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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
signifies a public acknowledgment of any thing as our own: thus Christ will confess the faithful in the day of judgment, Luke 12:8 .
2. To own and profess the truths of Christ, and to obey his commandments, in spite of opposition and danger from enemies,
Matthew 10:32 .
3. To utter or speak the praises of God, or to give him thanks.
4. To acknowledge our sins and offences to God, either by private or public confession; or to our neighbour whom we have wronged; or to some pious persons from whom we expect to receive comfort and spiritual instruction; or to the whole congregation when our fault is published, Psalms 32:5; Matthew 3:6; James 5:16; 1 John; James 1:9 .
5. To acknowledge a crime before a judge, Joshua 7:19 .
2. In the Jewish ceremony of annual expiation, the high priest confessed in general his own sins, the sins of other ministers of the temple, and those of all the people. When an Israelite offered a sacrifice for sin, he put his hand on the head of the victim, and confessed his faults, Leviticus 4. On the day of atonement, the Jews still make a private confession of their sins, which is called by them cippur, and which is said to be done in the following manner: Two Jews retire into a corner of the synagogue. One of them bows very low before the other, with his face turned toward the north. He who performs the office of confessor gives the penitent nine-and-thirty blows on the back with a leathern strap, repeating these words, "God, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath." As there are only thirteen words in this verse recited in the Hebrew, he repeats it three times, and at every word strikes one blow; which makes nine-and-thirty words, and as many lashes. In the meantime, the penitent declares his sins, and at the confession of every one beats himself on his breast. This being finished, he who has performed the office of confessor prostrates himself on the ground, and receives in turn from his penitent nine-and-thirty lashes.
3. The Romish church not only requires confession as a duty, but has advanced it to the dignity of a sacrament. These confessions are made in private to the priest, who is not to reveal them under pain of the highest punishment. The council of Trent requires "secret confession to the priest alone, of all and every mortal sin, which, upon the most diligent search and examination of our consciences, we can remember ourselves to be guilty of since our baptism; together with all the circumstances of those sins, which may change the nature of them; because, without the perfect knowledge of these, the priest cannot make a judgment of the nature and quality of men's sins, nor impose fitting penance for them." This is the confession of sins which the same council confidently affirms "to have been instituted by our Lord, and by the law of God, to be necessary to salvation, and to have been always practised in the catholic church." It is, however, evident, that such confession is unscriptural. St. James, indeed, says, "Confess your faults one to another," James 5:16; but priests are not here mentioned, and the word faults seems to confine the precept to a mutual confession among Christians, of those offences by which they may have injured each other. Certain it is, that from this passage the necessity of auricular confession, and the power of priestly absolution, cannot be inferred. Though many of the early ecclesiastical writers earnestly recommend confession to the clergy, yet they never recommend it as essential to the pardon of sin, or as having connection with a sacrament. They only urge it as entitling a person to the prayers of the congregation; and as useful for supporting the authority of wholesome discipline, and for maintaining the purity of the Christian church. Chrysostom condemns all secret confession to men, as being obviously liable to great abuses; and Basal, Hilary, and Augustine, all advise confession of sins to God only. It has been proved by M. Daille, that private, auricular, sacramental confession of sins was unknown in the primitive church. But, though private auricular confession is not of divine authority, yet, as Archbishop Tillotson properly observes, there are many cases in which men, under the guilt and trouble of their sins, can neither appease their own minds, nor sufficiently direct themselves, without recourse to some pious and prudent guide. In these cases, men certainly do very well, and many times prevent a great deal of trouble and perplexity to themselves, by a timely discovery of their condition to some faithful minister, in order to their direction and satisfaction. To this purpose a general confession is for the most part sufficient; and where there is occasion for a more particular discovery, there is no need of raking into the minute and foul circumstances of men's sins to give that advice which is necessary for the cure and ease of the penitent. Auricular confession is unquestionably one of the greatest corruptions of the Romish church. It goes upon the ground that the priest has power to forgive sins; it establishes the tyrannical influence of the priesthood; it turns the penitent from God who only can forgive sins, to man who is himself a sinner; and it tends to corrupt both the confessors and the confessed by a foul and particular disclosure of sinful thoughts and actions of every kind without exception.
CONFESSIONS OF FAITH, simply considered, is the same with creed, and signifies a summary of the principal articles of belief adopted by any individual or society. In its more common acceptation, it is restricted to the summaries of doctrine published by particular Christian churches, with the view of preventing their religious sentiments from being misunderstood or misrepresented, or, by requiring subscription to them, of securing uniformity of opinion among those who join their communion. Except a single sentence in one of the Ignatian Epistles, (A.D. 180,) which relates exclusively to the reality of Christ's personality and sufferings in opposition to the Docetae, the earliest document of this kind is to be found in the writings of Irenaeus, who flourished toward the end of the second century of the Christian aera. In his treatise against heresies, this father affirms that "the faith of the church planted throughout the whole world," consisted in the belief of "one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and sea, and all that are in them; and one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and one Holy Spirit, who foretold, through the Prophets, the dispensations and advents, and the generation by the virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension in the flesh into heaven, of Jesus Christ our beloved Lord, and his appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father, to unite together all things under one head, and to raise every individual of the human race; that unto Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, and Saviour and King, every knee may bow, and every tongue confess; that he may pronounce just sentence upon all." In various parts of Tertullian's writings similar statements occur, (A.D. 200,) which it is unnecessary particularly to quote. We shall only remark, that in one of them, the miraculous conception of Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost is distinctly mentioned; that in another, he declares it to have been the uniform doctrine from the beginning of the Gospel, that Christ was born of the virgin, both man and God, ex ea natum hominem et Deum; and that in each of these, faith in the Father, Son, and Spirit, is recognised as essential to Christianity. The following passage we cite, for the purpose of marking its coincidence with the Apostles' Creed, to which we shall have occasion soon to advert: "This," says he, "is the sole, immovable, irreformable rule of faith; namely, to believe in the only God Almighty, maker of the world; and his Son Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, the third day raised from the dead, received into heaven, now sitting at the right hand of the Father, about to come and judge the quick and the dead, by the resurrection also of the flesh." The summaries contained in the works of Origen (A.D. 520) nearly resemble the preceding; any difference between them being easily accounted for, from the tenets of the particular heresies against which they were directed. In his "Commentary on St. John's Gospel," he thus writes: "We believe that there is one God, who created all things, and framed and made all things to exist out of nothing. We must also believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in all the truth concerning his Deity and humanity; and we must likewise believe in the Holy Spirit; and that, being free agents, we shall be punished for the things in which we sin, and rewarded for those in which we do well." According to Cyprian, the formula, to which assent was required from adults at their baptism, was in these terms: "Dost thou believe in God the Father, Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit, the remission of sins, and eternal life, through the holy church?" This was called by him symboli lex, "the law of the creed;" and by Novatian, regula veritatis, "the rule of truth."
2. From these and similar sources, the different clauses of what is commonly called the Apostles' Creed appear to have sprung. For, though it was long believed to be the composition of the Apostles, its claims to such an inspired origin are now universally rejected. Of its great antiquity, however, there can be no doubt; the whole of it, as it stands in the English liturgy, having been generally received as an authoritative confession in the fourth century. Toward the end of that century, Rufinus wrote a commentary on it, which is still extant, in which he acknowledges that the clause respecting Christ's descent into hell was not admitted into the creeds either of the western or the eastern churches. We learn also that the epithet catholic was not at that time applied in it to the church. Its great simplicity and conciseness, beside, prove it to have been considerably earlier than the council of Nice, when the heretical speculations of various sects led the defenders of the orthodox faith to fence the interests of religion with more complicated and cumbrous barriers.
This confession of faith was then preeminently named symbolum; which might be understood in the general acceptation of sign, as the characteristic, representative sign of the Christian faith; or, in a more restricted sense, in reference to the συμβυλον στρατιωτικον , or tessera militaris, the watch word of the Christian soldier, communicated to each man at his first entrance into the service of Christ. Perhaps this word, at first, only denoted the formula of baptism, and was afterward transferred to the confession of faith.
3. In the celebrated council of Nice, (A.D. 325,) in which Arianism was not only condemned, but proscribed, the confession established as the universal standard of truth and orthodoxy runs thus: "I believe, in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father, before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, descended from heaven, and became incarnate by the Holy Ghost, of the virgin Mary; and was made man, was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, of whose kingdom there will be no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost who spake by the Prophets; and one catholic, and Apostolical church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."
It were endless to specify the particular shades of difference by which the Arian confessions (the number of which amounted nearly to twenty in the space of a very few years) were distinguished from each other; suffice it to say, that while they agreed generally in substance, especially in rejecting the Nicene term, ομοουσιος , as applied to the Son, their variations of expression concerning the nature of his subordination to the Father were so astonishingly minute, as almost to bid defiance to any attempt which might be made, at this distance of time, to determine in what their real and essential differences consisted.
4. "The Book of Armagh," a very ancient collection of interesting national documents, which have recently been published by Sir William Betham in the second part of his curious "Irish Antiquarian Researches," contains the Confession of St. Patrick; who has been supposed, from several collateral circumstances, to have flourished some years prior to the time of St. Jerom, or about the commencement of the fourth century. The subjoined are the first two paragraphs in it, and will be admired for the orthodoxy, artlessness, and Christian experience which they exhibit:— "I, PATRICK, a sinner, the rudest, the least, and the most insignificant of the faithful, had Calphurnius, a deacon, for my father, who was the son of Potitus, heretofore a priest, the son of Odissus, who lived in the village of Banavem Taberniae. For he had a little farm adjacent, where I was captured. I was then almost sixteen years of age; but I knew not God, and was led into captivity by the Irish, with many thousand men, as we deserved, because we estranged ourselves from God, and did not keep his laws, and were disobedient to our pastors, who admonished us with respect to our salvation: and the Lord brought down upon us the anger of his Spirit, and dispersed us among many nations, even to the extremity of the earth, where my meanness was conspicuous among foreigners, and where the Lord discovered to me a sense of my unbelief; that late I should remember my transgressions, and that I should be converted with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who had respect to my humiliation, and pitied my youth and ignorance, even before I knew him, and before I was wise, or could distinguish between right and wrong, and strengthened me, and cherished me, as a father would a son. From which time I could not remain silent; nor, indeed, did he cease to bless me with many acts of kindness; and so great was the favour of which he thought me worthy in the land of my captivity. For this is my retribution, that, after my rebuking, punishment, and acknowledgment of God, I should exalt him, and confess his wonderful acts before every nation which is under the whole heaven; because there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor will be after him, except God, the unbegotten Father, without beginning, possessing all things, as we have said, and his Son Jesus Christ, who, we bear witness, was always with the Father, before the formation of the world, in spirit (or spiritually) with the Father, inexpressibly begotten before all beginning, through whom visible things were made: he became man, having overcome death, and was received into heaven. And God has given to him all power ‘above every name, as well of the inhabitants of heaven as of the earth and of the powers below, that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God;' whom we believe, and whose coming we expect, as presently about to be Judge of the living and dead, who will render unto every man according to his actions, and has poured upon us abundantly the gift of his Holy Spirit, and the pledge of immortality; who makes us that believe and are obedient to be the sons of God and joint heirs of Christ; whom we believe and adore, one God in the Trinity of the sacred name. For he spoke by the Prophet, ‘Call upon me in the day of tribulation, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.' And again he says, ‘It is an honourable thing to reveal and confess the works of God.'"
5. Macedonius having denied not only the divinity but the personality of the Holy Spirit, maintaining that he is only a divine energy diffused throughout the universe, a general council was called at Constantinople, A.D. 381, in order to crush this rising heresy. The confession promulgated on this occasion, and which "gave the finishing touch to what the council of Nice had left imperfect, and fixed, in a full and determinate manner, the doctrine of the Trinity, as it is still received among the generality of Christians," exactly coincides with the Nicene confession, except in the article respecting the Spirit, which it thus extends: "And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who, together with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified."
6. Subsequent to this, and probably toward the middle of the fifth century, the creed which bears the name of Athanasius appears to have been composed. That it was not the work of this distinguished opposer of Arianism is established by the most satisfactory evidence. No traces of it are to be found in any of his writings, though they relate chiefly to the very subject of which it is an exposition; and so far from its being ascribed to him, not the least notice is taken of it by any of his contemporaries. Its language, beside, concerning the Spirit is so similar to that of the council of Constantinople, but still more precise and explicit, that there can be no doubt of its having been written posterior to the time of that assembly. Yet Athanasius died in the year 373. Accordingly, it has been, with great probability of truth, attributed, particularly by Dr. Waterland, to Hilary, bishop of Arles, who is said by one of his biographers to have composed an Exposition of the Creed: a title which certainly is more appropriate and characteristic of it than that of Creed simply, by which it is now so universally known. The damnatory clauses in this creed have frequently been made subjects of reprehension; and some clergymen of the church of England have scrupled to read them as directed by the Rubric. The following is an apology for those clauses, by the late venerable Archdeacon Dodwell, who seems to have felt none of those misgivings which troubled his doubting brethren;— "The form, as well as the substance, of this creed, and the very introduction to the main article, has been objected to:
‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;' to which is added, ‘Which faith, except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.' This, with a like condemnatory sentence in the conclusion of the creed, wherein a possibility of salvation is denied to him who does not cordially embrace this doctrine, is pronounced unreasonable, uncharitable, unchristian, with every other aggravating appellation that can be used. But the ground of this charge, and the whole of the difficulty suggested in it, from the variety of the circumstances of different persons, depends upon the interpretation of the phrase of ‘being saved.' The meaning of this term in its primary signification, and as it is applied to common subjects in common discourse, means a preservation from threatening perils, or from threatened punishment. But, in an evangelical sense, and as it occurs in the New Testament, it includes much more: it means the whole Christian scheme of redemption and justification by the Son of God, with all the glorious privileges and promises contained in that scheme. It means not merely a hope of deliverance from danger or from vengeance, but a federal title to positive happiness, purchased by the merits, and declared to mankind by the Gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord. St. Paul calls it ‘the obtaining the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory,' 2 Timothy 2:10 .
‘Whosoever,' then, says the creed, ‘will' thus ‘be saved,' will be desirous to secure the glorious promises of the Gospel, must pursue it upon the terms which that Gospel proposes, and particularly must embrace the doctrines which it reveals. The creed speaks of those only to whom the evidence of the Gospel has been fully set forth, and the importance of it fully explained. We are to justify it only to professed believers, and of them only. The state and lot of the Heathen world are quite out of the question, Neither common sense nor Scripture will permit us to interpret it of those who still
‘sit in darkness and the shadow of death,' and never had the means of grace and the hope of glory proposed to them. Even with respect to those to whom the Gospel is preached, there is no necessity of interpreting the words here used in the harshest and strictest sense. There are many distinctions and limitations, which are always understood and supposed in such cases, though they are not expressly mentioned. General rules are laid down as such, are true as such; while excepted eases are referred to the judgment of those who are qualified to judge of them, and are not particularly pointed out; as for other reasons, so lest they should be extended too far, and defeat the general rule. Sufficient capacity in the persons to whom it is applied, and sufficient means of information and conviction, are always presupposed, where faith is spoken of as necessary. Where either of these is wanting, the case is (where it should be) in the hands of God. The creed is laid down as a rule of judgment to men, not to their Maker. We may learn from thence on what terms alone we can claim a title to the promises of the Gospel; but we do not learn from thence how far uncovenanted favour may be extended to particular persons. It is not intended to exclude the mercy of God to Heathens or heretics; it being his prerogative, and his alone, to judge how far the error or ignorance of any one is his wilful fault, or his unavoidable infirmity. But it is intended to establish the terms on which WE may now claim acceptance, and, in consequence of his gracious promise, may say, that ‘God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.' The creed relates only to the covenant of salvation; and any expression which, used separately without this view and connection, might be thought to bear a stronger and more absolute sense, yet is limited by this relative coherence, and is to be interpreted by it.
‘Perishing everlastingly,' in other discourses, may sometimes be understood of everlasting damnation; but here it means the being for ever excluded from the only stated claim of promised mercy. And ‘without doubt,' he who does not embrace the truths proposed by revelation, has no title to those hopes which that revelation, and that only, offers to mankind. And even when such expressions of terror are used in the strongest sense, and threatened to unbelief or disobedience, they universally imply such exceptions as these,—'Unless personal disabilities lessen the guilt, or repentance intervene to prevent the punishment.' In short, no objection can be made against this assertion in the creed, but what would hold as strongly against that declaration of our blessed Lord, ‘He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned,' Mark 16:15 . Indeed, this condemnatory sentence in this form by human authority is plainly founded on and borrowed from that divine authority in the Gospel; and whatever distinctions and limitations are allowed in that case are equally applicable to this, and will fully justify both. The necessity of a true belief in all whom Providence has blessed with the means and opportunities of learning it, in order to entitle them federally to eternal salvation, being thus established upon Scripture proof, the creed goes on very regularly to declare what is that true belief so indispensably necessary." This is, perhaps, all that can be said in favour of these comminations; but few will think it quite satisfactory. The effect of them has doubtless been, to induce many to fly to the opposite extreme of laxity on the subject of fundamental doctrines.
Before leaving the ancient formulas of Christian doctrine, it may be stated, that both in the council of Ephesus against the Nestorians, held A.D. 431; and in that of Chalcedon, against the Eutychians, in 451; it was solemnly declared and decreed, that "Christ was one divine person, in whom two natures, the human and the divine, were most closely united, but without being mixed or confounded together."
7. Amid the variance and opposition of council to council, and pope to pope, (A.D. 1553,) which prevailed for centuries in the Romish church, it would be no easy task to ascertain the real articles of its confession. The decrees of the council of Trent, however, together with the creed of Pope Pius IV, are now commonly understood to be the authoritative standards of its faith and worship. These, beside recognising the authority of the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds, embrace a multitude of dogmas which it is unnecessary particularly to specify, relating to traditions, the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, order, and matrimony, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, worshipping of images, purgatory, indulgences, &c, &c.
8. The Greek church has no public or established confession; but its creed, so far as can be gathered from its authorized catechisms, admits the doctrines of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, with the exception of the article in each concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit, which it affirms to be "from the Father only, and not from the Father and the Son." It disowns the supremacy and infallibility of the pope, purgatory by fire, graven images, and the restriction of the sacrament to one kind; but acknowledges the seven sacraments of the catholics, the religious use of pictures, invocation of saints, transubstantiation, and masses and prayers for the dead.
9. Though the Romish church early appropriated to itself the exclusive title of catholic, or universal; and though, for many centuries, its unscriptural tenets pervaded the far greater part of Europe; not only were there always some individuals who adhered to the doctrines of genuine Christianity, but, long before the Protestant reformation, there appear to have been whole congregations who maintained, in considerable purity, the substance of the faith contained in Scripture. Such were the churches of the Waldenses in the valleys of Piedmont, whose confession, of so early a date as the beginning of the twelfth century, is still preserved. It consists of fourteen articles, of which the following is a copy, taken from the Cambridge MSS, and bearing date A.D. 1120:—"
(1.) We believe and firmly hold all that which is contained in the twelve articles of the symbol, which is called the Apostles' Creed, accounting for heresy whatsoever is disagreeing, and not consonant to the said twelve articles.
(2.) We do believe that there is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
(3.) We acknowledge for the holy canonical Scriptures the books of the Holy Bible. [Here follows a list of the books of the Old and New Testament, exactly the same as those we have in our English authorized version. Then follows a list of "the books apocryphal, which," with admirable simplicity they say, "are not received of the Hebrews. But we read them, as saith St. Jerom in his Prologue to the Proverbs, ‘for the instruction of the people, not to confirm the authority of the doctrine of the church.'"]
(4.) The books above-said teach this, that there is one God, almighty, all- wise, and all-good, who has made all things by his goodness; for he formed Adam in his own image and likeness, but that by the envy of the devil, and the disobedience of the said Adam, sin has entered into the world, and that we are sinners in Adam and by Adam.
(5.) That Christ was promised to our fathers who received the law, that so knowing by the law their sin, unrighteousness, and insufficiency, they might desire the coming of Christ, to satisfy for their sins, and accomplish the law by himself.
(6.) That Christ was born in the time appointed by God the Father; that is to say, in the time when all iniquity abounded, and not for the cause of good works, for all were sinners; but that he might show us grace and mercy, as being faithful.
(7.) That Christ is our life, truth, peace, and righteousness; also our pastor, advocate, sacrifice, and priest; who died for the salvation of all those that believe, and is risen for our justification.
(8.) In like manner, we firmly hold that there is no other Mediator and Advocate with God the Father, save only Jesus Christ. And as for the virgin Mary, that she was holy, humble, and full of grace. And in like manner do we believe concerning all the other saints; namely, that, being in heaven, they wait for the resurrection of their bodies at the day of judgment.
(9.) Item, We believe that, after this life, there are only two places, the one for the saved, and the other for the damned; the which two places we call paradise and hell, absolutely denying that purgatory invented by antichrist, and forged contrary to the truth.
(10.) Item, We have always accounted as an unspeakable abomination before God all those inventions of men; namely, the feasts and the vigils of saints, the water which they call holy: as likewise to abstain from flesh upon certain days, and the like; but especially their masses.
(11.) We esteem for an abomination, and as antichristian, all those human inventions which are a trouble or prejudice to the liberty of the spirit.
(12.) We do believe that the sacraments are signs of the holy thing, or visible forms of the invisible grace; accounting it good that the faithful sometimes use the said signs or visible forms, if it may be done. However, we believe and hold, that the above-said faithful may be saved without receiving the signs aforesaid, in case they have no place nor any means to use them.
(13.) We acknowledge no other sacrament than baptism and the Lord's Supper.
(14.) We ought to honour the secular powers by submission, ready obedience, and paying of tributes." These churches had, in modern times, another confession imposed upon them, after they began to receive pastors from Geneva, which is strongly tinged with Calvinism. It bears date A.D. 1655.
10. The first Protestant confession was that presented in 1530, to the diet of Augsburg, by the suggestion and under the direction of John, elector of Saxony. This wise and prudent prince, with the view of having the principal grounds on which the Protestants had separated from the Romish communion, distinctly submitted to that assembly, entrusted the duty of preparing a summary of them to the divines of Wittemberg. Nor was that task a difficult one; for the reformed doctrines had already been digested into seventeen articles, which had been proposed at the conferences both at Sultzbach and Smalcald, as the confession of faith to be adopted by the Protestant confederates. These, accordingly, were delivered to the elector by Luther, and served as the basis of the celebrated Augsburg confession, written "by the elegant and accurate pen of Melancthon:" a work which has been admired by many even of its enemies, for its perspicuity, piety, and erudition. It contains twenty-eight chapters, the leading topics of which are, the true and essential divinity of Christ; his substitution and vicarious sacrifice; original sin; human inability; the necessity, freedom, and efficacy of divine grace; consubstantiation; and particularly justification by faith, to establish the truth and importance of which was one of its chief objects. The last seven articles condemn and confute the Popish tenets of communion in one kind, clerical celibacy, private masses, auricular confession, legendary traditions, monastic vows, and the exorbitant power of the church. This confession is silent on the doctrine of predestination. This is the universal standard of orthodox doctrine among those who profess to be Lutherans, in which no authoritative alteration has ever been made.
11. The confession of Basle, originally presented, like the preceding, to the diet of Augsburg, but not published till 1534, consists of only twelve articles, which, in every essential point, agree with those of the Augsburg confession, except that it rejects the doctrine of consubstantiation; affirming that Christ is only spiritually present in the Lord's Supper, sacramentaliter nimirum, et per memorationem fidei; [that is to say sacramentally, and by faith;] and that it asserts the doctrine of predestination and infant baptism. But the more detailed creed of the whole Swiss Protestant churches is contained in the former and latter Helvetic confessions. The first was drawn up in 1536, by Bullinger, Myconius, and Grynaeus, in behalf of the churches of Helvetia, and presented to an assembly of divines at Wittemberg, by whom it was cordially approved.
But being deemed too concise, a second was prepared in 1556, by the pastors of Zurich; which was subscribed not only by all the Swiss Protestants, but by the churches of Geneva and Savoy, and by many of those in Hungary and Poland. They fully harmonize with each other, with only this difference, that the doctrines of predestination, and an approbation of the observance of such religious festivals, as the nativity, &c, are to be found in the latter confession only.
12. The Bohemic confession was compiled from various ancient confessions of the Waldenses who had settled in Bohemia, and approved of by Luther and Melancthon in 1532; but it was not published till 1535; when it was presented by the barons and other nobles to King Ferdinand. It extends to twenty articles, similar to those of the Waldensian confession, with the addition of others on the divinity of Christ, justification by faith in him, "without any human help or merit," predestination, and the absolute necessity of sanctification and good works.
13. The confession of the Saxon churches was composed in 1551 by Melancthon, at the desire of the pastors of Saxony and Misnia met in assembly at Wittemberg, in order to be presented to the council of Trent. It is contained in twenty-two articles; and while, like that of Augsburg, it is silent on the subject of predestination, it lays equal stress on the doctrine of justification by faith; and has a separate article entitled "Rewards," in which the doctrine of human merit, particularly as connected with future blessedness, is condemned and refuted.
14. Some account of the framing of the English Confession of Faith has been already given under the article Church of England and Ireland. The "Articles of Religion" are there said to have been amended and completed in the year 1571; and the Rev. Henry J. Todd, in his very able work on this subject, has shown their Melancthonian origin and character by extracts from the "Articles of Religion," "set out by the Convocation, and published by the king's authority," in 1536;—from those of 1540;—from Cranmer's "Necessary Erudition of any Christian Man," published in 1543:—from the Homilies on Salvation, Faith, and Good Works, in 1547, which three were, according to Bishop Woolton's unimpeached testimony (in 1576) composed by Archbishop Cranmer;—from the "Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum," "composed under the superintendence of the same watchful primate, in 1551;"—from the "Articles of Religion," "formed in 1552, almost wholly by Cranmer;"—from "Catechismus Brevis, Christianae Disciplinae Summam continens," in 1553, which was published in English, as well as Latin, and commonly called "Edward the Sixth's Catechism;" and from Bishop Jewel's celebrated "Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae," "published in 1562 by the queen's authority, thus recognised as a national Confession of Faith, and as such has been printed in the Corpus Confessionum Fidei." "Such," says Mr. Todd, "are the several public documents or declarations, produced or made before the establishment of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, from which I have given extracts, to which the framers of these Articles directed their attention, with the spirit of which they concur, and the words of which they almost literally adopt. There will also be found, as chronologically preceding these, considerable extracts from the Confession of Augsburg, the whole article from the Saxon Confession. De Remissione Peccatorum, et Justificatione, [respecting the forgiveness of sins, and justification,] and such passages in our Liturgy as concern the points which the Articles and Homilies exhibit." No one who has perused these documents will require any additional argument to convince him, that, in its very foundations, the English Confession of Faith was most explicitly in favour of general redemption. We cannot therefore be surprised at all the old orthodox divines of the church of England, from 1610 to 1660, refusing to be called ARMINIANS; for they repeatedly declared that their own church openly professed similar doctrines to those promulgated by the Dutch professor, long before his name was known in the world. In this assertion they were perfectly correct; and by every important fact in our ecclesiastical history, as connected with doctrinal matters, their views are confirmed. If the Articles were actually of a Calvinistic complexion, as they are now often represented to be, what could have induced Whitaker and other learned Calvinists to waste so much valuable time and labour in fabricating the Lambeth Articles in 1595? Those worthies avowed, that the original Thirty-nine Articles were not doctrinal enough for their purpose.—When four choice divines, two of them professors of divinity at Cambridge, were sent to the synod of Dort as deputies from the English church, and one from the church of Scotland, though their political instructions went the full length of assisting in the condemnation and oppression of the Arminians, personally considered as a troublesome party in the republic, yet they had different instructions respecting their doctrines. On the second article, discussed in that synod, "the extent of Christ's redemption," Balcanqual, the deputy from the church of Scotland, informs the English ambassador at the Hague, that a difference had arisen among the British deputies: "The question among us is, whether the words of Scripture, which are likewise the words of our confession, are to be understood of all particular men, or only of the elect who consist of all sorts of men? Dr. Davenant and Dr. Ward are of Martinius of Breme his mind, that it is to be understood of all particular men: the other three [Bishop Carleton, Dr. Goad, and Dr. Balcanqual] take the other exposition, which is that of the writers of the reformed churches." The ambassador wrote home for instructions, and received orders for the British deputies "to have those conclusions concerning Christ's death, and the application of it to us, couched in manner and terms as near as possibly may be to those which were used in the primitive church, by the fathers of that time, against the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians, and not in any new phrase of the modern age; and that the same may be as agreeable to the confessions of the church of England and other reformed churches, and with as little distaste and umbrage to the Lutheran churches, as may be." Archbishop Abbott expressed his approbation of their "cautelous moderation" in withholding their "hand from pressing in public any rigorous exclusive propositions in the doctrine of the extent of our Saviour Christ's oblation." The history of this affair, which cannot be here detailed, shows, that, however willing the three deputies were to condemn the remonstrants, the resistance of the two more moderate divines was approved by the authorities at home, and their opinions on this subject were recorded in such theses as no true Calvinist could consistently subscribe. During our civil troubles in 1643, the Assembly of Divines at Westminster revised the first fifteen of the Thirty- nine Articles, "with a design," as Neal in his "History of the Puritans" candidly declares, "to render their sense more express and determinate in favour of Calvinism." This they found to be a hopeless task, as the ancient creed was too incorrigible to be bent to their views; and they found it much easier to frame one after their own hearts, some account of which the reader will find in a subsequent paragraph—All these facts go to prove, that the best reformed Calvinists have always viewed the English articles as not sufficiently high in doctrine, unless, as in the case of the seventeenth, they be allowed to interpret them by interpolations or qualifying epithets.
15. The confession of the reformed Gallican churches was prepared by order of a synod at Paris in 1559; and presented to Charles IX. in 1561, by the celebrated Beza, in a conference with that monarch at Poissy. It was published for the first time in 1566, with a preface by the French clergy to the pastors of all Protestant churches; and afterward, in 1571, it was solemnly ratified and subscribed in the national synod of Rochelle. It is extended to forty articles; but they are in general concise, and embrace the usual topics of the other Protestant confessions, including the doctrines of election, and justification by faith only.
16. The Protestants in Scotland having presented a petition to parliament in 1560, requesting the public condemnation of Popery, and the legal acknowledgment of the reformed doctrine and worship, they were required to draw up a summary of the doctrines which they could prove to be consonant with Scripture, and which they were anxious to have established. The ministers on whom this duty was devolved, being well acquainted with the subject, prepared the required summary in the course of four days, and laid it before parliament, when, after having been read first before the Lords of the Articles, and afterward twice (the second time article by article) before the whole parliament, it received their sanction as the established system of belief and worship. It consists of twenty-five articles, and coincides with all the other Protestant confessions which affirm the doctrine of election, and reject that of consubstantiation; for although it is not so explicit as some of them respecting the unconditional nature of election, yet a distinct recognition of this doctrine pervades the whole of it; and though it has no separate article on justification, it no less plainly recognises this fundamental principle of the Protestant faith.
17. The tenets of Arminius having obtained considerable prevalence in Holland toward the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Calvinists, or Gomarists, as they were then called, appealed to a national synod, which was convened at Dort in 1618, by order of the states-general; and attended by ecclesiastical deputies from England, Switzerland, Bremen, Hesse, and the Palatinate, beside the clerical and lay representatives of the reformed churches in the United Provinces. The canons of this synod, contained in five chapters, relate to what are commonly called the five points; namely, particular and unconditional election; particular redemption, or the limitation of the saving effects of Christ's death to the elect only; the total corruption of human nature, and the total moral inability of man in his fallen state; the irresistibility of divine grace; and the final perseverance of the saints; all of which are declared to be the true and the only doctrines of Scripture.
18. The Remonstrants, as the Dutch Arminians are generally called, did not present a confession of faith to the synod of Dort, but only their sentiments on the five points enumerated in the preceding paragraph, with corresponding rejections of errors under each of those points. However, in the first year of their exile, they applied themselves diligently to this task, and soon produced an ample confession, principally composed by the celebrated Episcopius. In the preface they give copious reasons for such a record of their opinions; which Courcelles has thus expressed in a more summary manner:—"They did not publish it for the purpose of making it a standard of schism, by which they might separate themselves from men who held other opinions; nor for the purpose of having it esteemed by those under their pastoral care as a secondary rule of faith;—which is in these days with many persons a most pernicious abuse of this kind of confessions. But it was published solely with the intention to stop the mouths of those who calumniously assert, that the Remonstrants cherish within their bosoms portentous dogmas which they dare not divulge. For there is no cause for doubting, whether under such circumstances and for this purpose, it is not lawful for men to publish a confession of their faith, especially as St. Peter admonishes us ‘always to be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us with meekness and fear.'" This confession is of a more practical character than any of the preceding: it inculcates, at great length, all the most important duties of Christianity, and, in the words of the preface, "directs all things to the practice of Christian piety. For we believe that true divinity is merely practical, and not either simply or for its greatest or chief part speculative; and therefore whatever things are delivered therein ought to be referred thither only,—that a man may be the more strongly and fitly inflamed and encouraged to a diligent performance of his duty, and keeping of the Commandments of Jesus Christ." In the English translator's address to the reader in 1676, it is said, "Touching the worth of this book, as a summary of Christian religion, if Doctor Jeremy Taylor's judgment be of credit with thee, I am credibly informed he should prefer it to be one of those two or three which, next the Holy Bible, he would have preserved from the supposed total destruction of books. A high encomium from the mouth of so learned and pious a divine!" But though its contents were chiefly practical, one expression in it, respecting the propriety of tolerating in a Christian community a man who denied the eternal generation of Jesus Christ, produced a controversy in Holland, as well as in this country, in which the famous Bishop Bull eminently distinguished himself. Seeand See .
19. The only other confession of which we shall take notice is that of the Westminster assembly, which met in 1643, and at which five ministers and three elders as commissioners from the general assembly of the church of Scotland attended, agreeably to engagements between the convention of estates there, and both houses of parliament in England. This confession is contained in thirty-three chapters, and in every point of doctrine, fully accords with the sentiments of the synod of Dort; and on some points going rather beyond it, as with respect to a supposed election of angels. It was approved and adopted by the general assembly in 1647; and two years after, ratified by act of parliament, as "the public and avowed confession of the church of Scotland." By act of parliament in 1690, it was again declared to be the national standard of faith in Scotland; and subscription to it as "the confession of his faith," specially required of every person who shall be admitted "a minister or preacher within this church." Subscription to it was also enjoined by the act of union in 1707, on all "professors, principals, regents, masters, and others bearing office," in any of the Scottish universities.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Confession'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/c/confession.html. 1831-2.