Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

different from those of her acknowledged standards, la He can not suppose, that, for his sake, she can dispense with her lawa

ca may sit in judgment on the qualifications of private nembers, claiming an

alliance with her, much more should she be guarded in the admission of candidates for office. It is the business of the offiders of the Church to preside in her administration ; to guide her children in the way of peace and righteousness; and, in a word, to susi tain the high and honourable ends for which a standing minig try has been established in the world. By the very act of setting apart an individual to the diseharge of the ministerial functions, the Church affixes her seal to his commission, and becomes responsible for his teaching! She is exhorted, therefore, to“ try the spirits,' to lay hands suddenly on no man,' to beware of “ wolves in sheeps' clothing," to keep herself pure in this matter, lest she bespartakers of other men's sins.es As the Church' does not obtrude her opinions "upon any, no individual has a right to obtrude his opinions upon hert. Be sides, unless she maintain a uniformity of sentiment in her public functionaries, she may abandon the idea of a separate existence altogether, and prepare for speedy dissolution. A house divided against itself cannot stand.", Now nothing can be conceived better adapted to secure the end desired; than a confession. By this symbol, the Church gives an account of her own sentiments, and tests the sentiments of others. 9 Its language is generally precise, pointed, determinate ; for, having been drawn up with a reference to all shades and varieties of opinion, its phraseology is discriminating, and not to be misunderstood: should there be a doubt about the meatting of the language, in any case, it may be easily removed by a reference to the time when it was compiled, and the ascertained opinion of the compilers.

V. A Confession of Faith is necessary for the maintenance and regulation of Christian Fellowship in the Church. It is the bond of communion among those who have adopted itp.If it is 'inquired, how it régulates the Church, in the differetit departments of her communion, we would reply to the inquiry, by simply resolving Christian fellowship into its constituent parts. Communion implies Co-operations, op striving together" for a common object, that object being the faith of the Gospel.” (Phil. i:27) Nothing is more dedential to com munion, than a united effort and appearance inspke truth. How, then, tan the Church strive together for the faith of the Gospel, imless the members understandin Nibat the faithbon.

: or,

101 011010

sists ? - How can they act together, if they do not think to. gether on all those subjects about which they profess to feel an anxious concern? How can the idea of communion be realised at all, if each is striving for his own views and principles, and not for those which are peculiar to the religious society with which he is connected ? Again, communion consists in the administration and reception of the Word. (Eph. iv. 8-11, 12, 13.) Ministers and people, therefore, should agree as to the general system of opinions which the one is to teach, and the other to believe, to edification. Without a full understanding on this point, the former may inculcate, as sound doctrine, what may be regarded, by the latter, as dan. gerous and deadly error. Many, indeed, may come within the scope of the pastoral ministration, who are inadequate to form a correct estimate of the opinions of their teacher ; but the true members of the Church, over which he presides, ought to have some security against his introducing opinions at variance with sound doctrine : and, is it not obvious, that without a written creed, this mutual understanding of what the one shall teach, and the other shall believe with the heart unto salvation, cannot be maintained ? In the next place, in order to communion, there needs to be a joint observance and participation of the Sacraments. Now, what these sacraments are, it is for the confession of the Church to state and to explain. In order to their right observance, it is not enough that the external symbols be employed; there must be a coincidence of views, in reference to their meaning and significance. Communion in the sacraments implies not only unity of sentiment, but of affection. Both are necessary, indeed, to their devout and profitable observance. Communion of hearts is the chief design of these most interesting ordinances; but, in order to this, there must be corresponding views, in reference to their nature and design, Between two individuals, one of whom, for instance, is what is generally called a Calvinist, and the other an Arian or Socinian, there can be nothing common in the sacraments but the outward signs. There may be the appearance of communion between them, but nothing more. Fellow-communicants are regarded, by the world, as of the same, or kindred sentiments, and do they not owe it to one another, and the Church, to employ some standard of opinion, by which it may be proved, whether or not they recognise the same great principles of faith? Again, communion implies agreement in divine worship. The worship of the Divine Being may be said to be the more immediate

end of Christian

[ocr errors]

fellowship. In order to this, the same means and ordinances must be attended; and, in all acts of worship, these members must be joined together in the same mind and judgment. They must be one in all their prayers and praises and confessions, before the throne of God. If disunion is to be avoided, on any occasion, it is surely to be deprecated in those solemn exercises of adoration, in which we bow before the awful Ma. jesty of Heaven. Calvinists and Arians cannot join in the sande petitions; they do not acknowledge the same Mediator; they do not worship the same God. The confession of the Church is, therefore, necessary, to regulate her members in those exercises which render the assembling of themselves together a fellowship of saints. Lastly :That fellowship of God's people, for which we contend, implies communion in the exercise of discipline ; to regulate which, a confession must be agreed to by all the members of the household of faith. In common with all other societies, the Church has power to take strict cognizance of those who may offend; and thus maintain the order established in her, by her glorious Head. Her discipline is her protection against enemies without, and false friends within : it is the bulwark and defence of all her institutions. This discipline, however, cannot be dispensed at random, but by rule; and, before enteriug the society for whose welfare it may be designed, every one should be acquainted with its rules, and with the consequences of their violation. Now, as in the former cases a general recognition of Scripture will not suffice to attain the ends of discipline, as many may refer to the Scrip: tures as a test of universal application, who, at the same time that they refuse to acknowledge it, are chargeable with a vio. lation of its most important rules. The confession of the Church must, therefore, be so plain and pointed, as to guard against all innovation, no less in practice than in doctrine. ?

VI. The Confessions of the different sections of the Church exhibit the great principles that are held in common by them all. True Christians, of all denominations, are, unliappily, too prone to fix attention on the points on which they differ, rather than on those in which they are agreed. How comforting and strengthening the thought, however, should it be found, on the review of each other's sentiments, that, after all, they are, on many things, substantially agreed. This agreement, when it really exists, must lay the basis of mutual contidence and regard. How delightful to every true believer is the consideration, that the same sublime and animating ptinciples that actuate himself, are recognised by the servants of Christ, in other denominations; and that they are silently forming the character, and influencing the destinies, of thousands, at home, and in distant lands, Especially, when com mon principles are impugned," and common enemies assail, must uniformity in their different symbols prepare the way for mutual vindication and defence. Suppose one portion of the Church, of kindred principles, be assailed by violence, and that the others are spectators of its sufferings,-can they look tamely on, 'while the enemy comes in like a flood against it, and threatens to carry the work of devastation against other portions of the heritage of God? Is not the persecution of one Church, a solemn pre-intimation, to all others, to make provision against the evil day, which may not be very far dis. tant from themselves ? Are they not called, in such a case, to stand up, and play the men,” for all the cities of their God? Are they not bound to unite for the defence of common principles, and repel the fury of the conmon foe? The Protestant Churches have long borne testimony against Antichrist, and successfully defied his power. How much soever they have differed on certain portions of their testimony, they have maintained a perfect harmony in their remonstrances and protestations against the tyranny and usurpation of the apos. tate Church of Rome. By their confession, at the Reformation, they raised a standard, around which to marshal the armies of Israel to the help of the Lord against the mighty; and if ever there was a period when they should unfurl the old banner, and wave it loftily,--if ever it were needful to cry aloud-and spare not to combine, in one grand effort of attack against the encroachments of that formidable power, that has so long oppressed the bodies and the souls of men,-the present is such a period, when the Papacy is waxing fiercer, and vainly thinking to establish, on the ruins of our common Protestantism, the fabric of its long-lost splendour. Let the Churches of the Reformation return to their first principles, and iet not the adversary have cause to upbraid them any longer with those dissensions that have hitherto prevented them from lifting a full, a fearless; and a united Testimony to the truth. *Having thus noticed various considerations, to which many others might be added, evincing the necessity of creeds and confessions of faith, we may proceed, in the second place, to notice some difficulties and objections, with a view to obviate and answer then su And, - It is objected, that the employment or adoption of a con. fossion interferesi very materially, with the right of private judgment,--binding all who subscribe it to its several articles, as though they were the infallible dictates of Inspiration. To which it is replied :-That the use of creeds and confessions may be defended, without any interference with the free and independent

exercise of the intellectual powers, in matters of religion. For does not a creed imply the exercise of private judgment, in a social capacity ? May not a number of persons agree to a series of fixed opinions, without any exerting an undue influence over the others ? And, is not that kind of association especially to be commended, whose object is the maintenance of religious truth? Are we to deny to a society the rights of an individual ? Or, is the shield of toleration, which protects and guarantees to every member of a religious community the rights of conscience, to be removed, when all the members are of the same mind and judgment ? No instrument has been employed, in modern times, so powerfully as the press, whether for good or evil; and is the Church precluded from availing itself of the advantages of printing, in making known her statements, and holding forth her testimony to the world ? May she not lawfully employ whatever mode she pleases, by which to exhibit and inculcate her distinguishing views of doctrine, and of all other matters pertaining to her administration ? Besides, if a society of Christians have attained the mind of the Spirit on any point of doetrine, (and to deny that the possibility of their attaining it were to unsettle the foundation of all truth,) may they not make known authoritatively, to all within their jurisdiction, the result of their deliberations. It was in the exercise of this authority, that the Synod at Jerusalem agreed to impose or “lay upon" their Gentile brethren in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, the “ cessary things” specified in their communication. (Acts, XV. 28, &c.) That their decrees (dogmata kekrimena,) were agreeable to the mind of the Holy Ghost, is evident from other parts of the Sacred writings : and has not the Church the war. rant still to say of every article she can establish by a referenoe to the Word, even as the Apostles at Jerusalem said of their decrees, " It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us 2" Again. No Church, however intolerant, imposes its own views on others. In its public documents, it adduces certain passages of Scripture in support of such opinions as it maintains, leaving every man to judge whether these texts have been legitimately applied. No man is compelled to embrace its sentiments; no man hindered to maintain his own. · Neither “ is it pretended,” to use the words of an old writer on this

pe

« ÎnapoiContinuați »