« PreviousContinue »
favourite of Heaven; and, if any attempt to disturb his repose, it is commonly without effect. Such, or nearly such, is very frequently the beginning of Antinomian religion.'*
There are some cases of a peculiar character, in which this stupefaction passes off, and the mind gradually awakes to a juster view of religion. If we may carry on the figure, we should say, that the deleterious effects of the poison have been carried off by the pre-existing disease. In plain words, Antinomianism has wrought a cure upon the disturbed and perplexed imagination, without having taken permanent posses, sion of the heart. In cases of genuine conversion, this may be expected to ensue; and nothing is more delightful than to mark the gradual restoration of such a person to the sobriety of Scriptural views and humble, devout, ingenuous feelings Yet, it will be a long time before such persons will be pre
is lence: it formed an ingredient in that exhibition of truth which was to them medicine.
Again, there are others whose minds appear to be so singularly constituted, that they can convert preaching of the most pernicious tendency into nourishmentThey can listen to Antinomian teachers, translate what they hear into sound doctrine, and come away under the impression that
what they heard was quite another thing from the reality. They fasten on the topic, which is of course Scriptural, and Scriptural language is copiously used in illustrating it; this topic is a favourite with them, it may be, not from any exclusive views, but from certain habits of reading or other circumstances; and they are intellectually gratified by hearing it descanted on The preacher who dwells on these topics becomes a favourite; and possibly, no worse effect follows from an attendance on his ministry, in their case, than a distaste for all other preachers. They will not echo the Antinomian slang and scandal, that no other ministers preach the Gospel, but they hear no one else with so much pleasure. Such persons, without being infected with the Antinomian heresy, go to swell the ranks of Antinomian congregations.
We refer to these cases, because we think they will suggest the necessity of a wise discrimination in treating the subject in question. Among those who "separate themselves" schismatically from the evangelical part of the Christian Church (one of the most prominent traits of this party, and the rest of the character describedt aptly applies to the mass)-we must“ on
• Works, Vol. IV. pp. 178, 9, 183.
+ Jude, 19.
“ some have compassion, making a difference." Most important, in this reference, is the caution given by the Rev. Mr. Cooper in his excellent letter on Antinomianism, already cited in our pages. From the fear of countenancing, or being sus
pected to countenance, the abominable conclusion which • Antinomianism involves, the opposer of this system is • strongly tempted to depart from that full exposition of the • doctrines of grace which he has been previously accustomed
to maintain. To avoid the charge of preaching imputed * sanctification, he may almost desist from asserting the neces
sity of justification by faith only, as if he were become ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, or had forgotten that it is “ still the power of God unto salvation.' ...' Wherever,' adds Mr. Cooper, the preachers of the word of God thus suffer them'selves to be driven from that purity of doctrine, and to be • spoiled of that unction from the Spirit, which formerly cha • racterised their ministry, then, the triumphs of Antinomianism are complete; then it produces its full measure of mis
chief, and gratifies to the utmost the malicious designs of its • diabolical author.**
Without lending ourselves to the atrocious calumnies vented by Dr. Hawker and his sect against Christian ministers at large, as not preaching the doctrine of justification by faith only, we must be permitted to express our apprehension, that individuals have been driven into the toils of Antinomianism by not hearing this cardinal article so fully and unreservedly maintained, as is requisite to meet the exigencies of certain states of feeling and descriptions of character. By the might of this doctrine, be it remembered, the Reformers triumphed. Perhaps, those who have never served an apprenticeship to the Popish doctrine of Justification, who have never tried and struggled to obtain peace of conscience without submitting the pride of their self-righteousness to God's method of justifica-' tion, are not aware either of the necessity or the efficiency of the most unembarrassed, unqualified exhibition of this doce trine. Why should Hawker, or Huntingdon, or any other wretched perverter of God's truth, more explicitly, more fearlessly uphold this doctrine, than the evangelical minister? On this point, they are not palpably heretical, except as they mingle with their statements an unintelligible jargon about eternal justification; but Huntingdon more especially, in some of his printed works, states the doctrine of the Reformers on
• Cooper's Letters to a Serious Inquirer. 12mo. London, 1817. See Eclectic Rev. N.S. Vol. IX. p. 553,
this cardinal article with that Cobbett-like clearness and force in which he occasionally excelled. It is this circumstance which, in many quarters, makes Antinomianism go down where otherwise it would not. There can be no occasion to guard or qualify this doctrine, if the other doctrines of religion are as scripturally preached. Never let it be forgotten, that Christianity builds on the ruins of self-righteousness, and that the method of reconciliation is the threshold to the temple.
We wish we could suppose that' zeal against popish errors' had any share in misleading the Antinomian teachers of the present day. No such excuse can be made for them." But a zeal on the part of their hearers, against an inefficient mode of stating the Protestant doctrine, has doubtless operated, in some instances, to their advantage, and indirectly contributed to the spread of their dogmas. The chief source of Antinomianism, however, is, we apprehend, ignorance in combination with spiritual pride. In some persons, indeed, it seems to spring from a passion for the extravagant and paradoxical; in others, it is received on the faith of some theological oracle of orthodoxy; in not a few, there is too evident reason to believe, that it has been taken up from the necessity of the case, which required that the creed should be made to square with an Antinomian practice.
But there is, as we have already remarked, a style of preaching which, though not justly chargeable with Antinomian error, both indicates a leaning to such doctrines, and acts as a predisposing cause of their reception. It is often characterised as high Calvinism; it might be more properly styled ultra-Calvinism, for these men soar far higher than Calvin. In the preaching of these individuals, the doctrine of Election'is, for the most part, made to take the place of the Atonement as the basis of the Christian system; the covenant is substituted for the cross of Christ; and Justification is made the ultimate end of religion, instead of its beginning,-the essence of regeneration, instead of an attendant on it. Yet, few positions will be advanced, that can be controverted or regarded as in themselves objectionable; but the effect of the whole is to leave an impression which, though 'the variation of outline is scarcely perceptible, proves the doctrine to be counterfeit. Things go on, however, very comfortably, the congregation pleased with the preacher, and the preacher with the people, lill something arises to trouble the waters, and they are found to be stagnant. Let the minister who has fondled this congregation into listlessness be removed, and another of a different stamp take his place; the practical effects of such preaching will then too unequivocally manifest themselves. Surely, the state in which a minister leaves a congregation over whom he has had the oversight for a term of years, is some criterion of the character of his instructions, unless it has ceased to be a just axiom,“ By their fruits ye shall know them.”
The distinguishing feature of Antinomianism in all its forms and stages, is justly pronounced by Mr. Fuller to be selfishness. • Such is,' he remarks, the doctrine, and such the spirit it inspires,' Whatever doctrine inspires this spirit, then, we may safely pronounce to be of Antinomian character. In the following portrait, this judicious Writer has succeeded in fixing some of those general traits which, like a family likeness, run through all the various species of religion which bear an affinity to this monstrous corruption of Christianity.
• The love of God as God, or an affection to the Divine character as holy, is not in this system..... Love, as exemplified in its patrons, is mere favouritism. God having, as they conceive, made them his favourites, he becomes on that account, and that only, a favourite with them, Nor does it appear to have any thing to do with good-will to men as men. The religion of the Apostles was full of benevolence. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, they persuaded men, and even besought them to be reconciled to God. Jesus wept over the most wicked city in the world, and Paul, after all that he had said of the doctrine of Elec. tion, in the ninth Chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, protested that his heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel was, that they might be saved. He did not pray for them as reprobates, but as fellow-sinners, and whose salvation, while they were in the land of the living, was an object of hope. In his treatment of the most decided enemies of the truth, though he sometimes rebuked them sharply, and used an authority which was committed to him as an extraordinary character; yet, there is no malignant bitterness or low abuse in his language. But the religion of which I speak is, in all these respects, the very opposite. It beseeches not the unconverted to be reconciled to God, because it is God only who can turn their hearts. It refuses to pray for their salvation, as not knowing whether it would not be praying for the salvation of the non-elect. It has no tears to shed over a perishing world, but consigns men to perdition with unfeeling calmness, and often with glee. And as to its adversaries, it preserves no measures of decency with them : personal invective, low scurrility, and foul abuse are the weapons of its warfare.
• Nor is it less a stranger to the love of Christians as Christians. The love which this species of religion inspires is mere party-attachment, the regard of publicans and heathens,” any of whom could love those who love them. If any man oppose their opinions, whatever be his character for sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, he is without hesitation pronounced graceless, a stranger to the new birth, and an enemy of Christ.'
• Another mark of this species of religion, is, a disposition to interpret all favourable events in providence as proofs of their being favourites of heaven, and all unfavourable events towards their adversaries as judgements for their conduct towards them, and, as it were, an avenging of their quarrel. This is a natural and necessary effect
of a selfish religion. From wishing every thing to be subservient to the gratification of self, it is an easy transition to think it is so ; for opinions are greatly governed by desires. Hence, if an adversary be unsuccessful in business, it is the blast of God upon him; if afflictions befal him, they are the arrows of the Almighty discharged at him ;, or, if he die, he is cut off as a monument of Divine displeasure ; and all because he has offended God by offending this his peculiar favourite.
• Antinomianism, having annihilated moral obligation, might be expected to lead its votaries to the denial of sin ; yet, strange as it may appear, there is scarcely any people who speak of their sins in such exaggerating language, or who make use of such degrading epithets concerning their character as they. But the truth is, they have affixed such ideas to sin as divest it of every thing criminal, blameworthy, or humiliating to themselves. By sin, they do not appear to mean their being or doing what they ought not to be or do, but something which operates within them without their concurrence. In all the conversations that I have had with persons who delight in thus magnifying their sins, I cannot recollect an instance in which they appeared to consider themselves as inexcusable, or indeed ever the worse on account of them. On the contrary, it is common to hear them speak of their sinful nature with the greatest levity, and, with a sort of cunning smile upon their countenances, profess to be as bad as Satan himself; manifestly with the design of being thought to be deep Christians, thoroughly acquainted with the plague of their own heart.'
By such persons, the Writer remarks, the spiritual principle and its opposite," the new and the old man, are considered as agents, and the man himself not an agent, but a passive spectator of their conflicts. And natural men” are despised, as though destitute of common understanding. Thus, there is not left a single tenet of the Christian system, but is wrested to an application the very opposite of its native purpose and tendency. And yet, no one tenet is outwardly renounced; but truth is exaggerated into error, till it reaches the consummation of a most diabolical orthodoxy, the vampire of the moral world.
But we should greatly err, we should be ourselves chargeable with Antinomian bigotry, were we to consider all persons who cherish notions belonging to this system, as destitute of true religion. It is not for us,' remarks the same excellent writer,' to pronounce upon the degree of error which may be * permitted to accompany the truth. I have no doubt, he adds, “ that many good men have been deeply tinctured
with these principles, though it is not from them that their
goodness has proceeded' Others have perceived the real tendency of the system, and have receded. The only preservative is, to take alarm at its earliest symptoms. A zeal for orthodoxy apart from its practical influence; a fastidious,