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HE Gentlemen who have taken Care of this Work, being convinced that a full Account and Vindication of Confeffions of Faith was very necessary at this Time,and a proper Subject of a PREFACE to a Collection of this Nature; And being perfwaded, that the following ESSAY, compofed by a private Hand at their Defire, may be very ferviceable for this End, and of ufe to give the World jufter Notions of CREEDS and ARTICLES OF FAITH, and to vindicate them from the many Calumnies wherewith they are so injuriously loaded: They have prefumed to prefix it to this Volume; and hope it will be acceptable to the Publick, and favourably received by all who are fincere Members of the CHURCH of SCOTLAND.
Ta Time when Creeds and Confeffions of Faith are fo generally decried, and not only expofed to Contempt as ufelefs Inventions, without any Force and Efficacy to promote the Interefts of Truth and Religion; but are loaded, by many Writers of diftinguithed Wit and Learning, with the most fatal and dangerous Confequences; and reprefented as one of the most plentiful Sources of thefe angry Debates and fierce Contentions, which have for fo many Ages diftracted the Chriftian Church:
We thought it might be of fome Ufe, and a fuitable enough Preface to a new Edition of the Confeffions of Faith, &c. embraced by this Church, to give a fhort Account of the End and Design of Compofures of this Nature, and of the chief Purposes which the Chriftian Churches intended to promote, in framing and publishing their feveral Confeffions; and 'tis hoped thefe will be found to be fe confiderable for their Number and Value, as to convince the impartial Reader, that there is no Occafion for treating them with Difdain or Neglect, and that we are juftly to be excus'd who retain a Veneration and Efteem of them, as Works both founded on Reason, and fupported by many advantageous Confequences. And fince Creeds in general are not only of late Years undervalued, as mean and ufelefs; but exclaimed against as unjust, arbitrary and inconfiftent in their Frame and Tendency with the Liberty of Mankind, and the noble Freedom of the Chriftian Faith; we fhall endeavour to vindicate the prefent Practice of the Church of Scotland, and the Ufe which fhe, at leaft, makes of her Confefion; wipe off the Afperfions which have been thrown on her by Writers, who (how juftly foever valued on many Accounts, yet) appear not fo throughly acquainted with our Conftitution, or perhaps not altogether impartial in their Sentiments of it. And, Laftly, We fhall anfwer fome of the most plaufible Objections, which have been made against the ufing Confeffions as a Means of preferving the Chriftian Doctrine from impure Mixtures, and of preventing the Breaking in of Herefies and Difor der into the Church. After all which it will be easier to determine, if they ought to be accounted arbitrary Impofitions, and deftructive Engines of fpiritual Tyranny, and the Luft of Power over the Confciences of Men; or if they be not rather very confiftent with all the Privileges and Freedoms of a Man or a Christian.
The feveral Purpofes which the Churches defigned to promote by their Confeffians, may be diftinguished into thefe Three Heads, I. Some of them were of a very general and extenfive Defign, having a Regard not only to the whole Body of Chriftians, but to all Men, even their Enemies, who had any Knowledge of them. II. Other Ufes of thefe Coufeffions peculiarly refpected the Minifters of the Gospel, who were obliged to declare their Affent to the Doctrines contain'd in them. III. Confeffions of Faith were alfo defigned for Purposes of a more extenfive Nature than the fecond, and yet not fo general as the firft Clafs, namely, fuch as refpected the whole Body of the People as well as the Minifters; but were particularly calculated for the Members of that Church to which the Confeffion belonged, and had a special Regard to them more than to the whole World, or to other Chriftians who were Members of other Churches. In examining a little thefe Things, we fhall have Occafion to confider all that is proper to be obferved in a Work of this Nature.
First, Some Ends of Creeds and Confeffions were of a general and extenfive Nature, being intended to reach not only the whole Chriftian Church, but to make an Impreffion on the World round about it, which maintain'd a different Religion; and of this Sort there were feveral confiderable Defigns in View. That which feems to have been moft directly intended by the feveral Churches who have framed Confeffions, was to publifh a fair and authentick Account of the Doctrine which they maintain'd, whereby a juft Idea of their Religion might be given to the World, who fo frequently mistake or mifreprefent the Opinions of one another, and the Afperfions and Calumnies that were thrown upon it by Adverfaries might be wiped off: This was one main End of the Creeds compos'd by the primitive Church, and by our Fathers at the Reformation; and 'tis a Purpofe that our Confeffion is very neceflary to.
There are too frequent Occafions to obferve, that all Sects and Parties are byaffed by undue Prejudices against one another: Selflove (which is fo deeply interwoven with our Natures in this degenerate State of Things, and fhows its Power in the whole Train of our Thoughts and Actions) infenfibly determines us to entertain a fond Opinion of any Scheme or Party which we are engaged in, and to look at it in a flattering, tho' it fhould be a falfe Light; and at the fame time, to take up with us mistaken Notions of our Adverfaries, impute abfurd Opinions to them which they never entertained, and paint the Errors they may have been really led aftray by to the Difadvantage, and more crooked and deformed than the Life. And as this inhumane and uncharitable Treatment of one another, is owing rather to the Temper of our Minds, than any particular Principles of the Doctrine which we embrace; it may be equally charged upon Perfons of every Side, who have not learned to fubdue their own Spirit, nor endeavoured to govern their Paffions by Reafon, and fweetned their Tempers by Humility, and Meeknefs, and Charity; Virtues which have become as admirable for their Rarenefs, as for their Excellency.
It is this, which, amongst the numberlefs Crowd of Authors, makes it fo very difficult to find one that does Juftice to an Adverfary, or treats his Perfon with Gentleness, or even good Manners, and his Opinions with an open and candid Impartiality: And thofe who have been at all acquainted with Controverfy, will find it the hardest Thing for two warm Difputants, when struggling hard for Victory, not to throw about that Dirt whereby, it they can't overthrow, they are fure to blacken and befpatter each other. But as Truth of every Kind hath moft Reafon to complain of this inhumane Ufage; The Chriftian Religion, during its tender Years, was in a peculiar Meafure expos'd to all its Fury and Barbarity. Its bleffed Author was affaulted both by the Tongues and the Hands of his implacable Enemies, they reviled him by Calumny while they perfecuted him by Force; and when they crucified and tormented his Body, they infulted him with the most bitter Reproaches, and endeavoured to blacken his Memory and Doctrine
by the falfest Afperfions. Thus the Apoftles and primitive Chriftians were expofed to Contempt as the Off-fcourings of all Things; and to popular Hatred and Anger, as Movers of Sedition, and Enemies to the publick Peace: Befides all which, their Religion as well as their Perfons was in like Manner defamed.
The Doctrines and Precepts of the Holy Jefus were founded on fo many convincing Reafons, and fupported by fich amazing Miracles; they were fo admirably fuited to the Dignity of the humane Nature, the Peace and Happinefs of Mankind, and to all the great Interefts and the most enlarged Defires of an immortal Spiand at the fame Time in every Refpect worthy of the fupreme Being; that they could fcarce have mifled to make their Way into the Efteem and Love of Mankind, and be profefs'd at least, if not practis'd, by the World, if they had been fairly reprefented and fet in a juft Light; there needed nothing to gain this End but what the Apologift mentions, Unum geftit ne ignorata damnetur, Chriftianity defires no Favour of its Judges, but that they be careful to underftand it. Upon this Account, amongst all the Arts of Hell, none feemed more effectual to ftop its Progrefs, or maintain the Kingdom of Darknefs and the Idolatry of the blinded Nations, than Falhood and Mifreprefentation, by which not only the Glory of Christianity might be obfcured, and Men keeped from feeing the Beauties and Excellencies of that Religion in their native Light and Purity; but it would likewife be expofed to publick View difguifed with a falfe Face, which was rendred as deform'd and monrous as Calumny and Reproach could make it: That fo the World might be determined in their Opinion thereof, not by what it was really in it felf, but by the quite contrary Idea, that the lying Malice of Hell, and the impetuous Paflions of its Votaries gave of the Doctrine and Difciples of the Meffiah. So that the leaft Acquaintance with the Hiftory of the Church, will convince us, that tho' the Power of the Roman Empire, the Learning and Sophifry of Philofophers, and the perfwafive Allurements of Wit and Eloquence, were all imployed in fighting with the greatest Fury against the Kingdom of our Meffiah; yet Calumny was ftill the most fuccefsful Engine ufed by the Devil in this infernal War, from this Quarter the moft violent Affaults were made, and the Father of Lies was the Character he acted under with the greatest Malice and Dexterity, and whereby he gave Force and Vigour to his other Inftruments. It is indeed furprizing to think how far he prevailed, and what Notions the People generally were impreffed with; they not only defpifed the Profeffors of Christianity as mean and ignorant, perfecuted them as Enemies to the Laws and Difturbers of Order and Government; But fancied them to be the molt impious and flagitious Sect that had ever appeared in the World, without the leaft Remains of Honour and Virtue, no Crime fo black, but it was charged on them, nor any Lufts and Pleafures fo unnatural and filthy, but they were thought guilty of them their Allemblies for Divine Worthip, were traduced as Rendevou