Page images

particulars from the Boston Confession. The following are the principal. The Confession held that effectual calling was, by "almighty power, determining men to that which is good." By this we understand a direct exertion of almighty power upon the will irresistibly constraining us to come to Christ. Dr. Edwards, on the contrary, taught that the will of man is like the balances of a mer chant, and the weights used in turning the scales are by him made to consist in motives, the strongest of which, according to him, always and irresistibly prevails. To him, also, belongs, perhaps, the honor of binding the garland of "disinterested benevolence" around this mouldering system-a garland whose flowers were destined to wither long before its supporting column should fall.*

Dr. Bellamy was Dr. Edwards' principal coadjutor in his work, a helper by no means to be despised, or lightly to be set aside. These reverend divines succeeded in quieting, for awhile, at least in some degree, the feelings of opposition which were gaining in the public mind against the prominent doctrines of the dominant creed, by the new and less exceptionable dress in which they clothed them. But a spirit of investigation was abroad among the people; and encouraged as it was by these attempts at innovation, it soon found means to rend the veil, and bring to view the true characteristics of the new theory, which, with the more observing, were little, if any, less exceptionable than those of the old.

Not long after the death of Dr. Bellamy, Dr. Samuel Hopkins, of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote and published a "System of Divinity," in which he boldly left the old paths, abandoned the old chart and compass, and struck for himself and his adherents, a new course. Dr. Edwards had undoubtedly prepared the way for this new enterprise; as it appears that many of the materials from which Dr. Hopkins formed his system were obtained from him.

The distinctive features of this new system were:

1. That all virtue or real holiness consists in disinterested benevolence. The object of benevolence is universal being, including God and all his intelligent creatures.

2. That all sin consists in selfishness, or an interested affection, by which a person sets himself up as the supreme or only object of regard, and nothing is lovely in his view, unless suited to promote his private interest.

3. There are no promises of regenerating grace made to the acts of the unregenerate.

4. That the impotency of sinners, with respect to believing in Christ, is not natural but moral; or that every man has a natural ability to do God's will, and that his inability consists wholly in disinclination, or not being willing.

5. In order to faith in Christ, the heart must approve all God does, though it were to cast off the soul for ever.

We do not fully understand the import of this figure. But if the writer intends to say that the doctrine of "disinterested benevolence" is destined to be generally rejected by those professing themselves to be Calvinists, long before the distinctive principles which have always been considered as at the foundation of the Calvinistic creed, it must be deemed altogether problematical. In listening to the preaching of some of the new-divinity men of the day, one would think this garland is, in their estimation, just coming into bloom.

[ocr errors]

6. God is directly the cause of all sin.

7. Sin is, on the whole, a benefit.

8. Repentance is before saving faith.

9. Though men become sinners by Adam's sin, according to a Divine constitution, yet they are accountable for no sins but personal; for, 1. Adam's act was not the act of his posterity, and so they did not sin in him; 2. there could be, then, as there can be now, no transfer of sinfulness: therefore Adam's act was not the cause, but only the occasion upon which God brings men into the world sinners.

10. Christ's righteousness is not transferred to believers, but is so imparted that they are justified for Christ's sake.

11. God regenerates the heart by a direct action of the Spirit upon it, and not by means of light, or the word of God.

12. The atonement is universal.

In other points Dr. Hopkins agreed with the Confession; but in these it will be perceived that he departed widely from the old landmarks. With the Boston Confession they can never be made to harmonize. That Confession said nothing-knew nothing-of disinterested benevolence. This Roman relic, rejected by the Boston divines, was reserved to occupy an important place in the temple of Hopkinsianism. It was quarried in 1681, by Michael de Molinos, a Spanish priest, then in Rome, and imported into France by Lady Guion, to be wrought for her purposes by the hand of the amiable Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambray. Thence it was brought by Dr. Edwards into America, and formed and shaped for a distinguished place in the edifice reared by Dr. Hopkins.

On the doctrine of the atonement there was a disagreement between the Boston Confession and the theory of Dr. Hopkins; the former asserting that it was limited to the elect, the latter affirming that it was made equally for all. The Confession also declared that God is not the author of sin, while the doctor as explicitly asserted that he is. The doctrine maintained in the Confession was, that we sinned in Adam, that of Dr. Hopkins, that we did not. On many other points there was a wide difference between them.

Notwithstanding the bold strides of this new scheme-notwithstanding it struck, in some of its peculiarities, at the very vitals of a system long cherished, and by some very nearly adored, it gained admirers and became popular. While Dr. Hopkins was busily engaged in the propagation of his faith, then called "new divinity" a helper appeared in the person of Dr. Emmons, of Franklin, Mass. With a genius and discrimination which would not suffer by a comparison with those of Edwards or Hopkins, he wrote in a much more interesting style than either, and he won, by the flowing elegance of his diction, those whom he did not convince by the soundness of his arguments. The work was now fairly commenced, Hopkins and Emmons labored like brethren in the same field, and every thing for a time conspired to give promise of a bountiful harvest. The pulpits rang with the peculiarities of Hopkinsianism. The groaning press sent out its swarms of publications to elucidate and amplify them. And multitudes of young men, candidates for the ministry, flocked to Dr. Emmons, the Gamaliel of NewEngland, for instruction in the mysteries of this new theology.

True, they had difficulties neither few nor small to contend with. They were charged with departing from pure Calvinism, and of introducing heresy into the Church. Opposition met them on every hand; but it did not arrest the spread of their tenets. They continued daily to make proselytes, and gain new acquisitions to their party. Among the causes of this success may be reckoned the fact, that the advocates of the new divinity strenuously insisted that it was Calvinism, explained, of course, according to its true import; and the people had been taught that whatever bore this image and superscription, was to be heartily received. People, too, delight in new and strange things, and will not startle at the marvellous, even in religion, if it bear an old and familiar name. Dr. Hopkins was understood to have made wonderful discoveries in the deep mysteries of Calvinistic theology; and while the multitude were amazed at what they saw and heard, the inclinations of curiosity, which had been highly excited, prepared them for an easy adoption of whatever might be presented for their acceptance. The principal thing, however, which gave the system footing, was the prevailing supposition that it furnished a solution for many of the difficulties with which the old creed had been charged, while it was not yet understood that that which professed to explain every thing needed itself to be explained.

Whatever was the cause, such was the fact, that very many of the Churches fell in with this new theory; and it seemed at one time like a mighty tide sweeping all before it. Hope beat high in the bosoms of its friends, and the smile of triumph sat upon their countenances when the sun of its glory had reached its meridian.

But a darker day awaited the Calvinistic Churches of New-England. Our Puritan fathers were unfortunate in bringing with them those peculiar religious sentiments, and their sons were no less so in their attempts to reduce them to form by their adoption of the Boston Confession. They were unfortunate, not barely because they were opposed alike to the common sense of mankind, and the better feelings of the heart, and could not, therefore, long be popular, but also because their practical effect was in time to produce a cold and heartless formality in the Churches. Had they, with their strong masculine integrity and manly enterprise, connected those evangelical principles, whose tendency is to superinduce constant watchfulness and steady perseverence in all the departments of religious duty, such as the rational understanding will approve and the word of God sustain, results much more beneficial to the cause of piety and to the world at large would undoubtedly have resulted from their pilgrimage to the new world. But it was certainly not well calculated to stir up the spirit of faith, and inspire the ardor of love, to teach men that all events are brought to pass by the will of God; so that we effect, in the circumstances which surround us, no change from the purpose of God, which was fixed before all worlds, that the salvation a certain number of mankind is unalterably fixed by the same purpose, and the inevitable ruin of all the rest is equally sure, and that, consequently, let men do what they will, they can accomplish nothing toward altering or changing their fate. Such views of the Divine economy have surely

little in them calculated to lead men to seek and serve God fervently.

But, little as these views were adapted to the purposes of spiritual instruction and edification, those of the new school were scarcely better. They were well calculated to gratify the curious and metaphysical, but not to feed the flock of Christ. In the confusion of thought which ordinary minds must have experienced in following such writers as Edwards, Bellamy, Hopkins, and Emmons, through the labyrinths of their philosophical disquisitions, they could not but be ill qualified for an exercise of those rational feelings of experimental piety which characterize the truly devout. And even to those who could follow them through their reasonings, and readily connect their deductions with their premises, what was to be gained on the score of piety? What resulted in any respect other than a disposition for contentious disputations-the very reverse of the spirit of Christianity? However it is to be accounted for, the Churches had become cold, and, in many instances, scarcely any thing remained but the form of godliness.

The old system, together with its various modifications and amendments, had another evil attending it. It obtained credit among a certain class with extreme difficulty. This class consisted of the more wealthy and influential, many of whom had too much in this world to occupy their minds to pay much attention to the next. With hearts unhumbled by the truth of the Gospel, they cherished strong feelings of opposition against being considered not only dependent, but dependent reprobates. When the spirit of inquiry was awakened by Edwards and others, all the objections which they had secretly entertained against the system were called forth to bear openly upon it. Those who had taken the lead in rousing the spirit of inquiry were unable satisfactorily to answer these objections. Success emboldened the objectors to press the investigation; and the spirit of discontent increased and spread, until a rupture was inevitable.

When this commenced, it was seen how far the leaven had extended. By many of the Churches, Calvinism, in every form, was renounced ; and the houses of worship, with their owners, passed to another denomination. The venerable Harvard was transferred in like manner. Blow after blow was struck; and when the conflict ceased the former possessors of this goodly heritage found that it was wasted and desolate, while a mock Christianity looked out from her palace of security on the wild ruin she had wrought, and smiled in unholy triumph over the wide-spread desolation.

Nearly at the same time that Unitarianism gained the ascendency in Massachusetts, a new system sprang up out of the elements of Calvinism, in Connecticut. The Rev. Mr. Huntington, of Coventry, left a work which was published after his death, entitled, "Calvinism Improved." The main point aimed at in this work was, that the election of God, instead of embracing a few only, extended to the whole human family; and that, consequently, all would finally be saved. The reasoning was specious, and precisely of the kind suited to the inclinations and feelings of multitudes who were wedded to their sins, and were pleased, therefore, to be furnished with so admirable a mantle to cover the enormity

of their transgressions, and quiet the agitations of their consciences. This doctrine of universal salvation was accordingly received with much applause and loud rejoicing. On this generic principle of a certain and final salvation to all, several theories have been founded, differing slightly in the minuter details, but all vindicating the broad ground that God will not suffer any of his intelligent creatures to be eternally miserable. To this standard thousands have flocked, under the comprehensive name of Universalists. As it is natural for man to pass from one extreme to another, it is clearly perceived with how much ease those who had become disgusted with the peculiarities of Calvinism passed over to the opposite extreme; armed as they were against every sober consideration of the true medium, by the prejudices they had imbibed from hearing it perpetually disparaged and repudiated, as the grossest and most dangerous heresy. Tired, as many evidently were, of the old system and the endless metaphysical essays to amend it,-sick to loathing of the dogmas of the more bigoted and supercilious to force it upon their belief and acceptance, the new schemes of Unitarianism in Massachusetts, and Universalism in Connecticut, afforded them the relief and protection, at least in their estimation, which they anxiously desired; and to these they resorted the more readily, and, we may add, especially, as they were in perfect accordance with the unrenewed feelings of the heart, and laid them under no severe restraints with respect to the indulgence of those feelings.

Under such circumstances, it is not to be wondered at, that the falling off from the orthodox party was so great. The more wealthy, learned, and influential went over to the Unitarians; and the lower classes-the more ignorant and corrupt-to the Universalists. Thus were the operations and influence of the orthodox Calvinists extensively narrowed down in New-England. Experience is a hard schoolmaster; but if the lessons it imparts are not purchased at too dear a rate, they are often of the most serviceable kind. It is a fact, we believe, now generally acknowledged, that the style and manner in which the peculiarities of Calvinism were enforced upon the people, were imperative and dogmatical to a degree calculated to give offence. The result of these evolutions in the Church taught those concerned the propriety of adopting a more conciliatory method of propagating their faith. This evidently followed. Greater caution was observed in speaking of the more objectionable features of the old Orthodox creed. They were entirely kept out of view, or shrouded under an obscure and ambiguous phraseology, which rendered them less offensive, while those which were generally approved, were set out in bold relief; and all possible pains were taken so to accommodate the system to the state of the times as to render its acceptance general. The new light of disinterested benevolence proved too faint and dim to satisfy the public mind. The revolting dogma, that God is the author of sin, was rejected, or held in a modified form. Upon the "horrible decree" of reprobation, as Calvin very properly called it, men instinctively frowned. All these were so modified, and held out in such terms, as tended much to conciliate public opinion and public feeling. We cannot indeed say that ten years since any essential alteration had taken place in the principles which had in former

« PreviousContinue »