Page images

Wesley admitted the divine prescience, and his followers say of it, as calvinists of the divine sovereignty, that without it there can be no deity; how easy would it be to give a horrible carricature of armini. anism by parodying its creed, in imitation of Mr. Wesley's conduct towards his opponents ?

Though Mr. Wesley's sermon on free grace commenced the controversy ; in the complete edition of his works the first polemical piece is a “ Preservative' against unsettled Notions in Religion, containing the Scripture Doctrine of Predestination, Election, and Reprobation"." " A Dialogue between a Predestinarian and his Friend” was Wesley's next publication, which puts as weak arguments as possible into the mouth of a calvinist, who is thus made an easy yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil, are doomed never so see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw upon them for ever and ever, Let all those morning stars sing together who fell with Lucifer, son of the morning. Let all the sons of hell shout for joy. For the decree is past and who shall disannul it* ?” This passage is inserted by one of Mr. Wesley's admirers, in what are called the “ Beauties of Wesley." But if such are his beauties, what must be his deformity ?

* Sermon on Free Grace, preached at Bristol. Wesley's Works, vol. XX. p. 74.

u He maintains that election is called eternal, or from the foundation of the world, because it was foreseen from eternity, as Christ is said to be the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. It may be asked, whether Mr. Wesley's biblical criticism did not extend so far as to know that the passage is quoted as a proof of eternal election, by reading it thus, “they who are written in the book of the slain Lamb, from the foundation of the world.” That this is the true construction appears from Rev. xvii. 8. « whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,” And what reason can be assigned why election alone is thus represented as eternal, rather than justification and sanctification, which were equally foreseen from the foundation of the world?

convert to arminianism. In the midst of the controversy, the same writer reprinted “ Extracts from a late Author, entitled serious Considerations concerning the Doctrines of Election, Reprobation, and absolute Reprobation.” He also gave to the world his own “ Thoughts on the Perseverance of the Saints,” in which he opposes that doctrine with far less ability than was displayed by Goodwin, who was so completely answered by Dr. Owen. The next publication of Mr. Wesley was entitled, “ Predestj. nation calmly considered,” which is his most laboured piece, but which indicates any thing rather than calmness or consideration. Against Mr. Toplady he wrote a tract entitled, “ the Consequence proved," and then, leaving that gentleman to be answered by Thomas Olivers, he entirely abandoned the controversy to other disputants. '

. · Whitefield, at the commencement of the dispute, had addressed to the friendship of his former brother, a letter on election; but he had mistaken the character of John Wesley, who sought victory by appealing to the tribunal of vulgar prejudice ; so that the cal. vinistic leader, disgusted with the passions of the theological arena, imitated his antagonist and left the contest to be maintained by his friends. The only mighty polemic who appeared on the side of calvinism, was president Edwards, of New England, whose book on the “ Freedom of the Will,” had it been attended to as it deserved, might have settled the dispute. Dr. Gill, who appeared at an earlier period, Edwards, who interposed in the midst of the controversy, and Dr. Williams, who came up at the close, were the only dissenters who became allies to the calvinistic methodists; but they have the honour of bringing into the field the mildest tempers and the mightiest arguments. Edwards, absorbed in the profound discussion, lost sight of every thing but the abstract question, which he pursued to such lengths, that not many could follow him. He proved, with what may be called a prodigality of evidence, that from the nature of the human mind a necessity of consequence must exist in human affairs, and not only confirmed this, both by the general tenour of Scripture, and a multitude of particular texts, but drove the contrary notion off the field by a reductio ad absurdum so complete,' that nothing like an answer could ever be given.' The calvinists, however, delighted with so able a champion, deprived themselves of his efficient co-operation by vaunting his prowess in an injudicious manner. Toplady either did noť understand him, or was induced by polemical zeal to represent him opposed as much as possible to the arininians; so that he was announced to the world a mere necessarian, like Priestley or Hartley. The opposite party presuming that Edwards was not mis. represented by those who gloried in him as their champion, either shut their eyes, or steeled their hearts against his arguments; concluding a priori that they could not be true; because they contradicted at once the feelings of nature, the testimony of conscience, and the language of Scripture, which all concurred to prove, that we are moral agents and not mere machines. Hence Fletcher, the ablest of the arminian writers, admits one species of necessity, and contends earnestly for it, in opposition to Edwards, who, strange to tell, wrote his book to establish the same kind of necessity. Once, indeed, the vicar of Madeley seems fairly to face the American, when Edwards contends that every kind of necessity is not incompatible with that freedom of the will, which is essential to moral agency, praise and blame; because God is necessarily holy, devils are necessarily or irre. claimably evil; yet neither the best nor the worst beings act by compulsion; the one deserves praise and the other blame. The manner in which Fletcher attempts to answer this, would be amusing, were it not a melancholy spectacle, to see such a man attempt to defend himself and others from the force of truth.

Augustus Toplady, vicar of Broad Hembury, whom Mr. Wesley calls “ a bold young man,' entered the field with such weapons as were admirably calculated to repay the unfair attacks of the arminians. This clergyman's 6 Historic Proof of the Calvinism of the Church of England,” lies not within our province: it was answered, if not confuted, by Mr. Sellon, who was also a minister of the establishment. Another piece by the vicar of Broad Hembury was entitled, “ More Work for John Wesley," offending sufficiently by the title alone against the decencies of let. ters, and the meekness and benevolence of Christians. “ The Scheme of Christian and philosophical Necessity asserted,” by the same author, in opposition to Mr. Wesley's tract on that subject, too often disgusts by the coarse unhallowed wit which it employs.

But the attention of the public was called to a combatant of very different talents and spirit from either of the former. John Fletcher, a Swiss by birth, had been ordained in the church of England; and was chosen to preside in lady Huntingdon's new college at Trevecca. But when the honourable and reverend Mr. Shirley, who was attached to calvinistic methodism, sent to lady Huntingdon the minutes of Mr. Wesley's conference, 1770, she doomed them to the flames, and declared that whoever did not disavow them must quit her college. Mr. Fletcher, however, defended them, and when Mr. Shirley invited, by a circular letter, the clergy of all denominations, to assemble at Bristol, and oppose the heresies contained in the minutes, Mr. Fletcher determined to stand forth in their defence, and wrote what he called his first check to antinomianism. The second check attempts to shew that the Christian church then stood as much in need of reformation from antinomianism, as our ancestors of deliverance from popish errors. He was answered by five letters from the author of " Pietas Oxoniensis," sir Richard Hill; on mans faithfulness, on working for life, on God's con. duct to the heathen, and on the sins of believers, Fletcher's third check was in answer to these letters, and by seizing upon their inaccuracies, he maintains a shew of argument, bordering on victory. To this were opposed six letters from sir Richard Hill, and some friendly remarks of his brother Rev. Rowland Hill, which drew forth Mr. Fletcher's “ Logica Genevensis, or a fourth Check to Antinomianism.” This contained some bitter passages, which betrayed a mind wounded, if not foiled, in the conflict, and was answered by sir Richard Hill's “finishing Stroke.” Fletcher's “ fifth Check, or the second Part of Logica Genevensis," aimed a blow at John Berridge, vicar of Everton, author of "the Christian World unmasked," who had entered the field against the armiuians. Sir Richard Hill answered again, by “ a Creed for Armi. nians and Perfectionists,” which is drawn up with considerable ability; and though it was opposed with equal ingenuity by Mr. Fletcher's “ fictitious and genuine Creed,” it left a deep impression.

« PreviousContinue »