Page images

of the Holy Scriptures, rationally and consistently interpreted, whiy ought not that doctrine to share the fate of its predecessors in error? If the doctrine of eternal prescience, be indeed defensible, let its numerous and eager advocates come forward in its defence : but if the doctrine be indefensible, then let it be consigned, at once, to the limbo of vanity.

R. Sir, I hope you are not so uncharitable, as to think that all those good people, who have lived and died in the firm belief of the doctrine of eternal foreknowledge, are gone to the place of everlasting misery?

A. I think, my dear friend, that you have not found any thing in my book, and that I have not advanced any thing in this conversation, which would justify in you a suspicion of that kind. I am of opinion, that my book is perfectly free from personal invective. It is against the doctrine of prescience, and not against the believers of that doctrine, that my arguments are directed. I do venerate personal piety wherever I may find it; and when I find a religious person who warmly espouses the doctrine of prescience, I venerate his piety the more on that very account; because I am of opinion that nothing but a strong feeling of practical piety, would serve as an effectual antidote to the demoralizing tendency of his creed. But it is an obvious truth, that such persons, uniformly, as far as the present question is concerned, speculate according to the theory of prescieoce, while they practise according to an opposite theory : and therefore, if their practice be correct, their speculations must be erroneous.

R. Well then, if you are really of opinion, that the belief of the doctrine of eternal prescience, may be perfectly compatible with personal piety, why not let the subject alone ? and why not suffer the good people, who hold that doctrine, to go on quietly in their own way? If the speculation be innocent, why stir up the dying embers of religious controversy?

A. Sir, although I do very gladly allow, that many persons who believe in the doctrine of eternal prescience, are people of undoubted piety, yet I am very far from calling that doctrine a harmless doctrine. The persons in question, merely hold that doctrine as a matter of abstract opinion, or rather of implicit faith ; but they never think of deducing any practical consequence from it; and therefore it comes to pass that their piety remains uncorrupted.

But, is the belief of the doctrine of eternal prescience and the cognate doctrine of eternal predestination, kept by all their believers in a dormant and innoxious state? Is not the greatest scourge to which the Calvinistic churches are exposed, the rising up of persons, who being unrestrained by the fear of God, will pursue those doctrines to their Antinomian conclusions? But I will venture to assert, that the wildest and most ultra Antinomian in the world, never deduced one half of the horrible consequences from those doctrines, which the premises, if they were true, would completely justify.

R. Yes, Sir, give me leave to tell you, that no person ever made out such a revolting case from those doctrines as what you

have wantonly pretended to make of the matter. For my part, I am astonished that such awful things should have entered into your head; or rather, I wonder how such abominable things should have entered into your heart. They are enough to make a Christian shudder to read them; and I wonder you were not ashamed to send such things out into the world.

A. Sir, I should have been both ashamed and afraid to impute such things to the Deity, as the consequences which I have in many parts of my work deduced from the doctrine of an eternal prescience; and I should not have thought myself warranted in imputing all those revolting consequences which I have, on different occasions, deduced from the doctrine in question, to all those pious persons who profess to believe in that doctrine. The advocates of that doctrine, are usually, so far restrained by their moral feelings, that they seldom think of pursuing those premises to their utmost conclusions: but all those words and sentiments, which have glared so fearfully in your eyes, on the pages of my treatise, are legitimate deductions from the doctrine of eternal prescience. Or, at all events, if they be not legitimate deductions, you have now a fair opportunity of detecting their fallacy. But if you are not able to detect their fallacy, and shew where they are not fair and legitimate, you ought, as honest men, and ingenuous opponents, to renounce your favourite premises as being untenable and delusive.

R. But after all, you have not justified your conduct in assailing those pious persons who continue to hold that doctrine, and who, according to your own confessions, are worthy of your respect. For if those persons may be in a state of salvation, while they

continue in the belief of that doctrine, what sufficient reason are you able to assign for assailing the faith of such persons, with such unmeasured and unbridled fury?

A. Sir, are you aware that the very same interrogations might have been offered the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the ancient pagans? That the same interrogations may be made to every person who may endeavour to convert a sinner, of any description, to the Christian faith? I think that you yourself would not venture to affirm that it is absolutely impossible for any Jew, whatever his character may be, to be received at last into eternal felicity. And I think you would not venture to maintain, that it is absolutely impossible for any heathen, or Mahomedan, or Socinian, to be saved ; or that no such person was ever yet received into glory. But if it be only possible for a Jew, or a pagan, or a Mahomedan to be saved, why not let them alone? and why trouble them with the peculiarities of the Christian creed? Besides, my good Sir, how will you justify the conduct of Luther, and Melancthon, or any of the reformers, in endeavouring to recover the Christian world from the errors of the church of Rome, if you condemn the part which I have acted, in relation to the doctrine of eternal prescience? Was there no pious individual left within the pale of the Romish church? And how will you make it to appear that Thomas à Kempis did not act a more wise and worthy part, in adhering to the church of Rome, and in refusing to trouble his mind about the doctrines of Protestantism, than Luther and Melancthon did by all the clamour of reform? May not a speculative Socinian possibly hold the peculiarities of his creed in the same dormant and inoperative state, as a pious predestinarian does the peculiarities of his speculative system? and in spite of his antichristian speculation, actually place all his practical dependence for salvation upon the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God? And if so, why would you molest him in his errors ? and why will you not let him go on in his errors without molestation or hinderance ?

R. I tell you, it is my serious and decided opinion that you will only unsettle people's minds, and cause a great deal of uneasiness and trouble in the religious world.

A. The very same objection might have been brought against Luther and Melancthon, and all the Protestant reformers: and, in

deed, the very same objection might be urged against the introduction of Christianity in every place.

R. But, Sir, let me ask you, Did not Luther and Melancthon, and all the Reformers, believe in this very doctrine of eternal prescience ?

A. It is possible they might: but even in that case, it will only follow, that although they exposed and reformed many errors of the church of Rome, they did not reform all its erroneous doctrines. The very principle upon which the agents of the Reformation founded their innovations on the church of Rome, is that on which I am now proceeding; the right and competency of private judgment in the interpretation of the word of God. And as to unsettling people's minds, there is no possibility of reclaiming people from error, except by unsettling their opinions.

But if, by the unsettling of people's opinions, we can only lead them to the knowledge of the truth, and to the enjoyment of personal salvation, then the acquisition of personal piety, and correct views of religious truth, must certainly be regarded as an ample recompense for all the trouble occasioned to them thereby. Are you aware, my good friend, that the very same objection has been urged by the world against our endeavours to convert the wicked from the errors of their ways ?

R. Sir, such subjects are far too' mysterious for human comprehension. It is in vain to think of understanding them. They are Christian mysteries ; and as Christian mysteries they must be believed, and received.

A. My good Sir, say rather they are Christian contradictions ; and as Christian contradictions they must be believed and received. I am well aware that the philosophy of religious truth may indeed be incomprehensible ; but the possibility of every Christian doctrine must be intuitively evident : or otherwise the fact can never be a subject of rational conviction. If the mystery, or rather the absurdity, of a doctrine may be argued as a valid objection to the cordial belief of it, then I am quite sure that no person can have any rational conviction of the doctrine of eternal prescience. Your argument, my good Sir, is solely and obviously against yourself. If we are not to have any thing to do with mysteries, or rather with contradictory things, then I am very sure we have no business with the doctrine of an eternal prescience.

R. Well, Sir, I can only tell you, that you will be sure to procure for yourself a great deal of ill will, and make a great number of enemies.

A. The very same prudent caution might have been administered to our blessed Lord; and the same might have been said to the Apostles and early Christians : the same might have been said to the Protestant reformers, and the very same may be said to every person, who may endeavour to expose any error, or reform any popular evil. If a person must conceal the truth, because the exposure of error may procure him ill will and popular indignation, it will be impossible, hereafter, to introduce any kind of improvement among human beings.

R. Sir, it is my decided opinion, and the opinion of every person who has either read or heard of your book, that you had done better to have written upon some more profitable subject; and not have diverted people's minds from the important business of experimental and practical godliness.

A. Nay, my good Sir, the sole object of my book, is to call off the attention of mankind from the doctrine of eternal prescience, by demonstrating that it is devoid of truth, and utterly incapable of yielding the smallest particle of benefit or improvement to either the intellect or the heart of man. Permit me, Sir, to say, that nothing could be more disingenuous than the objection which you have now advanced. Will even the sturdiest advocate of the doctrine of an eternal prescience, profess that it is the edifying nature of that doctrine, which induces him to esteem it so highly, and to contend for it so earnestly? And will any of those pious persons who continue in the implicit belief of that doctrine, say they have ever found it to minister to their edification in the knowledge, or enjoyment, or practice of piety? Why, Sir, even your own objection, indirectly concedes the point of its total inutility. The charge of unprofitableness, therefore, lies against the advocates and believers of this doctrine, and not against the opposers and rejectors of this doctrine. All the edification and benefit which the subject can ever occasion to its advocates and admirers, must be those, of an inquiry into the evidence by which it is supported, a discovery and conviction of its total falsity and futility, a prompt and entire rejection of it, both in speculation and in practice; and a plenary and lively conviction of their own

« PreviousContinue »