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THE order prescribed to this exercise directs us to treat upon, first, The Creed; secondly, The Lord's Prayer; thirdly, The Decalogue; fourthly, The Sacraments; fifthly, The Power of the Keys.
The first comprehends the main principles of our religion, (I mean the Christian, as distinguished from all other religions,) with especial respect to which our practice is also to be regulated. The second directs us in the principal duty of our religion, (and which procures grace and ability to perform the rest,) our devotion toward God, informing us concerning both the matter and manner thereof. The third is a compendious body, as it were, of law, according to which we are bound to order our practice and conversation, both toward God and man; containing the chief of those perpetual and immutable laws of God, to which our obedience is indispensably due and unto which all other rules of moral duty are well reducible. The next place is fitly allotted to those positive ordinances, or mystical rites, instituted by God for the ornament and advantage of our religion; the which we are obliged with devotion and edification of ourselves to observe, and
therefore should understand the signification and use of them. Lastly, because God hath ordered Christians (for mutual assistance and edification) to live in society together, and accordingly hath appointed differences of office and degree among them, assigning to each suitable privileges and duties, it is requisite we consider this point also, that we may know how to behave ourselves towards each other, as duty requires, respectively according to our stations in the church, or as members of that Christian society. Such, in brief, may be the reason of the method prescribed to these discourses, the which, God willing, we purpose to follow.
1. Concerning the Creed.
That, in the primitive churches, those who being of age (after previous instruction, and some trial of their conversation) were received into entire communion of the church, and admitted to baptism, were required to make open profession of their being persuaded of the truth of Christianity, and their being resolved to live according thereto; and that this profession was made by way of answer to certain interrogatories propounded to them, is evident by frequent and obvious testimonies of the most ancient ecclesiastical writers; and St. Peter himself seems to allude to this custom, when he saith that baptism saves us, (conduces to our salvation,) as 1 Pet. iii. being ἐπερώτημα ἀγαθῆς συνειδήσεως, the stipulation, freely and sincerely, bona fide, or with a good conscience, made by us, then when we solemnly did yield our consent and promise to what the church, in God's behalf, did demand of us to believe and undertake. I conceive also, that the author of the Epistle to
the Hebrews doth allude to the same practice when (chap. x. 22, 23.) he thus exhorts to perseverance; Having had our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water; (that is, having received baptism;) let us hold fast the profession of our faith (that which we at our baptism did make) without wavering, (or declining from it ;) for he that did promise is faithful: God will be true to his part, and perform what he then promised of mercy and grace to us. (Some resemblance of which practice we have in that passage between Philip the deacon and the Ethiopian eunuch : where, after Philip had instructed the eunuch, the eunuch first speaks; Behold water; what hinders Acts viii. me from being baptized? Philip answers, If thou believest with all thy heart, it is lawful: the eunuch replies; I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God: upon which short confession of his faith he is baptized.) Now that this profession, (take it either for the action, or the entire res gesta; or for the form, or for the matter thereof; to all which indifferently, by metonymical schemes of speech, the same words are usually in such cases applied,) that this profession, I say, was very anciently (in the Roman especially, and some other churches) called symbolum, appears by those remarkable words of Cyprian (the most ancient perhaps wherein this word is found applied to this matter) in his seventy-sixth Epistle ad Magnum, arguing against the validity of baptism administered by heretics and schismatics, (such as were the Novatians;) Quod si aliquis illud opponit, ut dicat, eandem Novatianum legem tenere, quam catholica ecclesia teneat, eodem symbolo quo et nos baptizare, eundem nosse Deum
patrem, eundem filium Christum, eundem Spiritum Sanctum, ac propter hoc usurpare eam potestatem baptizandi posse, quod videatur in interrogatione baptismi a nobis non discrepare, sciat quisquis hoc opponendum putat, primum non esse unam nobis et schismaticis symboli legem, neque eandem interrogationem. Where those expressions, Eodem symbolo baptizare, and In interrogatione baptismi non discrepare; as also, Una symboli lex, and Eadem interrogatio, do seem to mean the same thing: and in other later writers the same manner of speaking doth sometimes occur; as when Hilary thus prays; 12. de Trin. Conserva hanc conscientiæ meæ vocem, ut quod in regenerationis meæ symbolo, baptizatus in Patre, et Filio, et Spiritu S. professus sum, semper obtineam where regenerationis suæ symbolum doth seem to import, that contestation of his faith, which he solemnly made at his baptism. Now the reason why this profession was so called may seem to be, for that it was a solemn signification of his embracing the doctrine and law of Christ; even as Aristotle calls words, σύμβολα τῶν ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ παθημάτων, the symbols or representations of the conceptions that are in the mind: this seems to be the most simple reason of this term being so used: but if the simplicity of this notion doth not satisfy, there is another very agreeable to the nature of the thing, not wanting the countenance of some good authority. The Plato, De- word σvußáλλw doth in the best Greek writers not &c. uncommonly signify, to transact commerce, to make contract, to agree about any bargain or business; and the word ouμBóλasov (thence derived) doth, according to most common use, denote any contract or covenant made between two parties: now, that the sti