Creed And Conduct
by Dr Warren A Candler
From Current Comments on Timely Topics, Cokesbury Press, 1926
To a certain class of men in our day a Christian creed is an object of special aversion. In support of their creed of creedlessness they have framed many plausible phrases and popular slogans.
One of their specious cries is: "Every man has a right to think for himself. Let all thought be free and unfettered." Well, all thought is free. Bodily movements can be fettered, but not mental activities.
Moreover, every man does think for himself, if he thinks at all. But when, after thinking, he reaches a conclusion which he believes, he has made for himself a creed; for the word "creed" means nothing more than what is believed. That which one believes may be false or true, but it is the creed of him who believes it.
A man has a right to think for himself, and certainly in our day there is no restriction upon the freedom of thought; but in the exercise of the right to think for himself one is as likely to think wrong as to think right. The privilege of thinking for himself does not secure a man from the possibility of thinking erroneously, just as the right to go where he pleases affords no assurance that he may not miss the destination he desires by taking the wrong road. When a person who is characterized by excessive self-sufficiency denounces the use of all roads in which any who have gone before him have walked, and asserts the right to proceed along a path which he has blazed for himself through a trackless forest, the chances are that he will lose his way and find himself to be no more than "a babe in the woods" with "nothing better than a cry."
Roadless roving in thought is as little likely to reach truth as forsaking established highways and "taking to the woods" is likely to bring one to any place which a sensible man would care to visit. A man who really thinks, and who knows what is required for genuine and profitable thinking, always reverences the thinkers who have gone before him and takes careful account of what they have thought.
Another conceit of the advocates of creedlessness is: "This is a progressive age, and creeds hinder progress." This is contradicted by every chapter in the history of human progress. There has not been made any advancement in any field of thought by the rejection of what preceding generations believed. In every branch of science and philosophy men have gone for-ward by proceeding on the principles established by those who have gone before them. Where is there in all the world a sane mathematician who affects to despise the character and calculations of Sir Isaac Newton? Even in fields of thought on which no light of revelation has fallen, there are accepted creeds to which seekers after truth look as mariners look to the polestar.
In matters which it has pleased God to reveal, of course, there is in the very nature of the case a degree of fixity not found in other realms. Revealed truth is definite; for an ambiguous revelation would be no revelation at all. It is as unreasonable to conceive of an equivocal revelation as to conceive of an equivocating God.
A revelation is, therefore, an authoritative trust. It is committed to the trusteeship of God's Church, and it is a deposit too sacred to be treated as a mere mutable philosophy, which may be changed by the fickle moods of human consciousness or mutilated in order to conform it to the current cogitations of each passing generation. The God of Christianity is not a deified politician who submits the principles revealed in his word to a human referendum for approval or rejection by the qualified voters of any age - even the self-appointed electors of a scientific age claiming the right to fix the terms of the franchise of learning under which they presume to pass on the Word of God.
The faith of the Church is not something which has been evolved by any process of evolution. It is not the outcome of any form of naturalism whatsoever. It has not been discovered by the intellect of man, but disclosed by the mercy of God. It is not a discovery of earth, but a delivery from heaven.
Hence says St. Jude: "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3.) The mood which he thus enjoins upon the saints in the primitive Church was not that of a disposition to mend this deposit of revealed truth, but of a martial mind to defend it. The apostle was not a theological pacifist, but a soldier of the cross.
Such also was St. Paul. To the Corinthian Church he wrote: "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong." (1 Cor. xvi. 13.) These stirring words of the great Apostle to the Gentiles are a battle cry. They have in them the notes of a bugle summoning an army to conflict.
It is assumed by some that "the faith" for which St. James exhorts the saints to "contend earnestly," and in which St. Paul urges them to "stand fast," is not doctrinal truth, but certain ethical principles which have a remote relation to Christian doctrine, if indeed they are related to it at all. This erroneous view rests on a faulty exegesis of Scripture and an unsound theory of ethics.
What St. James taught is that departure from the faith was the source of the grievous immoralities, which he denounced. This is evident from specific allegations which he brings against the evildoers who had "crept in unawares," "denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ." It is equally obvious when the opposite type of man which he approves is considered: "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." (Verses 20 and 21.) It is still more apparent if the Epistle of Jude is compared with the second chapter of the second Epistle of Peter, from which a large part of Jude's letter is taken and to which he manifestly refers in these words: "Beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Verse 17.) In this exhortation it is unquestionable that Jude had in mind this warning of St. Peter: "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them." (2 Pet. ii. 2.) Commenting upon the passage in the Epistle of Jude, that able and learned expositor, Dr. J. R. Lumby, Norrisian Professor of Divinity in Cambridge University, says in "The Speaker's Commentary": "He (Jude) sees that the prophetic words spoken by St. Peter about false teachers and their heretical lessons (2 Pet. ii. 1) have received their fulfillment; and not only so, but heretical teachings have resulted in corrupt practice, and this calls forth his impassioned letter."
St. Jude taught the fundamental truth of all sound ethical systems that bad beliefs make bad behavior. St. Paul also taught the same, when showing the direful consequences of false doctrine concerning the resurrection, he wrote to the Corinthians, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor. xv. 33) - an exhortation which an able expositor expounds by paraphrase thus: "Beware of intercourse with those freethinkers: remember the proverb, 'Evil companionships corrupt honest characters.'" The theory that what one believes is a minor matter, having little to do with how one lives, that creed and conduct have little or no connection with one another, is a novelty in both theology and philosophy. It has become current during the reign of an agnostic materialism, which has confessed its own bankruptcy of faith while not daring to face a world destitute of morality. But without faith morality cannot long survive. A world without God must presently be a world without goodness. A creedless race will quickly become a corrupt race.
This is the vastly important truth which St. Paul declared concerning the source of the foul immoralities of the heathen world, when he wrote to the Christians at Rome: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever." (Rom. i. 21-25.)
The catalogue of the vile immoralities of putrid paganism Paul thus traced to false doctrines about God; and that was their source. Such must inevitably be the product of false doctrine concerning God. The intellect and the will are too closely connected to be without influence one upon the other. Atheism in the mind breeds anarchy in the life, as like begets like. Creed and conduct are inseparably united. A faithless world must be a foul world. Waves of crime rise from seas of doubt.
Mankind needs a world-wide revival of religion, but such a revival cannot come through doctrineless sentimentality and creedless emotionalism. It must come from the faithful preaching of "the truth as it is in Jesus." (Eph. iv. 21.)
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