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tume as he himself prefers. In short, true magnanimity bears patiently and meekly with those who differ from us in opinion, in cases not regarded as altogether unimportant. But on the other hand, these causes of difference must not be of an essential or fundamental nature ; for there can be no magnanimity in refusing to testify against such differences, or 10 oppose them in every lawful and
proper Plain and open-hearted frankness is, beyond all doubt, a very important requisite, in order to heal the breaches which are made by religious disputation. The moment that any real ground is afforded for apprehension that a religious champion is 'crafty and would catch us with guile,' that moment our confidence, and in a great measure our respect, are spontaneously withdrawn. It is not in human nature to do otherwise than to withdraw it, under such circumstances. It is, moreover, a just retribution. But, on the other hand, wbile every man should be open and frank, this is no good reason why he should be pugnacious, or assuming, or overbearing, or passionate. There is some medium iter, which good sense and kind feeling and a proper regard to our own infirmities bid us to choose. It is certainly very evident, that a man who rears as his only banner that which is inscribed : Contend earnestly, and folds up and lays aside that which is inscribed: The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men. . . in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, will fight, not the good fight of faith, but the battles of passion and prejudice and dogmatism. How often is one constrained, who looks with an attentive eye on the contests of party spirit
, to ask: What difference is there between the spirit of combat on the arena of religious controversy, and that on the arena of fashion and bonour ? The weapons of the former are not, indeed, the pistol, or the rifle, or the sword; but they are not unfrequently the envenomed arrows of deadly tongues and of poisonous breath, which are designed to smite and to slay with secret wounds, where the open sight of blood would excite sympathies fatal to the cause which is thus defended. There may be gladiators full of the odium theologicum, who would be duellists in another position where they sustained another and a different relation to society.
In almost all great disputes, there is, moreover, one party, if they may be so called, who are perhaps not very numerous por prominent, and yet have some distinctive and palpable characteristics. I mean those who possess, or profess to entertain, a real apathy as to what is going on, and incline to neither the one side nor the other, just as long as the contest seems to be undetermined. These take to themselves the credit of being peaceable or peace-makers; and they express their wonder how any can interest themselves in disputes about matters of religion. Perhaps some of them really possess the indifference which they profess. But in process of time it usually turns out, that they were waiting only to see on whose side victory would declare itself. When the great questions are apparently decided, they some how find themselves to have been all along agreeing with those who are now the majority; and they at last profess to be convinced, that the majority are in the right. All this they make palatable to themselves, and put it to the account of duty, by naming it 'a waiting to see the manifestations of Providence.' But these manifestations, it will be remembered, are always sufficiently plain, whenever either party has attained to a decided, triumphant, and apparently permanent majority.
If now one should ask : What would Luther, Calvin, Zuingle, Jewell, Cranmer, and the whole host of martyrs, have done for the church on such grounds as these ? the question would be a very perplexing one to this sort of peacemakers. The real truth of the matter after all is, that many such, I think we may truly say, most of such, refrain from forming an opinion on controverted subjects, because it will cost time and hard labour to becoine so well acquainted with them as to make up an opinion which they would feel able to defend. It saves a great deal of labour, as any one may easily see, not to meddle at all with such matters; and it saves, at least it seems at first view to save, our reputation too, when we can put all this to the account of a peaceable and peace-making disposition of mind, and persuade others that such is the fact.
Much better and more truly Christian is the course of those, who diligently apply themselves to gaining the requisite information concerning all disputed subjects which are matters of interest to the church, and who, when they have acquired so much light as to satisfy their own minds, think and act for themselves, but do it with kindness and charity toward all who may differ from them. “ Prove all things ; hold fast that which is good." No modern casuistry has been able to improve upon this ancient maxim.
In the course of almost all great disputes, there are times when the voice of reasoning and argument will not be heard. Should one approach parties contending in mortal combat, while they are actually engaged in contest, could be expect the voice of cool reason and remonstrance to be heard ? Can reproof be administered to an inebriate man when under the full influence of the stimulating poison? It is plain that none but empty efforts could be made at such a crisis. Even so with angry disputants on the arena of theology. When they have made up their minds for deeds of violence, can they be dissuaded by the voice of discussion? They have already discussed in their own view); at any rate, they have already decided ; the path of duty appears to them to be open and plain, and it must be trodden, as they judge, let the obstacles be whatever they may.
Yet after a few rounds of contest, and after they have come off beaten, or if not, yet wounded and bleeding, the time at last arrives, while the wounds continue long to annoy and cripple them, when their ears will be open to the questions : Was there sufficient ground for such a contest ? Has any thing important been gained by it? Is it probable that any thing important with respect to the real good of the church and the world, can be gained by it? Whenever such a period does arrive, we may hope that fair and sound and friendly discussion will do some good; and it is the duty of those who are able to enter into it, to use their efforts in order to settle controversy, by endeavouring to pour in light upon controverted topics.
No experienced reader of polemic theology can be ignorant of the fact, that a great proportion of the disputes which have existed, or now exist, among sober and enlightened men, in relation to theological subjects, have arisen from defective and erroneous definitions. One believes, for example, in the doctrine of original sin ; another, who is still a full believer in the total depravity (as rationally defined) of the unregenerate, denies this doctrine. Dispute ensues; it may be fierce, embittered, proscribing controversy. After all, original sin has not, from first to last in the dispute, been fully, fairly, and explicitly defined. Had this been done as it should have been done, the dispute, in all probability, would have never existed.
Each party, in the case now supposed, admits in all important respects the same facts, and the same essential consequences of them. They differ however about words, or rather about definitions ; and if they proceed to dispute, it must of course be more about words than things.
Am I correct in this representation? I believe that I am; and if I can persuade others to think so, (many, I well know, believe it already and do not need to be persuaded), one part of our contentions may be at least diminished, if not entirely done away.
I would fain hope that I may haply obtain an audience among some of my brethren, who have persuaded themselves that they differ from what are called the New England views of theology in respect to the nature of sin, when I tell them, that I am going to introduce, on the present occasion, one of their old and familiar acquaintances, in order that he may be heard in respect to the question: What is sin? I intend to place before them the thoughts of a man, whose high orthodoxy none will call in question, and who is deservedly viewed, by all candid and discerning judges, as one of the greatest and best men that have adorned the church since the period of the Reformation. That man is the celebrated Campegius VITRINGA of Franeker, whose praise is in all the churches, and who has justly won a renown which will endure as long as piety continues to flourish.
The passage which I have selected from him for translation, may be found in his Observationes Sacrac, Lib. VI. c. 15. The Essay, of which my translation contains a part, was occasioned by a publication of Peter Poiret, a learned enthusiast, which is entitled Cogitationes Rationales, printed near the commencement of the 18th century, in which the author strenuously maintains that sin is merely a negative thing, i. e. is not any thing positive and real.
In order to come in a conclusive way to the consideration of the subject, Vitringa occupies nearly the whole of the first part of his Essay in making out the definition of sin. This being done, he goes on with an overwhelming argument against his antagonist.
That part of the dispute which is occupied with immediate discussion respecting the positive or negative nature of sin, would be irrelevant at the present time, and quite needless. My object therefore is, to translate only so much of Vitringa's Essay as relates to definitions respecting the nature of sin. These are appropriate to the exigencies of our times, and will be listened to, as I would hope, with great respect by all parties. At all events, the thoughts of such a consummate theologian and critic as Vitringa, on such a subject, are well worthy the attention of our religious public.
The reader will see, that before the author gives his own
definition, he passes in brief and rapid review over several of the leading definitions of the times which had preceded. I have deemed it proper to present this part of his Essay, as well as the other, because it helps us to iake a more complete view of the whole ground.
VITRINGA ON THE NATURE OF Sin.
Observatt. Sac. Lib. VI. c. 15.
(1) “ Moral good and evil are the opposites of each other. The latter may be regarded as a habit, in which case we call it vitium; or as an act, in which case we name it peccatum. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans and sometimes elsewhere, by quadria designates vitium or habitual sin, i. e. vicious habits deserving of condemnation, under the sway of which the unregenerate man performs his actions.
(2) John designates both kinds of sin by the word avoula, i. e. the withdrawing of one's self from the control of law, and consequently from the control of the lawgiver ; which is repugnant to the dictates of right reason.
This word (avouia] is not employed by the classic authors. These commonly make use of rupavouia instead of it.
Habitual sin, in the order of nature and time, precedes sin in the act, which may be scripturally defined napapuois toū vópov, or a violation of the divine law.
(3) The definition of sin by Augustine, viz., Concupitum, cogitatum, dictum, factum, adversus divinam legem, is faulty, because it does not comprise the sin of neglected duty, which is commonly named the sin of omission.
(4) A learned man (Poiret) has lately said, that sin, generally considered, means that which is indecorous, incongruous, inconsistent with itself or with its condition. This seems to me in
A dependent being who sins, is not inconsistent with himself, but acts in a manner repugnant to the law. He who sins is not inconsistent with himself, unless he himself is the rule of action. But creatures are not a rule for themselves; nor is their condition a rule ; but God, or whatever makes known his will, is the rule. The state of their being is not a rule, unless as determined by a law. Such a sin, therefore, [as M. Poiret describes), can be imagined in no being but a Supreme one, if indeed the condition of such a Being admitted of sin. But this cannot be supposed, without horrible blasphemy.
SECOND SERIES, VOL. I. NO. II. 35