« PreviousContinue »
the Holy Ghost, theirs the abode of total and invincible depravity; he is clothed with the spotless robe of imputed righteousness, while their seeming virtues are but splendid sins. Alike as they may seem to human eye, there is the awful difference of spiritual life and death, the favour and wrath of God, and an eternal destiny of joy and anguish. Is human nature to be trusted on this giddy elevation? Is this a faith which “ worketh by love;" or is it not in danger of becoming the source of pride, censoriousness, presumption, and selfishness?
Not only is heaven supposed to be the peculiar inheritance of the elect; and saving faith, the faith of Calvinism more or less rigorously interpreted, an indispensable mark of election; but earth is preserved only for their sakes, to be the scene of their redemption, calling, and sanctification, and when their number is completed, this goodly and glorious frame of things is to be dashed, to pieces like useless machinery.
“ Thus shall this moving engine last
Till all his saints are gathered in,
The benevolent feelings must be injured, and very much limited in their operation, by such theories. It is not surprising, however it may
be deplored, that they should lead to such views of the endless misery of others, as are expressed in the following extract from the writings of one of the ablest defenders of Calvinism: .. .
66 The saints in heaven will behold the torments of the damned. The smoke of their torments ascendeth up for 'ever and ever! They shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. So shall they be tormented in the presence of the glorified saints ! .
“ Hereby will saints be rendered more sensible how great their salvation is; when they see how great the misery is from which God has saved them, and how great the difference he has made between their state and the state of others, who were by nature, and perhaps for a time by practice, more sinful and hell-deserving than any. It will give them a greater sense of the wonderfulness of God's grace towards them. Every time they look upon the damned, it will excite in them a lively and admiring sense of the grace of God in making them to differ.
" The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints for ever! It will not only make them more sensible of the greatness and freeness of the grace of God in their happiness, but it will really make their happiness the greater, as it will make them more sensible of their own happiness. It will give them a more lively relish
for it; it will make them prize it the more, when they see others who were of the same nature, and born under the same circumstances, plunged into such misery, and they so distinguished ! Oh! it will make them sensible how happy they are! A sense of the opposite misery, in all cases, greatly increases the relish of any joy or plea
This passage, as to the spirit which it breathes, the system from which it flowed, or the effect of that system upon the social feelings of our nature, requires no comment.
To creeds, with their usual accompaniments, we owe much of the duration of mischiefs and absurdities, which else would perish with their authors. There can be no objection to any Christian's expressing his own idea of the doctrines of Scripture in his own language; but there is great objection to such statements being adopted by Christian Churches, and vested with any sort of importance or authority. They sprung up in the Christian Church in company with error, avarice, pride, and persecution. At best they must be objects of jealous suspicion to the friend of religious liberty. They are usually both imperfect and erroneous. Whatever be truth, who can deem it possible that all the propositions contained in the Thirty-nine Articles should be true ? How many of their subscribers believe a majority of them? As to their perfection, in a collection
of sixteen creeds of Protestant Churches, published at Geneva, 1612, there are only six (of which that of the Church of England is not one) that speak of the providence of God; and eleven take no notice of the resurrection of the dead. Creeds are deadly to inquiry. They say to the mind, « Thus far shalt thou go, and no further.”
They are too often badges of temporal superiority for some, and instruments of tyranny over others. They are associated with the notions of establishment and priesthood; and in this way, as well as others, lead to persecution : while in their avowed object of producing uniformity of opinion, they have, in the Church at least, totally failed, and only proved, instead, traps to catch consciences. Amongst Dissenters, their use is but too common, and active superintendence makes them more efficacious, and, consequently, more mischievous. With this thorny fence they often guard their schools, churches, seminaries for the ministry, and pulpits, against the inroads of heresy. If successful, they may keep out, with it, freedom of thought and speech, independence of mind, and even sincerity.
To the evil of creeds we oppose the utility of controversy; but it ought not to be forgotten that on the utility of controversy there are some serious drawbacks. Passion is too apt to mingle in it, and bring uncharitableness or calumny in its train. The practised debater often handles
sacred things with unbecoming levity; and the struggle will occasionally be less for truth than for victory. Pious feeling is exceedingly liable to suffer in theological conflicts. A disputatious spirit sweeps, with the force and fury of a whirlwind, the sacrifice from the altar of devotion, and extinguishes its holiest fires. These evils should ever be guarded against with the utmost caution. Still we must look to controversy as the chief means of realizing that reformation of Christianity, that reversion to its original principles, which must precede any great improvement in the state of the world. Its utility cannot be better demonstrated than by shewing the results already produced by the Unitarian controversy on the Christian public. Those results are of great importance; and they are also connected with the general design of these Lectures, by their bearing on the present state and future prevalence of Unitarian Christianity.
The Unitarian controversy has done good, because it is a controversy; a Christian controversy, conducted on Christian principles, by appeals to the New Testament. Controversy rightly conducted, with the temper unruffled, the heart unprejudiced, is good for man. It is the destiny of his nature to learn, not by intuition, but discussion. It is the dignity of reason to bow, not to authority, but conviction. It is the dictate of Christianity to believe, not on