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just man upon earth, that doth good, and sinneth not." “ There is none righteous, no, not one."
“None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.”a All reliances, therefore, on the merits of saints, however excellent and holy they may have been, were both absurd and injurious. The reformers thus revived the just and salutary doctrine of the apostle Paul concerning saving faith, which, as I have already shown, both rests our salvation on the merits and sufferings of Christ, and tends to render “our conversation as it becometh his gospel.”
But when the mind is heated by controversy, and is extremely, zealous to establish any point, however just it may be in its right and proper sense, men are too apt to be hurried into excess, in the maintenance of a favourite cause, and to adopt unguarded and hyperbolical language. From this excess Luther and Calvin are not exempt. Nothing can demonstrate more strongly the effects of the fervid spirit of controversy than Luther's presumption in calling the Epistle of James, epistola straminea, an epistle of straw, and excluding it altogether from the sacred
a Eccl. vii. 20. Rom, iii. 10. Psalm xlix. 7. The absurd and presumptuous doctrine of human perfection is embraced by one denomination of Methodists, who seem not to be aware how nearly in this respect they approach to popery.
Phil. i. 27.
cánon. But, to do justice to this great man, this opinion, if my memory is correct, he afterwards retracted. On the subject of good works, many of Calvin's expressions are inconsistent with the general tenor of scripture, and even with reason and common sense. His controversial vehemence carried him beyond those bounds which his clear intellect would otherwise have led him to obserye.
Accordingly, it happened to the revival, as it had formerly happened to the first enunciation of the doctrine of saving faith. Zealous, but illinformed Protestants thought that they could not recede too far from every appearance of selfmerit, from every semblance of rendering good works of any value in the scheme of redemption. The followers of any eminent man generally carry his tenets greatly beyond the sense in which he understood them, and imagine that they thus manifest their zeal for his doctrine. This intemperance turns truth into falsehood, or renders it the occasion of the most pernicious abuses. This was clearly manifested even during Luther's life, in regard to his just assertion of the necessity of reliance on the merits of Christ, as the source of man's salvation, and his strenuous opposition to the Romish church, which mixed the law and the gospel, and represented eternal
a See Macknight's Preface to James, sect. 2.
happiness as the fruit of legal obedience. A fanatic, named John Agricola, abused Luther's doctrine by overstraining it, and thus opened a door to the most dangerous tenets. This person began to make a noise in the year 1538, when, from Luther's doctrine above mentioned, he took occasion to declaim against the moral law as unfit either to be proposed as a rule of manners, or to be used as a means of instruction, asserting that the gospel alone was to be inculcated and explained both in the churches and in the schools of learning. The followers of Agricola were called Antinomians, or enemies of the law. The vigilance, fortitude, and reputation of Luther crushed this vicious sect soon after its birth, and Agricola, intimidated by the opposition of so esteemed and formidable an adversary, acknowledged his error, and renounced his pernicious system. But this recantation seems not to have been sincere ; since it is said that, when his fears were dispelled by the death of Luther, he resumed his errors, and gained proselytes to his scandalous doctrine." Nor was this surprising in an Antinomian. For those who disdain the obligations of morality can be bound by no tie, human or divine, with the exception only of the fear of punishment.
See Mosheim's Ecclesiastical Ilistory, translated by Dr. Maclaine, Cent. xvi. sect. 3, part 2.
- In the seventeenth century, the antinomian system was adopted in England by a certain sect of Presbyterians, during the violent contests, both civil and religious, that prevailed in that country for so considerable a period. As Agricola had, in Germany, grossly perverted Luther's doctrine concerning saving faith ; so the Antinomians in England drew from that of Calvin concerning absolute decrees, conclusions the most detrimental to the interests of true religion and virtue. Several of this sect maintained that, “ since they whom God has elected to salvation by an eternal and immutable decree, will, by the irresistible impulse of divine grace, be led to the practice of piety and virtue; while those who are doomed by a sentence of the same kind to eternal punishment, will never be engaged by any exhortations or admonitions, however affecting, to a virtuous course ; nor have they it in their power to obey the divine law; it was unnecessary for Christian ministers to exhort their flocks to the practice of duty. These sufficiently discharged their pastoral functions by inculcating the necessity of faith in Christ, and by proclaiming the blessings of the new covenant.”
Every extravagant and absurd opinion is marked by some glaring inconsistency, and this is peculiarly evident in that now under consideration. If by reason of an eternal and immutable decree it was unnecessary to inculcate a virtuous practice, it was equally unnecessary to inculcate faith, because those who were immutably ordained to everlasting life, would necessarily possess it, and those who were immutably appointed to everlasting perdition, would never escape it. In regard to both, the decree would stand, and its effect inevitably follow. Nay, ali the ordinances of religion, and consequently those who administered them, were perfectly useless; and therefore the preachers of such doctrine had better retire in silence, since they can do nothing either to advance or to retard the effects of the decree,-an inference which such doctors would not easily relish. Or, if they should maintain that the ordinances of religion must be observed as divine appointments, the inculcation and enforcement of morality on all men are as clearly appointed in the word of God as any part of his service whatever.
Another, and a still more hideous aspect of the antinomian creed, was exhibited in the opi-nion of those who maintained," That, as the elect cannot fall from grace, nor forfeit the divine favour; so it follows that the wicked actions they commit, and the violations of the divine law with which they are chargeable, are not really sinful, nor are to be considered as instances of a departure from the law of God; and that, consequently, they have no need either to confess their sins, or to forsake them by repent