An Exposition of the Symbol or Creed of the Apostles
According to the tenor of the Scripture and the consent of orthodox Fathers of the church.
Reviewed and corrected by William Perkins
No man justly can be offended at this: that I begin to treat of the doctrine of faith without a text, though some be of mind that in catechising the minister is to proceed as in the ordinary course of preaching, only by handling a set portion of Scripture; and therefore that the handling of the Creed being no scripture, is not convenient. Indeed I grant that other course to be commendable; yet I doubt not but in catechising the minister hath his liberty to follow, or not to follow a certain text of Scripture, as we do in the usual course of preaching. My reason is taken from the practice of the primitive church; whose catechism (as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews sheweth) was contained in six principles or grounds of religion, which were not taken out of any set text in the Old Testament; but rather was a form of teaching gathered out of the most clear places thereof. Hence I reason thus: that which in this point was the use and manner of the primitive church, is lawful to be used of us now. But in the primitive church it was the manner to catechise without handling any set text of Scripture; and therefore the ministers of the gospel at this time may with like liberty do the same; so be it they confirm the doctrine which they teach with places of Scripture afterwards.
Now to come to the Creed, let us begin with the name or title thereof. That which in English we call the ApostlesŐ Creed, in other tongues is called Symbolum, that is, a shot or a badge. It is called a shot because as in a feast or banquet every man payeth his part; which being all gathered, the whole (which is called the shot) amounteth. And so out of the several writings of the apostles, ariseth this Creed, or brief confession of faith. It is a badge, because as a soldier in the field by his badge and finery is known of what band he is, and to what captain he doth belong; even so by this belief a Christian man may be distinguished and known from all Jews, Turks, atheists, and all false professors; and for this cause it is called a badge.
Again, it is called the Creed of the Apostles, not because they were the penners of it, conferring to it besides the matter, the very style and frame of words, as we have them now set down.
1. There are in this Creed certain words and phrases which are not to be found in the writings of the apostles; and namely these: he descended into hell; the catholic church. The latter whereof, no doubt, first began to be in use when after the apostlesŐ days the church was dispersed into all quarters of the earth.
2. If both matter and words had been from the apostles, why is not the Creed canonical Scripture, as well as any other writings?
3. The apostles had a summary collection of the points of Christian religion which they taught, and also delivered to others to teach by; consisting of two heads, faith and love; as may appear by PaulŐs exhortation to Timothy, wishing him to keep the pattern of wholesome words; which he had heard of him, in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). Now the Creed consists not of two heads but of one, namely of faith only, and not of love also. Wherefore I rather think that it is called the ApostlesŐ Creed because it doth summarily contain the chief and principal points of religion, handled and propounded in the doctrine of the apostles. And because the points of the Creed are conformable and agreeable to their doctrine and writings.
And thus much of the title. Now let us hear what the Creed is. It is a sum of things to be believed concerning God and concerning the church, gathered forth of the Scriptures.
For the opening of this description, first I say, it is a sum of things to be believed, or an abridgement. It hath been the practice of teachers both in the New and Old Testament, to abridge and contract summarily the religion of their time. This the prophets used. For when they had made their sermons to the people, they did abridge them and penned them briefly; setting them in some open places, that all the people might read the same. So the Lord bad Habakkuk to write the vision which he saw, and to make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it (Hab. 2:2). And in the New Testament, the apostles did abridge those doctrines which otherwise they did handle at large, as may appear in the place of Timothy aforenamed (2 Tim. 1:13). Now the reason why both in the Old and New Testament the doctrine of religion was abridged, is that the understanding for the simple, as also their memories, might be hereby helped and they better enabled to judge of the truth, and to discern the same from falsehood. And for this end the ApostlesŐ Creed being a summary collection of things to be believed, was gathered briefly out of the Word of God for helping of the memory and understanding of men. I add that this Creed is concerning God and the church. For in these two points consisteth the whole sum thereof. Lastly, I say that it is gathered forth of the Scripture, to make a difference between it and other writings, and to shew the authority of it; which I will further declare on this manner:
There be two kinds of writings in which the doctrine of the church is handled, and they are either divine or ecclesiastical.
1. Divine, are the books of the Old and New Testament, penned either by prophets or apostles. And these are not only the pure Word of God, but also the Scripture of God; because not only the matter of them; but the whole disposition thereof, with the style and the phrase, was set down by the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost. And the authority of these books is divine, that is, absolute and sovereign; and they are of sufficient credit in and by themselves, needing not the testimony of any creature; not subject to the censure either of men or angels; binding the consciences of all men at all times, and being the only foundation of our faith, and the rule and canon of all truth.
2. Ecclesiastical writings are all other ordinary writings of the church consenting with Scriptures. These may be called the word or truth of God, so far forth as their matter or substance is consenting with the written Word of God; but they cannot be called the Scripture of God, because the style and phrase of them was set down according to the pleasure of man, and therefore they are in such sort the word of God, as that also they are the word of men. And their authority in defining of truth and falsehood in matters of religion is, not sovereign, but subordinate to the former; and it doth not stand in the authority and pleasure on men and councils, but in the consent which they have with the Scriptures.
Ecclesiastical writings are either general, particular or proper. General, are the creeds and confessions of the church dispersed over the whole world, and among the rest the Creed of the Apostles, made either by the apostles themselves or by their hearers and disciples, apostolical men, delivered to the church, and conveyed from hand to hand to our times. Particular writings are the confessions of particular churches. Proper writings are the books and confessions of private men.
Now between these we must make a difference; for the general Creed of the Apostles (other universal creeds in this case not excepted), though it be of less authority than Scripture; yet hath it more authority than the particular and private writings of churches and men. For it hath been received and approved by universal consent of the catholic church in all ages, and so were never these. In it the meaning and doctrine cannot be changed by the authority of the whole catholic church; and if either the order of the doctrine, or the words by which it is expressed, should upon some occasion be changed, a particular church of any country cannot do it, without catholic consent of the whole church. Yet particular writings and confessions made by some special churches, may be altered in the words, and in the points of doctrine by the same churches, without offence to the catholic church. Lastly, it is received as a rule of faith among all churches, to try doctrines and interpretations of Scriptures by, not because it is a rule of itself, for that the Scripture is alone; but because it borroweth his authority from Scripture with which it agreeth. And this honour no other writings of men can have.
Here some may demand the number of creeds. Answer: I say but one creed, as there is but one faith. And if it be alleged that we have many creeds, as besides this of the Apostles, the Nicene Creed, and AthanasiusŐ Creed etc., I answer, the several creeds and confessions of churches contain not several faith and religions, but one and the same; and this called the ApostlesŐ Creed, is most ancient, and principal; all the rest are no new creeds in substance, but in some points penned more largely for the exposition of it, that men might better avoid the heresies of their times.
Further, it may be demanded, in what form the creed was penned? Answer: In the form of an answer to a question. The reason is this: In the primitive church, when any man was turned from Gentilism to the faith of Christ, and was to be baptised, this question was asked him: What believest thou? Then he answered according to the form of the Creed: I believe in God etc. And this manner of questioning was used even from the time of the apostles. When the eunuch was converted by Philip, he said, What doth let me to be baptised? Philip said, If thou dost believe with all thine heart, thou mayest (Acts 8:37). By this it appears that although all men for the most part among us can say this Creed, yet not one of a thousand can tell the ancient and first use of it; for commonly at this day of the simpler sort it is said for a prayer, being indeed no prayer; and when it is used so, men make it no better than a charm.
Before we come to handle the particular points of the Creed, it is very requisite that we should make an entrance thereto by describing the nature, properties and kinds of faith, the confession and ground whereof is set forth in the Creed. Faith therefore is a gift of God, whereby we give assent or credence to GodŐs Word. For there is necessarily a relation between faith and GodŐs Word. The common property of faith is noted by the author of the Hebrews, when he saith, Faith is the ground of things hoped for, and the demonstration of things that are not seen (Heb. 11:1). For all this may be understood, not only of justifying faith, but also of temporary faith, and the faith of miracles. Where faith is said to be a ground, the meaning is that though there are many things promised by God, which men do not presently enjoy, but only hope for, because as yet they are not; yet faith doth after a sort give subsisting or being unto them. Secondly, it is an evidence or demonstration etc., that is, by believing a man doth make a thing as it were visible, being otherwise invisible and absent.
Faith is of two sorts, either common faith, or the faith of the elect; as Paul saith, he is an apostle according to the faith of GodŐs elect (Tit. 1:1); which is also called faith without hypocrisy (1 Tim. 1:5). The common faith is that which both the elect and reprobate have, and it is threefold:
(1) The first is historical faith, which is when a man doth believe the outward letter and history of the Word. It hath two parts: knowledge of GodŐs Word, and assent to the same knowledge; and it is to be found in the devil and his angels. So St James saith, the devils believe and tremble (Jam. 2:19). Some will say, What a faith have they? Answer: Such as thereby they understand both the law and the gospel; besides they give assent to it to be true. And they do more yet, in that they tremble and fear. And many a man hath not so much. For amongst us there is many a one which hath no knowledge of God at all, more than he hath learned by the common talk of the world; as, namely, that there is a God and that he is merciful etc., and yet this man will say that he believeth with all his heart. But without knowledge it cannot be that any should truly believe, and therefore he deceiveth himself. Question: But whence have the devils historical faith? Were they illuminated by the light of the Spirit? Answer: No; but when the gospel was preached, they did acknowledge it, and believed it to be true, and that by the virtue of the relics of GodŐs image which remained in them since their fall. And therefore this their faith does not arise from any special illumination by His Spirit, but they attain to it even by the very light of nature, which was left in them from the beginning.
(2) The second kind of faith is temporary faith, so called because it lasteth but for a time and season, and commonly not to the end of a manŐs life. This kind of faith is noted unto us in the parable of the seed that fell in the stony ground. And there be two differences or kinds of this faith:
(i) The first kind of temporary faith hath in it three degrees: The first is to know the Word of God, and particularly the gospel. The second, to give an assent to it. The third to profess it, but to go no further; and all this may be done without any love to the Word. This faith hath one degree more than historical faith. Examples of it we have in Simon Magus (Acts 8:13), who is said to believe, because he held the doctrine of the apostles to be true; and withal professed the same. And in the devils also, who in some sort confessed that Christ was the Son of the most Highest, and yet looked for no salvation by Him (Mark 5:7; Acts 19:15). And this is the common faith that abounds in this land. Men say they believe as the prince believeth, and if religion change, they will change. For by reason of the authority of the princeŐs laws, they are made to learn some little knowledge of the Word. They believe it to be good, and they profess it. And thus for the space of thirty or forty years men hear the Word preached, and receive the sacraments, being for all this as void of grace as ever they were at the first day. And the reason is because they do barely profess it, without either liking or love of the law.
(ii) The second kind of temporary faith hath in it five degrees: For by it, first a man knows the Word. Secondly, he assenteth unto it. Thirdly, he professeth it. Fourthly, he rejoiceth inwardly in it. Fifthly, he bringeth forth some kind of fruit; and yet for all this hath no more in him but a faith that will fail in the end, because he wanteth the effectual application of the promise of the gospel, and is without all manner of sound conversation. This faith is like corn in the housetop, which groweth for a while, but when heat of summer cometh, it withereth. And this is also set forth unto us in the parable of the seed, which fell in stony ground, which is hasty in springing up; but because of the stones, which will not suffer it to take deep root, it withereth. And this is a very common faith in the church of God; by which, many rejoice in the preaching of the Word, and for a time bring forth some fruits accordingly, with shew of great forwardness; yet afterward shake off religion and all.
But (some will say) how can this be a temporary faith, seeing it hath such fruits? Answer: Such a kind of faith is temporary because it is grounded on temporary causes, which are three:
(a) A desire to get knowledge of some strange points of religion. For many a man doth labour for the five former degrees of temporary faith, only because he desires to get more knowledge in Scripture than other men have.
(b) The second cause is a desire of praise among men, which is of that force that it will make a man put on a shew of all the graces which God bestoweth upon His own children, though otherwise he want them; and to go very far in religion; which appeareth thus: Some there are which seem very bitterly to weep for the sins of other men, and yet have neither sorrow nor touch of conscience for their own; and the cause hereof is nothing else but pride. For he that sheds tears for another manŐs sins, should much more weep for his own, if he had grace. Again, a man for his own sins will pray very slackly and dully, when he prayeth privately; and yet when he is in the company of others, he prays very fervently and earnestly. From whence is this difference? Surely, often it springeth from the pride of heart, and from a desire of praise among men.
(c) The third cause of temporary faith is profit, commodity, the getting of wealth and riches; which are common occasions to move to choose or refuse religion, as the time serveth. But such a kind of believers embrace not the gospel because it is the gospel, that is, the glad tidings of salvation; but because it brings wealth, peace and liberty with it.
And these are the three causes of temporary faith.
(3) The third kind of faith is the faith of miracles; when a man grounding himself on some special promise or revelation from God, doth believe that some strange and extraordinary things which he hath desired or foretold, shall come to pass by the work of God. This must be distinguished from historical and temporary faith. For Simon Magus, having both these kinds of faith, wanted this faith of miracles, and therefore would have bought the same of the apostles for money (Acts 8:19). Yet we must know that this faith of miracles may be in hypocrites, as it was in Judas, and at the last judgment it shall be found to have been in the wicked and reprobate; which shall say to Christ, Lord in thy name we have prophesied; and cast out devils, and done many great miracles (Matt. 7:22,23; 1 Cor. 13:2).
And thus much for the three sorts of common faith.
Now we come to true faith; which is called the faith of the elect. It is thus defined: Faith is a supernatural gift of God in the mind, apprehending the saving promise with all the promises that depend on it.
First, I say, it is a gift of God (Phil. 1:29), to confute the blind opinion of our people that think that the faith whereby they are to be saved, is bred and born with them. I add that this is a gift supernatural, not only because it is above that pure nature in which our first parents were created; for in the state of innocency they wanted this faith, neither had they then any need of faith in the Son of God as He is Messiah. But this faith is a new grace of God added to regeneration after the fall, and first prescribed and taught in the Covenant of grace. And by this one thing, faith differeth from the rest of the gifts of God, as the fear of God, the love of God, the love of our brethren etc., for these were in manŐs nature before the fall; and after it, when it pleaseth God to call us, they are but renewed; but justifying faith admits to no renewing. For the first engrafting of it into the heart, is in the conversion of a sinner after his fall.
The place and seat of faith (as I think) is the mind of man, not the will; for it stands in a kind of particular knowledge or persuasion, and there is no persuasion but in the mind. Paul saith indeed that we believe with the heart (Rom. 10:9). But by the heart he understands the soul, without limitation to any part. Some do place faith partly in the mind and partly in the will, because it hath two parts: knowledge and affiance. But it not greatly to stand with reason, that one particular and single grace should be seated in divers parts or faculties of the soul.
The form of faith is to apprehend the promise (Gal. 3:14) That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith; and (John 1:12) to receive Christ and to believe, are put one for another; and to believe is to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ; to apprehend properly, is an action of the hand of man, which lays hold of a thing and pulls to himself; and by resemblance it agrees to faith, which is the hand of the soul, receiving and applying the saving promise.
The apprehension of faith is not performed by any affection of the will, but by a certain and particular persuasion whereby a man is resolved that the promise of salvation belongs unto him; which persuasion is wrought in the mind by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 2:12). And by this, the promise which is general, is applied particularly to one subject.
By this one action, saving faith differeth from all other kinds of faith. From historical; for it wanteth all apprehension, and standeth only in a general assent. From temporary faith; which though it make a man profess the gospel and to rejoice in the same, yet doth it not throughly apply Christ with His benefits; for it never brings with it any thorough touch of conscience, or lively sense of GodŐs grace in the heart. And the same may be said of the rest.
The principal and main object of this faith is the saving promise: God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). But some will say, Christ is said to be the object of faith. Answer: In effect it is all one to say, the saving promise and Christ promised, who is the substance of the Covenant. Christ then, as He is set forth unto us in the Word and sacraments, is the object of faith. And here certain questions offer themselves to be scanned:
(1) The first: What is that particular thing which faith apprehendeth? Answer: Faith apprehendeth whole Christ: God and man. For His Godhead without His manhood, and His manhood without His Godhead, doth not reconcile us to God. Yet this which I say, must be conceived with some distinction according to the difference of His two natures. His Godhead is apprehended, not in respect of His efficacy or nature, but in respect of His efficacy manifested in the manhood, whereby the obedience thereof is made meritorious before God. As for His manhood, it is apprehended both in respect of the substance or thing itself, and also in respect of the efficacy and benefits thereof.
(2) The second: In what order faith apprehends Christ? Answer: First of all, it apprehends the very body and blood of Christ; and then in the second place, the virtue and benefits of His body and blood; as a man that would feel in his body the virtue of meat and drink, must first of all receive the substance thereof.
To go forward. Besides this main promise, which concerns righteousness and life everlasting in Christ, there be other particular promises touching strength in temptations, comfort in afflictions, and such like, which depend on the former; and they also are the objects of justifying faith; and with the very same faith we believe them, wherewith we believe our salvation. Thus Abraham by the same faith wherewith he was justified, believed that he should have a son in his old age (Rom. 4:9,22). And Noah by that faith whereby he was made heir of righteousness, believed that he and his family should be preserved in the flood; this conclusion being always laid down: that to whom God gives Christ, to them also He gives all things needful for this life, or the life to come, in and by Christ. And hereupon it comes to pass that in our prayers, besides the desire of things promised, we must bring faith, whereby we must be certainly persuaded that God will grant us such things as He hath promised. And this faith is not a new kind or distinct faith from justifying faith. Thus we see plainly what saving faith is.
Whereas some are of the opinion that faith is an affiance or confidence; that seems to be otherwise, for it is a fruit of faith; and indeed no man can put any confidence in God till he be first of all persuaded of GodŐs mercy in Christ towards him.
Some again are of a mind that love is the very nature and form of faith. But it is otherwise, for as confidence in God, so also love is an effect which proceedeth from faith (1 Tim. 1:5), The end of the law is love from a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned. And in nature they differ greatly. Christ is the fountain of the water of life. Faith in the heart is as the pipes and leads that receive in and hold the water. And love in some part is as the cock of the conduit, that lets out the water to every comer. The property of the hand is to hold, and of itself it cannot cut. Yet by a knife or other instrument put into the hand, it cuts. The hand of the soul is faith, and his property is to apprehend Christ with all His benefits; and by itself it can do nothing else. Yet join love unto it, and by love it will be effectual in all good duties.
Now to proceed further: First, we are to consider how faith is wrought; secondly, what be the differences of it.
1. For the first, faith is wrought in and by the outward ministry of the gospel, accompanied by the inward operation of the Spirit; and that not suddenly, but by certain steps and degrees; as nature frameth the body of the infant in the motherŐs womb, (1) by making the brain and heart; (2) by making veins, sinews, arteries, bones; (3) by adding flesh to them all. And the whole operation of the Spirit stands in two principal actions: (1) first, the enlightening of the mind, (2) secondly, the moving of the will.
(1) For the first, the Holy Ghost enlightens menŐs minds with a further knowledge of the law than nature can afford; and thereby makes them to see the sins of their hearts and lives with the ugliness thereof; and withal to tremble at the curse of the law. Afterward the same Spirit opens the eye to understand and consider seriously of righteousness and life eternal promised in Christ.
(2) This done, then comes the second work of the Holy Ghost, which is the inflaming of the will, that a man having considered his fearful estate by reason of sin, and the benefit of ChristŐs death, might hunger after Christ; and have desire not so much to have the punishments of sin taken away as GodŐs displeasure; and also might enjoy the benefits of Christ. And when he hath stirred up a man to desire reconciliation with God in Christ, then withal He gives him grace to pray not only for life eternal, but especially for the free remission and pardon of all his sins. And then the LordŐs promise is (Matt. 7:7), Knock and it shall be opened, seek and ye shall find. After which He further sends His Spirit into the same heart that desireth reconciliation with God and remission of sins in Christ; and doth seal up the same in the heart by a lively and plentiful assurance thereof.
2. The differences and degrees of faith are two: (1) a weak faith, and (2) a strong faith.
(1) Concerning the first, this weak faith shews itself by this grace of God, namely, an unfeigned desire, not only of salvation (for that the wicked and graceless man may have), but of reconciliation with Christ. This is a sure sign of faith in every touched and humbled heart, and it is peculiar to the elect. And they which have this, have in them also the ground and substance of true saving faith; which afterwards in time will grow up to great strength.
Reason 1. Promise of life everlasting is made to the desire of reconciliation (Psa. 10:17), Lord thou hast heard the desire of the poor. (Psa. 143:6), My soul desireth after thee, as the thirsty land. (Psa. 145:19), He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him. (Matt. 5:6), Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Rev. 21:6), I will give unto him which is athirst, of the well of the water of life freely.
Reason 2. The hungering desire after grace is a sanctified affection. Where one affected is sanctified, all are sanctified. Where all are sanctified, the whole man is sanctified. And he that is sanctified, is justified and believes.
Reason 3. God accepts the will and desire to repent and believe, for repenting and believing indeed. Wherefore this desire of reconciliation (if it be soundly wrought in the heart) is in acceptation with God as true faith indeed. But carnal men will say, If faith, yea true faith, shew itself by a desire of reconciliation with God in Christ for all our sins, then we are well enough, though we live in our sins; for we have very good desires. I answer: that there be many sundry fleeting motions and desires to do good things, which grow to no issue or head, but in time vanish as they come. Now such passions have no soundness in them, and must be distinguished from the desire of reconciliation with God, that comes from a bruised heart, and brings always with it reformation of life. Therefore such, whatsoever they are that live after the course of this world and think notwithstanding that they have desires that are good, deceive themselves.
Now faith is said to be weak, when a man either fails in the knowledge of the gospel; or else having knowledge, is weak in grace to apply unto himself the sweet promises thereof. As for example, we know that the apostles had all true saving faith (except Judas) and when our Saviour Christ asked them whom they though He was; Peter in the person of the rest, answered for them all, and said: Thou art Christ the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16); for which our Saviour commended Him, and in Him them all, saying, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock (that is, upon Christ, which Peter confessed in the name of all) will I build my church (v.18). And yet about that time we shall find in the gospel that they are called men of little faith (Matt. 8:26; 16:8). Now they failed in knowledge of the death of Christ and of His passion and resurrection; and were carried away with a vain hope of an earthly kingdom. And therefore when our Saviour shewed them of His going down to Jerusalem, and of His sufferings there, Peter, a little after his notable confession, began to rebuke Christ and said, Master have pity on thyself, this shall not be unto thee (Matt. 16:22). And until He had appeared unto them after His death, they did not distinctly believe His resurrection.
Again, weak faith, though it be joined with knowledge, yet it may fail in the applying or in the apprehension and appropriating of ChristŐs benefits to a manŐs own self. This is to be seen in ordinary experience. For many a man there is of humble and contrite heart, that serveth God in Spirit and truth, yet is not able to say without great doubtings and waverings: I know I am fully assured that my sins are pardoned. Now shall we say that all such are without faith? God forbid. Nay, we may resolve ourselves that the true child of God may have an hungering desire in his heart after reconciliation with God in Christ for all his sins, with care to keep a good conscience, and yet be weak sometime in the apprehension of GodŐs mercy, and the assurance of the remission of his own sins.
But if faith fail either in the true knowledge, or in the apprehension of GodŐs mercies, how can a man be saved by it? Answer: We must know that this weak faith will as truly apprehend GodŐs merciful promises for the pardon of sin, as strong faith, though not so soundly. Even as a man with a palsy hand can stretch it out as well to receive a gift at the hand of a king as he that is more sound, though it be not so firmly and steadfastly. And Christ saith that He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax (Matt. 12:20).
The church of Rome bears men in hand that they are good Catholics, if they believe as the church believes; though in the mean season they cannot tell what the church believes. And some papists commend this faith, by the example of an old devout father, who being tempted of the devil and asked how he believed, answered that he believed as the church believes. Being again asked how the church believed, he answered, as I believe. Whereupon the devil (as they say) was fain to depart. Well, this fond and ridiculous kind of faith we renounce, as being a means to nuzzle men in blindness, superstition and perpetual ignorance. Yet withal, we do not deny but there is an implicit or enfolded faith; which is when a man as yet having but some little portion of knowledge in the doctrine of the gospel; doth truly perform obedience according to the measure thereof; and withal hath care to get more knowledge, and shews good affection to all good means whereby it may be increased. In this respect a certain ruler, who by a miracle wrought upon his child, was moved to acknowledge Christ for the Messiah, and further to submit himself to His doctrine, is commended for a believer (John 4:53; 4:42). And so are in like case the Samaritans.
(2) And thus much of weak faith; which must be understood to be in a man, not all the days of his life, but while he is a young babe in Christ. For as it is in the state of the body, first we are babes and grow to greater strength as we grow in years; so it is with a Christian man. First he is a babe in Christ, having weak faith, but after grows from grace to grace, till he come to have a strong faith. Example whereof we have in Abraham, who was strong and perfect both in knowledge and apprehension.
This strong faith is when a man is endued with the knowledge of the gospel, and grace to apprehend and apply the righteousness of Christ unto himself for the remission of his own sins; so as he can say distinctly of himself, and truly, that he is resolved in his own conscience that he is reconciled unto God in Christ for all his sins, and accepted in Him to life everlasting. This degree of faith is proper to him that begins to be a tall man, and of ripe years in Christ. And it comes not at the first calling of a man unto grace. And if any shall think that he can have it at the first, he deceiveth himself; for as it is in nature, first we are babes, and then as we increase in years, so we grow in strength; so it is in the life of a Christian; first, ordinarily, he hath a weak faith and after grows from grace to grace, till he come to stronger faith; and at the last be able to say he is fully assured in his heart and conscience of the pardon of his sins, and of reconciliation to God in Christ. And this assurance ariseth from many experiences of GodŐs favour and love in the course of his life by manifold preservations and other blessings, which being deeply and duly considered, bring a man to be fully persuaded that God is his God, and God the Father his Father, and Jesus Christ his redeemer, and the Holy Ghost his sanctifier.
Now howsoever this faith be strong, yet it is always imperfect, as also our knowledge is; and shall so long as we live in this world be mingled with contrary unbelief and sundry doubtings more or less. A great part of men amongst us, blinded with gross ignorance, say they have faith, and yet indeed have not. For ask them what faith they have, they will answer they believe that God is their Father, and the Son their redeemer etc., ask them how long they have had this faith, they will answer, ever since they could remember. Ask them whether they ever doubt of GodŐs favour, they will say they would not once doubt for all the world. But the case of these men is to be pitied; for howsoever they may persuade themselves, yet true it is that they have no sound faith at all, for even strong faith is assaulted with temptations and doubtings; and God will not have men perfect in this life, that they may always go out of themselves and depend wholly on the merit of Christ.
And thus much of these two degrees of faith. Now in whomsoever it is, whether it be a weak faith or a strong, it bringeth forth some fruit, as a tree doth in the time of summer. And a special fruit of faith is the confession of faith: I believe in God etc. So Paul saith, With the heart a man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth man confesseth to salvation (Rom. 10:10). Confession of faith is when a man in speech and outward profession doth make manifest his faith for these two causes: (1) That with his mouth outwardly he may glorify God, and do Him service both in body and soul. (2) That by confession of his faith, he may sever himself from all false Christians, from atheists, hypocrites, and all false seducers whatsoever. And as this is the duty of a Christian man, to make profession of his faith; so here in this Creed of the Apostles, we have the right order and form of making confession set down, as we shall see in handling the parts thereof.
The Creed therefore sets down two things concerning faith, namely, the action of faith, and his object, which also are the parts of the Creed. The action, in these words, I believe; the object in all the words following, in God the Father Almighty, maker etc. And first let us begin with the action.