Page images

ciple on which they are arguing. They are not conscious that the tendency of the whole is to deny the existence of any Divine Revelation in Christianity. And yet, if it be in itself absurd or wrong to take measures for securing the continued reception of those doctrines which were revealed by God, and guarding them against counterfeits, perversions, or denials-if it is, in short, a matter of indifference, whether any particular tenet, whether relating to morality or faith, be accepted or denied, the only inference that can be drawn is, that God cannot have revealed any religious tenets whatever, and that Christianity is a human invention.

Latitudinarianism is thus in its extreme form, as applied to Christianity, but one step removed from infidelity. The latitudinarian, who professes his own persuasion of the truth of certain tenets, as those of Revelation, but at the same time holds that those who deny those tenets may be regarded as sound in their faith, and admissible to the privileges which are connected with faith, is guilty of self-contradiction to a most strange degree; unless, indeed, he regards his own faith as mere matter of opinion, in which case he has, in fact, no real faith at all in the objects of his belief.

To the believer, however, whatever may be the religious system in which he finds himself placed, it can never be a matter of doubt that Christianity is a substantive religion, with tenets, dogmas, principles, institutions, revealed and established by God, through Jesus Christ and the Apostles. A student of the Bible, even without any other instruction, could not hesitate on this point. And if this be certain in itself, it is equally clear that Christians are bound by the mere fact of the existence of such a Revelation, to treasure its sacred tenets with reverential care, guarding against all deviations either on their own part, or on that of others. So that a zeal for the truth of the Gospel, for the doctrine revealed by Jesus Christ, as distinguished from all human inventions, all theories elicited by the force of human ingenuity, is an essential branch of religion, which cannot fail to distinguish all real Christians.

We are indebted to the learned author of the volume before us, forming the first instalment of a work on Creeds and Articles of Faith, for a lucid and well-reasoned exposition of the grounds and principles on which the Christian Church in all ages has acted, in prescribing formularies of faith. It is really refreshing in this age of wire-drawn reasonings, and mysticism, to meet with a work in which the great principles of Catholic Christianity are stated with clearness and simplicity, and in which the appeal throughout is to common sense. We may add, that while no

ostentatious display of research is made, there is abundance of evidence of the praiseworthy diligence of the author in collecting materials for the full and fair discussion of this deeply important subject.

We shall offer such remarks as occur to us on the various points brought before us by Mr. Lancaster's volume.

Faith is a necessary condition to being admitted into the Christian Church. It has been made so by our Lord Himself, in announcing the institution of the Sacrament of Baptism; and it would be inconsistent with reason to suppose that it could be otherwise. To admit a person as a member of a religious community who did not identify himself with the religious tenets of that community, but disbelieved or rejected them, would be an absurdity. Thus, then, it becomes at once the duty of such a society to ascertain the faith of those who are proposed as its members, and hence arises the necessity for some profession of faith. In dissenting communities this profession of faith is made subsequently to baptism, when admission is sought into a "Church." In the Church it is made at Baptism, either by the person baptized in any case of adult baptism, or by others for him in the case of infant baptism. But in all cases, whether within or without the Church, some confession of belief is made previously to admission to the privileges of Christianity, with the object of satisfying the condition required by God Himself. From this arose the earliest creeds, or confessions of faith, the origin of which is coeval with Christianity itself—not that it is meant to say that any one of the creeds of the Church as it now stands is in all respects of apostolical antiquity, because it is evident that much of their existing substance has been added since the apostolic age; but confessions of faith must always have been made in some way whenever baptism was administered.

Mr. Lancaster refers with great justice to the baptism of the eunuch by Philip the Evangelist, as furnishing a distinct evidence of the apostolic practice, and of the existence of such a creed as we have referred to. The eunuch's words before baptism, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," were the simple baptismal confession of the convert. It is probable, that originally the creed comprised little more than such a confession of God the Father and Jesus Christ; the object being to ascertain by some such test the belief in the divine commission of Jesus Christ as the only Son of the true God. But there is no distinct evidence to determine whether specific forms were established for this purpose by the Apostles themselves, or by their successors. In the course of a century or two, there were various creeds or forms of confession extant in different Churches, all of

them comprising a brief outline of the Christian faith, but differing slightly in language and in the extent of matter comprised in them. These were employed in testing the faith of candidates for baptism.

The rise of heresies is pointedly referred to by the author of the work before us, as having been the cause of the insertions of various articles in the creeds which were not included in them at the beginning. In the case of some of the articles of the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds this is certainly the case, in others probably so; but we are scarcely prepared to go as far as some writers have done, who have attributed to almost all the articles even of the Apostles' Creed an origin derived from the necessity of combating heresy. It is perfectly true, that each article of the Apostles' Creed condemns some early heresy, but does not Scripture itself do so by anticipation? This creed, except those articles which follow the profession of faith in the Holy Ghost, is apparently nothing more than a recapitulation of the Gospel statements, and as such may well have been put in the mouth of a candidate for baptism irrespectively of the existence of any heresy whatever. And we should say the same of much of the Nicene Creed, though in this case the history of its composition by the Councils of Nice and Constantinople, proves that the maintenance of the Christian faith against specific errors and heresies was an immediate object in the selection of the expressions employed; and it is manifestly the case on examination. While, therefore, we admit the truth of the statement which ascribes to various articles of the creeds a controversial origin, we would limit our assent to those cases in which historical evidence bears us out in saying that such was actually the case; and not attempt to find in every article of a creed which may be opposed to heresy, an origin later than the rise of that heresy. We see no reason why creeds very nearly the same as the Apostles' and the Nicene, may not have existed from the time of the Apostles themselves in different Churches.

The rise of false doctrines within the Christian communion, or external to it, rendered it undoubtedly necessary to provide for the safety of true doctrine, by requiring some tests either from candidates for baptism or for communion. And hence arose a different characteristic of creeds and doctrinal confessions, which in some cases comprised what are called negative articles, rejecting errors in matters of doctrine. The Nicene Creed contained such negative articles; for at the conclusion of it, a condemnation was added of the various false doctrines held by Arius; and the Thirty-nine Articles in the same way contain condemnations of various errors taught by Romanists and others. This negative

character of some of the articles, has been sometimes objected to by opponents of the Church; just as if the guardianship of truth did not imperatively require negative articles, as well as positive expressions of belief. We shall here avail ourselves of Mr. Lan

caster's remarks :—

"There soon arose, even among the pastors of the Church, men who spoke perverse things, in order to draw away disciples after them, and who introduced under the mask of Christianity an adulterate doctrine; thus subverting the faith, and frustrating the purposes of the Gospel. What then would be the duty of those whose office it was to ordain pastors? They had no power to transmit any other commission than that which they had themselves received, namely, to preach the Gospel in its pure integrity. But how were they to keep away from this office the teachers of lewdness and blasphemy? From men who taught not the doctrine of eternal life, but the doctrine of perdition, how were they to withhold the authority (which fidelity would never suffer them to impart) of an ambassador of Christ? Under the commission of Christ, men could preach only the doctrine of Christ; but what, in the case of false teachers, was to restrain them from teaching any doctrine that they would? It was impossible that this could be done, without-ascertaining the soundness of men's faith: nor again, could this latter be done, without inquiry as to all particulars respecting which danger was apprehended. There must needs be a declaratory abnegation of errors which were to be suppressed, and a declaratory profession of truths which must not be suppressed. It was thus necessary that there should be propounded certain distinct tenets, whether of profession or of renunciation; such tenets relating, as need might be, to various essential parts of Christian doctrine. These tenets are nothing else than what we call articles of doctrine and the purpose of such articles is to secure the truth and purity of doctrine in those who are about to enter the ministry of the Church, or who desire to continue in it."—pp. 20, 21.

The primitive creed, as we have said, was probably limited to a brief recapitulation of the leading facts and truths of the Gospel; but as time advanced, it became necessary to introduce further details into the creed, or into the doctrinal formularies of the Church. In this sense, certain tenets became articles of faith gradually, that is, they were taken from the general body of Scripture and of Christian belief which existed from the beginning, and were given a distinct and prominent place by being expressly and carefully defined, and guarded from heresy, and inserted in the creeds, or doctrinal formularies of the Church, which were put forward as expositions of the revealed truth, and held to be binding in general belief. The doctrines which have been comprehended in the creeds and doctrinal formularies of the Church, have not been selected on the ground of their being the most important doctrines of religion, nor has it ever been attempted to collect all the doctrines

of revealed religion in any formulary, but the doctrinal formularies have been moulded and shaped with an especial view to heresy and error.

"If, for instance," says Mr. Lancaster, "the doctrine of Pelagius had never been broached, the Church would not, in this form, have put forth the true doctrine relating to original sin. If the peculiar tenets of Arius had never been published, no creed would have been framed for assertion of the contrary verities. 'If the Church,' says the Abbé Fleury, 'sometimes makes new decisions and employs new terms, this is not done in order to form or to express new doctrines; it is only in order to declare what it has all along believed, and to apply proper remedies to the new subtilties of doctrines.' "-p. 41.

[ocr errors]

It is satisfactory to be able to appeal to Fleury and to so many other eminent writers of the Church of Rome, in refutation of the dangerous principle advocated by some of their divines, and recently revived by some writers in this country, which ascribes to the Church the power of sanctioning novelties of doctrine elicited by merely human reason, and elevating them into articles of faith. According to this fatal error, the Apostles and first teachers of Christianity knew less of Christian truth than uninspired men do at this day.

There is no need of any infallible tribunal for the determination of controversies, and the preservation of the Christian faith. It is a taunt which is frequently heard, that the English Church pretends to pronounce on matters of doctrine, and yet does not claim infallibility. But, assuredly, there are many points of the highest importance which must be decided without infallibility. For instance, an individual is called on to choose a religion, and yet he is not infallible. In many cases, there is sufficient certainty to authorize even individuals to pronounce that a doctrine is inconsistent with the Christian religion. To adopt Mr. Lancaster's words :

"Where God has imposed an obligation such as in this case rests upon the pastors of his flock; it is reasonable to presume, that He will, to all who are faithfully disposed, impart his blessing and his heavenly direction, in a measure sufficient for the exigency of their duty; to think otherwise, would be at once unworthy of God, and inconsistent with his promise: yet this blessing and direction may be very different from those special communications, by which men are inspired to foretel future events, and to declare a new religion; which God only can reveal. Whether this ordinary help be adequate to the present case, may be readily determined by a reference to examples. Suppose, then, the case of a man, desiring the holy baptism of the Church, or the communion of the blessed Eucharist, who with one of

« PreviousContinue »