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Let no man say, that, considering the temperate language of the Remonstrants, a surmise of this kind cannot be justified. In this verbal deference for the authority of the Scriptures, no church has ever gone farther than our own, nor consequently left greater latitude for private judgment.
“We receive and embrace,” says the church of England by the pen of Bishop Jewel, “all the canonical Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament; we own them to be the heavenly voices by which God hath revealed his will to us; in them oNLY can the mind of man acquiesce; in them all that is necessary for our salvation is abundantly and plainly contained; they are the very might and power of God unto salvation; they are the foundations of the Apostles and Prophets upon which the church of God is built; they are the most certain and infallible rule, by which the church may be reduced, if she happen to stagger, slip, or err, by which all ecclesiastical doctrines ought to be tried; no law, no tradition, no custom, is to be received or continued, if it be contrary to Scripture ; no, though St Paul himself, or an angel from heaven, should come and teach otherwise.” This was once the sense of the church of England, whatever authority she may have since pretended to, upon other principles. Be this as it may, cludes all who do not comply. No such test existed among the Remonstrants. After their rude treatment at the Synod of Dort, and during their sufferings in prison and exile, Episcopius drew up a Confession, which was generally received by the churches, but was never recognized as having authority. Every person was allowed to interpret its articles according to his own sense of Scripture. In this view, the Arminian Confession cannot be considered in the nature of a test, nor as having thrown any obstructions in such of her divines as have asserted this authority with the utmost zeal, and in the highest terms, have yet, in the same breath, extolled her moderation, in laying no greater stress upon her Confession, than the Remonstrants themselves seem to contend for. “Our church,” says Bishop Bull, “professeth not to deliver all her articles (all I say, for some of them are coincident with the fundamental points of Christianity) as essentials of faith, without the belief whereof no man can be saved; but only propounds them as a body of safe and pious principles, for the preservation of peace, to be subscribed, and not openly contradicted, by her sons.” Nay, even the rigidly ecclesiastical Dr Stebbing allows, that, “when we speak of a right to determine what is the true sense of any article of faith, we do not propose the explication, given in virtue of this right, as a rule for the faith or conduct of christians; but only as a rule, according to which they shall either be admitted or not admitted to officiate as public ministers.”f It is true, the obscurity of these concessions is such, that no man can tell what is intended to be given up by them, and what reserved for the church. In my opinion, they are hardly sense. But this likewise is the misfortune of the Remonstrants, who oscillate the question backwards and forwards, till no mortal can find out what they mean to ascribe to, or what to detract kom, the virtue and merit of a public Confession. The Remonstrants, however, have had thus far the better of us; they believed their Confession at least when they made this Apology for it. We are driven to make Apologies for, and even to defend, subscription to a Confession which many subscribers do not believe ; and concerning which no two thinking men, according to an ingenious and right revererend writer, ever agreed exactly in their opinion, even with regard to any one article of it.”
more severe than the merits of the case will justify. It cannot be correctly said, that they had a “religious test as a cement of their party.” The Confession of Faith, drawn up by Episcopius, was considered as exhibiting the outlines of their belief, but was never imposed as a test; it was never made a condition of church communion; clergymen were never required to subscribe it, nor to profess, either by a covenant or declaration, that they received it as a rule of faith by which they would abide. Such a test, indeed, would have been in pointed opposition to their fundamental principles. It was the fond purpose of Arminius to unite sincere christians of all denominations and shades of opinion in the bonds of peace, charity, and christian fellowship. He desired to establish the terms and laws of communion rather in piety and good practice, than in any particular declarations of faith. Conduct he thought a better criterion of character than professsions. It was another first principle with him, that every man should enjoy, without limitation, the right of judging for himself. In these sentiments he was followed by Episcopius and Grotius, and afterwards by the constellation of divines, who adorned the Arminian church in Holland, by Limborch, Le Clerc, and Wetstein. With these principles as the foundation of their whole system, they never could have adopted a formulary of faith, which should be a medium, or a condition of fellowship. A confession which serves as a test, either by subscription or covenant, exthe way of christian liberty, and free inquiry. Mosheim, vol. v. p. 461. Editor.]
* “Contra eas nec legem, nec traditionem, nec consuetudinem ullam audiendam esse,” says the Latin Apol, sect. 27.