intelligent part of mankind, and his company was much coveted by persons of quality. He was honoured with the friendship of the Lord-keeper Bridgman. The Lord Chancellor Finch, and the earl of Nottingham had a particular respect for him. Archbishop Tillotson held him in high esteem, and maintained an intimacy with him to the end of his life. If interest would have induced hin to conformity, he could not have wanted a temptation. He might have had any bishopric in the kingdom, if he would have deserted his cause. His integri̟ty, modesty, and peaceable temper are conspicuous in the close of his farewel sermon, Aug. 17, 1662, (the Sabbath preceding the general ejectment of the dissenting clergy by the act of uniformity)" I know you expect me to say something as to my nonconformity. I shall only say thus much; it is neither fancy, faction, nor humour, that makes me not comply; but merely the fear of offending God. And if, after the best means used for my illumination, as prayer to God, discourse, and study, I am not able to be satisfied concerning the lawfulness of what is requir ed, it be my unhappiness to be in error, surely men will have no reason to be angry with me in this world, and I hope God will pardon me in the next."

His piety was very conspicuous, and his private conversation so instructive and quickening, in reference to religion and godliness, that no man of ordinary


capacity could hear his most familiar discourses, without great advantage, or great negligence. To place religion in a morose sourness was far from his practice, judgment, and temper. But his mind was most intent on divine things; and his discourse on other subjects was interwoven with religion, and centered in it ; especially what is most vital and essential to it. "I never knew any one (says Mr. Howe) more frequent or affectionate in the admiration of divine grace, upon all occasions, than he was, as none had a deeper sense of the impotence and depravity of human nature. Into what transports of admiration of the love of God have I seen him break forth! How easy a step did he make it from earth to heaven! With what flights of thought and affection was he wont to speak of the heavenly state! Even like a man more akin to the other world than this."

He was ejected from St. Dunstan's in the west, London. He was many years one of the Tuesday lecturers at Salter's hall, where he preached to a thronged assembly. In the latter part of life he exercised his ministry at Hackney with great success. He died in 1699, aged 74. Mr. Howe's funeral sermon for him (founded on John xi. 16. Let us also go, and die with him) contains a most passionate lamentation over him, in a strength of language characteristic of that great writer. ORTON.

Religious Communications.


(Continued from p. 365.)

ANOTHER argument against confessions of faith will now be investigated.

Objection II. Confessions of faith are inconsistent with the absolute perfection and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures. It is in the inspired writings only that we can be sure to find the genuine doctrines of Christianity expressed with perspicuity and a just extent. No phrases can be so well adapted to the nature of divine things, or so well calculated to preserve the purity of religion, as those which the Holy Ghost has seen fit to use. And, therefore, creeds, consisting of words of man's wisdom, are a great disre--if spect to the sacred writings, and an affront to the divine Spirit which inspired them. At the same time they show a presumptuous confidence in man, as if he could devise more proper expressions, than those of Scripture; or as if the purity of faith could be better maintained by human inventions, than by a steady adherence to our infallible standard. In short, confessions are an evident encroachment upon the authority of the Bible, and lead men to neglect its holy contents, and thus tend to -undermine the foundation of religion.

This objection, which is almost the only one that remains to be considered, claims for its support the perfection of the Scriptures. Now in order that we may come

to an enlightened conclusion on this subject, it is necessary to consider, that the perfection of the Scriptures consists in their being completely adapted to the ends, for which they were intended. Their perfection must not be made to consist in the utmost degree of any one quality, or in their being fitted to any one particular purpose; but in the adaptedness of the whole to the complex design of revelation. That complex design is to furnish mankind with a universal rule of faith and practice. Such a design requires fulness, and perspicuity. There is a perfect fulness in the Scriptures, if they reveal all that is necessary for us in the present state. And as to their perspicuity, it is sufficient to answer all the cavils of infidels,

they reveal necessary truths with such plainness, that persons of every capacity may attain the knowledge of them, by a diligent and pious use of appointed means. The perfection of the Scriptures does not imply, that divine truth is always expressed in the most obvious manner, or that plainer expressions could not possibly be used; but that it is expressed so plainly, that every devout inquirer may understand it, as far as God sees to be necessary. The perspicui, ty of Scripture, it must be remembered, is calculated for diligence, and not for sloth. Though the necessary truths of revela tion may be easily understood by the attentive and impartial mind, they may be greatly misapprehended by a mind biassed with

prejudice, puffed up with pride, or clouded by any evil passion.

Now if it can be made to appear that confessions of faith, in their nature and design, are by no means incompatible with the perfection of Scripture, the objection, stated above, will lose its force.

Let it, then, be constantly kept in mind, that creeds are to be considered neither as a substitute for Scripture, nor supplementary to it, nor as a rule, conformably to which Scripture ought to be measured and understood by the people, nor in any degree as a standard of truth and falsehood in matters of religion. So that the question before us is precisely this; whether creeds may be drawn up in any words, but those of Scripture, not as rules of faith, but as declarations of our own sentiments, and means of discovering the sentiments of others.

In order to show the proprie ty and necessity of creeds, framed and used in this manner, it is sufficient to prove, that we cannot make a satisfactory declaration of our own sentiments, or a clear discovery of the sentiments of others, so long as we confine ourselves to the precise words and expressions of holy writ. The reason of this may soon appear. But whatever the reason, the fact is plain.

Take a particular text. Two persons may subscribe it, and yet contradict one another with respect to the very article which it 'contains. A Socinian will readily assent to any passages of Scripture, which assert the divinity of Christ; and at the same, time we know that, according to the gloss which he puts upon them, they represent Christ as

a mere man. Two men may subscribe certain passages of Paul's writings, when from those very passages they derive differ ent and irreconcileable doctrines. Whence it clearly follows, that, in the present state of things, a person's owning his belief of the Scriptures, and assenting to par ticular passages is not, in itself, the least proof of the sentiments he embraces.

This fact is easily accounted for. It ought to be most thankfully acknowledged, that the sacred oracles are adorned with a noble simplicity, and, considered in themselves, are free from ar tifice and ambiguity. They are an open, plain, and impartial re presentation of the doctrines contained in them; so that, without any addition or explication, they may be truly, though not perfectly understood by all, who sincere. ly apply their minds to the discovery of divine truth. And whenever we speak of the plainness and perspicuity of Scripture phrases, we mean to consider them, as they lie in the Scriptures, and as they are expres sions of God's mind to his crea, tures. But the words and phra ses of Scripture have, by one party or another, been greatly perverted from their true sense. People ascribe different meanings to them, and whenever they use them, intend to express dif ferent notions. As they are used and understood by mankind, they are of an ambiguous and indeter minate signification. Hence it is plain, they are not clear expres sions of a person's faith, even as to the most essential articles of Christianity. If churches, fully persuaded that certain prevailing sentiments are inconsistent with

the gospel, were about to judge of the qualifications of a minister, they could obtain no definite idea of his opinions, merely from his assent to scripture phrases. As circumstances are, it is absolutely impossible, by the use of scripture phrases only, to declare our faith to others. This is not charging any imperfection upon the word of God. For confessions of faith, strictly speaking, are not designed to give an account of what the Holy Ghost says concerning any articles of faith, but of what we believe. And when we would determine, whether any particular terms are proper to be used in creeds; the question is, whether they will express, with sufficient clearness, the real belief of those who assent to them.

As scripture phrases, however clear and determinate in themselves, have become of an ambiguous signification, they are not suited to the purpose of confessions. And to say that no confessions should be composed or assented to in any language, but that of Scripture, is to say, we must be entirely uncertain, whether those, with whom we join in church fellowship, and those whom we elect for ministers, believe the doctrines of our religion, or not.

It follows from this unreasonable notion, that we should never make an explicit confession of Christ and his gospel before men. For how can we give a testimony to the faith of the gos, pel in a declining age, or profess our firm adherence to the truth by subscribing a proposition, which they who reject the doctrines we believe, are as ready to subscribe, as we are? What sat

isfaction can thus be given to any discerning man concerning our belief? By such a subscription or assent to a scripture phrase, we impose upon our thoughtless neighbours. Unless we explain our meaning, we do nothing but conceal our sentiments. Indeed it is the very practice we are opposing, to which they resort, who mean to disguise their religious opinions. They form the language of Scripture into a covert under which they can hide, a shelter to which they can retreat from the region of light and truth.

It is in vain to urge the perspicuity of scripture language, by which we allow it is perfectly adapted to be a universal rule of faith and practice. Whatever men's speculations on the subject may be, it is, I repeat it, a well known fact, that the use of scripture phrases does not determine what a man's sentiments are, even on the most important points in religion. So that the scheme, which the adversaries of creeds undertake to found on the perfection of Scripture, is calculated to break down all the fences, which secure the church from danger, and to let in all manner of errors and corruptions. It affords a hiding place to the most pernicious deceivers. It tends to confound all religious societies, and to destroy the very being of church communion, which is founded on one faith, one hope, one baptism.

It may be said, that creeds are liable to the same abuse as scripture phrases; that others may understand them in a different sense from what we do; and that dishonest men may please themselves with subtilties, by the help

of which they fancy they can subscribe our confessions, while they reject the obvious sense. It is readily acknowledged, that there is no absolute security against human error and deceit; and that after all our vigilance we may be imposed upon. But this sense of danger should excite the greater caution, and engage us to use those methods which seem least liable to mistake. We already know that scripture phrases are used by different persons in a different sense. Some men think the plainest passages in favour of a particular truth ought to be so explained, as to mean quite the contrary. If after knowing this, we should consider a person's assenting to or using those passages, as a satisfactory declaration of his faith, we might justly be charged with the weakest credulity. On the contrary, we perceive that men of erroneous sentiments generally refuse to subscribe orthodox confessions. In this case they cannot so easily satisfy themselves with evasive distinctions. But if the expressions used in any creed should, in process of time, be so applied as to become ambiguous, churches might consistently make alterations, and use other expressions of a more determinate sigRification. For, while the Holy Scriptures are designed for a universal and perpetual rule of faith and manners; confessions of faith are of a limited nature, and must be framed with reference to the particular state of nations, to the heresies which prevail, to the various arts and subterfuges of deceivers, to the sense in which they use words, and the particular cast which


they give to their schemes. By attending to such things, the enlightened friends of truth may, at every period, construct creeds, which will answer the double purpose of declaring their own sentiments, and of discovering the sentiments of others.

They, who place so much dependence on a mere assent to scripture phrases, are evidently chargeable with superstition. Words in themselves, are nothing. They are arbitrary signs of our thoughts, and derive all their meaning from common usage. The words of Scripture are no more valuable, or worthy of regard, than any other words, if we abstract them from the sense or doctrine which they are designed to express. The whole value of words consists in the meaning, which the speaker or writer intends to convey by them. So far, therefore, as any words or phrases are without a determinate sense, they are worthless. He that uses them, without explanation, might as well say nothing. If scripture phrases are understood by the world in different senses, and he, who uses them, refuses to inform others in what sense he uses them, he mocks those who wish to know his sentiments. For example. A man pretends to satisfy us concerning his faith by assenting to a passage where CHRIST is called GOD; though he chooses not to tell us, whether by the word GOD he means the supreme, self-existent Being, or a metaphorical deity, as the Socinians consider it. In such a case, he does not give us the least knowledge of his belief, and might as well use a Chinese word, as the name of God. To

« VorigeDoorgaan »