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And whom should we love, if not him who loved us, and gave himself for us? If the bliss even of angels and glorified souls, consists greatly in seeing, and praising the Son of God; surely, to love, to trust, and to celebrate the friend of sinners, must be a principal ingredient in the happiness of saints not yet made perfect. Solomon, whose experience of grace was lively and triumphant when he wrote this Song of Songs, declares, in the fifth chapter, "that Christ is altogether lovely." Other objects may be overrated, and too highly esteemed; but so transcendent, so infinite is the excellency of Christ, that he is, and will be to all eternity, more lovely than beloved. Yet, though all the love, possible for saints and angels to show, falls, and will always fall, infinitely short of the Saviour's due: still it is a blessed privilege, to love him at all, though in ever so faint a manner, and in ever so low a degree. They that love him at all, wish to love him more: and more and more they shall love him, through the ages endless duration in heaven, where they shall be like him, and see him as he is.
COLLECT FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
"ALMIGHTY God," &c.-Advent signifies, the act of approaching, or of coming. The members of Christ's mystic body, the church, however they may differ in external and non-essential points; yet, are they all firmly united in this faith, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and, consequently, very God, of very God:-that he came to visit us, in great humility that he will come again, in the last day, to judge both the quick and the dead:-and that life immortal is obtained for us, and shall be enjoyed by us, through him only.
These are the doctrines, upon which this collect is founded; and which are confessed in it. In the firm belief of these, looking back to Christ's first coming, and forward to his second advent, every believing soul is and will be concerned, to cast away the works of darkness: i. e. the evil actings of his corrupt nature; a nature compounded of the pride of the devil, and the lust of the beast. And, 2. to put on the whole armour of God, brought to light, and presented to him by the gospel: even the girdle of truth, the breast-plate of Christ's righteousness, the preparation of the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. v. 14, &c.) And seeing the absolute necessity of casting away the former, and of putting on the latter, believers use all prayer, to the God of all grace, for his Spirit, to enable them to do both; knowing, that, without God's effectual grace, they can do neither.
Hence observe, that this collect breathes a spirit, quite contrary, both to Antinomian licentiousness, and to Arminian pride. These are of the works of darkness, enemies to the church of Christ; and are alike, therefore, to be detested and cast off. The former brings a reproach on the purity of the gospel : the latter perverts the gracious glad tidings of it. That we may avoid the one, and cast off the other, let us ever remember, that all good works are necessary to adorn our holy profession; but that, as the church of England elsewhere speaks, we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God, by Christ preventing us (or being beforehand with us), that we may have a good will; and working with us, when we have that good will. Article X.
APOSTLE'S CREED, THE NICENE CREED, THE ATHANASIAN CREED, AND THE TE DEUM.
I. THAT excellent and ancient formulary, commonly called the Apostle's Creed, was so named, not as if it were written by those illustrious disciples of Christ, but because it contains a general summary, or outline, of the apostolic doctrines.
Some weak and superstitious people, however, have aimed at reducing it to twelve articles (though it really consists of twenty), in order to have it believed that this creed was drawn up by the twelve apostles, and that each apostle clubbed an article. But let it be observed, (1.) that this tradition was never heard of, so far as appears, for almost four hundred years after Christ. (2.) Rufinus, one of the first asserters of it, is, on all hands, acknowledged to be an author, whose integrity was none of the best. (3.) Neither St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles; (4.) nor any of the primitive councils or synods; nor, (5.) any of the more ancient fathers, say one word about the matter: St. Ambrose being the first writer, who ascribed this creed to the apostles, as their composition.
Nevertheless, it is a valuable compendium of the Christian faith; and truly apostolical, though not framed by the apostles. It is quite uncertain, who were the penmen of it, and when it was penned. But this is no impeachment of its worth, respectability, or usefulness. It seems to have obtained in the church, about A. D. 300.
II. The Nicene Creed is a most admirable form of sound words, drawn up by the first general council, convened at Nice, A. D. 325.
This celebrated council, which assembled in the great hall of the emperor Constantine's palace, at Nice, in Bythinia, consisted, at a medium, of about three hundred bishops, and a vast multitude of inferior clergymen. Its grand object was, to counteract the progress of the Arian heresy, then growing rampant in opposition to which, the creed here framed, asserts the eternal generation of the Son of God, and (which are the necessary consequences of that) his co-essentially and co-equality with the Father. Arius himself, from motives of worldly prudence, subscribed this famous creed; but with most wicked and treacherous mental reservations; just as too many, who enter into orders in the church of England, at this very day, subscribe this very creed, without believing the eternal generation, and the absolute divinity, of God the Son; any more than they believe the doctrine of absolute predestination, to which they likewise most solemnly set their hands.
III. The Athanasian Creed chiefly respects the doctrine of the Trinity; the eternal generation, and the miraculous incarnation, of the second person in the Godhead. It is called, St. Athanasius' Creed ; not because it was syllabically composed by him, but because it so perfectly accords with the system which that great and good man drew from the scriptures, and which (at a time when the Arian faction were endeavouring to persecute truth out of the world) he underwent so many dangers, difficulties, and sufferings to defend.
Dr. Waterland, who has professedly written a learned and masterly history of the Athanasian Creed, supposes, with the utmost probability, that it was drawn up by Hilary, bishop of Arles, about A. D. 430.