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A PREFACE. Confession of the Faith that is in us, when justly called for, is so indispensable a due all owe to the Glory of the Sovereign GOD, that it is ranked among the Duties of the first Commandment, such as Prayer is; and therefore by Paul yoked with Faith itself, as necessary to salvation : with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is inade unto salvation. Our Lord Christ himself, when he was accused of his Doctrine, considered simply as a matter of fact by Preaching, refused to answer; because, as such, it lay upon evidence, and matter of testimony of others; unto whom therefore he refers himself: But when both the High-Priest and Pilate expostulate his Faith, and what he held himself to be; he without any demur at all, cheerfully makes Declaration, That he was the Son of God; so to the High-Priest : and that he was a King, and born to be a King; thus to Pilate. Though upon the uttering of it his life lay at the stake; Which holy Profession of his is celebrated for our example, 1 Tim. vi. 13.
Confessions, when made by a company of Professors of Christianity jointly meeting to that end, the most genuine and natural use of such Confessions is, That under the same form of words, they express the substance of the same common salvation or unity of their faith; whereby speaking the same things, they show themselves perfectly joined in the same mind, and in the same judgment, 1 Cor. i. 10.
And accordingly such a transaction is to be looked upon but as a meet or fit medium or means whereby to express that their common faith and salvation, and no way to be made use of as an imposition upon any: Whatever is of force or constraint in matters of this nature, causeth them to degenerate from the name and nature of Confessions, and turns them from being Confessions of Faith, into Eractions and Impositions of Faith.
And such common Confessions of the Orthodox Faith, made in simplicity of heart by any such Body of Christians, with concord among themselves, ought to be entertained by all others that love the truth as it is in Jesus, with an answerable rejoicing: For if the unanimous opinions and assertions but in some few points of Religion, and that when by two Churches, namely, that of Jerusalem, and the Messengers of Antioch met, assisted by some of the Apostles, were by the Believers of those times received with so much joy, (as it is said, They rejoiced for the consolation) much more this is to be done, when the whole substance of Faith, and form of wholesome words shall be declared by the Messengers of a multitude of Churches, though wanting those advantages of Counsel and Authority of the Apostles, which that Assembly had.
Which acceptation is then more specially due, when these shall (to choose) utter and declare their Faith, in the same substance for matter, yea, words, for the most part, that other Churches and Assemblies, reputed the most Orthodox, have done before them: For upon such a correspondency, all may see that actually accomplished, which the Apostle did but exhort unto, and pray for, in those two more eminent Churches of the Corinthians and the Romans, (and so in them for all the Christians of his time) that both Jew and Gentile, that is, men of different persuasions, (as they were) might glorify GOD with one mind and with one mouth. And truly, the very turning of the Gentiles to the owning of the same Faith, in the substance of it, with the Christian Jew (though differing in greater points than we do from our Brethren) is presently after dignified by the Apostle with this style, That it is the Confession of Jesus Christ himself; not as the Object only, but as the Author and Maker thereof: I will confess to thee (saith Christ to God) among the Gentiles. So that in all such accords, Christ is the great and first Confessor; and we, and all our Faith uttered by Us, are but the Epistles, (as Paul) and Confessions (as Isaiah there) of their Lord and ours ; He, but expressing what is written in his heart, through their hearts and mouths, to the glory of God the Father: And shall not we all rejoice herein, when as Christ himself is said to do it upon this occasion : as it there also follows, I will sing unto thy Name,
Further, as the soundness and wholesomeness of the matter gives the vigor and life to such
Confessions, so the inward freeness, willingness, and readiness of the Spirits of the Confessors do contribute the beauty and loveliness thereunto: As it is in Prayer to God, so in Confessions made to men. If two or three met, do agree, it renders both, to either the more acceptable. The Spirit of Christ is in himself too free, great and generous a Spirit, to suffer himself to be used by any human arm, to whip men into belief; he drives not, but gently leads into all truth, and persuades men to dwell in the tents of like precious Faith ; which would lose of its preciousness and value, if that sparkle of freeness shone not in it: The Character of His People, is to be a willing people in the day of his power (not Man's) in the beauties of holiness, which are the Assemblings of the Saints: one glory of which Assemblings in that first Church, is said to have been, They met with one accord; which is there in that Psalm prophesied of, in the instance of that first Church, for all other that should succeed.
And as this great Spirit is in himself free, when, and how far, and in whom to work, so where and when he doth work, he carrieth it with the same freedom, and is said to be a free Spirit, as he both is, and works in us : And where this Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Now, as to this Confession of ours, besides, that a conspicuous conjunction of the particulars mentioned, hath appeared therein: There are also four remarkable Attendants thereon, which added, might perhaps in the eyes of sober and indifferent Spirits, give the whole of this Transaction a room and rank amongst other many good and memorable things of this Age; at least all set together, do cast as clear a gleam and manifestation of God's Power and Presence, as hath appeared in any such kind of Confessions, made by so numerous a company these later years.
The first, is the Temper (or distemper rather) of the Times, during which, these Churches have been gathering, and which they have run through. All do (out of a general sense) complain that the times have been perilous, or difficult times (as the Apostle foretold); and that in respect to danger from seducing spirits, more perilous than the hottest seasons of Persecution.
We have failed through an Æstuation, Fluxes and Refluxes of great varieties of Spirits, Doctrines, Opinions and Occurrences, and especially in the matter of Opinions, which have been accompanied in their several seasons, with powerful persuasions and temptations, to seduce those of our way. It is known, men have taken the freedom (notwithstanding what Authority hath interposed to the contrary) to vent and vend their own vain and accursed imaginations, contrary to the great and fixed Truths of the Gospel, insomuch, as take the whole Round and Circle of Delusions, the Devil hath in this small time, ran; it will be found, that every Truth, of greater or lesser weight, hath by one or other hand, at one time or another, been questioned and called to the Bar amongst us, yea, and impleaded, under the pretext (which hath some degree of Justice in it) that all should not be bound up to the Traditions of former times, nor take Religion upon trust.
Whence it bath come to pass, that many of the soundest Professors were put upon a new search and disquisition of such Truths, as they had taken for granted, and yet had lived upon the comfort of: to the end they might be able to convince others, and establish their own hearts against that darkness and unbelief, that is ready to close with error, or at least to doubt of the truth, when error is speciously presented. And hereupon we do professedly account it one of the greatest advantages gained ont of the Temptations of thece Times, yea the honor of the Saints and Ministers of these Nations, That after they had sweetly been exercised in, and had improved practical and experimental Truths, this should be their further Lot, to examine and discuss, and indeed, anew to learn over every Doctrinal Truth, both ont of the Scriptures, and also with a fresh taste thereof in their own hearts; which is no other than what the Apostle exhorts to, Try all things, hold fast that which is good. Conversion unto God at first, what is it else than a savory and affectionate application, and the bringing home to the heart with spiritual light and life, all truths that are necessary to salvation, together with other lesser Truths ? All which we had afore conversion taken in but notionally from common Education and Tradition.
Now that after this first gust those who have been thus converted should be put upon a new
probation and search out of the Scriptures, not only of all principles explicitly ingredients to Conversion ; (unto which the Apostle referreth the Galatians when they had diverted from them) but of all other superstructures as well as fundamentals; and together therewith, anew to experiment the power and sweetness of all these in their own souls: What is this but tried Faith indeed ? and equivalent to a new conversion unto the truth ? An Anchor that is proved to be sure and steadfast, that will certainly hold in all contrary storms. This was the eminent seal and commendation which those holy Apostles that lived and wrote last (Peter, John, and Jude in their Epistles) did set and give to the Christians of the latter part of those primitive times. And besides, it is clear and evident by all the other Epistles, from first to last, that it cost the Apostles as much, and far more care and pains to preserve them they had converted, in the truth, than they had taken to turn them thereunto at first : And it is in itself as great a work and instance of the power of God, that keeps, yen, guards us through faith unto salvation.
Secondly, let this be added (or superadded rather) to give full weight and measure, even to running over, that we have all along this season, held forth (though quarreled with for it by our brethren) this great principle of these times, That amongst all Christian States and Churches, there ought to be vouchsafed a forbearance and mutual indulgence unto Saints of all persuasions, that keep unto, and hold fast the necessary foundations of faith and holiness, in all other matters extra fundamental, whether of Faith or Order.
This to have been our constant principle, we are not ashamed to confess to the whole Christian world. Wherein yet we desire we may be understood, not as if in the abstract we stood indifferent to falsehood or truth, or were careless whether faith or error, in any Truths but fundamental, did obtain or not, so we had our liberty in our petty and smaller differences; or as if to make sure of that, we had cut out this wide cloak for it: No, we profess that the whole, and every particle of that Faith delivered to the Saints (the substance of which we have according to our light here professed) is, as to the propagation and furtherance of it by all Gospel means, as precious to us as our lives; or what can be supposed dear to us; and in our sphere we have endeavored to promote them accordingly: But yet withal, we have and do contend (and if we had all the power which any, or all of our brethren of differing opinions have desired to have over us, or others, we should freely grant it unto them all) we have and do contend for this, That in the concrete, the persons of all such gracious Saints, they and their errors, as they are in them, when they are but such errors as do and may stand with communion with Christ, though they should not repent of them, as not being convinced of them to the end of their days; that those, with their errors (that are purely spiritual, and intrench and overthrow not civil societies,) as concrete with their persons, should for Christ's sake be borne withal by all Christians in the world; and they notwithstanding be permitted to enjoy all Ordinances and spiritual Privileges according to their light, as freely as any other of their brethren that pretend to the greatest Orthodoxy; as having as equal, and as fair a right in and unto Christ, and all the holy things of Christ, that any other can challenge to themselves.
And this doth afford a full and invincible testimony on our behalf, in that whiles we have so earnestly contended for this just liberty of Saints in all the Churches of Christ, we ourselres have no need of it: that is, as to the matter of the profession of Faith which we hare maintained together with others : and of this, this subsequent Confession of Faith gives sufficient evidence. So as we have the confidence in Christ, to utter in the words of those two great Apostles, That we have stood fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free (in the behalf of others, rather than ourselves) and having been free, have not made use of our liberty for a cloak of error or maliciousness in ourselves. And yet, lo, whereas from the beginning of the rearing of these Churches, that of the Apostle hath been (by some) prophesied of us, and applied to us, That while we promised (unto others) liberty, we ourselves would become servants of corruption, and be brought in bondage to all sorts of fancies and imaginations, yet the whole world may now see after the experience of many years ran through (and it is manifest by this Confession) that the great and gracious God hath not only kept us in that
common unity of the Faith and Knowledge of the Son of God, which the whole Community of Saints have and shall in their Generations come unto, but also in the same Truths, both small and great, that are built thereupon, that any other of the best and more pure Reformed Churches in their best times (which were their first times) have arrived unto: This Confession withal holding forth a professed opposition unto the common errors and heresies of these times.
These two considerations have been taken from the seasons we have gone through.
Thirdly, let the space of time ilself, or days, wherein from first to last the whole of this Confession was framed and consented to by the whole of us, be duly considered by sober and ingenuous spirits: the whole of days in which we had meetings about it (set aside the two Lord's days, and the first day's meeting, in which we considered and debated what to pitch upon) were but 11 days, part of which also was spent by some of us in Prayer, others in consulting; and in the end all agreeing. We mention this small circumstance but to this end (which still adds unto the former) That it gives demonstration, not of our freeness and will. ingness only, but of our readiness and preparedness unto so great a work; which otherwise, and in other Assemblies, hath ordinarily taken up long and great debates, as in such a variety of matters of such concernment, may well be supposed to fall out. And this is no other than what the Apostle Peter exhorts unto, Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason, or account of the hope that is in you. The Apostle Paul saith of the spiritual Truths of the Gospel, That God hath prepared them for those that love him. The inward and innate constitution of the new Creature being in itself such as is suited to all those Truths, as congenial thereunto : But although there be this mutual adaptness between these two, yet such is the mixture of ignorance, darkness and unbelief, carnal reason, pre-occupation of judgment, interest of parties, wantonness in opinion, proud adhering to our own persuasions, and perverse oppositions and averseness to agree with others, and a multitude of such like distempers common to believing man: All which are not only mixed with, but at times (especially in such times as have passed over our heads) are ready to overcloud our judgments, and to cause our eyes to be double, and sometimes prevail as well as lusts, and do bias our wills and affections: And such is their mixture, that although there may be existent an habitnal preparedness in men's spirits, yet not always a present readiness to be found, specially not in such a various multitude of men, to make a solemn and deliberate profession of all truths, it being as great a work to find the spirits of the just (perhaps the best of Saints) ready for every truth, as to be prepared to every good work.
It is therefore to be looked at, as a great and special work of the Holy Ghost, that so numerous a company of Ministers, and other principal brethren, should so readily, speedily, and jointly give up themselves unto such a whole Body of Truths that are after godliness.
This argues they had not their faith to seek; but, as is said of Ezra, that they were ready Scribes, and (as Christ) instructed unto the Kingdom of Heaven, being as the good householders of so many families of Christ, bringing forth of their store and treasury New and Old. It shows these truths had been familiar to them, and they acquainted with them, as with their daily food and provision (as Christ's allusion there insinuates): In a word, that so they hud preached, and that so their people had believed, as the Apostle speaks upon one like particular occasion. And the Apostle Paul considers (in cases of this nature) the suddenness or length of the time, either one way or the other ; whether it were in men's forsaking or learning of the truth. Thus the suddenness in the Galatians' case in leaving the truth, he makes a wonder of it: I marvel that you are SO SOON (that is, in so short a time) removed from the true Gospel unto another. Again on the contrary, in the Hebrews he aggravates their backwardness, That when for the time you ought to be Teachers, you had need that one teach you the very first principles of the Oracles of God. The Parallel contrary to both these having fallen out in this transaction, may have some ingredient and weight with ingenuous spirits in its kind, according to the proportion is put upon either of these forementioned in their adverse kind, and obtain the like special observation.
This accord of ours hath fallen out without having held any correspondency together, or pre VOL. III.-Zz
pared consultation, by which we might come to be advised of one another's minds. We allege not this as a matter of commendation in us; no, we acknowledge it to have been a great neglect: And accordingly one of the first proposals for union amongst us was, That there might be a constant correspondence held among the Churches for counsel and mutual edification, so for time to come to prevent the like omission.
We confess that from the first, every [one), or at least the generality of our Churches, hare been in a manner like so many Ships (though holding forth the same general colors) launched singly, and sailing apart and alone in the vast Ocean of these tumultuating times, and they exposed to every wind of Doctrine, under no other conduct than the Word and Spirit, and their particular Elders and principal Brethren, without Associations among ourselves, or so much as holding out common lights to others, whereby to know where we were.
But yet whilst we thus confess to our own shame this neglect, let all acknowledge, that God hath ordered it for his high and greater glory, in that his singular care and power should have so watched over each of these, as that all should be found to have steered their course by the same Chart, and to have been bound for one and the same Port, and that upon this general search now made, that the same holy and blessed truths of all sorts, which are current and warrantable amongst all the other Churches of Christ in the world, should be found to be our Lading.
The whole, and every (one) of these things when put together, do cause us (whaterer men of prejudiced and opposite spirits may find out to slight them) with a holy admiration, to say, That this is no other than the Lord's doing; and which we with thanksgiving do take from his hand as a special token upon us for good, and doth show that God is faithful and upright towards those that are planted in his house: And that as the Faith was but once for all, and intentionally first delivered unto the Saints; so the Saints, when not abiding scattered, but gathered under their respective Pastors according to God's heart into an house, and Churches unto the living God, such together are, as Paul forespake it, the most steady and firm pillar and seat of Truth that God hath any where appointed to himself on earth, where bis truth is best conserved, and publicly held forth; there being in such Assemblies weekly a rich dwelling of the Word amongst them, that is, a daily open house kept by the means of those goud Householders, their Teachers and other Instructors respectively appropriated to them, whom Christ in the virtue of his Ascension, continues to give as gifts to his people, himself dwelling amongst them; to the end that by this, as the most sure standing permanent means, the Saints might be perfected, till we all (even all the Saints in present and future ages) do come by this constant and daily Ordinance of his unto the unity of the Faith and Knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (which though growing on by parts and piecemeal, will yet appear complete, when that great and general Assembly shall be gathered, then when this world is ended, and these dispensations have had their fullness and period) and so that from henceforth (such a provision being made for us) we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of Doctrine.
And finally, this doth give a fresh and recent demonstration, that the great Apostle and High-priest of our profession is indeed ascended into heaven, and continues there with power and care, faithful as a son over his own house, whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end: and shows that he will, as he hath promised, be with his own Institutions to the end of the world.
It is true, that many sad miscarringes, divisions, breaches, fallings off from holy Ordinances of God, have along this time of tentation (especially in the beginning of it) been found in some of our Churches; and no wonder, if what hath been said be fully considered: Many reasons might further be given hereof, that would be a sufficient Apology, without the help of a retortion upon other Churches (that promised themselves peace) how that more destroy. ing ruptures have befallen them, and that in a wider sphere and compass; which though it should not justify us, yet may serve to stop others' mouths.
Let Rome glory of the peace in, and obedience of her Children, against the Reformed