Confessionalism at its Best

John Owen expresses here the essence of confessionalism. As Confessional Reformed Baptists, his comments summarize our own convictions. Our doctrine of full-subscription evidences our genuine, truthful convictions, while at the same time expresses our allegiance to the best theological thinking of the whole church of Jesus Christ. Protestant confessions are not novelties, but their doctrines have deep roots extending all the way back to the Fathers. This is from A Peace-Offering (1667) found in Owen’s Works, 13:551-52.

For the faith which we profess, and which we desire to walk according unto, we need not insist upon the particular heads of it, having some years since, in our confessions, publicly declared it, with the joint consent of all our churches, neither do we own or avow any doctrine but what is therein asserted and declared.And we hope it will not be looked upon as an unreasonable request if we humbly desire that it may receive a Christian, charitable, sedate consideration before it be condemned. May we be convinced of any thing therein not agreeable unto the Scriptures, not taught and revealed in them, we shall be with the first in its rejection. That this hath been by any as yet attempted we know not; and yet we are judged, censured, and reproached upon the account of it! So far are men degenerated from that frame of spirit which was in the Christians of old, – so far have they relinquished the ways wherein they walked towards those who dissented from them.

Nor do we decline the judgment of the primitive church, being fully satisfied that what we teach and adhere unto is as consonant unto the doctrine thereof as that of any church at this day in the world. The first four general councils, as to what was determined in them in matters of faith, are confirmed by law in this nation; which is all that from antiquity hath any peculiar stamp of authority put upon it amongst us: this also we willingly admit of, and fully assert in our confession. Neither doth the addition of ours disturb the harmony that is in the confessions of the reformed churches, being in all material points the same with them, and no otherwise differing from any of them in things of less importance than as they do one from another, and as all confessions have done, since the first introduction of their use into the churches of God. That which amongst them is of most special regard and consideration unto us, is that of the church of England, declared in the articles of religion; and herein, in particular, what is purely doctrinal we fully embrace and constantly adhere unto. And though we shall not compare ourselves with others in ability to assert, teach, and maintain it, yet we cannot, whilst we are conscious unto ourselves of our integrity in our cordial adherence unto it, but hear with regret the clamorous accusations of some against us for departing from the church of England, who have not given that testimony of their adherence unto its doctrine, which we have done, and, by the help of God, shall continue to do. It is true, indeed, there are some enlargements in our confession of the things delivered in the Thirty-nine Articles, some additions of things not expressly contained in them, which we were necessitated unto for the full declaration of our minds, and to obviate that obloquy which otherwise we might have been exposed unto, as reserving our judgment in matters that had received great public debate since the composure of those articles; but yet we are fully persuaded that there is not any proposition in our whole confession which is repugnant unto any thing contained in the articles, or is not by just consequence deducible from them. Neither were we the authors of the explanations or enlargements mentioned, there being nothing contained in them but what we have learned and been instructed in from the writings of the most famous divines of this nation, bishops and others, ever since the Reformation; which being published by legal authority, have been always esteemed, both at home and abroad, faithfully to represent the doctrine of the church of England. We have no new faith to declare, no new doctrine to teach, no private opinions to divulge, no point or truth do we profess, no not one, which hath not been declared, taught, divulged, and esteemed as the common doctrine of the church of England, ever since the Reformation.

If, then, we evince not the faith we profess to be consonant unto the Scriptures, the doctrine of the primitive church of the first four general councils, the confessions of the reformed churches beyond the seas, and that in particular of the church of England, we shall acknowledge the condition of things in reference unto that liberty which we humbly desire to be otherwise stated than hitherto we have apprehended. But if this be the condition of our profession, – as we hope it is manifest unto all unprejudiced and ingenuous persons to be, who esteem it their duty not to judge a matter of so great importance before they hear it, – we can hardly think that they give up themselves to the conduct of the meek and holy Spirit of Christ who are ready to breathe out extirpation against us, as to our interest in this world, for the profession of those principles in the things of God which they pretend to build their own interests upon for another.