Images de page

Quest. II. Whether particular Christian communities, as well as particular persons, have not a right to judge for themselves, what is the true sense of Scripture, and what principles are necessary, according to the holy Scriptures, to be believed and professed, in order to an admission to sealing ordinances, or to be employed as public instructors ?

For if particular communities have not a right to judge for themselves, they ought no longer to claim it. But if they may not judge for themselves, who shall judge for them? Shall all the various sects among protestants go back to the pope to be set right? But, if it be granted that particular communities have a right to judge for themselves, it is inquired,

'Quest. III. Why they may not manifest what is their sense of Scripture, in writing, as well as by word of mouth? i. e. why they may not compose a written confession of faith to be used as a test of orthodoxy *.

'Till a good answer to these questions can be given, it is not to be expected that the use of creeds and confessions should be laid aside. And they are proposed to the public, with a desire they may be answered, with that seriousness and good nature, with which all religious controversies ought to be managed. And such an answer shall be attended to with an honest desire to know the truth, by

'Decem. 24, 1757.

[ocr errors]


And now, after above two years, to consider of the matter, you, my good friend Scripturista, have been so kind as to give a public answer to my three questions. For which, (although you have misunderstood me in a very material point,) I return you my public thanks. And if you speak not only your own sense, but the sense of your whole party, I humbly

k A test is that by which we try something to discover what it is. The bible is the test by which we try doctrines to discover whether they be divine truths. A confession of faith is a test by which we try those who offer to be of our communion, &c. to discover whether they are orthodox, i. e. whether they believe those doctrines which we judge true, and necessary to be professed, in order to be admitted to communion, &c. in this latter sense only is it, that the Christian church ever maintained, that confessions of human composure might be used as texts of orthodoxy. See Professor Dunlop, on Creeds and Confessions.

conceive we are not so far apart in this particular controversy, but that it may pretty easily be settled to the satisfaction of all concerned. For if I understand you right, you have granted the whole I designed; and disputed against a point which no denomination of Christians ever maintained. Besure, none in New-England.


I. You not only grant, but contend earnestly for what we all lay down as our first principle, and fundamental' maxim, viz. That not creeds, nor confessions, but the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, are the only rule of faith; by which we are, each one for ourselves, to be deterinined what to believe in matters of religion; and to which the final appeal is to be made by all denominations of Christians, and by which they ought to decide all their religious controversies. Our creeds are to express nothing but what we verily believe to be the true sense of Scripture. And if any think we inistake the true sense of Scripture, the dispute is to be decided, not by our creeds, but by the Scripture; comparing Scripture with Scripture. So saith our platform; and this we are fully agreed in. The smallest grain of an inspired testimony,' says Professor Dunlop, in his piece on creeds and confessions, 'is momentous enough, in a just balance, to weigh down a cart-load of human canons and confessions.' Edit. 2. p. 78. II. You grant, that some of the principles of religion are so important, that none ought to be admitted to sealing ordinances, or to be employed as public instructers, who do not profess to believe them.' (p. 3.) Yea, you grant, that if they do at first profess to believe them; yet if afterwards it appears they do not, 'ministers ought to be silenced ;' (p. 13.) and by parity of reason, church-members censured. You grant this, I say; and therefore, to silence and excommunicate such if they continue obstinate, provided it be done with a Christian temper, is so far from being persecution, that you look upon it a Christian duty; according to Tit. iii. 10.


And thus far you agree with the church of Christ in all ages of the world.

III. And you also grant fully, just as fully as I would have you, that particular Christian communities, as well as particular persons, have a right, not had a right once, ten or


twenty years ago, but every day of their lives; have a right to judge for themselves, what is the true sense of Scripture; and what principles are necessary, according to the holy Scriptures, to be believed and professed, in order to an admission to sealing ordinances, or to be employed as public instructers.' (p. 4.)

And if they have a right to judge for themselves, you must grant, that it is their duty to exercise this right, and not remain in suspense; but come to a judgment; not to be ever learning, and never come to the knowledge of the truth, like the condemned by the apostle; 2 Tim. iï. 7. but rather to believe with all the heart, and to continue in the things which they have learned, and been assured of. Ver. 14.

Yea, how can a Christian church admit any to communion, or settle a minister, until first they are agreed what principles are orthodox and necessary. If they put off coming to a judgmënt, and agree upon nothing as a rule for themselves to act by, in the admission of members, or settlement of a minister, 'to be of any force till they are dead;' (p. 11.) then they must admit no members, and settle no ministers, till they get into the next world: or else must admit members and settle ministers on this maxim, that it is no matter what men's principles be, if their lives are but good.' Which still you will not allow. There is an absolute necessity, therefore, upon your own principles, that Christian communities settle these points, and agree what principles are necessary, even at their first formation.

And surely, a right to judge for themselves does by no means imply, that they must never come to a judgment; never be grounded and settled in a firm belief of all the great and important doctrines of the Gospel; but always be as unsteady children, tost to and fro, and carried about like leaves in autumn, with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive for this is expressly contrary to the word of God. (Col. i. 23. Eph. iv. 14.) And equally contrary to common sense. For a right to judge for ourselves is so far from being inconsistent with our coming to a judgment, that it can be of no use to us but as it is improved to this end.


But you say, we must alter our belief, if afterwards we see just cause for it.' p. 5. 11. 19. True; and so we must give up the bible itself, if we see just cause for it. And cease any longer to believe that two and two make four; if we see just cause for it. And what then? Must we therefore never come to a judgment about the plainest and most evident matters? Or, do you think that the great truths of the Gospel cannot be clearly determined from the bible? I hope that believing the great doctrines of the Gospel with all the heart, with a full assurance of faith; yea, with all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, in the manner true Christians did in the apostolic age, (Acts viii. 37. Col. ii. 2. 1 Thes. i. 5. Heb. x. 22.) does not appear in your eyes like a groundless confidence, a faith built on no solid, rational, lasting evidence. A hope you would not have the minds of Christians always fluctuating and unsettled in their belief, like a wave of the sea, and so in consequence hereof, they be unstable in all their ways, like those condemned in Jam.i. 6, 7, 8. Nor can I persuade myself, that you think that a firm and persevering belief of Christianity is inconsistent with the impartiality of an honest man, who is a free inquirer after truth. And that there is no way to be a strong believer, but by being a great bigot. If indeed you are thus far gone into scepticism, and feel yourself thus at a total loss what to believe, and what to disbelieve; I wonder not you should be for delaying to draw up a creed for yourself, lest you should soon alter your mind, and get into another scheme of religion, a scheme condemned by your former creed. But methinks, to put off till after death,' is too long, if you intend to be saved at last by Christianity. But if it is no matter what men's principles be, if their lives are but good; all is well, whether you ever get settled in your principles in this world, or in the world to come.


But why need I thus reason with you? For whatever sound some of your words may seem to have, and however some of your readers may understand you; yet you cannot really mean that Christians, or Christian communities, should delay and put off their being settled, fully settled in the belief of the great doctrines of the Gospel. For you do expressly

grant, that it is of so great importance that men be sound in the faith, that they must not be admitted to communion, or ordained to the work of the ministry, without it. Which supposes that the great truths of the Gospel are so plain and evident, that they may and ought to be known and believed; and Christian communities to be well settled in these things, even at their first foundation.


IV. You grant, that particular Christian communities may manifest their sense of Scripture in writing, as well as by word of mouth.' p. 5. i. e. they may compose creeds. For a creed, (which comes from credo, to believe,) consists of a number of articles, which I believe to be taught in the Holy Scriptures. And what particular use is to be made of their creed by Christian communities, you have already virtually granted, For,


V. Although this clause,' A written confession of faith to be used as a test of orthodoxy,' does really surprise you, (p. 6.) taken in the frightful sense you have put upon it; yet, taken in the sense I designed the words, it seems you fully approve the thing. The name, a test of orthodoxy,' frights you, and no wonder, considering the frightful idea you put to the words. But the thing designed by that name seems quite familiar to your mind. For there are some religious principles which appear to you of so great importance, that you would neither admit to sealing ordinances, nor to the office of a public instructor, those who would not profess them. And these principles you fully believe are taught in the holy Scriptures. So that, in the sense I use words, they are your creed, and your test of orthodoxy. For you believe them, and insist upon the profession of them as a term of communion. And possibly their evidence appears to you so clear and full, that you are persuaded you never shall, and in fact you never will, alter your belief, as to them. And yet you are no bigot. But rather you profess to stand ready to alter your belief, when you see just cause for it.' However, till then you would join to silence, and excommunicate, a minister who should be proved guilty of gross heresy, according to your notions of heresy, i. e. according to your creed, used as a test of orthodoxy. (p. 13.)


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »