Page images

quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein, in time past, ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. Nor did he speak this of Gentiles or of Profligates only; but, though himself a Jew, and educated a Pharisee, he added, Among whom also we had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others. To the doctrine of the universal depravity of human nature, he very properly and joyfully proceeds to oppose that of God's rich mercy. But God who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ. The humbling doctrine of salvation by undeserved favour, was so natural an inference from these premises, that the Apostle could not forbear throwing in such a reflection, though it were in a parenthesis: By grace ye are saved! Nor did he leave it there, but presently after drew the same conclusion more fully: For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast.* To the same purport he taught in his other Epistles. Who hoth saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own and purpose grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.-Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.-Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.t

These, we see, were the sentiments by which Christ and his apostles taught men humility, and cut off boasting. But, as though it were designed in perfect opposition to the apostolic doctrine, Socinian writers were constantly exclaiming against the Calvinistic system, because it maintains the insufficiency of a good moral life, to recommend us to the favour of God. "Repentance, and a good

* Ephes. ii. 1-9.

+ 2 Tim. i. 9. Titus iii. 5. 1 Cor. i. 30, 31.


life," says Dr. Priestley, are of themselves sufficient to recommend us to the divine favour."* "When," says Mrs. Barbould, “will Christians permit themselves to believe, that the same conduct which gains them the approbation of good men here, will secure the favour of heaven hereafter? When a man like Dr. Price is about to resign his soul into the hands of his Maker, he ought to do it not only with a reliance on his mercy, but his justice. It does not become him to pay the blasphemous homage of deprecating the wrath of God, when he ought to throw himself into the arms of his love."† "Other foundation than this can no man lay :" says Dr. Harwood, "all hopes founded upon any thing else than a good moral life, are merely imaginary." So they wrap it up. If a set of writers united together, and studied to form an hypothesis in perfect contradiction to the holy scriptures, and the declared humbling tendency of the gospel, they could not have hit upon a point more directly to their purpose. The whole tenor of the gospel says, It is NOT of works, lest any man should boast : But Socinian writers maintain, that it is of works, and of them only; that in this, and in no other way, is the divine favour to be obtained. We might ask, Where is boasting then? Is it excluded? NAY; Is it not admitted and cherished?

Christ and his apostles inculcated humility, by teaching the primitive Christians that virtue itself was not of ourselves, but the gift of God. They not only expressly declared this with respect to faith, but the same in effect, of every particular included in the general notion of true godliness. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, said Christ, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in me : for without me ye can do nothing.—We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.-He worketh in us both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.§ The manifest design of these important sayings was, to humble the primitive Christians, and to make them feel their entire depen

*History of the corruption of Christianity, Vol. I. p. 155.

+ Answer to Mr. Wakefield. Sermons, p. 193.

› John xv. 4, 5. Ephes. ii. 10. Phil. ii. 13.

dence upon God for virtue, even for every good thought. Who maketh thee to differ? said the Apostle, and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not recieved it ?* The Calvinistic system it is well known, includes the same things: but where is the place for them, or where do they appear, in the system of our opponents? Dr. Priestley, in professed opposition to Calvinism, maintains, "that it depends entirely upon a man's self, whether he be virtuous or vicious, happy or miserable :Ӡ that is to say, it is a man's self that maketh him to differ from another; and he has that (namely, virtue,) which he did not receive, and in which, therefore he may glory.t

Dr. Priestley replies to this kind of reasoning, "When we consider ourselves as the workmanship of God; that all our powers of body and of mind are derived from him; that he is the giver of every good and of every perfect gift; and that without him we can do and enjoy nothing; how can we conceive ourselves to be in a state of greater dependence, or obligation; that is, what greater reason or foundation can there possibly be for the exercise of humility? If I believe that I have a power to do the duty that God requires of me; yet, as I also believe that that power is his

* 1 Cor. iv. 7. + Doctrine of Necessity, p. 153.

It is true, Dr. Priestley himself sometimes allows, that virtue is not our own, and does not arise from within ourselves; calling that mere heathen Stoicism, which maintains the contrary and tells us, that "those persons, who from a principle of religion, ascribe more to God, and less to man, are persons of the greatest elevation in piety.” On Necessity, pp. 107, 108. Yet, in the same performance, he represents it as a part of the Necessarian scheme by which it is opposed to Calvinism, that "it depends entirely upon a man's self, whether he be virtuous or vicious," p. 153. If Dr. Priestley mean no more by these expressions, than that our conduct in life, whether virtuous or vicious, depends upon our choice, the Calvinistic scheme, as well as his own allows of it. But, if he mean that a virtuous choice originates in ourselves, and that we are the proper cause of it, this can agree to nothing but the Armenian notion of a self-determining power in his will; and that, in fact, as he himself elsewhere observes, is " mere heathen Stoicism, which allows men to pray for external things, but admonishes them, that, as for virtue it is our own, and must arise from within ourselves, if we have it at all," p. 69.

gift, I must still say, What have I that I have not received? how then can I glory as if I had not received it ?"*

It is true, Dr. Priestley, and for aught I know, all other writers, except Atheists, acknowledge themselves indebted to God for the powers by which virtue is attained, and, perhaps, for the means of attaining it; but this is not acknowledging that we are indebted to him for virtue itself. Powers and opportunities are mere natural blessings: they have no virtue in them, but are a kind of talent, capable of being improved, or not improved. Virtue consists, not in the possession of natural powers, any more than in health, or learning, or riches; but in the use that is made of them. God does not therefore, upon this principle, give us virtue. Dr. Priestley contends, that, as we are “God's workmanship, and derive all our powers of body and mind from him, we cannot conceive of ourselves as being in a state of greater dependence upon him." The Apostle Paul, however teaches the necessity of being created in Christ Jesus unto good works. According to Paul, we must become his workmanship by a new creation in order to the performance of good works: but according to Dr. Priestley, the first creation is sufficient. Now, if so, the difference between one man and another is not to be ascribed to God: for it is supposed, that God has given all men the powers of attaining virtue; and that the difference between the virtuous man and his neighbour is to be ascribed to himself, in making a good use of the powers and opportunities with which he was invested. Upon this system, therefore, we may justly answer the question, What hast thou which thou hast not received? I have virtue, and the promise of eternal life as its reward; and consequently, have whereof to glory.' In short, the whole of Dr. Priestley's concessions amount to nothing more than the heathen Stoicism which he, elsewhere condemns. Those ancient philosophers could not deny, that all their powers were originally derived from above; yet they maintained, "that, as for virtue, it is our own, and must arise from within ourselves, if we have it at all."

* Considerations on Difference of Opinion, III.

I do not deny that all men have natural powers, together with means and opportunities of doing good; which, if they were but completely well-disposed, are equal to the performance of their whole duty. God requires no more of us, than to love and serve him with ALL our strength. These powers and opportunities render them accountable beings, and will leave them without excuse at the last day. But, if they are not rightly disposed, all their natural powers will be abused; and the question is, To whom are we indebted for a change of disposition? If to God, we have reason to lie in the dust, and acknowledge, it was he that quickened us when we were dead in sins if to ourselves, the doctrine of the Stoics will be established, and we shall have whereof to glory. I am, &c.

« PreviousContinue »