Page images
PDF
EPUB

tain points among the Reformed ministers, inferring from thence that we were of different religions, they very justly replied, That such diversity of opinions did not constitute different religions, nor dissolve the UNITY of the church; alleging the examples of all the doctors of the ancient church, among whom there were scarce two to be found who entirely agreed with each other on all points : and yet, notwithstanding such disagreement, they always continued members of the same, Catholic church, maintaining among themselves all christian communion. This forbearance, in matters which are not absolutely necessary to salvation, has not only been preached up by all the chief pastors of the Protestant churches, but actually put in practice. Accordingly we find, that both in the year 1520, and in 1537, during the disputes between Luther and the clergy of Switzerland, about the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, there was a sincere brotherhood promised and maintained for a while, though afterwards broken by the heat of some, to the great prejudice of the evangelical churches, and to the joy, advantage, and strength of Popery. The same project of a toleration was again set on foot in the year 1570, in Poland and Lithuania, by the churches of the Augsburg, Bohemian and Swiss Confessions ; all which, notwithstanding their disagreement in the business of the sacrament, promised to maintain all christian love and charity with each other, to esteem each other as orthodox churches, and to be ready to shew their unity, both by frequenting the same christian religious worship, and by joining in the communion of the Lord's Supper. Which unity has, through God's special grace, continued among them to this day, and

enabled them to make a stand as well against the Papists as the Samosatenians.

“ Now as we [the Dutch Reformed] have always offered a toleration of the differences about the sacrament, and of other matters in which the Lutherans dissent from us, so likewise it is well known, that controversies have arisen in England, Switzerland and other parts, about Christ's descent into hell, about Excommunication and several other points, which are not yet decided; but these things have made no breach in the unity of the church. Franciscus Junius, in his life-time Professor in the University of Leyden, being moved by certain ecclesiastical disputes that had happened at Utrecht, published an exhortation to peace, wherein he most strongly maintains this doctrine of the toleration of different opinions, and recommends it as highly necessary for the good of the church. The Provincial Synod of South Holland, holden in the year 1574,—having been warned by the French churches, that D. Piscator, Professor at Herborn in the county of Nassau, propagated certain errors relating to conversion, faith, and Christ's active righteousness, -were pleased to exhort those of the French Churches not to drive on matters

<

with such heat, as that a schism or quarrel might arise: since which Tilenus, Professor at Sedan, following the opinion of Piscator in the business of justification, (which was always considered by the Reformed Churches as a point of the last importance,) was thereby engaged in a violent dispute with Du Mou, lin, a famous and excellent minister in France ; which dispute was accommodated by the interposition of Monsieur Du Plessis and other learned persons, in such manner, that they reciprocally owned each other for orthodox ministers, and yet each retained his own opinion.

“ The same plan of toleration has been practised as well in this as other countries by those who maintain an unconditional predestination, some of whom place it abovè, others below the fall; insomuch, that the brethren of the Contra-remonstrant persuasion, who were at the Conference of the Hague, expressly declared, that this difference never produced any discord or quarrel in our churches.

Now to apply this general rule of toleration to the particular dispute about predestination and its dependencies, as it was canvassed at the said Conference, and from whence (God help us !) such sad divisions have sprung up in our churches, who is so rash as to maintain, that the knowledge of it, either on the one side or the other, is absolutely ne,

cessary to salvation ?' For all things that are of such necessity ought to be understood and received by women as well as men, by young as well as old, by the most ignorant as well as by the most learned, at the peril of their eternal welfare. How many plain good men are there in the church of Christ, and even among the clergy themselves, who do not so much as know the state of the difference, much less which side they ought to choose? And dare we refuse salvation to such persons ? God forbid that a christian man should entertain so hard a thought! Both opinions agree in this, 'that all the decrees and operations

of God relating to the salvation of men, are founded in Christ * Jesus, and accordingly we hold him to be the only foundation.' Most of these disputes turn upon THE ORDER which is con ceived to be between God's foreknowledge and his decrees, and yet we allow, that both are in him from all eternity. From hence, through the subtilty of disputing, there have arisen such crabbed questions, that the most learned hardly know how to extricate themselves : For which cause, even reason itself teaches , that a toleration of such points ought to be extended not only to the common members of the congregation, but also to their pastors, since pastors and teachers are not altogether exempt either from ignorance or error, any more than their flocks, and upon that account may be justly included in the number of those with whose weakness we ought to bear; and the constant practice of the Reformed Churches clearly shews it. The House-Book or Manual of Bullinger is sufficiently known

Oo

us,

[ocr errors]

in this country. The Loci Communes of Melancthon are pubJished not only in Latin but in French, with a noble recommendation of Calvin: Whoever will compare those books with the Institutions of the last-mentioned author, or with what Beza has written about predestination and the points relating to it, may plainly enough discover the difference of their opinions about modern controversies. Nevertheless, all these men of learning and piety, excellent instruments in the hand of God, and pillars of the church, did not condemn or excommunicate one another for the sake of such differences; but, on the contrary, treated each other as dear and worthy brothers and fellow-labourers in the Lord's harvest, thus leaving to their successors glorious examples of prudence and moderation. All that we have said above, concerning that toleration and union which our people formerly offered to the Lutherans, is likewise applicable to the case in hand; since the Lutherans, (besides that wherein they differ from us in the business of the sacrament,) teach the doctrines of Universal Grace, Predestination from Faith foreseen, and that some true believers, by sinning against light, fall entirely from grace and faith: So that the Synods and ministers before-mentioned, when they offered such a union to the Lutherans, did by so doing declare, “That they did not look upon those points as ne

cessary on either side, but as objects of toleration :' which is likewise expressly shewn by Perkins, an eminent English divine, and one that held with the brethren of the high opinions in the business of predestination and other points, (whom we here call Contra-Remonstrants,) who allows, that the Lutheran churches, though maintaining Universal Grace, are true churches of God, and that they hold the foundation of salvation uncorrupted; and who ranks the errors about free-will among those points that by no means destroy the fundamentals of religion. With this agrees what was written some years since by Paræus, Professor at Heidelberg, and a Contra-Remonstrant too, since he places the articles of a Divine Predestination, its cause and effects, and the nature of free-will, not among the fundamentals of our faith, but among those theological decisions about which men may disagree without breach of peace or charity ; adding, that if the Reformed divines would seriously consider “this, there would be fewer dissensions in the church, and the * remedies would be at hand to heal our wounds and restore

unity. The churches of Anhault, as well as some of the clergy in Denmark, having forsaken the Lutheran doctrine about the sacrament, continue nevertheless in the lower opinion concerning Predestination, and the points belonging to it, as maintained by the brethren in these provinces, whom they call the Remonstrants; and yet it is well known, that the other Reformed Churches maintain all good agreement and fraternal correspondence with those churches and their pastors. In Eng

6

[ocr errors]

land at this very time there are persons of both persuasions, in some of the most eminent stations in the church, without any infringement of ecclesiastical unity.

“Here it ought to be well considered, that these points of controversy are not only not necessary to salvation, but also that they are so deep and so difficult, that we cannot find they were ever synodically determined, either in the christian churches of old, or in the Reformed of later times. As for the ancient church, it is well known, that the Fathers and Doctors of the first four centuries which followed the Apostolical age, do all along shew they had no knowledge of these deep points, and consequently the people could not learn any thing

of them from their sermons and writings; and, what is more, Calvin, Beza, and others of the same opinion, frankly confess, that the doctors of the primitive times thought and spoke differently from them about these matters: Yet it is no less certain, that christian simplicity never flourished more than in those ages, and that never more martyrs offered up their souls to Christ; a plain indication that both piety and happiness are to be attained without the knowledge of those profound subtilties. Afterwards, when certain heretics began to cry up the natural strength of man, in opposition to grace, St. Austin, a very famous doctor of the church, carrying the matter somewhat higher, maintained the necessity of grace in order to salvation in such a manner as to join with it an absolute predestination ; but not without being opposed by many. Now though there were four or five councils held in his time against the mentioned heretics, and though St. Austin was the chief manager in one of those councils that met at Carthage, yet it appears from the Acts of those Councils, that nothing was determined by them on the one or the other side about the doctrine of Absolute Predestination and the points that depend on it; but the substance of the decrees of the said Councils amounts to this, That all men are corrupted, and that none can do any thing that is spiritually good, without some internal and unmerited grace of God. And whereas some others afterwards so far acknowledged the efficacy of Divine grace, as to agree, that perseverance or continuance in good proceeds from such grace, (being still of opinion at the same time, that some men, by the beginnings of a good will, do prevent grace,) against those there was a Council holden at Orange, in which it was summarily taught, That the beginnings of good proceed from grace, but without making any mention of an absolute predestination to salvation : and so matters rested for that time.

“We shall not call to our assistance the examples of the Papacy; yet this is worthy our observation, that the points-about which the scholastic writers, (as they are called,) disagree so much, that the Dominicans dispute upon them with the Jesuits, and even the Jesuits among themselves,--are by no means to be

esteemed causes of our separating from Popery; and though it has been the custom for many hundreds of years, in the Romish church, to proceed very lightly to decisions and condemnations, yet have not the Popes determined the disputes about absolute or conditional predestination, nor concerning the manner how grace acts upon the will of man, either on the one side or the other, but have left liberty of 'opinion to both parties, * forbid, ding them to anathematize or to rail at each other. Would to God that the children of light were as wise in this matter as the children of darkness! and that what the Papists do for the support of their temporal kingdom, the Protestants would do for the raising Christ's spiritual kingdom in love and peace !

“ If now we will take a view of the times from the beginning of the Reformation down to this day, we shall find, that though these controversies have sufficiently troubled all our churches, they have never yet been determined in any

lawful Synod; and how variously the several Confessions speak of this matter, may be easily observed by every one that will take the trouble to read them with attention. Some imagine, that these disputes were synodically determined in England, at Lambeth, in the year, 1595. But that is a great mistake; for the meeting at Lambeth was no Synod, nor ever counted such; neither do the articles that were there agreed upon, denote any thing more

* Some years after the foolish decisions of the Synod of Dort had been fulminated through the Protestant world, a Roman Catholic author addressed a Divine of the Church of England in the following taunting manner; and it must be allowed, that his comparisons between the Predestinarian combatants in his Church and ours have too much truth in them: “ The differences amonst those of our Church are not differences in matters of FAITH or Religion, as it is evident; but on the other side it is manifest and conféssed, that yours are. Our differences are in Philosophy only, or in some Scholastic and undefined point; and such, in particular, is that now some years agitated between the Dominicans and sundry of their party on the one side, and the Jesuits and Sorbonne Doctors, and many more, on the other. For these contend not, as we do with the Calvinists, namely, whether have free will or no?, all of them agreeing in that verity of faith. But they contend about a question only Philosopbical, which bath some relation to it, namely, whether, with this freedom of will acknowledged by both sides, physical predeterminations or premotions can consist? which question is no question of faith. Now admitting, as many think, that these predeterminations could not stand with the doctrine of free-will, yet the said doctrine of faith is not hurt thereby: for the opposition between them and free-will is either discovered by the Dominicans, or not: If not, then is it dormant, and so, though never so ill, it cannot do hurt to faith, or work it any prejudice : if it be discovered, then it can work nothing, forasmuch as thereupon it will be relinquished and abandoned presently; because the doctrine of free-will is received by an assent of faith, and the other but by a philosophical or opipative; the former, heing the stronger, must needs command and expel the latter, as soon as they begin to fall at variance. Wherefore it would in that case be a good consequence with them, viz. Man hath free-will, therefore there is no predetermination ; and not contrarywise, (as it is with the Calvi. nists,) there is predetermination, therefore no free-will. Therefore in the holding of predeterminations there is a vast difference between a Calvinist and a Dominican, even as much as between an obedient Catholic, and a perverse and obstinate Heretic, and that is difference enough.”

« PreviousContinue »