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comparitively lels moment, in relation to Christianity, which excites our concern.
If it were a
question of “ words and names, you might refuse to "judge of such “ matters.” It is especially with respect to fundamental articles that we claim your attention. And, “if the 4 foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”.
Many of you have seen, and others have heard of a treatise lately published by a minister of the church, entitled, A Practical Esay on the Death of Jesus Christ. . It is on account of this publication that we give you any trouble ; because it contains not only an undisguised system of Armi nian and Pelagian errors, but a systein of the most refined and specious Socinianism, that was ever offered to the world. Many of you know, that those are by way of diftinction called Socinians, who deny the great doctrines of the Deity of Chrift, (making him a mere man,) and of a real fatisfaction for lin by his infinitely precious blood. But it may be necessary to observe, for the sake of the unlearned, that Socinianism is a gangrene which diffuses its fatal influence through almost every member of divine truth, and contaminates the whole mass. It is a subtle poison, which universally extends, and unhinges the whole frame of revelation. It does not, like some erroneous doctrines, merely aim at the superstructure. It affects the very foundation. Its batteries are not levelled at the outworks. At first it alfaults the very heart and soul of Christianity, nay, of all religion. The denial of the two doctrines already mentioned, might be sufficient to, awake your zeal, if you have any zeal for God." But that you may be a little better acquainted with this system, 'we shall give yoụ a glance of some of its most striking features. Socinians, as well as others, profess to receive the holy scriptures as the only rule of faith: But they blush not to declare that the Spirit, which guided the prophets, hath not altogether exempted them from error; that prophecies are not certain and infallible; and that reason is the only standard of divine truth; or, in other words, that we are to believe nothing as contained in scripture, which our reason does not fully comprehend. They maintain that God is not omnipresent, but limited to a place*; that he is uncertain as to future events t; that the matter of which this world was made exifted from eternity I;
that Crel. de Deo, cap. 27. + Cap. 24. I Volkel. lib. ii. c. I. 5.
that God is subject to real passions; and that he is more Ilmited than matter itself. They teach that angels and the souls of men are merely a certain modification of matter* ; that man was created without what is commonly called original righteousness, and from his constitution naturally prone to fin; and that he was created mortal +. Their doctrine directly tends to the denial of providence. They expressly refusé a Trinity of persons in the Godhead, and the incarnation of the Son. They disbelieve the immor, tality of the soul, and the reality of hell: For they hold that the souls of the wicked perish with their bodies ; some pretending that this is the case at death; while others inaintain, that, at the day of judgment, the bodies of the wicked shall be raised to a temporary union with their fouls, that, in consequence of the final fentence, both may be reduced to annihilation 1. Even when they admit of a resurrection, they deny that of the fame body .
I am far from saying that our author holds all these dreadful tenets. But sorry am I to add; that it appears plainly from his Essay, that he holds too many of them. And when one adopts the capital errors of any system, there is great reason to fear, that he is no enemy to the rest.
Other writers of the church of Scotland have clearly acceded to the school of Arminius. But our author is the first who hath boldly made the trial, whether this church be yet ripe for denying “ the Lord who bought” her. Some may be apt to think, that it is the safest way to let such treatises die away in merited obfcurity ; that writing against an author is the most effectual way to make him be read; and that the intention, however good, defeats itself, as the means used tend to diffeminate, in a more extensive manner, the principles opposed. But from the taste of the present age, it is by no means likely, that a book written by a learned Doctor of the church, under the pretence of avoiding controversial subjects, in a flowing, easy, and engaging stile, should pass unnoticed ; especially when attempts are made to palm it upon the unlearned as an admirable performance. The manner in which this treatise is written, renders it a very dangerous present to the pub
* Crel. cap. 19.
# Socin. præl. theol. cap. I. $ Actor. Col. Racov. ap. Hoornb. Soc. Confutat, t. 3. lib. 5. 6. 20 9 Volkel. de ver. Relig. lib. iii. C. 23.
lic. The author aflumes a great appearance of modesty, which is naturally alluring to the mind. This is more dangerous than the most avowed attack.
When a man bluntly and honestly tells you, that be denies the Deity of Christ, and any real atonement for sin by his blood; you are at once on your guard, you need nothing more to convince you that he is the determined enemy of your
dearest intereils. But when a writer steps forth into the world, apparently with all the meekness, submission, and love of a genuine disciple of Jesus, and says, “ Hail malter," and kiffes him; one cannot easily believe that it is with a design to betray him“ into the hands of sinners.”
He also infinuates himself into the good graces of the reader, by claiming a very considerable share of Christian charity and moderation. " Why," says he *, “ should “.we hate or think ill of one another for differences of « that kind?” Of what kind ? About the nature of the atoneinent made by Christ, whether it was real nomninal. We ought not to hate even our enemies : But we have very little reason to think well of those, who would Still retain us under the bondage of sin. . I would not wish, by any thing that may be said, really to infringe the sacred law of charity. It belongs not to us, to pretend with certainty to judge the states of men. To his own master every one sandeth or falleth. We ought to think charitably of all who hold the foundation in doctrine, and do not habitually decline from it in life. In matters of indifference or uncertainty, we ought to bear with each other. But true fcriptural charity doth not forbid us to call perfons or things by their own names. Our Lord hath fet us a perfect pattern for the exercise of this, as well as of every other grace; and yet we see how plainly he speaks of the Pharisees. The apostles eminently followed his example: and yet, even in their inspired language, they give the feverest characters to those who perverted the gospel of Chrilt. Did Paul account those to be “ enemies of the “ cross of Christ,” who urged the necessity of observing the law of Moses, as well as of faith in the righteousnels of Christ for justification; and can we reasonably think more favourably of those who deny the truth of his atonement, that they may go about to establish their own "righteousness, as it were by the works of the law ?" Thus
* Page 505. note:
far we ought to judge charitably of the author, that he believes what he writes; that he is actuated by a deluded conscience, under the direction of an understanding not yet enlightened by the Spirit of God; and that he has a zeal for what seems to him true religion, although not according to knowledge. Even Paul once thought that he “ought " to do many things against Jesus of Nazareth.” But he “ did it ignorantly, in unbelief."
It would be unjult and unhandsome to deny, that there are many native and excellent observations in this Essay, especially in the historical part; obfervations which would do honour to any author, were they detached from the errors that are unhappily blended with them. In the sec cond, there •are also many good reflections, many warm exhortations to Christian duties. While one reads there beautiful passages, one wishes to believe him found in the faith, is almost afraid to discover the contrary,
and scarce be persuaded of it, although the evidences be undeniable. But there is Nill a dead fly, that " causeth all liis “precious ointment to send forth a stinking favour.” The author, indeed, seems at times to glow with fervent piety, and to be warmly engaged in stirring up others to the exercise of holiness. But this very circumstance makes his treatise more ensnaring to the reader. For the direct tendeney of it is to destroy the only foundations of gospelholiness, in its meritorious, and in its efficient cause. This book is ushered into light, as being entirely a practical Essay. Never, perhaps, did any enemy of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity hit upon a more insidious method of propagating his tenets, or of instilling them into the minds of the unlearned and unstable. For, while he would persuade the reader that he is not to trouble him with nice questions and learned controversies, and that “ it is the benefit of plain and well-disposed persons, “ though unlearned, which is chiefly aimed at*; the evident tendency of the performance, notwithstanding all the apparent zeal for virtue displayed in it, is, under this artful veil, to undermine the whole fabric of our holy religion, as established in the word of God. But this needs not appear strange; for Paul tells us of “false apostles, deceitful is workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of “ Chrift; and no marvel,” saith be, " for Satan himself o is transformed into an angel of light; therefore it is no is
* Page 7. 1. 18.
great thing, if his ministers also be transformed as the · ministers of righteousness."* And remember, my brethren, that Satan is far more dangerous when thus transformed, than when he appears in his natural character, as “ a roaring lion.” In this case, he gives you warning of his approach s but in that, he may " tear in pieces” before you know him for an enemy. Besides, he discovers his opinions only in a gradual manner. Thus, they appear not with fo great a deformity, as if they were collected in a group; efpecially, as they often seem to slip out, as it were, by accident, without any design to establish them. At the very time that he is reconimending the exercise of some eminent virtue, when he would appear only to be rousing the soul to the highest acts of devotion, he secretly overthrows some capital doctrine of faith. While the mind is closely engaged in attending to the ostensible process of the composition, and perhaps admiring the skill and fervour of the workman; all at once fome fatal poison is conveyed into the draught. But, my brethren, ought this to surprise you? Was it not " while men slept," that the enemy sowed his tares ?” He also endeavours to lull the reader, by trying to persuade him, that the points on which he may differ from others, are « minuter or less importantt.” Such, as appears from the Essay, is the estimate which this liberal gentleman forms of the supreme Deity of the Son, and of his real substitué tion and atonement for sin.
In many instances, indeed, he does not expressly deny doctrines acknowledged by the church. This would not have answered his delign. But, although of a fundamental nature, he passes them over as doubtful disputations; and often expresses himself in ambiguous language, that will admit of a double construction, like the oracles delivered in heathen temples. You may perhaps bé ready to think, that we mistake his meaning, because, when you read his pet. formance, you find him using the expreflions of faith in Christ, which are used by all who believe his Deity and atonement, and adducing those very scriptures which contain the most striking proofs of both. This is true indeed. He calls him " divine Master, our great Lord and Master, “ the Son of God, the Son of his love, the only Son of God,
2 Cor, ix: 13, 14.
+ P.8. 1. 18.