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Paul, especially, has furnished arguments to support the limited views of salvation by Christ which have been taken up in the churches.
Proper Calvinism seems distinctly to profess, that man is born into the world in a state of the greatest defilement through the contagion of the sin of Adam, that he is utterly incapable of relieving himself from the wretched state in which he is born, that in this state he has it not in his power to do any actions that are acceptable to God, that he lies wholly at the mercy of sovereign grace, which alone can save him from his miserable condition, and prevent his suffering an everlasting punishment, as the result of a condition in which he has not placed himself, and from which he cannot of himself escape. When it is said, that to be thus brought into life and suffer the misery of it, is an act of injustice on the part of him who made us, we are told, that the justice of the Almighty is severe, that it must be satisfied, and that we are insufficient judges of the ways of the Almighty; nay, it is even averred, that justice in God is of a very different character from justice in man, that a way too has been found out for restoring a portion of God's creatures to his favour, that a debt has been paid to justice, and that as many as the great sacrifice that has been offered can redeem are for ever secure of life and happiness; that if many are still passed by and no provision made for their redemption, it does not reflect on the character of God, it only shews the enormity of the offence that had been comiuitted against bim; and that the redeemed will still find reason to extol his integrity and his justice even in the condemnation of sinners. This system also maintains, that in no sepse whatever is a man instrumental to his own salvation ; that nothing which he can do will make his sin the greater, or his safety the more sure ; that all is owing to the atoning blood of Christ, which no oue is in any manner able to obtain by his own endeavours. It is completely an arbitrary, necessary work, in which the individual, whatever exercises of mind or change of character he may go through, las no freedom of thought, will, or action. The elect must be regenerated, they must be saved ; those not elected cannot be regenerated, they cannot be saved. Thus Calvin speaks : « Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which he has determined in himself what he would have become of every indi
vidual of mankind. They are not all created with an equal condition, but to some eternal life is fore-ordained, and to others eternal damnation. Since, therefore, every man is destined to one or the other of these ends, we say he is predestinated either to life or death.” The Westminster assembly are yet more explicit: By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death. Neither are any others redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved, but the elect only; the rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, to pass by, and to ordain them to disbonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice."
Thus our late much esteemed neighbour, (Dr. Hawker,) in a work which he called A Prop against Despair, writes, “The gospel is a covenant of grace and not of works, in which Jehovah intended to display the infinite greatness of his character, in giving pardon and peace without terms and without conditions on the part of the poor creature who becomes the object of it. So that every idea of moral goodness as a qualification for obtaining it is done away." He adds, “ Just as absurd would it be in a physician to send away his patient labouring under a disease with a recommendation to do his utmost towards his own cure, and then to come to him to finish it, as it is in the minister of the gospel to propose to the singer to do his best by way of healing the diseases of the soul, and then to come to Christ Jesus to perfect his recovery. The only previous qnalification is, to know our misery, and the remedy is prepared.”
“ Even repentance and faith," he says in another place, " those most essential qualifications of the mind for the participation and enjoyinent of the blessings of the gospel, are never supposed to be a condition which the sinper performs to entitle him to mercy; but merely evidences that he is brought to and has obtained mercy. I could as readily create a world, as create faith and repentance in my own beart. Faith and repentance are both of divine origin, like the light and the rain and the dew from above, and come down from the Father of lights. The rich tide of mercy flows continually without ebbing. It is not enough to say that it washes on the shores of the undeserving, but
grace : which
it reaches to the grounds of the ill-deserving ; not barely to those who have done nothing to merit mercy, but to those who have done every thing to merit punishment.”
Another of this class of writers (Toplady) tells us, " that the religion of Jesus stands eminently distinguished and essentially differenced from every other religion, by this remarkable peculiarity, that every religion except one puts you upon doing something in order to recommend yourself to God. It is only the religion of Jesus that runs counter to all the rest, by affirming, that we are saved and called with a boly calling, not according to our works, but according to the Father's own purpose
and was not sold to us.on certain conditions to be fulfilled by ourselves, but was given us in Christ before the world began."
Another writes, “ Think not foolishly first to mend yourselves and then come to him : you will never be better until you
do come :
Burder's Village Sermons. I give these passages from three of the most eminent preachers in that connexion, to shew in what manner they teach, that the great object of the gospel, the salvation of men, is brought about, and how much such doctrines must tend to produce an apathy in sinners, and a reluctance to make any effort to amend, when amendment is altogether out of their power. This they freely acknowledge, and if they are consistent with themselves they must acknowledge it: for if every thing must be done for them through the means of a divine influence, it is needless to attempt to do or to hasten on the great work.
It is brought about through the death of the Son of God, the sacrifice of a divine person. Upon this their great doctrine has its foundation, “The divinity of Christ, says one (Hawker), “ I conceive to be the chief cornerstone of the Christian edifice : remove this from the building, and the whole fabric immediately totters. The foundation is shaken to its very centre." And again, on the miraculous incarnation, as he calls it, “Give up this article of your creed, say that Jesus is the son of Joseph, and you give up with it at once all the hopes of true believers. Then the great doctrine of the atonement and the cross of Christ falls to the ground."
The object I had in view in the former discourse, was to shew in what manner these opinions were brought into the church, and with how different a feeling the doctrine of grace was received then from what it is avowed in the present day. But thus the Saviour had foretold that it would be. When with a prophetic eye he looked into future years, he foresaw the errors which would spring up in the minds of his professing people, and he describes error, not as a plant fully grown, forcing itself up among the standing corn, but as a small seed, sown by an enemy, which was to germinate on the soil, and increase and enlarge its dimensions gradually, until it became a plant capable of oppressing the good seed, if not of choking it altogether.
We have seen in our own day a great spread of what is called high Calvinism. There was comparatively but little of it half a century ago. Mr. Wilberforce's work on the Natural Depravity of Man, which made its appearance about the year 1798, seems to have been the harbinger of the formation of a large and wealthy party in the church, which have since become popular, and have gained over numbers of the clergy.--The character, too, of this party is very different from what we have seen it in fornuer times. The great body of those who avowed Calvinism, professed it then in so moderate a form, and with so many reservations, that it did not wear the awful appearance which it has since assumed ; and was confined almost entirely to the middling and lower orders of the people, and they chiefly among the Dissenters. The bishops and the higher clergy uniformly disapproved of it, and followed the Arminian explanation of the Liturgy and the Articles of the church. But now this system finds encouragement even on the reverend bench, and in the mansions of the gentry and the nobles. The churches throughout the kingdom are resounding with the awful doctrines of a large proportion of the human race being doomed to everlasting punishment without the possibility of relief: while, among the Protestant Dissenters, the numerous and large churches of moderate Calvi. nists who professed the opinions held by Baxter and Doddridge, have almost entirely disappeared. Some have enlarged their creed until it has reached the very borders of Antinomianism, while the larger number have gone on in the road of reformation, and joined the Unitarian standard. If it be asked how this has happened, the answer is ready.
As the last century was drawing to a close, there was a general awakening of the minds of the Dissenters, first of all upon the great doctrines of Christianity. Many learned men sprang up, both in this country and on the Continent, who paid great attention to biblical criticism, investigating the prevailing opinions with a keen and sagacious eye, and directing the attention of the great body of students to the proper meaning of the language of scripture. It was soon discovered that this middle way into which professors had fallen, under the delusive idea that it is the safest way, was not the way of truth. The orthodox party found they had stopped far short of what the enigmatical and typical language of scripture led them to believe ; while the numerous company whose minds were free, who could not be biassed by the hope of promotion in a richly-salaried establishment, and sought the truth in the pure love of it, proceeded boldly on as the true sense of scripture led them, and either openly, in the character of Dissenting ministers, or covertly and with many mental reservations, hoping to become more useful in a national establishment, left behind them the tares of Calvinism, together with that mysterious notion of a God being offered a sacrifice to atone for the sins of men, and enlisted under the banners of Paul, on whose standard is inscribed the pure, the simple, and the intelligible truth, that there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus, the Christ.
Such is, I think, generally speaking, the present state of the church of Christ, both in this and in other countries. Calvinism assumes its high tone, or Unitarianism is avowed in a freer or more explicit manner. And it is happy that it is so.
It is well for men to be driven to the very extremities of the systems which they profess to believe in. If no adversary appear against them to rouse them to thoughtfulness, they will never know to what their opinions tend, nor will they understand the dreadful abyss into which they must be plunged who cannot receive their confession of faith, and of whom they still are loath to entertain an uukind anticipation. This was precisely the state of things half a century ago.
A moderate Calvinism and an imperfect Unitarianism had possession of the whole dissenting interest of England; and but for the masculine spirit and extraordinary talents of Dr. Priestley, whose mantle fell on many an ardent mind long before he was summoned to glory, they might still hare kept our churches in a deceit