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CHAPTER IV

THE DECLARATION OF FAITH AND ORDER

The DECLARATION OF 1833 NOT A CREED OR A CONFESSION, BUT A

STATEMENT INTENDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATION-MODIFICA-
TIONS IN THE FIRST DRAFT-C RAST BETWEEN THE DECLARA-
TION OF 1833 AND THE Savoy DECLARATION OF 1658–WANING
OF CALVINISM_CHANGE IN CONCEPTIONS OF THE NATURE AND
PURPOSE OF THE CHRISTIAN SACRAMENTS.

I

THE

HE Congregational Union was formed and its constitu

tion determined by a vote of the General Meeting of Congregational Ministers and Delegates held on Tuesday, May 8, 1832. Towards the close of the meeting the Rev. John Angell James submitted a paper containing a Declaration of the Principles of Faith and Order of the Congregational Body, which, he said, had been drawn up by "an individual ” ? at the request of several brethren in town and country. The Declaration was read by the consent of the Assembly. At the adjourned meeting on Friday, May 11, with the Rev. T. P. Bull in the chair, it was resolved unanimously, on the motion of the Rev. H. F. Burder, D.D., seconded by the Rev. Thomas James—

That this meeting respectfully invite the opinion of the Associated Ministers and Churches on the following questions :

“Whether, in accordance with the example of our Nonconformist

This phrase—“ the Congregational Body”—frequently occurs in the contemporary accounts of the proceedings connected with the formation of the Union and its early history. The phrase was likely to provoke the just suspicion and hostility of those who were zealous for the independence of the Churches. It was alien not only to Congregational traditions, but to Congregational principles. See p. 690.

2 The Rev. George Redford. Waddington, iv. (1800—1850), 361, note. Stoughton, Reminiscences of Congregationalism, 48-49.

ancestors, it be desirable to present to the public a declaration of the leading articles of our faith and discipline; and whether, if it be deemed desirable, that declaration should be made by such a statement as the following, which has been read, but not discussed, in the meeting of the Union, subject to such modifications as may be suggested, and generally agreed on at the next annual meeting."

It was also moved by Dr. J. Baldwin Brown, seconded by the Rev. Dr. Bennett, and carried unanimously

“That the Committee be instructed to prepare a letter to accompany the proposed declaration, carefully stating its object to be, the communicating of information to the public on the doctrines generally held and maintained by the Congregational denomination, at a period when so much ignorance and misinterpretation prevail upon these subjects."' .

At the first meeting of the Union on May 7, 1833, of which the Rev. Joseph Gilbert, of Nottingham, was chairman, the committee were able to report that the Declaration had “met with the general approbation of the Churches," and it was referred to a sub-committee consisting of the Rev. Joseph Gilbert, the Rev. Dr. Wardlaw, and the Rev. G. Redford, with the secretaries, for final revision; the sittings of the subcommittee were to be “open

open” sittings. On Friday, May 10,

3 In 1596 the Congregational exiles in Holland and their brethren in London published, in a small quarto of twenty-two pages, A True Confession of their Faith, to clear themselves from “ those unchristian slanders of heresy, schism, pride, obstinacy, etc.,” to which they had been subjected. On September 29, 1658, about two hundred Congregational ministers and “Messengers met in London, and agreed upon A Declaration of the Faith and Order owned and practised in the Congregational Churches in England. This was the Savoy Declaration. See ante, pp. 383-390.

Congregational Magazine, June, 1832, 381-382. In the letter which accompanied the declaration, it is said that such a document “ was but little required for our own information, and must necessarily be an imperfect statement of the sentiments held by us, in proportion as it may descend in its application to individuals. Still it was concluded that, for the information of others, not of our denomination, it was essentially requisite, at the present time, when such revolutions of opinion and extraordinary changes are occurring, and also while such misapprehension, and even gross misrepresentation, exist, respecting our real character. It was stated by several brethren, that they were persuaded a very large proportion of our countrymen take us to be either Socinians or Methodists." Ibid., July, 1832, 442.

the sub-committee brought up its report, and it was moved by the Rev. Archibald Douglas, of Reading, and seconded by Mr. R. Law, of London, and resolved unanimously

That the Declaration of Faith and Order, as revised by the Sub-Committee and the present meeting, be adopted as the Declaration of the Congregational Body." 5

· The Declaration, as finally adopted, consists of seven Preliminary Notes, twenty Doctrinal Propositions described as “Principles of Religion,” and thirteen“ Principles of Church Order and Discipline." 6 It is remarkable that a document covering so large a number of controversial subjects should have passed such an Assembly with so brief a discussion. But it was not a creed to be subscribed by ministers and Churches as a condition of membership of the Union. It was not even a confession of the belief of the ministers and delegates who adopted it. It was simply a statement, for general information,” of “ what is commonly believed ” among Congregationalists ;? and in one of the Preliminary Notes of the original document the Assembly was pledged to nothing more than its general and substantial accuracy as a statement of fact. This Note, which was cancelled before the Declaration was finally adopted, was in the following terms :

" It is not to be understood that the particular wording of the following statement has been approved by the whole Body, but that it is merely the language of an individual, and approved in the main by those who submit it' as a declaration of what is believed and practised throughout the Congregational denomination," 10

With the exception of verbal amendments, the changes

5 Congregational Magazine, June, 1833, 377-378.

6 For the original draft of the Declaration, see ibid., July, 1832, 442446. The Declaration, as adopted by the Union, was published for the Congregational Union in 1833Declaration of the Faith, Church Order, and Discipline of the Congregational or Independent Dissenters, adopted at the Annual Meeting of the Congregational Union, May, 1833. It is published annually in the Congregational Year Book : e.g., 1906, 604-608.

? Preliminary Notes, 5; Declaration, 4.
8 i.e. of Congregationalists.
9 i.e. to the Assembly.

10 Preliminary Notes, 5, in original draft of the Declaration. Congregational Magazine, July, 1832, 443.

made by the committee of revision were very few, and only two or three of these were of any serious importance.11

In defining the belief of the Congregational Churches concerning God, the draftsman of the Declaration-Dr. Redford, of Worcester-had spoken of “ Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; to each of which Divine Persons are attributed the same infinite and immutable properties, perfections, and prerogatives.” He added, “The mode of the divine existence as a Trinity in Unity they profess not to understand; the fact they cordially believe." 12

In the revised Declaration the definition is reconstructed so as to avoid the use of the terms “Divine Persons ” and “ Trinity in Unity.” 13

The revisers, while accepting Dr. Redford's statement that, according to the theology of Congregational Churches," all mankind are born in sin, and that a fatal inclination to moral evil, utterly incurable by human 14 means, is inherent in every descendant of Adam," appear to have been doubtful whether Congregationalists believed that the fall of Adam “ involved himself and all his posterity in a state of guilt and depravity.” 15 About the theory of hereditary “depravity they seem to have been certain ; but about the theory of hereditary" guilt they felt hesitation; and instead of the words italicised, which appeared in the original document, they preferred the vague statement that Adam “ involved all his posterity in the consequences of that fall.” 16

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11 Clause 7 of the Preliminary Notes in the original draft was also dropped. It ran as follows : They deprecate the use of the following statement as a standard to which assent should be required, though they have no doubt as to the general prevalence of these principles throughout the Churches." Congregational Magazine, 1832, 443.

12 Principles of Religion, iii.; ibid., 443.

13 “ They believe that God is revealed in the Scriptures as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and that to each are attributed the same Divine properties and perfections. The doctrine of the Divine existence, as above stated, they cordially believe, without attempting to explain.” Principles of Religion, iii. ; Declaration, 5.

It would be inaccurate to attribute this change of wording to any Sabellian tendencies ; it probably arose from an unwillingness to employ, in relation to the mystery of the divine life, terms which are not found in Scripture, and which are confessedly inadequate.

14 Dr. Redford had written "finite," and probably meant it. He wanted to say that no power less than the divine could recover man from sin. Principles of Religion, vi.; Congregational Magazine, 1832, 443. 16 Ibid., v.; ibid., 443.

16 Ibid., v.; Declaration, 6.

Some changes were also made in the definition referring to the Atonement of our Lord and to Justification by faith. Dr. Redford had written that “ by His obedience to the divine law while He lived, and by His sufferings unto death, He (our Lord) meritoriously 'obtained eternal redemption for us,' having thereby satisfied divine justice, ‘magnified the law,' and brought in everlasting righteousness.' As finally adopted, the words in italics were replaced by the words“ vindicated and illustrated divine justice.” 17 Dr. Redford had written that, according to the belief of Congregationalists“We are justified through faith in Christ, and that not of ourselves; 'it is the gift of God.' The revisers preferred to say that—“We are justified through faith in Christ, as the Lord our righteousness, and not by the works of the law." » 18

' To the statement that “ Christ will finally come to judge the whole human race," they added the important words according to their works.” 19

The change in the article on Justification was probably made in the interest of the traditional doctrine, that God justifies all believers by imputing to them the righteousness of Christ, although the theory of imputation is not explicitly asserted. All the other changes were intended to cover the dissatisfaction with which many Congregationalists had come to regard some of the definitions of the orthodox and Calvinistic theology.

II

The contrast between the Declaration of 1833 and the Declaration of 1658 is very remarkable and instructive. The men who met at the Savoy had been educated at Oxford and Cambridge ; many of them had been Fellows of their Colleges; some of them had held high University offices; they were scholars and theologians. It was hardly possible for them to make a declaration of their faith except in elaborate definitions and in the technical phrases which had been tried and tested by the fires of controversy. The men who met in

17 Principles of Religion, x. ; Congregational Magazine, 1832, 444 ; Declaration, 7:

18 Ibid., xiii. ; ibid., 1832, 444; ibid., 6. 19 Ibid., xix.; ibid., 1832, 444 ; ibid., 8.

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