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To those who are convinced that all men are lost sinners, in absolute need of a Saviour, and that all things are ready in Jesus Christ for the complete salvation of every believer; a more important question can scarcely be proposed, than that which relates to the warrant and nature of saving faith. At first sight indeed the subject appears very easy: and a reflecting person, conversant with the holy Scriptures, and unacquainted with controversy, will seldom be much perplexed with difficulties respecting it. But men have so bewildered themselves and each other by speculations, and controversies have been so multiplied and managed; that the simple testimony of Scripture is frequently disregarded, or even wrested from its obvious meaning to establish preconceived opinions: while the authority of men is appealed to, in support of evident deviations from the plain meaning of the inspired writers.
These are obvious sources of mistake and perplexity; and another may also be properly noticed. Pious men, who never intended to form a party,
have been so grieved by witnessing the fatal effects of prevailing errors, and so haunted with the dread of more extensive mischief; that they have been driven into the opposite extreme, as the only effectual remedy. Thus, able and valuable persons, in their zeal for or against certain opinions, write 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 reacting 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 later 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 observing the practical effects of the different opinions, attempted with great ability to stem the torrent. But in doing this, they seem to have gone rather 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
President Edwards, Dr. Bellamy, &c.
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 imbecility 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 seem to mention 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 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 hypocrites or
self-deceivers, whom God will own as real though weak believers; and thus "they quench the smok"ing 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 forgot that there was danger lest they should root 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 invite them to be'lieve?' 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 man* See that admirable work, Edwards on Religious Affections.