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."
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
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 original character.
"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 incomprehensible, judgment."
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:
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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. Back to table of contents
OUR objections to the Calvinistic view of predestination are numerous, a few of which we will enumerate.
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 impious.
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 decree.
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 receive.
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
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 destroying himself.
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
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 known duty.
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 Christ Jesus.
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 divine.
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.
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 fire?
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 & 21.
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 deliberate moments.
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 Christ.
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 head.
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 spared.
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 importance.
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 pleasure.
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.
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.