« PreviousContinue »
MANY find much fault with the calling professing Christians, that differ one from another in some matters of opinion, by distinct names; especially calling them by the names of particular men, who have distinguished themselves as maintainers and promoters of those opinions ; as the calling some professing Christians Arminians, from Arminius ; others Arians, from Ariu8 ; others Socinians, from Socinus, and the like. They think it unjust in itself; as it seems to suppose and suggest, that the persons marked out by these names, received those doctrines which they entertain, out of regard to, and reliance on, those men after whom they are named ; as though they made them their rule ; in the same manner, as the followers of Christ are called Christians ; after his name, whom they regard and depend upon, as their great Head and Rule. Whereas, this is an unjust and groundless imputation on those that go under the forementioned denominations. Thus (say they) there is not the least ground to suppose that the chief Divines, who embrace the scheme of doctrine which is, by many, called Arminianism, believe it the more, because Arminius believed it ; and that there is no reason to Think any other, than that they sincerely and impartially study the holy Scriptures, and inquire after the mind of Christ, wiin as much judgment and sincerity, as any of those that call them by these names ; that they seek after truth, and are not careful whether they think exactly as Arminius did ; yea, that, in some things, they actually differ from him. This practice is also esTeemed actuclly injurious on this account, that it is supposed naturally to lead the multitude to imagine the difference between persons thus named and others, to be greater than it is ; yea, as though it were 80 great, that they must be, as it were, another species of beings. And they object against it as arising from an uncharitable, narrow, contracted spirit ; which, they say, commonly inclines persons to confine all that is good to themselves, and their own party, and to make a wide distinction between themselves and others, and stigmatize those that differ from them, with odious names. They say, moreover, that the keefiing up such a distinction of names has a direct tendency to uphold distance and disaffection, and keep alive mutual hatred among Christians, who ought all to be united in friendship and charity, horaezer they cannot, in all things, think alike.
I confess these things are very plausible. And I will not de. ny, that there are some unhappy consequences of this distinction of names, and that men's infirmities and evil dispositions often make an ill improvement of it. But yet, I humbly conceive, these objections are carried far beyond reason. The generality of mankind are disposed enough, and a great deal too much, to uncharitableness, and to be censorious and bitter towards those that differ from them in religious opinions : Which evil temner of mind will take occasion to exert itself from many things in themselves, innocent, useful and necessary. But yet there is no ne. cessity to suppose, that the thus distinguishing persons of different opinions by different names, arises mainly from an uncharitable spirit. It may arise from the disposition there is in man. kind ( whom God has distinguished with an ability and inclination for speech) to improve the benefit of language, in the proper use and design of names, given to things which they have often occasion to speak of, or signify their minds about ; which is 10 enable them to express their ideas with ease and expedition, without being encumbered with an obscure and difficult circumlocution. And the thus distinguishing persons of different opinions in religious matters may not imply nor infer, any more than that there is a difference, and that the difference is such as we find we have often occasion to take notice of, and make mention of. That qvhich we have frequent occasion to speak of. (whatever it be, that gives the occasion ) this wants a name ; and it is always a defect in language, in such cases, to be obliged to make use of a description, instead of a name. Thus we have often occasion to speak of those who are the descendants of the ancient inhabitants of France, who were subjects or heads of the government of that tand, and spake the language peculiar to it ; in distinction from the descendants of the inhabitants of Spain, who belonged to that community, and anake the language of that country. And therefore we find the great need of distinct names to signify these dif. ferent sorts of people, and the great convenience of those distinguishing words, French and Spaniards ; by which the signification of our minds is quick and easy, and our sperch is delivered from the burden of a continual reiteration of diffuse descriptions, with which it must otherwise be embarrassed.
That the difference of the opinions of those who, in their gene eral scheme of divinity, agree with these two noted men, Calvin and Arminius, is a thing there is often occasion to speak of, is what the practice of the latter itself confesses; who are often, in their discourses and writings, taking notice of the supposed absurd and pernicious opinions of the former sort. And therefore The making use of different names in this case cannot reasonably he ohjected against, or condemned, as a thing which must come