« PreviousContinue »
more like special pleaders, than calm enquirers after important truth. Their arguments are consequently often inconclusive: their opponents readily discover where they are most vulnerable: and then by acting the same 'part, they lay themselves open to similar retorts. In the mean while, the minds of numbers are perplexed instead of satisfied: and much disputation about matters stated in Scripture with great simplicity and perspicuity, serves to cherish a sceptical spirit among the more unconcerned witnesses of the contest.
In the early part of the present century, the doctrine of justification by faith in the Son of God was comparatively but little attended to in this country: and the honoured instruments, whom God employed to revive a more general knowledge of it, were naturally led to insist on the important subject with peculiar earnestness, and in the most energetick language. Some of them were so fully engaged in active services, as to have little leisure for study and if they sometimes dropped an expression, in the vehemence of an honest zeal, which was capable of misconstruction; every candid man must acquit them of intending any thing unfavourable to practical godliness, which they eminently promoted and exemplified.— But men arose afterwards, who attempted to establish unscriptural systems on a few of their detached expressions, and on their fervent addresses to large and affected auditories; or at least to support such systems by their authority and very respectable persons have been led to patronize and sanction their mistakes.-Indeed this was no more than re-acting the same scenes, which had been exhibited by the first reformers from popery, and some of their successors; in whose writings, the substance of almost all the controversies of these late years was fully discussed.
While matters were taking this turn in England, some eminent divines in North America', who had deeply studied these subjects, and had abundant opportunity of
I President Edwards, Dr. Bellamy, &c.
observing the practical effects of the different opinions, attempted with great ability to stem the torrent. But in doing this, they seem rather to have gone too far; and to have thrown impediments in the sinner's path, when endeavouring with trembling steps to come unto the gracious Saviour. Perhaps they insist unduly on the necessity of a man's seeing the justice of God in his condemnation as a transgressor of the holy law, before he can believe in Christ to salvation; whereas allowing it, or submitting to it, seems to be all that is absolutely necessary, though not all that is desirable or attainable. In other instances likewise they do not seem sufficiently to distinguish between seeing and believing. They appear, to me at least, not to make sufficient allowance for the imbecillity of natural capacity in numbers; their want of education and habits of reasoning; the erroneous and partial instructions afforded them; the effects of custom, prejudices, and associated ideas; and the small degree of life, light, faith, and grace, which may subsist along with a large proportion of error and inconsistency. They ascribe many things merely to natural principles, excited by the common influences of the Spirit, which the Scriptures represent as the effect of renewing grace. They reject, as wholly selfish, such exercises of faith in Christ and cries for mercy, as the word of God in its obvious meaning unreservedly encourages; and sometimes they seem to intimate, that an almost total disregard to our own happiness is essential to true grace. They do not in all instances clearly distinguish that wise and holy self-love, which God originally implanted in our nature, to which he renews us by grace, which is the measure of our love to others, and which seeks its happiness in the enjoyment of God alone; from that carnal, apostate, and foolish self-love, which is the consequence of the fall, affects independence on the Creator, and seeks its gratification from the creature.-In short, some of their principles, if carried to their full and legitimate consequences, would condemn many as false professors, whom God will own as real though weak believers; and thus “they quench the smoking flax, and break the bruised reed.".
-Perceiving that "while men slept, an enemy had sown "tares in the field;" they seem to have been too earnest to root up the tares, and to have been in danger of rooting up the wheat also: not duly recollecting, that they cannot be wholly separated in this world, but must be left to grow together until the harvest."
On these grounds a general prejudice has prevailed against their writings; and the very important instructions contained in them, which equal, and perhaps exceed, any thing published in modern times, have been comparatively disregarded: so that few derive from them those advantages, which they are eminently suited to afford; especially to the pastors of the church, in respect of the essential difference between genuine experimental religion, and every kind of counterfeit '.-At the same time a controversy has been strenuously maintained in another part of the church, (in its present lamentably divided state) Whether it be the duty of sinners to believe in Christ?' And whether ministers ought to exhort and in'vite them to believe?' Nor can it be denied that the reasonings of those, who have taken the negative side in this dispute, have a very bad tendency. They deter ministers from addressing their hearers in the manner, which the Scriptures exemplify; they quiet the consciences of the careless and irreligious, as if neglect of Christ and his salvation were their misfortune not their crime; they advance principles, which render it necessary for men to know themselves converted, before they begin to pray for spiritual blessings, or to apply for salvation; and thus they perplex the minds of awakened sinners with doubtful disputations, till "the devil comes, "and takes the seed out of their hearts, lest they should "believe and be saved."
These things being so, we need not greatly wonder, if they, who justly consider the gospel as glad tidings of free salvation to the chief of sinners, take the alarm: and if any of them, in the warmth of their zeal, drop incautious expressions, capable of misconstruction and
See that admirable work, Edwards on the Affections.
perversion to bad purposes, it is no more than has generally occurred in similar cases. And should a bystander, who has derived much instruction from the writings of several persons, engaged on all sides in these controversies, endeavour, in the spirit of meekness, to state what he considers as the scriptural medium on the controverted points; he surely need not be apprehensive lest such men should say, "Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us ?”
In the quiet recess of his study, the author of these pages has long and seriously examined the subject; and he has carefully noticed the effects of the several opinions, on the spirit and conduct of those who maintained them, and on the minds of such as were mere spectators of the contest. And several persons, who have favourably received his other publications, have expressed a wish for his explicit sentiments respecting it. He therefore feels himself in some respects required to give the result of his enquiries, and to assign his reasons for differing in a measure from those, who have written on both sides of the question. He is well aware, that great candour, caution, and impartiality are requisite so to state his views, as to give no just offence to any party concerned. He has well considered, and may indirectly answer, the principal objections and arguments, which have on all sides been advanced against the doctrine he maintains: but he purposes to decline all direct controversy. He means not to support his sentiments by any human authority, (though many of the writers of the last century would fully bear him out, perhaps in every particular;) but he would singly abide by the testimony of Scripture. The general subject will be divided into two questions, "What is the sinner's war"rant for believing in Christ?" And "Is saving faith an holy exercise of the heart, or no?" These two questions are far from coincident; and the want of duly distinguishing them introduces much perplexity into men's reasonings and discourses on the subject.-Many other sources of ambiguity and misapprehension will be
adverted to, as the work proceeds: and perspicuity will above all things be consulted; for the author greatly desires to be clearly understood, that the reader may be enabled to perceive whether or not his views be scriptúral and his arguments conclusive.-He needs only add, that he most earnestly recommends to every one, who feels difficulties on the subject, to weigh what is advanced in the spirit of prayer; that the giver of all wisdom may enlighten his mind, and prepare his heart to receive the truth in love; and to rectify every mistake into which he may have been betrayed, as far as it impedes his comfort, fruitfulness, and usefulness in the world.