“And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, ‘A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous…'”
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
1 Tim. 1:15
“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
2 Tim. 1:13
Order of Contents
Harper, James – The Uses and Value of Subordinate Standards 1843 8 pp. from the larger work by various authors, Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines: held at Edinburgh, 1843, Containing the Addresses and Conversations, p. 93 ff. Buy 158 pp.
Professor James Harper was of the United Secession Church.
The Nature and Necessity of a Public Profession of Religion from his The Way of Life Buy (1841)
All too often Christianity is thought to be a personal opinion that one can keep to themselves and requires nothing. Here is a Biblical corrective. Christ said, “whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Mt. 10:33
What is the “System of Doctrine?” 1936, the article is edited by Dr. J. Gresham Machen and contains extracts from Hodge’s Discussions in Church Polity
An article on confessional subscription and the meaning of the phrase “system of doctrine” in ministers’ and elders’ ordination vows.
What is Meant by Adopting the Westminster Confession? HTML, from the Princeton Review of 1867 and later published as Appendix II of A.A. Hodge’s The Confession of Faith, Banner of Truth edition, p. 420-426
Kennedy, John – Answer to the Declaratory Statement of 1892 in the Free Church of Scotland, part 1, part 2, HTML, with the five paragraph Declaratory Act at the beginning. The Declaratory Act of 1892 in the Free Church was a declaration of the Church’s interpretation of the Westminster Confession under five points, some of which taught against the Confession itself. The intent of the Act was to open the door to union with the broader United Presbyterian Church. The Declaratory Act, not being of a constitutional nature, but only a current interpretation of the constitution, did not materially change the constitution. Thus the conservatives, bound by their unaltered constitutional vows to the constitution of the church, stayed in the church, though two ministers left and formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The foreseen union between the United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church took place in 1900 and the United Free Church was formed. The Constitutionalists stayed out of the unconstitutional union, continued the Free Church of Scotland, and repealed the Declaratory Act in 1905.
The Declaratory Act includes the statement, “that liberty of opinion is allowed on matters in the subordinate standard not essential to the doctrine therein taught.” With such ideas rife in confessional churches today, Kennedy’s dismantling of such broad-tent subscription is an example for conservatives today.
The Vows of Teaching & Ruling Elders (1833) 2 pp. abridged by Rev. Morton H. Smith
Gebbie, D. Douglas – ‘The Experiemental Religion of the Westminster Standards’ (2015) 22 paragraphs
Rev. Gebbie has been a pastor in the Free Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Reformed Church.
Doctrinal Integrity Buy including The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions, 1839, 138 pp. and Adherence to our Doctrinal Standards, 1833, in three letters, with a Preface by Kevin Reed, 1989
The classic piece showing the Biblical warrant and necessity for creeds in the church, and the great importance of officers upholding them with their vows.
A Letter to a Gentleman of Baltimore: in reference to the case of The Rev. Mr. Duncan [in reference to the necessity and utility of creeds] 1826 91 pp. This is a lengthy letter to an anonymous friend reviewing Rev. Mr. Duncan’s book Creeds, which argued against the use of creeds due to the sufficiency of the Bible.
Letters to Presbyterians, on the present crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the United States 1833 340 pp. Letters 6-8, on the topic, are also in Doctrinal Integrity above
On the Apostles’ Creed
Forbes, John – ‘On the Apostles’ Creed’ in Instructiones Historico-Theologicae (Amsterdam, 1645), p. 1 tr. Michael Lynch
Cunningham, William – The Apostles’ Creed 1863 14 pp. being Chapter 3 from his Historical Theology, vol. 1, p. 79 ff.
On the Nicene Creed
Cunningham, William – The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church and the Nicene Creed 1863 38 pp. from his Historical Theolgy, vol. 1, p. 267
On Phrases in the Nicene Creed
Section on our Site
In 1581, the first Harmony of Protestant Reformed Confessions of Faith was published in Geneva. It was the result of a collaboration between the Huguenot ministers listed above.
They published it in response to the publication of the Lutheran Book of Concord in 1580. It included a comparison of eleven Reformed confessions and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession. In 1842, it was translated into English, reorganized and enlarged by Peter Hall.
The History of Subscription to Creeds
Lillback, Peter A. – ‘Confessional Subscription Among the Sixteenth Century Reformers’ in ed. David Hall, The Practice of Confessional Subscription Buy (1997)
The Westminster Assembly
Mitchell, Alexander – Appendix, pp. 511-12 of The Westminster Assembly: its History & Standards (1884)
Mitchell, A. & Struthers, J. – footnote on pp. lxxi-ii in Minutes of the Westminster Assembly (1874)
The authors document and discuss the historical point that Westminster, and the English Church, did not require subscription to the Westminster Standards.
This is important as it shows that Westminster divines arguing variant views during the Assembly (which views did not make it into the Standards), does not warrant persons today using this as justification for taking exceptions to the Standards (as no exceptions were ever approved of by Westminster, and as the contents of the Westminster documents do not approve of such variant views).
Rather, the nature of the majority vote process at the Assembly was that the final statement of doctrine in the Westminster Standards was that which the majority of all the parties could agree on. This accounts for differing parties at the Assembly without necessarily approving of their views. Nothing was approved by the Assembly except the documents it produced, and the Westminster Assembly approved all the content of those documents without exception.
When the Church of Scotland did require subscription to the Westminster Confession, there was no category of ‘exceptions’ that were allowed.
Godfrey, W. Robert – ‘Subscription in the Dutch Reformed Tradition’ in ed. David Hall, The Practice of Confessional Subscription Buy (1997)
Duncan, III, J. Ligon – ‘Owning the Confession: Subscription in the Scottish Presbyterian Tradition’ in ed. David Hall, The Practice of Confessional Subscription Buy (1997)
Hamilton, Ian – The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy: Seceders and Subscription in Scottish Presbyterianism Buy (1990)
Sealy, Charles Scott – Church Authority & Non-Subscription Controversies in Early 18th Century Presbyterianism (2010) 250 pp. PhD thesis, Univ. of Glasgow
ed. David Hall – The Practice of Confessional Subscription Buy (1997)
Many chapters survey and relate to American history on the topic of confessional subscription.
Rutherford’s Distinctions & Conclusions
The Due Right of Presbyteries... (London, 1644), pt. 1, ch. 5, section 5, proposition 3, question 6, pp. 131-2
Whether or not it be lawful for one, or many particular churches to swear a platform and prescribed vocal covenant called the confession of faith of such a church?
1. There is a principal and original and formal ground of faith which is the Word of God in the Old or New Testament; this is the only perfect and formal ground of faith. 2. There is a secondary and material ground of faith, which is so far a ground of faith and practice, as it agrees with the Word of God.
2. There is a confession which contains fundamentals only, the knowledge whereof is simply necessary for salvation, and the simple ignorance whereof condemns; There is a confession which contains fundamentals and non-fundamentals, which are not simply necessary to be known by all, necessitate medii.
3. A confession of faith is to be respected in regard of the matter, which is divine Scripture, or according to the style, conception and interpretation, which is in some respect, human.
4. There is a confession of a particular man, what such a person or Church believes de facto, as the confession of the Belgic Arminians, and a confession de jure, what everyone ought to believe, as the Nicene Creed, the Creed of Athanasius.
5. There is a confession of a faith firm and sure, quoad certitudinem fidei, quoad substantiam articulorum credendorum, sure in the articles believed, and a confession sure, quoad radicationem fidei in subjecto; the first way all are obliged to believe the articles contained in the Word, But we see not, how now after the canon of Scripture is closed, but the certainty of faith, according to the measure of light more or less, as our Lord more or less does reveal Himself, in a more or less measure of light, does not grow, wo•, or decrease, according to the certainty of faith…
1. Only the Word of God is the principal and formal ground of our faith, Eph. 2:20-22; 2 Tim. 3:16; Lk. 14:25.
2. A confession of faith containing all fundamental points is so far forth the Word of God as it agrees with the Word of God, and obliges as a rule secondary, which we believe with subjection to God speaking in his own Word; and to this platform we may lawfully swear.
On ‘No Creed but the Bible!’
A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience… (1649), ch. 2, pp. 28-32
“Arminians: ‘The Word of God is sufficient for the deciding of controversies, its clear; what need is there of decision, if men acquiesce to the decision of God as it lies in Scripture?— if the word of God express the sense of God, or if it have need of interpretation, why is there not a free interpretation left to every man? Do we think our words are clearer than the word of God; we do a mighty injury to the word of God, if we believe that. How much better were it, if we would nourish peace and concord leaving interpretations free to every man? It is most sure to contain ourselves within the speaking of holy scripture, and the form of words of the Holy Ghost, and that no man be troubled who shows himself willing to contain himself within these.’
[Rutherford’s] Answer: …for in principles of faith, that Christ is God and man, and died for sinners, the Scripture is most plain, and what need then [is there] of our interpretation [if the Arminians be correct]? Then let Arians and Socinians believe him to be God-man and to die for sinners in their sense, the Familists in a contrary sense, the Georgians [after David George, d. 1556] in another contrary sense, the Papists in a third, the Protestants a fourth, and so as many heads, as many faiths, every sect and man must have some sense, else his faith is nonsense; and if he err from the sense of the Holy Ghost, the scripture is no scripture, if it be believed in a sense contrary to the scripture… and so his faith is no faith, but a vain night-fancy; and seeing the word of God gives us but one faith [Eph. 4:5], and one truth, and one Gospel; if interpretations be left free to every man, these Libertines gives us millions of faiths with millions of senses, and so no faith at all.
Secondly, they give us two decisions: one made by God, and another by the Church contrary to God’s: that has no rule but every man’s private judgment and free fancy…
Fourthly, That ‘no confessions ought to be but in express words of Scripture’, shall free all men and consequently all Churches from obedience to that which Peter commands, 1 Pet. 3:15, ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.’ When Stephen, Acts 7, and Paul, Acts 26, were accused of heresy and speaking against Moses and the temple, they made a confession of their faith not in words of Scripture, but in deductions and necessary consequences drawn from Scripture and applied to themselves; and those in Nehemiah’s time who wrote and sealed or subscribed a Covenant, did not write and seal the express Decalogue and Ten Commandments… Neh. 10:29-34 ff., compared with Neh. 9:38, which words are not a confession nor Covenant in express Scripture…
…should by some confession and Covenant ‘give an account of their faith and hope with meekness and fear.’ And what particular persons are obliged to do, that Churches, when they are slandered as unsound in the faith, are obliged to do: and so I look at a form or confession of faith as a necessary apology for clearing of the good name of a Church defamed with heresies, and new sects…
…Now that it is not sufficient that they be put to subscribe a confession of faith in only scripture words is clear: 1. Because the Jews will swear and seal the Old Testament in their own sense, but their sense makes the Old Testament to be the word of man, not the Word of God. The Sadducees acknowledged the five books of Moses to be the Word of God, yet because they denied the resurrection of the dead, Christ argues them, Mt. 22:45, ignorant both of the power of God asserted in the books of Moses and of the scriptures… Yet would the Sadducees have sworn and subscribed all the book of Exodus as the undoubted Word of God… but when they denied the resurrection, sure these words ‘I am the God of Abraham’ etc… making the Covenant of Grace to die when Abraham died, and Abraham to have perished in soul and body as they expounded it, was not the Word of God;
And Papists will subscribe the Old and New Testament and the three creeds, the Nicene Creed, the Creed of Athanasius, and that which commonly is called the Apostles’ Creed. Yet as they expound the Word and these Creeds, we say they transform the Word of God into the doctrine of devils [1 Tim. 4:1-4] and most abominable idolatry;
The greatest heretics that were, Arius, Nestorius, Appollinaris, Macedonius [who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit], the Treithite [a Tritheist] acknowledge the scripture to be the Word of God, and will swear and subscribe the word of God and contain themselves intra sacre scripture lecutiones, ‘within the words of scripture’. But their faith is not the faith of the scripture, and this makes ten thousand and millions of faiths, whereas the Word says there is but one faith [Eph. 4:5]. For Arius has one faith, Apollinaris another, Nestorius another, and every heretic a faith according to the sense that he falsely puts on the scripture, and all may swear one confession of faith in scripture words.”
That Creeds, Able to Err & being Fallible, may Deliver Wholly Inerrant & Infallible Truth
“Yea the fallible church may determine infallible points. This is a principle that Libertines proceed upon, that men who are not infallible may err, and therefore can hold forth to others no infallible truth, which is most false, for prophets and apostles, Nathan, Samuel, David, Peter, being deserted of the immediately inspiring Spirit, did err, as well as the Church and pastors now deserted of the ordinary Spirit can and do err. For ‘all men’, prophets and apostles, ‘are liars’, Rom. 3, yet they may and do carry infallible truth to others; a blind man may hold a candle to others.
3. By this reason [of the Libertines] pastors can preach nothing certain in fundamentals [which is absurd], though faith come by hearing and faith is of a certain and determinate fixed truth of God, more permanent than heaven or earth; Why? because by this reason pastors in preaching fundamentals are not infallible.
4. Nor is this a good reason: It is believed the Church may err in synods, ergo [therefore], it does err and determines nothing that is infallible and certain in synods; no more than this is a good consequence: David may sin in praying, ergo, he does sin in praying: a potentia ad actum non valet consequentia [a consequence from potential to an act is not valid].”
“…though senses of Scripture rendered by synods be fallible in the way they come to us, because men delivering them may err, yet being agreeable to the Word, they are in themselves infallible.”
“For what synods determine, being the undeniable Word of God, is intrinsically infallible, and can never become fallible, though fallible and sinful men that are obnoxious [liable] to error and mistakes do hold it forth ministerially to others: and it is false that we are to believe that what synods determine according to the Word of God, we are to believe it is fallible and liable to error, and may [be] an untruth because they so determine; for then, when a synod determines [that] ‘there is but one true God,’ this principle of faith is believed to be subject to retraction and falsehood, because a synod has determined it to be a truth.
But the truth is, we are to believe truths, determined by synods, to be infallible, and never again liable to retraction or discussion, because they are, and were in themselves and without any synodical determination, infallible, but not for this formal medium, because so says the synod, but because so says the Lord.”
A True Creed is a Secondary Rule of Faith
A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience… (1649), ch. 2, pp. 25
“Arminians: ‘A confession is not a rule of faith; it has not the lowest place in the Church.’
[Rutherford’s] Answer: The covenant written and sealed in Nehemiah’s time was a secondary rule of faith, and a rule even so far as it agreed with the Law of Moses, for they enter in a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, not to give their sons and daughters in marriage to the heathen, not to buy victuals from the heathen on the Sabbath, to charge themselves to give money to maintain the service of God, Neh. 9:38, ch.10:1-3, 29-32, which written Covenant was not Scripture; and [further,] Acts 15, the decrees of the synod [of Jerusalem] were not formally Scripture, yet [were] to be observed as a secondary rule [Acts 15:28; 16:4].”
On the Nature of Proof-Texts
PRRD (2003) 1.426
“Virtually all of the orthodox systems cite a wide variety of texts–dicta probantia [proving texts]–which are intended for use, not crassly as proof texts for citation without exegesis, but as points of reference to the long-established results of the church’s exegetical tradition. The dicta probantia or proving texts serve not to circumvent study of the text but to indicate received interpretation leading from exegesis to doctrine.”