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FROM the first settling of New-England, it has been the constant practice of all our congregational churches, to require a public assent to the chief articles of the Christian faith, as a term of communion in special ordinances. Nor is there to this day, one such church, or, to be sure, not above one, that ever I heard of, but what insists upon such a public assent, as that, without which they will not admit any to sealing ordinances. Our churches have formulas, which they call the doctrines of faith, or the articles of the Christian faith. The minister publicly reads them to such as are to be taken into full communion; and they give their assent to them before all the congregation. For our churches believe, (and act upon it,) that none ought to be admitted to full communion, but such as are sound in the faith; and that the church has a right to judge of their soundness in the faith: and they do judge those to be sound in the faith, who publicly profess, (acting, to a judgment of charity, understandingly and honestly,) their assent to the articles of the Christian faith, which they have agreed to, and drawn up to be used in the admission of members as they are persuaded said articles do express the true sense of the holy Scriptures.

Were they convinced, that any of their articles were contrary to Scripture, I know not of one, or to be sure not above one, of all our churches, but would immediately alter their articles. For we all profess, that the bible is the only standard by which our religious sentiments are to be formed; and we mean, by our creeds and confessions, only to express our sense of Scripture: not to make a new bible; but only to express how we understand the bible that God has already

made. And this, to the end that others may know our principles, and we know theirs.

When therefore a number of ministers, and of private gentlemen, who belong to our churches, have in late years appeared so very zealous against creeds and confessions, as tests of orthodoxy, I was at a loss to know what they meant, and what they designed, and what alteration they would have in our customs and practices, if they could new model things just to their minds. Would they have men admitted into the church, and appointed public instructers, without any regard to their religious principles? Or, do they not like it, that our articles should be writ down? Or, would they have new creeds drawn up, contrary to our present, and imposed on our churches, and our churches not allowed to judge for themselves! Or, what do they mean? And what would they have?

Thus stood the case in my view, when two or three years ago, hearing that something new was about to be published against creeds and confessions, by a certain ingenious gentleman, I sent the following lines to the printer of the Connecticut Gazette, which he was so good as to give place in his paper, No. 149.

To the Printer,' &c.

'As several pieces of late have been published against creeds and confessions of human composure being used, as tests of orthodoxy, which are thought not fully to reach the merits of the cause it is desired, that in the next piece of that nature the following questions may be answered.

Quest. I. Is it of any importance what men's principles be, if their lives are but good? For if it is not, then not their religious principles, but only their external conduct, need be inquired into; and they may be admitted to sealing ordinances in the church of Christ, or be licensed to preach, and ordained to the work of the ministry, or be employed as presidents, fellows, and tutors, to take care of the education of our youth, whether they are orthodox or not. And so there will be no need of any tests of orthodoxy, human or divine.

But if it be of importance that they should be sound in the faith, and if their religious principles must be inquired into then it is inquired,

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 k.

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.


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 determined 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, 'miuisters ought to be silenced ;' (p. 15.) 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.

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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. in. 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 judgment, and agree upon nothing as a rule for themselves to act by, in the admission of members, or settlement of a minister,

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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.

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