« PreviousContinue »
As to the question, Whether we feel a veneration for the divine character ?—I should think, we ourselves must be the best judges. All that Dr. Priestley can know of the matter is, that he could not feel a perfect veneration for a being of such a character as we suppose the Almighty to sustain. That, however, may be true, and yet nothing result from it unfavorable to our principles. It is not impossible that Dr. Priestley should be of such a temper of mind as incapacitates him for admiring, venerating, or loving God, in his true character: and hence, he may be led to think, that all who entertain such and such ideas of God must be void of that perfect veneration for him which he supposes himself to feel. The true character of God, as revealed in the scriptures, must be taken into the account, in determining whether our love to God be genuine, or not. We may clothe the Divine being with such attributes, and such only, as will suit our depraved taste; and then it will be no difficult thing to fall down and worship him: but this is not the love of God, but of an idol of our own creating.
The principal objections to the Calvinistic system, under this head, are taken from the four following topics: The atonement; the vindictive character of God; the glory of God, rather than the happiness of creatures, being his last end in creation; and the worship paid to Jesus Christ.
First, the doctrine of atonement, as held by the Calvinists, is often represented, by Dr. Priestley, as detracting from the goodness of God, and as inconsistent with his natural placability. He seems always to consider this doctrine as originating in the want of love, or, at least, of a sufficient degree of love; as though God could not find in his heart to show mercy without a price being paid for it. "Even the elect," says he, " according to their system, cannot be saved, till the utmost effects of the divine wrath have been suf
fered for them by an innocent person.* Mr. Jardine also, by the title which he has given to his late publication, calling it, The Unpurchased Love of God, in the Redemption of the World, by Jesus Christ; suggests the same idea. When our opponents wish to make good the charge of our ascribing a natural implacability to the Di
* Consideration on Difference of Opinion, III.
vine Being, it is common for them either to describe our sentiments in their own language; or, if they deign to quote authorities, it is not from the sober discussions of prosaic writers, but from the figurative language of poetry. Mr. Belsham describes "the formidable chimera of our imagination, to which," he says, we have annexed the name of God the Father, as a merciless tyrant. They conceive of "God the Father," says Mr. Lindsey, "always with dread, as a being of severe, unrelenting justice, revengeful, and inexorable, without full satisfaction made to him for the breach of his laws. God the Son, on the other hand, is looked upon as made up of all compassion and goodness, interposing to save men from the Father's wrath, and subjecting himself to the extremest sufferings on that account." For proof of this, we are referred to the poetry of Dr. Watts !-in which he speaks of the rich drops of Jesus' blood, that calm'd his frowning face; that sprinkled o'er the burning throne, and turn'd the wrath to grace:-of the infant Deity, the bleeding God, and of heaven appeas'd with flowing blood.†
On this subject, a Calvinist might, without presumption, adopt the language of our Lord to the Jews: Ihonor my Father, and ye do dishonor me. Nothing can well be a greater misrepresentation of our sentiments, than this which is constantly given. These writers cannot be ignorant that Calvinists disavow considering the death of Christ as a cause of divine love, or goodness. On the contrary, they always maintain, that divine love is the cause, the first cause, of our salvation, and of the death of Christ, to that end. They would not scruple to allow, that God had love enough in his heart to save sinners without the death of his Son, had it been consistent with righteousness; but that, as receiving them to favor without some public expression of displeasure against their sin, would have been a dishonor to his government, and have afforded an encouragement for others to follow their example; the love of God wrought in a way of righteousness: first giving his only begotten Son to become a sacrifice, and then pouring forth all the
* Sermons on the Importance of Truth, pp. 33-35.
+ Apology, (Fourth Edition,) p. 97-and Appendix to his Farewel Sermon, at Essex Street, p. 52. VOL. II.
fulness of his heart through that appointed medium. The incapacity of God to show mercy without an atonement, is no other than that of a righteous governor, who, whatever good-will he may bear to an offender, cannot admit the thought of passing by the offence, without some public expression of his displeasure against it; that, while mercy triumphs, it may not be at the expense of law and equity, and of the general good.
So far as I understand it, this is the light in which Calvinists consider the subject. Now, judge, brethren, whether this view of things represent the Divine Being as naturally implacable?—— whether the gift of Christ to die for us be not the strongest expression of the contrary ?—and whether this, or the system which it opposes, "give wrong impressions concerning the character and moral government of God?" Nay, I appeal to your own hearts, whether that way of saving sinners through an atonement, in which mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace embrace each other; in which God is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus; do not endear his name to you more than any other representation of him that was ever presented to your minds? Were it possible for your souls to be saved in any other way; for the divine law to be relaxed, or its penalty remitted, without respect to an atonement; would there not be a virtual reflection cast upon the divine character? Would it not appear as if God had enacted a law that was so rigorous as to require a repeal, and issued threatenings which he was obliged to retract? or, at least, that he had formed a system of government without considering the circumstances in which his subjects would be involved; a system, "the strict execution of which would do more harm than good;" nay, as if the Almighty, on this account, were ashamed to maintain it, and yet had not virtue enough to acknowledge the remission to be an act of justice; but must, all along, call it by the name of grace? Would not the thought of such a reflection destroy the bliss of heaven, and stamp such an impression of meanness upon that character whom you are taught to adore, as would almost incapacitate you for revering or loving him?
It is farther objected, that, according to the Calvinistic system, God is a vindictive being, and that, as such, we cannot love him.
It is said, that we "represent God in such a light, that no earthly parent could imitate him, without sustaining a character shocking to mankind.” That there is a mixture of the vindictive in the Calvinistic system, is allowed: but let it be closely considered, whether this be any disparagement to it? nay, rather, whether it be not necessary to its perfection? The issue, in this case, entirely depends upon the question, Whether vindictive justice be in itself amiable? If it be, it cannot render any system unamiable. “We are neither amused nor edified," says a writer in the Monthly Review, "by the coruscations of damnation. Nor can we by any means bring ourselves to think, with the late Mr. Edwards, that the vindictive justice of God is a glorious attribute."* This, however, may be very true, and vindictive justice be a glorious attribute, notwithstanding.
I believe it is very common for people, when they speak of vindictive punishment, to mean that kind of punishment which is inflicted from a wrathful disposition, or a disposition to punish for the pleasure of punishing. Now, if this be the meaning of our opponents, we have no dispute with them. We do not suppose the Almighty to punish sinners for the sake of putting them to pain. Neither scripture nor Calvinism conveys any such idea. Vindictive punishment, as it is here defended, stands opposed to that punishment which is merely corrective: the one is exercised for the good of the party; the other not so, but for the good of the community. Those who deny this last to be amiable in God, must found their denial either on scripture-testimony, or on the nature and fitness of things. As to the former, the scriptures will hardly be supposed to represent God as an unamiable being; if, therefore, they teach, that vindictive justice is an unamiable attribute, it must be maintained that they never ascribe that attribute to God. But with what colour of evidence can this be alleged ? Surely, not from such language as the following: The Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God. Our God is a consuming fire.-God is jealous, and the Lord REVENGETH; the Lord REVENGETH, and is furious; the Lord will take VENGEANCE on his
*Review of Edwards' Thirty-three Sermons, March, 1791.
adversaries; and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.—Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?-His fury is poured out like fire.-O Lord God, to whom VENGEANCE belongeth: O God to whom VENGEANCE belongeth, show thyself!—He that showeth no mercy shall have judgment without mercy. He that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will show them no favour.—For we know him that hath said, VENGEANCE belongeth unto me, I will recompence, saith the Lord-It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.—I lift up my hand to heaven, and say I live for ever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judg. ment, I will render VENGEANCE to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.-The angels which kept not their first estate he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them, are set forth for an examyle, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.-The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking VENGEANCE on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.*
As to the nature and fitness of things, we cannot draw any conclusion from thence against the loveliness of vindictive justice, as a divine attribute, unless the thing itself can be proved to be unlovely. But this is contrary to the common sense and practice of mankind. There is no nation or people under heaven, but what consider it, in various cases, as both necessary and lovely. It is true, they would despise and abhor a magistrate, who should punish beyond desert; or who should avail himself of the laws of his country to gratify his own caprice, or his private revenge. This, however, is not vindictive justice, but manifest injustice. No considerate citizen, who values the public weal, could blame a magistrate for putting the penal laws of his country so far in execution, as should be necessary for the true honour of good government, the support of good order, and the terror of wicked When the inhabitants of Gibeah requested that the Levite
* Deut. iv. 24. Heb. xii. 29. Nahum i. 2. 6. Psa. xciv. 1. James ii. 13. Isa. zxvii. 11. Heb. x. 30, 31. Deut. xxxii.40, 41. Jude 6, 7. 2 Thess. i. 8.