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CHAPTER THE THIRD:
EXPOSITION OF THE THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
WE learn from the New Testament, that those who first embraced the Gospel declared their faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah, in simple and general terms (a); and there is no ground for supposing that the apostles required this declaration to be made in any one particular form of words. No such formulary is transmitted to us; and had any ever existed, it would probably have been cited or alluded to in the New Testament, or in the early Apologies for Christianity. Every bishop was authorized to prescribe a formulary for the use of his own church; and there
(a) Acts, c. 8. v. 37.
are still extant in writers, who live near to the apostolic age, several abstracts of Christian faith, which, though they agree in substance, vary in expression. But when heresies gained ground, and destroyed uniformity of belief among Christians, it became necessary to have a public standard of faith; and to this cause we are to attribute the origin of Creeds. The design of these creeds was to establish the genuine doctrines of the Gospel in opposition to the errors which then prevailed, and to exclude from communion with the orthodox church of Christ all who held heretical opinions. New dissensions and controversies continually arose; and we have to lament that, in process of time, "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints," became corrupted in the highest degree; and that those very councils, which were convened, according to the practice of the apostolic age, for the purpose of declaring "the truth, as it is in Jesus," gave their sanction and authority to the grossest absurdities and most palpable errors. These corruptions, supported by secular power, and favoured by the darkness and ignorance of the times, were almost universally received through a succession of many ages, till at last the glorious light of the Reformation dispelled the clouds which had so long obscured the Christian world. At
At that interesting period, the several churches which had separated themselves from the Roman communion, found it expedient to publish confessions of their faith and in conformity to this practice, Edward the sixth (b), the first protestant king of England, caused to be published by his royal authority, forty-two "Articles agreed upon by the bishops, and other learned and good men, in the Convocation held at London in the year 1552, to root out the discord of opinions, and establish the agreement of true Religion." These articles were repealed by Queen Mary, soon after her accession to the throne. But Queen Elizabeth, in the beginning of her reign, gave her royal assent to "Thirty-nine articles agreed upon by the archbishops and bishops of both provinces, and the whole clergy, in the Convocation holden at London in the year 1562, for avoiding diversities of opinion, and for the establishing of consent touching true Religion." These articles were revised, and some small alterations made in them, in the year 1571, since which time they have continued to be the criterion of the faith of the members of the Church
(b) Henry the eighth, in the year 1536, published Articles of Religion, in which some of the popish doctrines are disclaimed, but others are retained, Vide Burnet's Reformation, book 3d,
Church of England. The articles of 1562 were drawn up in Latin only; but in 1571 they were subscribed by the members of the two houses of convocation both in Latin and English, and therefore the Latin and English copies are to be considered as equally authentic. The original manuscripts, subscribed by the houses of convocation, were burnt in the fire of London; but Dr. Bennet has collated the oldest copies now extant, and it appears that there are no variations of any importance.
It is generally believed that Cranmer and Ridley (c) were chiefly concerned in framing the forty-two articles, upon which our thirty-nine are founded; but Burnet says, that "questions relating to them were given about to many bishops and divines, who gave in their several answers, that were collated and examined very maturely; all sides had a free and fair hearing before conclusions were made." Indeed, caution and moderation are no less conspicuous in them than a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and of the early opinions and practice of Christians.
Bishop Burnet, in his History of the Reformation,
(c) They followed principally the Augsbourg confession, which was drawn up by Melancthon.
mation (d), has preserved the forty-two articles published by King Edward the sixth, and has pointed out in what respect they differ from the thirty-nine articles which are now in force (e).
These thirty-nine articles are arranged with great judgment and perspicuity, and may be considered under four general divisions; the first five contain the Christian doctrines concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in the sixth, seventh, and eighth, the rule of Faith is established; the next ten relate to Christians as individuals; and the remaining twenty-one relate to them as they are members of a religious society. But as all confessions of faith have had a reference to existing heresies, we shall here find not only the positive doctrines of the Gospel asserted, but also the principal errors and corruptions of the Church of Rome, and most of the extravagancies into which certain protestant sects fell at the time of the Reformation, rejected and condemned. The articles in English will appear in the course of the Exposition; the following is the Latin text:
(d) Collections, No. 55. vol. 2.
(e) Whoever wishes to see a full account of every thing which passed relative to these articles, may consult Dr. Bennet's "Essay on the Thirty-nine Articles."