« PreviousContinue »
impulse from heaven: or, to use their own phraseology, that his productions did “ proceed out of the great grace and love of God and Christ toward all kings, princes, rulers, and people, upon the universal earth, to their salvation, unity, peace, and concord, in the same godly love."
“ This Family of Love," says merry old Fuller, “ who shut their doors before, now”. [i. e. about A. D. 1655.] “ keep open house : yea, Family is too narrow a name for them; they are grown so nume
Formerly, by their own confession in this petition, they had three qualities ; few, poor, and unlearned. For the last, billa vera: their lack of learning they still retain: being otherwise many, and some rich; but all under the name of ranters. And thus,” adds the facetious historian, “I fairly leave them, on condition they will fairly leave me, that I may hear no more of them for delivering truth and my own conscience, in what I have written concerning their opinions (9).”
By this time the reader must clearly see, with how little reason and justice Mr. Sellon pronounces ranterism to be the genuine effect of the doctrine of predestination. So far from being an effect of it, it is totally and diametrically the reverse of that doctrine, in every point of view. Mr. Sellon is the ranter, both in the speculative and practical sense of the term. Speculatively : for he avowedly holds, with his ranting brethren of the two last centuries, that our Lord is the intentional Saviour of all the world, without any exception ; and that the grace of God extends “ to all people upon the universal earth.” Nay, on the article of sinless perfection, this modern Arminian exceeds the madness of his ancient brethren. For, some of them only asserted, that people may be in a manner without sin: whereas, the still more illuminated Mr. Sellon affirms,
(9) Ibid. p. 33.
with the hottest of the elder sect, that people may be totally without sin. In which respect, he outrants many of the old ranters themselves. But what is empty speculation, if unproductive of substantial practice ? Herein, likewise, my worthy assailant comes not a jot behind the foremost of the primitive ranters. For, what are his written works, but one continued series of ranting against the sovereignty and grace of God, and against all who affirm with the church (art. xvii.) that predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, he hath constantly decreed, by his counsel, secret to us to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind ? And yet (so exactly does he tread in the footsteps of the “ Family of Love”), Mr. Sellon would, like them, fain cajole his readers into an opinion that he is no sectary, nor doth vary nor swerve from the established religion of this land !” Thus, though he has reason enough to be ashamed of his relations, the ranters; he can hardly, I imagine, have the assurance to disown them. Should he, however, be sufficiently casehardened, to deny the consanguinity; he bears the family likeness so strongly, that in vain would he attempt to shuffle off the name, while every feature and line of his doctrinal physiognomy compels us to write ranter upon his forehead.
An Enquiry into the Judgment of the earliest Fathers,
concerning the points in question.
letter to Dr. N. I took occasion to observe, that there is the utmost reason to believe, that the main body of the Christian church in which I
do not include the Arians of those times) were, for the four first centuries, unanimous believers of the doctrines now termed Calvinistic (a). For this observation, I assigned two reasons: 1. The universal horror and surprize, which the broaching of Pelagius' opinions, about the beginning of the 5th century, occasioned in the whole Christian church ; and, 2. The authority of Dr. Cave, who asserts, in express terms, that Pelagius hæresin novam condidit, “ was the founder of a new heresy." From whence I inferred, and infer still, that, if the non-imputation of Adam's offence to his posterity, and the bottoming of predestination and justification upon human worthiness, were (as all historians concur to affirm) branches of Pelagius' new heresy; it follows, that the opposite doctrines, of Adam's transgression imputed to his offspring, and of predestination and justification by grace alone, were, and must have been, branches of the old faith universally held by the church for the first 400 years after Christ.
These two arguments Mr. Sellon very prudently passes over, uncanvassed and unmentioned: and skips to my ninth page, from whence he gleans an incidental remark, on which he thus descants : “ Your telling us, p. 9. that, during the four first ages of the Christian church, predestination and its concomitant doctrines were undisputed, for ought appears to the contrary; is no reason at all.” It certainly is a strong presumptive reason, though not offered as direct proof: for, two of the direct reasons had been given before, and still remain, not only undemolished, but untouched, by my cautious adversary; who, with all his furious zeal for Arminianism, chose rather to let those reasons keep possession of the field than run the risk of burning his own fingers in assaulting them. I will attend, however, to what he delivers concerning the “no reason at all." (a) Church of Engl. vind. from Armin.
He grants, that those doctrines were, for the four first ages, undisputed: which he thus affects to account for: “because it does not appear, that there were any that held them.” We shall presently see, that they were held, and held firmly too, by those of the primitive fathers, who are commonly distinguished by the title of apostolical, from their having lived nearest to the apostles' times, i. e. within the first Christian century. In the mean while, let us weigh the mode of argumentation adopted by Mr. Sellon : “ The doctrines of grace were therefore undisputed, because it does not appear, that they were believed.” I hardly think, this will stand the test. Here is an absolute, peremptory assertion, built (not so much as on a phantom or a shadow, but) on a mere non-appearance. Besides : does it not at least seem more probable, that these doctrines were therefore unopposed, because they were generally held ? For, daily experience evinces, that, to this day, those same doctrines meet with opposition enough, from the persons by whom they are not held: and, I am apt to think, that human nature, as such, is just that now, which it was in the four first centuries. Had the primitive times swarmed with Arminians, as the latter times have, the doctrines of grace would have been no less opposed and disputed against then, than they have been since.
Another consideration also merits our attention. Not only every church, or collective body of professing Christians; but likewise every individual man, who thinks religion and philosophy worthy of attending to, must necessarily form some judgment or other, concerning the points in debate. I may venture, therefore, without taking any undue advantage, to lay it down as a datum, that the Christians of the four first ages (who certainly had the scriptures in their hands, and heard them read in their public as. semblies) could not possibly be neutrals, on a subject of such importance as that of predestination and
grace; but must, unavoidably, have either believed that doctrine, or disbelieved it: they were on one side, or on the other. Indeed, had the holy scripture made no mention at all of predestination, neither for, nor against, it is possible (and but barely possible), that the primitive churches might have thought little or nothing about that sublime article. But it is undeniable, that the scriptures make very express, ample, and repeated mention of it: and the mention there made of it, must be understood in some sense or other. Now, if predestination and its derivative doctrines were at all thought of, by the first churches; and if, for ought that can be proved to the contrary, those doctrines passed undisputed, till contravened by Pelagius in the fifth century; does it not (to say the least) look as if they had been universally received and embraced, during the first (6) 400 years after Christ? We will suppose, a moment, for argument's sake, the doctrines of grace to have passed undisputed among English protestants, from the æra of the reformation, down to the emersion of Mr. John Wesley. What, in such a case, would have been the natural inference ? Not, that nobody held these undisputed principles : but, that they would and must have been controverted, long before, had they not been held universally. Why is the existence of a certain luminary, called the sun, undisputed ? Surely, not because its existence is disbelieved; but, on the contrary, because it
(6) The masterly compilers of that learned and valuable work, entitled, The History of Popery, expressly affirm what I only advanced as probable. “ This doctrine,” say they, viz. that · God bestoweth his determining grace on whom he will
, and to whom he will he denieth it ;' “ This doctrine continued generally in the church, till about the year 405, at which time a certain Briton, bied up in the monastery of Bangor, originally named Morgan (but that word, in Welch, signifying, of or belonging to the sea, he was thence in Latin called Pelagius), began to set on foot several errors : as, denying original sin; affirming the number of the elect and reprobate not to be definite, but indefinite and indeterminate, &c.” Hist. of Popery, vol. ii. p.