A New Confession of Faith (1654)

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Greetings,

This proposed "New Confession of Faith" was new to me so I thought it might be of interest to you. I hope I am posting it in the right place.

Ed

From
A Puritan Theology - Doctrine for Life
Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones

REFORMATION HERITAGE BOOKS
Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Necessity of Evangelical Obedience

Few students of Puritan theology are familiar with A New Confession of Faith, or The First Principles of the Christian Religion Necessary to Bee Laid as a Foundation by All Such as Desire to Build on unto Perfection (1654), which was composed in the mid-seventeenth century by Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680), John Owen, Philip Nye (c. 1595–1672), Sydrach Simpson (c. 1600–1655), Richard Vines (1600–c. 1655), Francis Cheynell (1608–1665), Thomas Manton (1620–1677), Richard Baxter (1615–1691), and others drafted this confession in Westminster Abbey’s Jerusalem Chamber, where some of them had sat years before as members of the Westminster Assembly. It was written with the intention of uniting Presbyterians and Congregationalists around one confession of faith. All of these men, with the exception of Baxter, were participants in Oliver Cromwell’s triers and ejectors scheme, which had been designed by Goodwin, Owen, and Nye. Moderate Presbyterians and Congregationalists had experienced working together, in vetting ministerial candidates for the national church under the protectorate. The 1654 confession sheds further light on the Reformed doctrine of salvation, and its relative brevity compared with other confessions of faith allows for statements that speak rather pointedly to several important doctrines.

It seems that leading Congregationalists, such as Goodwin, Owen, and Nye, were trying to create a broad Reformed (Calvinistic) consensus but still exclude Socinians, Quakers, Arminians, and Antinomians. Baxter also desired such Reformed unity, but he felt the Apostles’ Creed was a sufficient safeguard. Cromwell was similarly inclined toward such a broad-based unity (hence his calling for this confession), but he also feared disruptive sectarianism. So, while the document does shed light on the theological debates of the times, it is also specifically a product of that very complex year, 1654. It reveals an internal theological debate, to be sure, but also an attempt to accommodate Cromwell and to rouse an increasingly inert Parliament to action. The contents of A New Confession (1654) are reproduced below to show how the authors envisaged uniting the nation and church around this particular document.

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A New Confession of Faith 1654
1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, and the only Rule of knowing him savingly, and living unto him in all holiness and righteousness, in which we must rest; which Scriptures, who so doth not believe but rejecting them, doth instead thereof betake himself to any other way of discovering the mind of God, cannot be saved.

2. There is one only God, who is a Spirit Allsufficient, Eternal, Infinite, Unchangeable, Almighty, Omniscient, Just, Merciful, most Holy, Good, True, Faithful, and only Wise, working all things according to the Counsel of His Own Will, the Creator, Governor, and Judge of the World, the knowledge of God by faith is necessary to salvation, and every other way of knowledge of him is insufficient to salvation.

3. That this God is infinitely distinct from all Creatures in his Being and Blessedness.

4. That this God is one in three persons or Subsistences, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

5. God made Man upright in his own Image to yield obedience to him, so that the chief end of man is to live to God and enjoy him for ever.

6. Man who was thus created is fallen into a State of sin and misery, so that our nature is wholly corrupted, disabled to all that is spiritually good, in bondage to sin, at enmity with God, prone to all that is evil, and whilst we continue in that estate, the wrath of God abides upon us.

7. That every transgression of the Law of God is sin, the wages whereof is eternal death.

8. That God out of his Love sent Jesus Christ to be the only Mediator between God and man, without the knowledge of whom, by the Revelation of the Gospel, there is no salvation.

9. That this Jesus Christ is God by Nature, the only and eternally begotten Son of the Father, and also true man in one person.

10. That this Jesus Christ is our Redeemer and Surety, who dying in our stead, laying down his life a ransom for us, and bearing our sins, hath made full satisfaction for them.

11. That this Lord Jesus Christ is he that was crucified at Jerusalem, was buried, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, and there sits at the right Hand of God, making intercession for us, who remains for ever a distinct person from all Saints, and Angels, notwithstanding their union and communion with him.

12. All true believers are partakers of Jesus Christ and all his benefits freely by grace, and are justified by faith in him, and not by works, he being made of God righteousness unto us.

13. That no man can be saved unless he be born again of the holy Spirit, Repent, Believe, and walk in holy conversation and godliness.

14. That whosoever do not prize and love Jesus Christ above himself, and all other things, cannot be saved.

15. Whosoever allows himself to live in any known sin, upon any pretense or principle whatsoever, is in a state of damnation.

16. That God is to be worshipped according to his own will, and that only in and through Jesus Christ.

17. That all the dead shall rise again.

18. That in the last day God will judge the World in Righteousness by Jesus Christ, and reward every one according to his Works.

19. That all Believers shall be translated into an everlasting state of blessedness, and an inheritance of glory in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20. That all the wicked and unbelievers shall be cast into everlasting Torments, with the Devil and his angels in Hell.

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (pp. 310–311). Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I think I detect the thumb of Baxter surreptitiously upon the scale; he must make room for a little of man's purpose in salvation. See 5, where man is created to OBEY; especially 13, 14, 15, where the end of salvation seems to be precisely OBEDIENCE; and a nudge at 18, where WORKS are underscored in judgment.

This is not really the Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace scheme of Reformed theology writ small. Communion with God is the glory and joy of men (WSC.1), and obedience to the revealed will of God is the means--first of Adam (who failed), then of Christ. And our works are pure fruit of redemption and union with our Head. Yes, there is a revelation of them in the Judgment, but not in the way that Baxter taught. The language of this confession seems designed not to give Baxter much discomfort.

Evangelical obedience is part-and-parcel of sanctification, and there is no saint but who is being sanctified. But there is less emphasis in this confession than should be (it seems to me) on the not-working for our own salvation (#12).
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
This does not really classify as a "confession of faith." I think the title may have been added by Thomason, if I remember correctly. It was written to express the "fundamentals" of the faith within the interregnum settlement, which was laying a broader basis for religious toleration than had been previously known.

Owen drafted the articles. Baxter desired a confession that was in the words of Scripture. This was about the time that the two men's differences were fanned into a flame.
 
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