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REFORMED MENNONITE SOCIETY.*
BY TIIE REV. JOHN HERR,
STRASBURG, LANCASTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA.
The Mennonite denomination derived its name from Menno Simon, a very zealous and successful reformer ; but, owing to the manner in which he and his followers were persecuted, and his doctrines and views misrepresented, through the malice of his papistical adversaries, his name was never handed down to posterity, side by side with that of Luther, Calvin, and others; though it must be admitted, he did as much towards the enlightening of mankind, and contended with adversaries as powerful, as ever impeded the progress of Luther, and all those illustrious personages, whose names shed such a lustre on the history of the Reformation.
But as there is required a history of the Reformed branch of the Mennonite Society only, it will not fall within the design of this sketch, to trace her history to that dark and superstitious period, when the earth was daily drenched with the blood of the righteous.
How long the followers of Menno, adhered to the doctrines he had inculcated—how long they practised his precepts, and guarded with a jealous eye those divine truths, that he had promulgated, is not exactly known; but we are informed from a source which cannot be doubted, that soon after the persecution ceased, there was a gradual falling off from their former purity, and that they did not carry into effect the doctrines they had formerly taught and professed. From this it is evident, that they became, by degrees, more and more corrupted.
* This article has the sanction of the Rev. John Herr, of Strasburg, a Bishop of this Society.-E..
It was when viewing their fallen state, and on reflecting how they had deviated from the path in which they had formerly trod; how they resisted minor evils, though they were instructed that the New Testament showed expressly, that Christ taught his disciples to resist no evil whatever; in short, it was when contrasting their conditions now, with what they professed then, that a few individuals contemplated the design of restoring them to their former purity. They, for this purpose, met repeatedly, and exchanged in simplicity of heart the sentiments of their minds. They warned the Mennonites of their delusion; but as they were unwilling to be convinced of the errors under which they were labouring, and as those few enlightened souls found it impossible to take part in their proceedings, as long as they remained in their defiled condition, they found it necessary to renovate and renew the whole Mennonite doctrine. They accordingly razed the rubbish to the foundation, on which they commenced building the church of Christ anew. This happened in the year 1811 ; and as their number was continually on the increase, they found it necessary, after much prayer, supplication, and submission to the will of God, to appoint one, from amongst their number, to superintend this desirable work. But as they were all aware that the undertaking was of no ordinary kind; and each one being impressed with the conviction that he was too feeble to take the lead in exposing the evils that arise from holding the laws of God at defiance, and from bringing perverted and sinful souls from darkness unto light, they, as may be readily supposed, felt considerable diffidence about making a choice. It was, for a long time, their general theme for discussion at their private meetings; but, on finding that it was unnecessary to delay it any longer, and being convinced of the necessity of appointing one to fill the ministerial station, they made a choice, which devolved upon John Herr. It was a grievous task-as he himself expresses it—but, owing to the conviction that he had been called by the Almighty to exert himself to the utmost to re-establish the fallen state of the church; and to the powerful appeals and pressing solicitations of his fellow-labourers, he found himself unable to refuse.
And now that they were fairly in the field, they invited the public, and commenced operations with redoubled vigour; and though public opinion has pointed the finger of scorn at their perseverance and exertions; and though their doctrines were despised by the ignorant multitude, and the difficulties they had to surmount not a few, they nevertheless removed every obstacle that was intended to impede their progress, fearless and undismayed; and notwithstanding the predictions to the contrary, by certain individuals, success has crowned their efforts.
Before concluding the first part of this sketch, it will not be amiss, perhaps, to give the reader a passage from the Illustrating Mirror, page 393, written by John Herr.
Speaking about his entering on his ministerial duties, he says: “At last I consented to put my talent to usury, according as God imparted to me the measure of faith, by the influence of his Spirit; to him alone be the praise, who has at all times comforted and supported me in all my infirmities under which I have frequently groaned. Yes, from the depth of my soul I thank the everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, who granted me blessing, power and success in speaking his words without timidity', and made it fruitful in the hearts of many, who, by the hearing of the word, have been brought to believe; yea, have been turned, through Jesus, from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. So I began to labour at this holy city and temple, not only with the word of repentance and faith, but also with the holy baptism, supper, foot-washing and all the apostolical ordinances, and to join the fallen and scattered stones together again for a spiritual body and temple of the Lord. Moreover, the Lord of mercy rendered me assistance, by the word of his power, in bringing the rough and unshapen stones from the mountain of sublimity and carnal reason; which stones, through the hidden power of the Holy Spirit, were, and daily are, changed or dressed, and made brilliant by the rays of eternal light; to the eternal and only wise God, the Father of mercies and all good, be alone the honour and the praise, through Jesus Christ, for ever and ever, Amen."
Regarding the doctrinal points, it becomes necessary to state that the articles of their Confession of Faith have been modified and condensed, as much as is allowable, without destroying the sense, in order to make it as brief and perspicuous as possible.
A representation of the chief Articles of their Christian Faith, as taught
and practised in their Church.
1. They believe, and confess, according to scripture, in one Eternal, Almighty, and Incomprehensible God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and no more, and no other; who works all in all, and is the
Creator of all things visible and invisible; and that he created our first parents after his own image and likeness, in righteousness and true holiness, unto eternal life; and that he endowed them with many and great gifts, and placed them in paradise, and gave them a command and prohibition.
2. They believe and confess, that our first parents were created with a free will, susceptible of change; and that they were at liberty to fear, serve, and obey their Creator, or disobey and forsake him; and that, through the subtlety of the serpent, and the envy of the devil, they transgressed the command of God, and disobeyed their Creator; by which disobedience sin and death came into the world, and thus passed upon all men. They also believe that, by this one sin, they were driven from paradise, became so far fallen, separated, and estranged from God, that neither they nor their posterity, nor any other creature in heaven or on earth, could redeem or reconcile them to God; and that they would have been eternally lost, had not God interposed with his love and mercy.
3. They believe and confess, that God, notwithstanding their fall and transgression, did not wish to cast them away, and have them eternally lost; but that he called them again to him, comforted them, and testified that there was yet a means of reconciliation; namely, that the Son of God, who was appointed unto this purpose before the foundation of the world, and who was promised unto them and their posterity, for their reconciliation and redemption, while yet in paradise, from that time forth was bestowed upon them by faith.
4. They believe and confess, that when the time of the promise was fulfilled, this promised Messiah proceeded from God, was sent, and came into the world, and thus the Word was made flesh and man; they also believe, that his going forth is from everlasting to everlasting, without beginning of days, or end of life; that he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; and, also, that he was God's first and only Son, and who was the Lord of David, and the God of the world.
They further believe, that when he had fulfilled his course, he was delivered into the hands of the wicked; was crucified, dead, and buried ; rose again on the third day, ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the majesty of God; from whence he will come again to judge the quick and the dead. And that through his death, and the shedding of his blood for all men, he bruised the serpent's head, destroyed the works of the devil, and obtained the forgiveness of sins for the whole human family. 5. They believe and confess, that previously to his ascension he instituted and left his New Testament, which he confirmed and sealed with his blood, and commended it so highly to his disciples, that it is not to be altered, nor added to, nor diminished. And that, inasmuch as it contains the whole will of his heavenly Father, he has caused it to be promulgated over the earth, and appointed apostles, missionaries, and ministers, to teach it in his name to all people, nations, and tongues; and has therein declared all men his children and lawful heirs, provided they live up to the same by faith.
6. They believe and confess, that the first lesson of the New Testament of the Son of God is repentance and reformation; hence it is their opinion, that men must reform their lives, believe in the gospel, desist from sin, forsake unrighteousness, sacrifice the old man with all his works, and put on the new man created after God in unsullied holiness.
7. As regards baptism, they confess, that all penitent believers, who by faith, regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, are made one with God must, upon their scriptural confession of faith, and reformation of life, be baptized with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, agreeably to the doctrine and commandment of Christ; whereupon they must learn to observe all which the Son of God taught and commanded his disciples.
8. They believe and confess a visible Church of God; namely, those that are made one with God in heaven, and received into the fellowship of the saints here on earth. They also confess, that the same are the chosen people, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, and the children and heirs of everlasting life, a dwelling-place of God in the spirit, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ being the chief corner-stone, upon which the church is built ; and this church must be known, by her obedience to her supreme Head and King; in all matters of faith to obey him, and to keep all his commandments; and as a virgin and bride forsakes father, mother, and all strange company, and yields herself to the will of her bridegroom, so all the true children of God, must separate from all false worship, flee from the voice of strangers, and give ear unto no one, except Christ and his commissioned ministers.
9. With regard to the offices and elections of the church, they believe and confess, that the Lord Jesus Christ himself instituted and ordained offices, and ordinances, and gave directions how every one
, should do that which is right and necessary; and further, that he provided his church, before his departure, with ministers, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, in order that they might govern the church, watch over his flock, and defend and provide for it; and that the apostles likewise elected brethren, and provided every city, place, or