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The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church.
AN EXPOSITION OF THE CONFESSION OF Faith of the WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY OF DIVINES. BY THE REV. ROBERT SHAW. REVISED BY THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLICATION. PHILADELPHIA: PRESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION:
BY PRES. A. MAHAN.
We have long been deeply impressed with the conviction, • that the cause of truth demanded a careful examination of the fundamental characteristics of the Confession of Faith above named. The following considerations among others have greatly strengthened this conviction in our minds.
1. The character of large bodies of Christians and christian ministers whose piety is questioned by none, has for years, been traduced throughout the length and breadth of the land, simply on the ground that they have departed from the Confession of Faith.
2. For this reason also, individuals whose christian attainments were publicly acknowledged by their accusers, and denied by none, to be of a far higher order than that of their deposers themselves, have been deposed from the ministry in in the Presbyterian church.
3. During their trial for heresy, the accused were denied all appeal to the Bible. They were deposed simply and exclusively for departures from the Confession of Faith.
4. When they proposed to prove that the mass of the ministry and private members of the church (the New School Presbyterian church,) had departed from this instrument in in particulars quite as important as those with which they stood charged, and that therefore it was not, and could not properly be regarded as a standard in such a sense, that they could justly be condemned on its authority, for the charges alledged against them, the privilege was promptly denied them. They were told most decisively, that neither the truth of the instrument, nor the fact of their judges' adherence to it should be called in question. Under such circumstances we have felt that the cause of truth imperiously demanded that the
altilite character of the instrument, together with the real latitude and longitude of the church in respect to it, should be made known to the public. Yet we have long hesitated about undertaking the task, because we doubted whether our motives would be appreciated. We were well aware, that the charge of slander and ill-will would be brought against us, even though we should say nothing but what we know to be true of the Confession of Faith, and say it in the kindest terms. The appearance of the exposition above named, however, has happily removed all such objections. We have before us the exposition of the professed, and we think it will be made to appear, of the truly orthodox expounders of the instrument, a work originally prepared by one individual, but revised and published by the "committee of publication" appointed by the Old School General Assembly of the Presbyterian church. If we say nothing of the instrument but what is here asserted to be true, who will accuse us of slander? Who also will accuse us of ill-will for saying only what is thus proclaimed as true?
Without further introduction, we now proceed to our task. Our object will be to present the most important and characteristic features and elements of the Confession of Faith, fortifying our own exposition by quotations from the work before We have selected as our stand-point from which to contemplate the system of doctrine herein developed, the condition of mankind at the moment when moral agency with them commences, that is, when the first moral act is about to be put forth. At that moment, as all acknowledge, no guilt, no desert of punishment is or can be imputed to man for any actual transgressions in any form. To suppose the opposite would be to affirm that he had acted wrong, before he had acted morally at all. It would seem to be an intuition of the universal intelligence, that no guilt in any form or degree can attach to a creature, who has and can have had no knowledge, choice or agency in respect to any thing morally_right_or wrong. For what can he be justly condemned? For what especially can he be held as "deserving of God's wrath and curse, not only in this life, but in that which is to come," as righteously "bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal." For ourselves we can no more conceive such a dogma to be true, than we can conceive of the annihilation of space. We can no more affirm guilt of a creature, in the total absence of all thought, feeling, and acts,
choices and volitions on account of which it may be imputed to him, than we can conceive of phenomena without substance, or of an event without a cause. We are as sure, that we can do no such thing, as we are of our own existence.
With equal conspicuousness does the doctrine that we maintain lie upon the very surface of the Bible. All admit that at the Judgment, men will be called to account for every thing of which they are truly guilty. The Bible professedly reveals the things for which we shall then be held responsible.
What are its teachings on this subject? For what are men then and there to be called to account according "to the law and the testimony?" "For the deeds done in the body." "And they were judged every man according to their works." No one is to be the subject of stripes there who has not "done things worthy of stripes." Such are the plain and universal teachings of inspiration on this subject. And what would the character of the Judgment be, if conducted upon opposite principles. Suppose that sinners are then first doomed to eternal death "for the deeds done in the body." Suppose that they are then subjected to accumulated penalties, throughout that same endless period, for things in respect to which they had and could have had, at the time of their occurrence, no knowledge, choice, or agency. Would such judgments appear to the universal conscience, as "true and righteous altogether?" What infinite unrighteousness do they attribute to the Most High who represent his eternal government as based upon such principles.
Further, if men are to be held responsible for anything existing in or connected with them, prior to the commencement of moral agency, it must be for something which the law of God requires of, or prohibits to them; for it is positively asserted in the Bible, that where nothing is required of, or prohibited to a creature, no guilt attaches to him. "Where there is no law," that is, where nothing is required of, or prohibited to a creature, "there is no transgression." In other words, no sin is or can be committed, and consequently, no guilt attaches to the creature. Again, "sin is not imputed where there is no law," that is, where nothing is required or prohibited. Now can we suppose that the law of God lays its commands and prohibitions upon a creature in respect to that of which he has, and can have no knowledge, choice, or agency?
Further, if the law of God requires anything of the creature, under the circumstances supposed, it requires of him that he shall actually love God with all his powers, and his
neighbor as himself, and consequently, under the penalty of eternal death, prohibits the absence of this love. If the law requires anything of such a creature, it requires the actual exercise of this love. If it prohibits anything, it prohibits the absence of that love. For the Bible positively affirms that the law requires nothing of any being but the love referred to. When it requires anything, it requires this precise thing, and nothing else. Where it requires nothing, sin and consequently guilt in any form or degree are absolute impossibilities. Can we suppose that God requires of a creature the actual exercise of this love, under circumstances in which that creature has and can have no knowledge of God, his neighbor, or any other object in existence? If there is any idea that deserves a place among the first truths of reason and inspiration both, it is the doctrine that men are responsible "for their deeds," and that they are not and cannot be accountable for anything else, anything in respect to which they have not or cannot have any knowledge, feeling, choice, or agency?
But what is the condition of mankind at the commencement of moral agency, according to the Confession of Faith?
1. On account of the act of another, (Adam,) an act committed thousands of years before their existence commenced, they are declared to be subject to "God's wrath, and curse not only in this life, but in that which is to come.'
2. On account of a nature imparted to them wholly independent of their possible knowledge or agency, a nature which renders the existence of holiness, and the non-existence of sin through time and eternity, absolute impossibilities, unless that nature is changed by the super-natural agency of Him who created it, a change in which the creature must be wholly passive; for the bare existence and possession of such a nature, they are "bound over to the wrath of God and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal."
To show that we have, in no form or degree, misrepresented the doctrines of the instrument under consideration, we will cite the chapter where the above sentiments are directly affirmed.
"Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty aud temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.
By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and 'parts of soul and body.
They, our first parents, being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation.
From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal." Confession of Faith, Chapter VI, Section I—VI.
The reader will observe, that it is here positively asserted, "that the guilt of this sin" [the first sin of our first parents] "was imputed" "to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation." To impute the guilt of an act to an individual, is, and can be nothing else, and especially nothing less, than to subject him to the same penalty to which he would be subject, had he committed the same sin himself. There are two forms in which the doctrine of Imputation is asserted in the Confession of Faith, both of which proceed upon the same principle, to wit, the Imputation of the guilt of the first sin of our first parents to all mankind, on the one hand, and of the righteousness of Christ to true believers on the other. Thus it is said, Chap. XI, Sec. I, that God freely justifies believers, "by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ to them." The following paragraph from the Exposition before us, presents the true meaning of the doctrine of imputation, as set forth in the above section.
"Many we apprehend, oppose the doctrine of imputation, owing to their misconception of its proper nature. It does not signify the infusion of holy dispositions, or the actual transferance of the righteousness of Christ to believers, so that it becomes inherently and subjectively theirs; that is impossible, in the nature of things; but the meaning is, that God reckons the righteousness of Christ to their account, and, in consideration of it, treats them as if they were righteous. God does not reckon that they performed it themselves, for that would be a judgment not according to truth; but he accounts it to them for their justification. "There are certain technical terms in theology," says Dr. Chalmers, 66 which are used so currently, that they fail to impress their own meaning on the thinking principle. The term 'impute' is one of them. It may hold forth a revelation of its plain sense to you, when it is barely mentioned that the term 'impute' in the 6th verse, (Rom. iv,) is the same in the original with what is employed in that verse of Philemon where Paul says, "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account. ’ To impute righteousness to a man without works, is simply to put righteousness down on his account, though he has not performed the works of righteousness."
To impute the righteousness of Christ to an individual is, according to the Confession of Faith, to confer upon him a