24 November 1765

Lecture 16

In the summer season I explained the first four questions and answers in the Church Catechism and am now to enter upon the Creed, commonly called the Apostles' Creed, not because they wrote it, but on account of its antiquity, as being the nearest to their times of any form of words of that kind, and likewise to distinguish it from others that were compiled afterwards. Before I proceed to the several articles, I would briefly consider: its name, its authority and its design.
1. The name
  In English – the Creed or belief – that is, a summary or short collection of the chief heads of the Christian faith. But the name it bears in Greek, the language in which it was originally framed, signifies a badge or token by which people's profession may be known – as clergymen or soldiers are distinguished by their habit[clothing]. The substance of this Creed is the peculiar property of a Christian – it expresses not the things in which they differ, but in which they all agree. But as it is not wearing such a particular habit will make a man a clergyman or a soldier, unless it is really their profession and appointment, so it is not the repeating this Creed by rote like a parrot that will prove any to be a Christian unless there is likewise the true knowledge and experience in the heart, of what is said with the lips. Nay, as a man is liable to be called to account for wearing a habit of profession to which he has no right, so those who repeat this creed with their lips only and say ‘I believe’, when in their works they deny the truth, are no better than hypocrites in the sight of God. Unless they have the grace to repent, they will ere long be stripped of their disguise, and put to open shame before men and angels.
2. The authority
  The authority of this Creed is not immediately in itself, for it was not composed by inspiration, but in its agreement with the Word of God. If it could be proved to differ in any particular from the Scripture, we ought to reject it notwithstanding its name or antiquity. But being agreeable to God's Word (as I hope to prove) it has some superior authority over other writings merely human. Because having been framed soon after the apostles' days, and generally received ever since, it is confirmed by the testimony both of the ancient, and the universal church as a form of sound words.
3. The design
  The original design of this creed seems to have been what I have already hinted at – as a bond of union, and mark of fellowship by which Christians should be known to one another and distinguished from the world. And some expressions in it seem particularly designed to guard against the heresies and errors which prevailed in the early times of the Church. We learn from history that the ancient Christians were exceedingly careful to keep other terms of the Creed secret from the world, and to save for a watchword among themselves, that they might not be deceived and betrayed by pretenders in times of persecution. For this reason it was not taught even to young converts, till just before their admission to the Sacraments. But in process of time it was repeated on the stated occasions of public worship, as a testimony of the harmony and consent of all present. It was inserted in our liturgy for the same reason, and for the instruction of the ignorant – but by long use is dwindled into an unmeaning form with many. Not a few are so ignorant that they take it for a prayer, and would think their private prayers defective without it. That you may not remain under mistakes, and darkness, worship you know not what, and you know not how, may the Lord bless my attempts to show you what you ought to mean when you say, ‘I believe in God’ etc..
The first period[point] expresses:
1. The object of faith – God.
2. The act of faith – I believe.
1. [God]
  The object of faith is God – the other words the Father, Almighty, Creator – were probably at first inserted in opposition to sundry errors and false doctrines which obtained[continued in use] (as our Lord and his apostles had foretold) soon in the visible church. But without taking up your time with what is past, we may observe from the words what may be for our own instruction.

This article being derived from Scripture, give us an account of God as is worthy of himself. Human nature low as it is sunk by the fall, still retains some general notion that there is a God, but no man can conceive rightly of God but from the light of his Word.
  1.1 God is one
    I believe in God – one of the first effects of the fall was to darken the mind in this respect – idolatry prevailed early, and how deeply it is rooted in the heart we may learn from the history of Israel, who though favoured with so many advantages and proofs of God present with them, were so easily and often drawn away to worship the works of man's hands.
  1.2 The Father
    The Scripture teaches us to apply this tender character in several senses.
    1.2.1 He is the Father of all. The Father, Author and Fountain of all spirits, from whom all proceed, and in whom all live and move and have their being.
    1.2.2 As the creed directs our faith to the Three one God – Father, Son and Holy Ghost – this first article particularly respects God as revealed in the person of the Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture is express in asserting this doctrine, but brief in the explication. This should be a pattern for us. Let us believe what God has said, wait on him for more light, but we must not expect a clear and full understanding of this mystery till we get into the land of perfect light, and have done with clouds and darkness forever.
    1.2.3 In and through Jesus, God is a Father to all believers. O what a comfortable thought, how full of honour and privilege this relation!  Happy they who can say of the Great God, He is my Father and my friend!
2. Almighty
  Our God is in the heavens and doth whatsoever he pleaseth. Man by nature, though conscious of powers above him, has no true idea of an Almighty God. The heathens divided this attribute among their crowds of idols, and though they supposed there was one God superior to the rest, yet they thought that he likewise was under the control of fate. Among professed Christian[s] this truth is acknowledged inwards, but those who are acquainted with their own evil hearts, can tell that it is no easy matter to believe and confide in the Almighty power of God. How prone are we to think and act as if the Lord's arm was waxed short. But when faith views God – as a Father and Almighty – then it can triumph and say, God is my refuge therefore I shall not want and need not fear.
3. Maker of heaven and earth
  By faith we believe that God made the worlds. Men have no certainty in this point but from the Scriptures. Some thought the world was from eternity, some that it was made by chance. Here the meanest[lowliest] Christian is wiser than the wisest philosopher – but though none[some?] of you perhaps think but you know that God made all things, yet you do not know it aright, except the eyes of your mind have been opened by grace. The true believer can read a lesson of the presence, goodness and providence of his heavenly Father wherever he turns his eye. But none else, as I shall show in my next lecture, when I come to speak of the act of faith, and what those should mean who say, ‘I believe in God’.
For the present:
1. Enquire: Is God my Father?  It is but small comfort to believe that God is a Father to others, unless he is so to you.
2. Consider: He is Almighty. If you are reconciled, Almighty to save – if otherwise, Almighty to punish. Sinner will you not fear – how can you escape?  Have you an arm like God or can you thunder with a voice like him?  The earth that bears you is his; he can cut you off from it in a moment. The heaven you hear of is his likewise. Can you think to get there without his leave?  Seek him then in the way of his grace, lest he swear in his wrath, you shall not enter into his rest.

Cowper & Newton Museum

Marylynn Rouse, 06/11/2018