We all hold that we are justified by faith, that is, by believing; and that unless we are justified we cannot be saved. And of all men who ever believed this, perhaps those who gave us the Church Catechism believed it most strongly. Nay, some of them suffered for it; endured persecution, banishment, and a cruel death, because they would persist in holding, contrary to the Romanists, that men were justified by faith only, and not by the works of the law; and that this was one of the root-doctrines of Christianity, which if a man did not believe, he would believe nothing else rightly. Does it not seem, then, something strange that they should never in this Catechism of theirs mention one word about justifying or justification? They do not ask the child, 'How is a man justified?' that he may answer, 'By faith alone;' they do not even teach him to say, 'I am justified already. I am in a state of justification;' but not saying one word about that, they teach him to say much more-- they teach him to say that he is in a state of salvation, and to thank God boldly because he is so; and then go on at once to ask him the articles of his belief. And even more strange still, they teach him to answer that question, not by repeating any doctrines, but by repeating the simple old Apostles' Creed. They do not teach him to say, as some would now-a-days, 'I believe in original sin, I believe in redemption through Christ's death, I believe in justification by faith, I believe in sanctification by the Holy Spirit,'--true as these doctrines are; still less do they bid the child say, 'I believe in predestination, and election, and effectual calling, and irresistible grace, and vicarious satisfaction, and forensic justification, and vital faith, and the three assurances.'
Whether these things be true or false, it seemed to the ancient worthies who gave us our Catechism that children had no business with them. They had their own opinions on these matters, and spoke their opinions moderately and wisely, and the sum of their opinions we have in the Thirty-nine Articles, which are not meant for children, not even for grown persons, excepting scholars and clergymen. Of course every grown person is at liberty to study them; but no one in the Church of England is required to agree to them, and to swear that they are true, except scholars at our old Universities, and clergymen, who are bound to have studied such questions. But for the rest of Englishmen all the necessary articles of belief (so the old divines considered) were contained in the simple old Apostles' Creed.
And why? Because, it seems to me, they were what Englishmen ought to be--what too many Englishmen are too apt to boast of being in these days, while they are not so, or anything like it--and that is, honest men and practical men. They had taught the children to say that they were members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven; and they had taught the children, when they said that, to mean what they said; for they had no notion that 'I am,' meant 'I may possibly be;' or that 'I was made,' meant 'There is a chance of my being made some time or other.' They would not have dared to teach children to say things which were most probably not true. So believing really what they taught, they believed also that the children were justified. For if a child is not justified in being a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, what is he justified in being? Is not that exactly the just, right, and proper state for him, and for every man?--the very state in which all men were meant originally to be, in which all men ought to have been? So they looked on these children as being in the just, right, and proper way, on which God looks with satisfaction and pleasure, and in which alone a man can do just, right, and proper things, by the Spirit of Christ, which He gives daily and hourly to those who belong to Him and trust in Him and in His Father.
But they knew that the children could only keep in this just, and right, and proper state by trusting in God, and looking up to Him daily in faith, and love, and obedience. They knew that if the children, whether for one hour or for their whole lives, lost trust in God, and began trusting in themselves, they would that very moment, then and there, become not justified at all, because they would be doing a thing which no man is justified in doing, and fall into a state into which no man is justified in remaining for one hour--that is, into an unjustifiable state of self-will, and lawlessness, and forgetfulness of who and of what they were, and of what God was to them; in one word, into a sinful state, which is not a righteous, or just, or good, or proper state for any man, but an utterly unrighteous, unjust, wrong, improper, mistaken, diseased state, which is certain to breed unrighteous, unjust, improper actions in a man, as a limb is certain to corrupt if it be cut off from the body, as a little child is certain to come to harm if it runs away from its parents, and does just what it likes, and eats whatsoever pleases its fancy. So these old divines, being practical men, said to themselves, 'These children are justified and right in being what they are, therefore our business is to keep them what they are, and we can only do that as long as they have faith in God and in His Christ.'
Now, if they had been mere men of books, they would have said to themselves, 'Then we must teach the children very exactly what faith is, that they may know how to tell true faith from false, and may be able to judge every day and hour whether they have the right sort of faith which will justify them, or some wrong sort which will not.' And many wise and good men in those times did say so, and tormented their own minds, and the minds of weak brethren, with long arguments and dry doctrines about faith, till, in their eagerness to make out what sort of thing faith ought to be, they seemed quite to forget that it must be faith in God, and so seemed to forget too who God was, and what He was like. Therefore, they ended by making people believe (as too many, I fear, do now-a-days) not that they were justified freely by the grace of God, shown forth in the life, and death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ; no: but that they were justified by believing in justification by faith, and that their salvation depended not on being faithful to God and trusting in Him, but in standing up fiercely for the doctrine of justification by faith. And so they destroyed the doctrine of free grace, while they thought they were fighting for it; for they taught men not to look to God for salvation, so much as to their own faith, their own frames, and feelings, and experiences; and these, as common sense will show you, are just as much something in a man, as acts of his own, and part of him, as his good works would be; and so by making people fancy that it was having the right sort of feelings which justified them, they fell back into the very same mistake as the Papists against whom they were so bitter, namely, that it is something in a man's self which justifies him, and not simply Christ's merits and God's free grace.
But our old Reformers were of a different mind; and everlasting thanks be to Almighty God that they were so. For by being so they have made the Church of England (as I always have said, and always will say) almost the only Church in Europe, Protestant or other, which thoroughly and fully stands up for free grace, and justification by faith alone. For these old Reformers were practical men, and took the practical way. They knew, perhaps, the old proverb, 'A man need not be a builder to live in a house.' At least they acted on it, and instead of trying to make the children understand what faith was made up of, they tried to make them live in faith itself. Instead of saying, 'How shall we make the children have faith in God by telling them what faith is?' they said, 'How shall we make them have faith in God by telling them what God is?' And therefore, instead of puzzling and fretting the children's minds with any of the controversies which were then going on between Papists and Protestants, or afterwards between Calvinists and Arminians, they taught the children simply about God; who He was, and what He had done for them and all mankind; that so they might learn to love Him, and look up to Him in faith, and trust utterly to Him, and so remain justified and right, saved and safe for ever.
By doing which, my friends, they showed that they knew more about faith and about God than if they had written books on books of doctrinal arguments (though they wrote those too, and wrote them nobly and well); they showed that they had true faith in God, such trust in Him, and in the beauty and goodness, justice and love, which He had shown, that they only needed to tell the children of it, and they would trust Him too, and at once have faith in so good a God. They showed that they had such trust in the excellencies, and reasonableness, and fitness of His Gospel, that they were sure that it would come home at once to the children's hearts. They showed that they had such trust in the power of His grace, in His love for the children, in the working of His Spirit in the children, that He would bring His Gospel home to their hearts, and stir them up by the spirit of adoption to feel that they were indeed the children of God, to whom they might freely cry, 'My Father!'
And I say that they were not deceived. I say that experience has shown that they were right; that the Church Catechism, where it is really and honestly taught, gives the children an honest, frank, sober, English temper of mind which no other training which I have seen gives. I have seen, alas! Church schools fail, ere now, in training good children; but as far as I have seen, they have failed either because the Catechism was neglected for the sake of cramming the children's brains with scholarship, or because the Catechism was not honestly taught: because the words were taught by rote, but the explanations which were given of it were no explanations at all, but another doctrine, which our forefathers knew not: either Dissenting or Popish; either a religion of fancies, and feelings, and experiences, or one of superstitious notions and superstitious ceremonies which have been borrowed from the Church of Rome, and which, I trust in God, will be soon returned to their proper owner, if the free, truthful, God-trusting English spirit is to remain in our children. I know that there are good men among Dissenters, my friends; good men among Romanists. I have met with them, and I thank God for them; and what may not be good for English children may be good for foreign ones. I judge not; to his own master each man stands or falls. But I warn you frankly, from experience (not of my own merely--Heaven forbid!--but from the experience of centuries past), that if you expect to make the average of English children good children on any other ground than the Church Catechism takes, you will fail. Of course there will be some chosen ones here and there, whose hearts God will touch; but you will find that the greater part of the children will not be made better at all; you will find that the cleverer, and more tender-hearted will be made conceited, Pharisaical, self-deceiving (for children are as ready to deceive themselves, and play the hypocrite to their own consciences, as grown people are); they will catch up cant words and phrases, or little outward forms of reverence, and make a religion for themselves out of them to drug their own consciences withal; while, when they go out into the world, and meet temptation, they will have no real safeguard against it, because whatsoever they have been taught, they have not been taught that God is really and practically their Father, and they His children.
I have seen many examples of this kind. Perhaps those who have eyes to see may have seen one or two in this very parish. Be that as it may, I tell you, my friends, that your children shall be taught the Church Catechism, with the plain, honest meaning of the words as they stand. No less: but as God shall give me grace, no more. If it be not enough for them to know that God, He who made heaven and earth, is their Father; that His Son Jesus Christ redeemed them and all mankind by being born of the Virgin Mary, suffering under Pontius Pilate, being crucified, dead, and buried, descending into hell, rising again the third day from the dead, ascending into Heaven, and sitting on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, in the intent of coming from thence to judge the living and the dead; to believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy universal Church in which He keeps us, in the fellowship of all Saints in which He knits us together; in the forgiveness of our sins which He proclaims to us, in the resurrection of our body which He will quicken at the last day, in the life everlasting which is His life,--if, I say, this be not enough for them to believe, and on the strength thereof to trust God utterly, and so be justified and saved from this evil world, and from the doom and punishment thereof, then they must go elsewhere; for I have nothing more to offer them, and trust in God that I never shall have.