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From the days of the Apostles to those of Augustine and Pelagius, there seems to have been no great dispute, no controversy on the subject. The early Greek Fathers were strenuous advocates of the freedom of the will ; but they held this idea in close connection with another, to which they often refer, that God had before him, from eternity, a perfect plan of all future contingencies and events. It must be admitted, however, that several of the Greek Fathers, as Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Chrysostom, insisted more frequently and earnestly upon the unembarrassed freedom of the will, than did the Latins of the same age; and probably for this reason : they were brought more directly in contact with a class of philosophers, as the Stoics, the Gnostics, and the Manichees, who denied human freedom and responsibility, and bound the whole moral world, as well as the natural, in the chains of resistless necessity and fate. The philosophical tendencies of the age, more especially in the East, were all adverse to human freedom; and from this circumstance, the early Christian writers were led to ipsist more upon the freedom of the will, and less upon the Divine predestination, than they might otherwise have done. Still, as I said, they seem never to have doubted that God saw the end from the beginning, and bad before him, in eternity, a perfect plan of all future circumstances and events.
The tide of worldly prosperity which flowed in upon the church after the accession and conversion of Constantine, had, as might have been anticipated, a disastrous influence upon its spirituality. The honors which were heaped upon the higher dignitaries of the church, were such as they were ill able to bear. A spirit of worldly ambition was infused, which spread through the several ranks of the clergy, and deeply contaminated the church. The consequence was, that there was a manifest decline of vital piety, through all the latter half of the fourth century. Christians were not as humble, as spiritual, as dead to the world, and as deeply engaged in the things of religion, as they had been while passing through the fires of persecution. There was much now to tempt worldly men into the church, and into the ministry; and in too many instances the temptation prevailed. During this period of declension, the great doctrines of grace, such as the entire corruption of the natural man, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, justification by faith, and others of a kindred character, were lost sight of or discarded.
But God had promised.not to forsake his people, and in due time his gracious promise began to be fulfilled. Appropriate instruments were raised up, and the slumbering church was revived and quickened. Among the instruments of this revival, which occurred in the early part of the fifth century, the first place is due, unquestionably, to the celebrated Augustine of Hippo. This man was born at Tagaste, an obscure village in Numidia, A.D. 354. His father was a pagan till near the close of life ; but his mother was an eminently devoted Christian. His advantages of education were good, and his talents of the highest order ; but his early life was one of continued debauchery and wickedness. In philosophy, he was a Manichee, and in profession a teacher of rhetoric and oratory. In the exercise of his profession, he came, at length, to Milan ; where, under the searching and powerful ministry of Ambrose, he was brought to repentance. His convictions of sin were deep, painful, and abiding. In his own experience, he learned effectually the solemn lesson, that the heart of the natural man is full of evil, and fully set in him to do evil. His conversion was eminently satisfactory-very like those which frequently occur in our best modern revivals. Old things passed away with him; all things became spiritually new; and he was prepared, at once, to devote his cultivated and brilliant powers to the service of God and his church. He was thirty-three years of age at the time of his conversion. Subsequent to this, he lived more than forty years, and was, under Christ, the great luminary of the church. He was specially instrumental in reviving and diffusing spiritual religion. He brought out the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel, gave them prominence and power, and defended them against the errorists of the times. His controversy with Pelagius was no other than a struggle for evangelical religion against one who impugned it, and was secretly laboring to subvert it.
Among the great doctrines which were taught by Augustine, was that of the Divine purposes, or predestination. This was a necessary part of that system of truth which he had learned in his own experience. If mankind in a state of nature are universally and totally corrupt, then the reason why some are saved, rather than others, cannot be that in themselves they are better than others, but must be owing entirely to the sovereign grace and purpose of God.
It has been often said, that Augustine was led to adopt bis
peculiar sentiments respecting predestination and grace, in consequence of his controversy with Pelagius. But the truth rather is, that he was led into this controversy, in consequence of his holding and revering these sentiments. It may be proved, historically, that he publicly taught them, at least ten years previous to the Pelagian controversy.
I would not be understood to adopt or approve all that Augustine wrote on the subject of predestination. He may have expressed himself too strongly, in particular instances. My impression however is, that taking all he has written on the subject together, and qualifying one statement by another, he has left the matter very nearly as it was left by the Apostle Paul, and as it is now understood by our best Calvinistic writ.
It may be further added, that perhaps no individual has lived since the days of Paul, the influence of whose writings upon the religious world has been so great, and happy, and enduring, as those of the celebrated Bishop of Hippo.
It happened to Augustine, as it often has done to other master spirits of the ages in which they lived, that his disciples did not understand predestination so well as he did, and did not express themselves with the same care and caution respecting it. The doctrine was so represented by certain monks of Adrumentum and Gaul, that Augustine himself was constrained to cry out upon them, and defend himself against the statements of his too ardent and officious friends.
The doctrine of Augustine respecting predestination was confirmed by several councils, and became the general belief of the church, more especially in Africa and the West, for several centuries. There were those, undoubtedly, who did not receive it; but there was little more controversy respecting it, till the time of Gotteschalk, who flourished in the ninth century.
Gotteschalk was of Saxon origin, and was educated in the monastery of Fulda. When arrived at manhood, he wished longer to lead a monastic life, but was compelled to it, on the ground that his father had devoted him to such a life, and that no human power could vacate the transaction. He now removed to Orbais, where he was ordained a presbyter, and so distinguished himself as a scholar that he was surnamed Fulgentius. Augustine was his favorite author, and he freely advanced the opinions of Augustine respecting Divine predestination and grace. Many favored these views, but others opposed them; among whom was Hincmar, archbishop of
Rheims, to whose diocese Gotteschalk belonged. Through the influence of Hincmar, Gotteschalk was arraigned before the synod of Chiersey, was condemned, degraded, publicly whipped, and shut up in prison, where, after a confineinent of twenty-one years, he died. He persevered to the last in his opinions, and because he would make no retraction, was denied Christian burial.
Gotteschalk was a learned, able, conscientious, good man, and deserves to be enrolled in the catalogue of martyrs. But though he died, the cause which he espoused did not die with him. Numerous and powerful advocates were raised up for it during his imprisonment, and after his death, and it was confirmed by several provincial councils.
From this period, the doctrine of predestination was almost continually agitated in the Romish church, during the next eight hundred years. It found a powerful advocate in the celebrated Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century; and an oppodent equally subtle and powerful in Duns Scotus, in the century following. From this time, it furnished a standing topic of inquiry and controversy between the Scotists and Thomists for a long period -- a topic on which all the subtleties of scholastic logic and ingenuity were expended in vain. Nor was the controversy confined to the Scholastics; but as Aquinas was a Dominican and Scotus a Franciscan, it embroiled and agitated these two great rival orders of monks—the Dominicans and Franciscans-down to the time of the Reformation. The Dominicans and Augustinians were the decided advocates of predestination ; while the Franciscans, and subsequently the Jesuits, opposed it with all their art and strength.
The controversies respecting predestination and grace were rather evaded than decided in the Council of Trent. Consequently, soon after the termination of the council, they broke out again in the Romish church, with renewed violence. The Jesuits were now the leading opponents of the doctrines in question, while the Dominicans and Jansenists were their advocates. With regard to these disputes, the Pontiffs were slow to decide any thing. They were often appealed to, but as often put off the parties with fair promises, which were never intended to be fulfilled. At length, however, about the middle of the 17th century, Alexander Vllth, the reigning Pope, being overcome by the numbers and clamors of the Jesuits, consented to issue a formal condemnation of the Jansenists, and of the doctrines
which they espoused. From this time the Jansenists, among whom were some truly pious and devoted, as well as learned men, became the objects, not only of opposition, but of relentless persecution. They were miserably harassed with banishments, imprisonments, and other vexations; and the church of Rome at length settled down in a quiet rejection of the doctrines of predestination and grace. While the members of this church professed to revere Augustine and Aquinas, and to regard their opinions as of almost equal authority with holy writ, they formally rejected these opinions, and miserably persecuted those who embraced them.
But it is time that we turn from the Romish church, and contemplate the history of the doctrine under consideration among the Lutherans. Luther, while a Catholic, was an Augustinian monk, and was converted during his residence in the monastery at Erfurth. He had a deep sense of his entire sinfulness and helplessness while out of Christ, and the work of grace upon his soul was thorough and abiding. Next to his Bible, he best loved the works of the great Augustine. He read them with intense interest, entered into the spirit of them, and was prepared to become their advocate and defender. When his sentiments as a reformer began to be made known, he was a decided believer in the doctrine of predestination. But Melancthon, with whom he was intimately associated, hesitated on this point, and would not receive it without material qualifications. And as Melancthon was chiefly concerned in drawing up the Augsburg Confession - which has ever been the symbol of the Lutheran church--the doctrine in question was left out of it. In consequence of this omission, the subject became one of controversy among Protestants of that age; and most of the Lutheran clergy since, not excepting the more evangelical of them, have failed to hold and teach the doctrine of predestination.
In recent times, there have been indications of change in respect to this doctrine, in the Lutheran church; whether for the better or the worse remains yet to be seen. It is now generally adınitted by the more learned of the Lutheran clergy, that their standards are not quite consistent with themselves. Many do not hesitate to acknowledge that they must either reject (what their standards inculcate) the entire corruption of the natural man, and his inability, of himself, to perform any thing good ; or that they must receive (what their standards re