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Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds.
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§ 102. English Congregational Creeds.

Literature.

A | Declaration | of the | Faith and Order | Owned and practised in the | Congregational Churches | in | England; | Agreed upon and consented unto | by their | Elders and Messengers | in | their Meeting at the Savoy, | Octob. 12, 1658. | London | Printed for D.L. And are to be sold in Paul's Churchyard, Fleet | Street, and Westminster Hall, 1659.

A Latin edition appeared in 1662 at Utrecht, under the title, Confessio nuper edita Independentium seu Congregationalium in Anglia.

The Preface, the Platform, and those doctrinal articles which differ from the Westminster Confession are printed in Vol. III. pp. 707 sqq., from the first London edition. The Savoy Declaration, without the Preface, is also given by Hanbury, Memorials, Vol. III. pp. 517 sqq.; and by Dr. A. H. Quint, in the 'Congregational Quarterly' for July and October, 1866 (Vol. VIII. pp. 241–267 and 341–344).

On the Savoy meeting, comp. Hanbury, Memorials, Vol. III. pp. 515 sqq.

THE SAVOY DECLARATION. A.D. 1658.

We now proceed to the general creeds or declarations of faith which have been approved by the Congregational Churches in England and America. They agree substantially with the Westminster Confession, or the Calvinistic system of doctrine, but differ from Presbyterianism by rejecting the legislative and judicial authority of presbyteries and synods, and by maintaining the independence of the local churches. In the course of time the rigor of old Calvinism has relaxed, both in England and America. 'New England theology,' as it is called, attempts to find a via media between Calvinism and Arminianism in anthropology and soteriology. But the old standards still remain unrepealed.

The first and fundamental Congregational confession of faith and platform of polity is the Savoy Declaration, so called from the place where it was composed and adopted.16021602   The Savoy, in the Strand, London, is remarkable for its historical associations. The palace, on the banks of the Thames, was built by Peter, Earl of Savoy and Richmond, in 1245; enlarged and beautified by Henry, Duke of Lancaster, 1328. King John II., of France, while a prisoner in England, resided there (1357–63). It was burned in Wat Tyler's insurrection, 1381; rebuilt and endowed as a hospital by Henry VII., 1505. It was the city residence of the Bishop of London. The royal chapel was burned down in 1864, but beautifully restored by Queen Victoria, and reopened Nov. 26, 1865. The Congregational meeting of 1658 must not be confounded with the 'Savoy Conference' between Episcopalians and Presbyterians which was held there from April 15 to July 25, 1661.

The position of the Congregationalists during the short period of their ascendency under Cromwell's Protectorate (1653–1658) was rather anomalous. They were by no means so strongly committed to the voluntary principle and against a national Church as to refuse appointments in the universities and parish churches, with the tithes and other emoluments connected therewith. Dr. Goodwin was President of Magdalen College, Cambridge; Dr. Owen, Dean of Christ Church and Vice-Chancellor at Oxford; Philip Nye, Rector of St. Bartholomew's, London; Joseph Caryl, Rector of St. Mary Magnus; William Greenhill, incumbent of the village of Stepney; William Bridge, town lecturer at Yarmouth; John Howe, parish minister at Torrington, and afterwards court chaplain to Cromwell until his death.16031603   Comp. Stoughton, Church of the Commonwealth, ch. ix. pp. 207 sqq. A number of the Baptists likewise accepted preferments under the Protectorate. See ib. p. 242, and Ivimey's list of Baptists who were ejected at the Restoration, History of Baptists, Vol. I. p. 328. Cromwell himself had no idea of disconnecting the government from religion. Christianity was fully recognized under his rule as part and parcel of the law of the land. It accompanied with its solemn worship the ordinary business of Parliament. Public fasts were frequently appointed by the Protector (to which the Presbyterians objected as an Erastian intrusion), and lasted usually from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon. The rights of patronage were not disturbed; the tithes and other provisions for the support of the clergy and the repair of churches were continued. A commission of Triers, or judicial examiners, one fourth of whom were laymen, was appointed to test the fitness of clerical applicants and to remove unworthy incumbents, and Church boards of gentry and clergy were set up in every county for the supervision of ecclesiastical affairs. The Triers took the place of the late Westminster Assembly in its administrative work, but were less numerous, and included Independents, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Dr. Owen, Goodwin, and Manton belonged to them, besides others of less wisdom and charity. They were subject to a certain Erastian control by the Protector and his Council of State, but left to decide each case according to their best judgment, without imposing any creed or canon or statute. The plan seems to have worked well, and furnished the country, as Baxter says, who was no friend of Cromwell, with 'able, serious preachers, who lived a godly life, of what tolerable opinion soever they were.' Cromwell's Protectorate was too short to develop a full system of ecclesiastical polity. It was a government of experiments in accommodation to existing circumstances. Upon the whole, it was more tolerant than any previous reign, but only to Puritanism and such Protestant sects as recognized the Scriptures and the fundamentals of the Christian faith; while it was intolerant to Romanists, Socinians, and Episcopal royalists, who endangered his government. In his foreign policy Cromwell was the boldest protector of Protestantism and religious liberty that England has ever produced.16041604   Comp. Stoughton, 1.c. pp. 81 sqq. Green (History of the English People, p. 573) judges upon the whole quite favorably of Cromwell's ecclesiastical polity: 'In England, Cromwell dealt with the Royalists as irreconcilable enemies; but in every other respect he carried out fairly his pledge of "healing and settling." . . . From the Church, which was thus reorganized, all power of interference with faiths differing from its own was resolutely withheld. Cromwell remained true to his great cause of religious liberty. Even the Quaker, rejected by all other Christian bodies as an anarchist and blasphemer, found sympathy and protection in Cromwell. The Jews had been excluded from England since the reign of Edward the First; and a prayer which they now presented for leave to return was refused by the commission of merchants and divines to whom the Protector referred it for consideration. But the refusal was quietly passed over, and the connivance of Cromwell in the settlement of a few Hebrews in London and Oxford was so clearly understood that no one ventured to interfere with them.'

Under these favorable circumstances, and in view of the successful establishment of an exclusively Congregational commonwealth by their transatlantic brethren, the Independents might think of repeating in a milder form the experiment of the Westminster Assembly to secure at least a certain degree of religious uniformity in England, with a limited amount of toleration to orthodox dissenters. Their great protector did not seem to favor such a scheme, but shortly before his death he reluctantly gave his consent to 'the humble petition and advice' of influential members of Parliament to issue a confession of faith for the whole kingdom, yet 'without compelling the people thereto by penalties,' and to extend liberty to all Christian professions, except 'popery or prelacy,' or such as 'publish horrid blasphemies or practice or hold forth licentiousness or profaneness under the profession of Christ.' A notice from the clerk of the Council of State summoned the Congregational churches, in and near London, to a meeting in the Savoy, but it was not held till twenty-six days after Cromwell's death. About two hundred delegates from one hundred and twenty congregations attended the Conference, which lasted from Sept. 29 till Oct. 12, 1658. They agreed unanimously upon the Confession and Order of Discipline. It was regarded by them, in the language of the Preface, 'as a great and special work of the Holy Ghost that so numerous a company of ministers and other principal brethren should so readily, speedily, and jointly give up themselves unto such a whole body of truths that are after godliness.'

The Savoy Declaration is the work of a committee, consisting of Drs. Goodwill, Owen, Nye, Bridge, Caryl, and Greenhill, who had been members of the Westminster Assembly, with the exception of Dr. Owen. It contains a lengthy Preface (fourteen pages), the Westminster Confession of Faith with sundry changes (twenty-two pages), and a Platform of Church Polity (five pages).

1. The Preface is prolix and indifferently written, but deserves notice for inaugurating a more liberal view of the authority of creeds and the toleration of other creeds. The chief ideas are these: To confess our faith is an indispensable duty we owe to God as much as prayer. Public confessions are a means of expressing the common faith, but ought not to be enforced. 'Whatever is of force or constraint in matters of this nature causes them to degenerate from the name and nature of Confessions, and turns them into Exactions and Impositions of Faith.' With this we should acknowledge 'the great principle that among all Christian States and Churches there ought to be vouchsafed a forbearance and mutual indulgence unto saints of all persuasions that keep unto and hold fast the necessary foundations of faith and holiness, in all other matters extra-fundamental, whether of faith or order.'

This was a considerable step beyond the prevailing notion of uniformity, although it falls far short of the modern theory of religious liberty. The Preface goes on to guard itself against the charge of indifference or carelessness.

2. The Declaration of Faith. This is a slight modification of the Westminster Confession. 'To this Confession,' the Preface states, 'we fully assent, as do our brethren of New England and the churches also of Scotland, as each in their general synods have testified. A few things we have added for obviating some erroneous opinions, and made other additions and alterations in method here and there, and some clearer explanations as we found occasion.' The Declaration is divided into thirty-two chapters, in the same order as the Westminster Confession, which has thirty-three chapters. In the exceptions taken the Savoy Council followed the example set by the Long Parliament in its edition of the Westminster Confession. The only important changes refer to matters of Church government and discipline. Chaps. XXX., 'Of Church Censures,' and XXXI., 'Of Synods and Councils,' are omitted altogether. Chaps. XXIII. (XXIV.), 'Of the Civil Magistrates,' XXIV. (XXV.), 'Of Marriage and Divorce,' and XXVI., 'Of the Church,' are modified. Chap. XX., 'Of the Gospel,' in the Savoy Declaration, is inserted, and hence the difference in the numbering of the remaining chapters. The change in Chap. XXIV. is a decided improvement, if we judge it from the American theory of Church and State. A similar and more thorough change was subsequently made by the American Presbyterians in the Westminster Confession.

3. The Declaration of 'the Institution of Churches and the Order appointed in them by Jesus Christ' contains the principles of the Congregational Church polity which we have already explained. Similar Platforms of Discipline, as they are called, have been issued from time to time by the American Congregationalists—at Cambridge, 1648, at Saybrook, 1708, and at Boston, 1865.

THE DECLARATION OF 1833.

This is a popular abridgment of the older confessions, and presents a milder form of Calvinism. It was prepared in 1833 by the Rev. Dr. Redford, of Worcester, and other members of a committee of the 'Congregational Union of England and Wales,' which was organized in 1831. It is annually printed in the 'Congregational Year-Book,' but it disclaims any authority as a standard of subscription.16051605   See Vol. III. pp. 730 sqq.

Note.—The Rev. Dr. John Stoughton, of London, a leading divine and historian among the English Independents, has kindly supplied me with the following statement concerning the prevailing sentiment of that body on the authority of creeds, a statement which applies largely to American Congregationalists in the present age:

'Looking at the principles of Congregationalism, which involve the repudiation of all human authority in matters of religion, it is impossible to believe that persons holding those principles can consistently regard any ecclesiastical creed or symbol in the same way in which Catholics, whether Roman or Anglican, regard the creeds of the ancient Church. There is a strong feeling among English Congregationalists against the use of such documents for the purpose of defining the limits of religious communion, or for the purpose of checking the exercise of sober, free inquiry; and there is also a widely spread conviction that it is impossible to reduce the expression of Christian belief to a series of logical propositions, so as to preserve and represent the full spirit of gospel truth. No doubt there may be heard in some circles a great deal of loose conversation seeming to indicate such a repugnance to the employment of creeds as would imply a dislike to any formal definition of Christian doctrine whatever; but I apprehend that the prevailing sentiment relative to this subject among our ministers and churches does not go beyond the point just indicated. Many consider that while creeds are objectionable as tests and imperfect as confessions, yet they may have a certain value as manifestoes of conviction on the part of religious communities.

'The Westminster Assembly's Catechism never had the authority in Congregational churches which from the beginning it possessed in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and its use in schools and families for educational purposes, once very common, has diminished of late years to a very low degree. The Savoy Declaration, which perhaps never had much weight with Congregationalists, is a document now little known, except by historical students. The Declaration of 1833 was prepared by a committee of the Congregational Union, of which the Rev. Dr. Redford, of Worcester, was a member. He, I believe, drew up the Articles, and it was only in accordance with his well-known character as a zealous antagonist of human authority in religion that he introduced the following passages in the preliminary notes:

'"It is not designed, in the following summary, to do more than to state the leading doctrines of faith and order maintained by Congregational churches in general.

'"It is not intended that the following statement should be put forth with any authority, or as a standard to which assent should be required.

'"Disallowing the utility of creeds and articles of religion as a bond of union, and protesting against subscription to any human formularies as a term of communion, Congregationalists are yet willing to declare, for general information, what is commonly believed among them, reserving to every one the most perfect liberty of conscience."

'It would be well to insert a statement made to me by one who from his official position has the best means of ascertaining the state of opinion in our churches:

'"I do not believe that the Declaration of 1833 could now with success be submitted for adoption to an Assembly of the Congregational Union; in part, because not a few would dispute its position, and in part because many more—I believe the majority—without objecting on strictly doctrinal grounds, would object on grounds of policy."

'I may add to this, in the words of the Dean of Westminster, who wrote them on the authority of "a respected Congregational minister," that, beyond care in the matter of ordination, "no measures are adopted or felt to be either desirable or necessary for preserving uniformity of doctrine, excepting only that the trust-deeds of most of their places of worship contain a reference to leading points of doctrine to which the minister may be required to express his assent. In practice this is merely a provision against any decided departure from the faith as commonly received among us, the trustees of the property having it in their power to refuse the use of the building to any minister whose teaching may be contrary to the doctrines contained in the deed. Such cases, however, are extremely rare."

'In some cases trust-deeds make reference to the Declaration of 1833, as containing the doctrines to be taught in substance within the places of worship secured by such deeds; but in most cases a brief schedule of doctrines is employed, of which the following is an example:

'"1. The divine and special inspiration of the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and their supreme authority in faith and practice.

'"2. The unity of God. The Deity of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

'"3. The depravity of man, and the absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit's agency in man's regeneration and sanctification.

'"4. The incarnation of the Son of God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ; the universal sufficiency of the atonement by his death; and the free justification of sinners by faith alone in him.

'"5. Salvation by grace, and the duty of all who hear the gospel to believe in Christ.

'"6. The resurrection of the dead and the final judgment, when the wicked 'shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.'"

'The Secretary of our Chapel Building Society informs me that "one reason for the disuse of the Declaration may be its length, and the circumstance that, to put it beyond question that document is meant, it has been thought it would be needful to embody it in the deed, which would add to the cost."

'It has been remarked, on the authority of one already cited, "that, notwithstanding the absence of tests, there is among Independents a marked uniformity of opinion on all important points." Perhaps this statement, still true on the whole, would require more qualification than it did some years ago. There are among us a few men of mental vigor who have departed very considerably from the published creeds of Congregationalism. There may be a larger number whose opinions are of an Arminian cast; but, again to use language supplied by a friend, in whom I place confidence as to this subject: "It would still be fair, I think, to describe our ministry as moderately Calvinistic. An immense majority of the ministers are so. An impression to the contrary has, I am aware, become prevalent; but that is owing, I believe, to the fact that the greater number of the men who have departed from the Calvinistic type hold prominent positions, and have 'the habit of the pen.'" It is a difficult and delicate task to report the state of large religious communities among whose members there exist some diversities of opinion. One person biased by his own predilections will give one account, and another person under an influence of the same kind will give another.

'In what I have said I have endeavored to be as impartial as possible; and, to give the more weight to my statements, I have sought the assistance of official brethren who have wider means of information than I possess, and who may look at things from points of view not exactly identical with my own.'


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