[B05] The Apostles' Creed: The Ultimate Ground of Faith

How can thinking people say otherwise than, I believe in God. Not to hold this faith throws everything into confusion worse confounded. Without belief in God human life, all life, becomes an insoluble riddle. And the nice adjustments, marvelous and invariable movements and functions of the universe add to the enigma.

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5. The Ultimate Ground Of Faith

He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. — [Heb.] 11:6.

We start out in the old, oft repeated, Creed by saying “I,” I who am a self-conscious, rational creature; I who know whereof I speak, “I believe.” Yes, assuredly we believe. We cannot have lived very long in this world, we cannot have thought very deeply, we cannot have paid much attention to the many intricate things in our own lives, and all around us; unfathomable, many of them, but still persistently with us; working, some of them, with the regularity of the clock; we cannot have spent our lives in beholding these things without having come to some conclusions concerning them. These conclusions are of the nature of beliefs. We hold certain things to be true.

On the part of man universally these thoughts about the primary phenomena of the universe, and human life as the most significant part of the visible universe, lead to one universal deduction: back of the visible there is something not tangibly revealed; back of the things made there is a Maker; back of life there is a Life-giver; back of all discernible movement there is a Mover; back of all the beauty there is an Artist. And all the world has united in calling this wise master-builder, this almighty ruler — God.

In the Apostles’ Creed, however, we are not speaking of general, or philosophic beliefs. We are speaking here as Christians. We are here confessing not alone what we believe as a result of deduction, but what we believe as a result of the revelation which has been made to us. The Creed is a statement of Christian beliefs.

The truths, or facts, set forth in the Creed, concerning which we say, I believe, are comparatively few and fundamental. The most fundamental and comprehensive statement of the Creed is that contained in the first clause — I believe in God.

I Believe in God

How can thinking people say otherwise than, I believe in God. Not to hold this faith throws everything into confusion worse confounded. Without belief in God human life, all life, becomes an insoluble riddle. And the nice adjustments, marvelous and invariable movements and functions of the universe add to the enigma.

The airship, submarine, and wireless communication are some of the wonders of our modern age. They rightly elicit the unstinted admiration of every serious thinker. Did they just happen? Did they spring up like the mushroom over night? No! They are the product of mind intensely and continuously applied. The laws in accordance with which these inventions operate have always existed. They needed only to be discovered and applied. It took wisdom patiently and intensely applied to do this. We are living in the midst of a universe so intricate, so nicely adjusted, with operations so perpetual and invariable that the highest achievements of man pale into insignificance by their side. Shall we say that in the limited sphere of human endeavor the activities of mind are absolutely necessary for constructive, regulative work; but that in the limitless sphere of world-activity there was, and is, no constructive, controlling mind? It is unthinkable! It was the Divine mind which inspired the declaration:

“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Ps. 14:1). And the world has not accepted the fool’s dictum.

The fact that nature, in all her diversified forms, clearly teaches the existence, and points to the operation, of a Being far, far above human reach in wisdom and power is attested by the practically universal conviction of mankind. The teaching of nature is so plain that there can be no other conclusion. Man does not need to be educated, by an artificial process, into believing that there is a God. In the sense of believing in a God, man is naturally religious. He does, however, have to be artificially educated out of believing in God. But we doubt whether it is ever successfully done. There are many who say there is no God, and some who doubtless wish there was none; but it is questionable whether there are any who, in their inmost hearts, are really convinced that there is no God. If there are any such they come to this state only by years and years of fighting against their own natural, innate convictions. And the evidence is not wanting that many of the most distinguished opponents of belief in a personal God, men who derided this belief as a superstition which needs to be eradicated from men’s souls before they can come into their own, could not entirely rid themselves of this belief. What is the explanation of this fact? Simply this, God is the author of man’s being, as well as of all other parts of creation. He put the marks of His handiwork on man’s mind and soul as He did on all other parts of creation. Indeed, nearer than any other creature of which we have knowledge, man is related to God. He was created in God’s own image; after the pattern of God’s own wisdom and holiness. God has written His sign manual into the very texture of man’s conscious being, into the warp and woof of his very life. Sin has done much to deface this writing, the writing graven on every page of the book of nature, with special clearness on man’s own soul; it has made the writing difficult to read; but it has not been, and it never can be, wholly eradicated. The devil, with all his ingenuity and malignant power, will never be able to do it. God will not do it. He has written His autograph on everything, and it cannot be erased.

That man has not been mistaken in his reading of the signature of almighty God written all over nature, and attesting His wisdom, power, and goodness, is the witness also of Revelation. The Word of God confirms what men have everywhere found written on the face of nature. The Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge” (Ps. 19:1–2).

To those who were finding fault with the ways of Providence, as many still do, the afflicted man of God says, “Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee; or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee and the fishes of the sea shall declare it unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:7–10). And St. Paul says,

“The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20).

Christian people, however, receive but a comparatively small part of their knowledge of God from the book of nature. Every page of this book is covered with characters written with the finger of God. And it is written large and fair. But when it comes to reading this message the natural man is a very incapable pupil. And even the newborn children of God have a large measure of astigmatism when it comes to this task, save as they read in the light of Revelation. The message is wholly trustworthy, but our vision is blurred. Cobwebs fill our brain. Sin grows them.

When we wish to learn with absolute certainty of God’s existence; especially about His nature, works and disposition, we go to another book of God’s writing — the Bible, God’s inspired Word. Here we are told about God, not by His works; but by Himself. Here we are given still other visions of God, visions which not only fill us with wonder and admiration, but which touch and melt our hearts. When one has looked closely into the book of nature he says, I am sure there is a God, there must be. When a man has looked carefully and lovingly into the book of Revelation, he says, I know there is a God. He has laid His hand on my soul. Man then not only believes that God is, he believes in God. There is a touch already of confidence in man’s soul.

The final proof, to the Christian, of the existence of God, the proof which puts the foundation under all other foundations, is Jesus Christ.

“No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”

Jesus proved Himself God. We know that there is One in whom centers all the powers attributed to that eternal, invisible Spirit who is the Father of all things. And this One, Jesus Christ, whom men have seen and handled, tells us of the Father, constantly reveals the Father. But there is another proof of God’s existence and nature besides that which Jesus gave during that brief sojourn on earth almost two thousand years ago. We accept every word of revelation concerning Jesus Christ, His person and His mission as it is given in the Word. But there is another history of Him besides that written in the New Testament. During nineteen hundred years Jesus Christ has been writing the history of His power and Godhead in the life of the Church He founded. He is not an absentee Lord of or in His Church. The last words of Christ, before His ascension, were:

“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

Jesus still lives for His Church, with His Church, and in His Church. He is still chiding wickedness and hypocrisy in the world; still working for righteousness; still building up His, and His Father’s, Kingdom. His presence may not be seen, but the results of His presence are seen. We cannot reach forth our hands and grasp the tangible hand of Jesus, as did Peter when sinking beneath the waves; but His presence may be felt, and is felt, in the soul-life of all those truly God’s children. Out of our own consciousness of oneness with the Church in her conflicts, victories, and joys; and out of our conscious fellowship with the ever-present, ever-triumphing head of the Church, Christ Jesus, we are able to say, — I believe in God.

What I Believe About God

It is a great thing, the most important initial step in life, to be able to say, honestly and wholeheartedly, — I believe in God. This, as our text indicates, is the primary step. Without this there can be no second step in Christian faith or experience. But faith, to be the right kind of faith, should have a definite content. What do we mean when we say, I believe in God? Have we any clearly defined ideas as to what it is, that we believe concerning God? Undoubtedly, a great many people have really gotten hold of God, and enjoy His blessings, who would have difficulty in defining what it is that they believe about God. The doorway of their spiritual life has been opened, God has come in, and in this way they know Him without knowing any particular theories about Him.

In the intellectual search for God men all soon reach the limit of their power of comprehension. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection” (Job 11:7)? Indeed, we ought to be very careful in our attempts to define God. There are certain things concerning God which He has Himself revealed, beyond these we should not go. And even in the use of the salient points which God has revealed concerning Himself we should be very careful, lest in the use of them we drag God down to the level of our cramped and cabined intelligence, instead of elevating our intelligence toward the level of His exalted being. The human mind can no more contain God than the dew-drop can contain the sun which, in some little measure, it reflects. But there are some things about God which can be known, and must be known, if our faith, the faith of thinking beings, is to be at all satisfying.

Our text tells us that in addition to believing that God exists, we must believe that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. God is not found by those who are indifferent with respect to Him. And His revelations of Himself, while they come in part in words, come also largely through His operations in the sphere of grace, — through His rewards to those who diligently seek Him. When Jacob wrestled with God he asked of the Lord His name. And the answer was, “Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?” And the name was withheld. But it is added, “And God blessed him there.” In that blessing, Jacob and his people gathered more knowledge of the nature of God than they could possibly have gathered from any name. If we will diligently seek, not only to know about God, but God Himself; and seek where the clearest revelations are found, in God’s Word, His final revelation of who and what He is and what He has done and is doing for us; this quest will soon be rewarded, not in this sense that we shall know all there is to be known of God, but in such a way that we shall be led on from knowledge to knowledge, till, finally, we shall know as we are known.

One of the first things we should know is that God is a personal being. He is not a mere aggregate of imposing names. He is not a composite of mere abstractions. God is not mere power; He is a being who exerts power; from whom, as He wills it, limitless power proceeds. God is not a mere thought, nor yet a conglomerate of thoughts; He is a being who thinks. God is not a mere will, some kind of an energy working to bring all things into conformity to itself, or to some definitely purposed end; He is a being, a personality who wills, plans, executes. God is not a mere feeling of generosity, of kindliness, of love; He is a being who is beneficent, who loves so truly that it may be called the dominant passion of His life. God is not a mere life-principle; but a personal being from whom proceeds, by the creative energy of His will and Word, all other life. God is a being who can say I, and is conscious that it means to Him what the same expression means to us, with this difference, — God is the absolute, original personal being, while our personal existence is derived. We are creatures, the work of God’s hand.

It does not at all detract from the reality of God’s personality that He is a spiritual and not a material being. “God is a Spirit.” And those who would know Him must seek Him as a Spirit, in a spiritual way. Even many of the men of science are getting away from the crude idea of former days that the only realities are material things. Men are beginning to see more generally, and more clearly, that the greatest realities are spiritual. The material is but a mode of expressing the spiritual, and to serve as agencies through which those creatures which are partly spiritual, and partly corporeal, as men, may work out their final destiny. God is a pure Spirit — a personal Spirit who thinks, and wills, and loves, and exercises unlimited sovereignty.

God, being one and indivisible as to essence, has but one mind, one will, one heart, one nature; but exists, nevertheless, in three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I believe that God the Father is the first person of the Godhead, to whom is rightly ascribed the great work of creation; though the other two persons were also actively engaged. I believe that all things outside of God Himself owe their existence to His creative Word; and that there is a continuous exercise of His creative power put forth for the purpose of preserving, guiding, and controlling that which He created. I believe that this all-wise, all-powerful; this immanent, but still transcendent, God, is truly a Father to me, and all his creatures; that there is a real fatherly feeling in His heart for us, the children of men, who have done so much to grieve Him; and that this fatherly heart conceived and began the execution of the plan for our salvation, as it is written:

“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

I believe that Jesus Christ is the second person in the family of the Godhead; that He was eternally begotten of the Father, and in the fullness of time became a man for our redemption. I believe that by the active obedience of the life, and the passive obedience of the death, of this God-man every child of Adam’s lost race has been redeemed; and that salvation is assured for every one who comes as a needy sinner, and clings to Jesus Christ by a living, appropriating faith. “He that believeth, and is baptized shall be saved” (St. Mark 16:16).

I believe that the Holy Ghost is also truly a person of the triune family of the God-head; and that it is now His particular mission to operate, through the inspired words of Scripture, and the Divinely instituted Sacraments, for the purpose of begetting in the hearts of men a new, a spiritual, life. And that through the same means He continues to work for the restoration in man of the perfect image of God.

There is much more which those who are familiar with God’s holy Word believe. Indeed, we believe all it teaches. But of it all, that which we have stated is the sum of the simple fundamentals. And those who do truly believe these truths are heirs of eternal life and glory. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

To request a printable copy [PDF] send an email to: editor@lutheranlibrary.org with the title of this post.

Luther's Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles' Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0

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