A New Confession?

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What do you think about writing new confessions? John Owen was a big fan of writing new confessions. Ryan Kelly has an excellent chapter on this topic in the The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen's Theology, with conclusions that may surprise some Presbyterians!

A number of confessions were written during the seventeenth century. Not just the usual suspects (WCF, Savoy, 1677/89 Baptist plagiarism), but also others were crafted by the leading theologians of the time. In 1654 "A New Confession" was drafted in the hope of unifying the Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Confessions in the 1650s were meant to counterbalance and complete a national church settlement. Today, this type of Confession would be irrelevant because of the separation of church and state. 

Those involved in the writing of "A New Confession" were Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Philip Nye, Sidrach Simpson, Thomas Manton, Richard Baxter, and others. They met in the Jerusalem chamber, where many of them had previously sat years before during the Westminster Assembly. "A New Confession" was not approved by Baxter, incidentally. He accused the likes of Owen and Goodwin as lacking "the Judgment and Accurateness which such a Work required." These men were supposedly "over Orthodox." 

Only 300 copies were printed and given to members of parliament; today we only have one extant copy. The full title of this 1654 confession is: A New Confession of Faith, or the first Principles of the Christian Religion necessary to bee laid as a Foundation by all such as desire to build on unto Perfection.

Strikingly, this confession shows that the leading Congregationalists who had been behind this effort were attempting to create a broad Calvinistic confession, but still rule out of bounds Socinianism, Quakerism, Arminianism, and Antinomianism. Baxter himself wanted unity, but his basis for unity was something akin to the Apostles' Creed. Apparently, Baxter walked out of the confession in frustration after clause XII. Had he stayed to see what was drafted in XIII, his anger may have been placated. 

I wonder, though, how would the Reformed church look today if this was the confession that was adopted, instead of the Westminster Confession of Faith? A fascinating question, I think. Indeed, this particular confession raises all sorts of interesting questions and perhaps dilemmas. But rather than discuss those right now, read on to see what were the basic principles of orthodoxy for the English national church, according to these men:

A New Confession of Faith (1654)

I. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, and the only Rule of knowing him savingly, and living unto him in all holiness and righteousness, in which we must rest; which Scriptures, who so doth not believe but rejecting them, doth instead therof betake himself to any other way of discovering the mind of God, cannot be saved.

II. There is one onely God, who is a Spirit Alsufficient, Eternall, Infinite, Unchangeable, Almighty, Omniscient, Just, Merciful, most Holy, Good, True, Faithful, and onely Wise, working all things according to the Counsel of His Own Will, the Creator, Governour, and Judge of the World, the knowledge God by faith is necessary to salvation, and every other way of knowledge of him is insufficient to salvation.

III. That this God is infinitely distinct from all Creatures in his Being and Blessednesse.

IV. That this God is one in three persons or Subsistences, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

V. God made Man upright in his own Image to yield obedience to him, so that the chief end of man is to live to God and enjoy him for ever.

VI. Man who was thus created is faln into a State of sin and misery, so that our nature is wholly corrupted, disabled to all that is spiritually good, in bondage to sin, at enmity with God, prone to all that is evil, and whilest we continue in that estate, the wrath of God abides upon us.

VII. That every transgression of the Law of God is sin, the wages whereof is eternal death.

VIII. That God out of his Love sent Iesus Christ to be the onely Mediator between God and man, without the knowledge of whom, by the Revelation of the Gospel, there is no salvation.

IX. That this Iesus Christ is God by Nature, the onely and eternally begotten Son of the Father, and also true man in one person.

X. That this Iesus Christ is our Redeemer and Surety, who dying in our stead, laying down his life a ransome for us, and bearing our sins, hath made full satisfaction for them.

XI. That this Lord Iesus Christ is he that was crucifyed at Jerusalem, was buried, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, and there sits at the right Hand of God, making intercession for us, who remains for ever a distinct person from all Saints, and Angels, notwithstanding their union and communion with him.

XII. All true believers are partakers of Iesus Christ and all his benefits freely by grace, and are justified by faith in him, and not by works, he being made of God righteousness unto us.

XIII. That no man can be saved unlesse he be born again of the holy Spirit, Repent, Believe, and walk in holy conversation and godliness.

XIV. That whosoever do not prize and love Iesus Christ above himself, and all other things, cannot be saved.

XV. Whosoever allows himself to live in any known sin, upon any pretence or principle whatsoever, is in a state of damnation.

XVI. That God is to be worshipped according to his own will, and that onely in and through Iesus Christ.

XVII. That all the dead shall rise again.

XVIII. That in the last day God will judge the World in Righteousness by Iesus Christ, and reward every one according to his Works.

XIX. That all Believers shall be translated into an everlasting state of blessednesse, and an inheritance of glory in the Kingdome of Heaven.

XX. That all the wicked and unbelievers shall be cast into everlasting Torments, with the Devil and his angels in Hell.

* This Confession was transcribed from Michael Lawrence's excellent doctoral thesis on Goodwin ("Transmission and Transformation", Cambridge University).

Pastor Mark Jones is the Chairman of the Credentials Committee in the Western Canada Presbytery. If he had a dollar for every time someone took exception to the WCF on the Sabbath and pictures of Christ, he could buy Carl's Led Zeppelin LP collection that Carl keeps trying to sell on Ebay and other places.
Posted June 9, 2014 @ 1:45 PM by Mark Jones
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