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the gospel, were about to judge isfaction can thus be given to any of the qualifications of a minister, discerning man concerning our they could obtain no definite idea belief? By such a subscription of his opinions, merely from his or assent to a scripture phrase, assent to scripture phrases. As we impose upon our thoughtless circumstances are, it is absolute; neighbours.' Unless we explain ly impossible, by the use of our meaning, we do nothing but scripture phrases only, to declare conceal our sentiments. Indeed our faith to others. This is not it is the very practice we are opcharging any imperfection upon posing, to which they resort, the word of God. For confes. who mean to disguise their relisions of faith, strictly speaking, gious opinions. They form the are not designed to give an ac- language of Scripture into a corcount of what the Holy Ghost ert under which they can hide, a says concerning any articles of shelter to which they can retreat faith, but of what we believe. from the region of light and And when we would determine, truth. whether any particular terms are It is in vain to urge the perspi, proper to be used in creeds ; the cuity of scripture language, by question is, whether they will ex- which we allow it is perfectly press, with sufficient clearness, adapted to be a universal rule of the real belief of those who assent faith and practice. Whatever to them.
men's speculations on the subAs scripture phrases, however ject may be, it is, I repeat it, a clear and determinate in them- well known fact, that the use of selves, have become of an ambig- scripture phrases does not deteruous signification, they are not mine what a man's sentiments suited to the purpose of confes- are, even on the most important sions. And to say that no con- points in religion. So that the fessions should be composed or scheme, which the adversaries of assented to in any language, but creeds undertake to found on the that of Scripture, is to say, we perfection of Scripture, is calcumust be entirely uncertain, lated to break down all the fences, whether those, with whom we which secure the church from join in church fellowship, and danger, and to let in all manner those whom we elect for ininis-, of errors and corruptions. It ters, believe the doctrines of our affords a hiding place to the most religion, or not.
pernicious deceivers. It tends It follows from this unreason- to confound all religious socieable notion, that we should nev. ties, and to destroy the very beer make an explicit confession of ing of church communion, which Christ and his gospel before is founded on one faith, one hope, men. For how can we give a one baptism. testimony to the faith of the gos, It may be said, that creeds are pel in a decliving age, or profess liable to the same abuse as scripour firm adherence to the truth ture phrases ; that others may by subscribing a proposition, understand them in a different which they who reject the doc- sense from what we do ; and that trines we believe, are as ready to dishonest men 'may please them: subscribe, as we are? What sat selves with subtilties, by the help of which they fancy they can sub- they give to their schemes. By scribe our confessions, while attending to such things,, the they reject the obvious sense. enlightened friends of truth may, It is readily acknowledged, that at every period, construct creeds, there is no absolute security a- which will answer the double gainst human error and deceit ; purpose of declaring their own and that after all our vigilance sentiments, and of discovering we may be imposed upon. But the sentiments of others. this sense of danger should ex- They, who place so much decite the greater caution, and en- pendence on a mere assent to gage us to use those methods scripture phrases, are evidently which seem least liable to mis- chargeable with superstition. take. We already know that Words in themselves, are nothscripture phrases are used by ing. They are arbitrary signs different
persons in a different of our thoughts, and derive all sense. Some men think the their meaning froin common plainest passages in favour of a usage. The words of Scripture particular truth ought to be so are no more valuable, or worthy explained, as to mean quite the of regard, than any other words, contrary. If after knowing this, if we abstract them from the we should consider a person's sense or doctrine which they are assenting to or using those pas- designed to express. The whole sages, as a satisfactory declara- value of words consists in the lion of his faith, we might justly meaning, which the speaker or be charged with the weakest writer intends to convey by them. credulity. On the contrary, we So far, therefore, as any words perceive that men of erroneous or phrases are without a detersentiments generally refuse to minate sense, they are worthless. subscribe orthodox confessions. He that uses them, without exIn this case they cannot so easily planation, might as well say nothsatisfy themselves with evasive ing. If scripture phrases are distinctions. But if the expres- understood by the world in differsions used in any creed should, ent senses, and he, who uses in process of time, be so applied them, refuses to inform others as to become ambiguous, church- in what sense he uses them, he os might consistently make al- inocks those who wish to know terations, and use other expres
his sentiments. For example. sions of more determinate sig. A man pretends to satisfy us, nification. For, while the Holy concerning his faith by assenting Scriptures are designed for a to a passage where Christ is universal and perpetual rule of called GOD; though he chooses faith and manners ; confessions not to tell us, whether by the of faith are of a limited nature,
word GOD he means the suand must be framed with refer- preme, sell-existent Being, or a ence to the particular state of na- metaphorical deity, as the Socintions, to the heresies which pre
ians consider it. In such a case, vail, to the various arts and sub- he does not give us the least terfuges of deceivers, to the knowledge of his belief, and sense in which they use words, might as well use a Chinese and the particular cast which word, as the name of God. To
consider, therefore, such a use words. But if they will do this, of scripture phrases, as a suffi-. they yield the point in debate. cient declaration of a man's faith, To subscribe a passage of Scripis so far from consulting the glo- ture taken in such a particular ry of inspiration, that it is turn- sense, is the same as subscribing ing its words into so many charms the expressions by which we exand amulets ; and it might as plain its sense, or the same as reasonably be affirmed, that a few making those expressions a part scripture words, written on pa- of our creed. per, will cure a man of diseases, In reality, we are required to as to affirm that they will make receive the truths, rather than known a person's sentiments, the mere words of Scripture. It when the meaning he affixes to is the mind of Christ, or the docthem is disguised.
trines he taught, and not mere The ancient Pharisees destroy- combinations of letters, that deed the spirit of the law, while serve the name of the Christian they pretended the strictest re- revelation. Consequently, where gard to its letter. They ac- those doctrines are taught and knowledged every part of the received in their purity, in whatmoral and ceremonial law, while ever terms they are expressed, Christ charged them with mak- there the Bible is honoured, as ing it void. They were willing the standard of faith. Where to subscribe any passages in the those doctrines are denied, how prophets, which related to the tenaciously soever scripture Messiah. But that did not de- phrases are held, there the Bible nominate them believers, so long is rejected, and another rule of as they understood those passa- faith set up in its stead. ges in a wrong sense, and refused But there are other conseto apply them to Jesus of Naza- quences worthy of notice, rereth. Those men, therefore, sulting from the scheme of those who would receive a person's as- who maintain, that none but sent to the letter or phrases of scripture phrases are to be used Scripture, without any explana- in declarations of faith. tion, as a sufficient test of his or According to their scheme, thodoxy, build their scheme up- there could be no expounding of on the maxims of the scribes, Scripture. The advantage of and, to say nothing worse, intro- the best commentaries and the duce into the Christian church best preaching would be lost, the old Jewish pharisaism. and the whole course of public
The only perceivable way to and private instruction would avoid these absurdities is to as- consist merely in reading the sert, that they who adhere to Bible. How effectually this scripture phrases are far from would contravene the great dedesigning to use them in an un- sign of the gospel ministry, and certain sense ; that, while they how fatal it would be to the cause choose to express the doctrines of religion is, doubtless, as eviof the gospel in the words of the dent to our opponents, as to Holy Ghost, they are willing, if ourselves. desired, to explain what they be- If a man publishes a book conlieve to be the meaning of those taining what he believes to be the doctrines of the gospel, he faith in the doctrines of reveladoes as much as to subscribe tion. For, in rigid propriety, it is those doctrines. Whatever a the Bible in the original tongues gospel minister speaks concern- only, which consists of the ing religion, he may consistently words made use of by the Holy subscribe. He should surely be Ghost. Those, properly, are ready to give the most solemn the words of revelation. No assent himself to every thing English yords or phrases can which he publicly delivers, as pretend to the authority of the will of God, to the people. scripture expressions, unless Can any reason be given, why a they are a just interpretation of preacher should refuse to sub- the Hebrew and Greek, and corscribe his own sermon, or any respond in sense with the origi. doctrine contained in it? Ought nal. If a sly deceiver, resolved he not to maintain as great sin- at any rate to support his favourcerity and caution, as inviolable ite scheme, should translate a a regard to the truth, and as close passage of the Greek Testament an adherence to revelation in the into such English phrases, as pulpit, as any where else ? There did not express the sense of the he is under sacred obligations to original, but contained the very kold fast the faithful word as he error, which the Spirit of God hath been taught, and to instruct meant to condemn ; it would be the people in sound doctrine. absurd to call those English He ought to speak because he phrases scripture words, or to believes. When he preaches consider a man, who assented to any thing froin the pulpit, by the them, as assenting to the words words which he uses, he confesses of the Iloly Ghost. his faith, and virtually subscribes Whenever we subscribe a text a creed drawn up in those very as it stands in our common verterins. So that the reason, sion, designing thereby to de. which will confine creeds to the clare our faith in scripture precise phrases of Scripture, will words, we virtually declare that confine sermons to them also. we think the true meaning of And if preaching must be re- the original expressed in our stricted to scripture phrases, translation, which, as far as this why not every kind of religious subject is concerned, is tantacommunication ? According to mount to subscribing those conthis notion, we must never speak fessions of faith, which, in our or write any thing on divine sub- opinion, contain the true docjects, except in the very words trines of inspiration.
Could we of inspiration, lest we should be free the words of our language *called upon to subscribe the sen- from all ambiguity, and always timents, which we express use them in a determinate sense ;
The scheme of our opponents the chief controversy would be, has a very unfavourable aspect in wirat way the original text on all translations of the Bible, should be translated. In that and seems to make it impracti- case, confessions of faith might cable for such as are unacquaint- be so framed, that the principal ed with the Hebrew and Greek thing imported by our subscriblanguages, ever to declare their ing them would be, that we Vol. II. No. 9. ЕЕe
believe such and such texts ought numberless disorders in the Christo be so rendered, and that the tian world. They have fomented interpretation given by the op- division and strife, by which the posite side is erroneous. Now church has been rent, while Chriswould not confessions of this tian love and piety have been lost kind be liable to all the objec. in the contest. They have been tions, which are made against framed to entangle conscience, and thos, in common use? If then to stifle the truth. They have of. we regulate ourselves wholly ac- ten been made engines of ambi. cording to the opinion of those, tion, avarice, and cruelty. They who oppose confessions, we nev- have promoted a blind, malignant er can declare our faith, except zeal, and led to the fiercest and in the Hebrew and Greek lan- most bloody persecutions. And in guages, in which the very phrases gencral they are very prejudiciat used by the inspired writers are to Christian love and candour. found.
In reply, it may be observed, Once more. If none but that the principal evils mentionscripture expressions are to be ed in this objection took place, used, it will be impossible for when creeds were armed with us to declare our faith in the the sword, with blood and torclearest and most legitimate ture. But what have these evils scripture consequences, or in to do with that authority of those truths, which, though not creeds, which is perfectly conexplicitly asserted in the Scrip- sistent with the most extended tures, are plainly inferrible from rights of rational creatures, and them. In this way some truths is founded on the unalienable of our religion, which are by all and essential privileges of all soacknowledged to be of great im- cieties? Is the abuse of a thing portance, must be entirely set to be made an argument against aside, or if believed, must by no it? The wisest institutions, the means be professed.
best privileges, and the most These are some of the conse- valuable possessions are liable to quences of the scheme espoused abuse; and when abused, become by the adversaries of creeds. In- occasions of great mischief. to such absurdities must they in- This is the case with the noble evitably fall, so long as they re- faculty of reason ; with the privgard words more than things; ileges of human society, and so long as they venerate and with the sublimest truths of revhonour the phrases of Scripture elation. Even the grace of the more than the truths contained Lord Jesus is often turned into in them, and look upon empty licentiousness., Shall we then sounds, instead of the purity of urge the abuse of creeds, as an faith, as a distinguishing mark argument against them? The of Christianity.
uncharitable heats and contenOnly one objection tions, and other mischiefs, which against the use of confessions are mentioned in the objection, will be noticed.
are not to be ascribed to the na()bjection III. Whatever may ture and tendency of creeds, but be urged in favour of creeds, they to the unsanctified passions of have in fact been the occasion of mankind. From this source,