« PreviousContinue »
Jesus Christ is certainly but one. It is not various, as different men, to serve their own favourite schemes and purposes, have represented it. It is but one with respect to his person, to his undertaking, as the Redeemer of mankind; and as to what he suffered, and accomplished in that capacity. If this report then is made in a manner sufficiently clear and intelligible, (and who will say it is not?) are not men consequently under indispensable obligations to receive it? To receive it, as by the divine word, in its natural, obvious meaning, it is addressed to them.
Farther, let it be considered, that believing in Jesus Christ is enjoined upon men by express command. "This is his commandment," says the apostle John, "that ye believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ." This, from numerous passages, and from the whole current of the sacred writings, appears to be the great requisition of the gospel. Men, therefore, who are made acquainted with the gospel, most assuredly are accountable for their believing, or not believing on the name of Jesus Christ. And, as the fullest evidence on this point, let it be observed, this requisition has annexed to it the most solemn sanctions.
that believeth on the Son of God, hath everlasting life; and he, that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."
Should not then every one be solicitous to know, what this believing is? What is its true meaning and import? The best and only sure way of obtaining the proper information, relative
to this momentous concern, is by consulting the word of God, by attending to the descriptions given of Jesus Christ, and the representations made concerning him in the sacred scriptures. He is there called IMMANUEL, God with us. He is declared to be the Mediator between God and man. "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." Under these names and characters, he is represented, as assuming our nature, and subjecting himself to the divine law in our behalf, to fulfil its requirements, and as suffering its penalties for the purpose of our redemption. He was made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them, that were under the law. "He, who was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion, as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." In his mediatorial ca pacity "he fulfilled all righteousness, and suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree. He was made sin for us," a sacrifice of atonement for sin, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. He made peace by the blood of his cross." So that" in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins :" and " in him God is reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;" and sinners are "justi
fied freely by the grace of God, through the redemption, that is in Christ."
If with simplicity of mind, and a real desire to know and understand the truth, men would attend to these descriptions of Jesus Christ, and the plain representations of the word of God concerning him; they might, it should seem, fairly satisfy themselves as to what is meant by believing on his name. That it can intend no other, than believing him to be the Son of God in a sense, in which no creature is, or can be; as partaking of the same divine nature with the Father; and in the genuine meaning of the term, as the Saviour of sinners, through whose mediation, humiliation, obedience, sufferings, and death in his human nature, full atonement was made for sin; pardon and complete salvation were procured; and also that believing in Jesus Christ, in its full import, must intend a receiving, regarding, and trusting in him in the characters he sustains, as he is in those characters an object worthy of esteem, affection, and confidence. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; even to them, that believe on his name." If this be the true import of believing in Jesus Christ; if this be that believing on him, which involves a compliance with the requisitions of the gospel; this then is the faith for which men are accountable, and by which their destiny in another world is to be determined.
Let every one inquire for himself; and under the impression of his accountability to God for believing or not believing the re
vealed truths of his word; for believing or not believing on the name of his Son Jesus Christ. Under this impression, let him read and study the divine word; and let his sincere endeavours to know the truth be accompanied with humble supplications for the teaching and the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit. None teacheth like him. him especially, and above all things, be concerned to know, what is implied in believing in Jesus Christ, and that there may be in his heart a full compliance with this requirement.
ON THE GENERAL ASSOCIATION.
WHEN any proposal is made for public consideration, it evidently concerns those, to whom the proposal is made, to understand the measures contemplated, and the probable result.
It is well known, that many respectable ministers of the gospel, in Massachusetts, have, for some time, been earnestly engaged to form a General Association; the object of which is to produce union of sentiment and of procedure. "In many instances," it is said, "those Christian teachers, who are united in the love of divine truth, and fervently engaged in the cause of the Redeemer, are estranged from each other in affection, and filled with mutual prejudices."
Though there is supposed to exist a general sameness of belief, and a general union as to the great object of pursuit, there are points of less moment, in theology, in which they differ.
It cannot be denied, that this is the true state of things, nor can any thing be more desirable, than that greater union should exist among those, who highly value the peculiar doctrines of Christianity; and, that in consequence of this union, they should be able more effectually to discountenance that lax theology, which leaves nothing between the gospel and ethnic morality, but a line extremely indistinct and ill defined.
An object may be highly valuable, but the means be ill adapted to its accomplishment. That this is the case in the present instance, the writer would not be too positive; he only wishes fairly to propose such objections as occur to his mind.
Let it be inquired, whom the contemplated Association is to embrace.
Is it to be confined to men, who, on subjects of divinity, perfectly coincide in judgment? No, it is to comprehend gospel min. isters, who do not perfectly agree in sentiment. It is to consist of those, who, though they may be earnest to defend their own peculiar sentiments by fair reasoning, do yet prefer the whole of Christianity before a part, and are careful not to hinder the common cause :-peace makers, who regret and abhor that conceit of unquiet spirits, that the interest of religion depends wholly on those opinions, which distinguish them from others.
Perhaps there is not a minister in this state, who would not profess to be charmed with this language. But is the General Association to comprehend all the Massachusetts clergy? By no means. That would be utter
ly inconsistent with the design, which is to produce a coalition among such as retain evangelical principles. As all, who profess their belief in revealed religion, consider their own sentiments as evangelical, by what standard shall the discrimination be made? This question admits a ready answer. They, who laid the foundation of the proposed union, have voted, "that the doctrines of Christianity, as they are generally expressed in the Assembly's Shorter Catechism, be admitted as articles of faith, and as the basis of union." It is not supposed, that all, who subscribe to this Catechism, think alike on all subjects of theology. Perfect union of sentiment is not the sine qua non of this coalition. As this is not required in order to subscription, so neither is it required of those, who have subscribed. It must then be clearly understood, that though we subscribe to the same catechism, we are not bound to explain this catechism in the same manner, nor to understand it in the same sense. The doctrines of Christianity, as generally expressed in the catechism, are to be the basis of union.
What may be comprehended under this term, generally, it will be difficulty to define; and while this remains undetermined, the language of subscription cannot be understood, i. e. it cannot be fully understood, what a man's sentiments are, from the circum. stance of his subscribing to the catechism.
If those gentlemen who are most engaged to promote the General Association could themselves subscribe to the literal and obvious meaning of the cate
chism, yet, as the avowed object is to bring together in one harmonious body, persons fundamentally right, though some of them may be partially incorrect, it would still be a matter of extreme difficulty to determine how great a latitude might be allowable-how different a person's opinion might be from the literal import of the language, and yet subscribe that language, with a good conscience. But nothing can be more certain than that many gentlemen, who most warmly advocate the measure, must subscribe to the catechism, if they subscribe at all, in a sense very different from what the language imports.
The catechism asserts, that "the covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in his first transgression." Now, it is the belief of many persons engaged to promote the contemplated coalition, not that the posterity of Adam either "sinned in him, or fell with him," but are answerable for their actual transgressions, and theirs only: though they suppose that their actual transgressions take place in consequence of his sin.
A latitude allowable to one man, is, doubtless, allowable to another.
The catechism assures us that "the sinfulness of that estate, whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin, togeth
er with all actual transgressions, which proceed from it."
The corruption of man's nature, is, indeed, acknowledged by the gentlemen, of whom we are speaking; but they do not believe that the sinfulness of man's fallen estate consists in the guilt of Adam's sin; of course, when they subscribe to this article, it must be with very great latitude.
Again; it is the opinion of many, who advocate the measure proposed, that the divine efficiency is as necessary to produce evil as good; that Adam no more sinned by his own strength, than the sinner repents and turns to God by his own strength; that it was as much a divine power, which produced an evil heart in Adam, as it is a divine power, which produces a good heart in the regenerate. Why should these persons be required to subscribe such a sentence as this: "Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate in which they were created by sinning against God." Surely, they would not think it correct to say, " that the sinner, being left to the freedom of his own will, turns from the state in which he was created by repentance towards God." If they
think the latter an erroneous expression, or calculated to make a wrong impression, they must think the same of the former. Why should they be required to subscribe to an expression, which they believe calculated to produce error?
If one person subscribe with such latitude, why may not another? What union then will subscription produce? It is
well known that subscription to the Bible does not produce union of sentiment. The Bible is subscribed by Trinitarians, Calvinists, Arminians and Unitarians; how does this happen? They understand the Bible differently. One denomination supposes, that it substantiates their sentiments; another, that it upholds theirs. Will this not be the case with those, who subscribe the Shorter Catechism? It is answered in the negative, because the language of the catechism is more definite than that of scripture. Be it so; and suppose, further, that all, who shall associate on the proposed plan, understand the catechism in the same sense, yet if they subscribe, not as they suppose the authors meant, but as they suppose the authors ought to have meant, I ask again, where is the union? For doubtless, all persons would not think alike, as to what ought to have been the meaning of the Westminster Assembly. Is it not clearly absurd to speak of an union to be produced by subscribing to a confession, if it be understood, in the outset, that we may subscribe in what sense we please? But it may be replied, that the supposition here made does not accord with truth. It is by no means understood, that persons are to be admitted into this association unless they believe the catechism in substance. I reply, that the substance of the catechism is a term extremely vague. Persons, who were strongly opposed to many expressions in the catechism, might think it not inconsistent with uprightness, to subscribe it generally, or in substance. Almost all men be
lieve that it contains much more truth than error; may a man safely subscribe it on that account? Some, no doubt, would be ot this opinion; and might subscribe, though Unitarians: others would think, that they ought not to subscribe, if, in their apprehension, it contained the least error.
The thirty nine articles of the English church are Calvinistic. Is it so with the clergy? Are they Calvinistic? A great majority or them are, and have been notoriously otherwise. The minority subscribe and preach according to the true spirit of the articles: the others subscribe generally, or in substance, or with mental reservation, they subscribe to what they wish the articles were.
Again, the kirk of Scotland make the doctrines of Christianity, as generally explained in the Assembly's Catechism, the basis of their union. But are they united in senument? and none but Calvinists among them? The contrary is undeniable. Surely those, who feel most interest in this coalition do not design, like king James I. to prevent the discussion of those points in theology, which are most often disputed. Let it be supposed then, that A and B subscribe the catechism. The former holding the sentiments of Dr. Hopkins, the other of Dr. Doddridge. They both, in each other's presence, preach their respective sentiments. Will A feel at all more agreeably, at hearing his own sentiments controverted and condemned by B, because they have made the same confession of faith, than by another person? Will not the