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PERHAPS some of my christian brethren would say, if they knew for what purpose I have now taken up my pen, "Do let contention alone: There are other things of more importance to engage the attention of the ministers of Christ at such a day as this." I view this to be truly an extraordinary day, a day in which there is an opportunity and a call, to do much in the vineyard of our Lord. The command of the risen Saviour now comes with accumulated weight upon his disciples, "Go and teach all nations." It is matter of joy that the disciples of Jesus begin to feel the force of the command. That they do begin to have feeling, is manifest by the increasing number of benevolent institutions which are formed and supported, with a view to diffuse abroad the knowledge of the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. We ought to be thankful that the Lord of the harvest is raising up, and furnishing men, for the missionary work, and disposing them to go, if needful, even to the ends of the earth. But Christ has not designed all his ministers for missionaries. Neither is all the work of the present day to be done in Asia and Africa. There are different ways in which we may be instrumental of hastening the latter day glory of the church. Every one has his place in which to work, and every one is loudly called upon to be up and doing. The Millennium will differ from all other periods of the world by the triumph of truth. Then will that prediction be most eminently fulfilled; "Truth shall spring out of the earth, Psal. lxxxv. 11. A religion founded upon divine truth, and conformable to it, shall then universally prevail.
But is not this one of the mountains, which stand in the way of the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the propagation of the truth, that the christian church is not agreed about the answer to this most important question, What is truth? and the watchmen do not see eye to eye, nor lift up their voice together.
It is true, we all agree that the scriptures are the standard. So that we can unite in sending the bible among pagan idolators, and deluded Mahometans. But if the Pagan, or the Mahometan, should be asked, as the Ethiopean eunuch was, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" he might very probably answer, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" Living teachers have always been used in propagating the gospel ; and we have no reason to expect that the chief Shepherd will now dispense with the use of them. "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" But will it not be calculated to hinder the progress of the gospel among the heathen, when the living teachers materially differ in their manner of explaining the written word?
Here are three books now before me; one is the bible, the other two were written, the one by myself, the other by Mr. Nathan Bangs. We both call ourselves ministers of the gospel. We both professedly say, the bible is divine truth, every syllable of it; and that it is an infallible standard, because it is the word of the living God. We both profess to agree in saying, that this is the source from which we are to learn what to believe, and what to do; what is truth, and what is duty. After having repeatedly and attentively read through the holy scriptures, I expressed in my sermons, what appeared to me, a scriptural view of some of the leading doctrines of the gospel. Mr. Bangs has read my Look, and says, "I think myself bound to enter a public protest against what are deemed the dangerous errors advanced in your sermons." page 14. Further on, he says; "If any man had set himself to work on purpose to blacken the character of God by the most vile misrepresentations, he could not have done it more effectually than you have done, I hope undesignedly, in your sermons, especially the first and third." page 30, From these quotations, and what is urged all the way through the Letters, it is evident, that cur views of the bible are very different; even so different, that the character which I took to be the most glorious and amiable in the universe, even the character of the Holy One of Israel, my opperent, who is also a teacher of
religion, says he thinks, is the most vile character which can be invented. Now, if I still believe that the character which I ascribed to God was his true character *and the one in which he glories, ought I not to show that I have still to speak in God's behalf, and ascribe righteousness to my Maker?
If my own heart deceive me not, it is not a contentious spirit which leads me to keep up this controversy. Nor do I think it is for the sake of vindicating myself that I now write. Mr. B's letters have neither made me angry, nor excited a spirit of revenge. If I have not mistaken my feelings, a contrary effect has been produced, even the enlarging of my desires for his eternal happiness. I pray God, that I may not lose sight of this, in the strictures which I am now about to write on his book. I desire to have no controversy with my antagonist as a man, but only as an author; and even here, only where I view him as deviating, not from my sermons, but from a more infallable standard.
Mr. Bangs agrees with me in this, that the points concerning which we differ, are of great consequence. He says, "Respecting the subjects of this investigation, I consider them some of the most important doctrines of the gospel; and therefore it is not a matter of indifference which system is embraced," page 6, Preface. To this statement I perfectly agree. These doctrines may be considered as the shibboleth, to determine or thodoxy. He who has a right conception of these doctrines concerning which our controversy exists, cannot be very heterodox; and he, who has wrong views of these doctrines, can hardly be considered as believing truth enough to denominate him orthodox.
Believing as I do concerning these doctrines, I cannot view Mr. B's. sentiments as harmless. The scripture teaches us, that the unrenewed mind is in such a state, as not to be pleased with God. The character of God is expressed in the doctrines of his word. These doctrines must therefore be unpalatable to the unrenewed heart. Now, let these doctrines be essentially altered, and it tends to reconcile the sinner, considered as a sinner, to God. Let the divine character be changed, and the sinner's heart will not need a change. If therefore I have represented the divine character as es
sentially different from what it is, the tendency has probably been, to make wicked men feel as if they approved of this character. If on the other hand, it is my antagonist who has essentially changed the divine character, it is his doctrine which will prevent the wicked from discovering their enmity against God.
I wish to impress the mind of the reader with the great importance of his coming to the knowledge of the truth, and of his receiving the truth in the love of it. I do not wish him to receive a single sentiment upon the authority of the writer. The bible lies before him as well as before me. By this holy book we are both to be tried in the great day. But I would entreat my rea der, not to make his feelings the test of truth; for what if they should be the feelings of the carnal mind which is enmity against God? Having made these prefatory remarks, I shall now proceed to vindicate the doctrines held forth in the Sermons; in doing which I shall attempt to reply to the most material objections, raised against these doctrines, by Mr. Bangs in his Six Letters addressed to me, with a design to detect and refute the errors of Hopkinsianism.*
*Mr. Bangs has stiled his book, "The Errors of Hopkinsianism, detected and refuted." I believe there is very little to be found in my Sermons but what will agree with the writings of many who have been called Calvinists, ever since the time of Calvin. As for Dr. Hopkins, I am willing to say, that I have a great esteem for his character and writings; but I think I have not made him, or Calvin, or any other man, or number of men, my standard, though Mr B. thinks I was afraid that my readers would suspect that I did not implicitly follow Dr. Hopkins and others. Page 53. I am not disposed unnecessarily to multiply names, which have a tendency to separate very friends; I shall therefore at present rank myself with those who have been long known in the christian world by the name of Calvinists.