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LETTER I.-On the Nature and Foundation of Divine Right.


LETTER I.-On the Nature and Foundation of Divine Right.

James Dodson

NOTHING, my dear Amelius, is more worthy of my attention; nothing more warmly recommended, by scripture and reason, than to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. (1 Thes. 5:21) Never did a juncture more necessarily require it, than this, of so much inconstancy and division. A candid inquiry into the government and discipline of the Christian church, is therefore, the present, the serious employ of my inquisitive mind. Whatever connection this have with the happiness of my soul, if it has any foundation in right reason, or the inspired dictates of Heaven; it is at my peril, if I continue wilfully ignorant thereof. If I break one of the least of his commandments, and encourage others to do so; the SAVIOR has doomed me, to be called the least in his kingdom. (Mat. 5:19) If I add to, deny, or diminish from, what is written in his word, I procure his curse to my soul. (Rev. 22:18, 19) Nor is my curse causeless. If what God hath appointed; if what Jesus hath ratified in his blood; if what the blessed Spirit hath endited; I, by my unconcern, call trifling, common, or unclean; accuse I not the Most High, and only wise God, of egregious folly? Blame I not Jesus, of dying as a fool dieth? Prefer I not my own imaginations, to the statutes of Heaven? Presume I not, to teach the Almighty knowledge?

Meanwhile, should I embrace and maintain principles; should I observe customs; because conveyed by tradition from the fathers; because peremptorily espoused by councils or holy men; would I not, with Romanists, intrude fallible persons into the temple, the room, of my infallible God? Detesting such blind, such Popish, idolizing of mortals, let my whole religion be immediately founded on a THUS SAITH THE LORD. Only the conviction of this, will enable me, with Christian bravery, to undergo the severest sufferings, on its’ account. Only this will enable me, to answer for my conduct at the awful tribunal. Tradition of the fathers; decisions of great and holy men; a painful Christian education, may, and oft are blessed, as the valuable means of discovering, and leading us to the solid foundation of our faith and practice: but woe to my soul, if, deifying these, I depend on them, instead of the royal, the infallible mandates of Heaven. God alone is my Maker, my Lawgiver, my chief end, my Savior, and supreme Judge; let therefore his will be my sure, my only guide.

By natural reason, and by the inspired dictates of Heaven, is this will manifested to men. The former, I am infallibly assured, God hath shewed unto men; and from it, I find writers inspired not seldom to argue (Rom 1:19 and 2:14, 15; 1 Cor. 5:1 and 11:13-15 and 14:7-11): the latter, I am divinely informed, are indited of God; are able to make me “wise unto salvation; are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto every good work (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:15-17).” In this sacred page, my duty is oft suggested by example. What properties; what acts of God, and of Christ; or of his prophets, apostles, or other saints, are there proposed for imitation: what the imitation of, is divinely commanded, or commended: whatever thing imitable is founded on moral grounds, and is requisite in one age, and place of the world, as well as another; must certainly be always imitate, according to the station and call providence affords me. What was done by saints as such, is always to be imitated by every saint. What was done by prophets, apostles, ministers, or magistrates, as such, is only to be imitated by such, as were, or are, vested with a similar office. Good acts performed upon ordinary occasions, are ordinarily to be imitated. These done upon extraordinary occasions, are only to be imitated on the like (Mat. 5:48; Eph. 5:1, 2; Phil. 4:8, 9). Whatever God commands, or promises we shall do; whatever he engageth to assist in, or reward us for, is certainly good; and to be practised, according to our station and call. Whatever he condemns, threatens, or punishes for, is certainly evil; and to be alway avoided (Rev. 2:2, 3, 6, 13 and 4:14, 15, 20). Some divine acts found a divine right: Jesus’ rising from the dead, his repeated visits to his disciples, his Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Ghost on the first day of the week, divinely consecrate it for the Christian Sabbath. But nothing more clearly founds a divine warrant, than the appointment and precept of God. These hints, an attention to which is so useful for understanding the oracles of God, to me appear so plain, as to need no illustration.

But what of the inspired page is the rule of my conduct? God himself informs me, that “all scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that, whatsoever was written aforetime, was written for our learning (2 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 15:4).” What in the Old Testament respects ritual observations, as typical, must indeed be laid aside. Christ the substance having come, and abolished that carnal “law of ordinances, by the blood of his cross,” it is at my peril to attempt a revival thereof; it is at my peril to abandon “the liberty, wherewith Christ hath made me free, and be again entangled in the ceremonial yoke of bondage (Gal. 4:9-11 and 5:1-4).” But the nature of God, and of men, being always the same; whatever laws or patterns under the Old Testament, were founded on moral equity, as such, must still preserve their whole binding force. Whatever ancient hints, promises, or prophecies, do, in their fulfilment, respect the New Testament period, may be justly argued from (Heb. 12:1, 5 and 4:4-8; Acts 15:15-17). If I may receive an ancient promise into my heart, as the ground of my sure hope of eternal felicity: if I may obey the ancient laws, of having no other god before the true God; of making and worshipping no graven image; of not taking the name of the Lord my God in vain, &c.: with equal reason, must I attend to everything, written in Moses and the prophets, relative to perpetual, universal, and moral equity. The two testaments, which God hath joined, let not me, as a man of sin, exalting myself above him, put asunder.

Is only the express letter of the scripture, the rule of my faith or practice? No: God, who formed me not a beast, but a reasonable creature, capable to search out the native import, and necessary consequence, of his express declarations, certainly speaks to me as such. The necessary consequences of his express declarations, must therefore be no less the rule of my duty, than his express words. To deny this, is fertile of error and guilt. Under pretence of adherence to the express letter of scripture, have Papists introduced their monster of transubstantiation. Under this pretence, have Anthropomorphites affirmed their Maker, a body with face, eyes, ears, hands, and feet, such as their own. Under pretence of confining their faith to the express words of inspiration, have Socinians rejected almost every article of the Christian faith. To refuse native consequences of scripture as part of our rule, is practically the oracles of God: for, by deduction of consequence, he shewed the doctrine of the resurrection was revealed to Moses, at the burning bush; that the sixth commandment forbids angry words; and the seventh lascivious looks (Luke 20:37, 38; Mat. 5:21-23, 28). And of such deduction of consequences, doth no small part of the inspired epistles to the Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and others, consist. To restrict our rule to the express terms of inspiration, is to give JEHOVAH the lie, who said, “All scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness;” for, without a rational deduction of consequences, every portion of scripture cannot answer each of these valuable ends. Never, therefore, will any person of judgment, admit this restriction of our rule; till, under cloak of confining his faith and practice to the express words of scripture, he intends to abandon some important article of our Christian faith. Upon the most impartial enquiry, I heartily embrace the sentiments of our valuable [Westminster] Confession of faith (I.6), “That the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, and man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence deducible therefrom; and, that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of his church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the WORD; which are alway to be observed.”