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DOCTRINES.—The distinguishing tenet of the Independents is maintained, with some shades of difference, not only by the three classes of Protestant Dissenters in England in general, and all those that are known by the name of Congregationalists or Independents elsewhere; but also by the Sandemanians in England, and by their brethren the Glassites, and by both classes of Baptists in Scotland: to which articles the reader is referred for the several doctrines and peculiarities which distinguish them from each other.
That which unites them, or rather which distinguishes them from other denominations of Christians, is their disclaiming, more or less, every form of union between churches, and assigning to each congregation the exclusive government of itself: and the religious doctrines of the Independents, properly so called, are, in general, strictly Calvinistical. *
See two Confessions of Faith, the one composed by Mr. Robinson in behalf of the English Independents in Holland, and published at Leyden in 1619, entitled, Apologia pro Exulibus Anglis, qui Brownistæ vulgo appellantur; and the other drawn
in London 1658, by the principal members of this community in England, entitled, The Savoy Confession, or A Declaration of the Faith and order owned and practised by the Congregational Churches in England, agreed upon and consented unto by their Elders and Messengers, in their meeting at the Savoy, Oct. 12, 1658.*
and Brown adopted the same system, and how long the one was prior to the other.
* John Goodwin is said to have been an Arminian, as many Independents have, no doubt, been since his time.
From these two public and authentic pieces, not to mention other writings of the Independents, it evidently appears, says Dr. Mosheim, “that they differed from the Presbyterians or Calvinists in no single point of any consequence, except that of ecclesiastical government.”+
But many of the Independents, both at home and abroad, reject the use of all Creeds and Confessions drawn up by fallible men ;£ and merely re
* This Synod at the Savoy was held by permission from Cromwell, granted a little before his death; and the Confession or Declaration then drawn up was reprinted in 1729. -Hornbeck also gave a Latin translation of it in 1659, and subjoined it to his Epistolæ ad Dureum De Independentismo.
† Eccles. Hist. vol. v. p. 401. See also The Platform of Church Discipline, or Confession of Faith, which was drawn up and agreed upon by the Elders and Messengers of the Congregational Churches in America, assembled in a Sy. nod at Cambridge, in New England, in 1648.
# The American Independents, or Congregationalista, used to regulate their ecclesiastical proceedings in Massachusetts, by the Cambridge Platform of Disciplint, and in Connecticut by another, called the Saybrook Platform of Discipline ; but since the Revolution, less regard has been paid to these Constitutions, and, in many instances, they are said to be wholly disused.Hannah Adams's Pitsin pe 455.
quire of their teachers a declaration of their belief in the truth of the Gospel and its leading doctrines, —and of their adherence to the Scriptures as the sole standard of faith and practice, and the only criterion of faith. And some of them are said to require from all persons, who wish to be admitted into their communion, an account, either verbal or written, of what is called their experience; in which, not only a declaration of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and their purpose, by grace, to devote themselves to him, is expected, but likewise a recital of the steps by which they were led to a knowledge and profession of the Gospel.
WORSHIP, Church GoverNMENT, AND DisCIPLINE.-Their public worship, which is conducted without form or ceremony, differs but little from that of the Presbyterians; and they still generally administer the Lord's Supper at the close of the afternoon's service.
In regard to Church Government and Discipline, it may be sufficient to remark here, after what has already been said, that though they disallow of parochial and provincial subordination, and do not think it necessary to assemble Synods; yet, if any be held, they look upon their resolutions as prudential counsels, but not as decisions to which they are obliged to conform. *
They consider it as their right to choose their
* See the 6th Article of the Association of the United Brethren, 1691, as mentioned above, p. 314.
15;* and though they atdination, by imposition of any new powers, yet they se it. Many of them, indeed, essence of ordination does not lie - ministers who assist, but in the of the people, and the candidate's f that call; so that their ordination isidered only as a public declaration of ment.t
ugh they consider their own form of ecclecal government as of divine institution, and as sinally introduced by the authority of the AposS, nay, by the Apostles themselves, and, of course, look upon every other form as unscriptural; yet, with more candour and charity than their predecessors the Brownists, they acknowledge, that true religion and solid piety may flourish in those communities, which are under the jurisdiction of Bishops, or the government of Synods and Presbyteries.
They are also more attentive than the Brownists were to keep up a distinction between ministers
* In Article 5th, the United Brethren acknowledge that “the office of a Deacon is of divine appointment, and that it belongs to their office to receive, lay out, and distribute the stock of the Church to its proper uses.'
+ This doctrine seems to have prevailed in Scotland, when Presbyterianism was first established here in the latter end of the 16th century.—See Courayer's Defence of the English Ordinations, p. 21. edit. 1728.
and people; for while the Brownists allowed promiscuously all ranks and orders of men to teach in public, and to perform the other pastoral functions, the original Independents always had fixed and regular ministers, approved of by their people. Nor do they in general allow every person to pray or teach in public, who may think himself qualified for that important office, before he has submitted to a proper examination of his capacity and talents, and been approved of by the heads of the congregation.
Eminent Men, NUMBERS, &c.--This denomination has produced many persons eminent both for piety and learning, whose works will, no doubt, reflect lasting honour on their abilities and acquirements. Of the English Independents of the 17th century, Dr. Owen, (the learned author of the Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, &c.) and John and Thomas Goodwin, were the most distinguished, and the chief leaders of the party; and it is worthy of remark, that the second, as well as the first of these, vindicated the king's murder, which occasioned his being exempted from pardon at the Restoration, but he was never proceeded against.
I have not as yet seen any calculation of the supposed number of members belonging to this denomination, but can readily believe it to be considerable, and that it has increased of late years; nor is it unlikely that it is still increasing more or less. The Congregationalists are sup