« PreviousContinue »
sometimes been hinted, that the the apostolical model, yet it is scriptures must be very obscure, certainly carrying the matter by since so many contradictory much too far, to make any one opinions are derived from the of them essentially necessary to same source : but this contro- the existence of a Christian versy may shew us, that no church. God hath been pleased words are so precise, as that an to bless the labours of Presbyteingenious disputant may not at- rians, Episcopalians, and Indetach to them a meaning different, pendants: May we not then nay, even opposite, to what they adopt the reasoning of Peter conwere originally intended to con- cerning the Gentiles, that as vey. Their expressions might God appears to make little difnot be so accurate, nor the line ference among these, so to insist of distinction so minutely defin- that any one of them should, in ed, as after the subtile disquisi. all cases, be submitted to, would tions on the Arminian point; be to tempt God, and wreath a but the sentiments of the leading burdensome yoke around the reformers, on the important doc- necks of our brethren, trines of the gospel, were nearly The Arminian controversy the same. At a subsequent pe- may be reckoned the third, by riod, not only their pious bish- which the Protestant church was ops, but even the House of Com. divided. Previous to the accesmons, rejected the Arminian in- sion of James, the doctrines of terpretation, classing it with that predestination, and of the perseof the Jesuits.
verance of the saints, had been Another, and perhaps more opposed ; but it was not till after important controversy among the synod of Dort, that divines Protestants, was concerning the began to range themselves un. form of church government. der the banners of Calvin and This broke out before the close Arminius. James displayed a of Elizabeth's reign ; and was fiery zeal against the Arminian first agitated between the Epis- party in Holland ; but at home, copalians and Presbyterians, and as they did not oppose the arbiafterwards with the Indepen- trary measures of the court, they dants. James had long labour- were highly favoured, both by ed to introduce a species of himself and his son. Towards Episcopacy into Scotland ; and the close of the 17th century, from the time of his ascending Arminianism, somewhat modithe English throne, his purpose fied, was supported by Barrow was more avowed, and his at- and by Tillotson ; and without tempts more open. The same reproach, it may safely be affirmcourse pursued by his son, with ed, that during the 18th century, other concurring circumstances, the sentiments of by far the produced those dreadful calami- greater part of the English clerties, by which the middle of the gy, have been at least Arminian. 17th century convulsed. The topics brought under disOne form of church government cussion in this controversy are may be better adapted to promote far more important, than those the purposes of edification than formerly mentioned, and ultianother, as well as nearer to mately resolve themselves into
the question, Whether the glory and extensively diffused through of man's salvation ought to be the body of the people. Onc ascribed only to the Creator, or, thing may with safery be affirmin part at least, is due to the ed, that religion has not that creature ?
hold of the public mind, nor that Soon after the commence- influence over individual conduct ment of the Reformation, the di- which it once had. vinity of Christ was questioned From this brief review, which, and opposed. During the 17th though very imperfect, is, I hope, century, the opinions of Socinus so far as it goes, just, it appears were favoured by few in Britain. that our progress has been, from In the early part of the last cen- questioning things indifferent, to tury, several persons began to proceed to those of importance ; speculate on these points, who from what is important, to those in general appear to have adopt- which are essential ; till at last ed the Arian hypothesis ; but revelation itself is by many asfrom the middle to the close of sailed and rejected. In every the century, Socinianism met science, some first principles are with many open and avowed de- necessary, on which the whole fenders ; and its progress among superstructure is raised. In the people, it was boasted, was geometry there are certain ax, rapid and extensive. As this ioms on which all the reasonings controversy respects the object are founded. If, instead of purof worship, and the method of suing the high speculations of acceptance with God, all who this science, a mathematician are not wholly indifferent to re- should exert himself to overturn Jigion must admit, that it reaches the axioms, he might in this disto the very foundation of vital play great ingenuity, but the tengodliness.
dency of his labours, instead of Lord Herbert has long been advancing, would be to involve accounted the father of our En- the whole science in uncertainty. glish deists, and though his off- The sacred scriptures are the spring has been exceedingly nu- foundation on which divines build merous, few, if any of them, have their systems, and they furnish excelled him in ajility, or equall- the materials of which these sys. ed him in propriety of conduct. teins are, or ought to be con He did not absolutely deny the posed. But, if instead of holding possibility, or even the existence last these, as our forefathers did, of revelation ; but overlooking and of imitating their example man's peculiar situation as a sin- in explaining and illustrating ner, unhappily supposed, that thein, we are chiefly employed the light of nature could discover in discussions about the truth of all that it was necessary for us to res elation, this shews that our know. During the last century, movements instead of progres a great variety of deistical publi- sive have been retrograde. cations appeared in England' ; It is not meant that Christianiand at present, it is supposed, ty is unsupported by evidence, or that infidelity is pretty prevalent that its evidence ought not to be among the literary and philo- stuclied; but from the language sophical part of the community, frequently used, we might be tempted to believe, that if not ab- place to their successors, which solutely to question the truth of grasp a more extensive range, or revelation, yet to controvert its are recommended by the ingenupeculiar doctrines, and to treat its ity of their principles, or the elewriters with little respect, are re- gance of their expression. Were ceived by some as sure marks of they fixed on a solid basis, such the progress and improvement changes would be unnecessary of theology. But does theology and hurtful. Few are now disadmit of no improvement ? It posed to call in question the NewCertainly does; though I am tonian theory, and if no such afraid we are apt to be misled, agreement is found in morals, it by what took place at the Reform- arises from the reluctance men ation, and by the successive the. have to admit the principles of ories, which have been started scripture, and the impossibility of in moral and natural science. At finding a true foundation whilst the Reformation, a great and these are rejected. Truth ad. astonishing change took place in mits not of change, and it is the the theological systems; and we glory of Christians, that it is not are ready to imagine, that, to car- subject to the fluctuating fashions ry on the progress of what the of society. If we have the scripReformers so happily commenc- tures exactly as they were left ed, it is necessary for every suc- by the sacred writers, and accuceeding age to depart as widely rate translations of these in our from that which preceded it, as own language, no farther imthey did from the doctrines and provement is to be made upon practice of the Romish church.'' them. Diligent study and ferBut their situation and ours is vent prayer must be employed in widely different.
Much of the searching the word of God-its time of the first Reformers was doctrines may be anew illustrated occupied in removing the rub- from historical fact, observation, bish, which one age after another or experience and so far we had heaped on religion, and in ought to attend to the progress of searching for its true foundation, society, as to bring forward scriplaid in the word of God. When ture truth in opposition to the they obtained this, they held it reigning vices and errors ; and fast, and so ought we; as the on- to express our sentiments in such ly way, in which progress in re- language as may not increase the ligion can be made, is by adher- dislike, which the human heart ing to "the word of the Lord, naturally has to the holy, humwhich endureth forever.” The bling salvation of the gospel. theories in Moral and Natural Still it must be remembered, ibat Philosophy, which have succes. it is on us, not on revelation, that sively been started, so far from the change is to be effected ; and being worthy of the imitation of that it is only by more cleartheologians, are proofs of the im- ly understanding its doctrines, by perfect state of these sciences. more firmly believing its promThese theories generally account, ises, and by more stedfastly obeyor seem to account for a variety ing its precepts, that we can of phenomena ; but not compre- make progress in religion, ox hending the whole, they give hope to excel the ages which are
past. The scriptures are not in- In later times the defences of tended to furnish us with materi- Christianity yield up by far too als for the construction of fanci- much, and from this charge even ful systems; they are the grand the valuable works of Paley caninstrument employed by God in not be exempted. Writers of fitting men for heaven. He the Socinian cast exclude from forms them for hiinself, by deliv- Christianity, that which constiering them into the mould of the tutes it the religion of a sidner. doctrine of Christ.
Should we by external evidence When once we ascertain the be convinced of the truth of revespecies of improvement of which laticn, if we embrace their sentireligion admits, it will not be dif- ments, there is little in it to inficult to perceive, whether we terest the heart. To these may still continue to make progress, be added, a disposition which has or have long since begun to de- appeared of late, to account for cline.
the infidelity of some eminent 1. The number of those by characters, without imputing to whom revelation is rejected, is them any moral blame. Besides far greater at present, than it other circumstances, the terms was at the Reformation, and for and style of theologians are suffisome succeeding ages. This cient to disgust every scholar, will not be denied ; and it will and are held up as one great also be admitted, that the increase cause of the rejection of their of unbelievers is a convincing doctrines. Mr. Foster, in his veproof that religion amongst us ry valuable essays, appears on is on the decline. This increase this topic to have gone too far ; is the more surprising, as åt no it is not by the wisdom of words, period have the evidences of rev- but by the foolishness of preachelation been more clearly and ing, that God is pleased to save ably stated;. nor the cavils of its them that believe. opponents more fully refuted. 2. Many who still prosess to Still infidelity makes rapid pro- believe the scriptures, have not gress. Whence is this? With- that respect for them, nor that out entering far on the subject, value for their doctrines, which it appears to me, that a consid- was common among Protestants erable share of blame rests with at, and for some time subsequent the defenders of revelation. In to the Reformation. Men who the early part of the last century, would be ofiended with the name several divines, to counteract the of infidel, have impeached the effects of infidelity, published sys- credit of some of the sacred writems of natural religion, which, ters, rejected from others passaby the unacknowledged aid of ges which did not accord with their scripture, they rendered tolerably peculiar system ; and degraded complete. In this way they ex- all of them from that high station, pected to win over their oppo- to which, in the opinion of our nents ; a plan just as likely to forefathers, ihey were so justly succeed, as it would be, to hope entitled. When we are told of the to prevail on a sick man to call a difficulties to be encountered be. physician, by telling him that he fore we can ascertain their meanwould recover without his aid. ing, we might judge them ob
scure as the responses of the might be adduced, to prove that Delphic oracle; and, if for safety if the preacher believed the docwe put ourselves under the guid- trines of the gospel to be true, he ance of one of these sage inter- did not at least think them of sufpreters, however substantial, or ficient importance to be introduce important the passage at our out- ed into his compositions. He set might have appeared, when must have been a very careless stript of eastern hyperbole, and observer, who has not often reJewish phraseology, it is nought marked that in conversation, the but a shadow. The irreverence truths of scripture are often conwith which the German divines tradicted by those, who seem to treat the sacred writers, has long entertain no doubt of their own been known ; perhaps similar in- Christianity. If then it is a fair stances of disrespect might be criterion, to judge of the profound among ourselves ; at least gress of religion by the respect in our periodical publications, paid to the sacred scriptures, and some of which appear to have if the representation here given been very successful instruments be just, no doubt can remain but in freeing the public mind from that among us, religion has been, the shackles of religion. “ Nor and still is, on the decline. is it to be forgotten," says a late 3. But though we may have writer in the Monthly Review, dropt somewhat of the theory, it “ that Paul was tinctured with may be alleged, that we have the theology of the school of Ga- made great progress in the pracmaliel, and his epistles ought to tice of religion. Persecution, be perused under this recollec- the stain of humaniiy, and the tion.” As the apostle mentions disgrace of our Reformers, is another instructer whom he had now abolished.
The investigain theology, (Gal. i. 11, 12) and tors of truth are marked by a seems to lay considerable stress liberality of mind, and freedom on this, that he received not his of inquiry, in their own speculagospel from man ; it would have tions ; and by a candour and been but decent in the Reviewer, charity to those, who differ from before contradicting him, to have them, unknown till the present told us whence his information enlightened age. “ Let another was derived. Besides, there are man praise thee,” said Solomon, many by whom the doctrines of “ and not thine own mouth." the gospel are admitted as true, What is proper for an individual, but at the same time treated as might not be unsuitable to a naunimportant. This appears of
This appears of- tion; and were the age modest, ten in biographical sketches, in as well as enlightened, posterity which persons are exbibited, as might be trusted with the cele distinguished for all that is great bration of our praise. It is readand good, without the least hint ily admitted, that the first reformthat they were actuated by Chris- ers did not entirely lay aside the tian principles ; and at last safely spirit of persecution ; yet in this placed in the mansions of bliss, they acted on principle, though a without the smallest allusion to mistaken one, that they, who beJesus, the only way of access to lieved not the truth of God, nor the Father. Many a sermon worshipped him in the way of Vol. III. No. 4.