ATTACKS MADE ON
COVENANTERS, SECEDERS, &c.
A SERIES OF LETTERS
ADDRESSED TO THE ANONYMOUS AUTHOR OF
“THE BATTLE OF THE TWO DIALOGUES.”
BY JOHN PAUL,
MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL, LOUGHMOURNE.
Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doth? JOHN.
Paul, thou art permitted to speak for thyself. ACTS.
Printed by Joseph Smyth,
ATTACKS, from various quarters, having lately been made on the principles which the writer of the following letters has espoused, and on the denomination [i.e., Reformed Presbyterian] to which he has the honour to belong—for some time past he has waited with anxiety, expecting every moment to see them repelled by some abler antagonist. In this expectation he has been hitherto disappointed. Those gentlemen, who, by talents, learning, and other accomplishments, seemed best qualified for entering the lists, appear to have regarded such attacks as despicable: they have therefore treated them with silent contempt. On this subject the author entertains a different opinion.
Though a pamphlet in itself may be really insignificant; and though, in the estimation of men of learning and talents, it may be truly contemptible; yet, if, falling in with the tide of popular prejudice, it be written in a bold declamatory style, its effects may be pernicious. By treating such pamphlets with silent contempt sufficient deference is not paid to the opinion of the world. Silence may be construed into conscious imbecility, and contempt into cowardice. With fresh increments of audacity, attacks may be reiterated, till the press at last teem with the crude eructations [belches] of every “assuming pedagogue.” By such considerations the author feels himself impelled to stand forward as the feeble advocate of a cause which has long been despised—as the apologist of a society obscure and inconsiderable.
The various and important ends and uses of creeds and confessions have been accurately exhibited, and ably defended, by divines of great eminence. Dunlop on Confessions may be consulted with advantage. The writer of the following letters has confined himself to one single view of the subject; and the chain of reasoning, which he has employed, has at least one recommendation—it is, so far as he knows, new.
Some may blame the author, because on all occasions he has not been careful to preserve his gravity: whilst others again, considering the spirit of the pamphlet on which he animadverts, may think that he is only too grave and serious. Whether he is actually guilty of running into either of these extremes, is not his province to determine. All he can say is, that attention to the golden medium has been his object. The principle upon which he proceeds, is—that reasoning ought to be refuted by argument; but that satire is the only weapon with which folly and impertinence can be successfully assailed. The author hopes, that the candor of the reader will prevent him from identifying the Rev. Presbyterian with the Synod of Ulster, or imputing to that learned body the blunders, absurdities, and contradictions of one of its members. Nothing can be more unfair, though nothing is more common, than to impute the errors of an individual to a whole community.
With regard to the continuance of the controversy, the author has only to say, that he neither feels disposed to provoke, nor to deprecate discussion. He holds no principle which he has not previously examined in private, and which he is not willing to submit to a public examination. If the tenets of any other denomination can be clearly shown to be more agreeable to the word of God, he can have no interest in refusing to adopt them. As truth excels error, as far as light excels darkness—so, when she is exhibited holding not only in her right hand spiritual blessings, but in her left riches and honor, surely they must be worse than fools who would refuse to embrace her.
Should the Rev. Presbyterian, or any other gentleman, think proper to renew the attack, the author hopes that he will not, like Joab, carry his dagger under a cloak, for the purpose of stabbing in secret the characters of his superiors: wrapping himself up in ignominious obscurity, he will not attempt to screen himself from public chastisement.
CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS DEFENDED, &c.
TO THE REV. PRESBYTERIAN.
That, both among the advocates and opponents of creeds and confessions, men of great talents, learning and piety might be found, is a fact which I flattered myself none would dispute. In this it appears I have been mistaken. The advocates of creeds and confessions, in your Battle of Dialogues, you represent as a truly despicable race of mortals. You contemptuously style them creed-makers and creed-mongers, who coin formulas to measure men’s consciences, and you gravely inform us that “ninety-nine out of a hundred who contend for creeds never think what they are; and the few who do read them never think of the meaning of language.” What contemptible miscreants are these same advocates of creeds and confessions! Ninety-nine out of a hundred, though they subscribe them, and though they contend for them, yet never read them! How implicit their faith! How blind their zeal! “And the few who do read them, never think of the meaning of language.” Still worse; a still lower degree of degradation! Hide your diminished heads, ye contemptible advocates of creeds and confessions. Never lift your pens—never open your mouths—be for ever silent; for ye never think of the meaning of language! With infinite contempt, Rev. Sir, you look down on the “pitiable creatures who know not between t-h-e and t-h-e-y;” and with proud disdain, mingled with pathetic lamentation, you stigmatize that “most ungrammatical talking, which is frequently palmed on the people for preaching.” Surely, said I, (whilst meditating on these things) surely, said I, the writer of this dialogue is an admirable Scholar—an accurate grammarian—a profound philologist. In this, however, I confess, I found myself a little disappointed. The perusal of your pamphlet I candidly acknowledge, did not altogether answer the expectations you had raised. Glancing at your pages in a critical point of view, to my great astonishment, I found them replete with grammatical blunders. For my own entertainment, I marked a number of them on the margin; and for your gratification, I shall exhibit a specimen.
Page 6, line 6 from the bottom, the pronoun they is in the plural number, whilst Seceder, the noun for which it stands, is singular. On the contrary, page 19, line 12, the pronoun it is singular, whilst instructions, the noun for which it stands, is plural. Same page, line 7 from the bottom, the verb, must subscribe, has two nominatives, negro and he: on the contrary, page 9, line 4 from the bottom, the verb hope has no nominatives at all; for when two verbs of different moods or tenses are coupled together by a conjunction, the nominative of the former must be repeated before the latter. Additional violations of this rule will be seen, page 21, line 19, and page 30, line 10. In page 22, line 16 from the bottom; and page 43, line 2, examples will be seen of the verb disagreeing with its nominative case. A variety of other grammatical blunders might be pointed out; but these may suffice at present.
Let us attend a little to the style of your dialogue. Of your talents for composition you appear by no means diffident. Whilst you reprobate the advocates of creeds and confessions, as ignoramuses who never think of the meaning of language, you speak, with apparent self-complacency, of the well ordered words you have used in a former dialogue. Of that dialogue, having never seen it,[A] I can only say, that I hope its words are much better ordered, than those of the one now under review.
In your Battle of Dialogues, page 14, we read thus: “But there were many exceptions to the Talmud amongst the Jews; and we have every reason to believe, that Timothy and his forefathers were of the number.” Were Timothy and his forefathers exceptions to the Talmud? Are these words well ordered? are they sense? Same page, near the bottom, we are informed, that “the birth of Jesus Christ, his person, &c. were handed down by the Holy Ghost through the instrumentality of the apostles.” Pray, sir, how was the person of Christ (as distinct from his preaching and doctrines, which are tautologically mentioned in the same sentence,) how was the person of Christ handed down by the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of the apostles? Had you been a Rev. Catholic, instead of a Rev. Presbyterian, I would have at once recognized the doctrine of transubstantiation.
In page 16, we are informed, that “the Israelites had disagreed to walk according to God’s commandments.”—To agree to walk according to the commandments of God, is perfectly intelligible; but to disagree to walk according to these commandments, is neither English nor sense.
Page 19, we are told, that “though the Spirit was given to Jesus without measure, yet the apostles got it as it were step by step.”—To get a gift, as it were step by step, is not English.
Page 20, we read thus: “you have now passed over the whole of his arguments.”—The words passed over convey the erroneous idea, that he had not adverted to those arguments at all.—Same page, at the bottom, you propose to put Layman in possession of a standard, which will answer in all engagements, and against all enemies. Now, what is this standard? It is the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of gospel preparation, &c. A very remarkable standard, indeed! One would expect, that the hero who fought the Battle of Dialogues would understand military terms better, than to confound a girdle, a breastplate, or a pair of shoes, with a standard!
Page 22d, we read thus: Charity, or at least prudence, might have constrained your colleague from making such an attack, and from warping into it the motives, &c. Not to mention constrained for restrained, which may possibly be only a typographical error—what a jumble of metaphors! Warping motives into an attack! A very extraordinary web, no doubt!
Page 26, the Presbyterians of Scotland, and the protestants of England, are styled the most learned assemblies in the world.—We know, that the Presbyterians of Scotland are under the inspection of a very learned assembly; but are the Presbyterians themselves an assembly? Are the Protestants of England an assembly! Well ordered words indeed!
Page 13, we read thus: “On being asked, ‘Do you think that either the divine Jesus, or his apostles, made use of any other standard of faith besides the scriptures?’ he says, ‘I am quite certain that they did.’ After such boldness, a person of plain sense would expect a quotation or two from that of which he is so certain.”—Now, that of which he is so certain, is, “that the divine Jesus, and his apostles, made use of another standard besides the bible.” It is the truth of this proposition, of which he is so certain. To expect a quotation or two from the truth of a proposition, is surely ludicrous enough! So absurd an expectation, “I am quite certain,” was never entertained by any person of plain sense.
Page 35, you express yourself thus: “The ground of my loyalty is not founded on the countenance of government.” This sentence, when analysed, will read as follows:—The foundation of my loyalty is not built on the foundation of the countenance of government. Well ordered words indeed!
Campbell, in his Philosophy of Rhetoric, has a chapter on “What is the cause that nonsense so often escapes being detected, both by the writer and by the reader?” A careful perusal of this chapter I would earnestly recommend to all who read the Battle of Dialogues. The various kinds of nonsense enumerated by Campbell, are, The puerile, the learned, the profound, and the marvelous. With great submission, I conceive the enumeration is incomplete; he ought to have added the pedantic.
In the preceding pages, I have exhibited a few specimens of the blunders, in grammar and in style, with which the Battle of Dialogues abounds. I say a few; for, to exhibit them all, would swell this letter to a size much larger, than that of the Dialogue itself.
My Reverend and dear Presbyterian, I am extremely sorry for your calamity. Before you attacked the advocates of creeds and confessions, you were doubtless an excellent scholar, an accurate grammarian, an acute philologist; but now, alas! your learning is fled—your talents are blasted. As an atonement for your sin, by which you have brought upon yourself so awful a judgment, I shall take the liberty of prescribing for you a course of penance. It is this: that, at the first meeting of Synod, you come forth from your lurking place, with tears in your eyes, and the Battle of Dialogues in your hands, confessing yourself to be the author of that performance. 2dly, That in open Synod you fall down on your bended knees, humbly begging the pardon of all the advocates of creeds and confessions, professing, at the same time, the deepest sorrow for the scurrilous manner in which you have treated them.
3dly, That you bring forward a motion to the following effect:—That no member of the Synod of Ulster shall, on pain of public censure, presume to attack the Westminster Divines, or any of the advocates of Creeds and Confessions, till, having previously studied [Lindley] Murray’s grammar, he is able to write a couple of pages without committing any material blunder.
The utility of this motion you will easily perceive. In the first place, it may be the means of averting future judgments. In the second place, it will preserve the respectability of the Synod. It will prevent that venerable and learned body from being disgraced by the incoherent effusions of every contemptible scribbler. In the third place, (for I love to be methodical) it will have an admirable effect upon pulpit exhibitions. It will prevent “The most ungrammatical talking from being palmed on the people for preaching.” Those, you know, who write ungrammatically, will, of course, talk no better. And, indeed, either to write or talk ungrammatically, in this learned age, is quite intolerable, I had almost said unpardonable. With great propriety, therefore, you drop the tear of lamentation, whilst you express yourself thus: “Alas! sir, you are well aware, that the most ungrammatical talking is frequently palmed on the people for preaching.” It is true, indeed, that a bigoted Seceder or Covenanter would have probably said, alas! sir, you know that the most erroneous and heretical talking is frequently palmed on the people for preaching. Alas! sir, you know that “there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”—Alas! sir, you know, that, for a long time past, “false teachers have been privily bringing in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”—Alas! sir, you know, that “many follow their pernicious ways, by reason of which the way of truth is evil spoken of.” Alas! sir, you know, “that, through covetousness,” these false teachers, “with feigned words, make merchandize of” their hearers.—Alas! sir, you know, that their “judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” Alas! sir, you know, that because men “receive not the love of the truth, that they may be saved, for this cause God sends them strong delusion, that they may believe a lie; that they all may be damned who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.” Such, my dear sir, was current language seventeen or eighteen hundred years ago: nay, so rude are some of the old advocates of creeds and confessions, that they retain it even in the present day. You assure us, however, that the term heretic is used only as a bug-bear to frighten children; and that the utmost we can expect of men is, “to act on their opinions.” We have no just reason, therefore, to lament, that errors and heresies are frequently palmed on the people for preaching. We have no reason to blame the propagators of these errors, heresies, and doctrines of devils. The utmost we can expect of them is, to act on their opinions.
With regardto ungrammatical talkers, the case is quite different. For these there is no apology. The remedy is obvious. Let them return and spend a few additional months at the grammar school—for the same purpose, let them peruse this letter, which I design for their edification.
I am, Sir, your sincere friend.
And fellow-labourer in grammar.
MY DEAR SIR,
THE REV. Covenanter, with whom you contend in your Battle of Dialogues, appears to be a very puny antagonist; the simplest and best-natured creature in the world. During the whole of the conflict he never strikes a single blow; but when smote on the one cheek, with the greatest meekness and good humour, turns to you the other, To be candid, sir, I am afraid you have mistaken your man: I am afraid your antagonist is a Quaker, and not a Covenanter. Covenanters, I can assure you, are not quite so tame as represented in your dialogue. A mistake, not altogether unlike the one just mentioned, I am sure you have made, when you assert that the dialogue which occasioned yours was written by a teacher, and not by a layman. Of this mistake, should you call in question the authenticity of my information, you can be convicted in the most satisfactory manner. Equally groundless is your ungenerous suspicion, that the Rev. Covenanter was a member of a mixed club, who often assembled to drill Layman. In vain, sir, has that gentleman employed almost the whole of his life, (including seven years at Glasgow college)—in vain, I say, has he employed almost the whole of his life in cultivating talents of a superior order; if, after all, afraid of appearing in the public field of controversy, he skulks in obscurity, and dares only to carry on a clandestine and inglorious war. The truth is, your supposition that Layman was drilled by the clergyman, is completely destroyed by your former assertion, that the layman was actually the clergyman in disguise.
In your controversy with Layman I do not design very formally to interfere. If you imagine you have fought a hard battle, and gained over him a signal victory, I shall not, unless in a few instances, attempt to pluck the laurels from your brow. I would only admonish you, not to be too hasty in laying aside your armor; for it does not appear to me, that the victory is quite so decisive. You antagonist may arise and renew the conflict.
In your late Battle, had you acted merely on the defensive—had you only endeavoured to repel the attacks of Layman, I should never have entered the lists: but when you carry on offensive operations against all creeds and confessions, particularly the Westminster Confession of Faith, the National Covenant, the Solemn League and Covenant, together with that venerable assembly by which those ancient documents were compiled, I feel myself called on to take up the gauntlet—to stand forward in defence of principles and characters, which, in my humble opinion, are worthy to be held in the highest estimation, but which you have indecently and furiously assailed. The whole of your reasoning against creeds and confessions appears to me resolvable into that species of sophism, which logicians style ignorantia elenchi, a mistake of the question. In page 10, you inform us, that the question is, “Whether the word of God be a perfect rule of faith and manners.” Now, sir, this is not the question at all. This never was the question. I appeal to your own motto, “The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us, how we may glorify and enjoy him.” This motto, which, by mistake, you quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith, will be found in the Shorter Catechism. It contains an explicit declaration of the sentiments of our Westminster Divines, with regard to the sufficiency and perfection of scripture. It declares those sacred oracles to be, not only the rule, but the only rule to direct us in the glorification and enjoyment of God: and it proves, beyond a doubt, that your statement is erroneous.
Pray, sir, what advocate of creeds and confessions ever called in question either the perfection or infallibility of scripture? For what purpose, then, do you again, and again, and again, talk about the perfection of scripture, and the infallibility of scripture—about mending that which is perfect, adding to infallibility, &c. What a waste of time and paper! On these points there is no dispute. You have fought indeed a hard battle; but with whom? Not with the advocates of creeds and confessions but with certain imaginary beings, who deny the perfection and infallibility of scripture! In a word, you have set up a man of straw, and over him you have gained a signal victory!
In reply to these observations, you will doubtless exclaim, Of what use, then, are human creeds and confessions? I answer, they are useful, not for mending the word of God, not for adding to its perfection or infallibility, not as a rule of faith and manners—but they are useful, as they assist us in applying the rule of God’s word; they are useful as they assist us in understanding each other, with regard to the ideas we attach to the word of God—for these purposes, I contend, they are useful, and not only useful, but necessary.
The controversy about creeds and confessions may be reduced, if I mistake not, to very narrow limits, thus:
Either a simple profession of faith in the scriptures (so far as belief is concerned,) is sufficient to entitle to the privileges of the Christian church, or it is not. If such a profession is sufficient, then creeds and confessions are unnecessary; if it is not sufficient, then both the necessity and utility of creeds and confessions are fully established.
Now, my dear sir, as you talk so much of the sufficiency, perfection, and infallibility of scripture, I ask you, Do you imagine that a simple profession of faith in the scriptures, is sufficient to entitle to the privileges of the Christian church? Were a person to apply to you for admission, and, upon his application, declare that he believed the scriptures to be the word of God, and, of course, that he believed all the doctrines contained in that sacred volume, would you regard this declaration as perfectly satisfactory?—as perfectly sufficient to entitle him to admission? Upon this principle, would you actually admit him? If you say you would; and prove that in doing so, your conduct would be proper: you have gained your point: the controversy is ended. But, my dear sir, do you not perceive, that if a simple profession of faith in the scriptures were all that is necessary to qualify for admission, the most erroneous and fanatical persons that ever lived could never be excluded. Those who “give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, forbidding to marry, and abstaining from meats,” must all be admitted into your community. Those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and contend for a community of wives; and those who plead for polygamy, divorce, and even fornication, must all be received. Those who deny the Christian sabbath, baptism, the Lord’s supper, the preaching of the word, and even the obligation of the moral law of God, must all become members of your society. Those who believe the Redeemer to be the supreme God; those who believe him to be a superangelic being; those who believe him to be a mere man, a peccable [i.e., able to sin] being like ourselves; and those who believe, that he had no human nature at all, that his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, were all imaginary—all these must be admitted by you to the enjoyment of the most solemn ordinances. If they profess their faith in the scriptures, you cannot refuse them. Dancers, Dunkers, Jumpers, and Shakers, must all be admitted into your community. If they profess their belief in the scriptures, you can ask no more: yourself being judge, “the utmost that can be expected of them is, to act on their opinions.” Of course, when public worship commences, your alleys must be cleared, that the dancers may “trip it on the light fantastic toe;” whilst the Jumpers and Shakers, having stripped off their clothes, leap till their heads strike the joists of your galleries, and their bodies fall down in convulsions before you.
Nor must you by any means refuse admission to the Flagellants, who believe that salvation can only be obtained by faith and whipping. Presume not to deny them the most effectual means of their salvation—the cat-o-nine-tails. Whilst, with energy and zeal, they exercise their godly discipline, and vigorously persevere in their pious flagellations, dare not to interfere. “The utmost you can expect of them is, to act on their opinions.”
Suppose the next class of candidates for admission to be the Circumcellions. With the clubs of Israel in their hands, and the war-whoop of “Praise be to God” in their mouths, these ancient fanatics sallied forth in frantic fury. As “vindicators of justice, and protectors of the oppressed,” they enfranchised slaves, discharged debtors, cancelled bonds, and forced masters to exchange situations with their servants. With the clubs of Israel (for they used no swords, our Savior having forbidden the use of one to Peter,) with the clubs of Israel, breaking the bones of their victims, and pouring into their eyes a solution of quick-lime and vinegar, they left them to perish in the utmost agonies. Violating their vows of chastity, they gave themselves up to wine, and every species of impurity. At last, by voluntary martyrdom, or suicide, they terminated a series of unexampled atrocities.—These, no doubt, you would consider a coarse description of Christians. But what could you do? If willing to subscribe the scriptures, you could not refuse them. “The utmost you could expect of them would be, to act on their opinions.”
The Adamites, the Cainites, the Serpentarians, and the Satanians, must all be admitted members of your society. It is true, the tenets of the Adamites might, perhaps, displease you a little—particularly the fundamental maxim of their society, “Jura, perjura, secretum prodere noli”—Swear, forswear, and reveal not the secret. Whilst they strenuously maintain, that it is highly improper to marry, or to wear any clothes, you must not presume to condemn their tenets; for, according to your own doctrine, you are fallible as well as the Adamites; you are as liable and as likely to be mistaken, as they. In imitation of old father Adam, you must allow them the privilege of appearing in your assembly naked. “The utmost you can expect of them is, to act on their opinions.”
Upon the same principle, I conclude, you are by far too liberal, to exclude from your community, the sect of the Cainites. You would not condemn this sect, for holding in the highest veneration such worthy characters as Cain, Corah, Dathan, Abiram, and the Sodomites, but particularly Judas Iscariot, who was singularly useful in betraying the Redeemer, by whose blood we are saved!
Nor must you, by any means, reject the Serpentarians, who venerate the serpent that beguiled Eve, supposing it to be the son of God!
Nor could you refuse the right hand of fellowship to the good old Satanians, who very wisely considered, that as the Devil was a being of great power, it was a dictate of prudence to venerate and adore him. You must not condemn any of these tenets; for you are a fallible being, as liable and as likely to err, as any Serpentarian or Satanian in the world. “The utmost you could expect of such characters, is, to act on their opinions.”
The Amsdorfians asserted, that good works were not only unprofitable, but obstacles to our salvation.
The Beguines maintained, that when once we are united to God, we arrive at a state, not only of sinless perfection, but impeccability—that we may indulge all our appetites and passions without restraint—that the greatest enormities are perfectly innocent—and that we are bound by no laws, neither civil nor ecclesiastical.
The Libertines contended, that God was the immediate author of every action—that, properly speaking, there was no such thing as sin, nor any essential difference between right and wrong—that we might indulge all our appetites and passions without restrain—that all our actions and pursuits were perfectly innocent—that our blessed Redeemer was nothing more than a mere je ne sçai quoi [I know not what], composed of this Spirit of God, and the opinion of men.
Now, Sir, it is not evident, that, upon your principles, Amsdorfians, Beguines, and Libertines, must all be admitted and recognized as church members? Professing to believe in the word of God, you could not refuse them. Nor could you at all condemn their tenets. Why?—You will answer the question yourself. You are “as fallible, as liable, and as likely to err,” as any Beguine, Amsdorfian, or Libertine in the world. “The utmost we can expect of men, is, to act on their opinions.”
To render your church a little more respectable, you might have a few Stylites, or pillar-saints. These worthy characters, like St. Simeon Stylites, perched on the tops of towers forty or fifty cubits high, might stand there motionless for thirty or forty years. The elevated piety and exalted devotion of these anchorites, could not fail to excite universal admiration: they would undoubtedly be looked up to by Christians of every description. Should our Rev. Presbyterian prove a little sceptical, and attempt to bring down from his high station one of these exalted characters, that anchorite might quote his authority thus: “I will set me on my tower, &c.” Continuing still a little sceptical, should your Reverence remonstrate with him—assure him that this was a perversion of scripture—an attempt to substitute your own interpretation, his high mightiness might rejoin: According to your own doctrine, you are as fallible, as liable, and as likely to err, as any pillar saint. “One interpretation may be as good as another.” Mine may, therefore, be as good as your’s. I will not come down.
Thus, Sir, it appears, that upon your principles, persons whose opinions are the most fanatical, the most erroneous, the most immoral, the most impious and abominable, must all be admitted, and recognized as church members: professing their faith in the scriptures, they cannot be rejected. Of the heterogeneous materials of such a church, the population of Noah’s ark would be only a faint representation. So far from living together in love and peace, the whole British army could not restrain them from cutting each other’s throats. From such a church “Good Lord, deliver us.” If this be liberality, let me forever remain a bigot.
In the preceding pages, I have endeavored to point out the consequences, which naturally, and in my humble opinion, necessarily follow from the position, that a profession of belief in the scriptures, is all that is necessary to entitle to the privileges of the Christian church. The consequences I have inferred, I humbly conceive, naturally and necessarily follow the premises. Sorry, however, would I be to insinuate, that my friend, the Rev. Presbyterian, would acknowledge these consequences. I can assure you, my dear sir, that I hope better things of you. I flatter myself, that you were not aware of the consequences, to which the principles laid down in your dialogue would naturally lead you. I cannot believe, Sir, that upon their acknowledgment of the scriptures, you would profess yourself willing to hold communion with all descriptions of men, however immoral, impious, or abominable their tenets.
Though Latitudinarian and the sceptical principles are frequently palmed on the world under the specious guise of the liberality and charity; yet I do not believe there is any Rev. Presbyterian hardy enough to avow the consequences mentioned above.
Now, Sir, if you grant (and I am confident you will) that on a bare profession of their belief in the scriptures, you would not admit to church fellowship such characters as mentioned above, I have gained my point. The utility and necessity of creeds and confessions follow of course; and all your reasoning falls to the ground, or may be easily retorted. A Nicolaitane, for instance, applies to you for admission. You inform him, that he cannot be admitted, so long as he pleads for the community of wives. He replies, that in the days of the apostles, they had all things common. You begin to explain this portion, and to point out the absurdity of his opinion. He answers, “The bible is my creed. I am willing to subscribe the word of God; I am willing to seal it with my blood; but I am not willing to subscribe your doctrines or opinions. The Bible is infallible; your opinions are fallible—if God’s word be an infallible standard, can you add to infallibility? The word of God is a perfect rule; measure me by that; but I will not submit to be measured by the imperfect rule of your opinions. No man, or body of men, has the right to prescribe any other terms of communion between Christ and me, than those which he himself hath prescribed; which terms are a belief in his doctrines, as contained in Revelation. Nay, further, however innocent you may presume yourself to be, you are guilty of rebellion against the person of Christ, as the king and head of the church, and of presumptuously making additions to that which he has pronounced perfect. You might as well set up a candle, when the sun is in his splendor, as your opinion, where the gospel shines. You should never dare to dictate to me, what I am to believe. Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are thou?
Thus, Sir, you see that Nicolaitane, or any other person of erroneous principles, when refused admission, might, in your own words, retort upon you all your invectives against creeds and confessions. The reason is obvious: the moment you refuse admission to any person on account of his tenets, you are, by your own acknowledgment, setting up “your conscience against his conscience, your opinion against his opinion. You are setting up your interpretation of scripture, as the confession of his faith—as a creed to measure his conscience. You are a fallible, uninspired man, as liable and likely to mistake and wrest the true sense of scripture, as any of those for whom you are contriving tests, and excluding under the name of heretics: and yet, fallible and uninspired as you are, we must suppose you to be wiser and more merciful than God, and capable of delivering his mind and will in terms more clear, express, and unexceptionable, than Jesus Christ himself.—Still, further; if the Nicolaitane is willing to subscribe the scriptures, though in an unscriptural sense, what then, I ask, should hinder him from subscribing to your interpretation in the same matter? If he will deal treacherously with the words of God, why not much more so with the words of man?”—With the words of the Rev. Presbyterian?
Thus, Sir, you see the dilemma in which you are involved. If, upon their simple professions of faith in the scriptures, you refuse to admit persons of the most impious and abominable principles, you have given up your cause; you are acting upon the principles of creeds and confessions. All your own reasoning recoils upon yourself; and I may justly address you in the words of the apostle. Therefore, thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself, for thou that judgest dost the same things.
But, if, on the contrary, you say, that upon their acknowledgment of the scriptures, you would admit persons of all descriptions, however immoral, impious, and abominable their principles—and particularly, that you would admit the Nicolaitanes mentioned above you stand reproved by the spirit of God, Rev. 2:14-17, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.” Read the words of your Redeemer in the 16th verse, and tremble as your read: “Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches.” Were it necessary, I might quote a variety of texts, in which the previous (page 19, issue?) Latitudinarian principle is condemned; but till once some person appear in public, bold enough to avow that principle, I shall not proceed any farther in its refutation.
The principles of Latitudinarians stand condemned by common sense, as well as by the word of God; for how can two walk together, except they be agreed?[B]
How can thousands and tens of thousands whose principles and practices are the most heterogeneous, discordant, and opposite—as opposite as light and darkness, Christ and Belial—how can thousands and millions of such characters walk together in love and peace? Sooner may we expect to see wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, foxes and geese, laying aside their natural antipathies and uniting in one amicable and harmonious commonwealth!
It must be confessed, however, that though Latitudinarian principles are inconsistent with scripture and common sense; they are nevertheless perfectly consistent with themselves. If persons of all descriptions, upon the adoption of the bible as their creed, ought to be admitted to church fellowship, it follows, of course, that human creeds and confessions fall to the ground.
Nor is it at all strange, that men of corrupt minds, who walk in craftiness, handle the word of God deceitfully, and corrupt the Gospel of Christ—it is not at all strange, that such characters should cordially hate, and vigorously oppose, all creeds and confessions. Those who bring in damnable heresies, the apostle assures us, do it privily; they “creep in unawares.” But creeds and confessions tear off the mask, and expose to public odium those, who, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, lie in wait to deceive. To such men, creeds and confessions are no less odious, than locks and bars to nightly depredators. Such characters, I say, in their opposition to creeds and confessions, act consistently, and as might be expected. But creeds and confessions are opposed by vast numbers of a very different description—by individuals, and by communities, strongly attached to the doctrines of the gospel, and firmly resolved, not to open the doors of the church for the reception of those, whom they regard as heretical. Such characters do themselves, what they condemn in others. Between them and the advocates of creeds and confessions the difference is merely circumstantial. Whenever they exclude an erroneous person, they do it on the principle of a creed, as we have already observed. They exclude him, not because he refuses to profess his faith in the scriptures, but because, they conceive he has not correct views of the scriptures. Their own views are exhibited to him as a confession of faith, which he is requested to subscribe. If he cannot acquiesce in these views, he is refused admission. For instance, if he refuse to profess his faith in the supreme deity of the Redeemer—his atonement—the depravity of nature—the efficacy of grace, &c. he cannot be admitted. Now all these doctrines, be they what they may, are so many articles of their creed. The difference between it and ours (as I already observed) is merely circumstantial, and the balance appears decidedly in our favor. Theirs is a verbal creed, ours a printed one. Theirs private, ours public. Theirs exhibited by obscure individuals, ours by a learned and venerable assembly of divines. Every candidate for admission with us, has an opportunity of examining our creed at his leisure. He may pause, ponder, sift, and compare every article with the word of God. In joining those who have no public creed, he has not this privilege. He has not the same advantage for becoming acquainted with the principles of those, into whose society he is about to enter. Of course, the union cannot be supposed so complete, nor the communion so comfortable.
To the reasoning employed in the preceding pages, it may be objected, that I have not attempted to prove the necessity or utility of creeds and confessions from the word of God. In reply to this objection, I would observe, that if the Latitudinarian scheme, which I have, in the preceding pages, endeavored to expose, stands condemned by the word of God, it follows, of course, that creeds and confessions, by the same divine word, are fully recognized and established. Between the Latitudinarian scheme and the adoption of creeds and confessions, I have endeavored to prove, there is no medium. It necessarily follows, that the condemnation of the one is the recognition and establishment of the other.—Should this answer, to persons unaccustomed to close thinking, appear not altogether satisfactory, in confirmation of it, I would ask a few questions. Are we not commanded to reject a heretic? Were not the Asiatic churches reprimanded for not excluding erroneous persons? Are we not commanded to speak the same things? to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment &c.? Now, sir, I presume it will be a task too hard for you, or any man, to show how it is possible to obey these injunctions, upon any other principle, than that of the adoption of creeds and confessions. If we throw open the door of the church for the reception of persons of the most opposite, jarring, and heretical opinions, it is evident, we do so in direct violation of the above mentioned precepts: on the other hand, if we exclude any, on account of their opinions, we must do it by a creed. Our views of scripture are a creed, and we exclude them because they do not acquiesce in these views. It follows, of course, that if we have any authority in scripture for the exclusion of heretical persons, we have the same authority for the use of a creed; because it is only by a creed that any person can possibly be excluded. Our creed may be a verbal one, a written one, or a printed one, (the difference is not essential;) but still it is only by the medium of a creed we can possibly obey the above scripture precepts.
I am, Sir, a notorious creed-monger;
but, at the same time,
Your sincere friend,
And very humble servant,
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
Having, in the preceding letter, from principles both of scripture and reason, endeavored to prove, not only the utility, but also the necessity of creeds and confessions, I shall in the present, briefly advert to a few of the most plausible things you have said in opposition to the cause which I advocate.
Page 19, you conclude, that “when there are twenty different confessions, nineteen of them must be wrong.” With equal force of reasoning, you might infer that when there are twenty pictures, (suppose of Bonaparte,) nineteen of them must be badly executed, and only one of them a true likeness. Nay, farther, if such a mode of reasoning be legitimate, the blasphemous consequence would follow, that only one of the four gospels contains a true biographical account of our blessed Redeemer! Creeds may be different, but not opposite: notwithstanding apparent or circumstantial differences, there may be, upon the whole, an astonishing agreement.
Page 24, you reason thus: “But let us suppose the utmost, that your human creed, or test, whatever it may be, contains the true sense of scripture, yet still it is incomprehensible how it should be any remedy against heresy, or any means of detecting the heretic more than the scriptures themselves. Heretics, you allow, will readily subscribe the scriptures, though in an unscriptural sense; and what then, I ask, should hinder them from subscribing human creeds and tests in the same manner? If they will deal treacherously with the word of God, why not much more so with the words of men!!”
This argument, being a remarkable one, you very wisely set off by two notes of admiration. With reverence and awe let us approach it! When you talk of heretics dealing treacherously with the word of God, what do you mean? Do you mean that all heretics are hypocrites—that they do not believe what they profess—that they do not believe their tenets to be founded on the word of God? If this be your meaning, allow me to inform you that a bigoted Covenanter is more liberal in his ideas respecting heresy, than the Rev. Presbyterian. If it is essential to the character of a heretic that he is condemned of his own conscience, he never could be known, and of course could never be rejected. Would a heretic tell the world that he was acting in opposition to the dictates of conscience? How could any person ascertain the fact? It would be impossible. It would be absurd to suppose it. The truth is, that, however false and erroneous the tenets of heretics, we have no reason to imagine that they do not believe them. On the contrary, we are assured by the highest authority, that because men receive not the love of the truth, for this cause God gives them over to strong delusions—to believe lies. Their tenets are lies; but they actually believe them. They believe them to be founded on the word of God; and, therefore, they can profess their faith in the scriptures without any violation of the dictates of conscience. With regard to a human creed, the case may be different. We shall illustrate by an example. Suppose a person, such as Hymenaeus, Philetus, or one of the Corinthian heretics, applies to you for admission. You ask him what he believes concerning the resurrection? He replies that he believes what the scriptures teach on that subject. You inquire still farther, do you believe that the dead bodies of men, both of the righteous and the wicked, shall, at the last day, be raised from their graves, and united to their souls, never more to be separated? He answers, I believe no such thing—I believe that the resurrection mentioned in scripture is to be understood in a spiritual or mystical sense: all that is intended by it is only a resurrection from sin, &c. This, I believe, is what the scripture teaches. The scriptural account I am willing to subscribe; but I will not subscribe your creed.
Thus, my dear Sir, it appears to me quite easy to conceive how a human creed might shut the door of the church against a heretic, whilst the scriptures themselves would be no obstruction. Indeed, I acknowledge, that when the tide of self-interest sets strongly in, creeds, confessions, scripture and conscience, frequently prove but feeble barriers. The exclusion of such characters will always be found difficult in proportion to the temptations of wealth and aggrandizement. No wonder, therefore, if the English establishment answer the laconic description of Pitt: “A Calvinistic creed, a Popish liturgy, and an Arminian clergy.” In a word, it is not creeds, but royal emoluments, that make men deal treacherously with the words both of God and man.
Page 18th, Covenanter asks: “Do you not honestly think that it is necessary for men to be on their guard with respect to the solemn subjects of religion?” To this you reply: “Most assuredly I do: and as these subjects will not run out of the bible more than the stars out of the heavens, we should imitate the example of navigators, who never steer by a blaze, and always endeavor to make advances in science by viewing the heavenly bodies as they are arranged by God, and not as they are fancied to be by this man or that. All aid if fair; but whatever the systems be, they will best appear in the volume of nature, which cannot be touched, and the volume of revelation, which ought not to be assorted. Each object will appear best in its own situation; and the moment you remove it to any other, it becomes deformed, and leaves a breach behind. Take, for example, a particular verse out of one of the gospels, and who can tell its meaning by itself, or discover the sense of the whole, once it is removed?” But why, my dear Sir, did you dismiss this paragraph without the usual insignia? If the former one was judged worthy of two notes of admiration, surely this was fully entitled to at least half a dozen. In the commencement of it you talk of subjects running out of the bible, and stars running out of the heavens—a very remarkable race indeed! The Olympic course never exhibited one so interesting. You then inform us, that we should imitate the example of navigators, who never steer by a blaze. If this be so, then down with all light-houses. You next assure us, that navigators always endeavor to make advances in science by viewing the heavenly bodies as they are arranged by God, and not as they are fancied to be by this man or that. Pray sir, is there a single navigator on the face of the earth who is no way, indebted to human systems? When once you have convinced the world of the impropriety of studying navigation by the help of books and systems—when once you have persuaded navigators to throw away these helps, and to study the art merely by consulting the volume of nature; then let creeds and confessions be for ever exploded, and let the bible and the volume of nature be the only two books in the universe!—But, “O,” says the Rev. Presbyterian, “all aid is fair.” A very candid confession indeed! It is all I ask. Indeed it is much more than I could have possibly expected. All aid is fair; then doubtless the aid of creeds and confessions is fair. If all aid is fair in studying the volume of nature, why not in studying the volume of revelation? My dear sir, had you duly considered the import of these four monosyllables, “all aid is fair,” you would have thrown down your arms, and the Battle of Dialogues had never been fought. But the Rev. Presbyterian is not so easily driven off the field. As if my friend had made no concession, with undaunted courage he proceeds to observe, “whatever the systems be, they will best appear in the volume of nature which cannot be touched, and the volume of Revelation which ought not to be assorted.” But, in the name of common sense, what does my friend mean by the volume of nature which cannot be touched? Of this new volume, I solemnly declare, that down till the present moment, I have never heard one single syllable. It is only with the old volume of nature which can be touched that I am acquainted. This old volume, Sir, according to my dull apprehension, we all touch—we cannot avoid touching; for we are living in constant contact with it. Nay, more; of this old tangible volume both the Rev. Presbyterian, and his humble servant, are constituent parts.
Philosophically remarking, that the volume of nature cannot be touched, and theologically observing, that the volume of revelation ought not to be assorted, you assure us, that whatever the systems be, they will best appear in these two volumes. Here again, I must confess my ignorance. I must candidly acknowledge, that I never before knew, that any systems, but the true ones, would appear best, either in the volume of nature or revelation. According to you, it is no matter what these systems are, whether they be true or false; you assure us, that whatever they be they will best appear in these two volumes. Pray, Sir, do you really think, and are you perfectly sure, that not only the Copernican or Newtonian system; but that the old exploded systems of Ptolemy and Des Cartes, will best appear in the volume of nature. Do you really believe, that the Socinian, Arian, Arminian, Calvinistic, Antinomian systems—nay, that all the systems of divinity, that ever were written, will best appear in the volume of Revelation? If you believe all this, (and you have boldly asserted it) you are much more credulous than any of the advocates of creeds and confessions. They really believe, that various systems, exhibited both by philosophers and divines, are so far from appearing best in the volumes of nature and Revelation, that they do not appear in those volumes at all. Nay, farther; they verily believe, that many of those systems have no existence in nature, but only in the bewildered imagination of their blinded votaries.
With great sagacity you go on to observe, that “each object will appear best in its own situation, and the moment you remove it to any other it becomes deformed, and leaves a breach behind.” That each of the stars, planets, &c. appears best in the situation assigned to it by the Almighty, I readily admit; but how it would appear, when removed from that situation, I am not at present prepared to say. You assure us that it would appear deformed—it may be so. Covenanters, not being “great astronomers,” have not yet begun to “pluck the planets from their orbits.” Of course, I can say very little on this subject.
But when you talk of removing objects from one situation to another, perhaps you mean not stars or planets, but objects in this lower world: Your language indeed implies both; but, as we cannot always ascertain your meaning from your words, perhaps you had no thought of removing a star or planet, but only terrestrial objects, such as trees, flowers, stones, &c. Now, my dear sir, do you really think, that trees and flowers become deformed, in consequence of their removal from the forest to the orchard or flower garden? Do stones become deformed, when removed from the quarry to occupy a place in the splendid edifice? Say, ye botanists, ye florists, and ye architects, is this doctrine true? is it true, that the moment ye remove any object from its own situation to another, it becomes deformed? If so—on the face of this globe, can ye find no better employment, than to render deformed the works of your Maker!
The truth is, that in Astronomy, Natural history, Botany, Chemistry—in every department of science and of art, classification and arrangement are absolutely necessary. In every branch of literature the necessity of systematic arrangement is universally felt. Even to the Rev. Presbyterian himself, the hero who fought the Battle of Dialogues, I would recommend a little more attention to classification and arrangement. The Duke of Wellington will inform him, that, without strict attention to order and arrangement, he had never gained the victory in the Battle of Waterloo; and I can assure my friend, that unless in all his future military operations he display more attention to order than formerly, he needs never dream of conquering the Westminster Divines.
My Rev. and dear Presbyterian, I do not think it strange, that you oppose classification—(I do not mean clerical classification, or the classification of regium donum,)—I do not think it strange, that you oppose classification, both in theory and practice; for, to be candid, I am afraid you have not a single correct idea on the subject. Do you really imagine, that there can be no such thing as classification or arrangement without removing objects from their own situation to another, and leaving a breach behind? Is it not possible, for instance, to classify the stars or planets without plucking them from their respective systems, rendering them deformed, and leaving a breach behind them? In like manner, is it not possible to quote texts of scripture, and to classify and arrange those texts, without rendering them deformed, and leaving a breach in the sacred volume? “Take, for example,” say you, “a particular verse out of one of the gospels, and who can tell its meaning by itself, or discover the sense of the whole, once it is removed?” I confess, my dear friend, that I do not like this example at all. “Take a particular verse out of one of the Gospels.” No, sir, I would not take a particular verse out of one of the Gospels for the whole world. For, “if any man take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part out of the book of life.” Indeed, my dear sir, could any person be found impious enough to make the sacrilegious experiment which you recommend—could any person be found, who would take away a part of the scriptures, I perfectly agree with you, that it would be difficult, nay impossible, to discover the sense of the whole, that part being removed. But does your Reverence really imagine, that any of the advocates of creeds and confessions have it in contemplation to take away a part of the sacred volume, and to leave mankind to guess the meaning of the remainder? Trust me, dear sir, you need not be in the least apprehensive. In reducing divine truths into a system, all that is necessary is the liberty of quotation. There is no necessity of taking a single text out of the bible.
But perhaps you will say, that by taking a particular text out of one of the Gospels, all you intended was the quotation of that text. Now, if this was your intention, why do you talk of the difficulty of ascertaining the meaning of the whole, when that text is removed? The text, upon this principle, is not removed. The whole of the portion from which you quote, is the same after as before quotation; and, of course, the discovery of its meaning equally easy.
With regard to the text quoted, you ask, who can tell its meaning by itself? Now, my dear friend, if there be any difficulty here, the weight of it falls on your own head. Page 25, at the top, you have (to use you own perspicuous phrase) taken a verse out of one of the Gospels: you have quoted Matthew 15:9. “But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Pray, sir, who can tell the meaning of this text by itself? For what purpose then did you quote it? Is it not become deformed by being removed from its own situation to occupy a place in your Dialogue? Has it not left a breach behind it? and who can discover the meaning of the whole, now it is removed? The inconsistency of your principles and practice here reminds me of [Bishop George] Berkley the sceptic, who, by a close chain of reasoning, endeavored to prove that all reasoning was inconclusive. That subtle genius unfortunately forgot, that if all reasoning were inconclusive, his own reasoning, by which he was endeavoring to establish that point, must, by consequence, go for nothing. Alas! how inconsistent a creature is man! Even men of the greatest talents, when once they have wandered out of the path of common sense, soon run into the grossest absurdities.
Before you sent your pamphlet to the press, had you carefully perused it, you might have perceived, that it is not merely in your animadversions on the quotation of a single text, that you have contradicted yourself: but also in your observations on the quotation and argument of various texts. You condemn the quotation of numerous portions of scripture adduced in proof of the different articles of the confession of faith. You assure us, that it would have been much fairer and more convenient, to have had the whole of Revelation before us. Now, in pages 24 and 25, you have quoted no fewer than seven portions of scripture. You have arranged them according to your own taste, in an order quite different from that in which they stand in the sacred volume. Pray, sir, had you reflected for a moment, might you not have easily perceived, that any person might retort your own arguments in your own words, thus: “It would be much fairer and more convenient, to have the whole of Revelation before us. I cannot see how you will carry the principles of the bible out of the bible, so as to give them greater force. If any man can arrange them more conspicuous than the Holy Spirit, he will then prove his superior wisdom in communicating the knowledge of the truth. It is a strange compliment to revelation, to suppose, that though it should fail in establishing it’s own sufficiency and perfection, yet these doctrines are so methodically arranged in the Battle of Dialogues, as fully to accomplish that end.” Thus, sir, you see, that the readers of your dialogue might, in your words, retort your own arguments—in the language of ancient proverb, they might sarcastically address you: “Physician, heal thyself!”
The truth is, that between the volumes of nature and revelation there is a very striking analogy. In the volume of nature objects are not arranged according to genus and species. Trees, animals, &c. of all descriptions are promiscuously blended. To assist us in acquiring the knowledge of these objects, men of learning and science have classified and arranged them. In botany, how great the utility of the system of [Carl] Linnæus? In the study of natural history, how much are we indebted to the systematic productions of the [Oliver] Goldsmith and a [Comte de] Buffon? The case is quite similar with regard to the volume of divine revelation. The truth relating to the same subject, are not all contained in the same chapter or the same book. They are not systematically arranged promiscuously blended. In the study of those sacred oracles, as ‘all aid is fair,’ compends of Christian doctrine, creeds, confessions, catechisms, &c. are of admirable use. It is true, indeed, they may be abused, as the best of things are; but this is no argument against their utility. To deprive us of those means so remarkably calculated to facilitate our progress in scripture knowledge, is certainly a mode of discovering our respect for the scriptures, extremely worthy of modern illumination! Warmly attached to systematic arrangement, both in philosophy and divinity, I am, dear Sir,
REV. AND DEAR SIR,
Wishing always to give honor where honor is due, I must acknowledge that your language is appropriate when you assure us that the Synod of Ulster have decently laid aside the [Westminster] Confession of Faith. In giving up that Confession, if your account be correct, the general Synod have proceeded very decently indeed. They have given it up, not all at once, but gradually: first, by the pacific act; next by a resolution founded upon that act; then by using it in such a qualified manner as to render it a mere name—a piece of appearance; and lastly, by scarcely mentioning it at all, in cases of license and ordination. The whole of this procedure all must acknowledge to be highly decent and respectful. That the Westminster Confession is so decently laid aside, you seem to glory; and indeed no wonder, if our subordinate standards have been set up, as you insinuate—“to supersede the scriptures, to rival their splendor, and to divert the attention of mankind from their perfection.” If such be their actual tendency, they should have been laid aside long ere now—they should have been laid aside, not decently, but with the greatest contempt. With the National Covenant and the Solemn League, they should have been burned by the hands of the common hangman. But, my dear Sir, do not candor and justice say, that before these standards are condemned, they should be fairly tried and found guilty? Tell me, Sir, has the use of the confession of faith actually produced those evils you so much dread and deprecate? Or has the laying of it aside been attended by a great augmentation of respect for the scriptures? Is family worship more punctually performed? Are the sacred oracles more frequently read? Are they daily read, morning and evening, by the heads of families? Are they daily read even in the families of the clergymen, and particularly those clergymen who decry all creeds and confessions, who are enemies to the doctrines of the Westminster Confession, and extol the perfection and infallibility of the Scripture? Are both clergymen and laymen more in the habit of associating in fellowship meetings for the purpose of reading the word of God, and conversing on its sacred contents; of addressing the throne of grace; of teaching and exhorting each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts unto the Lord? Where are now those days when the houses of your pious ancestors, both laymen and clergymen, resounded with the praises of their Creator and Redeemer?—when a portion of the divine word was publicly read every morning and evening in the families of many?—when family prayers, like clouds of incense, daily ascended the throne of the Most High?—when, on the mornings and evenings of Christian sabbaths, our towns and cities were rendered vocal by the chanting of divinely-inspired anthems? “How is the gold become dim, and the fine gold changed!” Say, my dear Sir, has not the laying aside of the confession of faith been followed up by a corresponding dereliction of the most sacred duties?—of family worship, social worship, reading the word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in the heart unto the Lord? I trust, however, that the neglect of those duties, though mournfully prevalent, is not universal. I hope, nay I firmly believe, there are exceptions—honorable exceptions, both among the laity and the clergy of your community—men of piety and zeal, who strain every nerve to stem the torrent of defection, who exert all their energies to revive the practice of those sacred duties. But who are those men? Are they not generally attached to the confession of faith, or at least to the doctrines of that ancient volume? Tell me also, my dear sir, who are most forward in excluding from their psalmody the divinely inspired compositions of scripture? Who are most forward in substituting for the psalms of David, hymns, paraphrases, &c. the productions of uninspired and fallible men? Is it by the friends or the enemies of the confession that the dictates of revelation are thus sacrilegiously shuffled out, and supplanted? Where are now all your fears for the ark of God? Are you no way alarmed lest our fine modern poetic effusions “supersede the sacred oracles,” “rival their splendor,” and “divert the attention of mankind from their perfection?” Have not those who were most forward in laying aside the confession of faith, been also the most forward in giving up, and decently laying aside, the psalms of David? With what decency and decorum do our modern reformers proceed in this business! First, a few paraphrases are occasionally sung; next, a few hymns of human composition; then the psalms of David are culled, the cursing ones, (as they are called, or rather miscalled,) entirely rejected, and a few of the better sort sung alternately with the hymns of Watts, Newton, or Cowper; afterwards this selection is used so sparingly as to render it a mere name—a piece of appearance! and lastly, these sacred hymns are scarcely ever mentioned in public worship. How gratifying to think that the psalms of David are likely to obtain so decent a funeral! But, again:
Tell me, dear sir, who are most forward in excluding from public schools the sacred oracles? Solomon once thought it a dictate of wisdom to train up a child in the way he should go; but in this it appears he was completely mistaken; for we have now discovered, in this age of reason, that an early religious education is highly injurious—that it has a tendency to fill the mind with prejudices and prepossessions, to bias it in favor of a system, and ultimately to destroy all freedom of inquiry. We have, therefore, wisely excluded the scriptures from our seminaries of education. Our children must not be allowed to read these sacred oracles, lest too much familiarity should breed contempt. Their young and tender minds must be left, like the sluggard’s garden, overrun with noxious weeds, in order to prepare them for the good seed of the word of God! The enemy must be allowed time to sow his tares before the good husbandman be permitted to plant his wheat! In respect for the scriptures, these modern illuminati are only one step behind the old mother church. To prevent their being abused, they have only to lock them up from the laity altogether! Speak out, my dear sir, and inform the public by what class of Christians the bible is thus betrayed with a kiss—whether by the advocates of creeds and confessions, or those Latitudinarians who oppose those standards, because they cordially hate their contents. Inform the world by what class of Christians the bible is most read, studied, and respected—whether by the friends or enemies of the Westminster Confession and its doctrines. By what class of Christians is the plenary inspiration of the bible denied, and the Old Testament Scriptures represented as an antiquated almanack?
After the Confession of Faith, psalms of David, &c. the next thing to be laid aside is that code of discipline which our blessed Redeemer has established in his word. The various articles of this code will be found in different departments of the New Testament. A number of those articles we shall here exhibit in one view.
“Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault, between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established; and if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no, not to eat. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed; yet count him not as an enemy, but entreat him as a brother. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition, reject, &c.”
Such, my dear sir, is a specimen of that code of discipline handed down in the New Testament by our Lord Jesus Christ, the king and head of the church. Such are the immutable laws which the Redeemer himself hath established, and which you have presumed to supersede and alter. Out of your own mouth you stand condemned; for, page 20, you say: “If the constitution and laws of the church be fixed by Christ himself, I know not how any man can take the liberty to supersede or alter them.” Now, sir, you are the very man who has taken the liberty to supersede and alter the laws of Christ; for, in page 23, you assure us, “that though the doctrines should remain as they came from Heaven, yet the discipline may be varied as circumstances require.” Nay, sir, you have dared to supersede the Redeemer’s code of discipline by a civil code—a code which may be necessary in one age, but unnecessary in another—a code which, you candidly confess, has no more foundation in the word of God, than the hour for public worship. Thus, sir, you have laid aside, not decently, but rudely and presumptuously, the disciplinary laws of your exalted Redeemer! In the room of those laws, you have set up a civil, unauthenticated, fluctuating code, from which, even to the word of God, you will not allow so much as the privilege of appeal! Let us hear your own words: “Even where human standards of doctrines exist, the appeal will always be made to Revelation; but in codes of discipline, the appeal must be made to the code itself.” Say now, my dear friend, and let all the world judge, whether you, or the advocates of creeds and confessions, are most sincerely attached to the sacred oracles. With them, you candidly grant, the last appeal is to revelation; but with you, the laws of Christ are a dead letter; they are completely superseded: from your fluctuating code there is no appeal!
Is this, my dear sir, the result of all your flaming professions of respect for the scriptures? Are you the clergyman, who declared himself unwilling to be measured by any other rule, but the perfect one of divine revelation? Are you the Rev. Presbyterian, who was so much afraid of setting up any human standard, lest it might supersede the word of God, rival its splendor, or divert the attention of men from its perfection?—and yet, after all, without shame or remorse, by one stroke, you sweep away the whole of that divinely inspired code of disciplinary laws established by the blessed Redeemer of men! In all this (to use your own words) “however innocent you may presume yourself to be, you are guilty of rebellion against the person of Christ as the head of the church.”
The church and the world are distinct societies—the one is an enclosure, the other a common. In scripture the church is represented by a walled city, a field, a vineyard, a garden enclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. It is the will of Heaven, that the distinction between the church and the world should be perpetually kept up—that the church’s enclosure should remain for ever inviolable. This distinction was established by the Almighty himself, when there was only one family on the face of the earth. Cain, as unworthy of church privileges, was excommunicated by his Maker, banished from the presence of the Lord, and excluded from the fellowship of the saints. This was the first partition wall built between the church and the world. The breaking down of this wall was the cause of the deluge. The church of God, mingling with the excommunicated offspring of Cain, rapidly degenerated, till the earth was filled with violence, and till (Noah and his family excepted,) all flesh were corrupted, and the flood came, and swept them all away.
Every person knows, that the Jewish church was a complete enclosure. Subjected to a code of discipline remarkably rigorous, by a middle wall of partition she was separated from the world. If, at any time, she suffered her walls of discipline to be broken down, she was severely reprimanded and chastised. Her priests, if guilty in this matter, were degraded; whilst those who were faithful obtained the highest encomiums; and were encouraged to persevere, and to teach the people of God the difference between the holy and the profane, and to cause them to discern between the clean and the unclean. Relaxation of discipline was uniformly accompanied by a corresponding relaxation of morals, and was always followed by alarming visitations of Providence.
Under the gospel dispensation, the middle wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles is broken down, but not that wall which separates the church from the world. In the New Testament scriptures quoted above, and a variety of others, the separating lines are distinctly drawn. Persons of heretical opinions, or immoral character, have no right to be recognized as Christians. We are commanded to reject them—to treat them as heathen men and publicans—to have no company with them, that they may be ashamed. A sense of shame is a powerful principle. Its influence is incalculable. Hence we find, that the laws of honor are frequently obeyed, whilst the laws of the state are treated with contempt. Now, if a sense of shame operate so powerfully in securing obedience to the laws of honor, falsely so called—to the laws of gambling &c.; how much more powerful must be its operation in securing obedience to the laws of morality—to the laws of religion—to the laws of God! By confounding all distinction between the church and the world, the operations of that powerful principle of shame are completely paralyzed, and effects the most baneful and pernicious produced. Such conduct, though dignified with the specious epithets of liberality and charity, I have no hesitation to pronounce alike repugnant to the laws of Christ, and the soundest principles of reason and philosophy. Could a city be more completely exposed to the incursions of her enemies, than by the breaking down of her walls and fortifications? Could a corn field be more effectually ruined, than by the breaking down of its fences? Could a vineyard be more effectually destroyed, than by the removal of its hedges? “Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they that pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.” “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereofwas broken down.”—Tell me, my dear sir, could you more effectually ruin the church of God, than by breaking down the walls of her discipline? How is it possible for the holy city to be trampled underfoot of the Gentiles? Is it not by admitting into the church of God the impious and immoral, the profligate and the profane? Is it not by giving things that are holy to dogs,[C.] and casting pearls before swine? Is it not by admitting to the most solemn ordinances, persons who should be treated as heathen men and publicans? When such persons are admitted, then the holy city is trampled under foot of Gentiles. It is profaned by persons, who, though they may wear the name of Christians, are in reality baptized infidels. Nay, sir, when the walls of discipline are broken down, the temple of God is destroyed—and “if any man destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy.” Presume not, therefore to supersede or alter the laws of your Redeemer. Dare not to substitute any civil code in the room of that system which he has established. Attempt not to legislate for the church of Christ. Content yourself with the faithful execution of those laws which he has enacted. Allow me to address you in the language of Paul to Timothy; “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things, without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.”
I am well aware, that to break down the walls of discipline, and to build the temple of God with wood, hay and stubble, as well as with gold, silver, and precious stones, is a dictate of worldly wisdom. I know, that the most abandoned characters are frequently the most opulent, and that the faithful exercise of discipline would be attended with a prodigious reduction of numbers, and diminution of emoluments. From these considerations I do not think it strange, that ministers of the gospel should reason thus: “If we exercise Christian discipline, our meeting houses will be immediately deserted: we shall soon find ourselves left in a small minority. Stripped of all our wealth and respectability, we shall be hissed off the stage as enthusiastic bigots—the offscouring of all things and the refuse. On the contrary, by decently laying aside the discipline of the church, we shall be looked up to as gentlemen of liberal, enlightened minds—minds quite free from the prejudices and bigotry of the dark ages; we shall obtain both wealth and aggrandizement; and, having large congregations, we shall have it in our power to do more good.” In reply to all such reasonings the words of the divinely inspired apostle, when treating of this very subject, are appropriate: “Let no man deceive himself; if any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise; for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
Decidedly hostile to every thing calculated “to supersede the sacred oracles,” “to rival their splendor,” or “divert the attention of mankind from their perfection,”
I am, &c.
HAVING displayed your military prowess, in combating creeds and confessions in general, you select a few doctrines of the Westminster Confession, and against these you direct your death-dealing artillery. The first doctrine selected, is that of the covenant of works—a doctrine, which, you assure us, has given rise to countless volumes. But why were all these volumes written? that the world, no doubt, might be dazzled by a most brilliant display of the polemical talents of our Rev. Presbyterian! Ye divines of the greatest respectability, both of ancient and modern times! where are now your boasted learning and talents? they are completely eclipsed. Where are now the countless volumes you have written on the covenant of works? our Rev. Presbyterian, by less than two lines of his Battle of Dialogues, has swept them all into the gulf of annihilation! “I now venture to affirm,” says this redoubtable champion, “I now venture to affirm, that there is not a single syllable, in the whole book of God, concerning such a covenant—there is not the most distant hint of it in Revelation.”
To be serious, Sir, is it not consequential enough in you to imagine, that now, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, your simple ipse dixit [saying it is so] will be regarded, as a sufficient refutation of countless volumes? The covenant of works is a doctrine, which has stood the test of examination during a series of centuries: the friction of opposition has only tended to brighten its evidence: its advocates are daily increasing, whilst myriads of those virulent pamphlets published against it, have, like Jonah’s gourd, “sprung up in a night and perished in a night.” As countless volumes have already been written on the subject, I shall not, at present, increase the number. Till you condescend to reason a little on the subject, I shall submit to your consideration only a few remarks.
You assert, that there is not a single syllable in the whole book of God concerning the covenant of works. In opposition to this assertion, I could adduce a variety of scriptures, beside those quoted by our Westminster divines. But, as you object to the mode of establishing doctrines by a collection of quotations, and assure us, that “it would be much fairer and more convenient, to have the whole of revelation before us, “I shall, for once, endeavor to gratify your taste. Wishing to do every thing that is fair, and to consult your convenience as far as possible, I shall allow you the privilege of having the whole of revelation before you.[D] Read it verse by verse, and then tell me, if you do not find thousands of syllables concerning the covenant of works. Tell me, in particular, if you do not find something about the covenanters, or parties contracting—about the condition of the covenant—the penalty of the covenant—the reward attached to the fulfilment of the covenant—the seals of the covenant, &c.; in a word, tell me, if you do not find in the sacred volume every thing essential to the constitution of such a covenant. When Adam sinned, were not his posterity treated, as if they had been represented in the same covenant? were they not treated precisely as he was? The penalty threatened was death: now, this penalty was inflicted, not only on Adam, but on all his posterity. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The last clause should be literally rendered [εν ὡ] in whom all have sinned. That the penalty threatened included, not only temporal, but eternal death, is evident; for the apostle assures us, “That the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Now, if that life, which is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, is eternal life, does not the contrast lead us to conclude, that that death which is the wages of sin, is eternal death? Pray, Sir, how could Adam’s posterity be subjected to the same penalty with their sinning ancestor, had they not been represented in the same covenant? But why need I reason any farther on the subject? Were I to fill volumes with such reasoning, in reply to them all, you would only call upon me, to produce a single text of scripture, in which it is asserted, that God entered into a covenant with Adam, as the representative of his posterity. That no such text is contained in the bible, I readily admit; but if this be any reason for exploding the doctrine, a variety of doctrines of great importance, held by the Rev. Presbyterian himself, must, on the same principle, be expunged from his creed. You hold, for instance, the doctrine of infant baptism: Pray, sir, produce a single text, in which it is asserted, that children ought to be baptized. You believe in the divine institution of the Christian sabbath: produce a single text, in which it is asserted that the Redeemer has changed the sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week. You admit females to the Lord’s supper: produce a single text in which their right to admission is asserted.—If by boldly asserting, that there is not a single syllable, in the whole book of God, concerning the covenant of works—that, in revelation, there is not the most distant hint of that covenant—if, by such bold assertions as these, you have led your people to believe, that they are quite free of the guilt of Adam’s first sin, I would request you to try the same experiment with regard to their privileges—with regard to infant baptism, and the admission of females to the Lord’s supper. When parents apply to you for the administration of baptism, address them thus: “Infant baptism has given rise to countless volumes, but, in order to prove, that they are all built on mere conjecture, I now venture to affirm, that there is not a single syllable in the whole book of God, considering infant baptism—there is not the most distant hint of it in revelation. I will not therefore baptize your children.” Pray, Sir, would parents be satisfied with such a mode of reasoning? Would they insist no farther on having their children baptized?—Suppose, again, that female part of your congregation apply for admission to the Lord’s supper, and you address them thus: “I venture to affirm, that there is not a single syllable in the whole book of God, concerning the admission of females—there is not the distant of hint of such admission in revelation: I cannot therefore admit you”—pray, sir, would such a mode of reasoning be perfectly satisfactory? Would females immediately relinquish their privileges?
Indeed, my dear friend, it is a difficult thing to argue people out of what they suppose to be their privilege. But oh! how astonishing their credulity—how easy to practice on it, when the tendency of our reasoning is, to free them from the imputation of guilt, or the infliction of punishment! No wonder, therefore, that your bare ipse dixit [saying so] should satisfy your hearers, that there was never was any such thing as a covenant of works, and that they are quite free of the guilt of Adam’s first sin; whilst the strongest reasoning you could possibly employ, would be far too feeble to induce them to renounce infant baptism, or the claims of females to the holy communion.—In a word, sir, prove from scripture the divine institution of the Christian sabbath, and the divine right of infant baptism, and of the admission of females to the Lord’s supper; and I shall pledge myself to prove, with equal, if not greater force of scriptural argument, the doctrine of the covenant of works, which you have exploded.
Before I conclude this letter, suffer, my dear sir, the word of exhortation. Never attack the Westminster divines with weapons which may be turned against yourself—never attempt to overturn any doctrine which they have taught, by arguments, which would deprive your own congregation of their most solemn privileges—of the Christian sabbath, baptism and the Lord’s supper.
A warm friend to all those doctrines, which have their foundation in scripture, though they may not be asserted in so many words,
I am, &c.
After the covenant of works, the next article of the confession you attack, and over which you flatter yourself you can gain an easy victory, is the doctrine of predestination. In advancing to the charge, you “stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage.” The manner (you declare) in which the Westminster divines have arranged their proofs, “must exasperate the indignation of any man, who may find it inconvenient to believe the doctrine.” Under the influence of such exasperated indignation, you write a paragraph, calculated to excite feelings—(if not of indignation, yet) of pity, mingled with contempt. It commences thus: “I say, that the Westminster divines did not understand the New Testament on that subject, or that they have most foully quoted revelation to prove their own scheme of it. In the 3rd chapter and 5th section of the confession, they assert, that the predestination of mankind to life took place without any foresight of faith or good works; and then they quote separately, as they do in every other place, the 30th verse of the 8th chapter of the Romans, which begins even with a moreover, but which is compelled, in this insulated state, to answer their purpose, &c.”
In this extraordinary paragraph you represent our Westminster divines as treating of the predestination of mankind to life. Now, my dear sir, allow me to assure you, that the predestination of mankind to life is a doctrine, of which the Westminster divines are totally ignorant. They believe no such doctrine: they teach no such doctrine, neither in the 5th section of the 3rd chapter, nor in any other section of any other chapter. It is only the predestination of a part of mankind—of the elect, that is the subject of that section: it reads thus. “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, &c.”—Is this a willful misrepresentation? no; it is only a Rev. Presbyterian blunder.
You proceed; “and then they quote separately, as they do in every other place, the 30th verse of the 8th chapter of the Romans.” Is it possible! Do the Westminster divines quote, not only in this place, but in every other place, the 30th verse of the 8th chapter of the Romans? Is this a willful misrepresentation? No: it is only a Rev. Presbyterian blunder!
Tell me, my dear sir, tell me candidly, have the Westminster divines, either here, or in any other place, quoted the 30th verse of the 8th chapter of the Romans, in proof of predestination without foreseen faith and good works? THEY HAVE NOT. Let the section referred to be read, together with the scripture proofs, by any person possessed of sufficient intelligence to trace those quotations; it will then appear, that it is not the Westminster divines, who do not understand the New Testament—it is not the Westminster divines, who have foully quoted revelation—it is the Rev. Presbyterian, who has most foully misrepresented the Westminster divines. Rom. 8:30. is quoted to prove predestination in general, and this it does prove. To prove that predestination was not founded on foreseen faith or good works, with their usual good sense and discrimination, the divines have quoted, among others, the following appropriate texts: 2 Tim. 1:9. Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. Eph. 1:4. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love, &c. These texts, which the Westminster divines quote in proof in their doctrine, you throw completely into the shade—you decently pass them over, as if no such texts had been quoted—instead of these you foist in one, adduced by the divines for a quite different purpose—you then raised the hue and cry against them: you pour upon them a torrent of abuse: you brand them with infamy, for ignorance of the New Testament—foul quotation of scripture, &c.!—Is this, my dear sir, your boasted candour? is this the liberality of the nineteenth century? Might I not here retort your own words, “Sir, it is a happy blunder, which enables me to show that some people turn all they touch into error and misrepresentation, and then raise the cry of absurd assertion against their neighbors?” Your readers may now judge what credit is due to the following sweeping assertions. “There is not a single chapter in the confession of faith, to support which some passages have not been wrested from their original meaning—even if its doctrines were true, there is a constant misapplication of scripture to support them.” Such assertions as these, published by a man confessedly under the influence of exasperated indignation, and convicted of the grossest misrepresentation, will not be admitted as sufficient proof, that the Westminster divines were the most ignorant and dishonest men in the world.
Say, my dear sir, does it not argue a weak—a desperate cause, when, in defence of it, you are obliged to brandish such disgraceful weapons? Why did you not allow the Westminster divines to speak for themselves? Why did you not lay before the public those texts they had quoted in proof of their doctrine? Why did you basely suppress those texts adduced by them to prove that predestination was not founded on foreseen faith and good works? Were you afraid that those texts would flash conviction in the faces of your readers? To me, I confess, it appears very difficult to conceive how any person, not previously biased in favor of a system, could read those texts, and not believe the doctrine true. We are said to be “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, &c.” We were chosen, not because we were foreseen to be holy, but that we should be holy. From this very text is it not demonstrably evident, that our holiness was not the foundation of our election, but our election the foundation of our holiness? Hence it is styled “an election of grace—and if it be of grace, it is no more works, otherwise grace is no more grace.” Such is the uniform language of scripture. In favor of foreseen faith and good works there is not a single text in the bible, Rom. 8:29, 30, the only one on which you seem to rely, is perfectly silent on the subject. It does not say, that God predestinated to life those, who he foreknew would believe, and perform good works. This is what you would probably say; but the scriptures say no such thing. Whatever be the meaning of the phrase “whom he did foreknow,” the Arminian gloss cannot be the true one. That predestination is not founded on foreseen faith and good works, is demonstrably evident form this—that faith and good works, upon Arminian principles, cannot possibly be foreseen. Arminians maintain that it depends upon the self determining power of the will, whether any person believes or do good works. Upon their principles, every individual person may refuse to believe. Now, if any individual may refuse to believe, all may refuse to believe. According to this scheme it was possible, that not one promise made to the Redeemer, with regard to the salvation of sinners, should ever be fulfilled—it was possible that the Redeemer should never see “one of his seed—one of the travail of his soul;” it was possible that notwithstanding all our Mediator has done and suffered, not one single soul should ever believe—that not one single soul should ever be saved—it was possible that all mankind might continue in unbelief and wickedness, and perish eternally!
Now, I would be glad to know, how it was possible for God to have a certain fore-knowledge of those, who should believe and do good works; when it was possible, that none would ever believe or do good works. Believe me, dear sir, had your prudence been equal to your “exasperated indignation,” you would have studiously avoided any controversy about the fore-knowledge of God. Arminians have labored for ages, but labored in vain, to reconcile their system with this divine attribute. Tillotson, Groves, Abernethy, Dr. Sam. Clarke, and a whole host of philosophers and divines, have exerted their combined energies, and exhausted their gigantic powers, in fruitless efforts to accomplish this more than Herculean labor. The present learned and acute Dr. Adam Clarke has not been a whit more successful than his predecessors. “We grant,” says the Doctor, “that God foresees nothing as absolutely and inevitably certain, which he has made contingent; and because he has designed it to be contingent, therefore he cannot know it as absolutely and inevitably certain. I conclude, that God, although omniscient, is not obliged, in consequence of this, to know all that he can know; no more than he is obliged, because he is omnipotent, to do all that he can do.” This is to cut, but not to loose, the Gordian knot—it is the dernier [last] resort—the forlorn hope of Arminians—it is to deny one of the perfections of God, rather than give up a favorite system. Though, in words, the learned Dr. acknowledges the omniscience of God; yet, in fact, he denies that attribute. If the deity is not possessed of the actual knowledge of all things, but only of the power of knowing all things, he is not omniscient. To say, that the supreme Being has a power of acquiring knowledge, is the same as to say, that at one period of his existence he may be comparatively ignorant, and at another period more knowing—that his knowledge may increase with his years, and that he may become wiser as he grows older! If the deity is capable of any accessions of power, he is not omnipotent; in like manner, if he is capable of any accessions of knowledge, he is not omniscient. To say that God is omniscient, and yet deny that he must know all things, is a contradiction in terms. It is as great a contradiction, as to maintain that he is omnipotent, and yet deny that he must be possessed of all power. To say that the deity is not possessedof all power, is to deny his omnipotence; to say that he is not possessed of all knowledge, is to deny his omniscience. The Dr., therefore, denies the omniscience of God—he acknowledges the name, but denies the thing.
But still farther, by denying that the Deity has the actual knowledge of all things, and maintaining that he has only the power of knowing all things, Dr. Clarke has gained just nothing at all. The difficulty remains the same. The question still recurs: How can the Deity, on Arminian principles, be possessed of such a power? How can he foreknow things which are contingent? things which may never come to pass? As knowledge pre-supposes the certain existence of the thing known, so foreknowledge pre-supposes the certainty of the future existence of the thing foreknown. If the Deity knows that Dr. Clarke is at present a believer, it is certain that Dr. Clarke is a believer. If it is possible that Dr. C. is no believer, whilst the Deity knows him to be a believer, then it is possible for the Deity to be mistaken. So, in like manner, if the Deity foreknew from all eternity that Dr. C. would be a believer, it was certain from all eternity that Dr. C. would believe. If it was possible that Dr. C. might never believe, though the Deity foreknew that he would believe, then it was possible for the Deity to be mistaken!
Every person must see that it is impossible for the Deity to know that a thing exists, if it does not really and certainly exist. Equally impossible is it to foreknow that a thing will exist, if its future existence is not certain. That these things are equally impossible, the Doctor himself must acknowledge; for, according to his own doctrine, fore knowledge, after knowledge, and present knowledge are all the same. With the Deity there is nothing, strictly speaking, but present knowledge. To say, therefore, that the Deity knows that a thing exists, and yet that it is possible that it does not exist, is to say that the Deity has a certain knowledge of its existence, and yet has no certain knowledge of it. In like manner, to say that the Deity foreknows those things which will exist, and yet that those things may never exist, is the same as to say that the Deity has a certain foreknowledge of their future existence, and yet that he has no certain foreknowledge of it!
Again, to say with Dr. Samuel Clarke, Mr. Bird, and others, that God foreknows necessary events as necessary, and contingent events as contingent, is to say nothing at all to the purpose. The question still recurs: How is it possible that contingent events should be foreknown. Mr. Bird illustrates his reasoning by the following example: We see the sun shining over our heads, and at the same time we see a man walking upon the earth. The one we see as voluntary, the other as natural. He grants, however, that both must be done, or we could not see them at all; but he denies that they were both necessary before they were done—it was only necessary that the sun would shine; but not that the man would walk. Now, in opposition to this, I contend that if it was necessary that the man should walk, in order that he might be seen walking, it was equally necessary that he would walk, in order to be foreseen as walking. The walking of the man is an event which must certainly and infallibly come to pass, (as well as the shining of the sun,) in order to be either seen or foreseen. As knowledge and foreknowledge are the same with the Deity, he can no more foreknow what will not certainly and infallibly exist, than he can know what does not at present certainly and infallibly exist. Mr. Bird asserts that God necessarily foreknows all that will come to pass. Dr. A. Clarke asserts that God is not obliged to know all that he can know. This flat contradiction in the principles upon which these gentlemen proceed, does not prevent the Doctor from declaring that Mr. Bird’s argument is a good one, and that his own is better. The Doctor must pardon me for thinking that Mr. Bird’s argument is no argument at all, because it affords no solution of the difficulty; and that his own is still worse, because it fails in solving the difficulty, and involves, besides, not only a plain contradiction, but also the denial of a divine perfection.[E]
Some of the most penetrating Arminian divines and philosophers have given it as their opinion, that no man will ever be able to reconcile the contingency of future events with the foreknowledge of God. In this opinion I heartily acquiesce. I firmly believe these things will never be reconciled, because I believe they are irreconcilable. If any man is able to prove that it is possible for a thing to be and not to be at the same time—if he can prove that it is possible to know a thing, and at the same time not to know it, then he may prove that it is possible for the Deity to foreknow those events, which may possibly never come to pass.
Thus, Sir, it appears that predestination cannot be founded on foreseen faith and good works; because, upon Arminian principles, it is absolutely impossible that either faith or good works should be foreseen. It appears that the doctrine of our Westminster divines, with regard to predestination, is not only sanctioned by the word of God; but the absurdity of the opposite opinion is capable of a demonstration, as strict as any contained in Euclid’s elements. Calvinistic principles stand upon a proud pre-eminence—they rest upon the immovable basis of Divine Revelation, and are consistent with the soundest principles of philosophy. Our moral philosophy class-rooms and divinity halls do not now resound with the doctrine of the self-determining power of the will: the salt is now cast into the fountain. For more than half a century past, Calvinistic principles have been gaining ground, both among the learned and illiterate. At present they are rapidly progressing. If I can rely on the testimony of one of themselves, a young gentleman of great respectability, the students of the Synod of Ulster have, for some time past, been almost universally Calvinists. From the new wine they are turning with listless apathy, with the general exclamation, “The old is better.” That the general Synod are retracing their steps—that they are returning to the Calvinistic principles of their ancestors, is a fact which I believe admits of little doubt. The unanimity displayed in their judicious appointment of a divinity professor, speaks volumes on this interesting subject. And, indeed, from my inmost soul I congratulate them on their return to what I conceive to be the true and genuine principles of the gospel. “I have no greater joy than to see” Christians of every denomination “walking in truth.”
I am, &c.
MY REV. AND DEAR PRESBYTERIAN,
I flattered myself that the vengeance you had taken on your enemies in your hard-fought Battle of Dialogues, would have fully gratified your “exasperated indignation.” I flattered myself, that after the battle was over, the Westminster divines would find in the Rev. Presbyterian a generous foe. It never once entered my mind that so illustrious a warrior would return again to the field of battle, for no other purpose than to insult and abuse the wounded and the dying! In this it appears I have been mistaken. In your Battle of Dialogues, having knocked down, (or thought you had knocked down,) your enemies, your return, in your appendix, to kick them for falling. You assure us that the Westminster Confession “is not only inconsistent with the scriptures; but that it is many time as inconsistent with itself.” To establish this charge, you give a garbled account of the 3rd Sec. of the 9th chapter; after which you exclaim, “How miserable then is the state of this unregenerate man, since, if he pray to God it is a sin, and since if he pray not it is a greater sin!”
In the section referred to, the Divines teach that the works of unregenerate men, though they may be materially good, being done according to the divine command, and useful both to themselves and others, are nevertheless sinful, on a variety of accounts,—because they do not proceed from faith; for without faith it is impossible to please God;—because they do not proceed from love; for though we give all our goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth nothing, &c. The Divines also teach us that the neglect of these works is still more sinful, and displeasing to God. This they establish by irrefragable evidence. If we give our alms to be seen of men, we have no reward. Without charity, giving all our goods to feed the poor, profits nothing; and yet, at the judgment of the great day, men shall be condemned for neglecting acts of charity. “I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; &c. Inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these, ye did it not to me, &c.” Instead of laying before your readers this appropriate proof, you foully suppress it, and quote only the introductory verse, which you are pleased to hold up to ridicule. “Then shall he say unto those on his left hand: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” This you style a singular proof; but did you not know, my dear friend, that this is no proof at all? Was it ignorance, or was it a fraudulent design, that induced you to represent it as a proof? Did you not know, that it was only the introduction to a proof; and that the proof itself was contained in the subsequent verses, which I have already quoted, but which you have disgracefully suppressed? You pretend to lay before the public the proofs which the divines have advanced in support of their paradox. Instead of this, you only bring forward two garbled texts, in proof of the one part—the other part you leave entirely destitute of proof. Of the two texts brought forward, the one you represent as quoted for a purpose quite the reverse of that for which it was really adduced—the other you represent as a proof when it is only the introduction to a proof. Such management needs no comment; the only observation I would make, is, that you acted wisely in concealing your name.
To support their paradox the Divines produce a multitude of appropriate texts, which the reader may consult at his leisure. That an action may be sinful, and the neglect of it more sinful, is a paradox consistent both with scripture and reason. “The ploughing of the wicked is sin,” and yet I trust you will readily acknowledge, that not to plough would be a greater sin. The conduct of Henry VIII. in promoting the reformation, considering the abominable motives by which he was actuated, was undoubtedly sinful; and yet, what Protestant will deny, that his conduct would have been also sinful, had he neglected to promote the Reformation. Jehu’s conduct in cutting off the house of Ahab, because it proceeded from improper motives, was sinful; and yet, had he disobeyed the divine command, his conduct would have been more sinful. Suppose a man sees his neighbors house on fire, and hates the family so much, that he would gladly see them all consumed: there being, however, in the house, a person who owes him a sum of money, he assists in extinguishing the flames, and rescuing the family from the devouring elements. Considering the state of his mind, and the baseness of his motive, is not his conduct sinful? and yet to suffer the whole family to perish would be more sinful. May I not here exclaim, in your own style, “How miserable is the situation of this poor man! if he quench the flames, it is a sin, and if we do not quench them, it is a greater sin.” “The sacrifice of the wicked, we are assured, is an abomination to the Lord;” and yet, had he neglected to sacrifice, he would have been guilty of a greater sin. In like manner, the prayer of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord; and yet, not to pray would be greater sin.—In your introductory sentences you say, “Perhaps he (the author) may venture to suppose, that independent of the inconsistency which exists between it (the confession) and the word of God, it is many times inconsistent with itself.” In reply to this, you will now permit me to say, that perhaps I may venture to suppose, that you are mistaken.
As paradoxes seem to be the order of the day, let us advert to those of the Rev. Presbyterian. Whatever may be your inferiority to the Westminster divines in other respects; candor and justice oblige me to acknowledge, that, in writing paradoxes, you are not “behind the very chiefest of them.” Those of the Westminster divines are easily solved; but the solution of yours, I am perfectly convinced, will baffle the ingenuity of all the philosophers and divines in the world. Compared with them, Sampson’s riddle is not worthy to be named.—Page 43, you assure us, “that if the general assembly and Seceders were to act up to the principles of their predecessors, Covenanters would be punished as heretics.” Now, my dear sir, as the predecessors of these two bodies were Covenanters, were they to act up to the principles of their predecessors, they would be also Covenanters. How then could Covenanters be punished as heretics: Here is a paradox!
Page 26, you inform us, that though Layman be orthodox in Ireland, he would be a heretic in England. Now, my dear sir, every schoolboy, who has read a little geography, knows, that the established religion of England and Ireland are the same. How then could Layman be orthodox in Ireland and a heretic in England? Another paradox!
Same place, you assure us, that “Layman, if a Seceder, would be banished from the united kingdom by the solemn league.” Now, my dear sir, if Seceders swear and subscribe the Solemn League, how is it possible, that by that same league they should be banished from the united kingdom? Another paradox! Most extraordinary and paradoxical covenants to be sure! Those who believe them would be punished by them, and those who do not believe them would be punished by them—those who subscribe and swear them would be punished by them, and those who do not subscribe and swear them would be punished by them—Seceders would be punished by them, Covenanters would be punished by them, and all others would be punished by them! Diabolical covenants indeed! No wonder they were burned by the hands of the common hangman!
Page 36, you assure us, that the covenants and confession are inseparable. How then were they separated by the synod of Ulster? How were they separated by the general assembly of Scotland? Another paradox!
Without mentioning any more of your paradoxes, perhaps I might now venture to suppose, that independently of the inconsistence of your sentiments with the word of God, they are many times inconsistent with themselves.
I am, sir, notwithstanding, your sincere friend, and paradoxical correspondent, &c.
MY REV. AND DEAR PRESBYTERIAN,
I would not be doing justice to your talents and ingenuity, to pass unnoticed your lucubrations [meditations] on Covenants, Covenanters, Seceders, &c. With regard to covenants, you express yourself thus: “If our forefathers, instead of composing leagues and covenants, and swearing to them, had bound themselves to spread the scriptures by the gentle arts of persuasion, under the protection of the civil magistrate, you must grant, that they would more readily and rapidly have melted down oppression from amongst themselves, and persecution from amongst their enemies.”—Pray, sir, how could our forefathers have bound themselves to spread the scriptures, but by a league and a covenant? The paragraph when analysed, will read thus: “If our forefathers, instead of binding themselves by leagues and covenants, had bound themselves by a league and covenant, &c.” After reading an observation so sagacious and sensible, can any person doubt your qualifications for discussing the subject of leagues and covenants? I confess, however, that notwithstanding the flood of light you pour all around you, there is one difficulty still rests upon my mind—it is to ascertain, whether the Rev. Presbyterian be not himself a kind of mongrel Covenanter. To covenants, binding to spread the scriptures, you seem to have no dislike—on the contrary, you appear to approve of them highly. Now, sir, were you to enter into a covenant to spread the scriptures, do you not know, that you would be a Covenanter? You appear to hesitate. When Covenanter observes, “you are such an advocate for the Gospel alone, that you would refuse, I plainly see, to sign them, (the covenants) or swear to them in any case;” “that I cannot tell,” says the Rev. Presbyterian. You appear to doubt whether, in any case, you would become a Covenanter. In clearing this doubt perhaps I could assist you a little.
Page 43, you assure us, that the ministers of the church of Scotland swear and subscribe every article of the [Solemn] League and Covenant. In this sentence, sir, there is a slight inaccuracy—I mean that what you have asserted is not matter of fact. It happens, that the ministers of the church of Scotland neither swear nor subscribe one single article of the League and Covenant.—No matter: You thought they did; for I am sure you would not willfully publish a falsehood. You thought, that the ministers of the church of Scotland swear and subscribe the League and Covenant—in other words, you thought they were Covenanters. Now, my dear sir, when you were exerting yourself to obtain a union with these ministers, did you not think, that you were about to become a Covenanter? Why then do you not join the Irish Covenanters? It cannot be lucrative motives that prevent you, for you assure us, that “the foundation of your loyalty is not founded on the countenance of government;” much less can we suppose, that “the foundation, of your religion is founded on that countenance.” Perhaps you will allege, that the true reason why you give a preference to the imaginary Covenanters of the general assembly, is, that though they swear and subscribe the same standards; yet, with them, they are in a great measure dead letters. That this is actually the case, you assure us, page 26. Now, sir, if this be so, why do you censure Covenanters and Seceders, because, with regard to a section or two of the Confession of Faith, there is a slight diversity of opinion; and because the subscribers explain the sense in which they understand those sections? To me, I confess, such a mode of proceeding appears quite candid and fair. You think otherwise. You express yourself thus: “For I do assure you, that society is now fully persuaded from experience, that neither Covenanters nor Seceders are too honest or too holy, and that subscription to the whole doctrines contained in the Confession of Faith, larger and shorter catechisms, often turns out a rope of sand, which they can snap at pleasure.” All very good: but pray, sir, what do you think of the honesty and holiness of the general assembly of Scotland? If your account of them be true, they swear and subscribe the confession and covenants, and afterwards allow them to remain in a great measure dead letters. Could a more infamous banditti be found on the face of this earth, than you have represented the general assembly?—a banditti of perjured villains, who are no way influenced by oaths or subscriptions—who trample underfoot the most solemn obligations! Now, sir, if Covenanters and Seceders have a right to be stigmatized as dishonest and unholy, because they subscribe a few sections of the confession and covenants in a qualified sense; must not the general assembly, upon your own principles, be ten thousand times more dishonest and more unholy? and yet, strange to tell, dishonest and unholy as they are, you courted their fellowship!—still strange to tell! dishonest and unholy as they are, they considered themselves too honest, and too holy, to admit you into their communion! Their language to you was, “Stand by thyself; come not near us; for we are holier than thou!”
But again: Do you really imagine, that the two presbyteries of the Synod of Ulster, that, according to your own account, use the confession of faith “in such a qualified manner as to render it a mere name—a piece of appearance!!!”—do you really imagine, that these two presbyteries have much the advantage of Covenanters or Seceders in point of honesty or holiness? Ye Seceders and Covenanters! ye Christians of every religious denomination! come see the zeal of the Rev. Presbyterian for honesty and holiness! in him contemplate a perfect paragon of candor and impartiality!
Page 26, you say, “Let any humble Christian compare the acts and testimonies of Seceders and Covenanters, and then let him judge, as to the harmony and uniformity which are brought about by adhering to the same human confession.” Here, I am convinced, both Seceders and Covenanters should plead guilty. They have not, on all occasions, treated each other with that meekness and gentleness, which become disciples of the meek and lowly Redeemer. The only legitimate conclusion, however, which follows from this, is, that creeds and confessions go only a certain length in producing peace and concord—they do not eradicate all our corruptions—they do not render man absolutely perfect. The objection, however, would prove too much; it would prove that the scriptures themselves are only an imposture; for these sacred oracles do not produce universal peace and harmony. Because perfect harmony cannot be attained by all the means we can possibly employ, is this any reason that no means at all should be used for obtaining so desirable an end? Surely not.
That the controversial writings of Seceders and Covenanters, published fifty or a hundred years ago, should participate a little of the spirit of those times, is not very strange. It is hoped, however, that the candid inquirer will judge of their spirit and temper by their modern productions. Let any unprejudiced person consult “A Short Account of the Old Dissenters,” and “An Explanation and Defence of their Terms of Communion,” both published by the Reformed Presbytery in Scotland. Let him also consult the Act and Testimony published by the Covenanting church in America, [John] Reid’s pamphlet against Fletcher, and Longmoor’s pamphlet against the Covenanters; and then let him say, if they do not breathe the manly, but, at the same time, mild and candid spirit of the Gospel.[F]
For a considerable time past, it has been in contemplation to revise some of our subordinate standards, particularly our Act and Testimony. In the meanwhile, I trust it will be distinctly understood, that it is not for words or phrases, but for principles, that Covenanters contend. If, in their Act and Testimony, or other public documents, the language employed is in any instance harsh, or calculated to give unnecessary pain to any denomination of Christians, Covenanters do not approve of such language. Their object, however they may fail in its accomplishment, is, under a deep sense of unworthiness, fallibility, and imperfection, to testify against the evils of the age in which they live, in language calculated, not to irritate and mortify, but to conciliate and reform—in language calculated, not to widen, but to heal those breaches which so mournfully prevail.
The truth is, that if there be any want of harmony between Seceders and Covenanters, it is not to be attributed to their subscribing the same standards. It is not the identity, but the difference of their standards that has occasioned their disputes. Among Covenanters themselves, who all subscribe the same standards, has there not been, from the earliest period of their history, an astonishing uniformity of sentiment? With them, doctrines the most heterogeneous and opposite are not exhibited from the same pulpit. One does not teach that the Redeemer is the supreme God; another, that he is the highest of all creatures; and another, that he is nothing more than a mere man. One does not teach, that the Redeemer’s blood is a vicarious sacrifice; and another, that it is only a beneficial attestation of the truth of his doctrine. One does not teach, that we are justified by our own righteousness, and another, that we are justified by the righteousness of the Redeemer. One does not ascribe our sanctification to the efficiency of the Holy Ghost, and another, to the self-determining power of the will. In a word, with them, one is not employed in destroying what the other builds. Neither, Sir, do Seceders differ among themselves, nor dispute with Covenanters about these great and important doctrines of our holy religion. With you a greater diversity of opinion prevails, than would obtain among Seceders, Independents, and Covenanters, were they all united into one community. Nor can you boast very much of your harmony; at least you have exhibited a very poor specimen. You represent two of your Presbyteries as guilty of the deepest dissimulation—as acting a solemn farce in setting apart candidates to the office of the holy ministry—as using the confession of faith in such a qualified manner as to render it a mere name, a piece of appearance! You represent a Rev. brother, whom (if I mistake not the object,) learning, talents, zeal, and popularity, have raised to the highest eminence, and rendered an object of envy—this worthy character you represent as so completely absorbed in self, that duty never predominates over interest—as “always in a strait between two, the opinions of his hearers and the laws of his master, whilst the former frequently turn the beam!” Were you to break cover, and come forth from your dark retreat, the general Synod, I have no doubt, would do its duty, by inflicting on you that chastisement, which such insolence, not to say malignity, deserves. Tell me, my friend, could you exhibit to the world no better specimen of the harmony which pervades the general Synod, or of that liberality and charity which characterize the enlightened enemies of creeds and confessions? Your quondam [former] Rev. father, Dr. M’Dowal, of Dublin, has expressed himself thus: “A society made up of jarring principles is more likely to defeat the designs of the gospel than to promote them. It bears some resemblance to Sampson’s assemblage of foxes, which being enclosed in the same field, with their heads looking different ways, but fastened together by the tails, with firebrands betwixt them, snarled, bit, and struggled, drawing different ways, until they laid waste and the pleasant field, and utterly destroyed the plentiful crop.” Whether the Doctor would have regarded you as one of those foxes, bound to the Synod only by the tail, as he and I are not in the habit of corresponding, I am not at present prepared to determine. Nor can I say much about the fundamental bond of union. That it is not the confession of faith is evident, for this you have decently laid aside—that it is not the bible is equally plain; for it would not teach you to snarl, bite, and devour. What the fastening ligament really is, as the Doctor is silent on the subject, I shall leave to you and the public to decide. I confess, my dear sir, that, from your Battle of Dialogues, it is difficult to ascertain your real principles. You style yourself a Rev. Presbyterian—a title which you assure us exclusively belongs to the members of the general Synod. Your sentiments, as we have already seen, would sometimes lead us to conclude that you are a Covenanter; whilst other parts of your pamphlet would authorize us to infer, that you were neither more nor less than a good old Roman Catholic. For instance, you triumph over Layman for asserting that fallible men may produce [teach] infallible doctrine. This you represent as the greatest contradiction, and the rankest popery. Now, Sir, if this be so, I hope to prove, to your own satisfaction, that you are a rank Papist. That we may not forget our logic, I shall prove it syllogistically, thus:
Whoever teaches truth teaches infallible doctrine:
But the Rev. Presbyterian teaches truth;
Ergo, the Rev. Presbyterian teaches infallible doctrine.
You will not deny, I hope, that truth is infallible; and of course, that every true doctrine is an infallible doctrine—nor will you deny that you sometimes teach truth, or in other words, that you sometimes teach infallible doctrine.
Now, Mr. Aristotle, just one syllogism more, and I have done:
Whoever teaches infallible doctrine is a rank Papist;
But the Rev. Presbyterian teaches infallible doctrine;
Therefore, the Rev. Presbyterian is a rank Papist.
Do not blush, my good friend: you have not the least reason to be ashamed; you have performed a glorious achievement. You are surrounded on all hands with excellent company. All the ministers of the general Synod—all Seceding ministers,—Covenanting ministers—Independent ministers—Methodist ministers—in a word, all the Protestantministers in Christendom are rank Papists! You have reclaimed them all—reduced them all to obedience to the Holy See! You have effected more by a few lines of your Battle of Dialogues, than all the anathemas of Rome—than all the Pope’s bulls—than all the tortures and executions of the holy Inquisition! A jubilee, not only at Rome, but a universal jubilee, will, no doubt, be immediately proclaimed: and hark ye, my friend! when the chair of St. Peter becomes vacant, who is better entitled to fill it than your reverence?—after death, whose name will be more deserving of a place in the calendar of Saints?—whose shrine will be more generally visited than yours? that of St. Thomas-a-Becket will be almost entirely deserted—it will sink into comparative contempt.
Hail, universal peace and harmony! Animosities and divisions are now no more. All distinctions of sects and parties are entirely abolished. Heresy is completely annihilated. The term, heretic, will no longer be used—not even “as a bugbear to frighten children.” The only heretic in the world is the Rev. Divine, your neighbor, who, you assure us, “is a teacher of words; but in no instance of truth.” I confess, indeed, that I was of opinion there was no such teacher in the world—I thought that errors and lies, without any mixture of truth, were a dose by far too nauseous for human beings of any description; but in this, it appears, I have been mistaken; for your neighboring clergyman, you assure us, is “in no instance, a teacher of truth.” Now, if this be so, (and who can doubt it, after you have asserted it?) if this be so, it is quite plain, that the preacher in question is no Papist. If he teaches no truth, he teaches no infallible doctrine—if he teaches no infallible doctrine, he is no Papist—if he is no Papist, he is a heretic,—and if he is a heretic, you know how to treat him. After you have ascended the chair of St. Peter, by your Inquisitor General proclaim an auto da fe; and by one decisive blow banish heresy for ever from the world.
Leaving you in the bosom of your old mother church, and congratulating you on the prospect of your advancement to the Papal chair, I am, sir, warmly attached to infallible doctrine, and at the same time,
Your sincere Friend, &c.
Against Covenanters, both ancient and modern, you prefer the heavy charges of intolerance and persecution. “It is notorious,” you assure us, “that numbers were banished and confined for non-conformity, and that many were put to death for denying some of the doctrines of the confession. Among those who were tried and hanged was a student of Edinburgh College, for speaking against the trinity and incarnation of Christ. He was denied the common place of interment, and was appointed to be buried in the same ground with notorious criminals and malefactors. Such was the manner in which the covenanted uniformity was prosecuted.” I suppose, sir, you will not deny, that every man should be held innocent, till once he is proven guilty. This privilege is all I ask for our reforming ancestors. You are their public accuser: bring forward your evidence. You say numbers were banished—pray, what number? You affirm that many were put to death—pray, how many? Such vague and indefinite language is indeed a very fit vehicle for slander and calumny, but is ill adapted for the ascertaining of truth. Please be a little more particular: quote your authorities: specify time, place, and circumstances. The characters of our reforming ancestors, to whose magnanimous exertions we are indebted both for civil and religious liberty, are too precious and respectable, to be allowed to fall victims to your licentious, unauthenticated abuse. Remember, sir, you are publicly called on to substantiate your charges. If you fail in your evidence, or refuse to bring it forward, you must be content to be viewed as a public calumniator.
I have no idea, that either the civil constitution or administration of our reformers was perfect. I am no way bound, nor do I feel disposed, to vindicate all their measures, acts of parliament, &c. In some instances they might be too severe: in general, however, I am convinced they ruled, considering the circumstances of the times, with a very mild sceptre. Their measures were sometimes quite too lenient. So far were they from attempting, according to your groundless accusations, to put down all who differed from them in opinion; that a considerable minority, who refused to acquiesce in the established order of things, were nevertheless allowed to live unmolested in the enjoyment of personal liberties and property under the protection of the law. These men were generally attached to prelacy and arbitrary government: many of them had fought against the liberties of their country under the reign of Charles I.: and many of them were men of infamous moral character, hence called malignants; yet notwithstanding, so foolishly indulgent were our reforming forefathers, that they admitted these men into places of power and trust, to the complete subversion of the constitution, and introduction of prelacy and arbitrary power, with all the horrors of tyranny and persecution in their train! Be candid, my dear sir, and distinguish between that just chastisement inflicted on those who were conspiring against the civil and religious liberties of the nation, and any severity which may be supposed to have been exercised on men merely on account of their religion—make this candid distinction, and I am convinced that the mountain of persecution which you have conjured up before the imagination of your readers, will instantly dwindle into a mole hill.
As, in the reformation period, the circumstances of the times might justify a degree of severity, which in the present age would be highly criminal; so we might expect, that modern Covenanters would be much more mild and humane than their forefathers. It appears, however, that the case is otherwise. You assure the world, that if Covenanters could get the king to sign and swear the covenant, we should soon feel the wholesome effects of their contents—what these wholesome effects would be we may learn from page 44, where you assure us, that “all must believe, or seem to believe, the doctrines contained in the covenants and confession, or be burned, buried, or banished, as Covenanters and the magistrate might think proper.”—Pray, sir, how many were burned, buried, or banished for those crimes, when the king did sign and swear the covenants? Was a single individual burned? not one. Was a single individual buried? yes, no doubt, after death. An odd kind of punishment indeed, to bury people after they die! I suppose the majority of the nation were so punished.—But perhaps you mean, (for your words would generally require an interpreter,) that Dissenters would be buried alive. Pray, sir, how many were buried alive during the Reformation period? It is true indeed, this is not the question—the question is not what Covenanters did nearly two centuries ago; but what they would do in the present age.—The ancient Covenanters, it seems, had a small portion of humanity; but the modern ones have none. The old ones were content with hanging and beheading; but nothing less than burning and burying alive would gratify the ferocity of their degenerate sons! What a perverse race of mortals are these same Covenanters! Whilst all other classes and denominations are in progressive state of civilization, these savages are constantly becoming more sanguinary and ferocious! In the course of less than two centuries more, we may expect them metamorphosed into complete cannibals!—Compose yourself, my dear friend; dismiss your fears: I hope you need not be very uneasy: I trust there is no greater danger of your either being burned or buried alive: your fears on this quarter are nearly as groundless, as those you entertain lest the Covenanters should pluck the planets from their orbits. “It is well,” says the Rev. Presbyterian, “that you (Covenanters) are not great astronomers, or I dread you would pluck the planets from their orbits, that you might the better arrange their courses.” Now, sir, your fears of being burned or buried alive are, I presume, as groundless as your dread of the planets being plucked from their orbits—nay they are more groundless. From the fewness of their numbers, it is not very likely, that Covenanters will attempt to overturn the state: and as they do not stand on a very respectable footing with his majesty’s government, there is little danger of the king joining them in their diabolical scheme of burning the people, or burying them alive. But with regard to the plucking of the planets from their orbits the case is very different. To qualify for this, according to your own doctrine, all that is necessary is, that Covenanters be great astronomers. Now, who can tell but, some time or other, this may actually be the case. I can assure you, sir, it is whispered, nay, it is confidently affirmed by some, and they appeal to the records of Glasgow college for the truth of their statement—that for more than twenty years past, the Covenanting students, in proportion to their number, have taken more prizes, particularly in the higher philosophical classes of that university, than the students of any other denomination in the united empire. It is even reported, that the gentleman who, in philosophical studies, has lately eclipsed all his fellow students, and who, at this very moment, is in possession of a large burse, is an Irish Covenanter. Now, sir, I must confess, that according to your doctrine, there is something in these appearances truly alarming! Should Covenanting students go on in this way, eclipsing their fellow students, it is hard to say but some of them may at last become great astronomers; and in case of this event, I would not guarantee the safety of the solar system. What mischief might enter the minds of such aspiring headstrong fellows, it is difficult to say. Should they actually pluck any of the planets from their orbits, for aught I know, the consequences might be universally pernicious. Not only would these planets, according to your doctrine, appear deformed; but, as you are a great astronomer, you know much better than I do, that these planets are peopled as well as our own; and of course, should those desperadoes drag them to a nearer conjunction with the sun, their miserable inhabitants, though not buried alive, might be burned alive—on the other hand, should those miscreants sweep the planets to a greater distance, the conqueror of the French, general Frost, might, without the least mercy, overwhelm in one universal catastrophe their entire population!
Now, my dear sir, being a very humane gentleman—your benevolence being not at all confined to this dirty little world, but embracing in its extensive grasp the inhabitants of distant stars and planets, I have no doubt you will memorial the faculty, not to permit any Covenanter to enter the higher philosophical classes in Glasgow college, till he has previously given sufficient security, that he will not on any account whatever, either pluck, or assist in plucking from their orbits, any of the planets of the solar system. Allowing you time to draw up your memorial, and in the meanwhile, warmly participating in your benevolent concern for the safety of the planets,
I am, &c.
To convince the world that the principles of Covenanters are intolerant, you quote the following paragraph from their Act and Testimony: “And further they declare, that it is most wicked, and what manifestly strikes against the sovereign authority of God, for any power on earth to pretend to tolerate, and by sanction of civil law to give license to men to publish, and propagate with impunity, whatever errors, heresies, and damnable doctrines, Satan and their own corrupt and blinded understandings may prompt them to believe and embrace: authoritative toleration being destructive of all true religion, and of that liberty wherewith Christ hath made his people free, and of the great end thereof, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies we may serve the Lord, &c.”
Now, sir, you will certainly grant, that the Presbytery who published the above document are the best qualified to explain it.
In an abstract of their principles, designed as an introduction to their Act and Testimony, they express themselves thus: “While Dissenters testify against toleration, they are not to be understood as meaning a merely passive toleration, implying nothing more than simply permitting men to exist unmolested to hold their different opinions, without using external violence to make them change these, or to exterminate them from the face of the earth if they do not. Forbearance of this kind, after every scriptural and rational means has been used without effect, cannot be condemned; but what they have in view, is, that authoritative toleration, in which the rulers of a kingdom, assuming the character of judges in these matters, by their proclamations or other public deeds, declare what different opinions or systems they will allow to be taught and propagated; and to what modes of worship they will give countenance and protection, while they exclude others from that supposed privilege.”—
Such are the principles Covenanters have published to the world. Be candid, sir, and tell your readers, that it is only against authoritative toleration that Covenanters testify. Passive toleration, they have declared in their public deeds, they by no means condemn. They approve of no weapons for converting men, but the bible, the preaching of the gospel, arguments, prayers, and the like. That toleration against which they testify, even in the paragraph you have quoted, is expressly styled authoritative toleration. Viewed in this light, the texts adduced in proofof the doctrine are perfectly appropriate. They read thus: “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another?—Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth—But Peter and John answered and said, whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto God more than unto you, judge ye—And now, Lord, behold their threatenings, and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word—Ye are bought with a price; be ye not the servants of men—And call no man your father, upon the earth, for one is your father who is in Heaven, &c.”
By way of innuendo, you tell us that these texts are worthy of observation—and then you go on to observe: “If these texts mean anything, it is, that no magistrate, or man, or body of men has a right to prevent their fellow creatures from believing whatever doctrines their understandings may prompt them to believe and embrace.”
Pray, sir, did the Reformed Presbytery teach in the passage you have quoted; or have they taught in any other part of their writings, that any magistrate has a right to prevent men from believing according to the dictates of their understandings? No, Sir: neither the Reformed Presbytery, nor any other Presbytery, have taught as you ridiculously insinuate. They have taught no such absurdities. No Spanish inquisitor can prevent a man from believing according to the dictates of his understanding. He might as well attempt to prevent him from seeing colors, or hearing sounds, according to the dictates of his senses. Not to believe the doctrines which our understandings prompt us to believe, is a contradiction: it is to believe and not to believe those doctrines at the same time.—Now, sir, were the texts quoted above written for the purpose of proving—that no man has a right to do that which is impossible—that which implies a contradiction? A new and admirable commentary indeed!
The texts, my dear sir, were quoted against authoritative toleration. They were quoted to prove, that no man or magistrate has a right to assume the character of a judge in matters of religion—that he has no right to license men to publish and propagate whatever doctrines he may think proper, and to prohibit by law the publication of others.—The doctrines which are tolerated are either the true and genuine doctrines of the bible, or they are not. If they are not the doctrines of the bible; for any mortal man to give them the sanction of his authority, is downright rebellion against the king and head of the church—to sanction by civil law what is contrary to the divine law, is nothing less than treason against the king of Heaven. What would be thought of the lord lieutenant of Ireland, were he to issue proclamations, tolerating us to obey laws directly contrary to the laws of the land? On the other hand; if the doctrines tolerated are the true and genuine doctrines of the bible, they require no toleration—they disdain it. To pretend to tolerate such doctrines, is to insult the majesty of Heaven. How impious for any monarch, who is but a worm of the dust, to say to the subjects of king Jesus, “I tolerate you to obey your master!” Does not such language imply, that he has a right to prohibit their obedience in he pleases, and that his authority is paramount to that of the blessed Redeemer! What would be thought of the President of the United States, if, coming over to Ireland, he were to issue proclamations, tolerating us to obey the laws of our country!
Such, my dear sir, is that legal toleration, of which you appear to be so great an admirer, and against which Covenanters esteem it their duty to testify. Now, every person must at once see, that it is not the enemies of legal toleration, but its friends, that plead for the interference of the civil magistrate in matters of religion—they must see, that Covenanters, in testifying against legal toleration, are testifying against the interference of civil magistrate: and that the Rev. Presbyterian, by approving of legal toleration, approves, at the same time, of magistratical interference.
You tell us, that our forefathers, like Jesus and his apostles, could have struggled for toleration. Pray, in what one instance did our blessed Redeemer and his apostles struggle for a legal toleration? It would border too nearly on blasphemy to suppose it. Did the Redeemer struggle to obtain a legal toleration from Herod? How different his conduct!—“Go ye and tell that fox, behold I cast out devils and do cures to-day and to-morrow, and third day I shall be perfected.”
It is true, indeed, that in your dialogue you declaim very much against the interference of the magistrate in matters of religion. I confess, however, that I find it very difficult to give you credit for the sincerity of your declamation. I am sure it would require more ingenuity than I can boast of, to reconcile your professions and your practice. We have just now seen, that you contradict those professions by approving of authoritative toleration. In a variety of other particulars, the inconsistency of your conduct is still more glaring—For instance; why do you allow the civil magistrate to dictate to you in the appointment of days of public fasting and thanksgiving? Is this to disclaim magistratical interference? Is this to “call no man master?” is this to act in agreeableness to the divine prohibition “Be not ye the servants of men?”—Again:
Why do you allow the civil magistrate to dictate to you in the manner of swearing? Swearing is one of the most solemn acts of worship. To direct us in the manner of its performance we have the example of God himself—of his saints—and of his son. Our blessed Redeemer “lifted up his hand to Heaven, and swear by him that liveth for ever and ever—that there should be time no longer.” Book-swearing has its foundation neither in scripture precept nor example: it can only be traced to heathenish idolatry. No matter: it is enjoined by the civil magistrate; and with you, it appears that his authorityfor the manner of performing this solemn act of worship is perfectly sufficient.
Allow me, sir, to ask you as a Dissenter, Why did you separate from the church of England? Was not one principal reason the imposition of human rites and ceremonies? Now, sir, if you submit to the imposition of one ceremony, why not of two? why not of ten? why not of all the ceremonies of the church of England? If you obey the civil magistrate when he commands you to touch and kiss the book in swearing; upon the same principle, would you not obey him, were he to command you to kneel at the sacrament, to use the sign of the cross in baptism, or to conform to all the other ceremonies of the established church? You would not suffer the church to wreathe about your neck a yoke of ceremonies. You stood fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made you free: why then have you surrendered that liberty at the discretion of the state? By submitting to the dictation of the civil magistrate in the article of book-swearing, have you not entirely given up one principal ground of your dissent from the church of England? You assure us, that it is impossible to prove, that magistrates have any authority to dictate to us how we are to worship the Deity. I think so too. Why then do you suffer them to dictate to you in that solemn act of worship, swearing? Has not our Saviour expressly declared, “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”[G]
You are very much afraid, lest creeds and confessions divert our attention from the word of God. Pray, sir, whether do Covenanters or you adhere most closely to that divine word in the article of swearing?
But again; if you are in earnest in deprecating the interference of the civil magistrate in matters of religion; why did you strain every nerve to obtain a coalition with the general assembly of the church of Scotland? Do you not know, that the king is virtually the head of that church; or at least, that a compromise is made of her headship between the king of England and the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you not know, that the king assumes the right of calling, adjourning, or dissolving her assemblies at his pleasure; and that he has sometimes exercised that right in a very arbitrary manner? Do you not know, that he claims it as his prerogative to circumscribe the objects of their attention, and to prohibit them from discussing such matters as he may judge improper? Do you not know, that he prescribes for the ministers of that church whatever political oaths he pleases, as an indispensable qualification for the exercise of their office? Do you not know, that he peremptorily commands the ministers of that church, as his servants, to read on the Lord’s day his proclamations, or other state papers, which may be subservient to the purposes of government? Do you not know, that the right of presenting to vacant charges, is, in many instances, vested in the crown?—Now, sir, can any person in the world give you credit for the sincerity of your professions? Can any person believe, that you have a strong aversion to the interference of the civil magistrate in matters of religion? If you have such an aversion, why did you persevere so long in fruitless attempts to obtain a coalition with the Erastian church of Scotland?
The truth is, that a variety of churches at present, so far from deprecating the interference of the civil magistrate, seem to value themselves in proportion to the intimacy of their connexion with the state. The general assembly were not ashamed to avow this principle, when, in their communication to the general synod, they declared—that in consequence of the respectable footing on which the synod stood with his majesty’s government, they thought it might be expedient to have communion established between the two bodies, &c.—The church of England looks down on the church of Scotland, because she does not stand on so respectable a footing with his majesty’s government: the church of Scotland looks down on her Presbyterian sister in Ireland, because she does not stand on so respectable a footing with his majesty’s government: for the same reason does not the general synod look down on the secession church, &c.? and yet, sir, where is the candid observer who would presume to deny, “That the declension of churches from primitive christianity may be estimated by the respectability of the footing on which they stand with the civil governments of the nations?” Did not an aged and respectable member of the general synod, when commenting on the assembly’s letter, shrewdly observe—“that neither the twelve apostles of the lamb, nor even the Lord Jesus Christ himself, were he to come down from the right hand of God, would be admitted into the pulpits of the general assembly of Scotland?” Why? because they would not stand on a respectable footing with his majesty’s government! Would to God the above pointed remark were applicable to no assembly in the world, but only the general assembly of Scotland!
That all churches without exception, so far as they have deviated from primitive Christianity, may with one accord retrace their steps, “seeking the Lord their God, and inquiring the way to Zion with their faces thitherward,” is the fervent prayer of,
Your sincere friend,
And very humble servant, JOHN PAUL.
Loughmourne, April 1st, 1819.
F I N I S.
[1.] Omitting this letter, at least the grammatical part of it, the unlearned reader may pass on to Letter II.
[A.] Since writing the above, the original Dialogue has fallen into my hands. For a specimen of the philological talents of its author, we have only to consult the bottom of the title page.—“Belfast, printed this present year, 1817.” Lest any person should imagine that 1817 was not present when it was present; or lest any person should imagine that it was not printed 1817, A.D. but 1817, A.M; or in other words that it was printed in the days of Noah, a little after the universal deluge—to prevent all misconceptions of this kind, the author “in words few and well ordered,” not only informs us, that the pamphlet was printed 1817; but gravely assures us that that year was then present. After such a specimen of accuracy in the title page, who can doubt that the Dialogue itself is admirably composed?
B. Notwithstanding the abuse you have poured upon Layman, for quoting this text in favor of creeds and testimonies, I have ventured to commit the same crime. In this verse, and those that follow, the premises only are laid down; they are all incontrovertible truths, dictates of common sense. The literal meaning of the text quoted is, How can two men walk together, except they be agreed? The conclusion to be inferred is, therefore how can God and his people walk together, &c. The validity of the conclusion depends upon the truth of the premises—upon the truth of that maxim, “That no two men can walk together, except they are agreed.”—Your commentary on the text concludes thus: What folly to rub the dust off our Bibles, while we only read half sentences! My dear sir, did you really believe that the text was a half sentence? or did you wish to impose that belief upon Layman? Did you really think, that the hue and cry you had raised in the beginning of the paragraph, together with the notes of admiration appended to the end of it, would terrify Layman out of his senses, so that he would be unable to distinguish between a half sentence and a whole one? Trust me, dear sir, we should not calculate too much on the stupidity of Layman. Some centuries ago, their confidence in the ipse dixit [simple say so] of the clergyman was much more implicit than it is at present. Of late, they appear very much in the habit of thinking for themselves. And, indeed, it must be confessed, that to see the Layman walking in the path of common sense, whilst the clergyman is wondering from it, and completely bewildered is no uncommon case.
C. In the present enlightened age it is becoming unfashionable to exclude from solemn ordinances any who have a desire for communion. No discipline—no [communion] tokens of admission—no debarring—these are only the relics of bigotry and superstition. It is left to the consciences of all, whether they will participate or not. Now, in the word of God, the profane are denominated dogs and swine—animals not the most remarkable for diffidence or modesty. Serious as the subject is, it is scarcely possible to avoid smiling, when we hear downy doctors gravely addressing dogs and swine—politely appealing to their consciences, whether they will taste the children’s bread: Surely this is liberality with a witness!
D. Good news, ye Rev. Divines of every denomination! No concordances—no marginal references—no laborious search, to find texts of scripture to prove your doctrines. Thanks to the Rev. Presbyterian, this old-fashioned method, practiced by the Westminster divines, is now exploded. As a much more fair and convenient method, refer your hearers to the whole of revelation!!!
[2.] The ter Arminian is used merely as a term of distinction, not of reproach.
E. If the denial of one of the attributes of Deity, and the belief of a contradiction, which is capable of the strictest demonstration, be necessary to free Calvinists from the gross absurdities and blasphemies charged upon them by Dr. [Adam] C[larke].; I am fully of opinion, they will universally agree with me in thinking, that the remedy is incomparably worse than the disease—they will regard the Arminian cause as desperate indeed, when in defence of it, a gentleman of the learning and talents of Dr. A. C., is reduced to such extremities.
F. The only exception with which I am acquired, is a sermon entitled the Times, published by the Rev. Mr. Edgar, present Seceding Professor of Divinity. In this sermon the author has poured upon Covenanters a torrent of illiberal abuse. In less than half a page he has lavished upon them nearly a score of abusive epithets. The poison, however, is accompanied by the antidote. Such railing accusations against sister sects is strongly and repeatedly reprobated in the same sermon. The author assures us, that such a mode of supporting truth is wearing away. I believe it is. I hope that his own virulent invective may be safely regarded as the last expiring groans of party spirit.
G. The above observations are not intended as a censure on the civil government. The government is Episcopalian. Episcopalians act consistently: and yet, book-swearing has been condemned by some of the most respectable dignitaries of the established church. It is only Dissenters who are inconsistent. Nor would this mode be imposed upon them, were government convinced that it was really obnoxious. A respectful remonstrance would obtain for them immediate relief—Judges and inferior magistrates are in general extremely indulgent. Some of the latter have, in a very generous and disinterested manner, been exerting themselves to have the grievance redressed.