COMPENDIUM of METHODISM by Dr. James Porter
James Porter is an American Methodist. He was born on March 1, 1808, in Middleboro, Mass. In 1827, he was converted under the gospel preaching of Rev. Ebenezer Blake and joined the Methodist Church. He ministered in the New England area until he retired in 1868. During his ministry and earthly labors he wrote sixteen different books including the History of Methodism, Winning Worker, Chart of Life, and the most popular, Compendium of Methodism. He was deeply involved in evangelism and theological education.
In his preface to this book, he exhorts the Methodist people to "give reason for their preference, and to maintain our peculiarities against the popular prejudices with which they may be assailed. Should other sects happen to read it, we trust it may rectify their misconceptions, and lead to that charitable consideration of our claims to which we are entitled."
IMARC is happy to present a few of Dr. Porters comments on Calvinism and other Methodist distinctives. We trust that it will help many Independent Methodist/Wesleyan and United Methodist pastors and lay people to grasp their theological roots in this area. This page will cover "Part Second." It will discuss the "doctrinal views of Methodists as distinguished from those of other denominations."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. The Character and History of certain Sentiments with which Methodist have been most in collision
IV. Free Grace and Free Will
V. The New Birth, with its means and manifestations
VI. Christian Perfection
VII. Perseverance of the Saints
VIII. The Sacraments
THE CHARACTER AND HISTORY OF CERTAIN SENTIMENTS WITH
WHICH METHODISTS HAVE BEEN MOST IN COLLISION.
METHODISTS were more distinguished, at first, for their piety and zeal, than for any peculiarity
of sentiment. Indeed, they adopted no new principle or theory, except what was necessarily
connected with personal experience. Their object seemed to be the revival of pure religion on an
old basis, the general soundness of which was conceded. They avowed no creed, nor required
subscription to any from those who came among them. A desire to flee from the wrath to come,
was the only condition of membership. But this was to be manifested by strict conformity to the
requirements of God. They were to abstain from evil of every kind, and do good in every possible
way, and thus work out their "salvation with fear and trembling."
Herein the origin of the Methodist Church differs from that of most other denominations. They
commenced with a mere opinion, as their respective names import. For example, the Baptists
became a distinct people on the ground of holding to immersion as the only mode of baptism; the
Congregationalists and Presbyterians derived their existence from certain notions of church
government; and the Unitarians from particular views of Christ and the atonement. Methodists
received their denominational name from their enemies, and in ridicule; not on account of any
opinion they held, but because of their methodical manner of living, and of their singular
devotion. They instituted no new system of divinity, or form of government, and labored for
nothing but to live correctly themselves, and persuade others to be reconciled to God.
But in reproving sin, exhorting others to duty, and particularly in relating their Christian
experience, they came in collision with sentiments to which they could show no indulgence, with out doing violence to their solemn convictions, and hindering the work they would promote
and extend. These sentiments were various, but none were urged with more earnestness and
perseverance than those taught by John Calvin. Though it would seem that Calvinists should be
the last to feel concerned about any thing, believing, as they profess to do, that God fore-ordained
whatsoever comes to pass, and that the number of the elect is so definite that it can neither be
increased or diminished, they were among the first to attack Methodism on doctrinal grounds,
and they did it with a zeal indicative of fear, lest it should deceive the "very elect." The ideas of
free and full salvation for every sinner, by Jesus Christ; and of free will, by the grace of God, in
every one, so that all may come to Christ and be saved; and particularly the liability of believers
becoming "cast-aways," at last, through their own unfaithfulness, -sentiments which the little
band believed with all their hearts, and proclaimed with great pathos and power, not
controversially, but persuasively, gave particular offence. And they attacked them in high places,
and pursued them into every street and lane, with a recklessness in relation to the spiritual results
of such procedure befitting their system. And from that day to the present, and in all countries,
Methodism has experienced more opposition from this quarter than from any other. In New
England, especially, every step of her progress has been resisted. Her ministers have been openly
attacked in their own congregations, they have been preached against, and published in papers
and pamphlets as heretics, and "wolves in sheeps clothing," and many have been so deceived and
prejudiced in relation to them, they would almost as soon hear or harbor a demon, as a Methodist
preacher. The doctrines, therefore, by which we have been particularly distinguished from other
Protestant sects, are those wherein we differ from the Calvinists. And we differ from them only
on those points which constitute them Calvinists, and not on many others we both hold in
common with Christians in general. The doctrine of the atonement by Christ, and the new birth,
are not Calvinism, though John Calvin believed and taught them, and his followers do the same. Calvinism embraces those particulars in which Calvin differed from others, and wherein his
system was new and peculiar. A. few extracts from his writings will exhibit it to the reader in its
"Predestination," he says, "we call the eternal decree of God, by which he hath determined in
himself what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all
created with similar destiny ; but eternal life is fore-ordained for some, and eternal damnation for
others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or other of these ends, we say he is
predestinated either to life or to death." And he adds, "Though it is sufficiently clear that God, in
his secret counsel, freely chooses whom he will, and rejects others, his gratuitous election is but
half displayed till we come to particular individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but
assigns it in such a manner that the certainty of the effect is liable to no suspense or doubt.
In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of Scripture, we assert, that, by an eternal and
immutable counsel, God hath once for all determined both whom he would admit to salvation,
and whom he would condemn to destruction. This counsel, so far as it concerns the elect, is
founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he
devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but
That he might not be misunderstood, he explains, by saying, "It is a notion commonly entertained
that God, foreseeing what would be the respective merits of every individual, makes a
correspondent distinction between different persons; that he adopts as his children such as he
foreknows will be deserving of his grace; and devotes to the damnation of death others whose
dispositions he sees will be inclined to wickedness and impiety. Thus, they not only obscure
election by covering it with the veil of foreknowledge, but pretend that it originates in another cause. God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. If,
therefore, we can assign no reason why he grants mercy to his people, but because such is his
pleasure, neither shall we find any other cause but his will for the reprobation of others. Many,
indeed, as if they wished to avert odium from God, admit election in such a way as to deny that
any one is reprobated. But this is puerile and absurd; because election itself could not exist,
without being opposed to reprobation; whom God passes by, he, therefore, reprobates, and from
no other cause than his determination to exclude them from the inheritance which he
predestinates for his children."
Attempting to smooth this "horrible decree," by referring to the natural corruption of man, as a good reason for their reprobation, the inquiry of opponents- "were they not predestinated to that
very corruption, also?" stood directly in his way. In answering it, he says:- "I confess, indeed, that
all the descendants of Adam fell, by the divine will, into that miserable condition in which they
are now involved; and this is what I asserted from return, at last, to the sovereign determination of Gods will, the cause of which is hidden in himself. But it follows not, therefore, that God is liable to this reproach; for we will answer them in the language
of Paul: 'O, man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that
formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?"
The sophism of more modern times, that "God saw that all were lost, and determined that he
would save some, and therefore elected them to glory, passing by others," found no favor with
this honest man. "For," says he, "since God foresees future events only in consequence of his
decree that they shall happen, it is useless to contend about foreknowledge, while it is evident
that all things come to pass rather by ordination and decree." "It is a horrible decree, I confess;
but no one can deny that God foreknew the future fate of man, and that he did foreknow it,
because it was appointed by his own decree."
Yet, strange enough, he denies that God is the author of sin. But how he could will and decree
that it should happen, and appoint all the circumstances connected therewith, and not be the
author of it, is an insolvable question. What God decrees, he does, and is the author of, and the responsibility of his act rests with himself and upon no other. All attempts, therefore, to find a
justifiable cause of mans destruction in his corruption, after having attributed that corruption,
with its various consequences, to Gods will and decree, seems to us an insult to common sense. If
man has done only as God decreed he should do, and is only as he was ordained to be, he is right;
or, if not, he is not to blame, and cannot in justice be punished for it.
The writings of Calvin, evolving these, and correlative views, new and startling, elicited much
controversy. his friends, enamored with his dogmas, refined them, and educed (legitimately, we
think) some of the most shocking sentiments ever uttered. These were afterwards collected and
published in a pamphlet, entitled "A Correct Copy of some Notes concerning Gods Decrees,"
embracing ten extracts from popular Calvinistic works, "to prove that there are men of no small
name, who have told the world that all the evil of sin which is in man proceedeth from God only
as the author, and from man only as the instrument." The nature of Calvinism, and the state of the
controversy, may be inferred from the following: "A wicked man, by the just impulse of God,
doeth that which is not lawful for him to do." "When God makes an angel or a man a
transgressor, he himself doth not transgress, because he doth not break a law. The very same sin,
namely, adultery or murder, inasmuch as it is the work of God, the author, mover, and compeller,
is not a crime; but, inasmuch as it is of man, it is a wickedness. God can will that man shall not
fall by his will, which is called voluntas signi; and in the meantime he can ordain that the same
man shall infallibly and efficaciously fall by his will, which is called volantas beneplaciti. The
former will of God is improperly called his will, for it only signifieth what man ought to do by
right; but the latter is properly called a will, because by that he decreed what should inevitably
come to pass." "Gods will doth pass, not only into the permission of the sin, but into the sin itself
which is permitted."
If any should incline to question the authority of these statements, he will do well to remember
that the first is from Calvin himself, who certainly understood his own system; the second is from
Zuinglius; and the third from Dr. Twisse. But they were not alone. In the same tone and spirit
Zanchius wrote: "Reprobates are compelled with a necessity of sinning, and so of perishing by
this ordination of God; and so compelled that they cannot choose but sin and perish." "God
works all things in all men, not only in the godly, but also in the ungodly." And, says Piscator,
"Judas could not but betray Christ, seeing that Gods decrees are immutable; and whether a man
bless or curse, he always doth it necessarily in respect of Gods Providence; and, in so doing, he
doeth always according to the will of God." "It doth, or, at least, may, appear from the word of
God, that we neither can do more good than we do, nor omit more evil than we omit; because
God, from eternity, hath precisely decreed that both should be so done. It is fatally constituted
when, and how, and how much every one of us ought to study and love piety, or not to love it."
Such views could but find opponents in any age. They were early resisted and refuted, but not
destroyed. Various corrections and modifications were invented to make them more palatable,
when, to set the matter at rest as to what Calvin did teach, and what his followers believed, the
Synod of Port took up the subject, and resolved the whole into five articles, which constitute the
standard of what is called "strict Calvinism," and embrace the points of difference between
Calvinists and Arminians. These were very shrewdly drawn, with a view, no doubt, to making
them satisfactory to all parties. But they form a perfect snarl of conflicting doctrines, unless we
construe them strictly in the light of the clear writings of Calvin himself, and pass over those
parts which savor of better sentiments, as a slight sprinkling of honey intermixed with the poison
to catch Arminian flies. Then all is plain and unmistakable. Taking this view of them, these
articles are in substance as follows:
1. Predestination, embracing the election of some to eternal life, and the reprobation of others to
eternal death. 2. The Atonement made by Christ, limiting it to "those who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father, that he should confer on them the gift of faith." 3. Depravity, assuming it to be so deep and thorough that none are able or willing to return to God, without the regenerating grace of the Holy Ghost; thus placing regeneration before repentance in the order of time, and making it indispensable thereto. 4. Free Grace and Free Will, restricting both to the elect; the grace consisting in spiritually quickening, healing, correcting, and sweetly and powerfully inclining the will of the elect to obedience; and the
freedom of the will consisting in the disposition thus begotten to obey. 5. Perseverance of the Saints, assuming, in strict accordance with the preceding views, that the elect, thus called, regenerated and inclined to obey God, "will never totally fall from faith and grace, nor finally continue in their falls, and perish."
The early discussion of these doctrines was not without some good effect. Horror-stricken at their
logical consequences, multitudes deserted the Calvinian standard, and went completely over to
the ranks of Arminians, or halted midway under the command of Baxter. From that time to the
middle of the eighteenth century, ultra-Calvinism, otherwise called Antinomianism, received
little support. But the success of the Wesleys in preaching more Scriptural sentiments, aroused
the cry of heresy, and brought out a class of men, who, under the delusion that nothing could be
evangelical that was not Calvinistic, adopted the Antinomian theory, and stoutly defended it. And
we fear there are some, even now, who hold it as the only pure doctrine of grace, though the
verdict of the Christian world is against it.
Many, however, as Baxter and his coadjutors, while they have taken rank under the general
cognomen of Calvinists, have holden the dogmas of their leader with considerable modification.
Hence, they are called "moderate Calvinists." The points to which they chiefly except are,
reprobation, and the limitation of the atonement to the elect. Yet they mend the matter more in appearance than in fact, since, after all their admissions in favor of Arminian views, there is something lacking in their systems, which is as fatal to the sinners interest, if he is not one of the elect, as the most positive decree of reprobation could be. It has been truly said, that "The main characteristic of all these theories, from the first to the last, from the highest to the lowest, is, that a part of mankind are shut out from the mercies of God, on some ground irrespective of their
refusal of a sincere offer of salvation through Christ, made with a communicated power of
embracing it. Some power they allow to the reprobate, as 'natural power, and degrees of
superadded moral power; but, in no case, the power to believe unto salvation; and thus, as one
well observes, 'when they have cast some fair trenches, as if they would bring the water of life
unto the dwellings of the reprobate, on a sudden they open a sluice which carries it off again. The
whole labor of these theories is to find out some plausible reason for the infliction of punishment
or them that perish, independent of the only cause assigned by the word of God -their rejection of
a mercy free for all and attainable by all." -Watson.
Calvinism was imported into America by the first settlers, and became the established theology
of the churches. But it was not formed into a creed, and made binding, till the year 1648, when
the Synod met at Cambridge, and adopted the "Cambridge platform." In the preface to this
formulary, the Synod avow their concurrence in the "Confession of Faith" adopted by the
assembly of divines which met at Westminster, England, long before. Those who have examined
the Westminster Catechism cannot, therefore, misapprehend the peculiar type of Calvinism under
which our churches were nursed. But this measure was not altogether satisfactory; and the Synod
which met at Boston, in 1780, with Rev. Increase Mather in the chair, adopted the "Savoy
Confession," the distinctive features of which are stated in these words:
I. OF GODS ETERNAL DECREES.
"God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and
unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin,
nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor is the liberty or contingency of second
causes taken away, but rather established.
"Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet
hath he not decreed any thing, because he foresaw it as future, or that which would come to pass,
upon such conditions.
"By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated
unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained for everlasting death.
"These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably
designated, and their number is so definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
"Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was
laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of
his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without
any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the
creature, as conditions or causes nerving him thereto, and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
"As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of
his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in
Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in
due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith unto salvation.
Neither are any others redeemed by Christ, or 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,
whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power
over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sins, to the
praise of his glorious justice.
"The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and
care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his word, and yielding obedience thereunto,
may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall
this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility,
diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
II. OF THE FALL OF MAN, OF SIN, AND OF THE PUNISHMENT THEREOF
"By this sin they, and we in them, fell from original righteousness and communion with God, and
so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of the body.
"They being the root, and by Gods appointment standing in the room and stead of all mankind,
the guilt of this sin was infected, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity, descending
from them by ordinary generation.
"From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to
all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
III. OF FREE WILL.
"God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that
it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to do good or evil.
"Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and do that which was good and
well pleasing to God; but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it.
"Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good
accompanying salvation, so as a natural man being altogether averse from that good, and dead in
sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
"When God converts a sinner, and translates him into a state of grace, he freeth him from his
natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which
is spiritually good; yet so as by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly nor only
will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.
IV. OF EFFECTUAL CALLING.
"All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased in his appointed
and accepted time effectually to call by his word and spirit out of that state of sin and death in
which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ, enlightening their minds
spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and
giving unto them a heart of flesh. Renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining
them to do that which is good, and by effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they
come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
V. OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
"They whom God hath accepted in his beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can
neither totally nor finally fall away from a state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to
the end, and be eternally saved.
"This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability
of the decree of election; upon the free and unchangeable love of God, the Father; upon the
efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, and union with him; the oath cf God, the
abiding of his Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace;
from all which ariseth the certainty and infallibility thereof."
This creed, with the form of discipline adopted at Cambridge, was presented to the general court
the same month, and printed by that body for the benefit of the churches in Massachusetts and
Plymouth colonies. The churches of Connecticut had been subject to the Cambridge platform,
also, which they helped to adopt; but, following in the steps of Massachusetts, they sighed for a
change, which was effected by the synod that met at Saybrook, in May, 1708, and formed the
"Saybrook platform." This body agreed to the Boston Confession, and recommended it to the
General Assembly for their adoption. Thus, Massachusetts and Connecticut were united on the
foregoing basis, and thus they remain to this day, having never repealed or altered, to our
knowledge, a single particular of their published faith. Individuals, however, have seen the
difficulties of the system, and attempted various modifications not known to the original framers;
but, tenaciously holding to its essential features, have been like one beating the air. No
modification of a falsehood can convert it into a truth; nor is it possible for any explanation,
however sagaciously contrived, to justify what is radically and inherently wrong. Dr. Edwards
ingenious discovery of governing men by motives, relieves the system only in appearance. It
attributes the damning power to irresistible motives, and thus only removes the immediate cause
one step further from the primary and efficient cause, which Calvinists recognize to be God
himself. Yet his learned and logical reasoning, on a false premise, had the effect to quiet many
who were unable to detect its fallacy, and keep them along in the profession of doctrines they
could not prove, and did not believe.
The same may be said of the system of Dr. Samuel Hopkins, of Newport, R. I. It came, indeed, in
fearful conflict with the Boston Confession in several particulars; but it maintained the offensive
points of that Confession on other grounds. Of what avail is it to the sinner that the atonement of
Christ is universal, if there are no promises of grace to the unregenerate, or if none have moral
power to repent, and God will give that power to none but the elect? Yet his theory was highly
serviceable to the cause of truth in one respect. Coming from a strong Calvinist, and declaring in
several particulars what the Confession positively denied, it suggested the thought that neither
might be true, and aroused investigation, where all before was settled. Many embraced the new
system, and many denounced it as an innovation not to be tolerated. The pulpit and the press
were taxed to their utmost capacity on both sides. The old party avowed that God is not the
author of sin; the new, that he is. The Confessionists claim that the atonement was limited to the
elect; the others, that it was made for all. While the clergy were trying their strength on these and
kindred topics, the people took the liberty to think for themselves, and had the courage to
renounce the Calvinian system, under all its modifications; some to adopt a system more
agreeable to the Scriptures and universal conviction; and others to plunge into the errors of
Socinians and Universalists.
Another improvement was subsequently attempted by Dr. Taylor of New Haven, who prepared a
sort of hash of the different theories before mentioned, and seasoned it with various borrowed
errors, adapted to suit the popular taste. The denial of natural depravity, as commonly held, and
the assumption of natural ability in man to serve God, and even convert himself, figured largely
in his system. Still he held fast to many of his old opinions, which seemed, after all, to be
paramount. And thus it has ever been, as before hinted. The object has seemed to be, not to
reform their creed, but to conceal its offensive features, or contrive some apology for them.
Calvinism is still the peculiar element of all the modifications named. They are only new editions
of the same thing, under different titles and in different styles of binding. Like opium, in certain
medical practice, it is an essential ingredient in most compounds, however labeled. The lamented
Dr. Fisk classifies Calvinists as follows: "The present advocates of predestination and particular
election may be divided into four classes. 1. The Old School Calvinists. 2. Hopkinsians. 3.
Reformed Hopkinsians. 4. Advocates of New Divinity. By Reformed Hopkinsians, I mean those
who have left out of their creed Dr. Hopkins doctrine of disinterested benevolence, divine
efficiency in producing sin, &c., yet hold to a general atonement, natural ability, &c. These,
doubtless, constitute the largest division of the class in New England. Next, as to numbers, the
New School; then Hopkinsians; and last, the Old School."
The Calvinistic Baptists throughout the country, with some minor sects of Baptists, rank with
moderate Calvinists, though many take stronger ground. The Presbyterians of the south and west,
of the different schools, are much more rigid. They assert election and reprobation, with other
associate sentiments, in the strongest manner, in their confession of faith, and, at times, in their
public discourses. But, in common with all other sects of Calvinists, they have found it necessary
to exhibit their peculiarities with great caution. The people do not generally believe them; and
had they continued to speak out as they spake formerly, on the subjects of election, reprobation,
the damnation of infants, and some other points, it is probable that they would have existed now
only in history.
This whole family of errors we uniformly and most heartily reject, as a dangerous and miserable
combination, suggested by Augustine, but systematized and embodied into a form of theology by
John Calvin, in the sixteenth century. And we rejoice that, though some still cleave to these
views theoretically, they have so far varied their policy, as to pass them in silence, or conceal
them under Arminian phraseology. It is to this circumstance that Calvinistic denominations owe
their success. The very sentiments they disown in theory, are their life. If they must retain their
heretical fancies, we admire their wisdom in letting them sleep in the Boston Confession, and
other formularies, or in clothing them in the Scriptural drapery of Arminianism. We think it
better, however, te renounce them toto ccelo, -to erase them from all the old formularies, creeds, and covenants, and come back to the simplicity of Christ.
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OUR objections to the Calvinistic view of predestination are numerous, a few of which we will
1. It renders all preaching vain. The elect do not need it, their salvation being secured on other
grounds. It is useless to the reprobate, for he cannot possibly be saved. So that, in reference to
both, our preaching is vain, and their hearing is also vain.
2. It directly tends to destroy all religion. We do not say none who hold it are religious. Many of
them are better than their creeds would indicate. But, assuming that every man is elected or
reprobated, from eternity, and cannot alter his destiny, it wholly takes away those first motives to
follow after it so frequently proposed in the Scriptures, -the hope of future reward and fear of
punishment, the hope of heaven and the fear of hell. That these shall go away into everlasting
punishment," and these "into life eternal," is no motive to him to struggle for life, who believes
his lot is cast already. His destiny is fixed, and he cannot alter it; why, therefore, should he try?
"But he dont know what it is!" True; but that alters not the case; he believes it is unalterably
determined, and "what is the use?"
3. It naturally begets a feeling of asperity towards those who need the largest sympathy. All
sincere worshipers philosophically become assimilated to the character of the being they worship.
To contemplate a God who, out of his own will, and merely because it was his own good
pleasure to do so, has created myriads of human beings for the express purpose of tormenting
them eternally, and who will give no other explanation of his conduct, but silences all inquiry by
exclaiming, "Who art thou that repliest against God? shall the thing formed say to him that
formed it, why hast thou made me thus?" can but produce the most unlovely tempers toward
those we regard to be the objects of his wrath. The historian who seeks to account for the fate of
Servetus, and the severity often experienced by the Arminians, and other reputed or real heretics,
at the hand of ultra-Calvinists, need look no farther. One who regards himself as the favorite of
such a Being, may infer, without logical extravagance, that he is doing him commendable service
in torturing those he supposes Him to have hated from everlasting. Many Calvinists have never
suffered themselves to fall into this delusion; but this does not invalidate our objection. The
tendency of the doctrine is, nevertheless, just what we have asserted, but has been counteracted
by other and better principles.
4. It is also calculated to engender enmity toward the Creator. "The carnal mind," we know, "is
enmity against God," independent of any such consideration; but it sees, and often feels, the
injustice of it under correct views of his benignity toward his creatures. In the belief of this
sentiment, one who considers himself a reprobate, not only feels the enmity naturally arising
from his unlikeness to God. but all the revenge incident to unmerited and unmitigated injury and
injustice, and feels that it is deserved. Nor does it admit of the best of feelings in the elect.
Impartial justice disallows of our esteeming a benefactor whom we know to be unkind and cruel
to others. It would seem, therefore, that none but the most conceited and selfish of beings could
enjoy election, associated, as it necessarily is, with the idea that a vast majority of mankind were
made vessels of wrath, and doomed to perdition by mere sovereign caprice.
5. This doctrine directly tends to destroy our zeal for good works. First, as it naturally destroys
our love for those whom God hates without reason; and, secondly, as it extinguishes all hope of
saving them. Is it said, "we do not know who the reprobates are," we reply, but if you believe that
every ones doom is fixed, why trouble yourself about them?
6. It also tends to destroy the Christian revelation. The enemies of religion claim that revelation
is not necessary; and are they not right on this hypothesis? Gods decree is sufficient to save the
elect without it, and to damn the reprobate in spite of it.
It tends to overthrow revelation, also, by making it contradict itself. For it makes parts of it
plainly to contradict other parts, and even its whole scope and design. God says in his word, as if
to vindicate himself against this aspersion, "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,"
that "He is not willing that any should perish," but that "all should come to repentance." This
Calvinists deny, and avow that of his own good pleasure he created some men for everlasting
death. Thus they make the decree of predestination the cause of the sinners ruin, whereas the
Bible attributes it to himself, in rejecting the counsel of God, and refusing to come to Christ.
"Because I have called, and ye refused, [saith the Lord;] I have stretched out my hand,
and no man regarded; I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh?"
7. It contradicts the counsels of God in reference to the atonement. The Scriptures teach us that "God sent his Son into the world, that the world through him might believe;" that Jesus "gave himself a ransom for all;" that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that
whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life." But this doctrine teaches
us that it is not so; God never loved the world, that he gave his Son to die only for the elect, and
that he did not come to save any other.
8. It discards the judgment, or, what is still worse, represents it as a solemn farce. The doctrine of
the Bible is, that God will "judge the world in righteousness," that then "every one shall receive
according to the deeds done in the body." We are premonished that the Judge will say to the
wicked, "Depart, ye cursed; for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye
gave me no drink; a stranger, and ye took me not in; I was naked, and ye clothed me not; sick,
and in prison, and ye visited me not." Thus attributing the rejection of the poor wretches to their
own fault; whereas, according to Calvinism, it is attributable solely to a decree of reprobation,
lying back of their existence, even, determining not only their destiny, but the very circumstances
to which it is to be falsely charged. Now, if this be so, why will they be speechless? For no other
reason, certainly, than that they are deceived, in being made to feel themselves guilty for
answering the exact ends of their creation, and fulfilling the decree of their Maker.
The deception, it would seem, is to be carried out on the other side, also. For the elect are to be
rewarded, whereas they will be no more entitled to reward than the wicked are deserving of
punishment. This doctrine, therefore, represents the Bible as a complicated lie, and the divine
government as a system of fraud and legerdemain. For there can be no reward or punishment, as
there can be no virtue or vice, properly speaking, where there is no moral freedom. And there can
be no moral freedom where evry thing is bound by an almighty decree.
9. It impeaches the goodness of God. Revelation teaches us that he is love -that his love reaches
even to the "evil and the unthankful," "to every man, and his mercy is over all his works."
But how can it be said that he is good to reprobates, the victims of his eternal hatred, whom he
"passes by," and leaves in blindness and corruption, that they may be damned? Does he give
them food? It is but to fatten them for the slaughter. Are they endowed with personal
excellencies? It is to heap coals of fire upon their heads. Is it said, he gives them grace, too? We
ask, what grace? Not saving grace. That is only for the elect. Not grace to convert them, but
merely to convince; not to deprive them of sin, but of excuse; not to make them feel happy, but
guilty, not to remove an evil conscience, but to increase its power of tormenting. Is it not
damning grace? What else can it be? It never has saved a soul, and we are told it never will save
one. And yet, it is made the basis of guilt and punishment.
10. But this is not its worst feature; it is full of blasphemy. We say it with profound regret; but the
truth demands it. It represents "Jesus Christ, the righteous," as a hypocrite, a deceiver of the
people. For it cannot be denied, that he every where spoke as if he were willing that all men
should be saved. But this doctrine represents him as not willing that they should be saved as
mocking the helpless victims of eternal wrath, by offering them what he never intended to
bestow. It represents him as saying one thing and meaning another, as pretending to love which
he had not, and weeping "crocodiles tears" over Jerusalem, under pretense of grief at their
impenitence, when he, had determined that they should be just so impenitent, and be damned,
before they were born, and raised them up for that very purpose.
And as it honors the Son, so it honors the Father. It destroys all his attributes at once; it overturns
his justice, mercy, and truth, at a stroke. Yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the
devil, as more false, more cruel, and unjust. More false, because the devil, liar as he is,
hath never said "he willeth all men to be saved;" more cruel and unjust, because the devil cannot,
if he would, be guilty of creating millions of souls for everlasting fire, to dooming them to its
flames for not exercising powers they never possessed, and that he will not bestow.
But it may be said there are certain passages of Scripture that indicate this doctrine, and cannot
be explained without admitting it. This we deny. But if it were so, it would be better to say that
they have no meaning, than that they mean this. They cannot mean that the God of truth is a liar,
or that he is unjust, or that he is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works. To say of
different passages, we do not know what they mean, is safe; but to construe them so as to
contradict many other passages which are plain and easy to be understood, and thus array the
Bible against itself, and implicate its divine author in purposes he unequivocally disclaims, is
We object to this doctrine, finally, that God has decreed a very different thing, even this: "I will
set before the sons of men life and death, blessing and cursing. He that believeth shall be saved,
but he that believeth not shall be damned." This decree stands fast as the moon, and as the
faithful witnesses in heaven. And it affords high encouragement to effort. It is worthy of God. It
is consistent with every attribute of his nature; it corresponds with the whole scope of revelation,
as well as with all its parts, with the dictates of conscience and the Spirit of God. Thus Moses, in
the name of God, cried: "I call heaven and earth to record against you this day, that I have set
before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that thou and thy seed may
live." And Jesus said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." And St. Paul, "God
cornmandeth all men every where to repent." St. James wrote, "If any of you lack wisdom, let
him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
St. Peter avers, "The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to
repentance." Is not this enough? What could he have said or done more? He denies the charge
Calvinism prefers. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, 0, house of Israel? "Turn yourselves
and live." "Repent and turn from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin." See Wesley on Predestination.
But some will ask, "Did not God foreknow who would reject the gospel, and be lost?" We
presume he did. "But how could he know it, if he had not decreed they should do so?" We
answer, just as he is wise without study or learning, -good, without reform. We depend, for our
knowledge of what shall occur in the future, upon our purposes, and the calculation of the
chances; but knowledge with God is an attribute, no more dependent upon his decree than is his
holiness. His foreknowledge, therefore, can have no more influence in causing the sinners
impenitence and ruin than our after knowledge. Those who suppose foreknowledge and decree
imply the same thing, greatly err. Knowledge with God is an attribute by which he sees future
events; his decree is an act, by which he determines certain events shall occur. To assume that
his knowledge is derived from his decree, implies that there was a period when he was ignorant;
for a decree being an act, cannot have existed from all eternity; but must have been put forth at
some definite time, previous to which, on this assumption, God must have been ignorant of the
thing he decreed.
To foresee an event does not cause it to take place. I foresee, for example, that a certain ship will
run upon the breakers and be lost, because I observe her position and understand the deception
that pervades her commanders mind; but my knowing it, has no influence upon the winds and
tides, nor does it cause the deception of the commander, or the wreck to which it leads. As God
foreknows the sinner's conduct, and destiny, so he foreknew it was unnecessary. He knew that the
same being who rejected the offers of mercy and perished, might have made himself a different
destiny. He had the same beneficent God, the same Jesus, the same atonement, the same Holy
Spirit, the same divine call; but he rejected them and ran the terrible risk of losing his soul. This
doctrine finds no apology in foreknowledge. Seeing what course men would choose, and what
end they would make, one thousand or ten thousand years before they were born, no more caused
them to take that course than seeing the same things ten thousand years afterward.
To evade these objections some claim to hold election only. They say God saw that all had fallen
and become polluted, and determined that he "would have a seed to serve him," and, therefore,
elected some, only passing by others. But this does not help the case. For God to pass by one of
the fallen sons of Adam, and withhold from him his enlightening, softening, and subduing Spirit
and grace, is tantamount to the most positive decree of damnation. Let a mother pass by her
nursing child for a week, and she will destroy it as effectually as if she were to cast it into the
deep. To give men existence, with their natural tendencies, and then pass them by, withholding
the grace necessary to their salvation, amounts to the same as dooming them by an irreversible
To escape this consequence, certain divines have invented what they are pleased to call "natural
ability." Under the old system, man has no ability whatever to repent and obey God, until he is
converted. He cannot repent, even with "common grace." But the new system teaches us that he
can do so of his own natural strength, without grace, and deserves to perish if he neglects it. It is
assumed that he can convert himself, wake himself up, and love God with a pure heart fervently.
This error plunges from one extreme to another in quick succession. But these same divines
concede that no one ever did thus repent, and they have no hope that one ever will do it. So that,
after all, natural ability amounts to just nothing to the purpose, and is, therefore, no ground of
justification to the God of all grace in passing men by. Still, it is often repeated, "men might
repent if they would," "all may come if they will," &c. But this does not relieve the case, so long
as the sinner cannot will to come without special grace, which the elect only receives.
It is also reiterated, in justification of the doctrine, "God might justly have passed by all men."
But where is that written? We do not find it in the sacred records; nor is it true. We admit, with
Mr. Fletcher, "that after Adam fell, and his posterity in him, God might justly have passed them
all by, without sending his Son to be a Savior for any one." "God might justly have sent them,
and us in their loins, into the pit of destruction." But "the great flaw consists in confounding our
seminal state with our personal state; and in concluding that what would have been just when we
were in our seminal state, in the loins of Adam, must also be just in our personal state, now we
are out of his loins." "Is it not contrary to all equity to punish a sin seminally and unknowingly
committed, with an eternal punishment, personally and knowingly endured? For illustration: I
have committed a horrible murder; I am condemned to be burned alive for it; my sentence is just;
having personally and consciously sinned without necessity, I deserve to be personally and
consciously tormented. The judge may, then, without cruelty, condemn every part of me to the
flames; and the unbegotten posterity in my loins may justly burn with me and in me; for with me
and in me it has sinned as a part of myself. Nor is it a great misfortune for my posterity to be thus
punished; because it has as little knowledge and feeling of my punishment as of my crime. But
suppose the judge, after reprieving me, divided and multiplied me into ten thousand parts;
suppose, again, that each of these parts necessarily grew up into a man or woman, would it be
reasonable in him to say to seven or eight hundred of those men and women, 'You are all
seminally guilty of the murder committed by the man whom I reprieved, and from whose loins I
have extracted you, and therefore my mercy passes you by, and my justice absolutely reprobates
your persons, [and leaves you without grace, so that you will personally and unavoidably commit
murder, as did the being from whom you sprung, for which I shall punish you as he deserved?]
Who does not see the injustice and cruelty of such treatment? But if the persons, whom I suppose
extracted from me, are reprieved as well as myself, -if we are all put together in remediable
circumstances, where sin indeed abounds, but where grace abounds much more, -who does not
see that upon the personal commission of avoidable, voluntary murder, [and much more upon the
personal refusal of a pardon sincerely offered upon reasonable conditions,] my posterity may be
condemned to the flames as justly as myself?" Upon these grounds, we admit, God might have
given us up long ago, because we have had and abused the grace that reprobates are said never to
But this supposition of what God might justly have done, implies that his justice may be
separated from his other attributes, particularly his mercy. This, however, never was done; nor
can it be. His attributes are inseparably joined; they cannot be divided without destroying the
Godhead. To say, therefore, that he might have passed by all men, is to say that he might not have
been God. It belongs to the same class of unmeaning assertions with that just now considered in
regard to sinners, viz., they might repent if they would, that is, if they were not sinners, or were
altogether different characters from what they really are.Back to table of contents
FREE GRACE AND FREE WILL
The term grace is employed in the Scriptures to mark different objects. We use it here to
designate all those dispositions, acts, and influences, of the Creator, which were necessary to
endow, and place our first parents after their fall, and all their progeny, in a condition so far to
believe and obey God as to obtain everlasting life. This, of course, embraces a power to will, no
less than to perceive and do. We speak of this grace as free, to indicate that it is not purchased by
man, but bestowed by the mere goodness of God; and that, upon all the sons and daughters of
Adam, in opposition to Pelagianism on the one hand, and Calvinism on the other. That it is free,
in the first sense, is obvious from the fact that the constitution under which the human family was
organized, made no provision for pardon in case of transgression, nor for any thing else but
death. "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." As a transgressor, therefore, man had
no just claim upon his Maker for aught but death. Nor was it in his power to create any other
claim. Hence all man receives better than this is by mere grace or favor.
That it is free in the other sense-free for the whole race-is clearly proved from our remarks on
predestination in the last chapter. We shall, treat the subject here with great brevity, referring
only to a few particulars not before mentioned.
We argue that this grace is equally free for all, from the divine character. God is good. But this is
not a sufficient reason why he should not punish the guilty, because he is just as well as good.
But is it not an infinite reason why he should not punish the innocent? Why he should not make
sentient beings, and place them in circumstances necessitating them to sin, and then punish them
with everlasting destruction for their sins? Why, if in his wisdom he determined to suspend the
penalty of the violated law, and suffer the first pair to propagate their species, he should furnish
them the needful help to work out their salvation?
It is agreed by predestinarians that his goodness did provide for a part of mankind, and that grace
is so richly bestowed on them, they cannot avoid being saved they will be "made willing," and
"brought in." Can any mortal give a good reason why that same goodness did not provide for the
others, also? Were they any worse than the chosen ones? There was no difference. Why, then,
should God love and endow them so richly, and do nothing effectively for others? Is it said that it
was to display his justice? That was to be displayed in the atonement; and besides, it is not a
display of justice, but of the most horrid injustice the human mind ever conceived. hence, to
believe in such limitation of divine grace, we must believe that Gods goodness is not "over all his
works," that he is a capricious "respecter of persons," or was incapable of doing for all what was
necessary to place them in a salvable condition.
The freeness of this grace is equally obvious from the Scriptures in regard to it. The first promise
of redemption, "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpents head," conveys no intimation of
restriction. Nor, indeed, does any other announcement of revelation. Christ was given to the
"world" "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" "died, the just for the unjust" "is
the propitiation for the sins of the whole world " invites all to come to him, sends forth his
ministers to "preach the gospel to every creature "justifies the "ungodly" and is the "Savior of all
men, especially of those who believe." Is it possible that only. a small part of mankind are
embraced in these provisions? The gospel, then, is a lie, and its ministers teachers of falsehood,
and the Spirit a deceiver and tormenter of reprobates by false encouragements and alarms
"before the time." But this is not the case. Let God be true, whatever becomes of human theories.
"God is love." He loved all mankind, and provided for their salvation. All may come, whether
they will or not. The way is open; the Spirit is gone forth; the light that has come into the world
"lighteth every man;" and there is nothing in God, nothing in his election or reprobation, nothing
in the sinners infirmities of intellect, heart, or will, to make it impossible for him to come to
Christ and be saved. No, nothing. For, "the grace of God that bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live
soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world."
One of the first and unconditional results of this grace was the endowment of man with free will,
that is, to refuse the wrong and choose the right. That Adam possessed this in his primeval state,
is evident from the provisions of the government under which he was placed. Without it he
would not have been a proper subject of moral government. But the effect of his disobedience
divested him of it, and left him free to evil only, that is, a slave to the devil.
Hence, we say with the Church of England, in our eighth article "The condition of man after the
fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and
works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore, we have no power to do good works, pleasant
and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a
good will, and working with us when we have that good will." It is when we speak of him as
destitute of this grace that we say he is totally depraved, "very far gone from original
righteousness, and of his [fallen] nature inclined to evil, and that continually." But by the light
that "lighteth every man," and the "grace of God which hath appeared unto all men," he is
redeemed from this low estate, and invested with such a measure of moral power as to be able to
resist his evil propensities, "forsake his way, and return unto the Lord who will have mercy on
him." This is freedom in the only proper sense. It is that attribute in man, which constitutes him a
fit subject of rewards and punishments. It is that, too, which invests the commands,
expostulations, promises, and other appliances of the gospel, with interest and solemnity. That
which lies at the foundation of all our hopes and fears -the grand stimulants of effort; and without
which the human family would be completely unmanned.
Thus, "Free Grace and Free Will" constitute the two grand pillars of Wesleyan theology. The first
enables us to draw near to God "in the full assurance of hope," believing that with him "all things
are ready, that there is nothing wanting on his part to save every man;" the last encourages us to
"preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all
long-suffering and doctrine," believing that man, by the grace of God, is able to choose "that
good part" which shall never be taken from him. The one guards us against the Pharisaic notion
of salvation by works, the other against the Calvinian heresy of salvation without works. Together
they explain and justify "the ways of God with man," and convict the condemned sinner of
Those who assert that these principles detract from the glory of God, must have strange views of
the nature of that glory. Gods intrinsic glory is infinite and unchangeable. His declarative glory,
or the honor he receives among men, is most promoted when his character and government are
most correctly represented. Whether partial grace and reprobating hatred, are more honorable to
him than free grace and free will, every one must judge for himself. We think there is greater
honor in making a free agent, and endowing him with self-determining power, than in making a
mere machine, which acts only as impelled by a foreign force. And can any one doubt that, since
God made men capable of the highest pleasure, there is more glory in giving them all an
opportunity to enjoy it, than in dooming a part to sin and everlasting pain? According to our
theory, God is good, and gives every man his Spirit, and an opportunity to work out his salvation;
is grieved when he will not do so; and casts him off as the last resort. According to the partial
grace and bound will notion, he cast off many before they were born; indeed, made them for this
very purpose. however such conduct may glorify God, any thing analogous to it in an earthly
monarch would expose him to universal execration.
The doctrines of free grace and free will are equally consistent with the sovereignty of God. Our
Calvinistic friends talk about sovereignty as though it were the same as fatality, and entirely
independent of the divine attributes; whereas it results from these attributes, aud is strictly
governed in its operations by them. Because God is a great king, it does not follow that he has not
made all men free agents, and made it possible for them to be saved. It was his sovereignty that
enabled him to do this very thing. He had an undoubted right to make men free agents, and
endow them with grace to serve him, and with power to disobey him, and expose themselves to
everlasting banishment. And, so far as we can see, this was perfectly consistent with his
goodness. To suppose that he would take any measure in regard to the eternal states of men,
merely because he is almighty, irrespective of his moral attributes, is as absurd as to suppose that
he will save all free agents, irrespective of their conduct, merely because he is merciful.
Mr. Wesley remarks, "Whenever God, as a governor, acts as a rewarder or punisher, he no
longer acts as a mere sovereign, by his own sole will and pleasure; but as an impartial judge,
guided in all things by invariable justice. Yet it is true that in some cases mercy rejoices over
justice; although severity never does. God may reward more, but he will never punish more, than
strict justice requires. It will be allowed that God acts as a sovereign in convincing some souls of
sin; arresting them in their mad career by his resistless power. There may likewise be many
irresistible touches during the course of our Christian warfare. But still, as St. Paul might have
been obedient or 'disobedient to the heavenly vision, so every individual may, after all that God
has done, either improve his grace, or make it of no effect.
"Whatever, therefore, it hath pleased God to do, of his sovereign pleasure, as Creator of heaven
and earthy and whatever his mercy may do on particular occasions, the general rule stands firm as
the pillars of heaven. 'The Judge of all the earth will do right. He will punish no man for doing
any thing which he could not possibly avoid; neither for omitting any thing which he could not
possibly do. Every punishment supposes the offender might have avoided the offence for which
he is punished; otherwise, to punish him would be palpably unjust and inconsistent with the
character of God our governor."
These are eternal truths, which commend themselves to every mans judgment and conscience,
and form the basis of all equitable government. So far from their impeaching the divine
sovereignty, they defend and hold it in harmony with all the other attributes which belong to the
Deity. 'They honor the author of all good, exalt man to his proper rank in the scale of being,
reconcile the Scriptures with themselves, and at the same time avoid the errors of Calvinists and Universalists on the one hand, and of Pelagians on the other.
Says Mr. Fletcher, in his able discussion with the Antinomians, "Impartially read any one book in
the Bible, and you will find that it establishes the truth of the two following propositions-
"'1. God hath freely done great things for man; and the still greater things which he freely does
for believers, and the mercy with which he daily crowns them, justly entitle him to all the honor
of their salvation; so far as that honor is worthy of the Primitive Parent of good, and first cause of
all our blessings.
"'2. He wisely looks for some returns from man; and the little things which obstinate unbelievers
refuse to do, and which Gods preventing grace gives them ability to perform, justly entitle them
to all the shame of their damnation. Therefore, although their temporal misery is originally from
Adam; yet their eternal ruin is originally from themselves.
"The first of these propositions extols Gods mercy, and the second clears his justice; while both
together display his truth and holiness. According to the doctrine of free grace, Christ is a
compassionate Savior; according to that of free will, he is a righteous Judge. By the first, his
rewards are gracious; by the second, his punishments are just. By the first, the mouths of the
blessed in heaven are opened to sing deserved hallelujahs to God and the Lamb; and by the
second, the mouths of the damned in hell are kept from uttering deserved blasphemies against
God and his Christ. According to the first, God remains the genuine Parent of good; and
according to the second, devils and apostate men are still the genuine authors of evil. If you
explode the first of these propositions, you admit Pharisaic dotages, and self-exalting pride; if
you reject the second, you set up Antinomian delusions, and voluntary humility. But if you
receive them both, you consistently hold the Scriptural doctrines of faith and works, free grace
and free will, divine mercy and divine justice, the sinners impotence and a saints faithfulness."
Checks to Antinomianism, vol. 3, p. 33.
Hence, those who accuse us of denying the grace of God, and holding to salvation by the merit of
works, greatly err. We teach that man is "totally depraved" by the fall, and owes all he is now
better than that to enlightening and preventing grace. If we assure men that they can repent, and
turn to God, that God will accept and save them upon their doing so, it is because we believe
them already possessed of a measure of grace sufficient for the undertaking. We have no idea
that they have any "natural ability" to choose, or to do their duty in any proper sense; but we do
believe that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," "that grace might reign through
righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." Therefore, they can attend to the word,
break off from their sins, and believe unto the saving of their souls. And this is what the apostle
means by working out our "salvation with fear and trembling." But still, he is not chargeable with
Pelagianism, so long as he holds that God worketh in us the power both to "will and to do of his
own good pleasure."
The state of the case, then, is this: the power to act is of Gods free grace, and it is sooner or later
given to every man; the exercise of that power is of man. Bestowing this, God commands,
"choose life that ye may live," "seek the Lord while he may be found; but man so "rejects the
counsel of God against himself" as to deserve to be cast off for ever. Can any thing be more
reasonable? It the Scriptures teach any thing different from this, we have been deceived, and are
entirely ignorant, both of their import and their object. This view of the subject explodes the idea
of universal election, based upon the general doctrine of Predestination; the "horrible decree" of
Calvinian reprobation, the Pharisaic notion of salvation by the merit of works, and the fancy that
all will be finally pardoned and saved. And yet, like other simple Scriptural truths, many
overlook it altogether, or attempt to patch it up with their own dogmas, to suit the popular taste.
But it will stand fast till heaven and earth pass away. Back to table of contents
THE NEW BIRTH, WITH ITS MEANS AND MANIFESTATIONS.
In tracing the work of grace upon the heart, no one can fail to observe that its operations vary
under different circumstances. Where it is least perceptible, close investigation will detect its
presence, and where most obvious, free will may be observed with equal distinctness. In general,
however, its first impulses prove ineffectual in bringing sinners to repentance. Though often
painful in its convictions, it only elicits a resolve to reform, accompanied, it may be, by an
occasional prayer and transient improvement. So that, instead of resulting in conversion, it
hardens, and creates the necessity for more powerful appeals. It is astonishing to see into what a
state of moral insensibility the sinner plunges, and how entirely dependent he is on the Spirit of
God for that sensitiveness which is necessary to repentance.
According to the Scriptures, people in this condition are "dead in trespasses and sins," in the
"bondage of corruption" under the law of sin and death." They perceive neither the divine claims
nor their own deficiencies. They often fancy themselves "rich, and increased with goods, and in
need of nothing; and know not that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and
naked." Not unfrequently do they congratulate themselves on their morality and even piety, and
thank God they are not "like other men;" and dream of obtaining heaven by the merit of works.
Or, sinking into vice, too palpable and flagrant to admit of so gross a deception, they talk of the
mercy of God as sufficient security for eternal life, and vainly hope to be saved, till aroused to
see themselves in their true character.
The means by which people are awakened are various. In a thousand cases, no two, perhaps,
would be found exactly alike; and yet in all important points they might not be distinguished. In
one, a word of pious conversation was effectual; in another, a powerful sermon, or the reading of
a good book, or some alarming providence. But alike; and yet in all important points they might
not be distinguished. In one, a word of pious conversation was effectual; in another, a powerful
sermon, or prayer, or the read-whatever the occasion, the mind is drawn toward God, to
contemplate religious things, and to use more or less means obtain the pardon of sin, and the
renewing of the Holy Spirit.
"By some awful providence," says Mr. Wesley, "or by word applied with the demonstration of
the Spirit, God touches the heart of him that lay asleep in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
He is terribly shaken out of his sleep, and awakes into a consciousness of his danger. Perhaps in a
moment, perhaps by degrees, the eyes of his understanding are opened, and now first (the veil
being in part removed) discern the real state he is in. Horrid light breaks in upon his soul; such
light as may be conceived to glow from the bottomless pit. He at last sees the loving, the merciful
God, is also a 'consuming fire; that he is a just God and a terrible, rendering to every man
according to his works, entering into judgment with the ungodly for every idle word, yea, and for
the imaginations of the heart.
"The inward, spiritual meaning of the law now begins to glare upon him. He perceives 'the
commandment is exceeding broad, and there is 'nothing hid from the light hereof. He is
convinced that every part of it relates, not barely to outward sin or obedience, but to what passes
in the secret recesses of the soul, which no eye but Gods can penetrate. If he now hears, 'Thou
shalt not kill, God speaks in thunder, 'He that hateth his brother is a murderer. And thus in every
point he feels the word of God 'quick and powerful, sharper than a two edged sword. It 'pierces
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, the joints and marrow. And so much the more,
because he is conscious to himself of having neglected so great salvation; of having 'trodden
under foot the Son of God, who would have saved him from his sins.
"He now sees himself naked, stripped of all the fig leaves which he had sewed together, of all his
poor pretenses to religion or virtue, and his wretched excuses for sinning against God. His heart
is bare, and he sees it is all sin, deceitful above all things, desperately wicked. He feels that he
deserves to be cast into hell. Here ends his pleasing dream, his delusive rest, his false peace, his
vain security. His joy now vanishes as a cloud; pleasures once loved delight no more. With St.
Paul he can say: 'I was alive without the law once; I had much life, wisdom, strength, and virtue,
so I thought; 'but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died; the commandment
which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 'For sin, taking occasion by the
commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me; it came upon em unawares, slew all my hopes,
and plainly showed that in the midst of life I was in death. Wherefore the law is holy, and the
commandment holy, and just, and good; I no longer lay the blame on this, but on the corruption
of my own heart. I acknowledge that 'the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.'"
This is, no doubt, a true picture of the condition of awakened sinners in general; yet many never
see themselves precisely in this light, nor feel the misery here indicated. They know they are
sinners, and are concerned about their souls, but have not that deep sense of sin they desire. They
are unhappy to think that they feel no more, and strive to obtain more pungent convictions. But
they cannot excite the emotion they covet, and often, therefore, tremble, lest they shall never
obtain the blessing they seek; though they are willing to bear every cross, and perform every
Persons who have reached this point are in an interesting state. David was here when in the
horrible pit and miry clay. Saul of Tarsus was here, too, when smitten to the ground by the power
of God, and heard those convincing words, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me." 0, how
subdued! How willing to have salvation on any terms! He objects to nothing; he is ready to sit at
the feet of Annanias, the poor disciple he was commissioned to arrest. Yes, to be led along the
way, to be accounted a fool, to have his honored name aspersed. What an achievement! So it was
with the Philippian jailor. Terrified by the interposition of Almighty God in defense of his
servants, trembling, he fell down before them and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
indicating his readiness to do any thing, to follow their instructions, however crossing and
difficult; willing to obey God, at the loss of all things.
Now, however convictions may differ, they must posses this element to be successful. All must
be brought, not to the same degree of emotion, but to entire submission to the will of God -to the
terms of salvation, and the consequences that may follow. But not willing to be damned, as
Hopkinsians assume. This is absurd and impracticable. No mortal ever came to this, unless it was
some one who had outlived the day of grace, and preferred the companionship of devils and
damned spirits to that of God and his holy angels. There must be no reservation, no partial
acquiescence, no unfaithfulness, no compromise. The sinner must come fully up to Gods terms,
though, in doing so, he has to forsake father; and mother, and houses, and lands, and honor, and
wealth, and even life itself. He must lay all at the feet of Christ, and confess that his only
dependence is on him; that he has nothing to offer but sin, and nothing to expect in justice but
wrath. He must give up trying to make himself any better, trying to atone for the past, either by
good works, or tears, or bad feelings, or long prayers and sighing. The sin he has committed
cannot be mitigated; the blessing he needs cannot be purchased. It must be sought as a mere
favor, that can be bestowed only by infinite condescension. Here he must stand, not discouraged
by darkness or doubts; by littleness of faith or feeling; but holding fast, reading, hearing, praying,
bearing the cross, confessing his need of Christ, and his desire for religion. This is conviction.
This brings us to the consideration of another element in religious experience, not very distinctly
understood, viz.: Faith. This term is used to indicate different states of mind, varying from an
unsettled historical belief of the truth of divine revelation, to implicit trust in God, that he does
now, for the sake of Christ, pardon all my sins, accept, and save me, and love me; that I am now
a child of God, and an heir of heaven.
According to this definition, our faith begins when we begin to believe the Bible and regard its
instructions. Some very daring sinners believe it without a doubt, others believe it with less
confidence, while some, who have been unfortunately educated, or have abused a good
education, only believe it with slight confidence. Some degree of faith is necessary the first
honest religious effort. With no more faith in the Bible than we have in the Koran, not one of us
would feel the least obligation to obey its precepts, or experience the first twinge of guilt for
neglecting them. Of course, we should treat them as we now do the various precepts of
Mohammedanism. How little faith will suffice for the first movement is a difficult question. In
worldly matters we often act at considerable sacrifice, where the evil we aim to avoid is only
possible. For example, we get our property insured, when we know it is only possible that it will
be burned. The evil is so great, we think it better to be secure against the possibility of its
occurrence, even at great inconvenience. Where the evidence that a great calamity will befall us
amounts to probability, we act with still more energy, and make greater sacrifices. For instance,
in guarding against epidemics, what expensive precautions do men use, though there is not one
chance in many that the malaria will effect them in the least! Where an evil is certain to occur,
without specific measures to prevent it, we do not hesitate, nor do we think pleasantly of those
who have the temerity to delay one moment.
Why may we not act on similar faith in the word of God? The least degree of which any one can
boast, does not exclude the possibility of a judgment to come, of heaven and hell. Most wicked
men believe the cardinal truths of revelation; not without hope, indeed, that they may prove false,
but with the same confidence that they believe in the existence of a God. Others believe without a
doubt. They believe that salvation is possible; that if they will repent and come to Christ, the
Lord will have mercy on them. They have no doubt of it. And this ought to stimulate every one to
address himself to the work with all his strength, and never rest till he has demonstrated what he
believes, and experienced its full import in his own heart.
But there is a difficulty. When those whose faith compasses all these things in the cool
deliberation of carnal security, while they see little of the malignity of sin, and feel little of its
guilt, come to view themselves in their true character, and see the depth of their ingratitude and
unworthiness, doubts often rush upon them like an armed man, and they tremble with fear that
the day of grace is past. We scarce ever knew one to be deeply humbled, without faltering on this
point. And sometimes under false counsel, they have gone down into deep despair, not daring to
venture their souls on the mercy of God, and believe unto salvation.
But to go back to the penitent we have described, all subdued and anxious, we remark, nothing
remains for him 'to do now, except to believe. But what is he to believe? This is an important
question. Is it that, perhaps, he shall obtain mercy if he seeks aright? He believed this when he
commenced. We think any doubt here savors more of unbelief than of faith, and dishonors God,
whose promise is unequivocal. Yet the instructions given to penitents by many good, but
mistaken, people of the Calvinistic school, are calculated to create doubt on this very point. "It
may be God will have mercy," say they; "he is under no obligation;" whereas, he has pledged
himself to save to the uttermost all who come to him, weary and heavy laden; and has given
strong evidence of his readiness to do so, by calling up their attention to the subject, and
stimulating them to seek him.
The penitent is to believe, therefore, not only that God is, but that he is the rewarder of all who
diligently seek him. That there can be no failure on his part. And, having examined himself
thoroughly, and taken counsel of God and his people, and being in the way of duty according to
his best understanding, and determined to continue therein, he is to believe that God now
approves of him, and will shine forth upon his heart in attestation of his acceptance. That is, he
must trust in God to save him; to save him just as he is. He renounces his sins, and tries to act the
part of the Christian, but finds no light. Darkness reigns. All hope of saving himself vanishes. His
heart seems to grow harder and harder, and his case more and more alarming. What can he do?
One thing only -trust in God, that he will save, save now -saves. Here is a nice point. The sinner
abandons all his old grounds of hope in despair, throws away his idols, and cleaves to the mere
mercy of god in Christ Jesus, as his last and only resort, and rests all upon it, to "live or die,
survive or perish." Laying himself down thus, in despair of relief from any other source, and
resigning all upon the sufficiency of this to meet the exigency of his case, scarcely does his mind
make the surrender, before he feels himself encompassed in the everlasting arms, and a warming
throb of confiding, assuring joy, come sweetly over his soul, powerfully convincing him that he
is born again. Faith is that act by which he withdraws all trust in every other object, and ventures on Christ.
Its several stages may be marked by a single illustration. The patient at first declines the aid of a physician; but growing worse and worse, and finding his own prescriptions ineffectual, consents
that one be called; but will only follow his advice so far as he deems it expedient. He is not
entirely wanting in faith, but has less in the physician than in himself. At length a prescription is
made at which he demurs. He will not follow it. But finding that his situation is growing more
critical every day, and his own skill is ineffective, and that something must be done or he shall
soon pay the sad debt of nature, and that others in a similar situation have resorted to the
remedies proposed, with the best results, he yields, and is restored. The act by which he throws
himself entirely into the hands of his physician, renouncing his own wisdom, and doing in all
things according to direction, is the final, the restoring act of faith, and it is much stronger than
that which sent for the physician, or adopted his simpler remedies.
This is the faith to which the sinner must come. He may attend to his own prescriptions for a
time, if he will, but they will make him none the better. He may then adopt some of those
proposed by the Physician of souls, but they will prove no more effective than the others. It is
only when he entirely surrenders himself to Christ, to do and be as he wills, that he reaches the
culminating point, and finds the boon for which he sighs; and this is faith.
The gracious result of such a surrender of ones self is the CONVERSION of his soul to God.
This implies two things. 1. That his sins are all forgiven; and, 2. That his heart is renewed by the
"washing of regeneration." The first changes his relation to the law from that of a condemned
sinner exposed to its penalty, to that of a pardoned sinner exempted from that penalty. The last
changes his heart, conforming him to the image of God, and producing in him the fruits of the
Spirit, such as "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness," &c. The first saves him
from condemnation, and unfits him for hell; the last fills him with all goodness, and fits him for
heaven. The one is "a work done for him, the other a work wrought in him." One justifies; the
other "crucifies the flesh, with the affections and lusts," and thus makes him a new creature in
And this is usually accomplished in a moment. Pardon, being an act of God by which he
absolves the sinner from punishment, is instantaneous, by the necessity of its nature.
Regeneration may be gradual, and probably is so, in some cases; but it is often effected as quick
as Christ could say, "I will, be thou clean." This is according to the indications of both Scripture
and experience. Many have passed from extreme fear and anguish, to the brightest hopes, and the
most thrilling raptures, in a moment. Shouts of victory have taken the place of groans and
lamentations, as quick as thought; and smiles of joy have been seen springing from the face of
melancholy, amid a profusion of tears. And it was no deception. The subjects feared, perhaps,
that it was too good to be lasting, and scarcely dared to sleep, lest they should lose it; but found it
more than the meteors glare -an abiding sun; and their subsequent lives attested that the work was
Sometimes, however, the evidence of this change is less sudden, and less satisfactory. Perhaps
the convictions were less painful. But in every case of real conversion, it will be manifested by increased interest in prayer, in reading the Scriptures and other good books, unusual affection for
Christians, and love for the means of grace, accompanied with great power over old habits and
passions, and pleasure in the discharge of duty. Thus, in the first impulses of persuasion that he is
born again, the Christian will have the "witness of the Spirit;" and in the fruits which follow, the
witness of his own spirit, agreeably to Rom. 8:16: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our
spirit, that we are the children of God." By the former we mean "an inward impression on the
soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God ; that
Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I,
even I, am reconciled to God." This, in the nature of things, must be antecedent to the testimony
of our own spirit. Pardon is an act of the divine mind, and is a secret, until God is pleased to
reveal it. Moreover, "we love him because he first loved us," and we never love his word or
people till we are conscious that we love him; and, of course, never bring forth tho fruits of
conversion till we know that we are converted.
This knowledge is communicated by the Spirit, not audibly, nor by apparitions, but by the
removal of guilt and fear, which it has impressed upon the mind, and by producing therein a
joyous persuasion that God loves me, and has forgiven all my sins; a persuasion, generally, that
leaves no more doubt of acceptance with God, than there was of guilt and condemnation before.
As there was no doubt then, so neither is there any doubt of pardon and acceptance now.
Thus we see the progress of grace in the human heart, from the fall to the full accomplishment of
the new birth. Reader, have you been born again? O, remember that in this respect your
righteousness must exceed the "righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, or you can never see
the kingdom of God!"Back to table of contents
There is no doctrinal peculiarity by which Methodists have been more distinguished than that of
Christian perfection. Nor is there one for which they have been more generally condemned. This
may be attributed to various causes. One is, no doubt, that the doctrine has been misunderstood.
It has generally been taken to mean more than was intended, owing, perhaps, to the term itself,
which we are accustomed to apply to the Deity, and which, least of all, designates the character
displayed by the mass of professing Christians. To this we may add the novelty of the doctrine.
Not that it originated with us. God commanded Abraham and Moses to be perfect; and he
commands us, by his Son, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." But
as an article of faith and experience, Methodists have given it a prominence others do not. For,
though many pray for it, few believe in its attainability, and most contend earnestly for
imperfection until death. They bound Christian duties and privileges by the seventh chapter of
Romans, while we insist on those portrayed in the eighth.
The abuse which the doctrine has experienced from its reputed friends, has probably contributed
its full share to its unpopularity. Some, in their zeal, have overdrawn it, so as to make it utterly
impracticable others have taken the opposite extreme, and made it less than we claim for
justification -indeed, rather a license to sin than deliverance from it. This is particularly the case
with a class of Antinomian Perfectionists, which appeared in another denomination a few years
since. Some have given it such a peculiarly sour and unsociable cast as to make it offensive to
most Christians; while others have associated it with so many extravagances of expression and
deportment, so many religious antics and visionary notions, that prudent men have been afraid to approach it.
But all these excrescences do not alter the nature of the thing itself, though they may conceal its
loveliness. The doctrine is still true, and has claims to consideration. Our limits will only admit
of some explanation of our views, and a bare reference to the grounds upon which they rest. We
1. That by Christian perfection we do not mean the perfection of angels. Those glorious beings,
which left not their "first estate," occupy a higher rank in the scale of being, are exempt from
ignorance and enticement to evil, and endowed with such attachments to duty and holiness as
hardly to admit of the least defection.
2. Nor do we mean the perfection which was enjoyed by our first parents previous to their fall.
They were probably as pure as the angels, though less in capacity. They were liable to sin, but
still possessed no inward tendency to it. Nor were they surrounded, as most men now are, with
excitants to sin, or with worldly cares, which engross most of our time.
3. Much less do we mean perfection in knowledge. We are ignorant, at best. How little do we
know of God, of his word or works, of ourselves, even, or of the plainest matters of daily
occurrence! Every advance step we take in this direction but reveals our direction and the more
we learn, the less confident we become that we really know any thing. How little we know of our
brethren and neighbors, -of the claims of justice or mercy, -of our rights, duties, and privileges,
-of our duties to others, or of their obligations to us. Hence, therefore,
4. It does not exclude error in practice. Every honest man will act in the light of his intelligence. If that light be darkness, he will err, of course. The fond mother, acting with all tenderness and care, by mistake administers a poison to her child, and destroys it. Attempting a kindness to a
brother, through ignorance of some circumstances, we do him great injustice. And in thousands
of other cases, we may commit wrong acts when the intention is pure, merely for want of
knowledge. And for this there is no remedy. This arises from intellectual imperfection, and
should teach us modesty; but we may be perfect in a moral point of view, nevertheless; that is,
our purposes may be entirely religious and benevolent, and we may maintain a conscience void
of offence toward God and toward man.
This distinction between errors of judgment and of intention is not always considered in judging of Christians, especially in judging of those who claim to be perfect in love Hence, the doctrine
and its friends are sometimes reproached, when they are entitled to full credit. Mr. Wesley saw
this, and remarked, "Those who are now really perfect in love, may be still an occasion of
temptation to you; for they are still encompassed with infirmities. They may be dull of
apprehension; they may have a natural heedlessness, or a treacherous memory; they may have too
lively an imagination; and any of these may cause little improprieties, either in speech or
behavior, which, though not sinful in themselves, may try all the grace you have; especially if you
impute to perverseness of will (as it is very natural to do) what is really owing to defect of
memory or weakness of understanding; if those appear to you to be voluntary mistakes which are
really involuntary. So proper was the answer which a saint of God (now in Abrahams bosom)
gave me, some years ago, when I said, 'Jenny, surely now your mistress and you can neither of
you be a trial to the other, as God hath saved you both from sin. 'O, sir, said she, 'if we are saved
from sin, we still have infirmities enough to try all the grace God has given us."
5. Nor does it imply a uniform brilliancy of mind and engagedness of heart in the worship of
God. The most brilliant and devotional have bodies like other men, and may find them weary and
dull just at the time they would be zealous and animated in their religious duties. The perfect man
will lament this; but he cannot avoid it. It is rather a physical than a moral evil; and if it is known
to operate similarly in other cases, where the business is of a different nature, it is no argument
against a perfect state of heart before God, though it must be a source of temptation both to the
subject of it and his observing brethren. Our animal spirits sometimes flag, and become bad
conductors of grace, making the good man appear sluggish and wanting in interest. At other
times they flow in excess, and display full as much grace and religious zeal as he enjoys. A well
informed judgment and a settled purpose, are equally necessary in both cases; in the first, to keep
him from becoming despondent and inactive; and in the second, to restrain him from
6. Nor yet does Christian Perfection imply such a degree of faith and knowledge as to exclude an
increase of either, or any other Christian virtue. It rather relates to purity, than to the extent of our powers, and indicates exemption from sin, more than maturity in the graces of the Spirit. One may, therefore, be perfect in our sense of the term, -that is, entirely sanctified, and possess nothing in his heart but good, -and still be limited in knowledge and in general faith. But it is
undeniable, that, where there is purity, there is usually a respectable development of the Christian
We would also remark, that the Perfection we teach relates rather to the essential elements of
piety than to their results to faith and love rather than to joy and peace though the latter ordinarily
accompany it. One may possess perfect faith, and love God and his neighbor perfectly, whose joy
and peace, owing to physical causes, will, at times, be quite inconsiderable and unsatisfactory.
The fond mother, who loves her child perfectly, does not always enjoy it in the same degree.
When we speak of the perfect Christian, therefore, we do not mean one who is in perpetual
raptures, since perfection does not imply this, though raptures are its frequent accompaniment.
We think our views on this point have been misapprehended by some of our best friends, who, in
seeking the blessing under consideration, have looked more to be happy than to be holy.
To be perfect, is,
1. To love God supremely that is, more than we love any other being or thing; to love him with
"all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and with all the mind." But the
anxious reader will ask, "What is love?" We answer: "It is a sovereign preference given to one
above others; a concentration of the thoughts and desires in a single object, which we prefer to others." Should he ask, "What is it to love God, whom we have not seen?" we reply; "It is to
approve, admire, prize, affectionately contemplate, cleave to, and be satisfied with him, in the
character he ascribes to himself; pleased to acknowledge him as our Creator, Redeemer,
Governor, and Judge, and happy in the hope of seeing him as he is, and being like him, and
with him for ever. The sinner contemplates his character with the conviction that it is right and good, but not with affection. It does not please him; much less is he gratified with the idea of
seeing God or being judged by him. But the Christian loves him, rejoices that he is just such a
God as he is, and is delighted in being permitted to regard him as his friend, and in obediently
resting his soul in his everlasting embrace.
To love God, therefore, with all the heart, is to love him to the extent of our capacity, "with all
the strength;" to prize him above every thing else, and cleave to him in our affections, and in
filial endeavors to obey and please him, at the sacrifice, if necessary, of every other good. It is, in a word, to make him our God; and every other love, and interest, and pursuit, subordinate to him. So that we love nothing, desire nothing, and seek no thing, knowingly, but what is pleasing to
him; and commune with him in meditation, prayer, and all the means of grace, with a confidence
and fervor of affection equal to our present susceptibility.
Those who suppose that it excludes the love of relatives, and friends, or a proper regard for
worldly interests and pursuits, are deceived. The divine claims upon us are consistent with each
other. We have bodies, and dependents, to be cared for; we hold relations which involve duties
that would be a burden and a tax in the absence of peculiar affection. This doctrine recognizes
these facts, tempers and purifies this care, and these affections, investing them with a religious
character, and thus making them more interesting and profitable; but always subjecting them to
supreme love to God.
2. It implies, therefore, some degree of intelligence, by which the character of God and the
instructions of his word are apprehended; and that faith, by which they are pronounced just and
true, -adopted, relied on, and brought home to the soul as divine realities, -realized and enjoyed
above all other views and possessions. Love is not blind in this case, however it may be in others.
It lavishes not its fondness upon indifferent objects, upon an "unknown" God." It, at least, has
some glimpses of the divine character by faith, which invests it, in the view of the renewed heart,
with infinite loveliness. Turning from God to his works in the heavens above, and in the earth
beneath and around, its view becomes enlarged. Especially when it considers the plan of
salvation, and contemplates the wisdom and goodness of God therein displayed, does it burn and
throb with peculiar ardor. But whatever its attainments in these respects, they can never reach a
point, either here or hereafter, beyond which there will not be much to learn, and, of course, ample room for love to warm and strengthen.
3. Christian Perfection implies, also, the loving our "neighbor as ourselves," which is the second
great commandment. That is, regarding and treating all men with equity, charity, benevolence,
and affection; otherwise, doing to them as we would that they should do unto us in a reverse of
circumstances. By this rule we are required to forgive their sins against us, bear with their
weaknesses and errors, rejoice in their prosperity, lament their adversity, and in all possible ways
contribute to their improvement and happiness, to the extent of our knowledge and ability, and in
consonance with our obligations to God and ourselves. It therefore excludes envy, for this regrets
anothers talents, excellence, success, or popularity, and involves more or less malignity and evil
desire, if not a positive effort to eclipse and injure. Covetousness, for this inordinately desires the possessions of others, and retains its own with a tenacity inconsistent with our duty to the
destitute and the cause of Christ. Jealousy, for this is a peculiar uneasiness, arising from the fear that another will obtain some good which we desire for ourselves. Emulation, for this would
hinder the progress of others, to secure us the profit or honor of exceeding them. Wrath, for this
is an evil and turbulent passion, which leads to broils and contentions. It also excludes every
other passion which tends to wrong action, and implies all those kind and heavenly tempers
which sweeten and perfect the happiness of fraternal intercourse. Consequently, it excludes all
misrepresentation of anothers views, plans, or feelings; all tale-bearing, tattling, and slanderous
insinuations; every kind and degree of reference to others, which shall detract from their
respectability, influence, or pleasure; indeed, all expressions, actions, and surmises, that we
would dislike to have arrayed against ourselves.
But this is "faint praise." Silence is sometimes the worst kind of injustice. Negative goodness is
often positive evil. We are to regard our neighbors with affection and charity. To speak well of
them when defamed, or, at all events, to give them the benefit of what we know in their favor. To
hear one injured in his absence, and make no apology for him, is to be accessory to the slander.
We wink at the outrage, unless we suggest that there may be a mistake in what has been said, or
that it is only a part of the truth, and ought not to be circulated. Perfect love thinketh no evil, and
is loath to believe evil of others. It will defend them just so far as the truth will admit, and hope
for them when it can say no more. But this is not the extent of its solicitude. It will strive to
improve them, to increase their influence for good, their happiness, and usefulness, and will
rejoice in their promotion. This is a great attainment, but still, by the grace of God, it is
practicable. Selfishness is among the last of Satans strongholds to yield. When we get so far
purged from it as to love God and his cause supremely, and to be willing to occupy any place in
his vineyard, even the least conspicuous and important, if God please, and see others rising above
us in talents and influence, and rejoice in, and contribute to it, with all our hearts, we may be
assured grace has done a great work for us.
4. Meekness is another prominent trait and evidence of Christian Perfection. By this, we mean
mildness, "patience in tribulation; suffering severe provocation without feeling anger, or revenge;
entire self-control." So that, "being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being
defamed, we entreat; and are made the filth of the earth, and the off-scouring of all things,"
without the least disposition to retaliate.
It embraces patience, too, under afflictions, disappointments, and grievances; excluding all
murmuring, fretfulness, and complaint. Not that we would have no choice, if the matter were left
to us; for we should, of course, prefer ease to pain, prosperity to adversity, friendship to hatred,
&c., other circumstances being equal. Those who represent the perfect Christian as without
choice, do the cause injustice. Piety does not destroy his natural appetites; I mean those which are
not sinful in themselves. Bitter is still bitter, and sweet is sweet; and if he were left to choose, he
would take the latter now as ever. But if God chooses the bitter for him he prefers it, as best, and
enjoys it, often, as though it were - sweet, and possibly even better. So he prefers health to
sickness, prosperity to adversity; but if the latter fall to his lot, he is reconciled, knowing that they
are wisely appointed, and shall be graciously overruled for his good.
5. We add, it implies purity of motives. But by this we certainly do not mean motives which have
no reference to ourselves. The idea of "disinterested benevolence" we regard as a mere fiction of
imagination. It is utterly impracticable, and if it were not, it would be fatal. God has endowed
every man with a degree of self-love which is essential to his being, and to which all the motives
of the gospel appeal. It is difficult to act without some reference to it. To study our interest only,
or chiefly, is selfishness; to seek the good of others to the neglect of ourselves, is recklessness.
There is a happy medium lying between these two extremes, where the claims of all are properly
balanced and respected. Here the perfect man plants himself, and acts at once so as to please and
glorify his Maker and Savior, to benefit his fellow men, and promote his own spiritual and
eternal interests. He makes every thing earthly bow to these objects, and lays himself out in such
efforts as may seem right and expedient.
6. It also implies rigid obedience to all the divine commands, so far as they are known. "He that
committeth sin [knowingly] is of the devil ;" and "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit
sin." The perfect Christian strives to do every duty, however crossing. The language of his heart
is, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." And when duty appears, he goes straight forward in it,
whatever the difficulties or the cost. If he is in doubt, he seeks all the light the circumstances will
permit, and thou follows it; endeavoring, if he errs at all, to err in favor of Christ and his cause,
and against the claims of the flesh. So that he can say, when he retires at night, and that from an
enlightened conscience, and a critical review of his conduct, "I have lived in all good conscience
before God this day; "and lay him down in the full and joyous assurance that "to die is gain." And
this obedience is not the drudgery of an unwilling heart, extorted by a solemn conviction of duty,
and of the painful consequences of neglecting it. O, no! it is the outgushing of a mind strongly
disposed to it, not by resolution merely, but by a free and cheerful impulse. "This is the love of
God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous.
7. Finally, it is a state of conscious union with God, and of delightful correspondence with him.
Free from guilt, for all his sins are pardoned, and he has the "witness of the Spirit with his spirit,
that he is a child of God; "free from the power of sin, for sin no longer has dominion over him;
free from the love of sin, being cleansed from the filthiness of the flesh and spirit," he is free
from all inward impulses thereto, though not free from the temptations of the devil. He walks in
the light, rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, having his heart, thoughts, and
conversation, as it were, in heaven, and feeling the glorious presence of an all-surrounding Deity.
And this, not for a day, or during the calm of congenial circumstances, or the occasional
visitations of revival influence, but for days and weeks, and years, even, of diversified life,
embracing the most embarrassing duties, and the most painful sufferings.
But this is not a different religion from that which every one experiences in being truly
converted, or born again. That is, not different in its nature. It is rather the same work carried on to perfection. If that sanctifies partially, this completes the work; if that extracts many roots of bitterness, this extracts the whole; if that is a great achievement, this is the greatest of all. The resemblance between the two is so striking, many have regarded them as ane and the same work.
This was the doctrine of Count Zinzendorfs followers, and it is no doubt believed by some now
with considerable confidence. Mr. Wesley so far conceded it, as to admit that one might be
entirely sanctified in the moment of conversion, but denied that this was the order of divine
grace, or that it often occurs. His sermon, entitled "Sin in Believers," was designed to
demonstrate his views. Our church has followed him in this particular, and holds entire
sanctification, or Christian perfection, as a distinct work, usually effected sometime subsequent
to conversion. Yet we do allow, that, where the penitent is properly impressed with a sense, not
only of his guilt, but of the corruption of his nature, and embraces the atonement by faith as an
all-sufficient remedy for both, he may be entirely sanctified at the same instant he is pardoned.
This view, we believe, is in strict accordance with the sentiments of the universal church
throughout the world, and in all ages, except the few cases above named. However, there need be
no strife on this subject. If we are saved from all our sins now, if we feel no emotions, and
perform no actions, contradictory of this, and have the joyous attestation of the Spirit to our
hearts, it is a matter of little consequence whether we experienced it at the time of our conversion
or subsequently. If we are not thus saved, it is time we were crying to God for help, and seeking
him with all our hearts. Facts must take precedence of theories. It is of no more advantage to us
that we were sanctified in our conversion, than that we were not until a year or two after, or never
were, if we are destitute of the blessing now; nor is it any good reason why we should not seek it
now. Nor does the doctrine of sanctification as a second and distinct work, afford any
encouragement to unsanctified professors to regard themselves justified Christians, while they
are living in any known sin, either of omission or commission; since no one is justified in
remaining in an unholy condition a single minute after he discovers the fact that such is his
condition, without striving to escape from it. To retain sinful tempers, and indulge in practices
we know to be wrong, and still flatter ourselves that we are justified, is a delusion. We are not
justified, but condemned. Yet we may be justified, and feel certain lusts and evil desires, or
thoughts, if we strive against them, and come to Christ to have them cast out. There is, therefore,
no justification, and, of course, no security, but in the positive enjoyment of the blessing under
consideration, or in earnestly seeking it. One who knows he is not sanctified, who feels wicked
tempers, indulges in loose and uncharitable conversation, and does not strive against sin, and
sincerely seek to be purged from all the corruptions of "flesh and spirit," gives good evidence that
he is not a Christian, that he is under condemnation, and cannot enter heaven without repentance;
though he may be a minister, a leader, or steward, and be prompt in the outward observance of all
the ordinances of the gospel. Who, then, is to die and meet the Judge? Reader, let us examine the
grounds of our hope, and see if, after all, we are not building, on the sand.
The great objection to our views on this subject comes from another quarter. Other
denominations generally assume that complete deliverance can be expected only at the moment
of our demise, and that then it will be accomplished in all believers. This is the main point of
difference. All agree that the Bible requires us to be holy, that we should constantly aim to
become so, that we can become very much better than we are at present, that no line can be
drawn this side of entire holiness, beyond which it is not possible to go, and that we must be
holy, or never enter heaven. But here we part.
The possibility of attaining this blessing is argued from various considerations, a few of which
only will be noticed.
1. It is the will of God that we should be holy. God cannot look with pleasure upon sin in any
degree, or in any place. 2. He has, therefore, enjoined holiness upon his creatures. "Be ye,
therefore, perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." 3. He has provided for this in the
atonement "For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his
own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the
righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the
Spirit." The object of Christs mission was to save his people from their sins, to "destroy the
works of the devil," "that we, being dead to sins, might live unto righteousness." There are,
therefore, "given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be
partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." 4. The Spirit, and its associate gifts, were bestowed upon the church for this very object. "He
gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;
till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect
man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more
children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men,
and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." Again: "For this cause I bow my
knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would grant you, according to the riches
of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell
in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend
with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of
Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." 5. The prayers dictated by Christ aim at the same result. "Thy will be done in earth as it is in
heaven." "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through thy
word; that they all may be one in us. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that
they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in
one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved
me." If the will of God should be done, if Christ should dwell in believers as the Father dwells in
him, agreeably to this prayer, would they not be perfect in love? 6. The attainability of this blessing is evident, also, from the prayers of inspired men. "Epaphras,
who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers,
that ye may stand perfect in all the will of God." "Now the God of peace, that great Shepherd of
the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work, to
do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ." 7. Some of old did attain the blessing. St. Paul says of himself: "I am crucified with Christ;
nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but "Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I
live by faith on the Son of God." "Ye are our witnesses, and God also, how holy, and justly, and
unblamably, we behaved ourselves among you that believe." St. John, the loving disciple, was
evidently an example of Christian perfection. Speaking from experience, no doubt, he declared:
"Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as
he is, so are we in this world." "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear."
If this doctrine has created some prejudices against us, if it has occasioned some of our members
at times to be extravagant in word or deed, .and thus brought upon us undeserved trials and
reproach, it has, on the whole, been an infinite blessing. The church has enjoyed more religion
than she would have done under different views, though, in common with others, she has fallen
far below her own standard. There has never been a time when we have been without witnesses
to this glorious truth; and these witnesses, where they are consistent and reputable, are the moral
strength of the church. They have sustained our prayer, class, and other meetings; have spoken
when others were silent, believed when they doubted, and have held on when their brethren were
discouraged and gave up in despair. Long may such characters grace our assemblies, and
exemplify the truth as it is in Jesus.
Back to table of contents
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
Error, like some fruit, grows in clusters. Ignorance is contented to stand alone, with her back to
the truth; but error is more active, and stumbles on in the direction she looks. Thus Calvin,
having embraced the doctrine of particular election, found it necessary, to be consistent, to
assume that of the infallible perseverance of the saints; that is, that those whom God has elected,
called, and renewed, cannot so far fall from grace as to perish everlastingly. This is regarded by
Calvinists as a very precious doctrine, and held with the greatest tenacity.
But Methodists have ever viewed it as a deduction from false premises, without Scripture
authority, and, therefore, not to be countenanced. We do not deny that every converted soul may
and ought to persevere to the end, but rather that every one does so. In our opinion, the argument
is against it; for,
1. Thus saith the Lord, "When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth
iniquity, in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he
die." He immediately adds, to show that the death named is eternal, and not temporal "When the
righteous man turneth away from his righteousness. and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them,
[temporally,] for his iniquity that he hath done, he shall die," [eternally.] The whole scope of the
chapter seems to aim at the same point; viz., to prove that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die," and
this does not mean the body, certainly, for that will die whether we sin or not.
"When I shall say to the righteous that he shall surely live; if he trust in his own righteousness
and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for the iniquity that he
hath committed, shall he die." -Ezek. 33:13. What could be more explicit? And how strange does
such language sound in connection with that which avers, that one who has been made truly
righteous, can no more die in his sins than Gods word can fail.
2. The testimony of Christ is to the same effect. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved."
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." John 8:51. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that
beareth not fruit, he taketh it away." "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is
withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." John 15:1&6.
Do these announcements indicate nothing? Does Christ mean to be understood, after all, that his
disciples can never prove fruitless or neglect his sayings, so as to be taken away, and cast into the
3. The apostles testify to the same thing. St. Paul had no doubt of Timothys piety, and yet he
exhorted him: "War a good warfare, holding faith and a good consciences which some having put
away concerning faith have made shipwreck: of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I
have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." Tim. 1:8& 19. Of Alexander he afterwards says, "he did me much evil. The Lord shall reward him according to his works." 2 Tim. 4:14. He exhorts the Romans, "Be not high-minded, but fear; if God spared not the natural
branches, take heed lest he spare not thee. Behold the goodness and severity of God! On them
which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou shalt be cut off." Chapter 10:20, 22.
Another apostle says: "If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the
knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome,
[a contingency which all admit to be possible,] the latter end is worse with them than the
beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after
they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them." 2 Peter, 2:20 &
In the epistle to the Hebrews we read, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and
have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, if they fall away, to
renew them again to repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put
him to an open shame." 6:4 & 6. And, "the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my
soul shall have no pleasure in him." 10:38.
We make no comments upon these Scriptures, because they need none. They speak for
themselves; and any man, not blinded by a creed he is anxious to support, need not err therein.
Nor can the most acute reasoner so explain them as to destroy their testimony against the dogma
of infallible "perseverance." And yet they are but a small part of the passages of similar import
that might be adduced.
In perfect agreement with these announcements, is the argument to be derived from free agency.
If men are free agents at all, they are not less so, as Christians, than they were before their
conversion. As the grace of God did not and would not compel them to repent and believe the
gospel. as sinners, so it will not compel them to be faithful as Christians, much less infallibly
"renew them again to repentance," in ease they should "draw back." This is entirely contrary to
the divine economy, both in relation to free grace and free will, and equally so to the declaration of God, that he will "have no pleasure" in those that "draw back." If a Christian be a free agent, surrounded as he is by temptations and worldly allurements, and perhaps not entirely cleansed
from the corruptions of flesh and spirit, he is liable to fall into sin. This is admitted on all sides. He is liable also to continue in it, despite the remonstrances of conscience and of God, and to die in his sins, agreeably to the testimony of the Lord by Ezekiel. Hence he is liable to lose his soul for ever.
We might argue the possibility of final apostasy from frequent examples, were it not for the
courage of our opponents in meeting all such cases. If we refer to one who gave unequivocal
evidence of piety, but is now deeply sunk in vice and corruption, they reply, either that he never
was converted, or that he will be "brought in." If such an one dies without being restored, they
avow he never was a Christian, and read us a lecture on the danger of being deceived. If the
thought of dying wakes him up, and he seems to repent and be restored, they construe it into a
lively proof of the truth of their doctrine, and lecture us on the faithfulness of God. So that, like a
heathen priest consulting his oracle, they make these circumstances to testify just as they please,
and always to favor their own fancies, however strong the probabilities against them.
Nevertheless, we cannot altogether lose the benefit of this class of evidence. Their mere
statement weighs nothing. In all these assumptions, as, for instance, that a backslider dying
impenitent, never was, therefore, a Christian, they beg the question, and merely assert what they
ought to prove. What is the evidence that he was not a Christian? Simply that he was not revived
and renewed again before his death. We might just as reasonably say the man never lived,
because he died. But this will not do. For one to die impenitent no more proves that he never was
converted, than that he never was born. To test this point we must look at the evidences of
conversion, and see whether he possessed them in sufficient clearness, -how long they continued,
&c., -was he truly awakened and humbled, did he take up his cross and come out from the world,
and follow Christ, -did he faithfully abstain from every known sin, and perform every known
duty, -did he claim to experience a change of mind from sorrow to joy, from enmity to love, love
to God, and his people, his word and worship, -did this change appear in his life, spirit,
conversation, associations, business, and other deportment, -did he lead a life of prayer and
devotion, so that the more experienced Christians thought him, indeed, a "bright and shining
light," and rejoiced to take him to their fellowship? If so, with what face can any one claim he
was not a converted man? The Master says, "By their fruits ye shall know them." Not by the
doubtful indications of the last flicker of life, but by their spirit and conduct in their more
Now, many have been known to give just this evidence -all that any one could reasonably ask for
himself or his brethren -and after a term of years, by a change of circumstances, they have been
led astray, one step after another, until they not only lost the spirit, but the form, of religion, and
became its deadly enemies, and died relentless. They bore the first fruits of piety in public and
private -they enjoyed the assurance in themselves, that they were born again, and clearly
evidenced the same to others; and even after their decline, looking back upon their experience,
they believed and confessed that they were converted. Is this all to pass for nothing? Why so?
The only objection to its genuineness is, they fell away from God, as did our first parents, and
died without repentance. But this cannot be allowed. Such kind of reasoning is a burlesque. We
must pay some deference to the evidence of experience and observation, or reasoning is out of
the question. These men gave as good evidence of being Christians, as they did of being sinners,
before or afterwards.
But what is still more unreasonable in these asserters of perseverance, they apply the same
assumptions to Scripture characters, irrespective of consequences. For example, it is said Judas
was never a Christian, though called to the apostleship, and sent forth as a "sheep among
wolves," and entrusted with high responsibility in regard to the great interests of religion,
because, in an hour of temptation, he betrayed his master, and died, so far as we know, without
pardon. But Peter, though he lied out-right, cursed and swore, publicly denying his master, was a
Christian, even in the midst of his crimes, because he afterwards repented. Other cases are
disposed of in the same way.
But this seems to be charging a little too much to the Son of God; and it denies the only infallible
test of character which he has given us, viz., its fruits. To believe that Christ called a devil to the
apostleship, and flattered him with so many endearing titles, and other intimations of his entire
confidence, as he did, exceeds our credulity. If he was a hypocrite, the Savior knew it at the time
he called him. But he treated him as a real friend, promoted and caressed him as a disciple
indeed. Thus, in trying to sustain this dangerous notion, Calvinists implicate the honesty of him
in whom there was no guile; and holding Peter a Christian, while he displayed such incontestible
marks of a sinner, they leave us in utter confusion as to who are Christians, and who are not. For
aught we can tell, if this assumption be well founded, the man who raves in falsehood and
profanity before us, may be a saint, while his apparently humble and pious neighbor is a
hypocrite and a devil. A system which leads to such consequences needs the very strongest proof to command our confidence.
In view of the facts that Judas was appointed to the highest office in the Church, and clothed with
power "against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all
manner of disease," and sent forth to preach the kingdom of heaven, raise the dead, and cast out
devils, and to be hated of all men, with the promise if he should "endure to the end" he should be
saved, and the encouragement that the hairs of his "head were all numbered," and treated in other
respects by the Savior as his own familiar friend," till just before the betrayal -I say, in view of
these facts, we are constrained to believe that Judas was at first, and for most of the time, a
sincere Christian. There was no encouragement to be a hypocrite at that age. It cost too much.
Those who would be Christians were required to take up their cross and follow Christ, forsaking
father and mother, and all else. None were received on any other terms.
To suppose that he was sincere, but deceived, is unreasonable; for, if this were the case, Jesus would have pointed out his error. Besides, it is intimated that the matter of betrayal was a sudden
thing, and originated not in the malice and forethought of a murderer, but in the devil. Says St.
John, "supper being ended, the devil having now put it into the heart of Judas to betray him," &c. -Chapter 12:2. And, in the twenty-seventh verse, he says, "after the sop, Satan entered into him." It was not a thing he had been planning; nor is it more marvelous that he was tempted and
overcome, than that Peter should conduct as he did. Some claim for him that he was looking after
the money, and did not intend that his Master should be crucified, but supposed he would
exercise his almighty power, and escape out of their hands. Hence they account for his agony
when Christ was condemned. If this were so, it modifies his conduct a little; but, viewing it in its
worst aspect, it is not inconsistent with the idea that he was previously the real FRIEND of
Hymeneus and Alexander furnish other examples of apostasy, and the latter evidently died
without mercy, however it might have been with the other. They had "faith and a good
conscience," which they "put away," and thus made "shipwreck." St. Paul saw and mourned their
fall. He knew his own liability, and feared that he might commit the same fatal error. "I keep
under my body," says he, "and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have
preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." But why fear becoming a castaway. He knew he had passed from death unto life." He had not seen Jesus, and been caught up to the third
heaven, to no purpose. He as well knew that he was converted, as that he was formerly a
persecutor. Why fear, then? The truth is, the apostle had never heard of the Genevan theology. He
had only been taught from above, and felt, as he preached and wrote, that there was danger of
falling fatally out of the way.
Yes, say Calvinists, there is danger of falling, but we shall be brought back. This is the very thing
to be proved. "God will not suffer his dear children to perish." We admit it; but when they turn from him, they are not his "dear children," but children of the devil, whose works they do. "But
the real Christian will not entirely forsake him." Let us see. Adam was made in the image of God,
yet he fell; and certain angels, which "kept not their first estate," "are reserved in everlasting
chains, unto the judgment of the great day." Why, then, may not Christians fall? God loved these
angels, and our progenitors, as much as he loves us, and had as much power to uphold them.
But does not God say, "My loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my truth to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that has gone out of my mouth. I have
sworn in my wrath that I will not fail David?" Verily, but what does it prove? Simply that God is
true, and will never fail to fulfil his engagements. Yet he did fail David. He did "alter the thing that had gone out of his lips." He "abhorred and cast off his anointed." He did "break the
covenant of his servant, and cast his crown to the ground;" clearly showing that the covenant was
conditional, and the fulfilment on the part of God depended on Davids fidelity. But David
proving recreant to duty, God was "wroth," and cursed his anointed, instead of blessing him; but
at the same time blessed the church, notwithstanding the infidelity and overthrow of its political
This suggests two mistakes Calvinists are rather under the necessity of making, in construing the
Scriptures in reference to this particular, as well as several others. First, they have to apply
promises made to the church, and statements made of her in her organized capacity, to
individuals; and, secondly, to construe those which do not distinctly express a condition, as
unconditional and certain as the decree of God can make them; whereas, what may be true of the
church, as such, may be utterly false of an individual; and what is so often expressed in the Scriptures as the condition of salvation, should always be considered as implied in the few places where it is not expressed. The promise of God to the Jews, his ancient church, that he would
bring them to the land he had described, was fulfilled, yet many individuals perished by the way.
What Jonah preached was also true of impenitent Ninevah; but it implied such conditions, though
none were expressed, that when the people "believed God," and repented of their sins, they were
Some suppose that the unchangeability of God is an argument for the perseverance of the saints.
But not so. The failure of any to persevere does not imply a change in Him. He purposed to save
none except such as should "hold out to the end." But is he not faithful. Certainly he is, and will redeem all his promises when their conditions are performed. He is prompt in helping us to work
out our salvation, and will be equally so in rewarding all whom he can address as "good and
faithful servants," and in punishing those who will not have him to reign over them. Thus far his
promises are "yea and amen," and can never fail to those who embrace them by faith, and comply
with their conditions.
Was St. Paul "persuaded that neither death nor life, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature,
should be able to separate him from the love of God, which is Christ Jesus our Lord?" It was
because he knew as his day so his strength would be, and he intended to be faithful. Others may
have had the same "full assurance;" not because they believed it impossible for them to backslide
so as to perish, but because they knew God would never leave nor forsake them while they lived
as they were then doing, and as they designed to live to the end. Paul also said, "We are not of
them who draw back unto perdition;" but this, so far from proving that no Christian can thus
draw back, plainly implies that some do so.
That it is the will of the Father that all he has given to Christ should be saved, is most certain; but
it by no means follows that they will be saved. The Fathers will is not done in many cases. He
wills that sinners should repent and live, that believers should cleanse themselves from "all the
filthiness of the flesh and Spirit;" but they do not. He willed, also, that Christ should keep all he
gave him; but one escaped, and was lost, notwithstanding the tears, prayers, and watch-care of his Master and his brethren.
"What! a child of God go to hell?" Never! But if one who is such now, "trust in his own
righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered, but in the
iniquity he hath committed shall he die." The judgment will decide the destiny of men according
to the character they bear when arrested. To plead that we were once Christians, will rather
condemn than justify us; for the greater the light abused, the greater will be our guilt.
"Then Christ is dead in vain." Not altogether. Many will continue to the end, and be saved,
though others trample the blood of the covenant under their feet, as an unholy thing." "My
comfort is then all gone." Poor soul! If your comfort rests on this imaginary ground, the sooner it
is gone the better. This leaning upon the doctrine of decrees for religious comfort, is miserable
business. Those who hope God has predestinated all to salvation, those who limit his election,
with all who are hoping to be brought in at some future day, are in a dangerous position. The only
safety is in being saved now; in having "the witness in ourselves" that we are "new creatures in
Christ Jesus," that we are "born of the Spirit." This gives us "peace in believing and joy in the
holy Ghost." We know that we are the children of God, because we love God, and keep his
commandments, "and his commandments are not grievous." No old hope will suffice.
Confidence that we shall be restored and die well, is presumptive. Trusting in predestination is to
lean upon a fragile reed, that will pierce us through with many sorrows. There is no safety but in
coming to Christ, and "abiding in him, as the branch abides in the vine."
We have spoken thus frankly, because we believe this doctrine of certain perseverance is of very
dangerous tendency. Its influence on believers is similar to that of Universalism on its votaries.
Both declare, "Thou shalt not die;" and the difference is, one addresses itself to all mankind, and the other to a part. We know it is said, the Christian serves God from disinterested motives; but
that is contrary to all experience, and the whole tenor of Scripture. Others suggest that the
delights of religion are sufficient to command our devotion to its claims, without the additional motive of escaping perdition; but observation does not confirm it. Such are the influences in operation to lull us to sleep in sin, we need all the motives of the gospel to - keep us from
plunging into the world, and destroying our souls.
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We refer to this subject more to define our position as a people than with the design of discussing
the various topics it suggests. And this is necessary, because there is such a diversity in the
opinions of good men, and such tenacity on the part of many, in reference to matters of the least
The word sacrament is derived from the word sacrament turn, which signifies an oath. It was adopted by the Latin church to designate the ordinances of the gospel to be observed by
Christians, by which they solemnly pledged themselves to obedience. Romanists maintain that
there are even sacraments enjoined, viz.: baptism, the Lords Supper, confirmation, penance,
extreme unction, ordination, and marriage. They insist, too, that there is virtue communicated in
them when administered by a priest with good intention, if not opposed by a mortal sin in the
recipient, though they be received without faith, or any purpose of amendment. Thus they make
their benefits to depend on the nature of the ordinance, and the will of the administrator, and not on the subject, any farther than that he be not guilty of mortal sin.
Socinians, to keep the farthest possible distance from these absurdities, take the ground that the sacraments are in no wise different from any other religious ceremonies; that they are merely
symbols of spiritual grace; but appealing to the senses in a way to revive the recollection of past
events, and excite pious sentiments, are of great utility. They also consider them important as
badges, by which to distinguish Christians from other men, and as furnishing an expressive
method of publicly professing their faith in Christ.
This, we believe to be correct, so far as it goes; but it comes short of the whole truth. Protestants
generally agree that the sacraments of baptism and the Lords Supper (for they reject all others as
Romish inventions) are not only signs of inward purposes and grace, and pledges of obedience,
but seals of Gods covenant with us, and standing memorials of his promise to communicate grace to all who remember and seek him in all the appointed means. We hold them, therefore, as
express institutions of God for specific purposes, the right observance of which he stands pledged
to crown with his blessing. And herein they differ from a mere ceremony, which may or may not
be employed with success, and which may be exchanged for something else, or be abandoned, at
I. OF BAPTISM.
Upon this subject we remark:
1. That the obligation of baptism arises from the example and command of Christ and his
apostles. The commission given to his first ministers is explicit: "Go and teach all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Not with the Holy Ghost, as the Quaker would say, but with water. Thus the apostles understood it, and thus they practiced. Hence Peter exhorted the anxious multitude on the day of Pentecost, "Repent.,
and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye
shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost;" showing that baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost are
two different things. While he spake to Cornelius the Spirit descended; whereupon he said, "Can
any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost, as
well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." John declared, "I
baptize you with water;" and the eunuch said to Philip, "See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Indeed, the Scriptures abound in allusions of this nature, which indicate the
apostolic practice, and our duty to be baptized, beyond reasonable doubt.
2. The nature of baptism is to be ascertained from the same source. Taking the place of
circumcision, as is easily proved, it is an outward sign of our covenant relations to God. First, it indicates that we are in a state of acceptance and reconciliation with him; and, secondly, it marks and ratifies the mutual pledges subsisting between him and his people; he, to be their faithful God, and they, to be his loving and obedient children. Instituted by him, it's a visible assurance of his faithfulness to his covenant engagements; and submitted to by us, it is that act by which we
become parties to the covenant, and solemnly bind ourselves to live according to its stipulations.
Thus, in baptism, we die unto sin, cease from all fellowship with, and affection for it, and live
unto Christ, reclining upon him, expecting to realize the fulfilment of all his gracious promises.
The personal benefits of baptism to adults, therefore, depends not so much upon who administers
it, as upon the honesty and faith of the recipient. If he understands the nature of the transaction,
and submits himself fully to the claims of the covenant to be ratified, not doubting the
faithfulness of God, it will bring life and peace to his soul. But if he is wanting in these
particulars, it will profit him little or nothing, whatever the character or faith of the administrator.
3. Its subjects. In respect to the proper subjects of baptism, we pretend to have made no
improvement. Adult Christians who have not been baptized, are universally acknowledged to be
eligible. We believe, also, with the general church in all ages, that infants are proper subjects; a
position which most Baptists discard. But why not? Are they not in the very state indicated by the
ordinance in a state of justification by the mercy of God, who lays not the sins of their parents to
their charge, nor holds them guilty for their evil tendencies ? Who can doubt it? If, then, they
have the thing signified if they are the Lords, belong to his spiritual family, and are candidates for his kingdom why not give them the sign; put the Lord mark upon them, and let them afterwards know that they were consecrated to him from the birth?
Besides, God is the same, and his main design has be the same, under all dispensations. The
Abrahamic and Christian covenants are one, in their nature and object. Under the first, children
were brought into covenant with God by circumcision, the baptism of that dispensation, and the Lord strongly indicated displeasure if it was neglected. Why should they be left out under the second? As baptism is the covenant sign under the Christian, as circumcision was under the Jewish dispensation, we can but administer it to our children, indicating the divine promise to us
in relation to them, our own interest in their spiritual welfare, and our faith that they legitimately belong to the family of the redeemed, and are entitled to all the benefits claims of the covenant. And we are encouraged in this practice, by the fact that Christ manifested such deep interest in
children, and blessed them, that the apostles baptized whole households, embracing, no doubt, a
considerable number of them, that for the first three hundred years the practice was general in
the church, and from the year 400 to 1150 no society of men pretended to say that it was
unlawful, and, finally, from the fact that the earliest Christian fathers, whose writings have come
down to us, declare that they received the practice from the apostles.
The objection that there is no express command for it, is of no weight. There is no such
command for immersion or sprinkling, none for women receiving the sacrament, and many other
duties; but we hold them obligatory, and observe them on account of circumstances which
enforce them upon us with all the authority of an express command. Nor is the objection that it
does no good of any importance. It certainly does as much good as circumcision did to Jewish
children. Besides, our not perceiving the good that is to accrue from the observance of a divine
ordinance, is not a sufficient excuse for neglecting it.
But does not the New Testament say, "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved?" Verily,
but it does not say that none shall be saved or baptized, who are incapable of believing. This was spoken of adults, none of whom, at that time, had been baptized; as Christian baptism had never till then been instituted; and we think it requires faith in all such to constitute them proper
subjects of baptism. But this does not touch the question. Infants are not required to believe, are not capable of it; and yet they are objects of Gods love, and are proper subjects of his salvation, and ought to be distinguished by the mark he puts upon his flock.
4. Of the mode of baptism. This ordinance being designed to indicate an inward grace, by which
the subject is in a state of acceptance with God, no one mode can be claimed as being more
expressive of its design than another.
Baptists speak without authority, when they assume that it was instituted to symbolize the burial and resurrection of Christ. We have no such intimation in
the Scriptures. This is a controversial invention to furnish some reason for exclusive immersion;
but, wanting authority for its premises, it avails nothing.
The commission given by Christ to the apostles, "Go ye into all the world," &c, by which
Christian baptism was instituted, indicates that baptism consists in the religious application of
water to the candidate, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It does
not specify the amount of water necessary, nor the manner of its application, because these were
matters of little moment; but the name in which it is to be applied is given at full length. We say, therefore, that baptism consists not in any one mode, but in the application of water in the proper name. And this is amply supported by the meaning of the original term baptizo and its
derivatives, which, according to the best authorities, is restricted to no mode, but admits of
sprinkling, pouring, immersion, &c. This was the reason why our excellent translators chose to
anglicize the word, rather than to translate it. There was no word in our language that admitted of
the same latitude of meaning, and to have employed one of less compass, as the Baptists have
done in their late translation, would have been to misrepresent the teachings of the Holy Ghost.
In this view of the subject, Methodists concur in the prevailing sentiment of the church, and leave
candidates to make their own selection in regard to the mode; gratifying them therein, by
plunging them into the water, pouring or sprinkling it on them, as they may prefer. Hence, some
go down into the water and are immersed, others go down into it and are sprinkled, or poured,
and all come "up straightway out of the water" together, having answered a good conscience and
followed the Scriptures. Others, believing that the baptisms which occurred at Jordan and
elsewhere, in the open air, were rather accidental as to the place, it not having been sought for
this-purpose more than the jail was sought for the baptism of the jailer and his household, and
having no intimation in the Bible that Jesus or his apostles ever left the place where they were
assembled, to find conveniences for immersion, they receive the ordinance in the house of God
where they hear the word and believe.
Thus we preach and practice. Those who insist on immersion or nothing, and some who allow
immersion to be Scriptural, but will baptize only by sprinkling, complain that we have no
principles; but they mistake us. Our principles are fixed and definite, and by following them we
avoid the extremes of our opponents exclusive immersion on the one hand, and exclusive
sprinkling on the other and unite those in the bonds of Christian union who would be immersed
themselves, but have no disposition to require it of others; and those who would not be
immersed, but are willing that others should be, if they prefer it.
The arguments on this point are before the public in so many different forms, it is unnecessary to
refer to them here.
5. Baptism is not a prerequisite to the Lords supper. The idea that Christians are not eligible to receive the emblems of the body and blood of Christ, however pious, till they have been baptized,
is a device of Close Communion Baptists, that has no foundation in Scripture. We have no
evidence that the first partakers of this sacrament had themselves been baptized. Indeed,
Christian baptism was not instituted till afterward. Nor have we the slightest intimation, among
the numerous allusions made to it, that it was a necessary qualification for the other sacrament.
That baptism was usually administered soon after believing, and previous to the Eucharist, is
probable. So it preceded many other duties, as it does now; but that it was a necessary
qualification for the Eucharist is another thing. There is not the slightest evidence of it, any more
than that it was a prerequisite for the other duties it preceded. Hence, we regard young Christians,
who have had no opportunity to be baptized, but who purpose to be, as soon as practicable, as
suitable candidates for the Lords supper as any other. Because they have not attended to one
ordinance, for the want of opportunity, we do not feel authorized to exclude them from another.
And yet the general practice of the church, to baptize converts soon after they believe, and prior
to their going to the Lords table, we have no doubt, is a prudent arrangement. But it affords no
justification of Close Communicants, in excluding all Christians from their table who will not
consent to be plunged by their own ministers.
Those who wish to examine this question critically, will find all needful assistance in the writings
of Robert Hall, who, though a Baptist, repudiated Close Communion as unworthy of a place in
the Christian Church.
II. OF THE LORDS SUPPER.
On this subject we need say but little. Our views are entirely Protestant, and do not essentially
differ from those of other evangelical denominations. We generally receive the elements on our knees, because we think it more appropriate; but if any prefer to receive them sitting or standing, they can do so. The ordinance is usually administered in our regular stations the first Sabbath in each month, and it is desired that all our members, and other Christians who may be present, should partake. Those only who have experience on this subject can appreciate the high spiritual advantages the ordinance is calculated to secure.
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