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Some of these expressions are very strong: and, to one not acquainted with the circumstances under which they were used, may look as if they required spotless perfection in a true church ; or absolute agreement in all views of scriptural institutions. But the reader must not permit himself to be carried away by such a mistake; nothing could be further from the intention of this “good confession.” Its object is to show the Protestant church to be a true church in opposition to the church of Rome; as is manifest from the sequel of this very article, where the false church is described as “always attributing more to herself, her institutions, and traditions, than to the word of God-as not subjecting herself to the yoke of Christ—as not administering the sacraments according to his prescription; but one while adding to them, and another diminishing from them—as always relying more upon men than upon Christ; and as persecuting those who aim at holy conformity to his law, and who arraign her avarice, idolatry, and other vices."*
sparsa atque diffusa, quamvis animo ac voluntate in uno eodemque spiritu, virtute fidei, tota sit simul conjuncta atque unita. i
Credimus summa sum igentia, tum prudentia, ex Dei verbo esse inquirendum ac discernendum quænam sit illa vera Ecclesia : quandoquidem omnes sectæ quotquot hodie in mundo vigent Ecclesiæ titulum nomenque usurpant atque prætexunt. Nequaquam verò de lıypocritarum cætu nunc loquimur, qui bonis in Ecclesia sunt permisti, licet ad Ecclesiam proprie non pertineant, in qua corpore sunt præsentes; sed de distinguendo duntaxat veræ Ecclesiæ corpore ac congregatione, ab aliis omnibus sectis quæ se Ecclesiæ membra esse falso gloriantur. His igitur notis vera Ecclesia falsâ discernetur. Si in illa pura Evangelii prædicatio legitimaque Sacramentorum ex Christi præscripto administratio vigeat; si item recta disciplina Ecclesiastica utatur ad coërcenda vitia ; si denique, (ut uno verbo cuncta complectamur,) ad normam verbi Dei omnia exigat, et quæcunque huic adversantur, repudiet: Christumque unicum caput agnoscat. llis, inquam, notis certum est veram Ecclesiam dignosci posse; a qua fas non sit quenquam disjungi.
Such phrases, therefore, as “the pure preaching of the gospel” _“the administration of the sacraments according to the command of Christ' _"the right use of discipline”—“the reducing every thing to the rule of God's word”—“the rejection of all things contrary thereto," must be interpreted not so much of the actual attainment of scriptural perfection by any churches whatever, as of their avowed standard; the test to which they submit their pretensions; and of their substantial character, whatever, in other respects, might be their failings or differences. That this is the true meaning, the following considerations make evident:
(1.) The Belgic churches themselves had not then, and have not since, arrived at such purity as their own confession, according to certain expressions separately taken, seems to require. And they surely did not intend to say that they had not theinselves true churches, and were unworthy of communion with others.
* BELGIC: CONFESS. art. 29. apud Synt. Conf. part I. p. 179,
(2.) The churches adopting this confession, approved the confession of the Swiss churches, commonly called the Helvetic confession, which, as we shall presently see, disclaims the idea of withdrawing from communion with the churches of Germany, France, England, and other Christian nations.* Their own act, therefore, proclaims their communion with these foreign churches, and no construction may be put upon their words which shall contradict their own practical commentary.
(3.) This same Belgic confession was unanimously approved by the continental divines at the synod of Dordt, A.D. 1619; as "containing no doctrine adverse to the declarations of holy scripture ; but, on the contrary, as agreeing with the truth, and with the confessions of the other reformed churches."* It cannot, then, be fairly understood in a sense hostile to those confessions ; if we allow the delegates from almost all Protestant Christendom to have known any thing of the faith of their respective churches : and among these churches there was then, as there is now, great diversity in many things.
* SYNTAG. CONFESS. part I. p. 4. # Acta Syxod. DORDREÇIITA YF, Sess, cxlvi. p. 301. Dord. 1620.
The Belgic confession, therefore, waving all minor differences between Christians, and bent on supporting the great things of their common faith, contends for the church's unity on this consecrated ground; and insists that it is the duty of every one who loves the LORD Jesus, to hold communion with her through the medium of any one of her branches to which he may have access in any part of the world. If there be but a true church, that is enough to justify his participation of her ordinances; and if she be the only true church there, to render such participation his bounden duty. Thus the Belgic confession, and, of course, all who approved it.
As for rites, ceremonies, modifications of external order, &c. which form the chief differences among churches who hold the main doctrines of faith, those same Christian heroes, of whom thousands and ten thousands were enrolled in “the noble army of martyrs,” speak in the following manner :
AUGUSTAN confession. “If doctrine and faith be
pure, no one, on account of dissimilitude in human traditions, is to be deemed a heretick, or a deserter of the Catholick church. For the unity of the Catholick church consists in the harmony
of doctrine and faith, not in human traditions, whereof there has always been in the churches throughout the whole world a great diversity. **
The Bohemic confession.“ Although the external face and form of our churches be now peculiar, yet this is done for no other reason than greater convenience in teaching the word, administering the sacraments, and terminating disputes among brethren who may consult us. As also for the exercise of discipline, by excommunicating those whose conduct merits correction, and who, though infamous for their open enormities, refuse to repent; and by re-admitting them, upon repentance, to the fellowship of the church, and the sacrament of the Eucharist. We are not, therefore, separated from the Catholick church, seeing we enjoy all those things which properly appertain to her.
“As to the differences which may obtain among the churches in external rites or ceremonies, we think it of no importance ; for these
* In externis traditionibus abusus quidam mutati sunt; quarum etiam si qua est dissimilitudo, si tanien doctrina, et fides pura sit, nemo propter illam traditionum humanarum dissimilitudinem habendus est hæreticus, aut desertor Catholicæ Ecclesiæ. Nam unitas Catholicæ Ecclesiæ consistit in doctrinæ et fidei consensu; non in traditionibus humanis, quarum semper in Ecclesiis per totum orbem magna fuit dissimilitudo.
August. CONF. Art. XXI.