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consider, therefore, such a use of scripture phrases, as a sufficient declaration of a man's faith, is so far from consulting the glory of inspiration, that it is turning its words into so many charms and amulets; and it might as reasonably be affirmed, that a few scripture words, written on paper, will cure a man of diseases, as to affirm that they will make known a person's sentiments, when the meaning he affixes to them is disguised.
The ancient Pharisees destroyed the spirit of the law, while they pretended the strictest regard to its letter. They acknowledged every part of the moral and ceremonial law, while Christ charged them with making it void. They were willing to subscribe any passages in the prophets, which related to the Messiah. But that did not denominate them believers, so long as they understood those passages in a wrong sense, and refused to apply them to Jesus of Nazareth. Those men, therefore, who would receive a person's assent to the letter or phrases of Scripture, without any explanation, as a sufficient test of his orthodoxy, build their scheme upon the maxims of the scribes, and, to say nothing worse, introduce into the Christian church the old Jewish pharisaism.
words. But if they will do this, they yield the point in debate. To subscribe a passage of Scripture taken in such a particular sense, is the same as subscribing the expressions by which we explain its sense, or the same as making those expressions a part of our creed.
In reality, we are required to receive the truths, rather than the mere words of Scripture. It is the mind of Christ, or the doctrines he taught, and not mere combinations of letters, that deserve the name of the Christian revelation. Consequently, where those doctrines are taught and received in their purity, in whatever terms they are expressed, there the Bible is honoured, as the standard of faith. Where those doctrines are denied, how tenaciously soever scripture phrases are held, there the Bible is rejected, and another rule of faith set up in its stead.
But there are other consequences worthy of notice, resulting from the scheme of those who maintain, that none but scripture phrases are to be used in declarations of faith.
According to their scheme, there could be no expounding of Scripture. The advantage of the best commentaries and the best preaching would be lost, and the whole course of public and private instruction would consist merely in reading the Bible. How effectually this would contravene the great design of the gospel ministry, and how fatal it would be to the cause of religion is, doubtless, as evident to our opponents, as to ourselves.
The only perceivable way to avoid these absurdities is to assert, that they who adhere to scripture phrases are far from designing to use them in an uncertain sense; that, while they choose to express the doctrines of the gospel in the words of the Holy Ghost, they are willing, if desired, to explain what they believe to be the meaning of those
If a man publishes a book con taining what he believes to be
the doctrines of the gospel, he does as much as to subscribe those doctrines. Whatever a gospel minister speaks concerning religion, he may consistently subscribe. He should surely be ready to give the most solemn assent himself to every thing, which he publicly delivers, as the will of God, to the people. Can any reason be given, why a preacher should refuse to subscribe his own sermon, or any doctrine contained in it? Ought he not to maintain as great sincerity and caution, as inviolable a regard to the truth, and as close an adherence to revelation in the pulpit, as any where else? There he is under sacred obligations to hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, and to instruct the people in sound doctrine. He ought to speak because he believes. When he preaches any thing from the pulpit, by the words which he uses, he confesses his faith, and virtually subscribes á creed drawn up in those very terms. So that the reason, which will confine creeds to the precise phrases of Scripture, will confine sermons to them also. And if preaching must be restricted to scripture phrases, why not every kind of religious communication? According to this notion, we must never speak or write any thing on divine subjects, except in the very words of inspiration, lest we should be called upon to subscribe the sentiments, which we express
The scheme of our opponents has a very unfavourable aspect on all translations of the Bible, and seems to make it impracticable for such as are unacquainted with the Hebrew and Greek languages, ever to declare their Vol. II. No. 9. Еве
faith in the doctrines of revelation. For, in rigid propriety, it is the Bible in the original tongues only, which consists of the words made use of by the Holy Ghost. Those, properly, are the words of revelation. No English words or phrases can pretend to the authority of scripture expressions, unless they are a just interpretation of the Hebrew and Greek, and correspond in sense with the original. If a sly deceiver, resolved at any rate to support his favourite scheme, should translate a passage of the Greek Testament into such English phrases, as did not express the sense of the original, but contained the very error, which the Spirit of God meant to condemn; it would be absurd to call those English phrases scripture words, or to consider a man, who assented to them, as assenting to the words of the Holy Ghost.
Whenever we subscribe a text as it stands in our common version, designing thereby to declare our faith in scripture words, we virtually declare that we think the true meaning of the original expressed in our translation, which, as far as this subject is concerned, is tantamount to subscribing those confessions of faith, which, in our opinion, contain the true doctrines of inspiration. Could we free the words of our languagė from all ambiguity, and always use them in a determinate sense; the chief controversy would be, in what way the original text should be translated. In that case, confessions of faith might be so framed, that the principal thing imported by our subscribing them would be, that we
believe such and such texts ought to be so rendered, and that the interpretation given by the opposite side is erroneous. Now would not confessions of this kind be liable to all the objections, which are made against those in common use? If then we regulate ourselves wholly according to the opinion of those, who oppose confessions, we never can declare our faith, except in the Hebrew and Greek languages, in which the very phrases used by the inspired writers are found.
Once more. If none but scripture expressions are to be used, it will be impossible for us to declare our faith in the clearest and most legitimate scripture consequences, or those truths, which, though not explicitly asserted in the Scriptures, are plainly inferrible from them. In this way some truths of our religion, which are by all acknowledged to be of great importance, must be entirely set aside, or if believed, must by no means be professed.
These are some of the consequences of the scheme espoused by the adversaries of creeds. Into such absurdities must they inevitably fall, so long as they regard words more than things; so long as they venerate and honour the phrases of Scripture more than the truths contained in them, and look upon empty sounds, instead of the purity of faith, as a distinguishing mark of Christianity.
Only one more objection against the use of confessions will be noticed.
numberless disorders in the Christian world. They have fomented division and strife, by which the church has been rent, while Christian love and piety have been lost in the contest. They have been framed to entangle conscience, and to stifle the truth. They have often been made engines of ambition, avarice, and cruelty. They have promoted a blind, malignant zeal, and led to the fiercest and most bloody persecutions. And in general they are very prejudiciał to Christian love and candour.
Objection III. Whatever may be urged in favour of creeds, they have in fact been the occasion of
In reply, it may be observed, that the principal evils mentioned in this objection took place, when creeds were armed with the sword, with blood and torture. But what have these evils to do with that authority of creeds, which is perfectly consistent with the most extended rights of rational creatures, and is founded on the unalienable and essential privileges of all societies? Is the abuse of a thing to be made an argument against it? The wisest institutions, the best privileges, and the most valuable possessions are liable to abuse; and when abused, become occasions of great mischief. This is the case with the noble faculty of reason; with the priv ileges of human society, and with the sublimest truths of revelation. Even the grace of the Lord Jesus is often turned into licentiousness. Shall we then urge the abuse of creeds, as an argument against them? The uncharitable heats and contentions, and other mischiefs, which are mentioned in the objection, are not to be ascribed to the nature and tendency of creeds, but to the unsanctified passions of mankind. From this source,
not from confessions of faith, are derived all the storms which have broken the peace of the church, all the persecutions, which have wasted the saints, and all the fires, which have devoured the world. If the hearts of men were sanctified; if, under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, they would practise the noble virtues of the Christian religion; we should soon see an end of division and strife, and rejoice in the prosperity and peace of Zion. But if the passions of men continue unsanctified, it is in vain to expect that any other methods will secure the welfare either of civil or religious society. Will setting aside confessions, and removing the restraints, which religion lays upon mankind, terminate the reign of sin, and procure quiet and happiness? Have we not seen those, who trample on creeds, and even those, who spurn all the restraints of religion, as fond of their own notions, as imperious, and as uncharitable, as the most earnest promoters of orthodoxy? Human depravity is ever active; and if it should cease to be occupied with religious contentions, it would show itself in some other way.
The objection before us has no weight, unless it can be proved that the principles, which we have endeavoured to vindicate with respect to confessions, are inconsistent with the amiable virtues of Christianity. But what pretence is there for such an allegation? Are not moderation and meekness compatible with unshaken firmness? Is not the warmest zeal for the faith of the gospel consistent with mod
esty, humility, and love? May we not feel and manifest all the excellencies of benevolence, forbearance and candour, while we refuse to choose a man for our minister, or to admit him to church communion, until he gives us some evidence, that he is a disciple of Jesus, and has embraced the faith once delivered to the saints? Thus, however great the evils, which have at any time been occasioned by creeds, there is evidently nothing in their nature and proper tendency, which does not harmonize with the most enlarged affection of Christians, as well as with the most precious interests of the church.
But there are many good effects of confessions, which, tho overlooked by our opponents, afford a strong argument in their favour. These effects have been considered in a former number of this SURVEY. I shall only add the words of a late writer in the Religious Monitor. "Not to speak of their effects in primitive times; it was by confessions, that the principles of the reformation were spread; that the scheme was brought to a consistency; and that, under the divine blessing, the fervid heroism was produced, which inspired our fathers to brave opposi tion, and defy danger." How important it is to secure the blessings which were gained by the reformation! The hero, who has delivered his country, or the patriot, who has introduced salutary laws or institutions, esteems the effects of his prowess or wisdom in proportion to their stabil. ity and permanence. It is so in religion. How evidently proper, therefore, it is, that Christian
churches should adopt certain internal regulations for the purpose of maintaining, in purity, the faith which they profess, and of transmitting it to future ages.
We have now exhibited what we judged of chief consequence on this subject. We have endeavoured to point out the utility and importance of confessions of faith; to explain the principles on which they rest; to remove the doubts of the honest, but misinformed; and to answer the objections and expose the misrepresentations of adversa
It is hoped, that a due consideration of what has been written will rouse the attention and zeal of those, who love the glory of Zion, and lead them to unite in every measure, which the interest of Christianity renders need ful. Churches of New England, be entreated not to overlook the alarming signs of the times. Neglect not the only means of your safety. Let not those, who exalt the God of your fathers, and seek your good, ever have reason to mourn the departure of your glory. In this most eventful period, when the spirit of innovation and revolution is spreading such desolations and miseries over the earth, and forebodes such dreadful evils to the Christian cause, let your fears be seasonably awakened, and let a prudent foresight provide means of security. Hold fast what you have received, and let no man take your crown. If confessions of faith, wisely used, have such a beneficial influence, consider how great the evil of holding them in contempt. Contend earnestly for the gospel faith; not with
the weapons of unhallowed passion and science falsely so called, but with the more successful weapons, which Christian truth and love supply. Perhaps there is no measure more important at the present day, than the avowed and steady adherence of all orthodox ministers and churches to that scheme of religion, which was so often acknowledged by our godly fa thers, and has, in substance, been generally embraced by Protestant churches. The scheme intended is that contained in the Assembly's catechism, or in the Westminster confession of faith. A general union on that basis would inconceivabiy strengthen the cause of Christ among us, while it would throw confusion and terror inta the camp of the enemy. And notwithstanding every difficulty, such a union will take place, if it be as earnestly desired and sought by faithful ministers and churches, as it is deprecated by others. PASTOR
GOD has been pleased to furnish this world with whatever is necessary for the accommodation of mankind. The right to the conveniences of life origi nates in the gift of God. The grant to Adam and to his posterity at the creation was confined to their existing necessities. Previously to the days of Noah, there was no permission to cat animal food. The right which mankind had either to vegeta-,