Friday, November 7, 2014

The True Confession of 1596 and the Regulative Principle of the State


The True Confession of 1596 was a Separatist confession thought to be written by Francis Johnson and Henry Ainsworth. The following summarizes its background:
Two leaders of a young Separatist church, Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood, were imprisoned [in England - SH] in 1586, but in 1589 they sent from prison a simple church creed called A Trve Description ovt of the Word of Godof the visible Church.  The creed did not concern itself with doctrinal matters since the congregation was already of one mind in holding Calvinistic views. 
In the summer of 1593 there was a change of policy on the part of the government toward the Separatists.  While their leaders remained in prison, the dissenters left England for Holland.  Most of the emigrants reached Holland in 1595 where the church was re-gathered.  Desiring to make clear its doctrinal position and its ecclesiology, in view of the threats of attacks, the church prepared in 1596 a new creed, the shortened title of which is A Truve Confession.  The seven Particular Baptist Churches of London used this confession as a model when they drew up their earliest confession in 1644.  Thus, the Separatist Confession entered into Baptist life.[1]   
(We must note that this confession was not properly Baptistic, since it adhered to infant baptism.)

On this confession, Williston Walker writes:
The creed itself consists of forty-five articles, treating some of doctrine, others of polity. In matters of belief they are in substantial harmony with the positions of the Calvinistic churches of the Continent, and with the Puritan wing of the Church of England. On these heads their creed is but little more than a re-affirmation of the current beliefs of a vast majority of the Protestant churches at that day.[2]
This confession was adhered to by the Separatists who went on to settle in the famous Plymouth Colony (the Pilgrims). Donald Burke shows this by pointing out that in the church they attended in Leiden (the Netherlands) prior to coming to America, the confession was affirmed by its members.[3]

Article 39: Rulers Should Destroy Idolatry, Defend the True Church, and Rule According to Scripture

According to Article 39 of the confession, rulers have a duty to suppress false ministries, false religions, and idolatry. By contrast, they are to protect the church, and to protect and maintain the good in general. Moreover, as God's lieutenants, they must punish and restrain evil according to God's word:
39. That it is the office and duty of princes and magistrates, who by the ordinance of God are supreme governors under Him over all persons and causes within their realms and dominions, to suppress and root out by their authority all false ministries, voluntary religions and counterfeit worship of God, to abolish and destroy the idol temples, images, altars, vestments, and all other monuments of idolatry and superstition and to take and convert to their own civil uses not only the benefit of all such idolatrous buildings and monuments, but also the revenues, demesnes, lordships, possessions, glebes and maintenance of any false ministries and unlawful ecclesiastical functions whatsoever within their Dominions. And on the other hand to establish and maintain by their laws every part of God's word His pure religion and true ministry to cherish and protect all such as are careful to worship God according to His word, and to lead a godly life in all peace and loyalty; yea to enforce all their subjects whether ecclesiastical or civil, to do their duties to God and men, protecting and maintaining the good, punishing and restraining the evil according as God hath commanded, whose lieutenants they are here on earth.[4] 
This section includes the following prooftexts from both the Old and New Testament: 1 Romans 13:3, 4; 1 Peter 2:3 [should be 13], 14; 2 Chronicles 19:4. etc. and chapters 29 and 34; Judges 17:5, 6; Matthew 22:21; Titus 3:1; 2 Kings 23:5, etc.; Psalm 110; Deuteronomy 12:2, 3 with 17:14, 18-20; 2 Kings 10:26-28; 2 Chronicles 17:6; Proverbs 16: 12 and 25:2-5; Acts 19:27; Revelation 17:16; Deuteronomy 17:14, 18-20; Joshua 1:7, 8; 2 Chronicles 17:4, 7-9 and 19:4 etc. and chapters 29 and 30; Daniel 6:25, 26; Psalm 2:10-12 and 72:1 etc.; Isaiah 49:23; Revelation 21:24; Ezra 7:26.

Deuteronomy 17:18-20 and Joshua 1:7, 8, cited as a prooftexts, forbid rulers from turning from God's word to the right hand or the left. The former reads:
And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the leftso that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)


[1] "English Separatist-Baptist Confessions," The Reformed Reader. Retrieved October 27, 2014 from
[2] Williston Walker, The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1893), 44, 45. 
[3] Donald Burke, New England New Jerusalem: The Millenarian Dimension of Transatlantic Migration. A Study in the Theology of History (Detroit, MI: ProQuest, 2006), 133.
[4] Cited in Walker, The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, 71, 72. We have modernized the spelling. Regarding defending the church, Article 41 also reads: "That if God incline the magistrates' hearts to the allowance and protection of them therein they account it a happy blessing of God who granteth such nursing fathers and nursing mothers to His church, and be careful to walk worthy so great a mercy of God in all thankfulness and obedience." Ibid., 72.

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