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faith be made ? The single authentic code of belief and practice to a Christian is the written Word of God. And our own Church instructs us, that “Whatsoever is not contained therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” But while the Scriptures remain, like their divine object and author, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever ; mankind, for whom they are intended, are of different capacities and inclinations; and, unless there be a special interposition of the Holy Spirit in every individual case, the Scriptures will not be understood with the same facility, nor convey precisely the same impressions to the minds of all who hear or read them. The Word of God, which is good and perfect in itself, is to be used and applied by those, who are themselves very far removed from goodness and perfection. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, a weapon of heavenly temper, and matchless force; but to be wielded by the arm of human infirmity. In reading the Scriptures, as in every other exercise of reason, mankind are liable to all the disadvantages of a frail and fallible nature; but, on the other hand, they possess all the advantages of mutual instruction; and although some parts of Holy Writ be dark and mysterious, yet in the main, they are so plain and explicit, that it is not difficult to discover their true sense, if we will but abide by the common and established rules of interpretation.
6 Art. VI.
When I say that the Scriptures are plain and explicit, I mean that they are plain and explicit in declaring the facts and truths of revelation, not in explaining the essence or the mode of those truths. In attempting to elicit, from the Word of God, that information which it was not intended to convey, reason deserted her legitimate province; opened a door to all the evils which flow from human infirmity, and prejudice, and passion ; and led presumptuous inquirers into the nature of divine truths, by degrees to question their reality. Even before the Apostles had completed their earthly labours, there were professors of that Gospel, which had scarcely begun to flow from the fountain-head, who had been carried on, by some such process as this, to deny some of the doctrines which lie on the very surface of God's Word; and to make it doubtful, to humble, unlearned seekers after truth, what was necessary to be believed.
It became, then, a natural and requisite precaution, on the part of those to whom more especially was committed the preservation of the faith once delivered to the saints, to enumerate, in the clearest and shortest form of words, the leading articles of the Christian religion, and to say to their flock, This is what you are required to believe. These things are clearly declared in the Scriptures, the only sure rule of our opinions concerning God; his attributes, his will, and the measures of his providence. This form of sound words we deliver to you, not to supersede the use of that sacred volume, in which these doctrines are declared; but as a guide, in the first instance, to your reason, and afterwards to your memory; and as a form of public confession, in which all may join, without fear of deviating from the straight line of Scripture truth.
One of the most ancient of these Confessions, or Creeds, that is to say, declarations of belief, is that which is termed the Apostles' Creed: not as being indeed the composition of those holy men; but because the profession of all its leading articles may be traced up to their time.
But why, it may be asked, were not the simplest forms of confession retained in the Church, in preference to the more elaborate and intricate creeds which are afterwards introduced ?
The advantage of comprising, in a certain form of words, a summary of Christian doctrine, both for the guidance of individuals, and the edification of the Church, has been already pointed out. But there was this disadvantage ; that these precise declarations afforded to various heretics so many distinct points, upon which they might fasten their objections. This imposed, or was thought to impose, upon thė. defenders of the true faith, the necessity of enlarging their creeds, and of inserting, from time to time, fresh additions, in order to obviate fresh objections. As new errors arose in the Church of Christ, (and there was an early and plentiful crop of them,) fresh assertions of the truth were thought to be required. When a doctrine, heretofore undisputed, was for the first time publicly denied, it became expedient that the Church, as the depositary and appointed guardian of the truth, should with authority assert it. Thus, in the earlier creeds, it was enough to declare a belief in God, and in Jesus Christ his only Son. But because some persons denied that Jesus Christ existed before his incarnation, or before the creation of the world, it was asserted in the
Nicene Creed, the first part of which was drawn up about 300 years after our Saviour's death, that he was begotten of the Father (the expression used by our Lord himself) before all worlds; and not made, as a creature is made. In short, the Nicene Creed is nothing more than those simpler forms, from which the Apostles' Creed was compiled, enlarged, enforced, and explained, in opposition to the Arian heresy, which was then springing up in the Church.
When, however, I use the word explained, I do not intend to say, that the framers of the Creed pretended to explain the nature of all those doctrines which they declared to be contained in Scripture. They were well aware, that the nature and attributes of God are to be known and understood, only as he has himself revealed them to us. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out !8 But it happens, that the very declaration of Scripture truth, when it is endeavoured to make it categorical and explicit, assumes the appearance of
7“When any article was added to the Creed, it was not the introduction of a new point, but the vindicating and settling of an old one." - Lord King, p. 41.
& Rom. xi. 33.