Henry Yates Satterlee.

A creedless gospel and the gospel creed online

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Public Lib^a^y


Miss M\tilda\\^. Bi\ice

Jlly 27^" 1908


















Copyright, 1S95, by






The origin and genesis of tliis book will be found in
the event to which it refers on its first page. This event
revealed, like a flash of lightning in the darkness, a con-
fusion of thought and a misapprehension in regard to
that fundamental truth of the Christian Faith — the In-
carnation of Christ — which would have been startling to
Christians of any other age than our own. On this occa-
sion most Christians simply contented themselves with
echoing what Gamaliel said : " If this counsel or this
work be of man, it w^ill come to naught, but if it be of
God ye cannot overthrow it." ^

These, however, were the words of an outsider. No
member of the Apostolic Chui'ch itself would or could
have ever spoken thus, for since the descent of the Holy
Ghost at Pentecost, God has charged Christians with a
personal responsibility as witnesses for Him in the
world ; witnesses that He is such a Being as Christ alone
has revealed Him ; witnesses left in this lower world by
the Ascended Christ, Who is now on the throne of glory,
to preach the glad tidings of His Incarnation and Death,
His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension, and of
the Coming of the Holy Ghost.

The power of the Holy Ghost is given to those who
abide in Christ : He will abide only with those who do
His will, and to them alone the promise is given that
they shall know of His doctrine. As it is His will that
all Christians, clergymen and laymen, shall bear witness

1 Acts V. 38, 39.


for Him, it follows tliat those who fail in bearing witness
deprive themselves both of the true knowledge of God,
as revealed in Christ, and of the power of that Godliness
of which they are content merely to profess the form.

To discharge the responsibility resting upon him as
one of these witnesses, the author set out with the inten-
tion of writing a short article on the Apostles' Creed,
but the work grew insensibly on his hands as days and
months passed by, until it attained the proportions of
this volume. It should be added that the book has not
been written for Unbelievers. Its sole object is to help
in confirming the faith of the faithful : to point out and
bring back to the memory of Nineteeth-Century Chris-
tians the standard of belief and of life which was set be-
fore New Testament Christians by Christ Himself and
the Apostles whom He trained.

The author, of course, lays no claim to originality in
his treatment of this solemn theme. The older men
grow, it has been said, the more they are taught by long
experience to doubt the adequacy of their own premises,
but in regard to the hfe and teaching of our Lord there
is a certainty of historical fact, a definiteness of doctrine,
and a corroboration of faith in the assurance of all Chris-
tian experience, which not only leave little room for so-
called originality of thought, but compel one to distrust
the spirit of any age as a critic and interpreter of the
Christian religion.

There is, of course, progress in the apprehension of
the truth as the Church is more and more enlightened
by the Spirit of truth. But this is a Spirit, Whom, we
are expressly told by Christ Himself, " the world cannot
receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him."
The progress is made in the Faith of the Gospels, not
in the abrogation of it ; and is progress toward Christ,
not away from Him.


As this book lias been written with the purpose of
awakening in believers and communicants of the Church
a sense of their responsibility as witnesses for God ; so
it has been the privilege of the writer to receive no little
assistance and inspiration from some of the members of
the Communicants' Union of his own parish. He also
takes this opportunity to acknowledge his indebtedness
for kindly criticism to the Kev. Professor William Clark,
LL.D., of Trinity College, Toronto, and to the Eev.
Thomas E. Harris, D.D., of New York ; and for correct-
ing the proofs, in the final revision, to Dr. William C.

While the last pages of this book are being written
there is a sound of rejoicing on the air of the winter
night, and, all the world over, human hearts are respond-
ing, as at no other time of the year, to the angels' song of
peace, good will to men. As all look back to that lowly
stable at Bethlehem, in which the Christian revelation
began, even those who are far from Christ feel the spell
of its sweet, humanizing influences. No marvel that they
would claim, even while denying His miraculous birth,
so human a Saviour as their own.

But in the vision of the Christian ages that scene has
a deeper meaning. The radiance which the old masters
reverently loved to paint as emanating from the manger,
though invisible to the physical sight, is recognized by
the pure in heart who see God ; nor, to the eye of faith,
could the vision of the first Christmas night be truth-
fully portrayed without it, for enshrined in that manger
was the Shekinah of God's Own Presence, and the Light
which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
"And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness
comprehendeth it not. He was in the world, and the
world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.


He came unto His own, and His own received Him not ;
but as many as received Him, to them gave He power to
become the sons of God." Only in the Light of the In-
carnation of Jesus Christ, Who came to take our nature
upon Him, and Who was, as at this time, born of a pure
virgin, can we discover the destiny of man and the prog-
ress of the human race. That Light is given us by God
Himself to see by, and we are to learn from it, not ex-
plain it away.

' * Earth breaks up, time drops away,
In flows Heaven, with its new day
Of endless Hfe, when He Who trod,
Very Man of very God,
This earth in weakness, shame, and pain,
Dying the death — whose signs remain
Up yonder on the accursed tree —
Shall come again, no more to be
Of captivity the thrall,
But the one God, All in all,
King of kings and Lord of lords,
As His servant John received the words,
'I died, and live forevermore.'"

Christmas Eve, 1894 a.d.




The Issue, 3

The Scientific Basis of Christianity and its Limitations, 19


The Philosophical Basis of Christianity and its Limita-
tions, 36


The Ethical Basis of Christianity and its Limitations, . CO


Natural Religion as a Basis for Christianity and its

Limitations, 99

The Soclal Basis op Christianity and its Limitations, . 110

Some Effects of a Creedless Gospel, 162





The Self-Revelation of God in Relation to Faith, . 195


The Incarnation in Relation to the Problems op Ex-
istence, 220

The Incarnation in Relation to Church Dogma, . . 236


The Crucifixion in Relation to the Problems of Sin

AND Evil, 261

The Resurrection in Relation to Historic Evidence, . 293


The Ascension in Relation to the Problem of the Des-
tiny of Man, 324

The Holy Ghost in Relation to Spiritual Power, . . 349

The Church in Relation to Society, 368

The Judgement in Relation to the Problem of Justice, 405





The Christian's Courage, 447

The Christian's Knowledge, 472

The Christian's Joy, . . . , 485


The Apostles' Creed, 505

Westcott's Social Aspects of Christianity, . . . 518

(pari iixBi




" Life, witli all it yields of joy and woe,
And hope and fear — believe the aged friend —
Is just our chance o' the prize of learning love,
How love might be, hath been indeed, and is ;
And that we hold thenceforth to the uttermost
Such prize despite the envy of the world,
And, having gained truth, keep truth : that is all.

I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
All questions in the earth and out of it,
And has so far advanced thee to be wise.
Would'st thou unprove this to re-prove the proved ?
In life's mere minute, with power to use that proof,
Leave knowledge and revert to how it sprung ?
Thou hast it ; use it and forthwith, or die !
For I say, this is death and the sole death,
When a man's loss comes to him from his gain,
Darkness from light, from knowledge ignorance,
And lack of love from love made manifest."

— " A Death in the Desert," by Robert Browning.



I. Objections to the Apostles* Creed, on the grounds of (a) Uncath-

olicity ; because it is a barrier to the Union of Religions ;
{b) Uncertainty ; because it cannot be proved by the Scien-
tific Method ; (c) Unchaugeableness ; because it is a hin-
drance to iprogress.

II. Proj)Osed Solution is to strip Christianity of the Supernat-
ural, and reduce it to the plane of Natural Religions. But,

III. Christianity, as the Self-Revelation of an Unchanging God,
must insist on its Supernatural Origin and Character.

IV. The Issue is thus between the Doctrine of the Apostles' Creed
and the demands of the Scientific and Philosophical Methods.


Very significant of the present conditions of religious
thought and life was the way in Avhich the announcement
of " The World's First Parliament of Eeligions at Chi-
cago," was received.^

By thousands this Congress was hailed as an epoch in
the Christian world. No other religious project, prob-
ably, has ever called forth so many enthusiastic testimo-
nials from statesmen and historians, poets and essayists,
ecclesiastics and foreign missionaries, college presidents

^ Though this Parliament of Religions is now a thing of the past, and
the discussions to which it gave rise are already forgotten, the state of
religious opinion which it so clearly and vividly illustrated, remains.
This passing reference to that Congress, therefore, as such an illustra-
tion, will not, it is hoped, seem out of place.


and prominent men in every walk of life ; and the re-
ligious press was no less outspoken in its approval. For
months w^e waited for some qualification of this extreme-
ly one-sided expression of opinion, and some fair and
temperate statement of the other side, but it never came.
With the exception of the refusal of the Archbishop
of Canterbury of the invitation to participate, scarcely
another voice was raised to show that there luas another
side. Such silence is abnormal, for this question, like
every other, has, and must have, two sides, and, generally,
a healthy opposition is not only indicative of interest but
necessary in bringing out the whole truth. Apart from
all questions of expediency as to whether the congress
was to be a success or a failure, there was a distinct ques-
tion of principle involved, as to whether a Christian who
believes that the religion of Christ is a revelation from
God, and that other religions are not in any such real
sense divine revelations, could consistently take part in
its proceedings without disloyalty to Christ. And one
would have thought that this issue would have been raised
and keenly debated. The absence of such opposition in
the case of this Congress was most significant. It would
have been startling if it meant the laissez faire of re-
ligious apathy to the principles involved, but the real
reason for the silence is even more appalling. It is
caused, not by religious indifference, but by religious per-
plexity, for the religious problem, at the present day, has
become so exceedingly complex, that Christians are in
doubt as to which side they shall take, or what they
ought to believe.


On the one side, it is argued that if Christianity is the
universal religion, it must comprehend what is beautiful,
good, and true in other religions, and that all goodness


is essentially Christian. " If it were really possible,"
writes Canon Fremantle, " that there should be any vir-
tue which is excluded from the Christian ideal, the
Christian ideal would cease to be supreme, and would,
consequently, cease to be divine. . . . What some-
times ap23ears to be non-Christian virtue is really a
stunted, perhaps a perverted, form of Christian virtue.
The ideal of life presented by Sakya Muni, or by Ma-
homet, or again by Plato, or by Marcus Aurelius, or in
the later centuries by Lorenzo de' Medici, or by Goethe,
must partly be made to combine with our present Chris-
tian morality, partly be puiified by it, partly be allowed
to amplify our idea of what is morally good and Chris-
tian. If the Word of God is the light of men every-
where, then it follows that all moral truth is essentially
Christian truth and all tnie goodness Christian good-
ness." ^ It is argued, furthermore, in the same direction,
that if Christianity is the one catholic religion, it must
be as catholic as the needs of human nature itself. The
Church of Christ, breaking down all false barriers that
ecclesiasticism has reared, must obliterate the distinc-
tion between the spiritual and the secular life, make art
and literature, science and government, trades and man-
ufactures, spiritual interpreters of Christian truth; and
then combine all these elements, material, religious, and
political, in the comprehensive unity of Christendom.

National unity in Christ is a higher ideal than church
unity. The nation will eventually take the place of the
church, and it is prophesied that Christianity will be im-
pelled by forces beyond control, to discard all imped-
iments that hold her back from thus keeping pace with
civilization, because "the human race is being drawn
powerfully together ; ideas circulate with constantly in-
creasing rapidity, and the sense of fellowship which is

1 Fremantle, Bampton Lectures of 1883, pp. 25, 26, 27.


thus engendered, and a certain body of common moral
sentiments, are, we may believe, preparing the advent of a
fuller unity and more brotherly relations throughout the
world." '

The unity of civilization will thus precede, inspire, and
pave the way for the higher unity of Christendom.

This is the popular thought of the day. Its meaning
is very clear, and is as follows : The law of evolution
holds good in both natural and spiritual worlds. The
physical evolution of nature up to man is being followed
by a spiritual evolution of man up to God. And as it
proceeds, the revelation of God is continuous. It is at
once a revelation through Christ and through the hu-
man race, in its search for God, through the good, the
beautiful, and the true. The partial revelation through
Christ must be interpreted and expanded by this other,
and, in some respects, fuller revelation through human-
ity. The idea of life presented by Mahomet, by Buddha
(or Sakya Muni), by Plato and Marcus Aurelius, Lorenzo
de' Medici, and Goethe must be made to coalesce with
the idea of life presented by Christ.

The test of Christianity, as a universal religion, lies in
its power, not of dominating and absorbing these other
religions, but of being assimilated by them. This pro-
cess of assimilation is not to be brought about by preach-
ing the distinctive doctrines of Christianity — the Incar-
nation, Kesurrection, and Ascension of Christ — as facts
upon which the whole of God's revelation to man depends ;
but by preaching the spirit of Christ ; by gradual educa-
tion ; by accommodating the Gospel teachings of Christ
to the conditions of human life ; by showing the intellect-
ual influences of Christianity in philosophy, its ethical in-
fluence in codes of civilized law, its gesthetical influence
in art, its practical influence in business and commerce,
' Fremantle's Bampton Lectures, p. 19.


its scientific influence in medicine, mechanics, and manu-
facture, its social influence in tlie unity of civilized life ;
and, thus, bringing all men in touch with the Gospel.

On the other side it is equally plain that Christianity
claims to be an exclusive and absolute religion. As such
it can admit of no compromise with other religious
faiths, for it stands upon an entirely different basis from
them all. While they dis23lay the gropings of the human
mind for God, Christianity is the revelation of God to
man. The radical distinction between all these man-
made religions, on the one side, and Christianity on the
other, is that the first are human philosophy, or a medita-
tion upon God, while the second is a divine life, wherein
Jesus Christ gives to those who believe on His name
power to become sons of God.

Christianity, therefore, cannot enter into that kind of
alliance which has been described, without sacrificing
principles that are essential to its existence as a direct,
final, and complete revelation from God. Here, then,
are two separate and distinct kinds of Christianity stand-
ing over against one another. The former emphasizes
the revelation of God through the progress of the human
race and accepts Christ as part of this revelation ; the
latter preaches that the personal revelation of God is
through Christ alone.

The first sounds with its dulcet diapason the prevail-
ing tone of thought vibrating in the intellectual atmos-
phere about us. It chimes in so harmoniously with all
that we read in books and magazines and newspapers ; all
that we hear in social converse and current discussion,
and with so much that we keep thinking ourselves, that,
overborne by the tremendous pressure of public opinion
about them, an increasing number of earnest Christian
men and women among us are accepting these views as
true, and enthusiastically joining in their promulgation.


The second is unpo]3ular, and therefore does not chal-
lenge the same enthusiasm. It is a kind of Christianity
which in many ways jars discordantly Avith modern
thought. It is theologically and socially above the level
of present-day life, as it holds aloof from the spirit of the
age, and opposes an insuperable resistance to every at-
tempt to harmonize it with the kind of unity that the
world is seeking. While in some respects, therefore, it
is in touch with civilization, in others it cannot be as-
similated and is at variance with many of the ruling ideas
of civilization.

The contrast does not impress us strongly, while we
are carried along with the wave of popular thought, but
the moment the Christian believer begins to think seri-
ously for himself, striving to discount, not only his oa\ti
personal bias, but that of the age in which we live, he
feels the tremendous a23peal to his conscience of the
words of the Gospel, and his real conviction comes up to
the surface and asserts its response.

In the beginning that conviction may be faint and
uncertain, but the longer we ponder, honestly and pray-
erfully comparing New Testament Christianity with the
popular Christianity of the present day, the stronger our
consciousness keeps growing that these two kinds of
Christianity are wholly irreconcilable with one another ;
that no man can serve these two masters ; that if he holds
to the one he will despise the other ; and that if the popu-
lar Christianity is true, then New Testament Christianity
must be false.


Here is an issue of gravest import, and it is an issue
which will become more and more painful as time pro-
ceeds. If one of these interpretations of Christianity is


right, the other is, and must be, ^vrong. The attempt to
reconcile that which is irreconcilable only makes Christ's
rehgion self- contradictory and inconsistent with its own
teachings ; and those, therefore, who strive to stop the
spread of infidelity by rendering Christianity as compre-
hensive as possible, are pouring oil on the very flames
they msh to smother. Instead of lessening they increase
perplexity, and by their mistaken efforts double the diffi-
culties of belief. Indeed this is perhaps the chief cause
for the present increase of unbelief. Where there is so
much to be said on both sides, it seems to many that
there is only one wise course for them to pursue, and that
is to assume the attitude of broad-minded thinkers, who
wiU commit themselves to no dogmas but simply watch
the progress of events. Christianity, they plead, has
been given its chance in civilized lands and has not suc-
ceeded in overcoming sin. Now let the outside world
have its say. Let aU religions be treated generously and
liberally, and with perfect impartiality. The popular
cry is imperative. Let the morality of the outside world
contribute its quota in rectifying and expanding the ethi-
cal teachings of the New Testament and the ordinary
Christian interpretation of its meaning. We want more
sunshine and air ; we need to open the windows and let
in the fresh breezes of heaven ; w^e want to see what God
is doing in the great world beyond the narrow boundaries
of the Christian faith. Those believers who have the
deepest faith in their religion need have no fear regard-
ing the result. Let all courageously trust the larger
hope. No one dreams that the inhabitants of Europe
and America will ever go back to the sterile religions of
Asia, or become Mahomedans or w^orshippers of the
Grand Lama. Believers in Christianity may have to re-
sign some of their most cherished dogmas, and the Chris-
tian religion may have to be radically modified before it


is adapted to the needs of the future ; but Christianity,
in some form, will be the religion of the future. This is
the way in which the increasing number dismiss the diffi-
culties of belief. They get rid of the perplexity by ban-
ishing it from their minds, holding aloof from all dogmas
and emptying the Christian religion of all its divine
reality. And Agnosticism has become the favorite cita-
del of these men, simply because it affords a safe and
convenient refuge from the distractions and discords, the
conflicting forces and contending elements that charac-
terize the present religious life of the world.

But there, all the while, the perplexity is, and there it
remains in the background, rising like a spectre before
all those who honestly and fearlessly face the deeper
realities of existence. And, let it be here observed, that
this very kind of perplexity was anticipated and foretold
by Christ in His description of the latter days. Without
attempting to unveil the mysteries of the futui-e or trans-
late the metaphors with which He portrays the consum-
mation of earthly history, there are certain definite warn-
ings in His Avords, which are too plain to be mistaken.
Our Lord Himself enjoined on us to watch the signs of
the times as thus indicated by Him, saying, " Behold, I
have told you before, and it shall turn to you for a
testimony." ^ Among these signs was His prophecy that
false prophets and false Christs should arise.

We commonly translate these words as referring to
false prophets like Mahomet or Bar Cochba, but the day
has probably passed away forever when such a religious
leader will arise and dare to proclaim himself as the
Christ. It is scarcely possible, at this late age of history
and time of general education, that impostors of this sort
should succeed in deceiving the world.

Nothing of the kind has occurred in the last thousand

1 St. Matt. xxiv. 25 ; St. Luke xxi. 13.


years of Christian history ; even in the darkest of the
dark ages such an imposture would have been at once
detected and exposed, and it would be more than a re-
turn to the dark ages were it to succeed in these or com-
ing days.

But, on the other hand, it is in every way possible
that a false idea of Christ, and the revelation through
Christ, should supplant and draw away men from the
true Christ of the Gospels. Christian history every-

Online LibraryHenry Yates SatterleeA creedless gospel and the gospel creed → online text (page 1 of 41)