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seemed truer or better suited to the times. In the Church of England, the first approach to a Confession of Faith was Bishop Jewell's “ Apology," which, though it never had any proper authority, was embodied in the
Harmony of Protestant Confessions” as representing the faith of the English Church. This gave place to the articles drawn up by Ridley and Cranmer, which were at first forty-two in number, as established by Edward VI.; but was reduced to the present thirty-nine in the reign of Elizabeth. And the divines of the Westminster Assembly, before those of the king's party had withdrawn, designed and partially carried out a revision of the articles; while afterwards they abandoned this idea, and drew up the Confession of Faith, which, though partially founded on them, is an independent document. The Church of Scotland, too, has all along shown herself so far from being in bondage to any human forms, that she has felt at liberty to deal with them in a very free and independent way, holding them always open to criticism and correction, and herself criticising and abolishing them whenever she saw cause.
In the preface to the old Scots Confession, adopted in 1560, and used for long after, there occurs this memorable clause:-“ Protesting, that if any man will note in this our Confession any article or sentence repugning to God's holy Word, it would please him of his gentleness, and for Christian charity's sake, to admonish us of the same in writ; and we, upon our honour and fidelity, do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God (that is, from his holy Scriptures), or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss.' Again, in 1566, when the Churches of Switzerland, for the purpose of promoting Christian union, adopted what is known as the Later Helvetian Confession, and sent copies of it for approval to Scotland, as to most other Reformed countries, the leading divines of the time subscribed it, and the Assembly approved it; but not without an express qualification, which was ordered to be inserted in the edition to be printed, demurring to some of its statements as to the observance of certain festival days, "seeing," as they say, “ the Sabbath-day only is kept in Scotland.”
“ Again, when the assembly of divines at Westminster had drawn up a Confession and Catechisms, which were intended to be adopted in England as well as Scotland, the Church had no difficulty, for the sake of this intended union, in laying aside all her old standards; and even when approving and adopting the Westminster Confession, she was at pains to add a qualification to some of the statements which might be understood in a sense she considered wrong. Thus the Church has ever been ready to alter and amend her Creeds when it seemed needful; and has never ascribed to them any authority except in so far as they are agreeable to the Word of God. There is nothing then in the use of such compositions as subordinate standards that can at all infringe on the supreme authority of Scripture; since, in so far as they may differ from or go beyond the warrant of God's Word, they are faulty, and ought to be amended; and in so far as they have any real authority they derive it all from their agreement with the Word. If the doctrines expressed in them are the truths of God revealed in his Word, they have the intrinsic authority of Scripture, wherever and however they are expressed; if they are not the truth of God, but mere traditions or speculations of men, no Church, and no Church authority, can make them true, or give them the force of truth.
But it may be asked, If the Creeds of the Church are only meant to express the doctrine of the Bible, why adopt such human Contessions at all, and not be content with the Bible itself ? Does not the very fact of being a form of words of man's devising practically imply (whatever may be said of the supremacy of Scripture), either that something is wished to be asserted
beyond what is contained in the Bible, or else that men can devise expressions of the truth better and more suitable than God has given us in his inspired Word ? If then Confessions of Faith are defended from the charge of usurping the authority of Scripture on the ground that when rightly framed they contain no other doctrine than the truths of God's Word, does not the use of them only escape the charge of usurpation by incurring that of presumption, as implying that men can give expression to the truths of religion in a better way than God himself has done ? If human standards must be used in addition to the Bible, even though they are in subservience to it, does not this amount to a denial of the perspicuity and perfection of Scripture ? Would it not be more consistent with the principles of the Reformation to use the Bible itself as the only standard and text of orthodoxy; or, at least, to have Creeds composed altogether in the language of Scripture? These are very plausible objections; but an attentive consideration of the real state of the case will show that they are more plausible than solid. If, indeed, the end and object of the Church's Creeds were the same as that of the Bible, the objection would not admit of an answer ; for to say that human compositions could be better adapted than the Word of God, for the purposes for which that Word was designed, would indeed be to deny its sufficiency and perfection. But the perfection of anything is relative to its purpose ; and a thing may be most perfectly adapted and absolutely sufficient for its own purpose, while yet for other ends and designs it may not be at all suited; and some other thing which is far inferior to it, viewed simply by itself, may, for some special purpose, be better adapted and absolutely needful. It is no derogation to the beauty and perfection of the sun, as created by God to give light by day, to say that the reflected light of the moon, though far less bright in itself, and quite useless in the daytime, is yet very welcome and more useful than the sun to the belated traveller in the gloom of night. So, while acknowledging the Word of God as the light shining from the Sun of Righteousness, we may also welcome, as very grateful and seasonable in this night season of the world, the rays of the Creed, which are but as the same light reflected from the Church as the moon, growing in her reception and manifestation of the Word of life, from the first slender-horned crescent to the full-orbed beauty of the queen of night.
Now the purpose of the Church's Creeds is not only not the same, but is quite opposite from that of the Word of God; and it is no disparagement of Scripture to say that it is not so well adapted as a human form of words for
purpose for which it never was intended. The Bible was designed to be a discovery to us of the mind and will of God; and in that character and for that purpose it is absolutely perfect. But it was not designed, and is not at all adapted, to be an expression of our understanding of that mind and will of God: and that is the proper end and design of Creeds and Confessions of Faith. In the Bible we have the voice of God revealing himself and declaring his will; we have the “Hear, O Israel”. “ Thus saith the Lord:” but we have not, and cannot have, the answer of man to this voice of God; we have the rule of faith, the imperative “ Believe; we have not, and cannot have, the Confession of Faith, the Credo, “ I believe.” This one would, at least, the Credo, which is the very heart and soul of the Creeds— must be, added to the Word of God, that it may become the voice of the Church. And if the Creed is thus to be the voice of man answering to that of God in his Word; if it is to express, not the mind and heart of God, but the mind and heart of man, it will do this most really, most generously, most sincerely, and therefore best, in human words. The words of God are, doubtless, in themselves, the best; and compared with them the truest and
noblest utterances of man may seem poor and broken; but they are his own, the true outcome of his mind and heart; and we really honour God's Word far more by making a real Confessions of our Faith in real human language, than by mechanically re-echoing back to God his own words, merely attaching to them the necessary prefix of the Credo.
A familiar illustration may bring this out. It is a true analogy by which revelation is compared to education. Now, suppose a teacher has given a lesson in some subject to a class of pupils. He has chosen the language best fitted to convey his meaning. But now he wishes to test their understanding of the lesson he has taught them, and for that purpose he asks them to give an account of it themselves in their own words. But what if they should just repeat by rote what they have heard ? No doubt the account they thus give is much better than any one of their own; and it may be they understand it, but the teacher's purpose is defeated. Such a mode of answering does not in the least discover whether they have understood the lesson rightly or no. Or, supposing a difference of opinion should arise in the class about the meaning of the lesson; one of the pupils gives this account of it, another a different one, a third still another; what if one of the scholars, when asked what was his understanding of the matter, should say, “I don't agree with any of your explanations, I agree with the lesson that the master has given us;" would not such conduct be thought to be all the same as giving no account of his understanding of the matter at all? There is no ambiguity in the teacher's lesson; but various doubts and questions may arise as to its meaning, owing to the dulness of apprehension, or perhaps to that perverse ingenuity of the pupils; so that one may very well say, “ I know very well what this means as it comes from the master's lips, but I cannot tell what you mean by it unless you explain your meaning."
So it is with Scripture. A man may come with a Confession couched entirely in the words of Scripture ; he may say, among other things, “I believe that without a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” I know what these words mean in the mouth of God, because I can interpret them by his other declarations; but I do not know what they mean in the mouth of one who refuses to give me any other clue to his sentiments. may be a Papist, and then he means that without baptism salvation is impossible; he may be a Socinian, and then he means merely that a change or reformation of life is needed; or he may be an evangelical Protestant, and then he means that a renewal of heart by the power of the Holy Ghost is needful to salvation. But if he refuses to explain his meaning, and will give no other Confession of his Faith than in the very words of Scripture, how can I judge whether he is a deceiver or not? In order to fulfil the precept which the Apostle Juhn repeatedly gives to try the Spirit, I must have such a Confession as shall be, whatever its words are, unambiguous in the mouth of him who makes it. If there had no deceivers and false teachers come into the Church, then such a Confession in human words would not have been necessary; but since men have misunderstood and perverted the words of Scripture, there seems no other way of ascertaining their real sentiments. And John seems to give some countenance to the use of special forms and phrases directed against prevalent errors, for there is every reason to believe that the words given by him, as a test of truth, confessing “ that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,” expressly selected with a view to meet and exclude that form of false teaching which was then abroad, and which he had in his eye in addressing his warnings to the disciples. It should thus seem, that there is no ground at
* 1 John iv. 1-3; 2 John vii.
all in sound reason for regarding the use of human Confessions as Confessions of Faith in the Church as at all inconsistent with the supreme authority of the Word of God, or implying any derogation from its perspicuity and perfection for all the ends for which it was really intended.
THE PROPER SEAT OF RELIGION.
ONE of the most striking things about the Epistles of John is the frequency and force with which they appeal to the Christian consciousness. Their bold declarations of the truth are founded not so much on reason as on experience, and they contemplate the kingdom of God not as an outward organization, but as a spiritual government within the heart. The careful reader cannot fail to be arrested by the frequent recurrence of the words, “ We know." “ We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” " We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." “We know that the Son of God come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true." These instances are taken from among many, and will serve as an illustration of the Apostle's entire method. It is not by the denonstrations of reason that we prove what we say; it is from manifold experience, and from a clear inward consciousness of its truth, that we assert it. We preach the things that we do know. These things may be high and holy, far above the reach of unaided human reason, the greatest mysteries that can attract and baffle the inquiring soul-yet we know them; they have been revealed to us with a clearness and force which resolve all doubt, and the duty is laid upon us to preach them with boldness and emphasis.
We have here the language of assurance. We have here displayed very remarkably the personal aspect of the religion of Jesus. Most men are content with a general kind of belief, which fastens on, or rather plays about, something quite external, and a vague hope-groundless, aimless, powerless. We believe, or we hope, or we trust (using these expressions in their common sense), is all that such dare venture to say, if interrogated, as to the truth of the great doctrines of the Cross, or as to their own interest in them. To say We know, to themselves would be false, and to others would seem presumption. It is only such men as the beloved disciple-earnest, loving, grace-experienced souls--that can share the convictions and use the language of that disciple ; only such that, in regard to the saving truths of the Gospel, can give forth an unfaltering and convincing “We know."
And yet John writes as if all Christians were the same in this respect. It is not I know, but we know—all we Christians. We have all the same Saviour, the same spirit, and the same faith—the same calling, and the same hope of our calling—and by the same process, the same way, we have all passed from death to life. And having experienced the power of the truth in my own soul, I am justified in appealing to your experience, to your consciousness. He who does not know, but only darkly hopes, or intellectually believes, is not one of us.
And the Apostle is, doubtless, right, though the position he here takes up would be very startling to many a respectable Christian who has his pew in the Church, and his name on the Church's roll, were it only brought home to him.
Every follower of Jesus, if he be what he professes to be, must have some inward sense of having been dealt graciously with by God
inust have come into living contact with the Saviour—must have submitted to the power of the truth-must have a faith, a hope, and a joy which are concerned with heavenly things, and which, amidst the weakness of the flesh and the snares of the world, are ever revealing their presenceever shining through the darkness, and preparing him gradually for the work and kingdom of the Lord.
The measure of gracious experience may and does vary in different souls. Some are strong in the faith, others weak; some are men, others are “ babes in Christ;” some live very near to Christ, and very continuously near, others live farther off, and seem to see his face only at intervals; some have soared high into the region of Divine love, seeming to stand at the very threshold of heaven, while others rise but little above the earth, much occupied by what they see around them, and making feeble efforts to go up higher.” There are thus many differences of stature among the people of God; and yet every true Christian, in his own measure, i.e., according to the measure of grace given unto him, may say as truthfully, if not as broadly and emphatically, as the Apostle John, “I know.”
I This must be so. Religion, to give any profit
, must not be kept at arm's length, the door of the heart being barred against it-only allowed to cast its shadow faintly over the path—not too near lest it should disturb the soul's cold serenity, and not too far off lest it shonld arouse the soul's fears; nor must it be cast off and put on at will, just as we do with a garment, to suit the changing humours and circumstances of the man-now dispensed with because business or pleasure claims all the attention, and now assumed because habit or society demands it. No, it cannot be thus controlled. It must enter into the heart like a flood, and control and subdue it, and bring the whole life into accordance, more or less, with the spirit of the Gospel of Christ. It must work upon the conscience, and make it obedient to the laws of heaven; upon the affections, and lead them forth in an ever-gathering tide to the man-loving Saviour. It must seize upon the springs of our nature, and direct them into harınonious action that shall be prolific of the fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of God. Religion, not thus admitted into the soul, not thus incorporated with our nature, can be no more than a cold abstraction-a splendid, but powerless theory.
Nor, yet again, must it' be enshrined and secluded in the temple of a visible shurch-an elaborate system of doctrine and rite, or an imposing ecclesiastical organization. A church, a creed, a ritual, and clerical orders, may be Scriptural and necessary, but it should ever be remembered that they are only instruments by which the truth works, and aids to the sinweakened minds of men, and not the home which truth inhabits and blesses, or the field in which truth achieves its triumphs. If you were confined in one of those stately structures which are reared at the public cost for the safe-keeping of criminals, you would hardly feel so honoured or so happy there as you would in your own home and with your own family, enjoying the love of friends, and faithfully discharging your work in the world. While thus imprisoned and cut off from all you loved and desired, it would be no solace to you to speak of the large and splendid building under the roof of which you passed your lonely and weary days. Kings, when taken captive, have palaces for their prison-houses and nobles for their keepers, but they are none the less prisoners, and not all the magnificence around them can abate one jot the bitterness of that fact.
Now many use their religion in this way. They confine it in what they call the church; and some there are, at the present time, who are very anxious to set it on a veritable and visible throne, and to surround it with all the