of Creeds, have fallen into heresy and infidelity, "departing from the faith," and "even denying the Lord that bought them." "If," says the Apostle, "thou shalt confess with they mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
And this brings to our immediate consideration the second branch of our inquiry. When can you truly say that you believe all the Articles of this Faith? It is not uncommon to speak of an historical belief, or a speculative belief, as distinguished from the true faith of the Gospel. A mere conviction of the understanding, that the facts recorded in the Bible are true, may be called an historical belief, and the conclusions drawn from a course of ingenious reasoning, may be called a speculative belief. But it cannot be supposed that either of these are, of themselves, available to the salvation of the soul. The [65/66] faith, or belief, professed by the recipient of baptism, and alluded to by the Apostle, must be something more than this. If "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation," this faith must be an operative principle, far above a simple assent of the understanding, or a mere conviction of the reason. It must, in short, be such as to furnish a principle or motive of action. It must produce, in the life and conduct, a conformity and obedience to Gospel truth, or it cannot be such a faith as the Church requires in the baptismal covenant. To ascertain then whether you can truly say that you do believe all the articles of this faith, these articles must be taken up somewhat in detail.
In the first place, you profess to believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. But how do you believe? And what is the effect of this belief? Is it any thing more than a simple acknowledgment that there is such a Being as God, without any realizing sense of his attributes and perfections? Or do you so believe in his holiness and purity, in his justice and equity, that you would not dare to sin against his infinite majesty, by irreverence or profanity, or any species of disobedience? And do you so believe in his benevolence and compassion, that you would willingly confide in him, and cheerfully submit to every dispensation of his hand? Can you, at all times, look up to this Supreme Being as your Creator and Protector, and [66/67] call upon him as a Father, and Guardian, and Friend, with the humble trust of a dutiful child? Do you feel constrained, by your love and reverence for him, to serve and obey him, and to devote all the faculties of your soul and body to his service and glory? These should be counted among the very least of the effects produced by a true belief in God the Father. But these are sufficient to furnish a test of the measure of your belief in this Article of the Creed.
But again, you profess to believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord. That is, you believe the whole history of his miraculous conception, his wonderful birth, his sufferings, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven. That these well established historical facts, relating to the Savior, should be freely acknowledged as true, is but natural. But how do you view this Savior? Do you realize the necessity of his mediation, for the redemption of yourself in common with all mankind? Do you look upon the blood of the Cross as the ransom paid for your own deliverance from sin and death? And do you feel a hearty desire to appropriate all the benefits of this atonement to your own case? And are you willing to make it the great object of your whole life to secure these benefits? And when you further profess to believe that he will come again to judge the quick and dead, is this profession connected with a deep sense of your own personal responsibility? Does it draw your [67/68] contemplations forward to the day when you shall be raised from the grave, and when you shall stand, with the assembled universe, before the judgment seat of Christ? And does it operate as a quick and powerful incentive to daily preparation for the great results of that day? You must perceive the vital importance of these questions. For if your belief be not productive of the effects here suggested, it cannot be available to the salvation of the soul.
Again, you profess to believe in the Holy Ghost; and doubtless you are ready to add, in the language of the Nicene Creed, that "he is the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who, with the Father and the Son together, is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets." This is but a simple summary of some of the peculiar attributes and offices of the Third Person of the adorable Trinity, as revealed in the Scriptures. And to acknowledge that he is the only Sanctifier and Comforter of the believer, is the least that can be expected of those who have any right knowledge of gospel truth. But a saving belief in this blessed Sanctifier and Comforter, can arise only from a sense of your spiritual necessities. A consciousness of your sinfulness and helplessness can alone induce you to seek his holy influences. When the soul is thirsting after righteousness, when the over-burdened spirit is longing after the help of divine grace, then will your belief in the Holy Ghost prove something more than the simple expression of the lips. It will [68/69] be the warm, and fervent, and effectual breathing of the renovated heart. When your belief is productive of such effects, it is so far conformable to the rules of the gospel, and the requirements of the Church.
But there are other articles in the Creed by which the reality of your profession may be tested. You believe in the Holy Catholic Church. Now what is implied by this profession? What is the import of this language? The Church is called holy on account of the purity of its doctrines, the divine origin of its institutions, and the obedience and fidelity of its members. It is called catholic, because it is universal, extending over the whole world, and embracing the entire body of true believers. Throughout the Scriptures, and in all our standards, as in the Nicene Creed, this Church is represented as One Catholic and Apostolic Church, as in perfect unity, under one system of doctrine, government and discipline--deriving its power from One who is head over all things to his Church, which is his body, depending on him for support and direction, and responsible to him for the fidelity of its administration. When, therefore, you profess to believe in the Holy Catholic Church, if your profession be sincere, you cannot recognize any community of men, as true branches of this Holy Catholic Church, who do not hold to the institutions of the Apostles, to the order of their polity, and to the faith once delivered to the saints. You can look upon schism [69/70] only as a deadly evil, and you will give no countenance to measures calculated to divide, or harrass, or distract the counsels of the Church. On the contrary, you will maintain, by all the means in your power, peace and quietness, and all the graces of brotherly love and charity.
And then you will view the Communion of Saints in which you profess to believe, as something more than a hetrogeneous gathering together of discordant materials, without harmony or consistency. You will consider the communion and fellowship of the faithful below, and of the saints above, as one and the same in essence, and differing only in degree. And you will feel the necessity of cherishing such a spirit of love and devotion in this world, that you may be acknowledged and identified as part and portion of the great assembly of the blessed in heaven.
Of the remaining articles of the Creed it is sufficient to say, that if you believe in Jesus Christ, as he is revealed in the Scriptures, as your Redeemer and Savior, and final Judge, no room can be left for doubt on those points which are, of all others, most consoling to the Christian. Your belief in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting will be perfect and complete. With the heart you will believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth you will make confession unto salvation.
These then are the tests of your faith. And with these tests you may be perfectly satisfied. When [70/71] you can stand up before God, and recite these articles of your belief, with the feelings and views which we have attempted to describe, you may enjoy all the comforts and supports of confiding and true-hearted disciples of Christ. You need not have spent a single hour of your whole life in investigating those intricate points in theology which have filled the world with controversy. You need not have troubled yourself to ask whether the dogmas of Rome, exacting something over and above the plain requirements of the Bible, are necessary to salvation--nor whether the rules and peculiarities of self-created sects or parties will have any weight in settling the great question of life or death. No! it will be sufficient for you to indulge the well-guarded hope that you possess the only faith that is essential to salvation--a faith that operates as an incentive and motive to right action, that leads to newness of heart and life, and willing obedience to the commands of God.
"Soldiers of Christ arise,
And put your armor on,
Strong in the strength which God supplies
Through his eternal Son.
Strong in the Lord of hosts,
And in his mighty power,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts,
Is more than conqueror.
Stand then in his great might,
With all his strength endued;
And take, to arm you for the fight.
The panoply of God.
That having all things done,
And all your conflicts past,
You may behold your victory won,
And stand complete at last."