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IN consequence of that liberty wherewith Christ hath
made his people free, it becomes their duty as well as privilege, openly to confess and worship him according to the dictates of their own consciences. To perform this aright, and bear a proper testimony against the heresies and false opinions which have always disturbed the peace and corrupted the purity of the Church, it has been found necessary to explain with candour and boldness, the articles of faith and discipline, and accurately to distinguish between truth and error. Wherever such explanations constitute a bond of union wholly voluntary, and unattended with civil emoluments or penalties, they cannot be considered as an infringement upon the equal liberties of others, or as fixing boundaries and terms of communion, inimical to Christian Charity. The unerring word of God remaining the only standard of the Faith and Worship of his people, they can never incur the charge of presumption, in openly declaring, what to them appears to be the mind and will of their divine Lord and Master.
The Church is a Society, wholly distinct in its principles, laws, and end, from any which men have ever instituted for civil purposes. It consists of all, in every age and place, who are chosen, effectually called, and united by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. The differeut dispensations, either before, or since the coming of the Messiah,
have made no essential change in the benefits of the everlasting Covenant,; nor do the various denominations, or descriptions of particular Churches, under which, from many unavoidable circumstances of language, nation, or other causes of distinction, believers are classed, effect any schism in the body, or destroy the communion of saints.
At the reformation it was judged proper by all the Churches to ratify and publish their respective Creeds, and the adopted forms of their ecclesiastical governments. In America, since the late happy revolution, the Churches of different denominations have found it necessary to organize themselves, agreeably to the present state in which the good providence of God hath placed them, and have al ready published their several constitutions. The Reformed Dutch Church has been prevented by some particular circumstances from accomplishing this desirable and important object, at an earlier period. She has now completed the translations which were necessary, and presents her Constitution to the public.
To the Constitution of a Church appertain its DOCTRINES, mode of WORSHIP, and GOVERNMENT. When these are known, its true and distinguishing character is sufficiently ascertained.
The DOCTRINES of the Reformed Dutch Church are comprised in the Articles of Faith, the Catechism and Compendium, and in her Canons.
Her mode of WORSHIP is expressed in the Liturgy, where forms of several prayers are given, without any idea, however, of restraining her members to any particular terms or fixed standards for prayer. Firmly beliey
ing, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the edification of Zion in every age, are promised and bestowed, the Reformed Dutch Church judges it sufficient to shew in a few specimens the general tenor and manner in which public worship is performed, and leaves it to the piety and gifts of her Ministers to conduct the ordinary solemnities of the sanctuary, in a manner they judge most acceptable to God, and most edifying to his people.
Her GOVERNMENT and discipline are contained in the Rules of Church Government, ratified in the last National Synod, held at Dordrecht: these are illustrated in the Explanatory Articles, and applied to the circumstances. and local situation of the Church. As many of the articles in the rules are sufficiently plain and applicable without any elucidation, such only are mentioned in the Explanatory Articles which were judged most necessary to give a connected and just view of the government of the Church as now established in America.
An expression which occurs in the 18th and 36th Articles of faith, and which mentions the Anabaptists in harsh terms, will probably with some, especially such as are ignorant of the history of the sixteenth century, appear unfriendly; and if applied to those who are sometimes distinguished at this day by the same name, be considered as an assertion not founded in truth. To obviate every objection, it will suffice to observe, that there were persons at, and shortly after the reformation, who were called by that name; who held the erroneous and seditious sentiments which in those articles are rejected, and who by their fanaticism and extravagance rendered them. selves abhorred by all sober and religious men. In pub
lishing the articles of faith, the Church determined to abide by the words adopted in the Synod of Dordrecht, as most expressive of what she believes to be truth; in consequence of which, the terms alluded to could not be avoided. But she openly and candidly declares that she by no means thereby intended to refer to any denomination of Christians at present known, and would be grieved at giving offence, or unnecessarily hurting the feelings of any person.
Whatever relates to the immediate authority and interposition of the Magistrate in the government of the Church, and which is introduced more or less into all the national establishments in Europe, is intirely omitted in the Constitution now published. Whether the Church of Christ will not be more effectually patronised in a civil government where full freedom of conscience and worship is equally protected and insured to all men, and where truth is left to vindicate her own sovereign authority and influence, than where men in power promote their favourite denominations by temporal emoluments and partial discriminations, will now, in America, have a fair trial; and all who know and love the truth will rejoice in the prospect which such a happy situation affords for the triumph of the gospel, and the reign of peace and love.
CONFESSION OF FAITH
IN THE NETHERLANDS.
REVISED IN THE NATIONAL SYNOD, LAST HELD AT DORTRECHT, IN THE YEARS 1618 AND 1619.
That there is one only God.
WE all believe with the heart, and confess with
the mouth, that there is one only, simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that he is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.
II. By what means God is made known unto us. We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisibie things of God, namely, his eternal power and godhead, as the apostle Paul saith, Rom. i. 20. All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse. Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully