Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

4

subject, that human composures, properly speaking, are a standardo of orthodoxy, and, a test by which an erroneous opinion can be certainly distinguished from a sound one. And though to think that the opinion of a great body of men, whose businesse is to inquire, with the most laborious accuracy, into sacred matters, ought to make a person modest in opposing his sentiments to theirs, and should engage him to the most impartial inquiry, before he abandons or contradicts them; yet, we ares always ready to own, that he must ever prefer what appears to him founded on reason and revelation, to the influence of their authority; and that the smallest grain of an inspired testimony is momentous enough, in a just balance, to weigh down a cartload of human canons and confessions."* II. It is objected, that the use of a confession, as a test of faith, implies more or less of persecution, that it establishes unwarrantable restrictions, and creates invidious distinctions in the Church. 20

4

$

In reply to this, it may be urged in general, that we cannot call that persecution, which does not deprive a man of his natural and civil rights, which leaves him free to think, and choose, and publish whatever sentiments he pleases, which, in a civil sense, gives no invidious preferences to any one class in the community. More particularly it has been replied, that as every religious society is a voluntary association, it is not persecution to judge of the qualification of its members; that the advantages held out by every society are suspended on certain conditions, to which all must conform, otherwise, the right of membership will be denied; and that it has a right, therefore, to know the views and principles of all who may re quire admission within its pale. The principle of suspending admission, on the acknowledgment of certain terms, is more or less recognized in the administration of every Church, even of those Churches which declaim the loudest against it. Confessions of faith are as old as the times of the Apostles of our Lord.orThe acknowledgment that Jesus was the Christ, was the ground of admission then, and it had a special re ference to the great controversy of the time, whether Jesus was the Messiah. But, did our. Lord and his Apostles, in employing his test, sanction persecution? No, surely. Again. If there be no persecution in the requirement of submission to certain terms, soy neither is there persecution in withdrawing 9081dme of belleqmod ei min 63. -1971 AW0 en stem of Esplan sidi no 19jitw biď Dunlop on Confessions Preface als *****

1

#et

E

11

Potter v4l6mk

NODEJU UN92 P/

BUTU

[graphic]

the emoluments of office, when a minister has forfeited his title to them by changing his opinions. He entered office on certain specified conditions; if he departs from the conditions, he must, in common honesty, even although unsolicited or un forced, lay down his office. Inconveniences may arise, upon the exclusion of an individual for a change of sentiments; but a society must not be sacrificed, for the sake of an individual. He may, in compliance with the dictates of his conscience, avow his change; but they must not be forced, in opposition to the light of their co consciences, t to receive his ministrations. The sympathies of our common nature must, in all such cases, give place to the principles of justice, and a regard to the eternal welfare of immortal souls. There is no occasion, surely, d why we should delay further, on the reply to this objection.ast III. Confessions of I Faith, it is still objected, tend to retard the progress of free inquiry. They are the shackles of the mind, which hinder its outgoings in free investigation, on the field of Truth. The inconveniences attendant on a departure from them, when once embraced, must be always such as to inn terfere with the pursuit of knowledge, and the acquisition of d undiscovered truth.el to noises no bus ab991 to 9am

Granting, in the largest sense, the desireableness of perfect freedom from prejudice of every kind, we reply to the obs jection, 1. A Confession is a help, and not a hindrance to the discovery of truth. For what is a Confession? It is ano methodized statement of the doctrines of the Bible, in which m they are exhibited in their natural order and dependence le The truths of Scripture are like the phenomena of externalit nature, scattered over a very extended field. It is the burbs siness of a confession to classify these doctrines, and presenti them to the mind in an unbroken chain, a united and harmo nious whole. What the Philosopher is in nature, the Theo logian is in revelation. Both select and arrange the grands and leading facts presented in their several sciences, presda senting the results in a digested system of general lawserit Much time and labour are saved by their researches, and much of help Quis a afforded to all who may prosecute the same track ofoq investigation with themselves. Those who reject confessionsjda. therefore, on the ground of their inquiries being hindered bynia them, should be consistent. They should despise all systemissa wage open war against whatever may have assumed the namexs of science; and, in the same breath, denounce Copernicus, and Calvin, the philosophical associates, and the Westminster di-ort vines. 2. Freedom of inquiry is a very different thing from to

1

22

3

at

scepticism. One may surely be an impartial inquirer, without continually doubting every thing that comes in his way. There is surely such a thing as the attainment of truth. The pursuit of it is not an unavailing search. Our faculties were not surely given to bewilder, but to guide us on those points about which we must necessarily be conversant in this world. Especially is the fault our own, if we do not attain absolute certainty on the things which have been revealed; if we are ever learning, without coming to the knowledge of the truth. 3. When we subscribe a creed, we do not bind ourselves to adhere to it longer than while we are convinced of its truth. The rule is, "whereunto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.' 4. While confessions do not hinder, but help discoveries, it is admitted, that they in some measure fix the faith of subscribers; but this, instead of being an evil, is a good. Precipitate changes and innovations are thus prevented, the spirit of levity and novelty is restrained, men of unstable minds, or factious dispositions, are effectually discountenanced in the Church. 5. Though it could be proved, that inconveniences and abuses are attendant in the use of creeds and confessions of faith, yet should we not on this account be warranted in dispensing them? Abuses and inconveniences adhere to all, even the best and most sacred institutions. These are, no doubt, to be deplored; but their origin is not in the institutions, but in the corrupted nature of man. Let not confessions be abandoned, therefore, till it be shewn, that they tend directly to create and maintain abuses; that the evils counterbalance the advantages attendant on their adoption; and that the circumstances of the Churches are so changed, as no longer to demand them. 6. Similar obstacles are thrown in the way of free inquiry, by those Churches which make it their peculiar boast, that they are unincumbered by the entanglements of creeds. We have seen, that they too have their mutual understandings on their terms of union, and that these are generally known among them. In proportion, therefore, as one individual differs from the others, in the same proportion does he necessarily lose their confidence and favourable opinions, and subject himself to the displeasure of the entire body, unless, indeed, they have gone so far into latitudi-13 narianism, as to take no cognizance of any opinions, however extravagant, that may be broached among them.

IV. Another objection to creeds and confessions, arises from their supposed unwarrantable limitation of the privileges of communion, a limitation, in many cases so defined, as to

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

exclude from membership many who give satisfactory evidence of their being the servants of Christ.

This objection seems evidently to imply, that to a certain degree Confessions of Faith are necessary, inasmuch, as it limits the bestowal of privileges to such, as, in the judgment of charity, seem to be saints. It seems to admit, also, that there are certain fundamentals, on which all Christians should be agreed; and, if so, must not a creed be resorted to, to explain these fundamentals? Who, then, shall decide, what are to be pronounced fundamental doctrines, and what are only of superior and relative importance? Does not all Scripture bear upon it the stamp of inspiration; and who is there, that will so affront the Spirit of God, as to pronounce, of certain portions of his testimony, that they need not be received? Who will affirm of any passage of the Word of God, that it is not profitable, either immediately or more remotely, for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness? The Scriptures themselves frown on this spirit of selection betweer things essential and unessential to salvation. Their language to the Church, as the Lord's witness, is, "Shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof; and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them." (Ezekiel, xliii. 11.) And the command of our Lord is, "To make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And is it not worthier of the Church to hold up the whole system of revealed truth before its members, than to contract it in its dimensions, and thus obscure its beauty and its true proportions? In fixing terms of communion, the Church, instead of balancing what points are of greater and what of less importance, should rather weigh the evidence of Scripture, regulating the testimony, thus ordering ber administration, not by the caprice of men, but by the unerring standard of the Word of God. It is only in this way that she can maintain the character of a faithful witness, and shew to the world around, that she is jealous with a godly jealously for the whole truth of revelation. In fine, to adopt the language of a writer on this subject,-“the principle of the objection is plainly inconsistent with that warmth and earnestness which we ought to discover in our appearances for the things of God, as it involves us in an agreement to tolerate

""

[ocr errors]

and overlook, in one another, what, in many respects, may be contrary to his mind. 'It was needful for me,' says Jude, to write unto you, and exhort you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints ;" and we are commanded to stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel. Surely we cannot be said to contend earnestly, as in an agony of labour, strife, and concern, for the faith of the Gospel, nor to strive together for it with all the vigorous application of wrestlers striving for the mastery, when we make it the principle of our association in a Church state, to consider many articles of it as matters of mutual forbearance. A zealous appearance for the faith of the Gospel enters into and mingles with the whole plan of Church communion revealed in the Scriptures."

V. It is yet further argued, that creeds and confessions are, in practice, insufficient for maintaining uniformity of faith.

i.

No one ever maintained, we observe, in the first place, in reply, that they constituted an absolute security against the introduction of error. Error is an insidious thing; and no precautions can altogether prevent it. In the Apostolic times, it "crept in unawares," and disturbed the Church. The question is not, however, whether error can be prevented, altogether; but whether creeds and confessions do not constitute a greater security against its introduction, than any other precaution that could be devised? An indefinite and vague acknowledgment of the Scriptures, as a rule of faith, is surely no criterion of communion; for this acknowledgment is alike made by all who profess to believe in their inspiration. A creed, on the other hand, is an unambiguous averment. There can be no mistaking or misrepresenting it. It speaks in plain and intelligible language. More particularly, we ask, are there not many, whom creeds and confessions have deterred from entering those Churches in which they are unpledged? Have not many been obliged to stand off at a distance, or go in quest of other communities of more congenial minds, or in which no profession of opinion was required at all, as a term of fellowship? And has not the adoption of a creed thus proved a barrier to multitudes, who would otherwise have gained admission to the Church? It may be said, that many have been insincere in their professions of adherence to them. But is not insincerity as likely to be engendered in all other religious communities, as in those which hold up a standard of opinion to which all must profess adherence? Are there not certain honours and emoluments connected with

[ocr errors]
« ÎnapoiContinuați »