[JEWISH VIEWS AT THE TIME OF CHRIST.]
At the time of Christ’s appearance in the flesh, the great body of the Jewish doctors, as well as the common people, appear to have had very indistinct and inaccurate conceptions of the way in which salvation is to be attained by man. Instead of regarding the sacrifices offered up under the Jewish dispensation, as designed to direct their attention to Messiah, and fix their faith upon him, and as teaching them to found all their hopes of pardon upon his obedience and sufferings; they built their expectations of redemption, immediately upon the rigid observance of the precepts of the Mosaic ritual. Lest this might be somewhere deficient, they had recourse to another expedient. The Rabbins affirmed, that while Moses was in the Mount, God delivered to him, beside that law which was written out, a great number of precepts, to be delivered orally to Joshua, and the priests. They even taught, that these precepts were more holy than those which are contained in the written law. This they gave as the reason why Moses was prohibited from writing them. They were too sacred for the eyes of the vulgar. This oral law, the Rabbins declared, had been transmitted in all its original purity and perfection, from priest to priest, until it had reached themselves, who were then its venerable repositories. Hence it was called, “the traditions of the elders.” By the doctors, it was detailed to the ignorant and deluded multitude. The duties which this law, clothed with such imaginary dignity, prescribed, were no more than a multitude of solemn trifles; such as to wash cups and platters, not to eat with unwashen hands, &c. A strict attention to these unmeaning and foolish ceremonies, was esteemed by these ignorant teachers and besotted people, of more importance, and more meritorious in the sight of God, than the fulfilment of the great and solemn duties of religion and morality, enjoined in the law and the prophets. With this blind and unmeaning attention to things so insignificant, Christ reproaches the scribes and Pharisees: [Matt. 23:23-25.] “Woe unto you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Woe unto you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” Christ also charges them with setting aside the law of God, by their blind devotion to this traditionary law. [Matt. 15:3,6.] “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your traditions.” “Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your traditions.”
Labouring under such a blind attachment to the senseless commands of an ignorant and hypocritical priesthood, it is impossible they could have had any accurate views of that infinitely valuable atoning sacrifice of Christ, which was typically exhibited in the offering of the blood of bulls and of goats, and which was shortly to be offered up by the great high priest of our profession. It seems indeed that they were utterly ignorant of it. With this shameful ignorance Caiaphas, their own high priest, upbraids them. [John 11:50.] “And one of them, named Caiaphas, being high priest that same year, said unto them, ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” Thus this priest, speaking by divine inspiration, not only reproved their ignorance, but instructed them in the nature and objects of the death of Christ. He was to die for Israel, that they might by his death, be freed from that destruction, which otherwise avenging justice would cause to fall upon them.
Among these blind and carnal Jews, the opposition to the atonement, and pleading the value of good works, as meriting salvation, commenced. Among the instructions which Christ tendered to that degenerate and ungrateful people, the lessons which he delivered on the objects of his mission relative to the expiatory nature of his death and sufferings, and his reproofs calculated to turn them from their doctrinal and practical errors on this subject, hold a conspicuous place. But their obstinacy was immoveable; the darkness which enveloped their understandings tangible, and their ignorance invincible. All the salutary instructions which he gave them, they ignorantly or maliciously perverted. When he spoke of his death and resurrection, under the metaphor of throwing down and rebuilding a temple; they extracted out of this an accusation; they represented him as having proudly boasted, that were the Jewish temple thrown down, he would rebuild it in three days. The Apostles also directed their heaviest artillery against the strong holds in which the Jews had entrenched themselves, relative to the atonement. It appears that many of the Jewish converts, after they were proselyted to the faith of the gospel, still retained those false views, which, relative to the merit of good works, they had imbibed from the Jewish doctors. Some of these doctors, who embraced Jesus as the true Messiah, taught in Rome, about the middle of the first century, that good works were meritorious, that they ought to be depended upon for salvation. Their opinions on this subject, however, made very little progress among the gentile converts. Though the controversy was agitated with a degree of warmth proportioned to the importance of the subject in discussion, yet it appears to have been of short duration.
[THE JEWISH RABBIS VERSUS THE APOSTLES.]
One grand object which the apostle Paul had in view, in the epistle to the Hebrews, was to remove the dangerous prejudices, which the Jewish proselytes had imbibed from their legal teachers, on this cardinal doctrine of the Christian system; and to deliver a lucid view of the nature of Christ’s priesthood; and to establish on an immoveable basis the glorious and consolatory truth of the atonement. So irresistible are the evidences which that apostle adduces, in favour of this doctrine, that Priestley, one of the most learned of the Socinian doctors of the last century, charges the author of the epistle to the Hebrews with inaccuracy, in his reasoning on the priestly office, and expiatory offering of Christ.
It was probably the epistle which this apostle wrote to the Christians in Rome, that excited the Jewish Rabbins to enter the lists of controversy. On the insufficiency of our own good works, for our justification, nothing can be more decisive than the epistle to the Romans. There can be no doubt but that the influence which it had over the minds of the Christians at Rome, prevented the legal doctrines of the Jewish doctors from spreading, and finally put an end to the controversy.
[THE VIEWS OF THE CHURCH FATHERS.]
Those writers, who flourished in the church from the age of the apostles, till sometime in the fifth century, have been denominated fathers. The distance at which we are placed from the times in which they wrote, our difficulty in procuring accurate information relative to the controversies which then disturbed the peace of the church, and our ignorance of the precise sense, at that time affixed to various words, used in those polemical discussions, render it, in some instances, almost impossible to ascertain with accuracy, their opinions on some of the most important doctrines of the Christian system. It may also be added, that they often express their ideas with less perspicuity than we could wish. Hence it has happened that in many theological controversies of latter ages, each of the parties employed in managing these debates has attempted, and sometimes with the appearance of success, to entrench themselves behind the authority of the ancient fathers. We are anxious to learn what opinions generally prevailed in those ages, which were so near the days of Christ, and his apostles; as we naturally and rationally think that the great body of Christians, then, were less likely to fall into error, than those who are more remote from the times in which the founders of the Christian church lived. But in addition to the difficulties before enumerated, it ought not to be forgotten, that there are many articles of the Christian religion, which the early fathers have scarcely touched upon in any of their works. Their passing over these doctrines in silence, or bestowing upon them no more than a passing notice, arose from the objects on which they employed their pens. They rarely or rather never attempted a systematic elucidation of the truths of the Christian system. A great part of their labours were devoted to the defense of revealed religion against the impious attacks of infidels, who, at a very early period unmasked all their batteries against the Bible. Another field in which they signalized themselves, was that wherein they attacked, and triumphantly repelled the numerous errors, and heresies, that early invaded the church. In each of these conflicts they wielded the arms of truth with great effect, and acquired for themselves a title to the admiration of all succeeding ages. But it is manifest from the circumstances, which called forth their talents as writers, that when any article of their creed, was not assailed, a full display of their views on that article is not to be expected. After all, it would be strange, if they had attached to the doctrine of the atonement as much importance in the work of man’s salvation, as the great body of modern protestant divines have done, and yet had passed it by in total silence. They have not done so. On the contrary, they have transmitted to us their most decisive testimony in favour of this great truth; and that in a voice loud enough, and in a language perspicuous enough, to be heard and understood, at this remote period; distant from them seventeen or eighteen hundred years.
Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho a Jew, [page 177.] when speaking of the death of Christ says: “This is the laver of salvation which those who repent obtain; the sins of those who repent are not now expiated by the blood of goats and sheep, by the ashes of an heifer, nor by such oblations, but through faith, by the blood and death of Christ, who died for that purpose; as Isaiah saith, &c.” Here the father plainly maintains the doctrine of the atonement. When he asserts that expiation is not now made by the offering of victims, such as were sacrificed under the Jewish economy, and that the object of Christ’s death and sufferings was to make expiation, he must necessarily include the atonement, which is embraced in expiation. He elsewhere [page 252.] clearly asserts that the curse due to sinners was laid upon Christ. “If therefore,” says he, “God the father of the families of the universe, appointed his son to take upon himself the curse of the whole human family, knowing that crucified and dead, he would raise him up, &c.” The curse is used in this place, by a common figure of speech for the effects of the curse. The expression, “whole human family,” which this, and other fathers use when treating of the atonement, is explained by themselves in other places to mean, that “Christ died sufficiently for all men, and efficiently, for the elect.” This still is an obscure mode of stating their views relative to the extent of the atonement. I understand them to mean; that had God destined the death of Christ for the salvation of every individual of the human family, its value was adequate to such an extensive object; but that however valuable the atonement of Christ may be, yet the elect only will be saved by it, as God has limited its efficiency to them.
It appears, from Justin’s introducing these remarks in favour of the atonement, into a work professedly written against the Jews, that this degraded and apostate people were the great enemies of the atonement, at that time.
Justin Martyr, flourished about the middle of the second century; less than one hundred years after the days of the apostles. He was at first a Pagan philosopher. In the celebrated Stoic, Peripatetic, Pythagorean, and Platonic schools of philosophy, he sought with ardour, for satisfactory views of the divine character. He was disappointed. In the Christian religion he found that light which he desired, embraced the faith of the gospel, and became one of its ablest advocates; united himself to the church, and was one of its brightest ornaments. The doctrine of the atonement, which many professors of Christianity consider as offering indignity to the divine character, was no obstacle to Justin’s embracing the gospel. He was a man distinguished for his ardent piety, and possessed a considerable share of the most valuable learning of that age. As he lived so near the days of the apostles, and as he was not in his own time charged by any Christian with having erroneous views of the atonement, it must be admitted, even by its enemies, that there is the greatest probability of his holding, on this subject, the doctrines taught by the apostles, and generally embraced in the church.
At the instigation of Crescens, a cynic philosopher, he was persecuted to the death, and has been hence called the martyr. [Mosheim’s ecclesiastical history, v. i.]
Tertullian, a native of Carthage, who lived in the latter part of the second century, in a book which he wrote against the Jews, maintains the doctrine of the atonement. He says that “Christ, was lead as a lamb to the slaughter, was dumb as a sheep before its shearers, that he might become a sacrifice for all nations.” [Lib. adversus Judios, c. 13.] Tertullian was a man of warm, and vigorous imagination, and in many instances permitted his imagination to lead his judgment aside from the path of truth. The doctrine of the atonement, however, was one of too sacred a nature for even the imagination of Tertullian to meddle with. This remark may also be made with respect to Origen, who, in the beginning of the third century, distinguished himself not only by his great learning, research, and zeal in diffusing among the nations a knowledge of the religion of Jesus, but also by his corrupting many of its doctrines, and mixing with them extravagant fancies, borrowed from the Platonic philosophy. He was principal of the Alexandrian school: and on a journey to Achaia, was ordained a presbyter by the bishops of Cesarea and Jerusalem. His opinions were condemned in two councils, and in the latter, he was degraded from his office. Yet with all his great fondness for innovation, he never presumed to deny, or even new-model the received doctrine of the church, relative to the atonement. On the contrary, he clearly and expressly maintains the doctrine of Christ’s having been offered up as an atoning sacrifice. “If,” says he, [Homil. iv. in Numer.] “sin had not entered into the world, there would have been no need for the Son of God to become a lamb; nor would it have been necessary that he should become flesh in order to his being crucified, but he would have remained what he was from the beginning, God the Word. However, as sin has entered into the world, of necessity there must be a propitiation for sin; a propitiation cannot be made without a victim: hence there must be provided a victim for sin.” In his comment upon Matthew, chapter 16, he says: “Man indeed can give nothing in exchange for his soul, but God can, even the precious blood of his Son; for we are not bought with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of an immaculate lamb.”
Had it been the received doctrine of the church in the age of Origen, that men are to be saved by the merit of their own good works, and that Christ did not die to make a propitiation for our sins, but only to set an example of holiness and patience; the doctrine taught in these passages would have been esteemed heresy. Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, was a violent enemy of Origen; called councils, and had him condemned. Would Demetrius have failed to charge Origen with holding heretical opinions relative to the atonement, if he had departed from the faith of the church in a point of such importance? Certainly not. As we hear nothing of a charge of heresy relative to the atonement, brought against this father, notwithstanding the great interest, and violent dissentions, which he and his peculiar tenets excited in the church, we may warrantably conclude, that the doctrines which he taught on that subject, were the doctrines of the church in that age. This conclusion is at least fair with respect to the church in Egypt. We have still farther evidence, that the doctrine of the atonement was embraced by the African churches. It is distinctly taught by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who was for a part of his life contemporary with Origen. Cyprian was a profound and elegant scholar, his eloquence was flowing and persuasive, and his piety ardent and exalted. This great and good man was crowned with martyrdom in the year 258. [Mosheim, vol. i.]
“Christ,” says this father, “bore us all, and it is he who bore our sins.” [Epis. 63. ad. Cecil parag. 9. lib. x.] In his work on the passion of Christ, addressing himself to our Redeemer, he passionately exclaims, “Pilate declared that in thee, there was no cause of death. Caiaphas, as he was high priest that year, prophesied that thy death should satisfy for the sins of a people unfriendly to thee.” Again he says, “no remedy could be found for our original death unless in the death of Christ, nor was it possible to reconcile to God condemned exiles, by any offering, unless by the glorious sacrifice of the blood of Christ.” Thus it appears as far as we have the means of ascertaining, at this distant period, that, except by a few Judaizing teachers, the doctrine of the divine atonement was not called in question, during three hundred years from the birth of Christ. The primitive Christians rejoiced in the consolation which this truth is calculated to impart, to all who are sensible of their weakness, and who in good earnest seek for salvation.
From Africa, let us direct our view to Judea, the fountain of gospel truth, both in old and new testament times. There we find the doctors of the church, teaching the same doctrine of the atonement, which we found were taught in other regions. Eusebius Pamphilus, bishop of Cesarea, the justly celebrated ecclesiastical historian, gives, without any equivocation his suffrage in favour of this scriptural doctrine of atonement. When speaking of the way in which sinners are restored to the divine favour, he says: [De Demonstra Evangel. c. i.] “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was made a curse for us. God made him to be sin for us, although he knew no sin; he was constituted a Saviour, through being substituted in the room of us all, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” He says again, “Not only does the lamb of God effect these things, but he is also made the author of the pardon of our sins, by suffering in our stead, that punishment which he had not deserved, but which we had merited by the multitude of our sins. Christ suffered death in our room, and took upon himself the pains, distresses, and ignominy which were due to us, and, transferring from us to himself the curse, which was suspended over us, he was made a curse for us.”
Such are the opinions of Eusebius on this subject. They were doubtless embraced in his day, by the greater part, probably by all Christians in Judea. This learned and great man lived in the time of Constantine the great, and was a special favorite with that prince. Ancient Christian writers, bear the most ample testimony in his favour. They speak of him as a great and good man, and pious bishop. Indeed, he needs not their eulogies to convince posterity of his worth. His own works, which have come down to our times, especially the work from which the above quotations are made, and his church history, hold up a portrait of his character, the features of which, no competent, and unprejudiced judge can mistake. It has, indeed, become fashionable, in our times, even among those who call themselves Christians, to depreciate not only the character of Eusebius, but of the whole Christian church in his time. That happy time which the spirit of prophecy designates as half an hour of rest and peace in the church, which all commentators admit was the time of Constantine, is fixed upon by some, as a time of the most boundless depravity. One would have expected to find all true Christians, unite in blessing God for the events which then took place. Then it was that the glorious gospel of God vanquished the Roman empire, and, in some respects, broke in pieces the great image spoken of in Daniel, and filled the whole earth. Then princes upon their thrones and in their palaces, were not ashamed to acknowledge themselves the disciples of Jesus. A comparison between those and our times, will furnish us with a reason for the aversion which worldly minded professors manifest to the church in the days of her triumph. That events took place in that period which are greatly to be deplored, cannot be questioned. That Constantine, who was made the instrument in the hand of providence, to introduce the Christian religion to the throne of the Cæsars, was a man of genuine piety, rests upon testimony very equivocal. His views of church order and of the doctrine of grace were at least very imperfect. He was more ambitious of his own glory, than to promote the welfare of the church of God, and the interests of truth and holiness: He modelled the government of the church after the forms of civil order in the empire, and assumed to himself the supreme government of the church, which a faithless or misguided bishop delivered into his hands without one effort to preserve the independence of the judicatories of God’s house. Thus there were entailed upon the church, miseries under which she yet groans.
[EARLY HERESIES AS DENIAL OF THE ATONEMENT.]
But of all the evils which date their rise from that period, none are more to be deplored than those which arose from the corruption or denial of the doctrine of the atonement. Before that time no one who had any claim to be a disciple of Jesus, had dared to deny this fundamental article of the Christian faith. Celsus who vehemently attacked the Holy Scriptures as a fiction, imposed upon the world for truth, had masked the doctrine of atonement. But he was an infidel. No error indeed, of any great consequence, had disturbed the peace of Zion, without assailing in some point this doctrine. In the time of Constantine, it was totally denied; or at least a foundation was laid for its entire rejection, by a sect who called themselves Christians. This sect arose in Alexandria in Egypt.
There had existed in the church, from an early period, considerable variety of opinion, relative to the doctrine of the trinity. The Sabellians denied that there are three persons in the Godhead, and held the opinion that the Deity acts in three capacities: that as Father, he plans the work of man’s salvation, as Son, accomplishes it, and as Holy Spirit, applies it for the actual redemption of sinners. This doctrine was condemned by the church as heretical. A great majority of the Christian bishops, while they believed in a trinity of persons and unity of essence, considered the doctrine a mystery beyond human comprehension, and contented themselves generally with the use of the very words of scripture, in stating their views.
In an assembly held at Alexandria, Arius, one of the presbyters, a turbulent man, denied that the Son, or Christ Jesus, was of the essence of the Father, and affirmed that the doctrine which he opposed, was nearly allied to the Sabellian heresy. He did not stop here. He boldly asserted that the Son was not a divine person, that he was a mere creature, which God had created before any other, and that he possessed only an angelic nature, more exalted in power or intellect than any other created intelligence. Thus did this man open a fountain from which copious streams of error and heresy have flowed in all succeeding ages. The rejection of Messiah’s atonement, was necessarily a part of the system of Arius. If Christ was a mere creature, he must like all other creatures, be subject to the law for himself, and so his fulfilment of its precepts could not be imputed to fallen sinners for their justification. Error is congenial to the depraved heart of man. The heresy of Arius was soon embraced by great numbers of professors in the African churches, and in the neighbouring Asiatic churches; and a flame of dissention was lighted up, which fifteen centuries have not been able to extinguish.
[THE NICENE COUNCIL.]
Vigorous exertions were made by the friends of truth to check the progress of these baleful heresies. A general council was summoned and met in 325, at Nice in Bithynia. The council was well attended. Many of the members endeavoured to defend the tenets of Arius. But they were condemned, and Arius himself banished. At this council was formed the famous Nicene creed, in which it is asserted that the Son is consubstantial, or of the same essence with the Father. The object of the council, in forming this creed, was to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the heretical and the orthodox. They believed that the dogmas of the turbulent Egyptian, were utterly subversive of the very foundations of the Christian system, and tore away every pillar upon which the building of mercy is erected. They were strangers to that pretended liberality, which mingles heresy and truth in one mass of disorder, and renders the church a scene of confusion, more confounded than that at the tower of Babel. Every minister of religion was ordered, under pain of the church’s highest censure, to sign the creed. Errorists and heretics were generally as pliable in that age as they have been since. Many signed the creed, but did not renounce the heresy. This council was called and the proceedings sanctioned by the emperor Constantine, the great.
All the power of the church and state thus exerted, did not avail to root out and destroy the Arian heresies. Arius continued with the most indefatigable zeal to propagate his doctrines among the Illyrians, to whose country he had been banished; and had his efforts been confined to that region, the evil would not have been so deplorable. He, and his friends, found means to gain the imperial favour. Constantine, who recalled Arius from banishment, embraced his heresy, and reinstated him in his dignities.
The opposition made by the bishops of the church to the opinions of Arius, the extraordinary agitation into which the church was thrown by their promulgation, their condemnation by a general council, and the creed framed by the same council, prove incontestably that they were new. Had they been, previously to that time, the commonly received opinions of the church, it is utterly impossible that the avowal of them, in the assembly of Alexandria, could have procured such a general excitement. Their novelty, as well as their destructive tendency alarmed the church, which would probably have purged herself effectually of these monstrous corruptions, had it not been for the unholy and tyrannical interference of the emperor.
[ARIANISM AND THE RISE OF ANTICHRIST.]
The high favour into which Arius was taken by Constantine, and the adoption of his heresies by that prince, greatly hastened the corruption of the church, in relation to her worship, discipline and government. All nations have had sacrifices. A sense of the imperfections of their works, and a sense of their sins, have taught them that some other means than those of their own good works, must be resorted to, in order to secure the favour of Heaven. As Arianism, comprehending a denial of the doctrine of atonement, became the religion of the imperial court, and consequently fashionable, a reliance upon the merit of good works was the only expedient for procuring the pardon of sin, and the favour of Heaven. This was soon found to be inadequate. Hence originated a prodigious number of superstitious observances. This heresy as well as all others, cools the ardour of devotion, and diminishes the love of professing Christians for God; thus a pompous worship must be established to excite the admiration of the gaping multitude. A general profligacy of manners, both among the faithless priesthood who ministered at the altar, and among the laity soon followed. All these paved the way, and accelerated the approach of the “man of sin” and “mystery of iniquity” who made his appearance in all his ghostly honours in the year 606, when Phocas emperor of Constantinople, completed, by declaring Gregory, bishop of Rome, universal head of the church, what Constantine had begun.
From that period, and indeed for a considerable time before, the hopes of salvation possessed by many nominal Christians, were not placed in the righteousness of Messiah; but in penances, monastic seclusion, the benedictions of cunning and avaricious priests, and the minute observance of an endless variety of childish, unmeaning, or vicious ceremonies. When men cease to look to God for salvation, they must have recourse to other means, of their own foolish invention, to appease the clamours of a guilty conscience. The whole history of the Roman Catholic church, from the days of Constantine, to the commencement of the reformation in Germany, affords ample illustration and confirmation of this truth.
The persecutions which the Christians endured under the reign of the Cæsars, before the empire became Christian, drove many of the most excellent and faithful of the servants of Heaven, into the valleys of the Alps, where, in worldly poverty, they enjoyed in its pristine purity, the religion of the bible. There they worshipped Christ as God. There they reposed in the hope of a blessed immortality, founded upon the glorious atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. There they lived in peace, far from the heresies, idolatries, heathenish ceremonies, and other corruptions, which deformed and degraded the great national churches of the remainder of Europe.
The history of this excellent people is little known. They were not numbered among the nations. We know however, that on the doctrine of the atonement and other capital articles of the Christian system, they did not depart from the ancient purity and simplicity of gospel truth. For nearly one thousand years they lived in a great measure unnoticed and unknown. They were discovered by the Roman pontiff and his satellites in the thirteenth century. A warlike spirit had been awakened during the preceding centuries, when all the power of Europe had directed its energies against the Turks of Asia. This military spirit and power were governed by fanaticism, and by a blind and furious zeal. With a view to exterminate those friends of peace and truth from the face of the earth, a crusade was proclaimed against them by Innocent III; and from that date they had no rest. The fury of their adversaries poured itself upon them, like the resistless torrent from their native mountain sides. They were no warriors. They were soon scattered into all the kingdoms of Europe. Persecution followed them, wherever they fled. In Bohemia, where they were collected in great numbers, the rage of persecution was peculiarly furious. Long they resisted, but were compelled at last to yield. The Bohemian brethren, rejected all other ground of hope for salvation, than the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Priestly indulgences, priestly pardon, priestly penances, priestly masses and priestly ceremonies, were not the means to which the Waldenses, and Bohemian Christians resorted to obtain the absolution of their sins. They looked to God himself for pardon through the blood of his Son. This struck at the root of the papal corruption, wealth and power, and irritated to the highest pitch the wrath of the see of Rome. These commotions awakened a spirit of inquiry and general excitation, and a general council was called. It was composed of Roman catholic clergy. Before it appeared John Huss, and Jerome of Prague, two of the most distinguished advocates for the truth. Their eloquent defense, especially that of Jerome, astonished all who heard it, and challenged the applause even of their adversaries. But it could not save them. The fire had been kindled before, and they were marked out as victims to be offered up. By an order of this sanguinary council, they were led to the stake, and died martyrs to the truth of the atonement. This took place early in the sixteenth century.
The crushing of the Bohemian armies and the cutting off of the most distinguished divines by the sword, did not destroy the cause in which they were engaged. It provoked discussion and opened the eyes of thousands to the corruptions which had for ages been accumulating in the church. All these, or nearly all, may be traced to erroneous views of the atonement, and of the person and character of him by whom it was made. Long the pilgrimages, the penances, the ceremonies, &c. prescribed by the priests were thought to be sufficient to procure pardon. Some doubt, however, existed. Other means, or additional supports must be devised, to secure the confidence of the multitude, and assure them that their salvation was safe. Confession of sin to the priests, and their granting of pardon, had been practiced for many ages. At first these pardons were attempted to be justified on the ground of the commission given by Christ to his disciples; and as an auxiliary to fortify such a stretch of power, the doctrine relative to works of supererogation was invented. The substance of this monstrous invention, was that many saints by their fastings, pilgrimages, penances, prayers, benefactions to the church, &c. had done much more than was necessary to their own personal justification. These works were termed, “works of supererogation,” which taken together, it was pretended, formed an extensive fund of merit, deposited in the hands of priests. When any one applied for absolution, so much of the stock was measured out to him as the priest thought sufficient to ensure his pardon, which he pronounced accordingly. But these corrupters of the religion of Jesus, did not stop here. Not only did they arrogate to themselves the right to remit past sins, they also professed to have a right to grant dispensations to commit them with impunity. These were called “indulgences.” A scale was graduated, by which they measured the amount of the sin to be committed, and the price to be paid for the license. A privilege to commit the very highest crimes might be purchased. These indulgences constituted a source of extraordinary profit to the Roman pontiffs and their dependents, and missionaries were appointed and sent out into the various kingdoms of Europe, to sell them on commission, for the see of Rome.
[THE TIME OF REFORMATION.]
No empire was more infested with these harpies than Germany. The most distinguished of them was John Tetzel, and Germany was his field of operation. He extolled, with the most pompous declamation, the merit and efficacy of indulgences, and in the warmth of his zeal he declared that they were more efficacious than the merits of Christ Jesus. The kings of Europe, as well as the petty princes, were indignant at the impositions that were thus practiced upon their subjects, by means of which the bishop of Rome laid their states under such heavy contributions, as exhausted their wealth. But so potent was the spell which bound princes and emperors to the car of the pontiff, that few of them dared to prohibit the sale of indulgences in their dominions. As the evil had originated in the church, from the bosom of the church the remedy proceeded. The spirit of enquiry which was diffused over Europe, by the persecuted Christians, who had fled from the Alps, had become too bold, to permit such absurd and extravagant pretensions to pass without examination.
[ZWINGLI AND LUTHER.]
It was in Switzerland, that a spirit of free enquiry, leading to important and glorious results, first manifested itself. There can be no doubt that this circumstance was in a great measure owing to the local position of that republic, in the neighborhood of those valleys where truth for many ages had found a place of refuge. The most distinguished of the divines who carried on their enquiries with freedom and boldness was Zuinglius. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, this excellent man dared to call in question the power of the catholic priests to forgive sin, and maintained that our iniquities are pardoned only in consequence of the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus, received by faith for our justification. Not long after the Swiss reformer erected the standard of truth upon the Alps, the impostures of the missionaries, whom the pontiff had sent into Germany to sell indulgences, were the occasion of bringing to light a very extraordinary man, destined of God to be a principal instrument in effecting the most beneficent revolution that the world has experienced since the days of the apostles—a man of great learning, uncommon zeal, ardent piety, and an intrepidity, that set at defiance the whole power of the Roman pontiff, though supported by all the crowned heads of Europe—a man who thought with so much freedom and boldness as to call in question opinions which for ages had been held most sacred, and the renunciation of which was thought by whole empires, to lead to inevitable perdition. I mean Martin Luther. He was born at Eisleben in Germany, was educated for the church, and took orders among the Austin monks. In his cell he found a portion of the New Testament in Greek, which he read with care. It awakened in him a desire to study the sacred scriptures in the original languages. His learning procured him a place in the college of Wittenberg. Tetzel, the vender of indulgences, came into his neighborhood, and declaimed in his usual style respecting their efficacy. The gross manner in which he outraged all truth and decency, aroused the indignation of Luther. He opposed him. At first the views of the great German reformer on the manner of a sinner’s justification before God seem not to have been very distinct. He clearly perceived, however, that it could never be obtained, through the indulgences which were vending by the priests. He commenced a minute examination of the scriptures, with a view to ascertain the doctrine which it taught relative to the atonement. This doctrine, indeed, was the pivot upon which the reformation turned. At every step new light burst upon his mind. His doctrines were eagerly embraced by thousands, who were delighted to find that anyone had the boldness to call in question the dogmas of the bishop of Rome and his creatures. The effulgence shed upon the path of immortality attracted the gaze both of the common people and of princes. The elector of Saxony, the landgrave of Hesse, and many other German princes of distinction, embraced the truth as taught by Luther, and afforded him protection against the fury of the Roman pontiff, as well as against that of Charles V. emperor of Germany. Luther not only preached, but also published his opinions through the medium of the press. The truth which he enforced with the greatest earnestness, as the rallying point, in which the others concentered themselves, was, “that man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law.” The extent of the atonement, he seems never to have examined with any great attention. Its truth, which had been obscured for many centuries, over a great part of those nations that called themselves Christian, engaged so much of his powers of investigation and reasoning, that he had little time to devote to ascertain for whom precisely it was made. He maintained, however, most distinctly, that Christ was substituted in the room of sinners, and suffered the penalty of the broken covenant of works, which those who are saved would otherwise have suffered in their own persons; that his obedience to the precept of the law, and his suffering the penalty which it denounces, constitute that satisfaction which he offered to divine justice; and that there is no other way by which the sinner can attain to a saving interest in this righteousness, than by receiving Christ Jesus by faith, which is therefore called saving or justifying faith. All these points are discussed with a perspicuity, and enforced by a soundness of argumentation, which may improve the most enlightened Christian, even at the present time. His commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, contains the substance of his views and reasonings on this all-important subject.
All the power of the German princes, who espoused the cause of the reformers, could not have saved them from destruction, had not the Head of the church caused the machinery of the nations to protect the friends of the atonement. He who on the cross, “bowed his head” and said of the atonement, it is finished, employed Suleiman, the head of the Ottoman empire, Francis I. of France, and Henry VIII. of England, to engage the attention of Charles V. until the instruments whom he had raised up for the illustration of the truth, had brought their work to a state of perfection, which nothing could destroy. Hence, though while Luther was diffusing from both the pulpit and the press, those obnoxious doctrines, the emperor had not leisure to direct the force of the empire against him and his adherents to crush them. Correct habits of thinking, relative to the atonement, had become habitual to the mass of the people, throughout some of the most extensive circles of the empire. Luther had translated the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments into German, and they were read with eagerness by millions. A powerful body of learned and industrious, zealous and pious clergy, had organized themselves into a society, separate from the Romish church. They, with many princes, had bound themselves by a solemn covenant, to adhere to the truth at every hazard. A catechism, composed chiefly by Luther, was considered a standard of orthodoxy in the faith, in the Lutheran churches, as they began to be styled. It was employed as a manual for the instruction of children and youth, who now drink in the doctrine of the atonement, almost with their mother’s milk. Salvation through the righteousness of Christ alone, is not merely taught in this catechism, but forms the burden of it. The divinity of the person who wrought out this righteousness, his distinct personality as well as that of the Father who sent him to accomplish it, and of the Holy Spirit who applies it, after its accomplishment, are prominent articles in this exhibit of the faith of the Lutheran church.
[LUTHER’S TEACHING ON THE ATONEMENT.]
The natural, total and universal, depravity of man, and his utter inability to help himself, until the Holy Spirit sprinkles upon him, for the restoration of his spiritual health, the blood of the atonement, are exhibited in this manual with great perspicuity. Whether the atonement was made for the whole human family, or for those only who shall participate savingly in its blessings, it does not state with precision. The following extract contains what is said on this point.
“Q. What has Christ fulfilled in our stead?
A. Christ has perfectly fulfilled the whole law in our stead.
Q. What has Christ taken upon himself?
A. Christ has taken upon himself the guilt and punishment of our sins.
Q. Whom has Christ redeemed?
A. Christ has redeemed all men.
Q. From what has Christ redeemed us?
A. Christ has redeemed us from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil.
Q. Will all men be saved?
A. No. But few men will be saved.
Q. Whose fault is it that so many men will be damned?
A. Men themselves are to be blamed, that they are damned; because they will continue in sin.
Q. Who will be saved?
A. Those who receive Christ by faith shall be saved.
Q. Canst thou of thine own power believe in Christ?
These questions and answers, the writer of this sketch has translated from the German of Luther’s Catechism, used in all the Lutheran churches. It teaches with great perspicuity, the doctrine of substitution. Though the expressions respecting the extent of the atonement are equivocal, yet it is impossible to make the answers which we have quoted consistent with each other, on any other plan, than that of a definite satisfaction. What is the nature of the atonement here exhibited by the Lutheran church? It consists of redemption from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Again, who are saved by this atonement? But a few only. Now, if Christ redeems all men, from all sin, from death and the devil, then all men, every individual human being, must be actually saved. As they assert that only a few are saved, by “all men” in the answer, can only be meant all men who believe, of all nations, conditions, and ranks. That such were the views of its writer, is ascertained from his other writings, or at least that he had no view opposed to this interpretation.
Though Luther and many of his German co-adjutors in the reformation, limited the atonement to those who are saved, yet it is not to be doubted, that a great majority of his followers, do interpret the word in the Catechism, to mean an absolute universality, and maintain that Christ actually made a full, a perfect atonement for every individual of the human race, while they at the same time, believe that millions will never obtain a saving interest in its blessings. This defect in the system of doctrines formed by Luther, and that branch of the church which takes its name from him, was of such importance, that the whole fabric from the middle of the 16th century to the present time has been gradually sinking into ruins. Those who turned aside from the truths of Christianity, and have wandered into the paths of error and heresy, have generally begun their divergency at the point of definite atonement. One error in any system of principles may be compared to an opening in a mound for confining waters. The enclosed fluid is not only escaping every instant, but the breach generally widens, until finally the structure is undermined, and sinks into the flood.
What the reformers north of the Rhine left incomplete was soon supplied by an instrument raised up in the south, and admirably suited by nature, education and grace for the work which he was destined to perform.
[CALVIN AND A DEFINITE ATONEMENT.]
John Calvin was born at Noyon, in Picardy, a province of France, on the 21st of May, 1509. He was eleven years of age, when Luther burned the popish decretals, on a pile which he had erected for that purpose, before the college of Wittenberg. At a very early period he was initiated into the study of the Greek and Roman classics. He was destined for holy orders in the Roman Catholic church, to which his family adhered; and on the 21st of May, 1521, in the 12th year of his age, was presented with the living of de la Gesine. Believing him well calculated to shine at the bar, his father resolved that he should study the civil law, and for that purpose sent him to Paris, and placed him under the care of Peter de l’Etoile. From Paris he was transferred to Bourges to prosecute the same study, under Andreas Alceatus. The native energies of his mind, improved by education—his habits of observation and investigation, and the opportunities which he engaged of indulging them, in the various situations were he was placed, gave an early and uncommon expansion to his intellectual powers. He read the writings of the reformers, and embraced the doctrines which they taught, when he was but a youth. The boldness and firmness of his character did not permit him to remain a silent spectator of the contest which then raged with extraordinary violence and shook the Christian world to its center. He neither could nor would conceal his religious opinions. The persecutions which the reformers in France suffered under Francis I. compelled Calvin to leave the kingdom. He fixed upon Basil as the place of his residence. At that place he became acquainted with the two distinguished reformers Grynæus and Capito, who aided him in his enquiries after truth. He devoted his time, when residing at Basil, to the writing of his Institutions of the Christian Religion. All the powers of his mind were brought to bear upon this work, and all the treasures of his learning laid under contribution to enrich its pages. When engaged in its composition, he did not contemplate its publication; but the situation of his brethren in France induced him to put it immediately to the press.
When Francis I. found the persecution of his protestant subjects gave great offence to the German princes who espoused the same opinions, and whose favour he courted, he published a proclamation, stating that those who suffered were only Anabaptists and other enthusiasts, who despised all government. Calvin determined upon the immediate publication of his Institutions, as a refutation to the royal calumny. He prefixed a dedication to Francis to the Institutions, in which with extraordinary eloquence he vindicates the cause of his persecuted brethren. The Institutions and deduction were written and published in both Latin and French. This work appeared in 1535, when Calvin was in his 26th year. The Institutions passed through many editions in a very short time. The demand for it, exceeded anything in that way that had been known for many years. It was translated into Italian, German, Dutch and English, very soon after it made its appearance, and extensively circulated and read in all these languages. The dedication ran through an astonishing number of separate editions, which extended the fame of the author, and increased everywhere the demand for the Institutions.
The grand doctrine taught, illustrated and enforced in this book, is that of the atonement—the salvation of sinners through the righteousness of Christ Jesus, and “not by the deeds of the law.” The scriptural representation of this subject, as contrasted with the erroneous views given of it by the church of Rome, is explained at large, and confirmed with great force of argumentation and various erudition. The extent of the atonement as made in the room of a definite number of sinners, given of the Father from eternity to Messiah—the plan of the universe as laid in eternity by the divine mind, and comprehending the great chain of cause and effect, are displayed with an energy and a grandeur of conception, to which even the enemies of the writer, and the opposers of his doctrine, have been compelled to bear testimony. The whole of the sacred volume, and the philosophy of the universe, both of matter and mind, are laid under contribution to fortify his positions, and prostrate the errors and heresies of his adversaries. He has been charged with introducing novel opinions. The same doctrines, however, not to mention the apostle Paul, were, as all know, taught by Augustine, archbishop of Hippo. The perspicuity and closeness with which Calvin reasons on these subjects—the forcible manner in which he appeals “to the law and the testimony”—the consolatory exhibition which he gave of the Christian system, and the affectionate manner in which all is brought home to the practice and consciences of men, formed such a remarkable contrast with the gloomy superstitions and unintelligible jargon of the popish writers, that thousands of all ranks, and in all the southern kingdoms of Europe, embraced them with an avidity that had never before been witnessed from the days of the apostles. It was this immortal work that opened for him a career of usefulness and glory rarely equaled.
Soon after his Institutions were published, Calvin having heard that the duchess of Ferarra was favourably disposed towards the doctrines of the reformation, paid her a visit, as some say, at her request, and was instrumental in introducing correct views of the plan of salvation into the northern regions of Italy. From Ferarra he travelled into France, where his stay was short. On his return to Basil he took the road that led through Geneva. The celebrated Farel was then pastor of the reformed church in that city, and professor of divinity in a reformed theological seminary which had been established some time before. He invited Calvin to unite with him in his labours. After many pressing solicitations, both from Farel and the people, he was induced to fix upon this as the place of his residence, and consented to participate in the labours of the theological school. Through his influence and instruction chiefly, in 1536, the year after his arrival, the people of Geneva entered into a solemn covenant with God and one another, to abjure the errors of popery, and to adhere firmly to the doctrines contained in a confession of faith which contained the substance of the truths relative to the atonement, and the various other truths taught in Calvin’s Institutions.
The reformation in doctrine, did not, at once, reform the lives of the Genevans. Farel, and Calvin, who had consented to unite with him in the pastoral charge of the congregation, refused to administer the sacrament to people of immoral character. In consequence of this measure, and their refusing to submit to an edict of the government of Berne, in relation to the sacrament of the supper, an act was passed ordering them to depart from Geneva, in 1538. Calvin retired to Strasburg, where he was received with extraordinary marks of respect, and employed as a preacher and teacher of divinity.
The magistrates and people of Geneva soon became sensible of their error, and invited Calvin to return. At first he refused, but after many pressing solicitations returned, and in 1541, fixed on that place as his permanent residence. He now enlarged the plan of the theological seminary, and commenced a course of lectures on divinity, and on the philosophy of matter and mind.
The splendour of Calvin’s talents, the extent of his erudition, and the power of his eloquence and the greatness of his fame, soon attracted young men from every part of Europe to the Genevan school. Nearly all the youth who heard his lectures, embraced his views of the atonement, of the divine decrees, and of other cognate subjects. The eagerness with which they drunk in his instructions, and diffused the scriptural opinions which he taught, can be compared only to the reception with which the gospel met, as preached by the apostles and their immediate successors. The Presbyterian form of church government, which was adopted in Geneva and the protestant cantons of Switzerland, presented a model of simplicity, and formed a most striking contrast to the cumbersome machinery and oppression of the papal hierarchy. The disciples of the Genevan school embraced it, introduced it into other countries, and thus, in some sense, it became a vehicle, in which the doctrines of the atonement were conveyed to distant parts. So true is this observation, that Presbyterianism in name, has scarcely ever been separated from Calvinism. These two, connected together, gave a new tone to the ecclesiastical and civil constitutions of the nations that compose the great family of European states. Even those who did not adopt them, were compelled to shape their course in a new direction. Some of the harsher features of the popish system of doctrine were softened, and their governments, both civil and ecclesiastical, were rendered more mild.
The substance of Calvin’s Lectures, together with his Institutions, is comprehended in twelve volumes folio. The practical influence of the opinions which this wonderful man taught, were exhibited in the holiness of his life, and in the integrity of his moral deportment. He was most punctual in the performance of religious duty, and a laborious enquirer after knowledge, almost beyond the example of all former ages. He never would accept more than three hundred crowns per annum, as a compensation for his numerous and arduous labours. His enemies have never been able to fix upon him the slightest charge of immorality. Nearly the whole of the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches, have directed against him their heaviest artillery, for more than two hundred and fifty years; yes, all the batteries of error and heresy have been opened upon him; and while they have been thus unwillingly bearing testimony to the greatness of his mind, they have not dared to charge him with any immoral conduct. Joseph Scaliger, who rarely praises any man, says, “Calvin was the greatest wit the world had ever seen from the days of the apostles.” Guy Peter, a distinguished Roman Catholic, says, “At the age of twenty-two, he was the most learned man in Europe.” The bishop of Valence, a popish clergyman, said of Calvin, that “he was the greatest divine in the world.” Bayle, who took great delight in collecting together and exhibiting in dark colours, all that ever was said against the ministers of Jesus, especially the reformers, asserts that Calvin’s enemies have never been able to fix a stain upon his moral character. When he speaks of Calvin’s poverty, the means which he had of acquiring wealth, and his dying worth no more than 300 crowns, he becomes quite enthusiastic, and challenges all antiquity to furnish an example of such noble self-denial, of such stern virtue and integrity; and declares that he eclipses all that has been said of Grecian and Roman virtue. Those who are best acquainted with Bayle’s character, will know how to appreciate such praise, from such a man.
I have preferred giving these testimonies of Calvin’s greatness and goodness, from his enemies, as they are evidently wrested from them by the stubbornness of well-known facts. The estimation in which he has been held by the Presbyterian churches on the continent of Europe, in Great Britain, and in the United States, is known to all who have the slightest acquaintance with the history of the church. Hence we are not to wonder, that he, in some measure, gave law to Europe, both during his life and after his death. The extraordinary reputation which he acquired, was procured almost solely by his labours on the doctrine of the atonement. [1.]
[BEZA DEFINES THE ATONEMENT.]
In 1559 Theodore Beza became the colleague of Calvin, in the Genevan school. This excellent man was born at Vezelai, in Burgundy, June 24th, 1519, the year after the reformation was commenced by Luther at Wittenberg. His infancy was spent in Paris, under the care of his uncle Nicholas Beza, who gave the direction of his studies to the celebrated Melchiar Wolmar, by whom he was educated in the protestant religion, from the year 1528 to 1535. He was designed by his friends for the profession of the civil law, which he studied in the university of Orleans, where he was entered at the age of seventeen, after having acquired a knowledge of the ancient classics, and the other branches of literature taught in the schools of France at that time. He continued in the university for three years, and was admitted to the practice of the law at the age of twenty. In youth he seems to have had little of the power of religion, though well instructed in its doctrines.
He arrived at Geneva in 1548, where he first became acquainted with Calvin, and probably with John Knox. The year following, he was made professor of the Greek language, in the college of Lausanne, which station he filled with great reputation for nine years. Here his mind was particularly directed to the study of the Christian religion. He published several works while in this professorship, and among others, one entitled “De eterna Dei Presdestinatione,” on the eternal decrees of God, in which he exhibited a lucid view of the doctrine of election and definite atonement, embracing the same views of that subject which is contained in the Institutions of Calvin. A reply to this work was written and published by Castalio. Beza answered him. These and various other theological works, procured for him great celebrity.
The accession of such a man to the school of Calvin was highly auspicious. He was in the vigour of life, while Calvin was on the decline. His piety was ardent, his zeal for the cause of the reformation inextinguishable, and his reputation little inferior to that of Calvin. Numerous Arminian and Popish writers assailed him with as much fury as they had done Calvin; but the opposition which the Genevan professors and school experienced, could not retard its progress, or check its growing character. No school in Europe possessed so much learning, or talents, or piety. Youth of every kingdom in Europe, were ambitious to have it said that they had heard the lectures of Calvin and Beza. Few left Geneva without embracing the doctrines relative to the atonement, which they taught; and hence they were the prevalent opinions in nearly all the reformed churches.
Beza was a profound politician as well as a great divine. Many princes sent for him to give them counsel in difficult cases. When the protestant cause was to be defended before kings, Beza was the champion. He was invited to attend a conference at Paissi, by the young king of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV. Here he triumphantly defended the protestant cause, in the presence of the first of the French nobility, and against the ablest advocates of popery which France could furnish. Catherine de Medicis was so charmed with his learning, eloquence and manners, that she detained him for a considerable time in France. During the civil war which raged at that time, he was in the family of the prince of Condé. After Condé was taken prisoner at the battle of Dreux, he lived with Admiral Coligny. By these means he had an opportunity of diffusing extensively among the French nobility, correct views of the doctrine of the atonement, and the nature of Messiah’s mediatorial character. The effects of his stay in France were lasting, and highly important. He returned to Geneva in 1563, where his divinity school flourished, not only during his life, but for more than one hundred years after his death, which happened in the year 1600, when he was eighty-one years of age.
[THE RISE OF ARMINIUS AND HIS DOCTRINE.]
While Beza lectured at Geneva, John Arminius, of the United Provinces, attended the theological class. Arminius was born at Audwater, in Holland, in 1560. He received his education at the college of Marburg, where he was entered at the age of fifteen. At that time, his native country was sacked by the Spaniards, and nearly all his family put to the sword. He lost his father, when very young. From Marburgh he went to Geneva. Bayle, in his Biographical Dictionary, says, that, while at Geneva, Arminius offended some members of the academy, by embracing and teaching the philosophy of Ramus, in consequence of which, he was compelled to leave the school, and that he retired to Basil. Peter Paræus, as quoted by Bayle, says, that “he discovered in him, too great a disposition to refine upon things—that Beza advised one of his (Arminius’) friends to check the subtlety of his genius, as a thing which Satan had made use of in several instances, to exclude great persons.” The opinion which Beza formed of Arminius, was chiefly from a lecture that he read in the academy, where he was permitted to deliver a course, during the holy-days. He took himself an opportunity to advise Arminius, in relation to this character of his mind. “Do not engage yourself in vain subtiltics,” said he, “and if sometimes certain new thoughts arise in your mind, approve them not, without having first sounded them to the bottom, how pleasing soever they may appear at first sight. Calvin gave me this counsel, and I have found great benefit in it.” This advice ought to be most deeply impressed on the mind of every student of theology. James Grynæus tells us, that he discovered the same trait in the character of Arminius, while at Basil. It would have been happy for the church, had he followed the advice which Beza gave him. He is the author of those opinions, which from his name have been called Arminianism—opinions which have been embraced by millions, and which still continue to disturb the repose of the church.
Before his return to the United Provinces he travelled through Italy, and it is said, that at his return he found the affections of his friends much cooled towards him. Martin Lydius, professor of theology at Leyden, requested him to write an answer to a book which had appeared against Beza on Predestination. While employed in this work, the subtle speculations of the opponent, being well adapted to please such a mind as his, induced him to go over to the other side of the question, and he came out with an elaborate performance against Beza. He ransacked all the archives of the Pelagian heresy, and filled his book with the substance of their contents. In doing this he took the popular side. He taught that God had not decreed whatsoever comes to pass, but left everything to the freedom of the human will, which he said possessed full power to choose either good or evil—that in order to the former, there is no need of any special aid from the Spirit of God, and that by the common operations of the Holy Spirit, all men have power given them to believe, repent, and perform all other good works. He also taught that Christ Jesus was not appointed a Mediator and Redeemer for a particular number of the human family; and that he died for all men indiscriminately. All these doctrines flatter the pride of human nature, and give men grounds for boasting before God. Hence many pious people, (and Arminius himself was probably one,) together with the whole multitude of the irreligious world, both carnal professors and those who make no profession, have embraced these errors. All, indeed, since the fall, are by nature Arminians. Hence his errors, enforced by many plausible arguments, and great subtlety of reasoning, spread extensively. Many even in Holland espoused them. They were too, more favourable to the Roman Catholic church, than the doctrines of the Genevan school. The great body of the popish clergy had long held doctrines, not substantially different from those of Arminius. Those who embraced them among the protestants, rendered themselves less obnoxious to the potentates of Europe, who were nearly all Romanists, and consequently of the Arminian creed. The whole protestant church in the United Provinces was soon thrown into a state of agitation. The doctrines of the reformation had taken deep root there. The protestants had a powerful body of learned and truly orthodox clergy. Their theological seminary in Leyden, was in a highly respectable state, and had embraced fully the creed of the Genevan school. The state government was protestant. The nature of civil liberty, and the rights of men were better understood in Geneva, in the Swiss cantons, and Holland, than in any other countries in Europe at that time. And in these states the great truths of Christianity, radiating from the doctrine of the atonement as from a common center, were also more clearly understood than in any other part of the world. In countries where the Christian religion is professed, these two generally go hand in hand. Banish the doctrine of the atonement with the truths which flow from it, and you pave the way either for anarchy or despotism. The whole of the civil rights of men, indeed, are no more than branches of the system of grace, which God has revealed to man. Hence when violent controversies on points of faith are agitated, civil commotions are generally excited. It was so in Holland.
[THE SYNOD OF DORT ANF THE ATONEMENT.]
In order to quell these religious disturbances, the head of the government resolved to convene a synod of delegates, from the churches in the provinces, and to invite the attendance of representatives from all the protestant countries in Europe. This synod met at Dort, Nov. 18, 1616. It was composed of the most learned and distinguished divines of Holland, both of the Arminian and Genevan school. There were present delegates from Great Britain, Landaven, Davenant, Vardus, Goadh and Balcanquall; from the Low Countries; from Hesse; from the Palatinate; from Switzerland; from Genoa; and from the French Belgic provinces. Delegates were appointed by the reformed church in France, but they were prevented from attending, by the interference of the government. There never was a more learned, or enlightened body of divines assembled, nor on a more important occasion. The wisdom, of nearly all protestant Europe, was collected together, to express its views relative to the doctrine of the atonement, the divine decrees, the condition and moral powers of fallen men. After much preliminary discussion, as to the forms of procedure, it was resolved that the parties should be heard at length. The argument was protracted and luminous. After the Arminians and the orthodox divines had been heard at great length, the delegates from other churches, as well as those from the ecclesiastical bodies of the several provinces, were ordered to lay before the synod their opinions in writing, on the points in controversy.
We present an abstract of some of their views.
The following taken from the proceedings of this famous synod, is the opinion of the British divines:
“By the special love and intention of both God the Father and of Christ, Messiah laid down his life for the elect, that he might procure for them eternal life, and infallibly confer it upon them. Christ is the Saviour of one body, even of the church, Eph. 5:21. therefore, he not only has procured salvation for his church, but he actually puts them in possession of it. He is the mediator of the new covenant, of which mention is made, Jer. 31:31. which he has ratified by his death. The blessings promised in this covenant, are pardon of sin and sanctification, through the Spirit, which are really the application of that salvation which he hath procured. All those for whom Jesus died, shall experience the efficacy of his death, for the mortification of sin; and they ‘shall become kings and priests unto God.’”
To the same effect is the statement exhibited by the delegates from Transylvania.
“The absolute will and purpose of God the Father, in delivering up his Son to death, and of his Son in enduring it, was that reconciliation with God, and eternal life, might be procured for all those who were, from eternity, elected to eternal life, and for those alone. According to this unalterable purpose of the Father and the Son, Christ the Mediator has procured remission of sin, reconciliation with God and everlasting life, for the elect alone, who shall be saved by his death on the cross; and this procurement of salvation and its application are of the same extent.”
The deputies from the synod of Belgic Gaul, give their suffrage to the same doctrines in the following words:
“The price of redemption, which Christ paid to his Father, is of such dignity and value, that it would have been sufficient to have redeemed the whole human race, had it been destined by the Father for that purpose; but agreeably to the Scriptures, he died for those only who actually believe. Such was the will of the Father in sending his Son, and of the Son in dying.”
“The death, resurrection and intercession of Christ, as well as the blessings which flow from such a reconciliation, justification, pardon of sin, sanctification and life eternal, are indissolubly connected together. They ought not to be, they cannot be separated. Christ was made a propitiation for sin, not without faith, but through faith; nor is there any effect represented in the Scriptures as flowing from it, but to those who believe in Christ and have communion with him.”
The divines from the Palatinate express themselves as follows:—
“God the Father set apart Christ to redeem and make reconciliation for our sins, by the same love, through which he destined the elect to everlasting life. Christ died, rose again, and he intercedes in Heaven for elect believers, both in their stead and for their good.”
The delegates from Hesse give their opinion as follows:
“The second proposition” (of the Arminians) “which asserts that Christ, by his death on the cross, merited reconciliation and pardon of sin, may be admitted if understood in a qualified sense. If it be understood to mean that so great is the value and dignity of his atonement, that through it all might be saved, would they believe, we would assent to it; for sometimes orthodox divines have used the phrase in that sense. But if they mean that he procured actual remission of sin, and restoration to the divine favour, for those who shall eternally perish, the propositions ought to be rejected as erroneous. It can by no means be asserted with truth, that Christ procured the actual remission, of sin and reconciliation, so that by his death all men are reconciled to God, are redeemed and have a right to pardon of sin and eternal life. All the blessings which he procured, were for his sheep, that is for the elect, whom the Father gave to him, to save with an everlasting salvation; to them and not to others do the blessings of his purchase belong.”
The Swiss divines say:—that Christ according to the eternal purpose and good pleasure of the Father, procured by his death and obedience, remission of sin, reconciliation with God, restoration to the divine favour, justification before God, salvation or eternal glory, for all the elect and for the elect alone, and of the whole world, since he obtained it for believers, both under the Old and New Testament, so that he will apply it to those very believers for whom he hath procured it. We deny, say they, that according to the eternal purpose of the Father, or his own, Christ Jesus, hath procured salvation indiscriminately for all men as fallen sinners—We deny that the death of Christ and its fruits can be separated, so that his death was in the room of more than those who are embraced in his resurrection, and intercession. We have learned from the Holy Scriptures, that he was raised for the justification of those for whose offences he was delivered, that he opens for them a way into the heavenly sanctuary, and that “he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
The divines from the Seven United Provinces, from the Netherlands, from Nassau, and from Geneva, all exhibit substantially the same view of these important subjects. We should be astonished that all the reformed divines, from countries so widely separated from each other, speaking different languages, and raised under different forms of government, of different manners, should so admirably harmonize, were it not that they all drew their doctrines from the same fountain of divine truth.
These views were exhibited to the synod; in relation to a paper presented by the disciples of Arminius, in which they assert that Christ died for all men indiscriminately, that that there were none eternally elected to everlasting life, by an unchangeable decree, that Christ died for all, without any definitive object. There never has been so general an expression of the opinions of the protestant churches on the doctrine of the atonement since the commencement of the reformation. The ultimate decision of the synod, was substantially the same with that delivered by the delegates from the various protestant churches which were there represented. The Arminian doctrines were condemned as erroneous. They drew up a remonstrance against this decision. Hence they were called Remonstrants, and after the close of the synod, became exceedingly clamorous, complaining that they had been treated unfairly in not being permitted to exhibit an ample view of the ground which they occupied. The doctrines of Arminius had taken deep root, they were too well adapted to flatter human depravity, and to the opinions of the catholic church, to be eradicated by the decisions of the synod of Dort. If we are to credit the historians of that time, they spread more rapidly after the synod than they had done before. Nearly all the protestant churches were more or less affected by them. They found their way into France, and in the end produced the most deplorable consequences. We now invite the reader’s attention to France.
Very soon after the commencement of the reformation in Germany, the eyes of a few people in that kingdom were opened to the truth. The Old and New Testaments were translated from the original Greek and Hebrew, into the French language by Oliveton, Calvin’s uncle. So great was his assiduity that he completed the work in one year from its commencement. Vatablus, regius professor of Hebrew, had prevailed upon Clement Marot to translate fifty of the psalms of David. The remainder were translated by Theodore Beza. The use of the psalms in divine worship, instead of the light trash composed by mere men, which had before been chanted by popish worshippers, must have had a happy effect in opening the eyes of many to the true way of salvation. The effects of translating the Scriptures into the vernacular languages of Europe, were always, to teach many to abandon every reliance upon the absolution of the priests, the penances and remonstrances of the Church of Rome, to which they had formerly resorted for quieting their conscience, and to fly to the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus for the pardon of their sins.
Previously to the establishment of the Genevan school, little more progress had been made by the reformation in France, than what was just sufficient to provoke persecution, by which, as we have before stated, Calvin was compelled to fly from his native country. In no country on the continent, except Holland and the Swiss Cantons, did the Genevan school produce a more powerful effect, than in France. This might be partly owing to its contiguity, and partly to the circumstance that both Calvin and Beza were natives of France and received their education there. There were their friends, and the greater number of their correspondents. Their theological works were immediately translated into French, and circulated extensively through the kingdom. Their lectures were carried into France, became generally known, and the doctrines which they taught were embraced by thousands of all ranks. The youth, who among the reformers, consecrated themselves to the gospel ministry, were ambitious to hear the lectures of the Genevan professors, and profit by their instructions.
[THE FRENCH REFORMED CHURCH AND THE ATONEMENT.]
Ten years after the arrival of Beza at Geneva, the first general synod of the reformed church was held at Paris, and was a large, learned, and pious body, zealously attached to the cause of reformation. At this synod a Confession of Faith for the Gallic reformed church was presented and examined. It consisted of forty articles, which are well arranged, and generally exhibit correct and lucid views of the Christian system.
In the fifth article they adopt unequivocally the Athanasian creed, give their own views to the same effect of the doctrine of the trinity, and condemn the heresies against which Athanasius, Hilary, Cyril, and Ambrose wrote. In the eighth article they say:—“We deny that God is the author of sin, or that the blame of things done amiss, can be laid upon him.” The ninth article treats of the depravity of human nature, concerning which we have these words:—“His,” man’s, “nature has become altogether defiled, and being blind in his understanding, and corrupt in his heart, he hath utterly lost the integrity in which he was created.” In article tenth, they speak to the same effect. “We believe,” say they, “that all the offspring of Adam are affected with the contagion of original sin:” and in the next article they go on to say, “we believe that this stain of original sin is sin indeed; for it hath that mischievous power in it, to condemn all mankind, even infants that are unborn.” The twelfth article treats of the delivery which God has provided, to rescue his people from this evil. “We believe,” they say, “that out of this general corruption and condemnation, into which all men are plunged, God doth deliver them whom he hath in his eternal and unchangeable counsel chosen of his mere goodness and mercy, through our Lord Jesus Christ, without any consideration of their good works, leaving the rest in their sins and damnable estate.” The following article speaks of the person, who wrought out this salvation, in the following words:—“We believe Jesus Christ, being the wisdom and eternal Son of God the Father, took upon him our nature, so that he is in one person, God and man.”
The confession, which contains these views of the original depravity of human nature, rendering an atonement necessary, of the atonement itself, and of the person who made it, was written by John Calvin, and published by order of the reformed church in France, in 1556; but its solemn and final ratification did not take place until the year 1571, at Rochelle, where a general synod was held that year. Beza presided in this synod, which was truly a venerable and illustrious body, and honoured with the presence of many persons of great distinction. At this ratification it was made a term of communion, by unanimous consent and with the full approbation of the protestant princes of the kingdom. It had been before its adoption, shown to Francis II. and to Louis IX. The act of ratification was signed by Jane, queen of Navarre, Henry, prince of Berne, Henry de Bourbon, prince of Condé, Louis, count of Nassau, and Sir Gasper de Colligne, high admiral of France. Thus ratified it was ordered that it should be read at the opening of every general synod, by which excellent regulation it was hoped that the ministers, who attended those synods, would have the system of doctrine continually before them in all their proceedings. The condition of the reformed church at that period, was in a high degree flourishing, and its increase had been surprisingly rapid. There were two thousand one hundred and fifty organized congregations, in many of which there were no less than six ministers, constantly employed in the performance of parochial duties, as was the case in that of Orleans, which had seven thousand communicants. Such was their number, their power, their wealth, their activity, and so many princes and princesses of high rank were there, who espoused the cause of the reformers, that the government though popish, of a high tone and absolutely despotic, was compelled to respect them.
Henry, prince of Navarre, was a protestant, and his influence and powers were at first, all exerted to promote the views of the reformers. He attended at the synods, and gave them his countenance. Upon the death of the king, he by the laws of hereditary succession had a right to the crown, but by the constitution of the empire, it was impossible for him; or, more correctly, because the great majority of the nobility and great families were Roman Catholics, it was impossible for him to ascend the throne, unless he professed the Roman Catholic religion, on which condition the crown was offered him. He was not so devout and firm a protestant as not to be tempted by the offer of a kingdom. The duke of Sully advised him to comply with the terms offered; he followed the advice, renounced the protestant religion, made a profession of the popish, and was elevated to the throne. This event took place in 1588, seventeen years after Henry attended the synod of Rochelle. Sully his prime minister, who like his master, was a mere nominal professor, still continued attached to the protestant church, and was an instrument in the hand of the great Redeemer, of promoting its interests. In 1598, an edict was issued from Nantz, in Lower Languedoc, by Henry IV. securing to the protestant church in France the free exercise of their religion, and allowing them to occupy many important stations under the crown—an edict which for about one hundred years was a shield to the friends of truth, against the catholic and bigoted successors of that great prince. Such was the power and weight of the protestants, that, during the reign of Henry, who was their friend as far as consisted with his own ambitious views, and during the reign of his immediate successors, the crown would not have been able to crush them, even had the attempt been made.
From the bosom of the church itself proceeded its own ruin. The elevation of Henry to the throne of France, and the worldly spirit of the duke of Sully, opening the way for a union of distinguished protestants with Catholics in the administration of the public affairs of the nation, a disposition to flatter and accommodate the king, for the favours which he bestowed upon them, and the profound policy of catholic statesmen, soon caused a relaxation among the friends of truth, of which the first evidence recorded in history, was given about the year 1595. A plan had been formed to unite the popish and protestant churches. It originated with four protestant ministers, Rotan, Marlas, Secres, and Cayer, of whom the two latter became Roman Catholics. Rotan was appointed to appear before the king in a dispute against the leading doctrines of the Catholics, and to betray the cause of the reformers; but he did not attend, and Beraud of Mantauben, appeared in his place, and in a most triumphant manner, vindicated the protestant opinions in relation to the inefficacy of all other means of salvation than the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus. But the zeal of the reformers was cooling, and error was creeping abroad among their churches, and finding its way into their theological schools.
[PISCATOR AND THE DENIAL OF CHRIST’S ACTIVE OBEDIENCE.]
A minister of very considerable talents and professor at Herborne, Piscator, was cited to appear before the general synod of Gap, in 1603, and answer to charges brought against him in relation to some errors which he had written and taught on the atonement, such as, “that the active obedience of Christ Jesus, or his obedience to the precepts of the divine law, forms no part of the sinner’s justifying righteousness before God; that the sufferings of Christ in his life and at his death were all that he did in the room of the sinner; that on account of these sufferings our sins are pardoned; but it must be on the footing of our own personal holiness that we gain admission to Heaven.” The synod denounced those errors as of a dangerous nature and of alarming magnitude, and instructed the subordinate synods to depose all their members who should embrace and obstinately maintain them; and provided Piscator would not publicly renounce them they appointed two of their members, Sohnis and Ferrier, to write an answer to them. They also wrote to the universities of England, Scotland, Leyden, Heidelburg, Bazil, and Herborne, to unite with them in the condemnation of these errors. Regnault, pastor of the church at Bordeaux, was appointed to report the decrees of the synod to Piscator. Sohnis addressed himself to the task assigned him by the synod, and completed his answer to the Piscatorian errors before the meeting of the general synod of Rochelle in 1607.
In this synod, the subject was again discussed, and some errors in relation to repentance, which Piscator was said to have taught. The professor sent letters to the synod, written in a very gentle and conciliatory style, containing explanations, palliations and vindications of the doctrines which he had embraced and taught. On the subject of repentance, the synod express their approbation of the explanations which he had given, and reiterate their disapprobation of his views, respecting the active obedience of Christ. Their tone, however, is lowered in a very remarkable manner. Felix Huguet, a minister of the gospel in Dauphiny, had written and published in Geneva an answer to Piscator’s writings, in which he acted contrary to a standing decree of the general synod—that no minister should publish a book, without the consent of the consistory or presbytery to which he belonged, a license which Huguet had not obtained from the consistory of Dauphiny. The synod declare that “he incurred a grievous censure,” and say, with great emphasis, that the book of Piscator against which Huguet wrote, had not been published, and applaud the conduct of the magistrates of Geneva, in endeavoring to suppress his book. They also express high approbation of the style of Piscator’s letters, in explanation of his views. Sohnis presented to the synod his reply, which was approved as orthodox, but he was not allowed to publish it, “least,” as they say, “the peace of the church should be disturbed.” In all these proceedings, we discover, that during the four years, which had elapsed since the meeting of the synod of Gap, the tone of the orthodox in the Gallic church, had suffered a most inauspicious relaxation. What was the cause? We have hinted at it before. The duke of Sully, the duke de Bouillon, the king’s sister, and many other illustrious personages of the protestant faith, formed a part of Henry’s court, where the catholic religion prevailed; and their attachment to the unbending course which was held by Calvin, Beza, and their immediate successors, was greatly weakened. Accommodation was becoming the fashion of the times, the warmth of opposition to the catholic errors had greatly cooled, and this coolness began to manifest itself in all the acts of discipline, which related to the errors that were making inroads upon the church. The protestant nobility had political projects, for the attainment of which, the preservation of harmony and the appearance of strength must be preserved, though at the expense of truth. To these views, the protestant ministers, as they have too often done in other instances, permitted themselves to become subservient. The very great favour shown to Piscator on this occasion, was owing, at least in part, to the interference of the earl of Nassau, who wrote warmly in his favour to Regnault. The synod was presented with the Earl’s letters, in which he promises to prevent Piscator’s notions from spreading, “provided he receive no provocation from any public writings.” This was intended to prevent the book written by Sohnis, from appearing before the world, with the sanction of the synod, and it had the desired effect. A vote of thanks to the Earl was passed, “for his pious intentions,” and a promise made that no provocation should be given. Thus the cause of truth was betrayed, as an apology for which, they caused that Confession of Faith, which they were trampling underfoot, to be read over, and it was unanimously approved and sworn to by the deputies. That the spirit which prevailed in this synod has not been misunderstood appears from their proceedings in relation to an intimation given by the king, that the publication of that article in the confession, in which the pope is called Antichrist, would be highly offensive to him. The synod pusillanimously decreed, in a conditional manner, that the obnoxious article should not be printed, and that his majesty should be humbly entreated to prevent anyone from being injured for what had been done in relation to this affair. Thus we see the protestant church in France rapidly sinking into a state of general debility. Still it contained a great body of learned, illustrious, pious and faithful divines, among whom may be named as the most distinguished Peter de Moulin, better known by the name of Molinæus. This great and good man saw, in its full extent, the evil which threatened the church, and employed his utmost efforts to avert it. He undertook to answer the errors which were spreading from the University of Herborne, in which work he employed four years. It was written in Latin, and the manuscripts were laid before the synod of Privas, which appointed a committee to examine them, and they were pronounced orthodox, and their author thanked for his labours in defense of the truth; but, least the repose of the church should be disturbed, he was prohibited from publishing them.
At the synod of Vitré, 1617, Sohnis was permitted to publish the manuscripts, which ten years before he had presented to the synod of Rochelle: but the evil had then become too extensive, and too deeply rooted, to be affected by the publication. About this time measures were put in train by the prince of Orange, for calling the synod of Dort; and letters were sent to the reformed church in France, inviting the attendance of commissioners, who were appointed. The deputies were Chamier, Du Moulin, and Chave, among the most distinguished French divines. They had commenced their journey to Holland, but were recalled by an arrét of Louis XIII, the son of Henry IV. Thus we discover how unsatisfactory the Calvinistic views of election, definite atonement, &c. are to the Roman Catholics, and that the Arminian system was, at that time, considered by them in a friendly light, and as deserving protection.
Notwithstanding the coldness, which was creeping into the reformed church in France, the great body of their divines, and of their people, were orthodox in their principles; and they were still willing to hazard something with the government in expressing their opinions. This was done at the synod of Alez, the first general synod that met in France after the synod of Dort. It was assembled in 1620, and not only expressed its entire approbation of the decrees of that body of illustrious divines, but adopted them in the most unequivocal manner; and every member bound himself by solemn oath, to support them to the utmost of his power. The expression of a belief in them was made a term of ecclesiastical communion, and the candidates for the ministry, the principals and professors of the universities and theological schools, and all the elders of the church, were ordered to express on oath their approbation of them, and their resolution to support and maintain them to the end of their lives. The civil magistrates of the Netherlands are highly applauded for their vigilance, and their efforts to prevent or banish what the synod denominates, “heresies in the articles of predestination and its dependencies.” It does not appear that, in the adoption of these measures, there was one dissenting voice, either in the synod or in the reformed church in France. The first person who subscribed the oath was the celebrated Du Moulin.
[AMYRAUT AND HYPOTHETICAL REDEMPTION.]
All these measures, however, were not sufficient to guard the Church, against inroads from the Arminian errors, which like noxious effluvia spread their sickening influence over all the Reformed Churches in Europe. The whole of the Lutheran Church was soon tainted, and the Gallic was not exempt. Mr. John Cameron, Bishop of Norwich, originally a Scottish clergyman, had been settled, before the synod of Alez, in a congregation at Bourdeaux, and thence transferred to the divinity professorship at Saumur. Cameron was an eloquent and popular man, who had a talent of recommending himself to those with whom he became acquainted. At this synod a petition was presented from his former charge at Bourdeaux, requesting his restoration to them, and also one from the College of Saumur, for his continuance in the Theological chair. The latter was fortified by a recommendatory letter from lord du Plessis Marley, and prevailed, as the synod continued him one year longer in the professorship. This man was destined to be instrumental in preparing the way for destroying the interests of Reformation in France. He had embraced and taught in the divinity school, the opinion, that there are several kinds of election: that some men are elected to faith, who are not peremptorily elected to everlasting salvation; and also some views relative to the extent of the atonement, which were nearly related to those of Arminius. What these were will probably be ascertained with more precision, from the creed of the professor who succeeded him in the theological chair at Saumur. This was Moses Amyraut, who was born at Bourguil, a small town of Turaine, in September, 1596. He was destined for the practice of the law, which he read at Poitiers, prosecuting his studies with extraordinary assiduity. The reading of Calvin’s Institutes, and the persuasions of his friends, especially of the pastor of the Reformed church at Saumur, induced him to relinquish the profession of the law, and engage in that of divinity. He entered himself as a student under Cameron. The semi-arminian views of his teacher he adopted, and entered into them with a zeal which in him was constitutional. He was settled in the pastoral charge of a congregation at St. Aignon, in 1626; but on the removal of the Rev. Dr. Daille, pastor of the reformed Church at Saumur, to Charenton, Mr. Amyraut was invited to take his charge at the former place, and accepted the invitation. In 1633 he was inaugurated into the professorship of theology, in the college, in which he was associated with two of the most distinguished scholars in France, Lewis Cappell, and Joshua de la Place. Amyraut was himself a man of great industry, and no ordinary share of learning; his manners were courtly in a high degree and his eloquence persuasive. Three such men were sufficient to give celebrity to any literary institution and to make it flourish. No school in France, under the direction of the reformed church, was at this time so powerful as the university of Saumur, and the character of the three professors now associated in it, increased greatly its reputation. In addition, his learning, Amyraut had cultivated, successfully, the favour of the great, and soon extended his fame beyond that of all his predecessors. He espoused and taught, to the numerous youths who crowded his school, all the doctrines which he had imbibed from his master, and probably extended further his inroads upon the system of reformed truth. He taught boldly that Christ had died equally for all men, that from eternity God willed the salvation of the whole human race, under the condition of faith; but had, at the same time, decreed that he would bestow faith upon those only who should be saved. Thus we see, that within thirty-three years after the death of Arminius, one half at least of his errors are introduced among the reformers of France, under the most powerful patronage, and pressed with extraordinary eloquence and much learning, upon the youth who were prosecuting their theological studies at this seminary. To embrace these doctrines and preach them, were comparatively easy. They were much less obnoxious to the Roman Catholic bishops, noblemen and princes, than those of the Genevan school, introduced into the French reformed confession of faith. That Cameron himself was swayed by these motives, to a certain extent, is highly probable, nay almost certain; and youth at all times, before they are fully confirmed in the way of truth and holiness, are too ready to adopt that system which will afford them an opportunity of accommodating the world, especially the great. The cardinals who were the prime ministers of the king of France, used every effort and every artifice, that ingenuity could devise, and their influence effect, to overawe and crush the protestants, or to allure them from their duty. The edict of Nantz, which was then esteemed sacred, tied up their hands from persecution; besides, it would have been a hazardous experiment to attack in this way, so powerful a body. In these circumstances, what course would such profound politicians as Richlieu and Mazarin be likely to adopt? Address themselves, certainly, to the heads of the protestant church, in the way of flattery and seduction; especially to the theological professors. This course precisely, we find them pursuing. They knew, as well as we know, that the doctrines of Arminius, which Cameron had embraced and taught at Saumur, were different from those taught by the early reformers and that they approximated to popery. They early discovered the talents, growing reputation, and influence of Amyraut and his associates, Cappell and La Place. They knew that this school must produce a powerful effect on the state and affairs of the protestant church in France, and that the cause of reformation must make rapid progress, when promoted by a combination of such learning and eloquence. To Amyraut, therefore, they determined to address themselves.
The year after his inauguration into the professorship, we find Amyraut dining with the archbishop of Chartres, a person high in the friendship and confidence of the minister, cardinal Richlieu, at whose suggestion the invitation is supposed to have been given. A French catholic nobleman of elevated rank, was one of the party. After dinner the subject of religion was introduced, by the nobleman, who charged the protestants with teaching harsh things on the subject of predestination, and a slight controversy ensued. Amyraut was, no doubt, inclined to soften some of those features of the Calvinistic system, which were thought to be harsh, and said precisely such things as the cardinal, the bishop, and his noble friend anticipated. On the following day, as the professor returned to Saumur, he called by invitation, at the house of the nobleman, with whom he had dined at the bishop’s; and afterwards said that “he found the noble personage well affected towards the protestant religion.” He, however, ventured to express some doubts of Calvin’s views relative to the divine decrees, the extent of the atonement, &c. These scruples Amyraut endeavoured to remove and promised to write a book, containing such views as he had exhibited on that day, and the preceding, with which the gentleman was much pleased. In the following year 1634, the book appeared,—a book which set the whole protestant Church of France on flame. A large body of the reformed clergy, especially those beyond the river Loire, considered the doctrines which he taught relative to conditional predestination, and indefinite atonement, as at war with the standard of the Gallic reformed Church, and of the doctrines of the Genevan school, all which they believed to be founded on the Holy Scriptures. A charge was brought against him, by Du Moulin, of violating the decrees of the synod of Dort, and those of the general synod of Alez, respecting them. No man stood higher among the ministers of the reformed Church than Du Moulin, and he adhered, as we have before seen, firmly, to the doctrines taught in their Confession of Faith. The synod, before which those charges were exhibited, met at Charenton in 1637. All the divines from the south of the Loire were instructed, by their respective presbyteries, to use their influence, to have the censures of the Church inflicted upon Amyraut; and many contended that if he would not abandon his errors, he should be degraded from his ministerial office, and from the professor’s chair. Bayle in his Biographical Dictionary, represents all this opposition, as proceeding from the influence of Du Moulin. But if the views of those divines were not the same with those of their confession of Faith, and of Calvin, why should the innovations of Amyraut have alarmed them? Were the assertion of Bayle true it would be highly honorable to that illustrious divine. No censure, however, was inflicted on the innovator. It was now more than seventeen years, since Cameron had begun to teach the doctrines of hypothetical decrees and general atonement, and four years since Amyraut from the same chair, had been employed in disseminating the same opinions among the students who were educating for the ministry at Saumur. Great numbers of the young clergy had embraced, and openly taught them, while doubtless, many who would not risk the teaching of them publicly, were secretly well disposed to them. Amyraut possessed very great popularity, and the ruling powers were friendly to him. On all these accounts, the interests of truth were compromised. He was indeed enjoined by the synod not to disturb the repose of the church, with his novel opinions, and with this injunction he promised to comply—but his promise he did not fulfil. To preserve the peace of the church also, as they said, the opposers of the hypothesis, as Amyraut’s view of the Christian system was called, were ordered not to write against him. A strange injunction truly, prohibiting the ministers of the church from defending the doctrines embodied in their standard, which they were all sworn to maintain!
At the synod of Charenton, which met 1645, Amyraut was charged with having violated the injunction of silence, as to the disputed points; to which he replied, that he received provocation from the attacks of his opponents, which he thought himself bound to repel. The synod passed an act of “holy amnesty” as they called it, by which all that had passed, was to be buried in oblivion, and both Amyraut and his antagonists were ordered not to touch in public the disputed points. There was a privilege, however, granted to the professor, provided he could obtain the consent of the synod of Anjou, to answer those foreign divines who had written against his hypothesis. This was designed to give him an opportunity of replying to Rivetus, Des Marets, and Spanheim, divines of Holland, who had embarked in the controversy against him with a noble zeal, and with very great ability. The two former had been originally French divines, but owing to their attachment to the truth, and their boldness in defending it, they had fallen under the displeasure of the government, and had retired to the Low Countries. Spanheim was his principal antagonist, and the synod of Anjou gave Amyraut the privilege of replying to him. Thus by a strange kind of indecision and lenity, the controversy was permitted to rage in all its fury, while it was nominally prohibited. Amyraut, however, had greatly the advantage of his antagonists in point of effect. His answers to Spanheim and the other Holland divines, were published in the French language, extensively circulated and read, while the works of his opponents were written in a language unknown, except to the learned, they had comparatively few personal friends, and hence but few could, or would read their works. As to the affairs of the church in France, it amounted to nearly the same thing, as if they had given Amyraut full privilege to write and publish his opinions, while the friends of truth were prohibited from entering the lists with him. From all these considerations, however irresistible the reasonings of the Holland divines might be, they could produce but little effect in France, and their power in checking the torrent of error, which was overflowing the reformed church there, and undermining the foundations of the whole fabric, which had been erected with great labour, was almost nothing.
The chief work of Spanheim, in this controversy, was his Vidicæ Vindiciarum, which was edited by his son after his death, with a preface written by Rivetus. It probably contains the substance of all that was written against the Amyraldists, as the disciples of Amyraut have been called. It is a work of great labour, and replete with solid argument and sound criticism. Both Amyraut and the Holland divines permitted a considerable degree of feeling and warmth of passion to enter into the controversy. It is evident that Spanheim, and the other orthodox divines who were his coadjutors, considered the best interests of the reformed church, and the beautiful harmony of the Christian system, put in jeopardy by the doctrines of the Salmurensian divines. Spanheim, in the posthumous work alluded to, reasons from a great variety of topics against the doctrine of hypothetical decrees, and general, indefinite atonement. He argues in favour of absolute election and definite atonement from the particularity of the first promise, made to our fallen ancestors in the garden of Eden; and the contrast between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; and from its particular fulfilment in his posterity, as in the families of Noah, Abraham, and Israel; from the limited economy of the gospel under the Old Testament dispensation, as confined to the Jewish nation; from the nature of the sacrifices, as indicating a substitution, precisely in the room of sinners; from the divine justice demanding the acquittal of all those for whom the price of redemption was paid; from the mediatory character, as the representative and surety of his spiritual seed; from the situation of the millions of the human family who were actually suffering the effects of the wrath of God in the mansions of everlasting misery, at the very time when Messiah was offering up to his Father the atoning sacrifice, and hence could receive by it no benefit; and from the unchangeableness of the divine character, who cannot will that man shall be saved, and yet not bestow upon him that faith which is his own gift, and without which the sinner must inevitably perish. From all these and various topics of argumentation, with a very extensive and minute examination and collation of scripture texts, he reasons that God did not, that he could not, upon the scriptural plan, destine Christ to be the redeemer of any but those who shall be actually saved. He charges his adversary with giving false views of the character of God; with mistaking the nature of the Christian system; and with exhibiting false views of the nature of the gospel. He meets and overturns all the objections which, with great subtlety of reasoning, extensive and prodigious learning, had been collected by his antagonist. He certainly triumphs in the judgment of every impartial reader who attends with care to the controversy.
The Gallic synod, however, had opened the floodgates of error, and no efforts of a foreign individual could arrest the torrent, or retard its course. It spread over France with astonishing rapidity. The friends of orthodoxy, alarmed at the mischief which, too late, they perceived had been done, fled in dismay from the overwhelming deluge that poured in upon them. Those who embraced the hypothesis vainly fancied that they had found out a means to heal all the divisions which had rent the church from the commencement of the reformation. They thought that the Arminians, at least, could cordially unite with them; and they even extended their views to the Roman Catholics. For this purpose, they courted the reigning catholic princes, who were lying in wait and plotting against them to their destruction. Amyraut preached with great vehemence the doctrine of passive obedience; the divine right of kings; and non-resistance; and was warmly supported by those who espoused the hypothesis. Thus, while the Amyraldists were breaking down the fair fabric of truth, which their fathers had erected, they were actively employed in giving their power to the beast, and endeavouring to support one of those thrones of iniquity with which God has declared that “he will have no fellowship.”
Still, a majority of the ministers were sound in the faith. Their practical errors were a relaxation of discipline and a spirit of accommodation, which induced them to pass, without censure, those who from the pulpit and the press, violated the canons of their church and their own solemn oaths, sworn at their ordination to the ministry. Though in compliance with a mandate from the king, a general synod had blotted the name of the synod of Dort out of the oath imposed upon those who were entering on the ministry, and had permitted Amyraut and his coadjutors to escape without censure, yet they often expressed the most decided disapprobation of these novel tenets.
Under the head of errors rejected, we have this strong reprobation of their opinions. “Those who teach that God’s election to eternal life, is of divers kinds, the one general and indefinite, the other definite and particular, and this again is incomplete and revocable, not peremptory but conditional, or else complete and unchangeable, peremptory, or absolute; item, that there is an election to faith, and another unto life and salvation, so that election unto justifying faith, may be without a peremptory election to salvation—these are nothing else but the inventions of brain sick men.”
The general synod of Alençon received a letter from the church of Geneva, signed on behalf of the whole, by Tronchien, Diodate, Chabray, Prevost and Paulient. It warns them, in very strong terms, to beware of the errors, which had been introduced at Saumur, and advises the Gallic church, “to grub them up by the roots.” This advice is enforced by a great variety of considerations, but chiefly from the situation in which the church was then placed. A work written by Rivetus on the same subject, and containing an elaborate refutation of the Salmurensian errors, was received, by the same synod, accompanied by very strong recommendations from many of the most distinguished Protestant divines of that age, among whom we find the names of Polyander, Wallæus, Thysius, Triglandius, Bogerman, Sertaurius, Majorinus, Altingius and Francis Gomar.
Du Moulin also wrote to this synod a very spirited, and eloquent letter, which reprobates in strong terms the policy of permitting these noxious subtleties to spread abroad in the church. Some have said that the doctrines in question, were the same in reality with those of Calvin and the Genevan school generally. Let us hear what Du Moulin, who had the very best opportunities of information on this subject, thought respecting it. In his letter to the synod of Alençon, he says, “nor can anyone deny but that one third part at least of Cameron’s works, is spent in the confutation of Calvin, Beza, and the rest of our reforming doctors,—yet, notwithstanding these blemishes, I cannot find in him that doctrine which is now vented by those, who boast themselves to be his disciples and followers, and cover themselves with the shield of his authority. I cannot find where he saith that the distinct knowledge of Jesus Christ is not necessary to salvation, nor that he saith that Jesus Christ died equally, and alike for all men; nor doth he teach that the reprobates may be saved if they will, or that God hath counsels and decrees that may be frustrated, and shall never obtain their effect; nor farther, can I find where he saith that God hath taken away from (all) men their natural impotency to believe and convert themselves to him; nor that he reduceth the regenerating spirit to a mere suasion.” Such is a summary of the Salmurensian errors, by a man who lived at the time when they were broached; and also the views which he had as to their opposition to the doctrines of the early reformers. Though such testimony is satisfactory, we do not need it while we can have access to their writings.
[THE DECLENSION BROUGHT BY THE AMYRAUT CONTROVERSY.]
All these warnings, however, could not excite the judicatories to eradicate the errors by inflicting the censures of the church. Men were permitted to remain in the ministry in open violation of their most solemn oaths, and while they were tearing down the pillars of truth. They had also another admonition to arrest the progress of these errors—the general corruption of manners, which began to prevail about the time that the Salmurensian errors commenced their career. Even enemies admit that the most rigid Calvinists have been, generally, the most virtuous class of Christians. The times of the greatest orthodoxy, have always been marked by the greatest piety. What Bayle, though an enemy, is forced to say of the purity, and the stern integrity of Calvin’s character, is generally true of his sincere disciples. While the doctrines of his school, in other words the doctrines of the Bible, prevailed in France, the reformed church there was distinguished for the talents, the zeal, the piety, and the faithfulness of the clergy, and for the devout lives of her members; but when the fountains of truth began to be poisoned, the floodgates of vice and immorality were also thrown open. We find the minutes of the general synods from that time, groaning under the complaints, sent up from the subordinate courts, that the churches were not well attended, that they were leaving off the custom of carrying their psalm books to places of public worship, that horse racing, gambling, intemperance, theatrical exhibitions and various other vices, were become common, to a most alarming degree. This was the voice of providence, and though they would not attend to the admonitions of other churches, nor to those of the aged and venerable among themselves, yet they should have listened to this. But they were deaf to all.
What reward did the protestants receive from the Catholics, for all those concessions, made as they partly admitted for the sake of peace? Such a reward as men of the world, or devotees of idolatry and superstition always bestow upon those who forsake the truth. God, in his righteous judgment, gave up the church to divisions; it ceased to flourish, and became feeble and more contemptible in the eyes of the enemy every day; and the fathers of the church and friends of truth, gradually sunk into the grave. While Louis XIII. was making encroachments upon the rights of the reformers, Du Moulin wrote a letter to James I. of England, in which he insinuated that the friends of the reformation, in France, hoped for his aid. The letter fell into the hands of the duke of Buckingham, and was by him sent to the king of France, who immediately issued orders to apprehend the writer. He got notice of the storm that was gathering, and made his escape, before it burst upon him. He was taken under the protection of the duke de Bouillon, who procured his settlement as pastor of the congregation and principal of the university of Sedan, a small principality, belonging to that nobleman, where he died in 1656, admired and beloved by all the good, and leaving his praise in all the churches. Soon after his death, the Salmurensian errors seem to have overrun almost the whole church, some of whose members embraced them in full, and nearly all in part. In 1669, thirty-six years after the commencement of Amyraut’s professional labours, the number of protestants in France was diminished to one third of what it had formerly been, and these were disunited, exhibiting no more than the fragments of what had been a magnificent fabric. They were no longer an object of respect, to the crown, or to the catholic princes. In 1680 an act was passed, by which protestants were incapacitated for holding civil offices; in 1682, protestant gentlemen were prohibited from keeping servants of their own religion, in their families, and all protestant officers and princes of the nobility degraded; and in 1685, fifty-one years after the commencement of Amyraut’s public career, the edict of Nantz, was finally and completely revoked, and the storm of persecution burst upon the church, in all its ruthless fury. As these were doubtless, the judgments of God upon a church, for a dereliction of truth and duty, it will be proper to give an extract from Gallia Reformata, a work edited by the Rev. Mr. Quick of London, from which the principal part of the facts we have given in relation to the Gallic church is taken. It contains a complete file of the minutes of the general synods of France, from that of Paris when the draught of their confession of faith was presented, to the revocation of the edict of Nantz. He gives [Vol. I. pp. 131, 132.] the following picture of their suffering. “They,” the papists, “fell upon the protestants, and there was no wickedness though ever so horrid, that they did not put in practice, that they might enforce them to change their religion. Amidst a thousand hideous cries, they hung up men and women by the hair, upon the roofs of their chambers, or by hooks in the chimneys, and smoked them with wisps of wet hay, till they were no longer able to bear it; and when they had taken them down, if they would not sign an abjuration of their pretended heresies, they then put them up again. Some they threw into great fires kindled on purpose, and would not take them out until they were half roasted. They put ropes under the arms of some and plunged them often into deep wells, until they would promise to change their religion. They bound them as criminals are, when put to the rack, and in that posture put funnels into their mouths, and poured wine down their throats, till its fumes had deprived them of their reason, and they had in that condition made them consent to become Catholics, or until the doleful outcries of these poor tormented creatures, calling upon God for mercy, compelled them to let them go. They beat them with staves and dragged them, all bruised, to the Romish churches, where their enforced presence was reputed as an abjuration. They kept them waking for seven or eight days together, relieving one another by turns, that they might not get any rest or sleep. In case they began to nod, they threw water in their faces, or holding kettles over their heads, they beat on them, with such continual noise, that the poor wretches lost their senses.
“If they found any sick, who kept their beds, whether of fevers, or other diseases, they were so cruel, as to beat an alarm of drums about their beds, for whole weeks together, till they had promised to change.”
All impartial historians of these times, speak in the same strain with Quick, of the sufferings of the French protestants, after the revocation of the edict of Nantz. Death with every species of cruel torture, or flight from the kingdom were the only alternatives left to those, who adhered to the confession of faith, and to the order of the protestant church. Many thousands fled as exiles, into remote countries, in which they ended their days. The greatest number of those exiles, took refuge in Holland. Among these was the divine Saurin, the learned Claude, and many other distinguished persons. It is remarkable, that nearly all of them were more or less tainted with the Salmurensian errors. Saurin whose name should never be mentioned without respect says, “there certainly is some sense in which Christ died for all mankind.” This however, seems to be the only point in which he departed from the opinions of the orthodox, for he maintained that the atonement was necessary—that God could not, in consistency with his justice, dispense with the punishment of sin. Either in his own person, or in that of his surety, the sinner must receive that punishment which he deserved. “If God,” says he, “be free to relax any part of the punishment, denounced, he is equally free to relax the whole. If we may infer that he will certainly release the sufferer from a part, because he is at liberty to do so, we have an equal right to presume he will release him from the whole, and there would be no absurdity in affirming the one, after we had allowed the other.”
If those, who fled from their country, were tinctured with those errors, what must have been the condition of those who made their peace with their persecutors, by sinful compliances? In reality the whole beautiful fabric sunk into complete ruin, from which it hath never yet emerged. Little has since been heard of the reformed church in France. It has always, it is true, existed as a body, but entirely degenerated from the soundness of the faith and the purity of practice which characterized the reformers in the days of Calvin, Beza, and Du Moulin. It has been said, upon good authority, that the greater part of the synod of Rochelle, and of the French protestants generally, about three years ago denied the divinity of Christ Jesus, and considered him with Arius, either a super-angelic being, or with a modern heretic, a mere man. The point at which they began to deviate from the system of truth, was that of a definite atonement; and they have gone from one step to another, until they now deny the divinity of Messiah, and have thus torn away, as far as in them lies, the last pillar of the Christian church, and rendered it heathen except in name.
[THE RISE OF SOCINUS AND HIS HERESY.]
While correct views of the doctrines of grace, especially of the nature of the atonement were spreading from the Genevan school, a heresy of a most formidable nature arose in the north of Europe. We have before seen that the Arian heresy overspread a great portion of the Christian church, and swept away all belief in the doctrine of the satisfaction by Christ Jesus. Still, the Arians never thought of maintaining that Jesus was anything less than the most exalted of all created intelligences. The Arians considered Christ as in some sense the saviour of men. It was reserved for modern times to attempt to degrade “God with us,” to the character of a mere man. This heresy was broached by Lælius Socinus, in the sixteenth century. In 1547, he was forced to fly from Sienna in Tuscany, on account of some opposition to the Roman Catholic religion. He settled in Switzerland, after having travelled over a great part of Europe, and embraced the Helvetic confession of faith, by a public profession. This confession exhibits on the person Christ Jesus, his mediatorial character, the doctrine of the trinity, the decrees, the atonement, and all other capital doctrines of the Christian system, the same views with those taught in the Genevan school, and with the French confession. Though in his life Lælius professed to believe these doctrines, yet it appeared after his death, which took place 1562, in Switzerland, that a great part of his life had been spent in endeavours to destroy them. The manuscripts, which contained the heretical labours of a great part of his life, fell into the hands of his nephew, Faustus Socinus. It is impossible to tell where the uncle left off, and where the nephew began; however, as Lælius was confessedly a man of great genius and extensive learning, and as Faustus though possessed of considerable natural talents, was in a great measure illiterate, it is probable that the greater part of the works published by the latter, are from the pen of the former. He denied utterly the divinity of Christ Jesus, and maintained that he was a mere man, and never had any existence till he was conceived in the womb of the virgin: that he neither died for the sins of mankind, nor obeyed the law for them; that all men have power to do good works sufficient to save them; that the only atonement required by divine justice, consists in faith in God and his revelations, and in repentance; that there are no divine decrees, and that Christ’s holiness of life, sufferings, and death on the cross, were merely designed to set an example of purity of life and patience in affliction to his followers. All these and other heresies, he attempted to establish, at great length, and with much subtlety of reasoning. After exhibiting great indecision and adopting many plans of life, Faustus settled permanently at Racow in Poland, which became the center of his operations. Upon the publication of his uncle’s manuscripts, with such additions or alterations as he may have made in them, many embraced the heresies with which they were filled, especially among the Poles. A great many of the nobility soon became Socinians. He published a manual called the Racovian Catechism, designed for the instruction of children. It does not clearly and unequivocally exhibit all his views, but like the operations of other heretics, evinces a determination to undermine the system of truth. The extent, to which the Socinian heresies have spread is truly alarming. The fate of Poland has not deterred thousands, in other nations, from embracing those blasphemies against the divinity of Messiah and the character of God, for which Jesus Christ, who rules the nations, has permitted the surrounding monarchies to rend in pieces this kingdom, that attempted to pluck the crown from his head. Never were the divine judgments more visibly inflicted upon the Israelitish empire, for its idolatries, than they have been upon Poland for her heresies. A large proportion of the reformed church in the Germanic empire, has been carried away with this destructive heresy. What has always happened in other cases may be expected in this, that those who reject the divinity of the Redeemer, should become lost to all sense, not only of genuine piety, but generally to all appearance of attention to the duties of religion. It was not until shortly before the almost entire destruction of the Austrian empire by the French armies, that the Socinian heresy had become common in Germany. The Rev. Dr. John Henry Young, well known, to the Christian world, by the conspicuous part which he took in the Germanic Bible societies, and who was for many years professor of anatomy and optics in the college of Marburgh, says in his “Grauer Man,” a work published about the beginning of the present century, that a professor of divinity, who was delivering a course of lectures on theology, concluded one set of lectures by saying that “he hoped he had completely set aside the claims of Christ Jesus to divine honours, and that he would endeavour, in a few lectures, to clip the wings of the Holy Ghost.” Such revolting blasphemy, one would have thought, could never have entered into the heart of man, much less have escaped from the lips of any one making a profession of anything bearing the least resemblance to Christianity. But when reported by such a man as Dr. Young, no one can doubt of its truth. Indeed, if the opinions of Socinus and his disciples were true, there would be nothing impious or even improper in it. In Prussia, where there were once five hundred ministers of the reformed church, most of them orthodox, most of them of the Genevan school, the pulpits are opened to both Socinians and Jews, who, from the sacred desk, are permitted to hurl their blasphemies against the Son of God and his atoning sacrifice. Many of the protestant clergy in Prussia and Germany are not Socinians only, but are expressly and avowedly deists, who have taken holy orders with no other view than to gain a living. What was the point at which they first began to diverge from the path of truth? Precisely that at which, the Salmurensian divines commenced their career of ruin—the doctrine of a definite atonement. When men once leave the path of truth, the farther they travel the more widely do they stray. Arminianism, we have seen, is the high road to deism. This might be illustrated in the character of individuals, as well as of nations and churches. More than one of those who embraced the Armininian errors in France became deists. The celebrated Grotius wrote against Socinus, and was replied to by Crellius, a distinguished Socinian writer. Grotius adopted some of the Arminian errors, and though he never avowed himself a disciple of his antagonist, yet the manner in which he attempted to explain away most of the passages, which plainly teach the divinity of Jesus, afford strong presumption that he went over to the camp of the enemy, and some say he died a deist. Robinson, the learned and elegant translator of Saurin’s sermons, first receded from the truth by embracing Arminian errors, and never halted in his career, until he adopted the Socinian creed, or rather the deistical, and wrote a large book to prove that for many hundreds of years there was in reality no church of God, and that ministers do not derive their office by succession from the apostles.
[THE FAITHFUL FAMILY OF TURRETIN.]
While error was spreading in Holland, by Arminius and his disciples; in France, from the Saumur; and heresy from Racow, in Poland, the school of Geneva for a great many years preserved its attachment to the system of the reformers, without the least deviation. The successors of Calvin and Beza, were learned, illustrious and devout men. Among the most distinguished of these for learning, industry, and piety, were the Turrettins. One of them the Rev. Benedict Turrettin, was a delegate in one of the general synods of France. Francis Turrettin, the author of the body of divinity, from which we propose to present translations, on the subject of the atonement, to our readers, was professor of theology in Geneva, and pastor of the church in that place, for many years before and until the time of the revocation of the edict of Nantz. For various erudition, great industry, zeal for the truth, and ability to support it, by scripture and reason, he never was excelled by any of the distinguished divines who were in that seminary, not even by Calvin himself. He has left four large quarto volumes, containing each about eight hundred pages, which contain a very complete vindication of the doctrines of grace, against all the most prominent errors that have plagued the church. No where will the student of theology find so masterly a refutation of all those errors, and so luminous a display of the genuine truths of the gospel, as in the writings of this great and good man. Every student of divinity should read and digest well the whole of his writings, and thus lay up for himself a treasure of theological knowledge, upon which he may draw during all his future life.
Francis Turrettin, the grand-father of the professor, was the first of the family who settled in Geneva, which place he fixed upon as his residence, on account of the excellent opportunities there presented, for improvement in Christian knowledge, as exhibited by the divines who taught in the school of Calvin. For many years, Benedict Turrettin, the father of the younger Francis, performed with extraordinary reputation, the duties of professor of theology and pastor of the church in Geneva. Francis Turrettin was born in 1623. He entered early upon his education, and visited the most celebrated schools in Germany, Holland, and France. He heard the lectures of Cappel, La Place, and Amyraut, at Saumur, but rejected the hypothesis of the latter, adhering, with undeviating firmness, to the doctrines which Calvin, and his father had taught at Geneva. In France also, he studied natural philosophy and mathematics, under the celebrated Gassendi, and became acquainted with many of the most distinguished literary men, who at that time formed a most brilliant constellation. In 1647, soon after his return to Geneva, he was ordained to the ministry, and in the year following was chosen pastor of the church. In Geneva there were many French and Italians; his family was originally from Parma, and he preached with ease and fluency, in several languages. His eloquence was of a most persuasive and irresistible character, and under his ministry the church flourished in a very high degree. In 1653, he was made professor of theology in the academy, where he was united with the celebrated Tronchinus, Antony Seger, and Philip Mæstraeht, all of whom co-operated with him in advancing the cause of truth, as taught by their predecessors, and in refuting the numerous errors and heresies which were then making great inroads upon the church.
The work on theology of which an account has been given above, comprises the substance of the lectures which he read from the theological chair of the academy, the splendour of whose character was well supported during his life. He was either personally acquainted with the most distinguished divines and scholars of his age, or corresponded with them, both in Latin and their native languages.
He died in 1687, at the very time when thousands of the French protestants were flying to Geneva, from the dreadful storm of persecution that had burst upon them after the revocation of the edict of Nantz.
[PICTET AND HIS ORTHODOXY.]
He was succeeded in the theological professorship by his nephew Benedict Pictete, who filled, with great reputation, the honourable station to which he was advanced. His system of theology, [We understand that the Rev. Dr. (Ashbel) Green is now engaged in translating this system.] published in French, is substantially the same with that of his uncle Mr. Turrettin. He did not depart from the faith of his ancestors, nor diminish the reputation of his family.
The degree of learning diffused among the people of Geneva, through the instrumentality of the academy, is almost incredible. Even the peasantry and servants spoke Latin with very considerable propriety. Sound literature and correct theological views, in Christian countries generally go hand in hand. One may and often does flourish, where the other languishes for some time. But sound theology usually elevates the literary character of a people, while heresy, by introducing immorality and a neglect of the Holy Scriptures, scarcely ever fails in the end, to degrade literature. With all the boasted improvements of Europe during the last century, the greater part of European literary men, if we except chemists, are at the present time mere smatterers compared with Calvin, Du Moulin, Grotuis, Gassendi, Amyraut, Spanheim, Turrettin, Pictete, and Owen. Geneva was the center from which literature, as well as sound theology, diffused itself among all the reformed churches in Europe. What the state of orthodoxy is at present in Geneva, we have no means of very accurate information, but we do not hesitate to say, it contains more orthodoxy in proportion to the number of its inhabitants, than any other city of Europe. While Poland, on account of her heresies and blasphemies against Messiah, has been ground to dust, and scattered to the four winds, the sport of tyrants; and while the other empires of Europe have been convulsed to their centers, and deluged with blood, Geneva has enjoyed comparative repose, under the protection of Messiah. Such views as these need no apology to those who are familiar with scripture history.
In Holland too, the seminaries of the Calvinistic school, maintained long their integrity, and indeed from the latest accounts, they do so in some measure even to the present time. The works of Witsius, Spanheim, Rivetus, Des Marets, Salmasius, Heinsius, Triglandius, Hornbeck, Hoton, Goetius, Æmelius, and others, who were of the Genevan school, have been like salt in preserving the Belgic churches, and have in some measure saved them from the corruption which has almost ruined most other protestant churches on the continent.
[RUSSIAN ORTHODOXY AND THE ATONEMENT.]
In the north of Europe, we have reason to hope, that very considerable progress is making in the diffusion of a knowledge of divine truth. Platon, the late Metropolitan of Moscow, in his exhibit of the doctrines of the Russian Greek church, states, explicitly, his belief in the divinity of Christ Jesus, and his atonement as the only hope of the sinner, and also of the necessity of faith in him, in order to salvation. These views he gives, not merely as his own personal opinions, but as those of the Russian church, and the book is extensively read and referred to as a standard work in Russia. [Mr. Daschkoff the Russian ambassador informs me, that the greatest reliance may be placed on this book, as giving an accurate view of the doctrines of the Greek church, and that it is well translated.]
[THE ATONEMENT IN THE OPINION OF BRITISH DIVINES.]
The opinions respecting the atonement, which have been held by the divines of the British empire, have not yet been mentioned. They have been purposely reserved that they might be presented in one connected view. Here a vast body of facts offer themselves, from which but a few can be selected.
Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, in his book concerning the Virgin, and original sin, says:—“Some say if all are not polluted by Adam’s sin and chargeable with it, how can it be asserted that no one can be saved without a satisfaction made for the sin of Adam? For how can a just God demand from them a satisfaction, which they have not? To which I reply that God does not demand from any sinner more than he owes. But because no one has power to pay as much as he owes, Christ alone, has paid for all who shall be saved, more than is due.” Here we have the doctrine of atonement asserted in as plain terms as words can express it. We have also the extent of the atonement, “for all who shall be saved,” from which we discover that he did not maintain that Christ, for all men as well those who are saved, as those who are damned, paid the price of redemption. He lived towards the end of the eleventh century, and considering the station which he occupied, the influence which he had over the church in Britain, and the attention which he paid to the subjects upon which he wrote, we cannot entertain a doubt but that the language, which he uses both here and in other parts of his book, expresses the opinions which were generally held at that time by British Christians.
But in Britain, as well as in nearly all other countries of Europe, most of the professors of religion, in a great measure lost sight of the efficacy of the atoning sacrifice of Messiah, and placed their reliance for salvation, upon the observance of unmeaning or criminal ceremonies, and the absolution of priests, until their eyes were opened by the reformation, which dawned early upon the British Isles. The name of John Wickliffe, is known to everyone who has the least acquaintance with the history of Great Britain. He was celebrated by his contemporaries as a man of profound erudition, and uncommon genius; and, for that age, he was doubtless an extraordinary man. He filled the theological chair in the college of Oxford; and his first appearance before the public in such a manner as to attract much public notice, was in the year 1360, one hundred and sixty years before Luther began his reformation in Germany. In that year he appeared as a champion for the privileges of the University. While engaged in this controversy he dared to utter some censures against the Roman pontiff, which provoked the vengeance of the catholic monks and bishops. In 1367 he was degraded from his office in the University. He appealed to Urban V. who confirmed the sentence that had been pronounced against him. He now threw off all restraint, attacked the monks, and exposed, with great boldness, the profligacy of their lives. He did not stop here, for though his views were rather obscure, yet he taught that men must rely upon the atonement of Christ Jesus alone for salvation, and that every other ground of hope must prove fallacious. He was persecuted, but his opinions spread extensively, and he had many followers, who were called Wickliffites. He died in 1387. All he did was but like the shedding of a few rays upon the darkness of the night, rendering the darkness visible.
What he effected, however, paved the way for the introduction of a more correct knowledge of the system of grace into the British empire, at the time of the reformation. The chief instrument in the hand of Providence for effecting this glorious work was John Knox, who, next to Luther, and Calvin, has been the most distinguished mark for the shafts of ridicule and calumny, by infidels, heretics, and other ungodly men. This illustrious reformer was born in 1505, five years after Charles V., emperor of Germany, at Haddington, in Scotland. He was descended of respectable parentage, and commenced his liberal education at the grammar school in Haddington. From this school he was transferred to the university of St. Andrews, where he commenced, at nineteen years of age, his collegiate course in the college of St. Silvador, at the same time with George Buchanan. He made great progress in his studies, and manifested peculiar facility in the study of languages, especially the Greek, in which he made uncommon proficiency. Both he and Buchanan were disgusted with the scholastic jargon, which occupied so conspicuous a place in the seminaries at that time, and betook themselves to other sources of improvement. Knox, read with great interest, the writings of Jerome and Augustine, especially the former. He soon perceived that the doctrines of religion had been entirely corrupted, by the catholic clergy; that in Scotland, little more of Christianity than the name had been retained, and to this corruption, as its genuine source, he attributed the shameful profligacy of the clergy, which exceeded perhaps that of every other country in Europe. Before this time indeed a gleam of light had shone upon Scotland, through the preaching of Mr. Patrick Hamilton, a noble youth who had gone to Germany, induced by the fame of Luther, and had returned to Scotland to expose the corruptions of the church. He was persecuted, and received the crown of martyrdom in the year 1528. While Knox was employed in search of truth with a noble independence, he met with Mr. George Wishart, who was of a most amiable character, a very devout man, had embraced the protestant religion, and was of great use in giving Knox correct views of the system of grace. About the year 1549, he went to Geneva and heard the lectures of Calvin, whose views of the doctrine of the atonement, of the divine decrees, of faith, and of church government, he fully embraced. Upon his return to his native country, he proclaimed the doctrines of grace, as taught in the Geneva school, with a boldness, which excites a high degree of admiration in the mind of every enlightened Christian. His great theme was the excellency of the atonement, on which he descanted with a most commanding eloquence, and with astonishing effect. Thousands of all orders embraced his doctrines, became advocates for his plan of church government, and renounced the Roman catholic religion. The sword of persecution awoke, but nothing could check the progress of truth. The prospects of salvation through the atonement of Messiah, were like the cheering beams of the morning sun after a dark and tempestuous night, and as well might the enemies of the atonement have attempted to impede the progress of the car of day, as to check the march of the reformation. The result of the popish opposition to the truth, were civil wars which agitated the whole nation, and the effect of the gospel was, in this case, what Christ predicted it should be, to set a man against his father, the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law, &c. But all hastened the progress of the light. Hundreds died upon the scaffold, exulting in the hope of a blessed immortality obtained through the mediation, obedience, death and intercession of Christ Jesus. Indeed, all the martyrs, who laid down their lives for the truths of Christianity, from the proto-martyr Stephen, to the earl of Argyle, in Scotland, give testimony to the truth and value of the atonement; which supported them amidst all their cruel tortures, and enabled thousands to sing in triumph over death even in the midst of the flames.
While things were thus advancing toward the abolition of popery in Scotland, the head of the church was by the dispensations of his Providence, preparing the way in England for the promotion of truth. King Henry VIII. was upon the throne of that kingdom at the same time that Charles V. reigned in Germany, and Francis I. in France. He had married Catharine of Aragon, the sister of Charles V. Catharine, before her marriage to Henry had been contracted to his brother, which afforded him a pretext, when he formed an attachment to Ann Boleyn, to seek a divorce from her, which according to the notions of those times among Catholics, could only be obtained from the Roman Pontiff. To the pope Henry made application, but he was unwilling to offend so powerful a monarch as Charles V., and refused to grant the dispensation. The king was resolved that he would not be thwarted in his project, but at the advice of Cranmer, whom he elevated about the same time to the rank of archbishop, to promote his views applied to the colleges and universities of Britain and of other kingdoms of Europe for advice. They were unanimously of opinion, that a man could not legally marry his brother’s wife. Henry proclaimed the British empire independent of the see of Rome, and divided between himself and his archbishop, that power over all ecclesiastical affairs, which had been claimed and granted before to the pope.
We mention these events to shew the provision which the great Head of the church had made, to prepare the way for introducing into England a knowledge of the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ. Light from the continent of Europe, and from Scotland, began to shed its beams upon England. Archbishop Cranmer, though in some things defective, was a very learned and pious divine. He taught the doctrine of atonement in the most explicit terms, it runs through everything he wrote. He also invited learned men from the continent to the university of Oxford, and patronized the cause of letters generally throughout the kingdom. He made a translation of the scriptures into the English language, and had editions of it printed so cheap as to place it in the reach of the poor. The effect of the diffusion of the oracles of truth among the common people was a means of leading them to a belief in the doctrine of the atonement. However heretics may wrest the scriptures, and by subtlety of argument bewilder themselves, and those who are fond of their curious and sophistical speculations, the common people always derive from them the doctrine of salvation by Jesus Christ, not only as a prophet instructing them, and as a king governing them, but as a priest making atonement for the sins of his people. The circulation of the scriptures, among the English peasantry, was one of the noblest works effected by Cranmer. He also applied himself to the formation of a confession of faith for the English church. This celebrated system has since been known by the name of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. It asserts in the strongest terms the doctrine of the trinity, the equality of the Son and Holy Ghost with God the Father, the substitution of Christ Jesus in the room of the sinner, and his perfect satisfaction made to the law of God, to the divine justice; and that by the imputation of his righteousness to the sinner, who by faith accepts of it as offered in the gospel, justification, consisting of pardon of sin and acceptance with God as righteous, is procured, and that all this salvation is applied and rendered effectual for salvation by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
These articles were never fully adopted, nor generally received in the church of England during the reign of Henry VIII. who manifested no regard for the interests of true religion, either in his own person, or among his subjects. The clergy when he ascended the throne were not only shamefully ignorant of everything which resembled Christianity in theory, but were in a high degree profligate in their lives. In every kingdom of Europe, and nowhere more than in England, the monks were the opprobrium of religion, and the scorn of all sensible men. The king suppressed monasteries, and a part of their revenues was divided between the crown and the nobility, and the remainder given to the monks for their support, but no provision was made in any effectual manner for the supply of able and learned spiritual instructors. Hence, nearly all that was done, for the propagation of correct principles, among the people, was through the medium of the word of life, without the aid of living instructors, and so few could read, that the effects produced by the scriptures were not so great, as we might at first view imagine. Such was the caprice and tyranny of Henry, that no steady measures, which the archbishop suggested, and wished to carry into operation, could be pursued. The people, however, began to be generally convinced that the priests could not save them.
In 1547, Cranmer was freed from the tyranny and caprice of the master who had elevated him to his high rank, by the death of Henry VIII., and he now exerted himself with very great vigour in promoting the cause of reformation. We have said that Cranmer encouraged learning, and learned men. With the concurrence of the regent, who governed the kingdom during the minority of Edward VI., son of Henry VIII., those learned protestants, Peter Martyr, Martin Bucer, Paul Fagius, and Emanuel Tremellius were placed in Oxford college. These distinguished men brought with them the doctrines relative to the atonement, that they had learned in the school of Luther, and they taught them to numerous youth of the most powerful families in the kingdom, who resorted to Oxford. This measure had a happy effect in a twofold way, by communicating, through the medium of the youth, a knowledge of the way of salvation into the first families in England, and by securing the education of young men, to furnish the church with a learned ministry. All other events, even the translation of the Bible and its circulation in the English language, were little more than preparatory to this measure, which produced a most extensive and powerful effect. With all the exertion of the primate and the efforts of the learned protestants, whom he had brought over from the continent to aid him, the progress of truth was still slow. The clergy were unwilling and unable to instruct the people, who were sunk into the lowest state of ignorance.
Soon after the death of Henry VIII., John Knox, whose fame had spread extensively in England, being released from the French gallies, in which he had been confined, visited London, where he was received with every mark of respect and friendship by the archbishop, to whom as well as to the privy council, his late sufferings had greatly recommended him. He preached, with his usual zeal, and to vast audiences, the doctrines in which he had been instructed from the word of God, both in his native country and at Geneva. He was appointed to preach at Berwick, on the borders between the two kingdoms, by which he had it in his power to be instrumental in leading many people of both kingdoms, from the Catholic church, and instructing them in the knowledge of that salvation, which is by Christ Jesus.
[KING EDWARD AND THE REFORMATION.]
As soon as Edward ascended the throne, he used his utmost exertions to promote the protestant cause, of which he was a warm friend, and pious professor. He appointed six protestant chaplains, two of whom were to preach to himself and his court, while the other four were to itinerate through the kingdom and supply the place of those lazy and ignorant bishops, who neglected their flocks. One of those was Knox, whose instrumentality in advancing the cause of truth during his residence in England was very great. The thirty-nine articles, and the liturgy generally, a great part of which was taken from the Augsburg Confession and Liturgy, and had been compiled by Cranmer, was adopted, and by authority fully introduced into the church during the short reign of Edward. Knox was consulted on this occasion. Some of those who were active in bringing the liturgy into use, were for retaining in it the doctrine of the corporeal presence in the Eucharistic bread and wine; but, through the influence of Knox, it was expunged, and also the practice of kneeling, at the reception of the elements. It is now time that from the standards of the church of England, we should lay before the reader a few selections, relative to the subject of atonement; and first of original sin, the fountain whence flow all the evils which render a satisfaction necessary. The Homily on the misery of man has these words:—“In ourselves (as of ourselves) we find nothing whereby we may be delivered from the miserable captivity into which we are cast through the envy of the devil; by breaking God’s commandment in our first parent Adam.” The same Homily asserts that we cannot deliver ourselves from the consequences of the fall by any power of our own. “We cannot think a good thought of ourselves, much less can we say well, or do well of ourselves.” Of this original guilt it says again:—“Wherefore he,” (i.e. David) “says, Mark and behold I was conceived in sins; he saith not sin, but in the plural number, sins; forasmuch as out of one as a fountain spring all the rest.” The Homily on Christ’s nativity, is clear and full to the same point. “As before he,” (Adam) “was most beautiful and precious, so now he was most wretched and vile in the sight of the Lord his Maker. Instead of the image of God, he was now become the image of the devil; instead of the citizen of heaven, he was now become the bond-slave of hell, having in himself no one part of his former purity and cleanness, but being altogether spotted and defiled, insomuch that he now seemed to be nothing else but a lump of sin, and therefore by the just judgment of God condemned to everlasting death.”
The ninth article is entitled, “Of original sin,” which it thus defines; “Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk) but it is the fault of the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit.” Lest it should be thought that by all these expressions, no more is intended than the derivation of corruption from Adam fallen, while we are not accountable for his violation of the covenant, the Homilies assert “that we are by nature children of wrath, but we are not able to make ourselves inheritors of God’s glory.” Again; “We are all miserable persons, damnable persons, justly driven out of Paradise, justly excluded from heaven, justly condemned to hell.” As if the writers of the standards of the English church found it difficult to express, in the English language the greatness of this sin, they heap epithet upon epithet, so as to put their meaning beyond all doubt. Hence the Homily on the nativity of Christ—“Before Christ’s coming into the world, all men universally in Adam, were nothing else but a crooked generation, rotten and corrupt tares, stony ground, full of brambles, and briars, lost sheep, prodigal sons, naughty and unprofitable servants, unrighteous stewards, workers of iniquity, the brood of adders, blind guides, sitting in darkness, and the shadow of death; to be short nothing else, but children of perdition, and inheritors of hell.” All this is not merely of themselves or by actual transgression, but in Adam, that is, if language have any meaning, by the guilt of Adam’s sin in breaking the covenant of works, being imputed to them. Listen again to the tremendous language of the Homilies, which, strange to tell, many swear to maintain, and yet are Arminians, who deny the doctrine of original sin. “Neither he” (Adam) “nor any of his, had any right, or interest at all in the kingdom of heaven, but were become plain reprobates, and cast-aways, being perpetually damned to the everlasting pains of hell fire.” Than all this, nothing could possibly be more decisive. It is perfectly the doctrine of the Genevan school.
That man cannot, in his own person, make satisfaction to the divine justice, is taught with the same precision. The homily on the misery of mankind, instructs the worshipper, “that his own works are imperfect,” and then, it adds, “we shall not stand foolishly and arrogantly in our own conceits, nor challenge any part of justification by our merits or works.” The homily on salvation says, “Justification is not the office of man, but of God, for man cannot make himself righteous by his own works, neither in part nor in whole; for, that were the greatest arrogancy and presumption of man, that antichrist could set up against God, to affirm that man might by his own works, take away and purge his own sins, and thus justify himself.” Quotations to the same effect might be greatly multiplied, but what we have made are amply sufficient to prove, that those who composed the homilies, if they understood English, intended to say that unless help for fallen man was laid upon some one more mighty than man himself, there was nothing for him but everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power. Original sin as taught in the Calvinistic school, the total depravity and utter inability of man to help himself are as clearly and explicitly taught here as in any of the works of Calvin, or in the confessions of any of the Calvinistic churches.
As to the manner in which we are justified, the homily on salvation asserts, that “we be justified by faith only,” which is more fully explained in the following words—“We put our faith in Christ that we be justified by him only, that we be justified by God’s free mercy, and the merits of our Saviour Christ only, and by no virtue or good works of our own that are in us, or that we can be able to have or to do for to deserve the same; Christ himself only being the meritorious cause thereof.” What is this but a total exclusion of our own good works, and a full and explicit assertion of the merits of Jesus as the only ground of our justification before God? Shall the church of England continue to decry Calvin, and the Genevan school, while her own homilies, which all her own clergy and the officers of the British government must swear to support, teach the same doctrines that were taught in that celebrated school?
The eleventh article is also explicit on the same point: “We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the homily on justification.” But the homilies do not stop here; they contain, in clear and precise terms, the doctrine of imputation. The view which the scriptures present of this subject is, that Jesus Christ from eternity, in the covenant of grace undertook as the representative of his spiritual seed, to pay the debt which they should, after their fall in Adam, owe to the divine justice, by suffering in their room, what they deserved, and fulfilling the law which they would be unable to do in their own persons, and thus pay the price of redemption for them, as their legal representative. Hence when the believer, by faith accepts of this righteousness offered in the gospel, it becomes his own, and because it is his own, as much as if he had wrought it out for himself, it is imputed to him for his justification. This grand and consolatory doctrine lies at the very foundation of all our hopes of acceptance with God and a blessed immortality. It is so exhibited in the homilies of the English established church. Hear the homily on the salvation of mankind: “The price of our redemption, is by the offering of his” (Christ’s) “body and the shedding of his blood, with fulfilling of the law perfectly and thoroughly.” And again it adds, “the justice of God, consisteth in paying our ransom and fulfilling the law.” In the same homily it is farther expressed in these words:—“He” (God) “provided a ransom for us, that was the most precious body and blood of his own most dear and beloved son Jesus Christ, who, besides this ransom, fulfilled the law for us perfectly.” Again—“The end of his (Christ’s) coming was to save and deliver his people, to fulfil the law for us, &c.” Still more explicitly it states the formal cause of our justification to be, “the gracious imputation of God the Father, accounting his Son’s righteousness unto the sinner, and by that account making it his to all effects, as if he himself had performed it.” No sophistry can explain away, no art elude the force of this explicit declaration. On the subject of the extent of the ransom, or in relation to those for whom the ransom was offered, there is nothing very explicit in the articles; but it may be asked, how can the law be “perfectly fulfilled,” and the ransom fully paid to divine justice for any sinner, and yet that sinner, to all eternity, be compelled to suffer, in his own person, the punishment due to his sins, and thus pay a second time the ransom, which Christ had paid for him in his life and at his death? Is not this to offer an indignity to divine justice, and to represent God as doing that which a virtuous man would not do? It may be said the ransom is paid and liberation offered to the sinner in the gospel, but that he by unbelief rejects the offered salvation, and thus must suffer for the rejection. This would not solve the difficulty with respect to the heathen who have never heard of Christ Jesus. Again, with respect to those who hear the gospel, their rejection is a sin, and if Christ paid the ransom for all the sins of all mankind, he must have satisfied for this sin. But if it be said he satisfied justice for all sins except unbelief, what then is gained by his satisfaction for only a part of our sins? Nothing surely. But every man is guilty of unbelief until the day in which he believes; hence, as according to the homilies, all his sins are pardoned on account of the righteousness of Christ, his past unbelief, must have been atoned for; and hence Christ must have made satisfaction for this as well as other sins. It is impossible then to make the homilies consistent with themselves, without attributing to them the doctrine of a definite atonement. That such was the opinion of their compilers, there can be little doubt.
This is farther elucidated by the doctrine which they teach relative to the regeneration of the sinner. The homily for rogation week, hath these words:—“Let us, therefore meekly call upon that bountiful Spirit, the Holy Ghost, which proceedeth from our Father of mercy, and from our mediator Christ, that he would assist us, and inspire us with his presence, for without his lively and secret inspiration, can we not so much as speak in the name of our mediator.” This cannot mean merely the calling upon God with our mouths in the name of Christ, but must be understood of the prayer of the heart offered up to God through the Redeemer, which can proceed from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost only. To the same purpose speaks the homily on “a fruitful exhortation to the reading and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.” “The words of the Holy Scripture, be called words of everlasting life, for they be God’s instrument ordained for the same purpose. They have power to turn us through God’s promise, and they be effectual through God’s assistance, and, being received in a faithful heart, they have ever an heavenly and spiritual working in them.” Again, the homily for Whitsuntide:—“He that is the Lord of heaven and earth, of his great mercy so work in all men’s hearts, by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, that the comfortable gospel of his son Christ, may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed in all places.” Farther:—“Man’s human and worldly wisdom and science, is not needful to the understanding of the scripture, but the revelation of the Holy Ghost, who inspireth the true meaning unto them, that with humility and diligence search therefor.” The seventeenth article, bears testimony to the same truth. “The godly consideration of predestination, and our election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the spirit of Christ mortifying the deeds of the flesh.” Besides a very distinct assertion of the doctrine that the Holy Spirit works in us to the saving of the soul, we have here the doctrine of predestination, and of our election in Christ distinctly taught. A host of writers who have explained these articles, and who have exhibited their views of the doctrines of grace, might be quoted to the same effect: the works of divines who have been an ornament not only to the English church, but also to human nature. Now, how can Christ have fully paid the ransom, for those for whom he died, they be utterly unable to accept of the offer of salvation made in consequence of this payment, and the Holy Ghost’s agency be necessary in the application of the purchased redemption, while Christ should be said to have died for millions, who never heard of this salvation, and for millions who have heard of it, to whom, yet the Holy Ghost, who alone can apply it by working faith in the hearts, never does, and never will apply it? Are not all the operations of all the persons of the Trinity in harmony with each other? Surely. If God the Father willed the salvation of all men, and sent his Son to die for all men; if the Son willed the salvation of all and died for all, shall not the Holy Ghost also will the salvation of all? Most assuredly. But how can he be supposed to will the salvation of those to whom he does not apply the salvation which Christ has procured for them? There could not be a greater absurdity, unless it be the other side of the question, that though both God the Father and God the Son, wills the salvation of all, yet the Holy Ghost opposes their will and refuses to apply that salvation which the Father and Son wish him to apply. To make the homilies speak the language of Arminius, or even to maintain that they may be fairly interpreted in such a manner as to admit those who profess a belief in them to hold the. Arminian errors, is to attribute to them impious absurdities. Yet strange as it may seem, thousands who have solemnly declared their approbation of them, hold even worse than all the errors of Arminianism.
Yet it must be admitted that the doctrine of a definite atonement, though fairly inferable from them, is not explicitly stated in the articles. Either the framers, had not themselves very distinct views on the subject, which is far from improbable, or they purposely expressed themselves in a manner not very definite. We shall hereafter see, that the consequences of this loose manner of expression have not been less fatal in England than on the continent—that a flood of errors has poured into the church, to the destruction of both truth and holiness.
[THE SCOTTISH REFORMATION AND THE ATONEMENT.]
While the reformation was thus progressing in England, it was also continuing to advance rapidly in North Britain. The power of its enemies was gradually becoming more feeble. The continual civil wars rather promoted than retarded its progress. All the violent opposition of Queen Mary and her popish friends could not check its growth; even the very means which they devised for its destruction, accelerated its progress.
The Genevan confession of faith was adopted and sanctioned by the Scottish reformers. This instrument is very brief, but the doctrine of the atonement is fully and explicitly stated, so as that it cannot be misunderstood. Indeed, it seems to have been justly considered the grand center from which all the other doctrines of Christianity radiate. After exhibiting distinctly the doctrine of the Trinity, as at present taught in all the Calvinistic branches of the church, in the first article; the second article, is expressed in these words:—
“I believe, and confess Jesus Christ, the only Saviour and Messiah, who being equal with God, made himself of no reputation but took on him the shape of a servant, and became man, in all things like unto us, sin excepted, to assure us of mercy and forgiveness, for when, through our father Adam’s transgression, we were become children of perdition, there was no means to bring us from that yoke of sin and damnation, but only Jesus Christ our Lord, who giving us that grace, which was by his nature, made us through faith the children of God—and, forasmuch as he, being only God, could not feel death; neither being only man, could overcome death, he joined both together, and suffered his humanity to be punished with death, feeling in himself the anger and severe judgment of God, even as if he had been in the extreme torments of hell, and therefore cried with a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’
“Thus of his free mercy, without compulsion, he offered himself as the only sacrifice to purge the sins of all the world; so that all other sacrifices for sin are blasphemous, and derogate from the sufficiency hereof.”
The doctrines of faith and regeneration, through the agency of the Holy Ghost, are the same with those taught by the standards of the English church. Indeed, there can be no doubt, however many members of the British establishment employ their time in attempts to degrade Calvin, that the doctrines taught in the Articles and Homilies were originally derived partly from Geneva.
The Genevan confession, from which those extracts are taken, was adopted at an early period of the Reformation in Scotland, but the Scotch reformers did not stop here; they formed, for themselves a confession of faith which was adopted, as the Confession of Faith for the kingdom, by the parliament in the year 1560. It contains a very full and lucid exhibition of the Christian system; and is perhaps more perfect than any similar instrument formed by any of the churches, in the sixteenth century. That the views which it contains were chiefly derived from the Genevan school, through the instrumentality of Knox, there can be no doubt, as it was adopted nine years after he was invited by the nobility to return to Scotland, before which time he had been at Geneva.
The third article treats of original sin; and is in these words:—“By which transgression” (that of Adam) “commonly called original sin, was the image of God utterly defaced in man, and he and his posterity of nature become enemies to God, slaves to satan, servants to sin; insomuch that death everlasting hath had, and shall have, power and dominion over all that have not been, are not or shall not be regenerated from above; which regeneration is wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost, working in the hearts of the elect of God, an assured faith in the promise of God, revealed to us in his word; by which faith, we apprehend Christ Jesus, with the graces and benefits promised in him.” That all men will not be delivered from this state of corruption, into which by the sin of Adam, they are fallen, but those only who are elected of God in Christ Jesus, is plainly taught in the eighth article:—“For that same God and Father, who of mere grace, elected us in Christ Jesus his son, before the foundation of the world was laid, appointed him to be our head, our brother, our pastor, and the great bishop of our souls: but because that the enmity between the justice of God, and our sins was such, that no flesh by itself could, or might have attained unto God, it behooved that the Son of God should descend unto us, and take to himself a body of our body, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, and so become the Mediator between God and man, giving power to so many as believe on him, to become the sons of God, as himself also witnesseth, ‘I pass up to my Father and your Father, unto my God and unto your God,’ by which most holy fraternity, whatsoever we have lost in Adam is restored again, and for this cause we are not afraid to call God our Father.” And in the ninth article they say; “that our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice to the Father for us, that he suffered contradiction of sinners, that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions—that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father, which sinners had deserved—that they are blasphemous against Christ’s death, and the everlasting purgation and satisfaction purchased to us by the same,” who affirm the contrary.
As to their views of the nature of the satisfaction made by Christ, nothing could be more satisfactory, nothing more decisive than those selections which have been laid before the reader, yet as to the extent and precise objects of the atonement, there is nothing here very specific; but the same reasoning which has been applied to the articles of the church of England, may be applied to the Scotch Confession. The Presbyterian form of church government, which gave all the ministers, as co-presbyters, equal power, in the adoption of creeds, and put it out of the power of one priest, or a few priests, to alter the standards of the church; rendered it impossible to change the system, or introduce errors into it, without the consent of a majority of the clergy; and formed a strong barrier against the inroads of erroneous principles. The church too, was recognized at the same time, in Scotland as a regular and independent empire, of which our Lord Jesus Christ is the only king and head: and as a body possessing, by delegation from the Redeemer a right of self-government, and of regulating its system of doctrine and worship, agreeably to the principles contained in the scriptures of truth. All the civil concerns of the nation were, at the same time, rendered subservient to the interests of this kingdom of Messiah. The nation was considered as bound to regulate all its civil operations according to the laws of Heaven, revealed in the Bible. Thus we see advances made in the work of reformation at this early period, in North Britain, beyond anything attained to in the continental churches and nations. We have a whole nation both in its civil and ecclesiastical capacity, professing a belief in the atonement of Christ, and the two great ordinances of social order among men—the ecclesiastical government and civil government, harmonizing in their pious efforts to extend, among all ranks, the knowledge of this salutary truth. All this was modelled upon a plan proposed by John Calvin, which he doubtless derived from the church of God under the Old Testament dispensation, and in which plan, he proposed to unite all Christian churches into one great visible society, holding the faith in unity, and rendering all things subservient to its promotion.
[ENGLAND AND THE CALLING OF THE ASSEMBLY AT WESTMINSTER.]
In England the case was very different. The monarchy was proud and powerful, not held in check by the nobility as in Scotland, but both claiming and exercising the power of controlling the church in all her operations, regulating her creed, and imposing upon her such doctrines as it thought proper; and such a form of government as might best subserve the interests of the throne, and increase its splendour. Hence, though under Elizabeth, who succeeded Edward VI., the knowledge of divine truth became more extensively diffused; and the mass of the people taught more generally, to place all their hopes of salvation, in the mediation and satisfaction of Jesus, while they relinquished all reliance on popish ceremonies, and priestly absolutions; yet the episcopal form of government as derived from the church of Rome, was still retained. In the shell which had contained the kernel of popish errors, was enclosed that of truth, which was tainted by the former corruptions; and that holy, spiritual worship, founded upon the atonement, as actually made, was never practiced in England, to the same extent as in Scotland. Still there were, in the established church of the former, very many great and devout men, and besides these, a very powerful body of Christians ardently and zealously attached to the truths and the order of primitive times, who were known by the name of Puritans, and who were wholly averse to the episcopal form of church government. They also embraced in the fullest manner the creed of the Genevan school, in relation to the doctrines of grace. They also contended for the liberties of the subject, in opposition to the despotic power of the crown, and thus rendered their cause popular. The spirit of the nation was roused, and the people assumed so high a tone, that an invitation was given to reform the church.
The act of parliament calling the assembly of divines at Westminster, passed on the 12th of June, 1643, and William Twisse was appointed by the parliament to be the moderator of that body. The express object of this clerical convocation, was to consult with relation to the doctrines, discipline, and worship of the church of England. Previously to this time the diffusion of learning through England, had been prodigious. The impulse was given about the time, when through the influence of Cranmer, the professors from the continent had been invited to Oxford university. Ancient languages, especially Latin, Greek and Hebrew, the physical sciences, and moral philosophy had been cultivated with remarkable success. The clergy especially, had become a very learned body, and they had contributed amply toward the elucidation of the system of grace, by applying the force of their genius, and their attainments in literature to biblical criticism. In no kingdom of Europe, were there so many truly learned and eminent men as in Scotland and England; and the nation generally had become sensible of the importance of divine truth. But the public mind was exceedingly distracted by the contending claims of opposing systems.
The ablest divines in England, with many distinguished members of parliament, were selected, as the members who were to compose the assembly. The number of divines was ninety-six, among whom we find the distinguished names of Calamy, Chalmers, Whitaker, Arrowsmith, Lightfoot, Gattaker, Burrows and Twisse. Commissioners were also appointed from Scotland, of their most distinguished divines, Henderson, Rutherford, Gillespie, Baillie and Douglass, and John, earl of Cassils, John Lord Maitland, and Sir Archibald Johnston of Warriston. There was probably never a more splendid constellation of learning, talents and piety collected together than that which this assembly comprised. They met in king Henry VIIth’s chapel, on the first of July, 1643. Besides various other instruments, relative to their system of ecclesiastical order, they formed that celebrated instrument, known by the name of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. For precision of thought, accuracy of arrangement, and correct views of the system of grace, the church has never been favoured with any uninspired works so perfect as these. This system is one of the most glorious fruits of the reformation.
We shall exhibit, on the doctrine of the atonement, a few extracts from it. The third chapter of the Confession relates to the divine decrees, in the fifth section of which we have these words:—“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving him thereunto, and all to the praise of his glorious grace.”
And article sixth:—“As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted and sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually justified, called, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”
Article seventh:—“The rest of mankind God was pleased according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures; to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.”
Of original sin, they say (chap. iv, art. 2.) “By this sin,” the sin of our first parents, “they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and so wholly defiled in all their faculties, and parts of soul and body.”
And in article fourth:—“From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to evil,—do proceed all actual transgressions.”
Again article sixth:—“Every sin both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound even to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all its miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal.”
The views of the Westminster divines, in relation to the covenant entered into between the Father and the Son for the redemption of sinners from these evils, is expressed in the following words:—“Man, by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant” (the covenant of works made with Adam) “the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit to make them able and willing to believe.”
To the same effect, in chapter eighth:—“It pleased God in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest and king, the head and saviour of his church, the heir of all things and the judge of the world, unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed, and to be by him redeemed, called, justified, sanctified and glorified.” As to his accomplishment of this work, they say:—“This office, the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which, that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, endured most grievous torments in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified and died, was buried and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels. Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.”
To complete this most perspicuous view of the plan of salvation, they thus express themselves:—“To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them, and revealing to them in and by the word the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his holy spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by his Holy word and Spirit, overcoming all their enemies, by his almighty power and wisdom in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.—Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience, to them, as their righteousness, but imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ to them, they receiving and resting on his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.—God did from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did in the fullness of time, die for their sins and rise again for their justification: nevertheless they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.”
God has probably intended, by permitting men to introduce errors into the church, that the refutation of them should impart new light to the minds of men, in relation to the truths of his gospel. Though it is utterly impossible to render the doctrines of the divines of the orthodox school, who have employed their pens on the doctrine of the atonement, in composing ecclesiastical standards, consistent with themselves, on any other ground than that on which the divines at Westminster took their stand; yet it is certain, that we cannot anywhere find such luminous views of the system of grace as in the Westminster confession of faith. Had it not been for the errors of Arminius and his followers, which gave occasion for the synod of Dort, and for the discussions which took place in that venerable and illustrious body, we should not probably have had from those British divines so perspicuous a display of divine truth, as that which has been just laid before the reader. The divines of Britain had taken a deep interest in the Arminian question, before and after the meeting of the synod of Dort, and the transactions of the synod had been published, and were extensively known in England and Scotland, before the meeting of the Westminster assembly. The Arminian errors, too, had travelled into Britain, and were embraced and defended both from the pulpit and the press; many of the British divines had entered the lists of controversy, and, with great force of argument, met and defeated the friends of this grand continental error. They had also an opportunity to avail themselves of all the writings, the confessions and creeds, of preceding reformers; and they had not failed to embrace it: hence it is not surprising that the work of reformation, at this period, should have advanced beyond any point to which it had previously attained. To this superior progress in the development of the Christian system, Great Britain doubtless, owes her superiority in literature. As Geneva excelled in learning all other parts of the continent, so for the very same reason, Scotland and England, outstripped in their schools, in learned men, and in the general walks of literature, the whole continent. Those who employ their talents in illustrating the Christian system, have the most ample scope for the exercise of genius, and derive from their enquiries an expansion of thought, and a grandeur of conception, which increase their acumen, in researches even of a literary nature.
It was the intention of the distinguished men who formed the Westminster confession, together with a complete system of ecclesiastical order, to give to the whole as much permanency as possible. Accordingly, all these doctrines received the sanction of Parliament, whose members as civil rulers, expressed their belief of them, and their resolution to adhere to them; and also that of Charles I. They moreover resolved to bind themselves and the whole nation by a solemn national and church covenant to maintain the truths exhibited in the standards which had been formed. In Israel, by the command of God, when any great defection had taken place, and the king and the people returned to their duty, in order to confirm the reformation, and increase their confidence in each other’s sincerity, the whole congregation entered into solemn covenant with God, and with one another, that they would adhere steadfastly to their duty. Such was the object of the covenant, in the days of Hezekiah. The churches and states on the continent, which had embraced the reformation, and had been pressed by enemies, had copied the example of the people of God in the days of old. The example too had been set for the whole British empire, by the kingdom of Scotland, which had entered into a national and church covenant in the preceding century. Upon the adoption of the Scotch confession, by the assembly of the church of Scotland, the king, the royal family, the nobility, and people, all united in a solemn bond, ratified by oath, to abide by the truths which it contained, invoking the divine aid and blessing upon the kingdom, and thus placing the nation under the protection of that Redeemer, through whose atoning sacrifice, they hoped as individuals to be saved. This instrument is known by the name of the National Covenant of Scotland. It was subscribed by the king 1530, and again renewed and solemnly approved in the years, 1638, and 1640.
[THE BRITISH NATION COVENANTED.]
These examples were imitated by the whole British nation, which bowed before the throne of Emmanuel, and cast down its crown at his feet, at the formation and ratification of an instrument binding the three kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland, to continue in the profession of the truth as exhibited in their standards, and calling upon Jesus as king to grant his protection, assistance and blessing. All ranks of men, from the king upon the throne to the humblest cottager, subscribed this instrument. The divines of the assembly of Westminster, both houses of Parliament, and the assembly of the church of Scotland, subscribed this covenant, in 1643. It was again renewed with an acknowledgment of sins, and engagement to perform all the duties which it enjoined, by all ranks of society in 1648; by king Charles II, at Spey, June 23d, 1650; and again at Scoon, January 1st, 1651. Here we behold a great empire, in all its departments, in the most solemn manner giving its full approbation to the doctrines of the Genevan school, and binding itself, by solemn oath, to adhere to these truths, and to oppose the contrary errors. All these great effects may be traced, in a good measure, to the instrumentality of the indefatigable of Calvin.
The doctrine of the atonement was the point from which all parts of this splendid reformation radiated, as from a common center, in which they all inhered, and from which they derived their strength, when combined into a whole. But still there were two reasons, which prevented it from possessing that stability of character that would have been desirable. One was the character of Charles II. and of his courtiers; who were ambitious men, unacquainted with the power of the religion which was placed on the throne, and so hypocritical as to express in a most solemn manner, a belief in those truths which they did not embrace. The other was the state of the people, whose minds had not been sufficiently enlightened, nor their manners sufficiently reformed to induce them, as a body, to adhere to the truth at all hazards, and oppose with firmness the attempts of the throne to demolish the great fabric which had been erected. All had been effected, through the instrumentality and influence of a few choice minds, possessing great illumination and profound sagacity.
[SECTARIANISM AN ENEMY TO ORTHODOXY.]
Every machine which could be put into operation by the crown, was set in motion to destroy the work which had been accomplished. When deception and duplicity were thought to be most effectual, they were employed, and open violence, injustice and cruelty, when they suited their steady purpose. It was for a short time only, that the king and his friends were permitted to prosecute these plans. In Scotland, there was a minority composed of the friends of popery, prelacy, and arbitrary government, who were hostile to the reformation. Cromwell invaded Scotland, and defeated the king’s army under general Leslie at Dunbar, and the king was compelled to seek safety by flight to the continent. After nine years exile he was restored through the instrumentality of general Monk, after the end of the presidency of Cromwell. The Rev. Mr. Douglas was the first person who proposed his restoration. At his restoration, Charles acted over again the same scene of hypocrisy.
During the government of Cromwell, the Independents, who reject episcopal and presbyterial government, and consider all ecclesiastical power to be vested in the hands of the minister and his congregation, prevailed in England. On the doctrine of the atonement, and indeed in every other point except that of church government, they adopted the creed of the Genevan school. Of this denomination was the Rev. Dr. John Owen, chancellor of Oxford University. He was a man of extraordinary learning, and industry, vast conceptions, profound knowledge of the Christian system, and fervent piety. He wrote and published between eighty and a hundred volumes, all of which were designed to illustrate the system of redemption, especially the doctrine of atonement. The Socinians, the Arians, the Pelagians, and the Arminians, were the adversaries, against whom he directed his heaviest artillery. His greatest work is a commentary on the epistle to the Hebrews, in four volumes folio. It is a work of stupendous labour, the whole of which may be considered as a dissertation on the doctrine of the atonement; in which he defends from the text of the apostle and collateral passages of scripture, the infinite dignity of the person of Messiah, who makes the atonement; the infinite value which it possesses; and proves that in its extent and object it is limited to those who were elected by God the Father from all eternity, and given to the Son, to be redeemed by him; and that all others are excluded. This he infers from the doctrine of substitution, illustrated by copious illustrations of the sacrificial ritual of the Jews, from the eternal covenant, from express declarations of scripture and from the justice of God. He also exhibits and amply proves the total depravity of human nature, and the utter incompetency of man to aid himself by his works, or to do anything by which he can merit salvation. In early life, this great divine read very extensively the ancient fathers of the church, studied with care the writings of the Jewish rabbins, and was intimate with the poets, philosophers, historians, and metaphysicians of the Grecian republics, and of the Roman empire. His treasures of learning were vast, and his mind of gigantic magnitude, and his conceptions grand. All these were laid under contribution in the execution of this work. Such a monument of learning, divinity, intellect and piety has never been erected by any other writer, to the honour of the British empire. His exercitations alone, preparing the way for his commentary, would fill more than one folio volume. In every work which he has left behind him, we trace the features of the same mighty mind, which fabricated the Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Owen may be compared to Du Moulin of France, to Luther of Germany, to Witsius of Holland, to Calvin and Turrettin of Geneva. The nature of his works and their plan did not require him to be so systematic as Turrettin, and his mind was not probably trained to the formation of such a methodical digest, as that of the Genevan divine; in other respects, they were very similar to each other, lived at the same time, and, except on the article of church government, fully harmonized in their views of the doctrines of the system of grace. Owen’s mind was not so polished nor his imagination so rapid, nor so chaste as that of Calvin; while he entered into the details of the work of redemption with more perspicuity than that divine. He was less copious and eloquent than Du Moulin, but he possessed more energy of native genius, more learning, and was more profound. He was more refined in his views and whole character than Luther, while in the boldness of his investigations, and in the rapidity of his intellectual operations, he was not quite equal to the German reformer. Witsius was more refined, more accurate, and more classical than any of the others, but inferior to them all in intellectual vigour, and depth of learning. The theological works of these five divines form a complete theological Encyclopædia. Men in our day talk of the improved state of theology. But what are all modern divines compared to those wonderful men, who with many others of their cotemporaries and predecessors in the work of reformation, exhibited a vastness of mind, and an extent of learning which astonish us? The human mind, at that time, awoke from the slumber of ages, and performed achievements in exploring the treasures of science and religion, which command the admiration of all lovers of knowledge, while they awaken the gratitude of the pious to the God of grace, for his goodness in raising up such instruments to enlighten that, and each succeeding age.
All that was done by these illustrious men in Britain was almost destroyed by Charles after his restoration. He fell upon those very men who had been instrumental in his recall with all the merciless rage of persecution, abjuring all his solemn obligations—and breaking through ties the most sacred. The earl of Argyle, who placed the crown upon his head, and William Guthrie, a pious divine, who had been very active in his restoration, and had preached his coronation sermon, he beheaded. He embraced the Catholic religion, and shewed that he was animated by all its persecuting spirit. The people, always too ready to follow the example set by princes, together with the great body of the clergy, betrayed the cause of truth into the hands of the enemy.
[THE REVOLUTION ESTABLISHMENT AND THE RISE OF ARMINIANISM.]
The revolution which placed William and Mary on the throne of England, established the episcopal form of church government in England, and nominally made the thirty-nine articles the standard of doctrine, both in Ireland and England, while Presbyterianism was established in Scotland. The sword of persecution was sheathed, but this was the only advantage which the church derived from this event. The profligacy which prevailed in the court during the reign of the house of Stuart, especially the latter part of it, and the general relaxation of principle, have continued to produce the most deplorable effects, ever since the present order of things has been established in Britain. The most monstrous errors and heresies have issued from the bosom of the established church, all which have, either in a greater or less degree, attacked the doctrine of the atonement. The Arminian error, we have before remarked, early spread into England. Archbishop Laud, who, by his tyrannies, and murders, has rendered his character sufficiently notorious, was one of the greatest patrons of Arminianism. He would willingly have rendered the thirty-nine articles Arminian, but the state of public opinion would not permit him. Though these articles are Calvinistic, and form the creed of the British establishment, it is merely so in name. Men, while they must swear to support them, before they can be elevated to the dignities of either church or state, may and do hold, and publicly avow, sentiments directly hostile to them, even in points of capital importance. Many Arminian writers have attempted to pacify their consciences by elaborate works, designed to prove that in the articles there is nothing absolutely inconsistent with the Arminian creed. A great majority of the clergy of the episcopal church have been avowedly of the Arminian school, and a host of writers have employed their pens in dressing up in a new form, the very arguments of Arminius and his immediate disciples, which had been triumphantly refuted long before by Calvinistic divines, both in Britain and on the continent. At the head of these stands Whitby, who adopts all the doctrines exhibited by the remonstrating Arminians, at the synod of Dort, except that of perfectibility.
What has been experienced in all ages of the church, has been exhibited in the British established church:—those who have been the most clamorous for the moral powers of human nature, and for the efficacy of good works, have been the most deficient in performing them. The church has been overflown with immorality. Even the warmest friends of the episcopal establishment admit, that the life and power of religion have in a great measure departed from the majority of its professors. About the time of the meeting of the assembly of divines at Westminster, and even from the commencement of the reformation in Scotland, the reformers, both clergy and laity, were conspicuous for their attention to the practical duties of religion. The churches were crowded, the performance of secret prayer, family devotion, and the instruction of children, both by heads of families and the pastors of the congregations, were attended to with great punctuality. Offences were comparatively rare, and discipline was exercised by church officers with vigilance and justice. Mere form was not sufficient to satisfy the Scottish and English reformers; they sought after experimental religion, and knew what it was. The pulpits were not occupied with hollow dissertations, on decency and morality, such as would have been more worthy of Epictetus or Seneca, than of Christian bishops; but the doctrines which improve the heart and promote vital godliness, such as Paul and his fellow apostles taught, were themes dealt upon by the reformed preachers. Men were sensible of their personal weakness and imperfection, acknowledged them, looked to God for aid, and received it. They did not hope to obtain salvation by their own good works, and thus render them hostile to the nature of the gospel dispensation; but relying upon the atonement, “practiced holiness in the fear of the Lord,” with a view to glorify the Redeemer and make themselves meet for the enjoyment of heaven.
At the time when the royal army and that of Cromwell were encamped against each other, every morning and evening the praises of God were heard along the whole lines of both armies, and prayers were offered up in the tents of the warriors. Modern infidels mock at all this as hypocritical cant, and so do graceless professors,—by which they only proclaim their own ignorance and impiety.
After the work of reformation was, in a great measure, undone, and the Arminian heresy became prevalent, the reverse of all this was exhibited in Great Britain,—on the throne, in the army, in the cabinet, and in the sacred pulpit.
A denial of the doctrine of the divine decrees, and of the definite atonement, was the point at which they began to diverge from the truth in the British islands, as we have seen the reformers doing on the continent; and like the continental backsliders, they did not stop here. The next step was Socinianism. All the Arminians did not indeed become Socinians. Many who embraced the creed of Arminius, deplored the general laxity of morals and want of religion, which they saw prevailing in the episcopal church, and contended for the practice of the duties of religion. These people soon became a distinct class. While they adhered to the form of government in the church of England, and did not formally secede from their communion, they generally worshipped in societies collected together by harmony of views and feelings. They were distinguished by the name of Methodists. Their preaching, of the declamatory kind, consisted of warm and vehement addresses to the passions, mingled with great enthusiasm, and was directly the reverse of those cold, moral harangues, which were general among the episcopal clergy. They embraced in full the creed of Arminius, and pushed it even to greater extremes than its author. Indeed, their zeal for it knew no bounds. Attempts to vindicate it were the chief doctrinal discussions which they mingled with their furious declamations. With all their extravagance, there was doubtless much real piety among them. They rather despised human learning than sought to cultivate it; and without hesitation licensed lay preachers, who appeared to be devout and to possess a talent for declamation. This even formed a part of their plan.
[WESLEY, THE APOSTLE OF ARMINIANISM.]
The great organizer and leader of this sect in England, was Mr. John Wesley, a man of strong passions, great zeal, indefatigable industry, and possessing much knowledge of human nature and of the means of governing men, but without much learning, or solid powers of intellect. He acquired a vast popularity, and extensive influence; and under his direction, the society increased rapidly. It is not astonishing that it did. All men are as naturally Arminians as they are naturally depraved. While Christians in the British established church did not possess the means of becoming acquainted with the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures through the public teachers of religion, and while they were justly displeased with the lukewarmness and even want of religion which characterized the great body of the English episcopal clergy, it was perfectly natural that they should attach themselves to the Methodist connexion, in which they found so much zeal for practical piety. Wesley’s success led him on to extravagance. Many of his disciples affirmed, that they had arrived at that state of perfection, which he, after the Holland Arminians, asserted to be attainable by Christians in this life. These he collected into a species of monastery; but not long after it was established, the breaking out of the passions, and the most violent contentions among his perfect saints, both male and female, dissolved the establishment.
Augustus Toplady was the great antagonist of Wesley and the English Arminians. He translated from the Latin of Jerome Zanchius, a dissertation on the doctrine of divine decrees and definite atonement, and accompanied it with notes, in which there were contained a most triumphant refutation of Arminianisin, and a tremendous castigation of Wesley. His satire is most severe, but sometimes he descends in his satirical remarks below the dignity of his subject.
The Methodist society in England continues to stand at the present time on nearly the same ground that they occupied in the time of Wesley as to doctrine, while their numbers have greatly increased. They are perhaps the only instance of a society existing for a considerable length of time in the belief of the Arminian creed, without many of its members progressing into Arianism, or Socinianism. There are two causes for this. They possess few learned men, or writers who are able to pursue a train of reasoning, and follow out their creed into those heretical dogmas which necessarily flow from it when closely examined; and their attention is chiefly directed to mere practical exhortations, giving them little time to examine doctrines. Many of them are also pious, and would shudder at the heresies that grow out of their system. But whenever the clergy of this denomination become learned men and close thinkers, should such an event ever take place, they will, unless divine grace prevent, travel in the same path which their predecessors have done, into the regions of heresy and infidelity; or they will retrace their steps, and embrace the doctrines taught by the Calvinistic divines, and derived from the sacred oracles.
While many of the more devout and zealous part of the Arminians in the episcopal church in England, ran into the enthusiastic extravagancies of the Methodist society, the lukewarm and philosophical Arminian went on from attacking the doctrine of a definite atonement and divine decrees, to deny the doctrine altogether. They perceived that if the atonement is said to be made for all equally, and that it is from the exercise of the natural powers of man, that one is made to differ from another, then the salvation of the sinner, after all, depends upon his own exertions. If the sinner is saved by his own good works, why may he not as well be saved without an atonement? What need for the atonement? Why may not the sinner at once save himself by making an atonement for his sins through his own faith and repentance; and by his virtue and piety merit for himself the favour of God, and eternal glory, without all the machinery of a satisfaction, a Mediator, an application by the Holy Spirit, and an acceptance of it by the sinner, through faith? By a very natural train of reasoning from Arminian premises, they arrived at a conclusion entirely subversive of the atonement. This was not enough. Why, since they had found that there was no need of a satisfaction, should the Son of God assume human nature and endure all the sufferings of which the scriptures speak? Why such a stupendous event, when man can save himself? There was no way of answering satisfactorily these questions, but by denying that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, a divine person, and asserting that he was a mere creature, a mere man, in all respects like other men, but remarkably favoured by inspirations from the wisdom of his own intellectual powers. This conclusion many embraced, and became, as we have before remarked, open Socinians, who utterly reject the faith of the gospel.
Many of the clergy embraced these views, and maintained them in private life, while they did not dare to introduce them into their exhibitions from the pulpit. Others taught them publicly; while some boldly separated themselves from the church, and attacked with great fury her articles, her whole creed, and her clergy. At Hackney there was a school, in which the greatest latitude of opinion and discussion was permitted on all points, and the students allowed to assail every doctrine of every school, either heathen, Christian, or infidel. This institution was under the direction of Socinians; and in it they educated youth for the ministry, with a view to prepare them for attacking the throne of Emmanuel, and plucking, if possible, the crown of divinity and universal government from his head. This school they were forced to discontinue, as the young men who had been thus drilled in the ranks of heresy, did not choose to be confined, in their operations, to the points to which their leaders wished to limit them. Multitudes boldly went over to the camp of the infidels, and openly renounced all belief in the divinity of the Holy Scriptures. The indignation of all Christians was aroused against an institution, that thus corrupted the youth of the kingdom, and it was abandoned.
[THE RISE OF UNITARIANISM.]
As Wesley, on the one extreme, was the leader of the Methodists, so Dr. Joseph Priestley became the most distinguished of all the disciples of the Socinian mania. He was born of pious parents, who believed the doctrines of the Calvinistic system, and who, in his infancy, instructed him in them. He tells us in his life written by himself, that when thinking on the doctrine of original sin, he found he could not repent of it; and from this exercise of his mind, he was led to doubt of its truth, and finally rejected it. His next step was to maintain, that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind. [Memoirs of Dr. Priestley, Vol. I. p. 12.] Here we find him precisely on the Arminian ground. In his Memoirs alluded to above, when speaking of this period of his life, he says, that a pious aunt with whom he lived was remarkably punctual in attending to the duty of prayer, and in enforcing it upon him; that this punctuality was disgusting to him; and he recommends to parents not to be very strict in discharging this duty, least their children should contract a dislike to it. [Memoirs of Dr. Priestley, Vol. I. p. 14.] This, truly, is worthy of the opinions which he embraced! After adopting the doctrine of an indefinite or general atonement, made for all mankind, he next became an Arian, and says that in a qualified manner he still believed a satisfaction for sin to have been made by Christ Jesus. He was placed in the school at Hackney, in which he imbibed a part of the heresies mentioned above, and was conspicuous for his industry, acuteness, and readiness in the defense of the various metaphysical and theological positions which he assumed. When he became Arian, he began to preach what he calls “the unity of God;” in other words, he began to preach against the doctrine of the trinity. It was not long until he totally rejected the doctrine of the atonement. The entire denial of this doctrine, he could not render consistent with the reasonings of Paul. With a boldness every way worthy of himself and the cause which he espoused, he immediately began to charge the apostle with unsound logic, and thought he found him guilty of drawing false conclusions from the premises which he had assumed. These critical remarks and reviews of the great apostle of the gentiles, he submitted in writing to some learned friend of the episcopal church, but was surprised at the narrowness of his views, in not relishing his castigation of the inspired oracles. Indeed, he did not satisfy himself with accusing this apostle of inaccuracy; other apostles and writers of the New Testament, he found to reason as badly as Paul. “At a profuse expense,” says he, [Appendix to Vol. II. of his life, p. 579.] “therefore of figures and allusions, fetched from the Jewish ritual, to make the new religion the better to tally with the old, liberties too great for our European manners, but not greater than the Jewish nation had been accustomed to, at the expense therefore of no sincerity or integrity, they suit their entertainment to those who were to be invited first to partake of it.” In this sweeping sentence, he would seem to include all the writers of the New Testament. How unlike must the doctor’s system be to that of the apostles, to that of the Holy Scriptures, when he is forced thus to torture the oracles of the living God? One of two conclusions must here be drawn with respect to Priestley; either that he was a deist, or that he willfully blasphemed the living God. The former is the more charitable inference. The result of his critical examination of the scriptures, was a persuasion that the writers were not inspired men; that they wrote merely as other men do, from the exercise of the powers of their own understanding; that the account which Moses gives of the creation of the world, was a mere theory, to be ranked with those of Fontenelle or Buffon, and that the portion of scripture in which it is recorded is to be compared with the fabulous ages of Grecian and Roman history; that the story of the miraculous conception is all untrue, whether introduced as a pious fraud by the evangelists, or interpolated by succeeding writers, he does not exactly state; and that there is no such thing in any instance as supernatural influence, from the Spirit of God, or from any angel, good or bad.
He opened a school for the education of youth after he began to preach these heresies; but so good was the state of moral and Christian feeling in England, at that time, that he could not obtain pupils. He again made a similar attempt in another part of the kingdom, but failed from the same cause, notwithstanding his acknowledged talents and learning. Parents could not trust their children in the hands of a heretic. His most intimate friends were Franklin and Bentley, who he says “were unbelievers in Christianity, but of excellent taste, improved understanding, and good disposition.” [Priestley’s Life, Vol. I. p 54.] His next step was to maintain that Christ was a mere man. As soon as he embraced this opinion, he attacked the Arians with great vehemence. In this downhill career, he was no doubt hastened by the instructions which he received from Dr. Turner of Warrington, a professed atheist, whose pupil he was for some time. He was intimate in the house of Lord Shelbourne, where he acknowledges that the most of the company that he saw, was infidel and atheistic. Such were the natural and appropriate associations of the Socinian doctor. He almost every year published a book, or several pamphlets. His rage for overturning everything sacred was prodigious. The effusions of his pen are loose, often inaccurate, void of discrimination, but generally plausible, and sometimes eloquent.
He laid the greatest stress upon his History of Early Opinions, in which he attempts to make it appear, that the greater part of early Christians denied the divinity of Christ, and the doctrine of the atonement. His great antagonist was Dr. Horsley, who even in the opinion of Priestley’s friends, gained a victory over him, not only in relation to early opinions, but on other great points of the Socinian system. Bishop Horsley indeed, with regard to early opinions, has left little to be done by those who follow him.
Dr. Priestley was not only anxious to overturn every doctrine which had been embraced by the British reformers, but, in subserviency to this ruling passion of his mind, laboured to overturn the British government too, and wished to see such a revolution as was going on in France. He became obnoxious to the mob, and suffered greatly from the riots at Birmingham; to the government, and to all Christians, and thence came to the resolution to emigrate to America; where we shall hereafter see him making a figure, prosecuting his chemical researches with assiduity, and propagating his heresies to some extent, with dreadful success.
[QUAKERS AND THEIR HERESY.]
The sect of Quakers arose about the middle of the seventeenth century, at the time of the civil commotions, in England. Its founder was George Fox, a shoemaker, a wild fanatic, who, by his extravagancies, attracted general attention, and soon collected around him a great number of followers. He and his disciples, at first, had no system of principles, and were agreed only in the rejection of the doctrine of a definite atonement, and in embracing the creed of Arminius in relation to the moral power of man, the divine decrees, and original sin. To this they soon added the doctrine, that every man has a light within him from the spirit of God, by which he may be guided infallibly in the way of righteousness; and maintained that this light is of more importance for the direction of human conduct, than the Holy Scriptures. When all this is stripped of its mystical dress, it amounts to the same thing as the free-will of the Pelagians and Arminians, or the ability which they say every man has to obey all the commands of God. It is the same with the moral powers of the Socinians and Arians. The visionary mystic and the ungodly philosopher unite in attempting to elevate human rectitude, and to make the grace of God of none effect. They differ only in the costume in which they array their systems.
The first disciples of Fox were altogether illiterate, and recommended their heresies to illiterate men by their wild enthusiasm only. A few men of learning joined them; among whom was Robert Barclay, the author of an Apology for Quakerism, written in Latin and English. The author was a man of considerable learning, of great industry, and of plausible language. He maintains in the Apology, that Christ died for all men; that all the human family are put into a condition of salvation; that heathens, as well as Christians, may be saved by the improvement of the light of nature; that though man lost, by his fall, all power to obey the divine commands, yet through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus every man has his strength restored to him, so that he can believe and perform all good works. This he calls “the forming of Christ within us,” and says, “it is by this inward birth of Christ that man is made righteous, and is so accounted before God: wherefore, to be plain, we are thereby, and not till that be brought forth in us, formally, if we must use that word, justified in the sight of God, because justification is both more properly, and more frequently in scripture taken in its proper signification for making one just, and not reputing one such, and is all one with sanctification.” [Barc. Apo. Phil. Ed. p. 222.] He declares, “that God ever reputed him” (Christ) “a sinner is denied: neither did he ever die that we should be imputed righteous.” [Ibid. 228.] “The imputed righteousness of Christ is not to be found in all the Bible.” [Ib. p. 229.] Barclay’s Apology was first published in 1675. He has taken extraordinary pains to retain all the reveries of his predecessor George Fox; and at the same time to give them such a colour as might render them less odious, and more similar to the doctrines and creeds of the reformers and reformed churches. He speaks, in the early part of his book, in high strains of encomium on the death and sufferings of Christ, as a propitiation for our sins. He labours, through more than two hundred pages, to conciliate the favour of the reader, by many general expressions of respect for the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, before he ventures to assert that we are justified by our own good works. When he does come to this point, it is in an indirect and uncandid manner. Christ formed within us, he has explained to be the formation of good principles in our hearts, in the heart of every man, who improves the inward light imparted to all. Then he tells us we are justified by Christ formed within us. He allows the reader to draw the conclusion, which will be directly contrary to that of the apostle. The Quakers, who embrace the Apology of Barclay, and it is in as much esteem among them as the Bible, must conclude, that a man is justified by the deeds of the law, and that it is of works that every man may boast. It must be evident to the intelligent reader of his doctrines, that he availed himself largely of the writings of Arminius and the Salmurensian divines. His reasonings are substantially the same as theirs, in most points.
The Quakers rejected the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, formed for themselves a dress as a distinctive badge of their society, and laid aside all the forms of church government, which had ever been known in the world. Had it not been for these external distinctions, they would long since have abandoned the mysticism in which they have enveloped Arminianism, and sunk into the Methodist, episcopal, or Socinian bodies. The celebrity of William Penn, derived chiefly from his founding the colony of Pennsylvania, who in early life was an ardent and zealous declaimer among the Quakers, has been a means of giving more reputation and permanency to this society, than it would otherwise have attained. It has now existed nearly one hundred and seventy years, but it is on the decline. A very plausible apology for Quakerism has been lately published, by Clarkson, who pretends that he does not belong to the society. But the days of Quakerism are nearly numbered. It is devoutly to be hoped that their simplicity of language, dress, and manners, the only things for which as a denomination they are to be commended, will not die at the expiration of their sect. The episcopal church is not otherwise responsible for the existence of this society than that the persecutions of high churchmen goaded the people on to such madness.
[THE MYSTICAL HERESY OF SWEDENBORGIANISM.]
There is another class of mystics, which however has long existed in the very bosom of the episcopal church,—the Swedenborgians, so called from Emanuel Swedenborg, of Sweden. Swedenborg was in the early part of his life a distinguished naturalist, especially a mineralogist and metallurgist. He wrote in Latin a treatise on mineralogy, which contains much useful information. Either through the influence of partial derangement, as some, or through fanaticism, as others suppose; or through pious fraud as others think, he pretended to have intercourse with angels. He commenced divine, and wrote very largely. His theological works fill twelve large octavo volumes, written in Latin. He denies the doctrines of divine decrees, of atonement, and of a trinity of persons. He asserts that he was inspired of God to instruct both angels and men; that the general judgment is passed; that he attended it; and that he was commissioned to restore to men the knowledge of the internal sense of the scriptures, which before his time, he says, was entirely lost.
The doctrine of Swedenborg respecting the trinity, while in some points it resembles the ancient Sabellian heresy, has also some features peculiar to itself. He says there is but one person in the Godhead, which person, until the incarnation of Messiah, acted in one capacity. The incarnation, he explains to be the assumption of human nature, by this one eternal and divine person, “going out,” to use his mystical and strange language, “into ultimates.” Hence, he is called Father, the human nature is called the Son, and the operation of this “human divine,” and “divine human” he calls the Spirit. What he thinks to be precisely the intention of divinity, in this assumption of humanity, it is very difficult to ascertain from his writings and those of his disciples; however, they seem to consider it as resulting from the material creation, and the union of intellectual with corporeal substances in human persons. In his system there is nothing like the atonement of the Bible. Faith with him is the same with works, and has no relation to an acceptance of a satisfaction made by Messiah.
The Old Testament history is, he says, a mystical or allegorical history of an ancient church, which may have existed many millions of centuries ago, and the external things there spoken of all correspond to spiritual things represented by them. In this point it resembles the doctrine of Cocceius, who maintained that the history of the Jews, was a type of the New Testament church; with this difference, that Swedenborg makes it represent a church that existed before Adam, if indeed there was really such a person as Adam, which according to his system seems to be left in doubt. His descriptions of heaven, are derived from Mahomet, or rather Mahomet’s and Swedenborg’s heaven is derived from the Epicureans, from the elysia of the ancient heathens. He describes in his book on the heavens and the hells, a marriage in heaven, at which the guests was regaled with the richest nectarous wines, and dressed in gorgeous apparel. He represents God in the “form of a man,” but not the “shape;” in which he revives the heresy of the Anthropomorphites. The spiritual world, he affirms to correspond to the material, and that the Son of God is the sun and center of the spiritual world, as our sun is the center of the material world,—an idea derived from the Platonic philosophy, and the heathen mythology. Into heaven and the enjoyments of the spiritual world may be, and he contends are, admitted many heathens. What is all this, when stripped of its mystical dress? Perfectly the Arminian creed, except that he pushes it farther, in denying the doctrine of the atonement, and making a sensual heaven. Though perhaps, after all, his mode of explaining the incarnation may amount nearly to the indefinite atonement, or the Salmurensian form of Arminianism.
In his wonderful narrations, he recounts conversations with angels, and adventures in the spiritual world, with as much confidence, as he does the ordinary events of life; and with an extravagance, which makes us exclaim, “risum teneatis, amici?” At first view, we should be disposed to think no men in their senses, would embrace such a system, yet it is certain that many thousands have embraced it, and many of them, in other things intelligent, learned, and amiable. Nor is it wonderful; for the great mysteries of the Christian system he not only pretends to explain, but to make them even visible and tangible. God, he even attempts to exhibit in human form. All his heaven is visible and tangible. Human pride is flattered by being taught to believe that it comprehends fully, all the great mysteries of the bible; and to those who do not possess a taste for spiritual enjoyment, in communion with God, such a heaven as he exhibits must possess all the charms that could fascinate their minds. Owing to these considerations, a thousand absurdities are digested.
The number of disciples which have been made to this system is very considerable. Many of the clergy of the Episcopal establishment, have not only embraced the system, with all its extravagancies, but they preach it, and defend it from the press, and yet continue in the communion of the church. In what way they reconcile it to their consciences, to profess in the most solemn manner from year to year their belief in the Athanasian creed, and the articles and homilies of the church, all which contain principles diametrically opposite to those which they teach, is not easy to conceive. To swear most solemnly to a belief in the doctrine of the trinity, as contained in the creed of the Episcopal church, and in the doctrine of the atonement, the total depravity of human nature, and other points of the Calvinistic creed, as the Socinians and the Swedenborgians of the church of England do, and yet to write and to preach against them, and for the church to admit of all this prostitution of sacred things, evince a dreadful state of ecclesiastical order. The Rev. Mr. Clows, who has translated and published nearly all the theological works of Baron Swedenborg, and has himself written largely in defense of them, is in full communion with the church, and the reasons which he pleads in vindication of this course of conduct, are drawn from convenience, ease and policy. Temporal support drawn from the exchequer of the state makes it easy and convenient, and his connection with the church may enable him and his brethren to deceive the unwary, into the fatal errors which they have embraced. Thus conscience is quieted. After all, those who embrace these two great heresies, are generally among the wealthy and fashionable; but few of the poor are led away. The Socinian is too frigid, too far removed from the vital warmth, which animates the page of inspiration, and its gracious and consolatory truths, for the acceptation of the poor. As Swedenborg teaches that the enjoyments, employments, and situations of men in heaven resemble those which they have in the present world, people oppressed with poverty have no inducement to embrace such a creed. If these systems contain any gospel, it is one not preached to the poor.
The Socinian and Swedenborgian heresies have undoubtedly grown out of Arminianism as the parent stem, and they employ the same arguments which were long ago urged by Pelagius, and by Arminius, in relation to free-will, the moral powers of man, and the divine decrees. All are different corps marshalled in the same cause, and uniting their forces to demolish the citadel of truth, and banish the atonement of the sacred oracles from the church of God. Thousands, by an easy transition, have gone over to the camp of deism. Indeed, the objections urged by deists against the bible, from the time of Celsus, to the days of Thomas Paine, are the same that errorists and heretics urge against the doctrine of the atonement; the degradation of human nature, the merciless character of God, and the injustice of his plans.
[ORTHODOX TEACHING ON THE ATONEMENT IN THE BRITISH CHURCH.]
We pass over numerous other sects, which have infested the church in Britain, all of which attack, in some manner, the doctrine of the atonement, and multitudes of which swarm in the bosom of the established church.
It is consolatory to the friends of truth, that notwithstanding these errors, the cause of true religion has not been altogether abandoned in the established church of England. There have always been able, learned and pious men, within it, who have raised their voices in vindication of the true Christian system, and in opposition to the errors, which have been overrunning it. Mr. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, is a work which has been highly useful to all Christians into whose hands it has fallen, and all orthodox divines have drawn largely upon it, for aid in their pulpit exhibitions. It possesses a fund of valuable remark and practical deduction from the source of divine truth, which have rendered it savory to all the pious. The views which Mr. Henry entertains of truth are altogether Calvinistic. Like the scriptures on which he comments, he exhibits God as merciful in consistency with justice, and man as a fallen, impotent creature, whose sole dependence for future blessedness must rest upon the unmerited goodness of God, as this has been revealed through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In perfect accordance with Henry, are the commentaries of Mr. Burkitt, a highly valuable exposition of the New Testament, which abounds with evangelical and Calvinistic sentiments. These with the work of Mr. Henry, may be considered as an antidote against the Arminian commentaries of Dr. Clarke, whose work, while it contains much curious matter and learned research, is encumbered with no small portion of literary lumber, and pedantry; and is, upon the whole, a special pleading for the tenets of the Arminian school. Whenever an opportunity offers, and even when none is offered, the annotator attacks, with great asperity, the Calvinistic system, of which he evidently possesses but an imperfect knowledge. He also passes over many portions of Scripture, which are richly stored with evangelical truth in a very superficial manner, and scarcely ever unlocks the treasures of gospel truth. The work is better calculated to gratify a vain curiosity, than to feed the soul of a Christian, with the bread of life which cometh down from heaven.
Ridley, Latimer, Jewell, Reynolds and Wilkins, have distinguished themselves, in vindicating ably, many points of the Calvinistic creed, against the attacks of errorists and heretics. The Rev. Dr. John Pye Smith, has published a small work, containing some very judicious remarks on Dr. Priestley’s heresies, and detecting many misrepresentations, in his works, especially in his History of Early Opinions.
No one has distinguished himself more as a scholar, and a critic, than the Rev. Dr. Magee, of Dublin College, in a late work on the atonement. We rejoice to hear the voice of Ireland raised in favour of the truth. We might have presented from Dr. Magee’s work many specimens of the heresies of Priestley and his coadjutors in the business of tearing down the glorious fabric of divine truth, erected in the eternal councils of Jehovah, and exhibited in the scriptures. He has ably combated Taylor, Geddes, Lindsey, Belsham, Priestley, and the whole host of heretics; he has encountered them single-handed and completely vanquished them. He has also exposed the errors of many of the divines of the church of England who were tenacious friends of the doctrine of atonement, but who have erred on some minor points; such as Warburton, who, in his Divine Legation of Moses, maintains that the Jewish sacrifices did not originate from divine appointment, but from heathen superstitions, and were enjoined upon the Jews merely from a compliance with heathenish customs and attachments. The fallacy of this hypothesis is placed in a clear light by Dr. Magee, who has proved incontrovertibly their divine origin. The great object of Dr. Magee’s book is to establish the doctrine of substitution—that Christ Jesus was substituted in the room of sinners, and suffered that punishment which sinners would otherwise have endured in their own persons. This grand point he has settled by an extensive review of the Jewish ritual, particularly of the sacrifices under the law, and of the practice of the whole heathen world; as well as by sacred criticism on those portions of both the old and new Testament, in which the atonement is directly taught. He enters the field of criticism, and attacks the adversaries on their own ground, and with the weapons which they profess to wield. This work should have been laid under heavier contribution for this sketch, were it not that we hope every person, who wishes to be thoroughly acquainted with this all important subject, will read the book itself. He will receive the most ample testimony in favour of the truth of the atonement, acquire an extensive knowledge of the heresies in Britain, which relate to it, and discern the present state of the controversy. Still Dr. Magee has not touched the subject of the extent of the atonement. But let it be established, (and he has established it,) that Christ was substituted in the room of sinners and paid to divine justice the debt which they owed, and the conclusion is irresistible that all for whom he was thus substituted, must be saved: otherwise God would be unjust in demanding a double payment for the same debt. He has proved the foundation of the Calvinistic system, to be established on a basis, which cannot be shaken.
There is perhaps no work, since the days of the reformers, that exhibits so much of the patient research and learning of those times as Dr. Magee’s. The only point on which he seems not to have very clear ideas relates to the efficacy of the Jewish sacrifices. He seems to admit that, in themselves, they possessed a certain degree of efficacy, in purging away some crimes committed against the Jewish polity, while the truth is, their whole import, their whole value, consisted in their being types of the great atonement offered up by Jesus on the cross. They were merely “shadows of good things to come, but not the very image of them,” as the apostle Paul expresses it.
There are many denominations of dissenters, who embrace the Calvinistic creed, in Scotland, England and Ireland. The Presbyterians of Ireland would deserve to be mentioned, but the synod of Ulster, by which name their supreme judicatory is known, contains so many members, both among the clergy and laity, who have swerved from the truth, that the general assembly of the church of Scotland have passed an act refusing to admit them to communion with them, or to officiate in their congregations, unless they will undergo an examination as to their orthodoxy. The errors of which the Scottish church is afraid relate chiefly to Socinianism. What proportion of them have fallen into this slough of despair for sinners is not known, but it is great; and their ecclesiastical discipline is very much relaxed. Their state in relation to both practice and doctrine, is probably not better than that of the established church. The act of the Scottish judicatory is highly creditable to them, and indicates that their condition, which had greatly deteriorated, is now improving, while that of the Irish Presbyterians is growing worse. Many of the clergy indeed are said to be grossly immoral.
The Anabaptists arose in Germany in the time of the reformation by Luther. They refused subjection to any government, committed the grossest outrages against all the decorums of human society, and were led by illiterate enthusiasts, who excited them to the commission of the greatest crimes. The tenet by which they were distinguished from all other Christians was, that children should not be baptized, and that those who in infancy had received that ordinance should be immersed. When their fury had exhausted itself they gradually formed themselves into a regular and orderly society, and adopted the independent form of church government. Their creed is generally Calvinistic, and they differed from the other Calvinistic churches, on no other subjects than those of infant baptism and ecclesiastical government. The society in England has become large, intelligent and respectable. One of its most distinguished writers is Dr. Gill, who wrote a commentary on the scriptures. He abounds with sound and truly evangelical views of the doctrines of grace, but he is a loose writer, whose sentences are frequently without end. He wrote a system of theology, which is rather an English compend of Turrettin, than an original work. On the doctrines of grace, he follows Turrettin, except on the doctrine of justification, which, while he maintains that it is solely founded upon the righteousness of Christ, he asserts is from eternity, and that the justification, which takes place in time on the day of believing, is merely a manifestation of that which took place in eternity. His reasoning on this subject, though plausible, is altogether loose and declamatory. He seems not to distinguish between a determination to justify, and the actual performance of the predestinated act. Booth’s Reign of Grace is preferable to any of his writings; but still his system forms the text book for nearly all the students of theology in connection with the regular Baptists. There are numerous sects, who agree with the regular Baptists on the subject of infant baptism, but are not in communion with them. The greater part of these are known by the general appellation of irregular Baptists, and are of the Arminian school. Their clergy are generally illiterate and many of their people unenlightened.
[EVANGELISM AND THE REGULAR BAPTISTS.]
The regular Baptists have distinguished themselves by their zealous and laudable efforts for evangelizing the heathen. The great missionary station at Serampore, so well known to the Christian world, and the numerous dependencies upon it, were formed under the direction of the Baptist society. Though it is a subject of no little regret that the children of the heathen converts, made through the liberal and persevering exertions of these people, are not taken into the visible covenant society of Messiah, yet it is consoling to reflect that the doctrines, which through the instrumentality of those missionaries are taught, are strictly evangelical. The way of salvation, through the doing and dying of the Lord Jesus Christ, forms the sum and substance of that gospel which they preach, and which is now shedding its effulgence, upon the long benighted regions of the East.
Mr. Fuller, a celebrated Baptist preacher, was one of the foremost in this great work. He was an honour to England, and generally Calvinistic in his writings on the plan of salvation, except on the extent of the atonement. In his “Defense,” one of his last works, he has in a great measure corrected his former exhibitions even on this subject.
[THE CHURCHES OF THE SECESSION.]
The Secession churches of Scotland and Ireland, have also become powerful societies. They adhere rigidly to the Calvinistic system, as this is exhibited in the Westminster confession of faith. The secession church took its rise in the year 1732. It was formed by some ministers, who seceded from the revolution, or established Presbyterian church in Scotland. After the revolution, ministers were imposed upon the church, by an act of patronage, by which it was put into the power of one person, called the patron, to force a pastor upon a congregation, however disagreeable he might be to them. This privilege was claimed by the crown and surrendered by the general assembly. At an opening of the sessions of that body, the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine preached a sermon, in which he declaimed vehemently against this surrender, as a compromising of the interests of the church, and gave great offence to the members of the assembly, who attempted to censure him. He refused to submit, and together with his brother Ralph and two other gentlemen, Moncrief and Fisher, who joined him, declined the authority of the assembly, and formed themselves into a distinct society, which was called the Secession church. The circumstance, which gave rise to this schism, rendered the cause of the Seceders very popular: they were orthodox and pious men, and their numbers increased rapidly. They adopted the Westminster confession of faith and the larger and shorter catechisms, compiled by that body, as the standards of their faith, and as terms of ecclesiastical communion. The doctrines which they preached were purely Calvinistic, and the great theme of all their pulpit exhibitions, was the atonement made by Christ Jesus. They published an instrument, which they denominated the act and testimony, in which they bear a very explicit testimony against many corruptions, which prevailed in the church and state; and recognize most explicitly the doctrines of the Westminster confession of faith. Their preachers were generally pious and sound divines, well instructed in evangelical truth, and zealous in promoting it. The Erskines published many volumes of sermons, which abound with excellent matter, though their stile is far from being either eloquent or forcible; and their arrangement is often loose and unhappy. Those discourses, from the piety with which they abound, have been extensively read, have proved savory to all devout people, and have formed an antidote against the Arminian errors among thousands of the laity. The Rev. John Brown, of Haddington, is the most distinguished divine, which this church has produced. He was for many years their professor of divinity, and has published a great number of valuable books, all of which abound with pious and judicious remarks. His body of divinity contains an excellent epitome of the Christian system, and is replete with excellent matter. His Dictionary of the Bible is his most popular work; and it has passed through a great number of editions. Though Mr. Brown was not a man of very brilliant powers, or very profound learning, his industry, discrimination, and orthodoxy, were a means of elevating the character of the Secession church and greatly increasing its numbers.
A member of this church, Mr. M‘Crie, has lately published a life of the great Scottish reformer, which evinces much learning, sound judgment, and liberal views. He rescues the character of Knox from the load of obloquy which had been heaped upon it by infidels, heretics, and lukewarm Christians, who garnish the tombs of the martyrs; and throws a new and copious stream of light upon the reformation in Scotland. His book has deservedly acquired great reputation, for its author, even among the members of the church of England, and he is justly considered one of the first literary men in Britain. His life of Knox and Magee on the atonement, seem to indicate that a revival of sound theology, and solid Christian literature, is about to commence in the British empire. While Magee vindicates the doctrine of the atonement, against the sophistry of heretics, M‘Crie illustrates, and defends the characters of those excellent men, who first taught the British nation to purge itself from popish errors, and brought to light, after a long night of darkness, the way of salvation through the satisfaction and mediation of Messiah.
Though the secession has been broken into three sections, by various practical and theoretical questions, yet they all continue sound on the doctrine of the atonement, and perfectly harmonize in their opposition to Arminianism, and all its brood of heresies. They have two large synods in Ireland and in Scotland, and a presbytery consisting of about twelve ministers, forming a separate ecclesiastical body. The Irish synods have been somewhat enfeebled, and their clergy have rendered themselves unpopular by accepting, since the united societies created disturbance, a bonus from the government, as a reward for their public prayers, on behalf of the government. This was an act altogether unworthy of faithful ministers of Christ Jesus.
[THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN.]
The Reformed Presbyterians, usually known by the name of Covenanters, are another respectable body of dissenters in Britain. When the king and his government, partly by persecution and partly by seduction, had drawn off the attention of all the clergy of the three kingdoms from the covenanted reformation, there still remained a considerable body of intelligent and respectable Christians, among the laity, who refused to follow their spiritual guides, in an abandonment of the covenants, which they considered as an oath, binding the whole nation to maintain the truth. They declared that they would not forsake that cause, in which they had seen so many of their brethren ascend the scaffold, and approach the stake. They would not even receive the ordinances of the gospel at the hand of those whom they considered as apostates and as having violated the oath of God. They worshipped in private societies, refusing even to hear the gospel preached by the ministers, whom they esteemed guilty of so criminal a dereliction of principle. The societies corresponded with each other, and thus kept up a visible organization, as far as this could be done without the public officers and ordinances of the church. They refused to accede to the revolution settlement, when William and Mary ascended the throne, because the covenants were not recognized, and because they considered the whole establishment a mere production of human policy, without any respect to the glory of the Creator, or to the interests of truth and righteousness.
In 1706, this body of people was joined by the Rev. John M‘Millan, a minister who had separated himself from the established church of Scotland, on account of the numerous errors with which it abounded. He was afterwards joined by the Rev. Mr. [Thomas] Nairn, a minister of the Secession church. A presbytery was now constituted, and styled the Reformed Presbytery, from their adherence to the system of truth and order established at the time of the adoption of the covenants, when, they believed, the reformation had attained to its greatest glory. From the attachment of these people to the covenants, they were called Covenanters. They were also called Mountain men, from the circumstance of many of them having been forced to take refuge in the mountains as a shelter from the rage of their persecutors.
In 1761, they published an instrument, which they styled the Act, Declaration and Testimony, in which they narrate briefly their history, and express a warm attachment to the cause and memory of those martyrs who had laid down their lives for the sake of the truth, and on behalf of the covenants, to which they profess in the most solemn manner their steadfast attachment. They adopt the Westminster confession of faith, as an exhibition of those truths which form their creed. They at the same time, give a condensed view of the same doctrines, expressed in their own words, and testify against the numerous errors of the ecclesiastical and civil establishments of the nation. They were a devout and intelligent people; but by their lukewarm neighbours, were viewed in the light of bigots.
They and the Secession body differed, in their views respecting civil government only. While the latter testified against the government for not adhering to the covenants, they acknowledged that they were the ordinance of God and entitled to respect and obedience as such. They also held offices under the government, and took an active part in its concerns. The covenanters, on the other hand, maintained, that its apostasy was of such a character as to deprive it of all right to rule, and that it was to be numbered among those “that had given their power to the beast;” “one of the thrones of iniquity, with which God has declared that he will have no fellowship.” With relation to the doctrine of the atonement, these two branches of the church perfectly harmonize.
The covenanters have a synod in Ireland and one in Scotland, and their numbers, respectability and influence are rapidly increasing. Their preachers are learned, popular, and eloquent. There is one point, on which they lay great stress and generally deal largely in their pulpit exhibitions,—the headship of Messiah over the nations. They say that in consequence of that humiliation to which he submitted, in order to make an atonement, God the Father has highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess; that in his mediatorial character, he governs the nations, and that the nations should subject themselves to his government, and regulate all their civil movements according to those laws, which as Mediator he has revealed in the scriptures. The Christian nation which will not do so, they maintain is in a state of rebellion against his regal government, and will be overturned “when he cometh out of his place to shake terribly the inhabitants of the earth;” and that therefore they are not entitled to the support of the people of God, as the legal representatives of Messiah upon earth. These are consequences deduced from the atonement, which thousands of Christians admit, but upon which none but the Reformed Presbyterians lay much emphasis.
[NOTICE OF KIDD ON THE TRINITY.]
A very respectable work on the Trinity has lately been published in Britain, written by a Mr. Kidd. It is replete with curious matter and profound speculation. He attempts to prove the doctrine of the Trinity without the aid of divine revelation. He says that as God cannot impart to his intelligent creatures any power which does not reside in himself, and as he has imparted perception and social powers to all his intelligent creatures, he therefore must have had them himself from all eternity: he must have possessed power to perceive objects exterior to his own person, and social powers; that these powers cannot be supposed to have existed from eternity without ever having been exercised until the creation of this universe; that they must have had a field to exercise themselves upon, commensurate with their extent; and that these powers of God the Father must have been employed in contemplating the person of the Son; which, from the data before laid down, must be infinite in all perfection. Thus he believes, that he proves from reason, at least the existence of two persons; and the third person, the Holy Spirit, he says proceeds from the Father and the Son, as a necessary consequence of the constitution of the two other hypostases, or persons, and the exercise of their powers. This is not perhaps doing justice to Mr. Kidd. Indeed, it is impossible to do justice to such a work in so short an abstract. These views he attempts to establish from the Holy Scriptures. All orthodox divines have maintained that the Trinity was as necessary and natural as the existence of an eternal God, but none, so far as we know, has ever attempted to demonstrate from reason, this necessity. His work has acquired great celebrity in Britain, and, whatever may be thought of his success in the chief object which he sets before him, he must rank high as a man of great powers and profound speculation. As to the qualities of matter, Deity can and does produce all the effects, that proceed from them: the properties of matter are no more than the results of his energetic operations.
[ROMAN CATHOLICS AND THE ATONEMENT.]
Before we take leave of Europe, we must cast a glance at the Roman Catholic church. The ground which that church took at the great council of Trent, which met in the early part of the sixteenth century, was utterly subversive of the atonement. All those who deny the efficacy of indulgences, the absolutions of the priests, and various other means of procuring pardon, are anathematized. But the reformation soon operated a very considerable change for the better in the opinions of Catholics. In 1641, Jansenius, archbishop of Ypres, published a book on the doctrine of grace, which professes to contain an explanation of the opinions held by Augustine, on the nature of the atonement. In 1653, pope Innocent III. condemned as extracts from Jansenius the following propositions: 1. “That there are some commands impossible to the saints, because they have not sufficient grace. 2. That grace is irresistible. 3. That a liberty free from restraint, not necessity, is sufficient to constitute merit or demerit. 4. That the Semipelagian heresy consisted in maintaining, that it was impossible to resist or comply with the motions of grace. 5. That Jesus Christ did not die for all men.” As far as this is perspicuous, and as far as it goes, it is the same with the doctrine which Calvin was teaching at Geneva, at the very time when the pope condemned the book of Jansenius. Great numbers of the catholic clergy espoused the cause of Jansenius, and embraced the doctrines which he taught. A very great body of them united in stopping a writ of error, which had issued against his book. The laity of the catholic church are more enlightened than they were previously to the reformation.
The prospect, however, for the interests of truth are in some respects gloomy. The man of sin whose throne crumbled by the late revolutions in Europe, is again exalted by the combined efforts of all the kings of Europe. While heresy and lukewarmness overspread nearly all the greatest protestant churches, the pope is reinstated in his ghostly empire, and the popish religion, under his auspices, and those of all the kings who have given their power to him, again flourishes, and again threatens to cover Europe with a very dark night of superstition. Again the hopes of salvation, in nearly the whole of that quarter of the world, seem to be directing themselves towards those miserable means, which the catholic church presented, before the reformation. England has had a leading hand in the iniquitous elevation of antichrist. After his late reinstatement in his royal splendours, it is said the Prince Regent of England wrote him a letter, in which he says he puts a carte blanche into the hand of his holiness, and that he will do whatever he commands in relation to the church in his dominions. If this statement is correct, and there is no reason to doubt it, the Prince Regent, by that act, has formally undone all that was done by Henry VIII. in declaring Great Britain independent of the see of Rome; and has formally subjected, once more, the British empire to the dominion of antichrist. Thus, this once covenanted kingdom has in the most effectual, as well as formal manner, given its power to the beast. Notwithstanding all that is doing in Europe to cherish Bible societies and foster missionary efforts, we have little reason to hope that orthodox principles will flourish, while the present state of things lasts. But God will arise and have mercy upon Zion, for the time which he has set to favour her, has nearly come. He will shake down those thrones of iniquity, and amidst their ruins he will build his church on a permanent foundation.
[NEW ENGLAND PURITANS.]
We now invite the attention of the reader to the new world, in which a vast field opens. The first settlers, who established themselves at Cape Cod in Massachusetts, A.D. 1616, were English Puritans, who understood well the doctrines of grace, and adhered to them, with great firmness. Though they commenced their settlement in New England twenty-three years before the meeting of the assembly of divines at Westminster, yet they embraced the same doctrines which that venerable assembly embodied in their Confession of Faith and Catechisms. It was indeed their attachment to these principles, that induced them to forsake their native land, and encounter all the difficulties of settling in a strange and distant land, among the savages of the wilderness. Heaven had manifested its goodness, in bringing to light a new world in the west, just before the storm of persecution burst upon the reformers, that an asylum might be afforded them, from the violence of their adversaries. The fathers of New England have been represented by many of their ungrateful sons as a rude, ignorant, bigoted and unenlightened people. No representation, however, could be farther from the truth, nor more injurious to their real character. They did not indeed possess that polish, which has been acquired by more modern society, but they had what was of incomparably more value—great piety, zeal for the truth, clear conceptions of what is truth, and resolution to practice the duties which it enjoins. It has always been customary among the New England divines, to publish sermons which were delivered on stated and important occasions; and from all these that we have been able to see, they were harmonious and united in their attachment to the creed of the Genevan school, as explained and embraced by the British reformers.
In 1648, the Westminster Confession of Faith was approved by the clergy of Massachusetts; and in the year 1680, the Savoy Confession of Faith was adopted by the congregational clergy assembled in Boston and its vicinity, as the expression of their own sentiments. The doctrines of this latter system are the same with those of the Westminster confession, and in most instances expressed in nearly the same words. At its adoption, there does not appear to have been one dissenting voice, either among the clergy or laity. Their form of church government rendered it impossible for the association of clergy, who gave it their sanction, to impose it upon all the congregations under their charge. They could do no more than recommend it, as all their congregations were associated bodies, independent of each other. It would, nevertheless, at that time have been deemed highly improper for any one of the ministers or of their congregations, to have departed from the system of truth which was embraced and recommended by the general convention. This very system of government, if it may be called a system, opened in some measure a door for the introduction of error, and gave to errorists facilities for introducing their tenets, which did not exist in the Presbyterian church, in which all the members are directly amenable to the presbytery for those doctrines which they teach. In the New England churches, the clergy were directly and immediately amenable to their own congregations only; and, as the authority of the association over its members was very slight, a minister might exhibit opinions contrary to the analogy of faith, for a considerable time before any account would be taken of him. Those, however, who were found to be chargeable with heresies, might be cited before a council, and if found guilty, deposed from office. This power has, in some instances, been exercised by some of the northern churches.
For a considerable time after the adoption of the Savoy Confession of Faith, by the ministers of Boston, we have the most ample testimony, that the northern people maintained steadfastly the principles which are contained in that excellent compend.
The churches in Connecticut had become very numerous about the beginning of the last century, but the laxness of discipline, the irregularity of the life of many members of the church, and the want of an acknowledged general standard of doctrine, began to excite the fears of many enlightened men. At Gilford a measure originated, intended to produce a better state of things. The civil government of the colony considered themselves as entitled, by their office, to watch over the welfare of their citizens in relation to their religious interests; and in 1703, they invited a convention of the clergy to assemble, and devise measures for promoting the welfare of the church. This assembly of the Connecticut clergy met at Saybrook on the 13th of May, 1708; and the result of their deliberations was the unanimous adoption of the Savoy Confession of Faith, as their standard of doctrine. They approve of the whole of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and speak of it in the very highest terms of commendation. In the Savoy confession they made a few slight alterations, rather of a verbal nature; but no change was made in the doctrine of divine decrees, the total depravity of human nature, and the definite satisfaction made by Messiah for the elect.
In an act which they passed on the subject of doctrine, they say:—“As to what appertains to soundness of judgment, in matters of faith, we deem it sufficient, that a church acknowledge the scriptures to be the word of God, the perfect and only rule of faith and practice, and own the doctrinal part of the confession commonly called the articles of the church of England, or the confession, or catechism, larger, or shorter, compiled by the assembly at Westminster, or the confession agreed upon at Savoy, to be agreeable to said rule.” Here we have the whole colony of Connecticut, both in its civil and ecclesiastical capacities, expressing its approbation of the doctrines of the Genevan school. Any person who should deny the truth and divine origin of the Holy Scriptures, or the doctrine of the Trinity, has always in Connecticut been incapacitated for holding civil offices; and that state has always adopted the principle, that the civil transactions of a nation should be rendered subservient to the great interests of man, and that the sacred scriptures are the rule by which men should regulate all their civil affairs. To the interference of the civil power, we are in this instance indebted for so excellent an expression of orthodoxy. This measure was a great means of harmonizing the affections of the Connecticut clergy, in promoting the interests of religion; and to it, doubtless, we are in part to attribute the excellent state of morals, and education, for which this state is unrivalled by any other section of the union. The clergy were drawn together into a closer union, acquired more confidence in each other, and became more watchful in guarding their churches and associations against the inroads of error. When the people of Connecticut established grammar schools, or gave their sons a liberal education, it was chiefly with a view that the churches should be supplied with enlightened and learned ministers, who might make known to perishing sinners the way of salvation, through the obedience, death, and intercession of Messiah; and the supply of clergy always kept pace with their increasing population.
In the adoption of the Westminster and Savoy Confessions of Faith, the churches in Connecticut followed Massachusetts, the parent from which she was descended; and the state of orthodoxy was probably about the same then, in that colony, that it had been fifty years before in the parent state; in which it began to decline early in the last century. Many great and good men exerted themselves with faithfulness and zeal to preserve the ancient opinions and habits free from corruption. Among the most distinguished of these was the Mather family. The Rev. Richard Mather was the first of this stock, that emigrated to New England, to which he was driven by persecution. He arrived in Boston in 1635, and was the founder of a family of great respectability, many of whom have been ministers of the gospel eminent for their orthodoxy, piety, and influence in the political and ecclesiastical affairs of Massachusetts. His son, Increase Mather, was educated in Harvard college, where he graduated in 1656, and was ordained to the pastoral charge of a congregation, in 1659. Two years after his ordination he was invited to take charge of the college as its principal, but he preferred the situation in which he was placed, to the honourable station offered him. He did, indeed, at first accept it, and preside at one commencement, but immediately after resigned, in compliance with his own wishes, and those of his congregation, who were warmly attached to him, and would not consent to part with him. In 1662, a vacancy happening in that office, he was again solicited, as the most learned and pious man in New England, to accept the presidency. His congregation continued their attachment to him, and he would not do violence to their feelings. But in consideration of his great merit, the trustees permitted him to officiate in his congregation once every Sabbath. With this privilege he accepted the presidency, and continued to perform the duties of his office, with great reputation to himself, and honour to the college, until the year 1701, a period of sixteen years; when his age incapacitated him for the longer discharge of its literary functions. He wrote and published many books, most of which, that have fallen into our hands, abound with piety and good sense. The style, indeed, is destitute of polish and elegance, but the abundance of matter more than compensates for this defect.
The Baptist society in his day were numerous and increasing; they attacked both from the pulpit and the press, the baptism of infants. Dr. Mather published several sermons on this controversy; and all his arguments evince not only the soundness of his views in relation to the subject in controversy, but of the doctrines of grace generally. In this controversy, both he and his opponent appeal to the opinions of the first settlers in Massachusetts, and to Dr. Owen, all of whom, as to their opinions in relation to the covenant of works, to the covenant of grace, to the doctrines of the Christian system, and the nature of the church, each party mentions with high respect. From this fact we discover, if any testimony in addition to their writings were deemed necessary, that, however the Baptists and the Congregationalists of that time might disagree on the subject of infant baptism, they harmonized entirely on the doctrine of the atonement, and all the other fundamental doctrines of the system of redemption, as these are taught by Dr. Owen, and other writers of the Calvinistic order. They mutually deprecate the introduction of the Arminian errors into the New England churches, of which they express much fear from the aspect of the church and the state of public opinion.
On the subject of Adam’s representing his posterity in the covenant of works, Dr. Mather thus expresses himself incidentally:—“If mankind confederated actually in Adam, their public person, when they did so much as in their proper persons, then may children actually existing in their proper persons, actually confederate in their public person. But mankind, not yet existing in their proper persons, confederated in Adam their public person.” He then quotes from Thomas Vedelius de Deo, the following passage: “The sin of Adam is not another’s, but our own. Adam’s sin was in a manner peculiar to itself voluntary on our part, because as we were in Adam, so in him we willed. The will of Adam was the will of the whole mass.” Though the mode in which Thomas expresses himself is obscure, yet it is plain that both he and Dr. Mather held the doctrine of Adam’s representation of his posterity, and of all mankind’s sinning in him. He also quotes with approbation Mr. Norton, to the same effect. The work from which the above extract is taken was published in 1775.
Cotton Mather, the son of Increase Mather, was a much more voluminous writer than his father. His writings are not free from some traits of superstition, but they are orthodox on the doctrines of the atonement, and all other capital articles of the Christian faith. His Magnalia, or History of New England, though evidently written with great haste, and though the facts are neither selected with judgment nor well arranged, is a treasure of historical fact, upon which all the succeeding historians of New England make large draughts. His Biblia Americana, a commentary on the Bible, has never been published; it is now in manuscript in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He published a great number of smaller works, many of which are highly valuable, and read with great interest by the common people, and by the best of the clergy of the northern states. The influence which this divine had over the minds of the people of New England was extraordinary, and can no otherwise be accounted for than by supposing that he was a man of great worth. While the Mather family possessed this influence over the public mind, the vital spirit of Christianity, the faith of the Christian in the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus, animated the church in Massachusetts. The clergy who were associated with them were generally of the same stamp with themselves. All that is excellent in the character of the New England people, and there is much, may be traced to these old and godly puritans. All admit that these were times of great piety; and that though there were many imperfections, yet it would be difficult to find in the history of human society more virtue than then existed in the northern colonies.
The clergy were well indoctrinated, and willing to be instructed by the great orthodox divines of the Christian church, who had preceded them, especially by those of the reformation. They were willing to travel in the plain path of truth, without bewildering themselves in the mazes of false philosophy, and idle speculation. They, above all, were not averse to submit their opinions to the authority of God speaking in the scriptures, though there were many truths above the comprehension of human reason; such as the existence of three persons in the Godhead of one undivided essence, the incarnation of Messiah, and the atonement which he offered to eternal justice for the redemption of sinners. Such was the character of the clergy, who were at that time educated in Harvard college; which for more than a century was a great blessing to the New England churches.
This seminary was founded in 1638, and received its first endowment from Mr. John Harvard, a minister of the gospel, who resided in Charlestown. It was chartered by the crown of England in 1650. At first, it was chiefly under the direction of the puritan clergy; and those ministers who were educated in it, generally taught the Calvinistic doctrines only. Among the distinguished men who were educated in it, was the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Coleman, of whom we have a biography by Mr. Turell; a book which though not well written, throws considerable light upon the state of religion, and religious opinions, in New-England, during the early part of the last century.
A professorship of divinity was founded in Harvard college, by a donation from Mr. Thomas Hollis, in honour of whom it has been styled the Hollis professorship. Mr. Hollis, aided by Dr. Coleman, was extremely minute in forming regulations, by which no one except an orthodox divine, one entirely of the Calvinistic creed, should be admitted to fill the divinity chair. Those intelligent Christians, no doubt, even at that early date, saw symptoms of decline in the churches of New-England, which induced them to place many guards around the important chair, which they were erecting in the college. For as early as 1732, we find the errors of Arminius were finding their way into Yale college, a sister institution. In a letter to Mr. Adams, of New-London, in Connecticut, dated December 2d, of that year, Dr. Coleman thus expresses himself:—“Give me leave to add one word more concerning the bruit of the prevalence of Arminianism in the college,” (of New-Haven). “I am told that you were yourself in much apprehensions, and fears on that head, that you enquired earnestly of your son concerning it; and that the deceased, aged Mr. Woodbridge, of Hartford, a little before his death, was under great concern on that account. It would be acceptable to some friends here, if you would freely write upon that head; more especially if you can vindicate the college from the aspersion. They hope and believe the reverend trustees and rector, have made a faithful enquiry into that matter.” Here we discover, that at least a report had spread abroad, that Arminian principles had found their way into the fountains of learning in New-England, and that Dr. Coleman, whose reputation was very high, and who maintained the principles then generally prevalent among the New-England clergy, and other pious men of distinction, considered the report one of a very formidable character, and would have thought it a most alarming evil, had it been true, as no doubt, it was.
[NEW ENGLAND AND THE GENERAL ATONEMENT.]
The particular tenet of the Arminian school in this ancient seminary is not mentioned; but as the doctrine of general atonement not long after began to prevail among the New-England clergy, it is probable this was the first Arminian principle which was taught in New-England. This is still rendered more probable, as about forty years before this time, a very large body of the reformed clergy of France, after the revocation of the edict of Nantz, had taken refuge in London, and they were nearly all advocates of some of the Salmurensian errors, especially that which respects indefinite atonement. Between the London divines, many of whom embraced the Salmurensian errors, and the New-England ministers, there was a very intimate connexion. Dr. Coleman, when in London, was very intimate with the most distinguished of the dissenting preachers of that city. A correspondence had been kept up between them before the time of Dr. Coleman, and the works of the London divines were circulated and read in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the other northern states. The manner in which Dr. Coleman writes to his friend in relation to the Arminianism of the college, shews that whatever the principle was which was said to be embraced in the college, he had not adopted it.
While those errors were stealing into New-England, the church in the middle states did not continue altogether pure. Of the state of theological opinions in the south at that time, little is known. A majority of the leading men of the colony of Virginia were Episcopalians, who procured an establishment of their creed; and the government compelled all other denominations to contribute towards the support of their clergy. The episcopal clergy of Virginia, scarcely published anything either on theology, or any other subject. The state of learning was very low in that colony. The greater part of their clergy were from the English universities, and these were far from being very learned; nor were they remarkable for their faithfulness in performing ministerial duties, or for the holiness of their lives. They, like their brethren in England, generally embraced the Arminian system; which, no doubt was the cause of the deficiency in vital godliness, with which they are chargeable. There were comparatively, few Presbyterians in Virginia, for many years after its first settlement.
Maryland was colonized by George Calvert, baron of Baltimore, a Roman Catholic; and the principal part of the emigrants, who followed the destinies of that nobleman, into the new world, were of the same faith with himself. Their doctrines and their policy, long predominated in the colony.
William Penn, the founder of the colony of Pennsylvania, was, in the earlier part of his life, an enthusiastic disciple of George Fox, the father of the Quaker society; and published some small tracts of his own composition, in defense of the peculiar doctrines of Barclay, and the practices of the society. After he became a politician, it is altogether doubtful, whether he was a Quaker, a Roman Catholic, or a mere political maneuverer, without any real regard for any religion. But whatever he may have been in reality, the first settlers of his colony were principally Quakers, and he found it convenient, to maintain an external attachment to the society, and to express great regard for their peculiarities. The founders of the colony were, of course, not believers in the atonement. The chief books which they brought over with them, were Barclay’s Apology, and the Tracts of Penn. To these were confined nearly all their reading, and in these was to be found their whole creed. Very little or rather no efforts were made at the settlement of the colony to encourage literature. Penn, himself, was a very illiterate man, as his education was broken off when his father disowned him for joining the Quaker society. Salvation by works, was the only hope of these deluded people.
They did not long retain the undisturbed possession of the government of the colony. Its founder had held out liberal terms, to people of all denominations of Christians, and of all countries, who should settle in Pennsylvania. Thousands embraced the offers which he made, and soon the Scotch, Irish, and German Presbyterians, and German Lutherans, became numerous and powerful. English dissenters of various denominations, and Episcopalians also, settled under the government of Penn. All these united together, at first, to oppose the regime of the Quakers, and afterwards wrested it out of their hands. Though the Germans were numerous, the Irish Presbyterians were the most powerful of all the parties which opposed the Quaker system.
[GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESBYTERIANS.]
In New-York there was a considerable number of Scotch, and some Irish Presbyterians. The clergy of the Presbyterian churches in the middle colonies, retained the principles which their fathers in Britain held, and were attached to the same form of church government; but were at first without any kind of union, not having been authorized, by the judicatories in Britain, to form themselves into a Presbytery, or Synod. They, however, in time, took up the affair, and constituted an ecclesiastical judicatory, styled the Synod of New-York and Philadelphia. This was modelled upon the Genevan plan, to which they had been accustomed in Britain. The condition of the church in America, the want of unity and co-operation among the ministers from the time of their emigration to that in which this Synod was formed, and the predisposition of some to Congregationalism, rendered it impossible to impart so vigorous a tone to this body as would have been desirable. The qualifications for ministerial communion, were not so accurately defined as they had been in the Presbyterian churches in Europe. The Westminster Confession, however, was adopted; and all who were admitted to membership, were required to profess their belief in all its doctrines, except those which related to the power of the civil magistrate about religious matters. Though the texture of this fabric was not of remarkable firmness, and though many of the clergy were superficial in their literary attainments, yet they were generally pious; and we have no ground to think that any of them were unsound in the doctrines of the gospel. Their profession of adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith, was no doubt sincere, and the doctrines which they taught agreeable to the truths which it contains. The opportunities of education which the youth destined for the ministry possessed, were very slender; their study of theology not systematic, and mostly superficial.
The numbers of this body increased rapidly, both from emigration and natural increase; and the want of energy in the original constitution, became more visible as it developed itself, covered a greater extent of country, and embraced a greater number of congregations.
The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, was thrown into a violent state of agitation, by one of those events, which is usually known in modern times, by the name of a revival of religion. It was effected through the instrumentality of that very extraordinary man, the Rev. George Whitefield. This gentleman, belonged originally to the episcopal church of England. He possessed warm passions and great zeal for practical religion. The lukewarmness which prevailed in the establishment, was not calculated for a man of his warm feelings and ardent piety. He declaimed, with vehemence, against the vices of the time and the want of practical piety among his brethren; and rendered himself extremely obnoxious to the dignitaries of the church. But he set them all at defiance, and threw himself upon the populace, to whom his addresses were very acceptable. He embraced the principal points of the Calvinistic creed, but doctrinal points were not the subjects upon which he dealt in his exhibitions from the pulpit. The condition of man while in a state of nature, exposed to the wrath of heaven, the blessed estate of the righteous, the glories of heaven, and the horrors of the damned, he described in the most vivid manner, and aroused the fears, and awakened the hopes of his auditors by a torrent of the most irresistible eloquence. No preacher, perhaps, ever addressed larger audiences, whose passions he seemed to have entirely under his control. The chief place in Britain, in which his eloquence produced to the full extent the effects at which it aimed, was in Cambuslang, in Scotland. The passions of those who heard him were not only roused, and his vast audiences caused to burst into a flood of tears; but multitudes were heard to cry aloud for mercy, while others were writhing under the most alarming bodily convulsions. The work spread in various directions and attracted general notice. He was introduced to the fathers and founders of the Secession church, the Erskines, who were at first very favourably disposed towards him; but upon a more intimate acquaintance, were led to consider him in the light of an enthusiast, without any fixed system of principles, or regularity of plan, and willing to accommodate himself to almost any denomination of Christians, whatever their principles, provided they maintained what he considered the fundamental points of the Christian system. They refused to have any farther ecclesiastical connection with him, or to give him their countenance, as a minister of the gospel.
He set sail for America, animated no doubt with the most honest desire to promote the interests of true religion, and to be instrumental in saving the souls of sinners. He landed at Charleston in 1740, and was soon after invited to Boston. His fame had reached that place before him, and vast audiences assembled at all those places, in which it was known that he would preach. The effects of his preaching were of the same nature precisely in America, as in Britain. Loud cries and bodily agitations were almost everywhere produced under his ministrations. Many went to hear him either with a view to mock, or to gratify their curiosity, in hearing so celebrated an orator. The clergy and the people in America were divided in their opinions respecting him, as much as in England and Scotland. From New-England, he visited New-York and Pennsylvania. The ministers of the Synod of New-York and Philadelphia, all admitted him into their pulpits; many of them hailed him on his arrival as they would a messenger immediately from heaven, and copied as far as possible, his pathetic mode of preaching. Others thought that such forcible appeals to the passions, without paying sufficient attention to the enlightening of the understanding, were not calculated to produce any lasting salutary effect. They admitted, that Mr. Whitefield might be, and no doubt was, instrumental in the conversion of numerous sinners; that he was pious and honest in his intentions; but they feared that the storm of passion which was raised, would lay waste the order of the church, and in the end, produce more evil than good. The controversy ran high, and much ill nature was mingled with it. Those who followed Whitefield, were called “New Light,” and “New Side,” while his opposers were denominated “Old Light,” and “Old Side” men, names borrowed from Scotland. The dispute was not merely about the manner of preaching, it also embraced discussions, on some very important doctrinal topics. Those who adopted the vehement manner of declaiming from the pulpit, found themselves, as they thought, too much limited in their exhortations to duty, while they admitted that the people had no power of themselves to believe, repent, and perform works of righteousness, and were led to assert and maintain, that man has power to perform all the duties which God enjoins upon him, provided he but wills to perform it. Their opponents said, nothing was gained by this distinction; for as man could not will without the assistance of the spirit of God, his incompetency was, upon the whole, the same in both cases. They also said, that to represent man as possessing such powers, was inconsistent with the scriptural account of his native inability, which it makes total; and that this was the opening of a door by which all the Arminian errors would find their way into the church. All these solid arguments were urged in vain: when the sensibilities of the mind are awakened into extraordinary action, the voice of reason, however powerful, is not heard. The new doctrine was drunk in greedily, by many of the ministers and people. It ended in a schism; and the Whitefieldians formed a new presbytery, known by the name of the New-Brunswick presbytery. Many of the ministers and people in Philadelphia, and many in Delaware, belonging to the New-Castle presbytery, embraced the doctrine of natural ability, and moral inability, as taught by the New Lights. The members of the New-Brunswick presbytery, and their adherents, refused to consider their former brethren as ministers of Christ Jesus; or to use the language of that time, they “unchurched them.”
This revival, though it was undoubtedly the means of converting many sinners, was through the instrumentality of Satan and the corruptions of the human heart, the cause of introducing into this church evils of which it has never yet been able to purge itself. It left the body crippled, and bleeding with many wounds, which are hardly yet perfectly healed. The Rev. Dr. Ewing, of Market-street church, well known as the principal of the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Allison; Mr. Steel, of Carlisle; Mr. Elder, of Dauphin county; Mr. Simonton, of the Great-Valley; Dr. Latta and Mr. Willson, were of the Old Light school. The Rev. Messrs. Tennant, Samuel and John Blair, Roan, Foster, Carmichael and Strain, were of the New Light school. The character of many of both parties is well known, and their memory honoured by all good people who knew them. The New Lights, as well as their brethren from whom they separated, were firmly attached to the doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith, except on the subjects which have been mentioned. From the whole of these events we are perhaps warranted in drawing the general conclusion, that those extraordinary excitements, which throw the passions into a violent and ungovernable state of agitation, together with the good effected through grace, usually bring along consequences unfriendly to the best interests of the church.
Between the Presbyterian church in the middle states and the congregational churches in the north, there was not at the time of which we now speak, much connection. This did not proceed from a want of harmony on doctrinal points, for they all embraced the same creed, but from local situation, from the difference in their form of church government, and from their living under distinct colonial governments, not always very harmonious in their political operations. Though the intimacy of connection was not great, there was no hostility, but on the contrary, as far as they knew each other, they were friendly. Mr. Whitefield was the occasion of a similar division in Connecticut. Of the “Old Lights,” President Clap, and the Rev. Jedidiah Mills, (the maternal great-grandsire of the Rev. E. S. Ely,) whom nevertheless Mr. Whitefield has mentioned in his Journal with affection, were the most distinguished.
The revival which he was the means of producing in New England, was promoted by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Bellamy and others, by the same kind of pulpit exhibitions, which we have described in the middle states, except that they partook more of the didactic character. Mr. Edwards was a peculiarly intellectual man. Except a sermon, which he published during the revival in his congregation, nearly all his writings are quite devoid both of imagination and passion. He was a profound reasoner, a very acute metaphysician, who wrote and published many volumes, which have procured for him great celebrity as a scholar and a divine. His defense of the doctrine of the decrees, of original sin, and various other important points of the Calvinistic creed, connected with the atonement, is ample and irresistible. Yet at the time of the revival in his congregation, he became a very passionate speaker, and to such a degree were the feelings of his auditors roused that violent bodily agitations were produced. So sanguine were the hopes of this excellent and celebrated man, as to the consequences that were to result from this revival of religion, and from the state of the world, that he believed the millennial glory of the church was speedily to burst forth upon a benighted world. He even published a small essay to prove that the witnesses were slain, that he might remove one of the greatest obstacles to the realization of those elevated expectations, which he had taught his people to form, and which are expressed in his sermon on the revival. Alas! how were all these hopes frustrated. He soon found that he had been too sanguine; for like the revival at Cambuslang, and that in Pennsylvania, the excitement did not last long. He now perceived that there might arise some misconceptions relative to the exercise of the affections in religion, from the course which he had taken, especially from the sermon which has been mentioned; and when the fervor of his mind subsided, he addressed himself to the writing of a book on the affections. It is one of his most valuable publications; a work with which every Christian should be acquainted. A difficult, and important subject is discussed with great perspicuity and depth of reasoning.
The reputation which Mr. Edwards acquired during this revival, by his works which grew out of it, and by his profound erudition, wonderful industry, and great fertility of mind, gave him a very extensive influence, not only in the New England, but also in all the Presbyterian churches in America. Hence it is that by some incorrect opinions which are contained in his works, and by strained deductions from what was naturally harmless, the growth of some of the most formidable errors has been greatly accelerated, and evils have been introduced which will not be speedily removed.
A full enumeration of the causes which either prepared the way for the introduction, or immediately introduced, the evils which followed this revival, would occupy more room than can be here devoted to the subject. A few of them shall be exhibited in a concentrated view.
The first that deserves notice, is the metaphysical and speculative character of the puritans, both in England and America. Though many of the puritanical divines are luminous and correct in all their metaphysical discussions, such as the profound Dr. Owen, yet there was among them an extravagant attachment to subtle distinctions, and too great a desire to explain everything, in such a manner as to render it perfectly within the comprehension of human reason. This did little harm, when confined to subjects of minor importance, but applied to the great mysteries of the Trinity, the atonement, and the incarnation, it could not fail to do mischief. For this propensity the New England Puritans were more remarkable than their English ancestors, as appears from all their theological, moral, and historical works. Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding was early introduced into the northern seminaries as a text book, and made an essential part of a liberal education. From the study of this book men of distinguished mind have always derived great improvement; while the multitude, who think superficially, are incapable both of detecting the fallacy of some of his reasonings and of comprehending his distinctions, acquire a taste for his subtle speculations, and adopt his erroneous first principles as indisputable. Locke too was an Arminian: he considers the human mind in infancy as a pure sheet equally susceptible of any impressions, whether good or bad. Hence there is no place according to his system, for the doctrine of original sin. Those students who were taught to venerate him, would necessarily imbibe some Arminian tenets, and the tendency of the puritan character to subtle ratiocination would be strengthened.
The writers on ethics, by discussing the subject as entirely distinct from the precepts revealed in the scriptures, and speaking in very general and loose terms about the reward of virtue, representing virtue as leading necessarily to happiness, and pressing it without any allusion to the Christian system, especially to the gracious work of the Spirit of God, upon the human heart, give countenance to the creed of the Arminian school. Some of them also give mistaken, or at least dangerous views of the system of the Universe. Hutchinson, in his Moral Philosophy, (p. 68.) says—“All the variety of evil we behold, is no more or greater than what is necessary to the perfection of the universe.” On the subject of disinterested benevolence, he says, (p. 64.) “From our natural sense and approbation of moral excellence, wherever it is discovered, there must arise a disinterested love and veneration, detached from all considerations of our own interest.” About the middle of the last century, it became fashionable to talk of the good of the whole as the rule of human actions, and thus was revived one of the dogmas of Aristotle. From Europe those opinions were introduced into the New World. Two systems, both apparently and really adverse, were espoused, about the same time, in New England; but when found in the way of detached sentences in the works of metaphysicians and moralists, the discrepancy was not so visible as now, since they have become fully matured. One was the Arminian tenets of Locke; the other, that the whole system of the universe is all arranged by God so that a reference is always had to the good of the whole, and that as a practical result of this doctrine, every man should search for what will best promote the good of the whole, and make it without any regard to himself the rule of his own conduct. It was in Harvard University and Yale College that Arminianism first made its appearance among the Congregationalists. Whether the other opinion was maintained there at the same time, we have not been able to ascertain.
[NEW ENGLAND AND THE OPINIONS OF AMYRAUT.]
The Salmurensian controversy was also well known in New England, and from the similarity, or rather from the identity of many of the errors which soon after the revival in question made their appearance in the north, there is not the least room left for doubt, that a considerable number of divines had adopted the opinions of Amyraut. One of his opinions, not before mentioned was, that God is the author of sin.
A declension of vital piety, for some time before the revival, had been very conspicuous in the New England churches. In the invitation which the ministers of Boston sent to Mr. Whitefield, while in Charleston, they complain in very strong terms of the want of practical piety, and of a general declension of the power and life of godliness in their congregations [Backus’s History of New England.]. This declension appears to have commenced about the time that the bruit of Arminianism spread abroad, which was eight years before the invitation to Whitefield [Life of Dr. Coleman, p. 53.]. Here the same deleterious effects were produced by Arminianism, or by Amyraldism, which it has elsewhere produced. Corruption in doctrine generally precedes a decay of practical religion; and the latter accelerates the growth of the former.
About the time that Yale College was first suspected of favouring Arminianism, the character of Dr. Isaac Watts became known in Boston, and the northern churches. This gentleman was born at Southampton in Britain, 1764, and had acquired considerable reputation as a poet and a metaphysician. He had published his Imitation of the Psalms of David, designed for the purposes of devotion, and they had been introduced into several churches in Britain. Dr. Coleman, when in England, formed an intimate acquaintance with him, and after his return to America, corresponded with him. Until that time the old version of the psalms of David had been used almost exclusively in the congregational churches of New England. Dr. Coleman, considered the Bible as the best and only manual. He proposed to introduce into his congregation some of the psalms and verses of Watts’ Imitation, and that where Watts had omitted whole psalms they should be supplied, for he says,—“I judge it best for us to have the whole book of Psalms in its order as we now have it,” [Life of Dr. Coleman, p. 177.]. though he was not averse to the use of other portions of scripture when versified for that purpose.
In the introduction of Watts’ Imitation he was very cautious, and selected with great care those portions of it which he considered as translations of the original. As to the use of human compositions the doctor says:—“My opinion is, that in the book of psalms and in several other parts of holy scripture, there is full provision made for the collection of a body of psalmody, for the use of the church through all ages, in the public and private worship of God.” Hence it appears that Dr. Coleman, would not have introduced the whole of scripture when versified, into divine worship, but only the poetic portions of it, and that he would have excluded entirely all human compositions. He wished a smoother version than the old, “though,” as his biographer says, “he was far from despising and speaking reproachfully of it as some have.” With all this caution Dr. Coleman was setting open the floodgates of error.
With the psalms of Dr. Watts, his other writings were introduced into New England. Men who had been accustomed to sing only divinely inspired songs, when they began to sing those of Watts, would naturally attach something like the notion of inspiration to his character, as thousands have since done, who assert that he was as much inspired as David. Hence they would be ready to embrace any opinion which they found in his writings. Dr. Watts was a Sabellian, and an Arian. He maintained that there was but one person in the Godhead, who was represented as acting in the capacities of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and that the human soul of Christ existed before all worlds and created them. Mr. Jonathan Edwards viewed his scheme in this light. “According to what seems to be Dr. Watts’ scheme the Son of God is no distinct person from the Father. So far as he is a divine person, he is the same with the Father. So that in the covenant of redemption, the Father covenants with himself, and he takes satisfaction of himself.—But how does this confound our minds instead of helping our ideas!” [Edwards’s Essays.] Such is the light in which Mr. Edwards viewed Watts’ opinions. Watts, in his imitation of the second psalm, leaves out the words, “thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” It is true, that by others it has been introduced; but as Watts left it out we perceive how he thought. Perhaps no one cause was more efficient in opening the way for the northern heresies, which shall soon be exhibited, than the influence of Dr. Watts’ name.
[JONATHAN EDWARDS AND ATONEMENT.]
Men who have the best acquaintance with President Edwards know, that he maintained most firmly, the doctrine of divine decrees, the imputation of Adam’s sin, the total depravity of human nature, the substitution of Christ Jesus in the room of the elect, a definite atonement, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to sinners for their justification. To establish these doctrines, is the main object of nearly all his works. But on some of these points, as well as others, he uses expressions, which some have wrested from their signification. His mind was remarkably acute and discriminating; and he permitted himself to attempt explanations of things which the scriptures, for wise reasons surely, leave unexplained; and here he rather bewilders himself and his readers. How can God decree, or foresee all things, and yet the creature be a free agent, and accountable? Such questions he attempts to answer, forgetting that some intermediate truth may be necessary to explain the seeming inconsistency. As had any of the ancients been told that there are antipodes, and yet that both stand erect, they, believing the earth to be an extended plain, would have considered the proposition as involving a contradiction. But the sphericity of the earth and the doctrine of gravitation solve the phenomenon and render all perspicuous. So those difficulties in the Christian system may be, and no doubt will hereafter be explained, by truths whose revelation is reserved for heaven. If we have such difficulties in the natural world, why should we not in the moral? It is here that he used the rather unguarded expressions which follow:—“He should say, that God has decreed every action of men—and just so sinful as they are.” [Sect 8th. of his Miscellaneous Observations.] He maintains that God arranges all the motives by which we are moved to act, that we necessarily act from motives; but that the mind possesses an innate activity, and that its operations proceed from itself. His son Dr. Jonathan Edwards, who wrote against Chauncy, does not admit this distinction, and says that God is the efficient cause of all our actions, and hence is the author of sin. The father was however, far from making God the author of sin, and charges the sinfulness of the action wholly upon the sinner. He wrote a treatise on the foundation of virtue, which he maintains to be benevolence to being in general, and illustrates his position and defends it with his accustomed ingenuity. From this afterwards originated the doctrine of disinterested benevolence towards God, and the opinion that men should be willing to be damned for the glory of God.
In his History of Redemption, a most valuable work, he maintains that Christ owed obedience to the law for himself, besides that which he owed as mediator. On this hypothesis, we shall afterwards see that the error of Piscator respecting the active obedience of Christ was revived in the United States.
[BELLAMY AND THE RISE OF ERRORS.]
The divine, who next to President Edwards took the most conspicuous part in this revival, was Dr. Bellamy, and contributed his part towards the northern errors. This gentleman was born at Cheshire, in the county of New-Haven, 1719, and was educated at Yale college, the seminary in which nearly all the Connecticut clergy have gone through their studies preparatory to the ministry, and which from its foundation has been a highly respectable seminary. In 1740, he was settled in Woodbury. As soon as the revival commenced, he itinerated as a preacher, everywhere fanning the flame kindled by Whitefield. He was a very pious and industrious man, but possessed less learning and acuteness than Edwards. In a system of theology which he afterwards published, we find almost the same views, which were taught by Cameron and Amyraut at Saumur. His chief errors were relative to the extent of the atonement, the steps preparatory to pardon, which he maintains is preceded by repentance, and in relation to our natural powers. On the first of these points he says: [Vol. I. p. 381, of his works, p. 383.]—“God therefore through Jesus Christ stands ready to pardon the whole world; there is nothing in the way.” Again, “If Christ died only for the elect, that is, to the intent that they only upon believing, might consistently with the divine honour he received to favour, then God could not consistently with his justice, save any besides, if they should believe.” Much more might be quoted to the same purpose. He denied the doctrine of substitution.
On the subject of our natural and moral powers his conceptions were indistinct, partly perhaps from unwillingness to abandon the doctrines in which he had been educated, and partly from a partial adoption of the “new light” creed of Whitefield. He says, “whether we are beings of as large natural powers as we should have been had we never apostatized from God, or not, yet this is plain, we are nowhere in scripture blamed for having no larger natural powers.” Others improved upon this system. They soon began to teach that the atonement was made without any relation to any individual; and merely to satisfy the general justice of God, so that all might be saved, or none, according as they should believe; yet they maintained that faith is the gift of God, in consequence of eternal election. On the subject of man’s natural powers they said, that he was fully able to perform everything commanded of God, but yet that he could not will without divine aid; as if volition were not required.
Such opinions as these introduced during a state of great excitement in the public mind, when Christians were not in a state to reason, spread with rapidity.
While incorrect views of the philosophy of the human mind, of the foundation of virtue; and while the Arminian errors, from various sources, were spreading themselves through the churches to the north, the condition of the church in the middle states was rather improving. The divisions, which had been produced by Whitefield’s revival, were healed; the majority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church was orthodox, on the doctrines of grace; and many of them were opposed to that latitudinarianism, which treats with great courtesy all who profess to be Christians, whatever their tenets may be. This was tested by the arrival of Dr. Joseph Priestley in America. When he arrived in Philadelphia, the celebrity which he had acquired as a philosopher, chiefly as a chemist, procured him much attention, from many distinguished men; but the Presbyterian clergy did not recognize him as a minister of Christ Jesus; nor indeed did those of any of the Christian societies in the city. They were aware of his heretical opinions, and were resolved to shew him no countenance. Though he was introduced to many of the clergy, yet none of them invited him into their pulpits. In the Philadelphia academy there is a room appropriated to divine worship on the Sabbath, for any denomination of Christians, who have no place of their own. In this Dr. Priestley was permitted to deliver his lectures, and was heard by crowded audiences, whom curiosity to hear a man of such celebrity drew together. Those opinions which he knew were obnoxious, were kept out of view till the last lecture which he delivered, in which he unfolded, without disguise, his Socinian heresies. Some of the clergy of the city occasionally heard these lectures.
[JOSEPH PRIESTLEY IS TOLERATED.]
He formed an acquaintance with Dr. Ewing, and on one Sabbath went with him to his church in Market street. The doctor introduced Priestley into his pew, without giving him an invitation into his pulpit, as was his custom, with those gentlemen whom he recognized as brethren in the ministry. The preachers too attacked, with great faithfulness, the heresies which Priestley was endeavouring to disseminate. He and his Socinian brethren were greatly offended with these insults, as they called them, and with the opposition made to his creed. They represented him as a persecuted apostle. Little did they consider that he was endeavouring to destroy every thing, which the great body of Christians, from the beginning of the world, had held most sacred,—that he was attempting to pluck the crown from the head of the Messiah, whom they adored, and to wrest from them all those hopes of salvation, which were founded upon his atoning sacrifice. Though much respect was shewn to the philosophical foreigner as a man of science, in both New York and Philadelphia, yet as his heresies rendered his very name unsavory to nearly all Christians, his situation was far from being comfortable. He indeed professed no anxiety to disseminate his principles, but as we learn from his life, and from some of his letters published since his death, it was the governing principle of all his actions, after he came to America. Among the common people he made little progress, but they were not the persons whom he was chiefly solicitous to gain over in the first instance. His object was the great. Among the distinguished persons with whom he became intimate was Mr. John Adams, at that time vice-president of the United States; who was his constant hearer while in Philadelphia, [Priestley’s Life, Vol. II. p. 760.] and who it is said received the sacrament at his hands. Mr. Adams was no doubt honest in his preference of Dr. Priestley’s ministry; on account of the creed which he held. Long before that period he was called an Arminian. Though we have no decisive testimony that Mr. Adams became a convert to the Socinian creed, yet from the honesty of his character, and the preference which he gave to Priestley’s ministry, hardly a shadow of doubt exists that he did. In 1796, the first volume of Priestley’s Evidences of revealed religion was published, and dedicated to the vice-president. To proselyte a president was in his view almost to convert a nation. In 1797, Mr. Adams was inaugurated president of the United States; and thus there is good reason to believe that the creed of Socinus was elevated to the highest official rank in the republic.
An offer was made to Dr. Priestley in the University of Pennsylvania, which he refused to accept, and settled in the town of Northumberland; from which he corresponded with the president.
Soon after Mr. Adams’s elevation to the presidential chair, there was a commissioner to be appointed to Great Britain for the settlement of some important concerns. Before that time Thomas Cooper, Esq., Dr. Priestley’s friend, had arrived from Europe. Mr. Cooper was his theological disciple and of the same political creed. Priestley wrote to President Adams, a letter, recommending Cooper as a fit person to be appointed on the embassy to England. The president with some temper, rejected the proposition, declaring that there were Americans capable of filling such stations. Dr. Priestley now perceived that Mr. Adams did not suit his purpose; that many acts of his administration were obnoxious to the people; that Pennsylvania was a powerful state, whose weight thrown into an opposite scale, would probably change the administration; and that he could perhaps produce more effect upon a person of another character, at the head of the government. He took his measures accordingly. A newspaper was established at Northumberland, under the patronage of Dr. Priestley and the friend on whose behalf he had made application. Many circumstances relative to this establishment and its editor were not very honourable to the doctor and his friend. In this paper Dr. Priestley published several addresses to the people of Northumberland, [Life of Priestley, vol. I. p. 201, 2, 3, 4.] and in relation to the political state of the country. These addresses and numerous other articles from his pen, and that of Mr. Cooper, were published, not only in Northumberland, but circulated, by other papers, over the whole state, and produced very great effect on the election of an opposition governor in Pennsylvania; by which the whole weight of Pennsylvania was thrown into the scale in favour of Mr. Jefferson. He supplanted Mr. Adams. Though there were various other causes operating to produce this great political change, yet without the aid of Dr. Priestley and that of his friends’ agency in Pennsylvania it is probable they would all have been ineffectual. Thus that Redeemer who governs the nations, made the very man, whom Mr. Adams had countenanced in his opposition to Messiah’s divinity, one of the principal instruments of degrading him from the high station to which he had been elevated.
Priestley had great hopes of proselyting Mr. Jefferson to the faith of Socinus. He sent him a copy of his Comparison between Jesus Christ and Socrates, and received in return a complimentary letter from the president, who says he read the Comparison with great pleasure, and that he himself had promised Dr. Rush, in 1798–9, to write him a letter giving his views of the system of Jesus,—in which view, he says, he should have compared the system of Jesus with those of Pythagoras, Epictetus, &c. He says the view which he had proposed to take, “would purposely omit the question of his” (Christ’s) “divinity, and even of his inspiration. To do him” (Christ) “justice it would be necessary to remark the difficulties, which his doctrines have to encounter, not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him, when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, and presented in parodoxical shapes.” [Account of American Unitarianism,