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Presbyterian Confessions.

1. Early Prot. statements in Scot. took the form of “covenants.” In 1557 a number of Prot. nobles and gentlemen signed a covenant at Edinburgh to maintain, nourish, and defend to the death “the whole Congregation of Christ and every member thereof.” Early covenants opposed RCm (e.g., the Nat. Covenant, subscribed by James* I [James VI of Scot.] 1581; also called 2d Scotch Confession, King's Confession, and Negative Confession; endorsed the 1560 Scotch Confession of Faith [see 2]), later ones opposed episcopacy. The 1638 Nat. Covenant repeats the 1581 Nat. Covenant and adds statements against bps. and royal measures that “do sensibly tend to the re-establishment of the Popish religion and tyranny, and to the subversion and ruin of the true Reformed religion, and of our liberties, laws, and estates.” The 1643 Solemn League* and Covenant (see also Covenanters) was used by Puritans in an attempt to force Presbyterianism on the Est. Ch. of Eng. as a reward to Scots for help against Charles* I.

2. The 1560 Scotch Confession of Faith (Confession fidei Scoticana I), decidedly Calvinistic, was drawn up by J. Knox* and associates and ratified by the 3 estates. It holds that the ch. is one from the beginning to the end of the world and exists where the Gospel is preached, the sacraments administered, and discipline exercised.

3. Westminster Confession 1647. The Long Parliament (1640–60) in 1643 called for an assem. at Westminster beginning July 1, 1643, to draw up arts. for the Ch. of Eng. to bring it into more agreement with the Ch. of Scot. and the Ref. Chs. on the Continent. The 121 clerical mems. of the assem. included 9 Episcopalians, who seldom attended; a few Independents and Erastians (see Erastianism). who withdrew before final adoption of the Book of Discipline; Presbs. formed the great majority. There were also 30 lay assessors. And 5 clerical and 3 lay Scotch commissioners came in after adoption of the Solemn League* and Covenant.

Documents drawn up by the Assem. include “Propositions Concerning Church Government and Ordination of Ministers,” which led to adoption of the Presb. form of govt.; “Directory for the Public Worship of God”; “Larger Catechism”; “Shorter Catechism”; Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Apostles' Creed is omitted from the Larger Catechism and annexed to the Smaller Catechism with the note: “not as though it were composed by the Apostles, or ought to be esteemed Canonical Scripture”; at “He descended into hell” the footnote is added: “i. e., Continued in the state of the dead, and under the power of death, until the third day.” The Shorter Catechism begins: “Question. 1. What is the chief end of man? Answer. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

The Westminster Confession presents mature Calvinism. It starts from God's sovereignty and justice and makes the predestinarian scheme control the historical and Christological scheme. Chap. IIl, iii–vii: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death … to the praise of his glorious grace … [and] justice.” VII, ii–vi: “The first covenant made [by God] with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience. iii. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace. … v. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the Law [OT] and in the time of the Gospel [NT].… There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.” See also Federal Theology. XVII, i: “They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” XXI, vii–viii: “… [God] hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week … viii. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.” XXIII, iii: “The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and Sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.” XXIX, vii–viii: “Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death … viii. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament, yet they receive not the thing signified thereby.…”

4. In 1659 the Westminster Confession (except chaps. 30–31) was endorsed again by the Long Parliament but was set aside when episcopacy was restored 1660 with the 39 Arts. (see Anglican Confessions, 6) and the Book* of Common Prayer. In Scot. the Gen. Assem. ratified the Westminster Confession 1647 (see Presbyterian Churches, 1) and required all ministers and probationers of the Gospel with license to preach, and all ruling elders to subscribe to it without amendment 1690, 1699, 1700, 1704, etc. This remained law in the chs. of Scot. till the 1879 Declaratory* Act modified some of the extreme Calvinistic statements; the Free Ch. adopted a similar Declaratory Act 1892 (see also Presbyterian Churches, 1). In 1890 the Eng. Presb. Ch. adopted The Articles of the Faith, 24 in number, which emphasize the love of God. In 1892 the Eng. Presb. Ch. decided that acceptance of the Westminster standards by office-bearers should be modified by reference to these 24 arts. The Savoy Declaration 1658 included a revision of the Westminster Confession (see also Democratic Declarations of Faith, 2). The 2d London Confession of Eng. Baps. 1677 was based on the Westminster Confession (see also Democratic Declarations of Faith, 3).

5. Presbs. in Am. adhered in a gen. way to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms in accord with the 1729 Adopting Act. In 1967 The United Presb. Ch. in the USA (see Presbyterian Churches, 4 a) adopted a Book of Confessions that includes the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, Westminster Confession, and Confession of 1967 (irenic). EL

See also Scotland, Reformation in, 1.

P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols., rev. and enl. (New York, c1919); Creeds of the Churches, ed. J. H. Leith (Chicago, 1963); The Faith of Christendom, ed. B. A. Gerrish (Cleveland, Ohio, 1963); Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. A. C. Cochrane (Philadelphia, 1966); J. A. Hardon, The Spirit and Origins of American Protestantism: A Source Book in Its Creeds (Dayton, Ohio, 1968).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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