The symbols of the Reformation are very numerous, but several of them were merely provisional, and subsequently superseded by maturer statements of doctrine. Some far exceed the proper limits of a creed, and are complete systems of theology for the use of the clergy. It was a sad mistake and a source of incalculable mischief to incorporate the results of every doctrinal controversy with the confession of faith, and to bind lengthy discussions, with all their metaphysical distinctions and subtleties, upon the conscience of every minister and teacher. There is a vast difference between theological opinions and articles of faith. The development of theology as a science must go on, and will go on in spite of all these shackles.
As to the theology of the confessions of orthodox Protestantism, we may distinguish in them three elements, the oecumenical, the Augustinian, and the evangelical proper.
1. The oecumenical element. In theology and Christology the Protestant symbols agree with the Greek and Roman Churches, and also in the other articles of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds from the creation of the world to the resurrection of the body.
2. The Augustinian element is found in anthropology, or the doctrines of sin and grace, predestination, and perseverance. Here the Protestant confessions agree with the system of Augustine, who had more influence upon the reformers than any uninspired teacher. The Latin Church during the Middle Ages had gradually fallen into Pelagian and semi-Pelagian doctrines and practices, although these had been condemned in the fifth century. The Calvinistic confessions, however, differ from the Lutheran in the logical conclusions derived from the Augustinian premises, which they hold in common.
3. The Evangelical Protestant and strictly original element is found in soteriology, and in all that pertains to subjective Christianity, or the personal appropriation of salvation. Here belong the doctrines of the rule of faith, of justification by faith, of the nature and office of faith and good works, of the assurance of salvation; here also the protest against all those doctrines of Romanism which are deemed inconsistent with the Scripture principle and with justification by faith. The papacy, the sacrifice of the mass, transubstantiation, purgatory, indulgences, meritorious and hypermeritorious works, the worship of saints, images, and relics are rejected altogether, while the doctrine of the Church and the Sacraments was essentially modified.