« PreviousContinue »
ing on the Christian foundation the superstructure of "wood, and hay and stubble;'* instead of that of
gold, and silver and precious stones.” The abuse results from the infirmities, and in some instances, from the wickedness of mankind. But it does not lessen the mistake of pouring contempt, alike on what is of intrinsick value, and on what is merely specious in the building: much less that of abandoning the foundation with them.
We should further be aware, that some extol whatever relates to practice in such a mistaken way, as tends very much to disparage the importance of a correct faith. It is certain, that the lives of many are in contrariety to what they profess—and sometimes with sincerity—to believe. On the other hand, there are occasionally found persons, whose practice and whose general character are better than might be ex. pected from the obvious tendency of their principles: which can be accounted for no otherwise, than from the very singular combinations, which sometimes take place in the human intellect. Notwithstanding these facts, it is not only to be expected, but will be found verified by observation, that whatever is really believed, in such a manner as that an interest is taken in the truth of it, has a powerful effect on our dispositions and our manners. That person must have been a superficial observer of the world, who has not noticed the difference in the moral effects of different religious theories; and above all, the demoralizing effect of every theory of pretended morals, not having religion for its basis.
Although these considerations tend to show, that the subject of the present lecture is of more than secondary importance; yet they need not prevent our acknowledging of the wisdom of the Church, in limiting the duty laid on her catecumens, to the learning of the Creed, called the Apostles'. This was the symbolum-so called of the primitive Church; before
language, in a sense far wide of its established meaning; and that therefore, their communications were not made with “ the plainness of speech,"* which is de. clared to be a property of the delivery of the gospel.
“ In God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth."
“ In God”—not in a plurality of gods; which, when this Creed was framed, was the most conspicuous property of the theology of all the nations of the earth, with the exception of the Jews. There was one God reigning over the earth; another, allpowerful over the waters; and another, supreme in the invisible world: but Christians, like the Jews in this particular, were required to acknowledge one only God, whose dominion knows no limits.
“ The Father.” That he may properly be addressed in his paternal character by men, there can be no doubt; seeing Christ himself has prescribed to us the invocationOur Father, who art in heaven:” but in this place, the term is used to distinguish him from the Son and from the Holy Ghost. And when there is added the epithet—" Almighty;" it must be considered as implying other attributes; since om. nipotence would be inefficient without omniscience; and both united would be insufficient, were there not unbounded wisdom and unbounded goodness, to determine these to the ends to be accomplished by them.
“ Maker of heaven and earth.” Here is the first clause, in which, according to some, there begins to show in itself a designed reference to the absurd and mischievous tenets of certain early hereticks. For there was a class of these who professed to believe in one supreme God, inhabiting what they called “ The Pleroma;” and from whom issued a succession of existences which they called “ Æons;" one of whom was the “Demiurgus,” or the Creator of the world which we inhabit.* In opposition to this profane folly, the God whom we adore is called the maker
* 2 Cor. iii, 12. + The Gnosticks.
of heaven and earth.” There seems to be frequent reference to these hereticks in the epistles of St. John; which were written towards the close of the apostolick age. It is however more probable, that the words " the Maker of heaven and earth” were without any reference to heresies, but rather levelled at the errour of the heathen, who had their appropriate deities for all the several elements. In either case, the term may have been in use from the apostolick age, since the hereticks alluded to appeared within its limits.
“And in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord.” The name “ Jesus,” which is a variation of Joshua, signifies in Hebrew-_a saviour; and was given in pur. suance of the direction of an angel, in bis annunciation to the Virgin—"Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins."* "Christ” is the same with “the anointed;” by which term, the Messiah had been often described, in the prophecies of the Old Testament: so that when he at last made his appearance on earth, however reluctant the Jews to acknowledge the claim of one, who far from affecting the splendour which they had anticipated, was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” were at no loss as to the claim of the true Messiah, to the title now spoken of. This appears, as in many places, so par. ticularly in the 'ready answer made by the sanhedrim to Herod, concerning the place where Christ should be born.t The title of “Son" must be considered as used in accommodation to human conceptions; in order to express a derivation of existence and of attributes, similar to that which is seen in a known relation among men: and the addition of the word “
only," is to intimate the high and peculiar nature of this sonship, and to show it in a sense altogether diverse from that which may apply between God and his creatures: for men are frequently called in scripture-"Sons of God." The expression
" our Lord” describes the dominion which belongs to the blessed person spoken
• Mat. i. 21. + Mat, ii. 5.
of. He asserted it as his due, during his humiliation; as when he said to his disciples—“Ye call me master and Lord, and ye say well; for so I am."* After his re. surrection, he announced to them-“All power is given unto me in heaven and earth:”+ and to name but one authority more, we are told, “ In the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.”
“Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost." This is founded on the annunciation to the Virgin-“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”|| And there was the more propriety in the insertion of this article, be. cause of the earliest of the heretick sects. The people now referred to, never imagined otherwise than that the divinity was united with the humanity, for the redemption of mankind; but stumbling at the offence of the cross, like the Jews, although not from precisely the same prejudices, they pretended, that the divinity descended on the man Jesus, at his baptism; and was withdrawn from him, before his crucifixion.
“Born of the Virgin Mary.” In the preceding article, an acknowledgment of the divinity of Christ was provided for: this
affirms a fact necessarily implying his humanity.
There is considerable probability, that the two last articles have a reference to errours, which appeared in the age immediately after that of the apostles. But as those errours arose in the lifetime of St. John, and are referred to in his writings, the clauses may have been inserted within the same term.
" Suffered under Pontius Pilate;" Besides that this is in harmony with the several particulars, directed to the confessing of a divine yet suffering Saviour; there was peculiar use in such precision in the infancy of Christianity; by its thus pointing to a fact, which was allied to every branch of the system. For the empire of Rome being then in the plenitude of its power; it was easy for any inquirer to ascertain the truth, of what was said to have been publickly transacted, under the official notice of a Roman governour. Accordingly we find, that the ancient apologists were in the habit of appealing to the publick records, for the truth of this so prominent an event. Neither in modern times, has it been found useless to be thus precise as to the fact, and to the evidences by which it is sustained. For among the new shapes which infidelity is continually assuming, perhaps the most fanciful of all, is a lately founded theory, referring the principle facts of Christianity, to dogmas founded on the contemplation of the heavenly bodies. * The providence of God has barred against every pretence of this sort, by as stable evidence of all the events which can be supposed essential to the system, as exists in regard to any other.
* John xiii. 13. + Mat. xxviii, 18. | Philip ii, 10 Εν τω Ωνωματι. ! Luke i, 35.
“ Was crucified, dead and buried.” After what has been said, it cannot be wondered at, that the Creed should be thus further particular: the matters affirmed being not only important, but closely connected with the doctrine of the cross; which the early Christians thought it their duty to confess, in opposition not only to the infidelity of the Jews, but to the mutilated profession of certain hereticks, as already stated.
“ He descended into hell.” It gives me pain to introduce into these lectures, any matter in which em. inent men, equally correct in general theory, have disagreed. One would expect, that so short a form as that of the Creed under consideration, should contain nothing more than what Christians consented in at the period when it was composed. And this is indeed the case: for the clause in question was unknown, until above three hundred years after Christ. The occasion of introducing it is said to have been this. At a time of uncommon prevalence of the desire of being “ wise above what is written,” and especially of inventing curious distinctions concerning the divine and the human natures of the Redeemer; a bishop of considerable note in the Church, of the name of Apollinaris, contended, that the human nature consisted not as
* Volney's Ruins.