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misunderstood, and so great are the errors which have arisen from that misconstruction, that there have been men who have wished that those epistles had never been received into the canon of scripture. But this was a harsh and a hasty thought. The apostle could not have written so many letters upon subjects so interesting without designing to convey very important truths; which truths were intelligible to those to whom they were addressed, but might easily be misunderstood afterwards by others who were not well informed of the reasons of his writing.
The Apostle Paul was a Jew, of the sect of the Pharisees, educated to a rigorous observance of the ceremonial law; and this gave a peculiar cast to his ideas and a tinge to his language which always adhered to him. He wrote in a language which was not bis own. With Jewish habits and Hebrew idioms, he addressed the Gentiles in a language with which they were most familiar; which naturally led him to make use of a phraseology of his own, and to use classical words in a sense which they never bear in classical writers. The sụbject, too, was in some measure new, and might require the use of words in a more or less extended sense than that to which they were accustomed, He not unfrequently changes the meaning of his words in the same discourse without giving notice; he assumes different persons, writes under different characters, states and replies to objections, without giving the reader any bint of the transition. His abruptness often occasions great obscurity and makes it difficult to ascertain his meaning. He makes oftep allusions to customs and occurrences which, though perfectly familiar to the writer and his correspondents, are utterly unknown to modern readers, and can be only imperfectly guessed and explained from hints that are dropped in the epistle itself.*
I mention these circumstances in this place as an apology for those strange, unreasonable, and, with regard to the rest of the Scriptures, upscriptural opinions which have so widely spread in the Christian world. All error, of whatever class it may be, is like the wild thistle, slight and feeble in its first appearance, but spreading and strengthening as it rises, until it becomes vigorous and large enough to stretch over the ground and defy the approach of either man or beast.
* Belsham's Expositiou.
The errors to the consideration of which I shall confine myself to-day, are those which are known by the general name of Calvinisın, the history of which it may be useful to be acquainted with-while we should not be unjust in forming an opinion of the effects they are calculated to produce on the social character, and their actual results in the life and temper of those persons who make a public avowal of them. They are known among the scholastic divines by the terms, the five points, and are, Predestination, Original Sin, Particular Redemption, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. They all rest upon the doctrine of universal depravity; of man having fallen from the state of purity in which the Almighty originally placed him, and become utterly corrupt and incapable of doing the will of God; therefore fallen into wretchedness, and condemned to eternal misery : from which state some of the race are saved by the special interference of that Being who was their Creator and thus becomes their Saviour. The bearings of these doctrines upon one another will be seen as we proceed in their history; but it should be premised, that they are held by their advocates with very
different latitudes, and consistently with themselves by very few: perhaps one of the most consistent professors of these doctrines was the far-famed preacher who lately died in our own immediate neighbourhood, Dr. Hawker.
If a man were to read no more of the Scriptures than the four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, it is surely do venture to affirm, that the Calvinistic points could not enter his mind; and if after reading, these were to be explained to him, and he were told that they were the essential and all-important doctrines of Christianity, he certainly would reply, that neither Christ nor his Apostles ever said any thing like them, that they are totally foreign from the purpose of Christianity, and appear to be subversive of all That Jesus taught in his parables and in his other addresses to the multitude; nor do Peter and Paul make any allusion to them in their speeches recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. This is a great truth which ought to have weight with the professors of our religion. But they have the writings of Paul to refer towhere are their texts, and from these, as well as from the passages in the Old Testament which describe the extremely corrupt state of the Hebrew people in the time of the prophets, they have taken
up the monstrous idea, that all mankind is corrupt, and that there is no health in them.
Upon perusing the History of the Church, a considerable time is seen to elapse before any thing appears of the doctrines we have now to consider. The first intimation of them is found about the year one hundred, when a sect sprang up, who mistook the natural emotions of their own minds for divine iropulses. It is evident that the doctrine of the new birth, or, as it is called, the work of God in the soul, is built upon this idea of divine impulse: for as no one can be sensible of this work except the person who is operated upon, so a persuasion of the reality of the impulse rests also with the object of it. It is folly to attempt to prove it, for it cannot admit of proof, not being capable of being conveyed, like other intelligence, from one mind to another. But, to admit that there is such an impulse, the opinion of the natural weakness of the human mind and the necessity of foreign aid must first be admitted. And here we see the true foundation of all that enthusiasm which in all ages has been the disgrace of religion. Hence sprang many of the errors of Paganism. A total ignorance of the powers of nature, and the idea of the perpetual interference of the higher powers in the affairs of men, led to their many Lords and many Gods, and to the adoration of them. Pretences to inspiration will readily be admitted by those who are ignorant of the great universal laws of the Divine government. A man assumes the position that he is naturally wicked, devoted to vice and doomed to destruction, that he unable to afford himself any assistance, and that his fellow-creatures are as helpless as himself. He thinks this a hard case, and can scarcely satisfy himself that the Almighty will suffer all his intelligent creatures to remain in this fallen condition. He prays for divine help, he works himself up to a state bordering on frenzy, and, like the priests and devotees of Paganisin, he imagines that he is full of the God;" he is inspired, he fancies that God has spoken to his heart, his spirits are raised, and he declares his adoption, the forgiveness of all his imperfections, the change of his whole nature, and the certainty of the everlasting favour of God. When one person has described this operation, spoken upon it with confidence, and manifested the delight that he experiences from it, there is no doubt that others will catch the infec
tion; many weak minds will feel the same process going on within them, a party will be formed, a sect will spring up, and this new doctrine will become firmly rooted, and be called a Christian doctrine ; while in the ambiguous language of mysterious letters it will find food and nourishment.
The first we hear of it, I have observed, was about the year one hundred, when one Montanus became the founder of a sect. His followers afterwards formed separate societies, striking out into some lines of difference. They called themselves the spiritual and other Christians the carnal; nor is it likely that they who, professed to be guided by a Divine Spirit would yield to the controll or the opinion of the unregenerated. These have been followed in different periods by a motley company in somewhat of the same track: but as these pretensions were not capable of proof, they of course became various and discordant, and it is only with intermissions and in a slight degree that they were for some time heard of. The same sort of a thing has since been avowed by the Quakers in one point of view, by the Calvinists in another, and by the Methodists in their revivals in a still different point of view, and in a more sudden aud comprehensive manner.
With respect to all doctrines of a properly practical tendency, it cannot be doubted, says the Church bistorian, that it was the generally prevailing opinion of the Christian world at the end of the third century, that every man has a natural power to do the will of God; and that God, without the intervention of any other, is naturally placable to repenting sinners. So that the doctrines of supernatural grace, of original sin, of predestination and atonement, were then unknown, nor did any of them appear until a much later period.
Then began to prevail an obscure notion, that when it is said, Christ died a ransom for us, there was something more than a figure of speech intended. But, that this ransom had been paid to God, and that he had been thereby rendered placable, so that on this account repentance bad become available to pardon, bad not been supposed by any
To make something real of the ransom that is said to have been given for us in two or three passages of the New Testament, it was supposed, that since God is the person who is said to have paid this price for us, it must have been paid by him to that being into whose power we had fallen,
that is, the Devil. But the power he had acquired over the human race by the sin of Adam was simply that of making men mortal, death being the original penalty of sin. By paying this ransom, therefore, it was thought, that we were recovered out of the power of the Devil, and restored to our former condition of immortality; not, indeed, to take place immediately, but after death ; so that all persons who partook of the redemption of Christ Jesus would be rendered immortal in a future state. Consequently, this vague notion, which does not seem to have been much attended to, for it is very seldom mentioned, had no connexion whatever with the pardon of sin.
It was at the end of the fourth century, that the Pelagian controversy took its rise, a controversy which produced lasting consequences in the western part of the world. To this we owe the doctrine of original sin, of predestination, and that of the necessity of supernatural grace to every good thought, word, and action, and ultimately the doctrine of atonement-doctrines, of which we find no trace in any prior period, but which took the deepest root in the Latin Church, and were so far from being removed by the Reformation, that they were strengthened by its means, and carried farther than before, in order to oppose the Popish doctrine of merit, which was the foundation of the doctrine of supererogation and the practice of granting indulgences.
The Catholic Church had at this time fully succeeded in establishing the belief, that the baptism of the child was necessary to wash away sin ; and so practical was this belief, that it was not an uncommon thing to defer baptism until death approached, in order to have the full benefit of the baptismal covenant. Pelagius set himself openly to oppose this belief, and maintained, that good works, and not water, washed away sin: that the design of baptism could not be to wash away sin, because it was applied to infants who had not sinned. When this opinion of Pelagius, so accordant with good sense and the whole tenor of the Scriptures, was made known at Rome, it gave no offence. But it excited the indignation of Austin, Bishop of Alexandria, who at that time was the great oracle of Africa. This great man was shocked, as he said, to hear it advanced, " that baptism was not applied for the remission of sin, which is contrary to the very words of scripture.” From whence it is evident, that the notion of the