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This doctrine, fo plainly and fully revealed, ought in reafon to overbalance every argument drawn from a few obfcure paffages, which at first fight may seem to look a contrary way. But this is a confideration which feldom has its due weight with those who entertain fome fingular conceit or opinion. Engroffed with their own notions, they are not to be prevailed upon to make the general tenour of scripture the ftandard for their doctrine; but are apt to bend and warp the expreffions of it to their own particular purpose: and whilft they eagerly lay hold of every paffage that seems to countenance it, will hardly give a hearing to other texts, how plain foever, that might ferve to set the subject in its true light. To this prejudice' in favour of a pre-conceived opinion, added perhaps to a certain refpect for the authority of names, is that doctrine in a great degree to be attributed, which places the conduct of a merciful CREATOR towards his fellow-creature in a light fo very different from that in which the plaineft texts of scripture authorise us to regard it.
In fact, thofe parts of ST. PAUL's writings on which this partial doctrine is fuppofed to be founded, which has perplexed the minds of fo many wellmeaning people, were feen in a very different light
by the primitive Christians; to whom they conveyed the fame idea that they now convey to all who pay attention to the general tenour of the Apostle's argument. By them the Apoftle has been confidered as laying open the myfterious plan of Providence at that time taking place in the world, which refpected the rejection of the Jews from their boasted peculiarity as a nation, and the election of the Gentiles to a common participation with them in the privileges of the Chriftian church; "that through CHRIST both Jew and Gentile, being reconciled unto GoD in one body by the cross, might have an access by one spirit unto the Father." Ephef. ii. 18.
A want of attention to this leading circumftance, relative to the Jewish nation being the chofen people of GOD, distinguished by particular laws and privileges from all other nations, has given rise to numberless errors, which have disturbed the peace of the Christian church, from the days of the Apoftles to the present time. But in no inftance has this want of difcrimination led to more unchristian conclufions, than in the cafe now before us; in which the general declarations of Divine favour and vengeance, expreffed by the election and rejection of nations, as such, have, through a mistaken interpret
ation, become the subjects of particular and perfonal
For my own part, I do not take my faith from the writings of LUTHER, CALVIN, or the more ancient profeffor of this doctrine, ST. AUGUSTINE; at the fame time that I profefs the highest respect for each of them; but from that fountain from whence alone it ought to be taken, the word of God. If fome zealous men, from a laudable oppofition to one dangerous doctrine, have been heated into a determined fupport of another; I lament in them the infirmity of the human understanding, which is too apt, in avoiding one extreme, to be carried into its oppofite. The unbalanced mind of man rarely fuftains itself in that due mean which reafon and religion mark out. This has been the cafe in the fubject under confideration.
With the view of cutting up by the root the doctrine of merit, which had conftituted one of the groffeft corruptions of the church of Rome, fome of the first foreign reformers brought forward that of absolute unconditional election, and irresistible grace.
This was, indeed, to do the business at a stroke; but it was a ftroke which feverely wounded the cause it was meant to ferve. By taking away man's
free agency, an end was at once put to the morality and immorality of human actions; for a being, whofe conduct is determined by an over-ruling power, cannot be an accountable one. Thus a corrupt doctrine made way for a fpecies of fatalism, which, under an impofing title, tends to deprive rational Christianity of its firmeft fupport.
But, thank God, the bible is before me. The word election is in it, it is true; but as I would not be governed by the found of a word, but by its relative fignification, I examine the paffages where it is to be met with; and am thereby fatisfied, that it does not mean the perfonal election of individuals to eternal life, but the election of nations to the bleffings and privileges of the Gospel difpenfation. Where it is faid, 66 JACOB have I loved, and ESAU have I hated;" it only means, (as I trust it is generally understood) that Goo preferred JACOB to ESAU, to inherit and convey the bleffing which had been pronounced to faithful ABRAHAM. And nothing but a vain defire to force texts of scripture into the fup. port of an ill-founded scheme of a particular election and reprobation to eternal life and eternal mifery, could induce any one to prefs the inftance of JACOB and ESAU into their fervice.*
* See Note at the end of this Discourse.
With refpect to abfolute decrees, determining the future falvation of individuals, I fee nothing in fcripture that leads me to conclude that there are any fuch; on the contrary, I fee all through the bible general promifes of mercy fufpended upon particular conditions.
On the fuppofition, then, that any decrees may have been established in the Divine councils, (a fubject on which I prefume not to pronounce) my comfort is, that they must be conformable to Gop's revealed will; because a GOD of truth cannot contradict himfelf. Without perplexing myself, therefore, with an useless enquiry with refpect to what God may do by an abfolute act of power, I confider what He hath done, and what stands with his wisdom, justice, and goodness to do. And feeing myself called upon by his Apoftle to make my calling and election fure, I conclude, as I conceive every reasonable man muft do, that there can be no abfolute decree in a cafe, the certainty of which depends in fome measure upon myself. Confining myfelf, confequently, to the revealed will of GOD, which was given for my inftruction in righteoufnefs, and by which I am to be judged; my fole endeavour is, by Divine grace, to conform myself to it; being well affured, from the