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trine to say,
" A man has power, and yet has not power." It is devoutly to be wished that none may be misled by" the mere sounds of words. Let it now be understood, that we do not hold to a sentiment so self-contradictory as this ; That in the same sense, in which men have power, they have not power, to do their duty. But this sentiment we hold and seek to inculcate ; that while by the fall we have lost the holy image of God, and have no beart to return to him, we have not lost the faculties necessary for moral agency, and are therefore ander perfect obligation to make a proper use of these ficulties, wbich would certainly imply a return to him from whom we have revolted. If by the fall we had been changed into brutes, instead of sinners, the Saviour would not say. “ Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” And if by the fall we had not become so totally depraved, as to have no heart to accept this gra. cious invitation, the Son of God would not have said, 6. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me, draw him :" nor would he have taught the necessity of the power of the Holy Ghost to change our hearis, as preparatory to our accepting of gospel offers, and becoming interested in the benefits of his death. Here then is a natural ability to return to God, and a moral inability to return. In other words ; Here is a rational creature, who has power to perform moral actions, who is at the same time perfectly wicked, and therefore morally or spiritually disabled from doing right. Should this creature be made the subject of a moral change, he will frankly say, " By the grace of God I am what I am." I should never, without the special power of the Spirit, have got rid of this moral inability, and found it in my heart to submit to the righteousness of God. And yet, every tear of repentance which he sheds, is proof that he is fully convinced that he was possessed of a natural ability to do . this, and that his moral inability was " ne cloke for his sin ;" but that it was a wicked heart, holding fast deceit and refusing 10 reikin. The penitent feels ashameri of his past life. He is convinced i hat he has acted a most impious and foolish part, in so long living without God in the world. This necessarily implies a conviction,
that he was always possessed of natural ability to live a · life of piety towards God, as well as a life of uprightness towards men. At the saine time he has a conviction, which is equally clear, that nothing short of the conquering power of the king of saints, would cver have made him submit. Is not then this alleg. ed contradiction harmonized in the experiences of every true penitent? That it may be thus harmonized in every mind, should be the prayer of the writer, and of all his readers,
IN my reply to Mr. Bangs' objections against Calvinistis Roctrines, I have not taken notice of eyery thing which threw itself in my way: yet I have detained my reader longer than I intended when I first took up my pen. The controversial part of my buok will now be concluded, by a few brief remarks.
1. It is of great importance, that we should all seek to obtain the most clear and definite ideas, which we possibly can, concerning the leading doctrines of the gospel. It is not enough, that we believe there is a God; we ought to obtain just views of his character. We cannot fully comprehend his naiural or moral perfections ; but we can obtain consistent and correct views of them. If we do not entertain sentiments about the Divine Being, which are essentially correct, our religion will be no better than that of the men of Athens, who erected an altar to the unknown God. It is not enough, that we adop: the belief of human depravity; we ought to study to form a de. finite idea of the nature, and extent of this deprarity. It is not enough, that we believe that there is such a thing as holiness : We ought to form a distinct idea of holiness, and know what is the specific difference between holiness and sin. These remarks will apply with force to the law of God, the ground of obligation in creatures to obey, the doctrine of aronement, regeneration, &c. On none of inese fundamental points, ought we to content ourselves with vague, indistinct notions. It is by knowing the truth that we are to be made free. See Joh. viii. 32. The Saviour prayed for his disciples, that they might be sanctified through ibe truth. But surely we are not sanctified, merely by having the word of truth lie by us in our
houses : neither are we sanctified by knowing the names of the christian doctrines; nor can we be sanctified by erroneous and false views of these doctrines. Such views of gospel doctrines are represented in the scriptures, as tending to corrupt the mind, and to produce a most pernicious effect on the heart and life. It is the very truth, which tends to make us free. It is by loving and obeying the truth, that our hearts are purified. The importance of clear, definite, and correct sentiments about the fundamental truths of the gospel, is very great. A child ought not to be destitute of this : But it is utterly inexcusable, for those who have come to mature age, and who live in this land of Bibles and of Sabbaths, to be ignorant of " the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.” But it is most of all inescusable, and criminal, in the teachers of this religion, to be either ignorant or erroneous.
2. We would remark on the importance of the unlearned reader's being on his guard against receiving every learned criticism, on the mere credit of the critic. We would not despise all learned criticisms : but it would be very dangervers for the common reader to form his sentiments concerning any lequing doctrine of the gospel, on the mere authority of some learned critic, who is acquainted with the Hebrew and Greek langueges. Such a reader may generally satisfy himself concerning ihe correctness of a criticism, which affects a funda. mental doctrine, without having recourse to any learned mari, or to any book but the English Bible. Let us take for example three different criticisms, which are found in the book that has called forth the preceding Vindication. The krst is found in the Letters, p. 32. It is Mr. Bangs' own criticism on Luke xxii. 22. There needs nothing to relieve the mind of the meie English scholar, only to compare his criticism with the pas. sages in the other Evangelists, where the same thing is brought into view. The second example which I shall introduce, is Mr. Fletcher's criticism on Acts iv. 27, 28. It is found in the Letters, PP, 39, 40. This needs nothing to do away its forcę, only to be placed by the side of the second Psalm, from which tle words in Acts were quoted. The third example shall be Dr. A. Clarke's criticism on Exod. iv. 21. This will be found in the Appendix to the Letters; pp. 303-306 The passage is concerning the Lord's hardening the heart of Pherach. making some other, observations on the test, Dr. C. says, ** The verb chazak, which we translate harden, literally signi. fies to strengthen; confirm, make bold or courageous: and is often used in the sacred writings, to excite to duty, perseverance, &c.” Now, tho the common reader cannot dispute tke learned critic, about the repeated application of this Hebrew word to an excitement to do good; yet common sense, unaided by li. terature, and unbiassed by pre-conceived opinions, can clearly discern, that the word is noi used in such a sense in this place. All which follows in the ten succeeding chapters, is directly in opposition to the force of the criticism. Besides, the plain
unlettered christian, when he finds this case brought up by the apostle, cannot but see that he did not understand the Hebrew word, in the sense given in the criticism : but that he understood the hardening of Pharaoh, to be in contrast with his ob. taining mercy. Rom.ix. 17, 18.
If the man of classical learning shouid by the force of criticism, take from his uneducated neiglibor, all the texts which are considered as direct proof of any one of the essential doc. trines of the gospel, the captive doctrine could be recosered back again, by discovering its intimate relation to the whole system of grace. Take for an illustration of this, the doctrine of total depravity. If all the texts, which are considered as the most direct proof of this doctrine, (such as Gem vi. 5; Psal. xiv. Rom. iii.) should be forced away by criticism, when no learned advocate for the doctrine is at hand to grant relief, the christian, who can read the scriptures only in his own tongue can himself rescue it from the hand of ihe enemy. He will remember it is said," They that are in the flesh, cannot please God." From this he with certainty infers, that they who are in the flesh, have no holiness in them. He finds that all men in their natural state are represented as refusing to accept of gos. pel offers. Hence he concludes, they are wholly opposed to Gori and holiness. He finds the promises of the gospel are made only to the converted, and yet that they are made to those who have love to God, repentance for sin, &c. without be. ing limited by the degree of their strength. This reader, (we will suppose,) is fully established in å belief of the doctrine of regeneration, or of a change of heart: But he sees, that if he gives up the doctrine of total de pravity, he must also give up the docirine of regeneration. Unless therefore the critic can take away all his foundation at once, it will be difficult to take from him any one of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel.
3. There is one other remark of such great importance, that I dare not omit it. The remark is this: If the doctrines, which have been vindicated in the preceding work, are true, we hare great season to fear, that if we do not love them, it is because we are in a state of unregeneracy. They are either essential doctrines, or they are capital errors. If they are true, they are doctrines, which it must be very unsafe to reject. And yet they are doctrines, which we are greatly exposed to reject, because they are naturally unpalatable. This we know, without going from home to learn it. The same objections which we find in Mr. Bangs' houk, and in other Arminian writings, we frequently hear from our neighbors, and from our own children; who have been instructed in nothing but the Calvinistic doctrines. Nay, we have made these very ohjections ourselves. We have seen our hearts rise in dreadful opposition against that God who made, and who governs the world according to his own pleasure, and for his own glory ; and that according to an unalterable plan, whicb he laid in eterniv. We have seen our own bearts full of objections against totally depraved crea. tures' being required to perform holy actions, and that under the pain of eternal death. Oir hearts have said, He that requires this, is a hard master, reaping where he has not sown. Our hearts have quarrelled with sovereign distinguishing grace, manifested in renewing one sinner in distinction from another : anıl our enmity has been drawn forth with peculiar strength, by a belief, that the distinction which is now made bei ween sinners of the same character, was made in the pur. pose of God, before the foundation of the world. We ourselves are that clay, which has replied against the Potter, " Why hast thou made me thus ?" " Why doth lie yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will ?" These objections against our own doctrines, are things with which we are but too intimately ac. quainted. But at the time, when we hope we passed from death unto life, we thought we became reconciled to these doctrines ; and that we rejoiced in them, as clearly exhibiting the glory of Gol: and the strength of the hope which we have since entertained, of our having known the grace of God in truth, has been in proportion to the cordiality of our approba. tion of these views of God and divine ings, in connexion with our external obedience. With our present views of christian doctrine, we should not entertain charity for ourselves, tho' our external attention to the duties of morality and piety were increased, if we did not at the same time think, that we could discover in our bearts a sweet approbation of the doctrines advocated in this Vindication. We are well a ware, that no attachment to a system of doctrines, which does not lead to holy practice, is to be depended on : nor dare we make dependence on any external obedience, however strict, which does not flow from an inward love of the truth.
Here is a fact which ought to be seriously considered. The unconverted of our own congregations, evidently incline to Arminian sentiments : but when they appear to be convert. ed from prayerless men, into men of serious godliness, it is a common thing for them, to embrace Calvinistic sentiments, acknowledging that all their former ground of opposition to them, was a proud and wicked heart. I would now ask, whether it be a common thing for the children of Methodist, and other Arminians, to incline to Calvinistic sentiments before their conversion? Is there not in this respect a manifest difference? And is not this a thing, which ought to arrest the attention, and excite the deepest thought in the minds of those who are our opponents in this controversy?
I am now just about to crop my pen and close the present work. But before I do this, I feel constrained to address a word to my readers of the Methodist connexion, if any such readers I shall have. I know, the Searcher of hearts has been a witness of all that I have writien. I have not knowingly ut. tered a word of reproach for the sake of reviling you, considere