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of attempting to promote religion by the unsound and unscriptural methods reprobated in this discourse, the more unsatisfactory are the results in the judgment of the pious and discerning.
Having presented this brief outline of the sermon under consideration, without further canvassing its merits, we shall avail ourselves of the opportunity afforded by it, to exhibit our own views on some of the topics of which it treats. We propose to inquire particularly into the fitness and validity of those means which have been most largely plied to produce a considerable proportion of the religious excitements in this country, for the last fifteen years, till in many quarters they have become identified with the very idea of a revival, and whoever discards them is judged destitute of a proper zeal for the salvation of souls.
The only common and distinctive attribute by which all classes have agreed to characterize these means, is novelty. They have been known over the land, assailed by foes and vindicated by friends, under the name of New School, New Divinity, New Measures. It is well known that under the vigourous appliance of these means, sometimes the new doctrines, sometimes the new measures, but more commonly both in conjunction, inasmuch as the latter are the legitimate offspring of the former, numerous extensive religious excitements have occurred, which have resulted in large accessions of members to the visible church. They have been set out and emblazoned in high-sounding reports, often streaked with some tints of the marvellous, and thus arrayed, have been trumpeted abroad on the wings of the wind.
It should be understood, however, that these means are not new in the most absolute sense. Those who introduced them among us, are not entitled to the credit of originating them. As to the substance of them, they had long been in use among other sects, and were the habitual and familiar weapons of their warfare. In the use of them they gloried, and on them they founded their claims to popular favour, as against Calvinistic churches, whose doctrines and usages they delighted to hold up in horrid caricature, and in awful contrast to their own more liberal and encouraging views. The novelty in the case is their introduction to Calvinistic communions, by men professedly attached to Calvinistic doctrine and that type of religious experience which results from it. But although whatever is peculiar to the authors and abettors of new divinity and new mea
sures is evidently borrowed from heresiarchs of former days, or surrounding Arminian sects, still no small ingenuity was required to solve the problem, how men could adopt the usages and principles of the adversaries of Calvinism, even making free use of their odious caricatures of it, and every other mode of blackening it in the eyes of mankind, and still remain sound and hearty Calvinists. The effort to solve this problem has wonderfully sharpened the wits of a considerable number of moral philosophers, and given rise to some curious and original processes in the art of casuistry. If any thing in these matters is strictly entitled to the praise of novelty, it is the new light thus shed upon the science of ethics and Christian morality. It is likewise notorious that the religious excitements which have been chiefly promoted by the use of the means under consideration, have been regarded with more or less distrust by a large proportion of the most orthodox, intelligent, and pious Christians and ministers in Calvinistic communions, who have long been known as most devoted friends of true revivals and experimental piety. This distrust is usually in the ratio of their attachment to orthodox doctrines, to the very doctrines which Edwards and Whitefield and Dickinson and Witherspoon constantly pressed upon their hearers, as the chief and indispensable means of nourishing a genuine revival of religion. What class of men, we ask, have been most conspicuous as rallying points of unflinching opposition to all the peculiarities in question ? Are they crude and aspiring novices in the church, young and inexperienced fault-finders, dealing out wholesale slanders from sheer ignorance or malice, speaking evil of the things they understand not? Or are they men of dubious reputation for discernment, orthodoxy, zeal and piety? If we inquire who have most distinguished themselves by strenuously resisting, and rallying others to resist this order of things, do they not form a constellation of stars of the first magnitude in our American Zion ? And is not the number exceedingly small of those who a few years since were leaders of the sacramental hosts, that have been pleased with the irruption of that order of things, known by the all-comprehensive appellation of new school? Have not such men in one form or another, as they have had opportunity, been sounding the notes of alarm and warning to the churches, as if they were exposed to the secret inroads of error and delusion ? Are the fears of such men, and of the sound, intel
ligent Christians who sympathize with them, at all abated by the information that great religious excitements are generated by these inventions and expedients? Or do they not rather apprehend that this poison eats like a canker into these excitements themselves, thus bringing this erroneous system to a most dreadful consummation ? The more they see of this sort of excitements, is not their distrust of them increased ? Have not many felt impelled, like Dr. Woodbridge, to mark the difference between such agitations and a genuine outpouring of the Holy Ghost, the means respectively adapted to promote the one and the other, and to urge upon the people not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they be of God.
Now it is hardly credible that these men should all have concurred simultaneously in detecting an insidious poison in that which was only the salubrious medicine of the great Physician, the milk and meat of divine truth. It would seem that there must be something wrong, some element essentially unsound and anti-evangelical at the bottom of these movements. What that is, deserves careful inquiry. It is due to the cause of truth, as well as to all parties concerned, to subject the means used to promote the excitements in question to a strict examination. This we shall now aim to do, dealing only with points of divinity so far as they form a material part of the machinery commonly relied on to produce such scenes.
But inasmuch as the measures which men employ for the promotion of religion will be chiefly determined by their conceptions of its nature, particularly of the natural state of man, and the state into which he must pass in order to become a child of God, and of that power and agency by which alone this change can be effected; it will facilitate our progress, to obtain a clear conception of those views of the nature of holiness, moral obligation, human depravity, regeneration, and repentance, which have formed the ground-work of these excitements. This new and facile method of making christians, was first promulgated in form, and defended in a series of elaborate articles on “ The means of regeneration,” first published in the Christian Spectator, for 1829, and then re-published in a separate pamphlet, of which Dr. Taylor was the undisputed author.
The following passage embodies the cardinal principles, in accordance with which he constructs a new theory of
regeneration, and recommends a new model of preaching that shall multiply converts with unexampled rapidity.
“This self-love or desire of happiness is the primary cause or reason of all acts of preference or choice which fix supremely on any object. In every moral being who forms a moral character, there must be a first moral act of prefeference or choice. This must respect some one object, God or mammon, as the chief good, or as an object of supreme affection. Now whence comes such a choice or preference? Not from a previous choice or preference of the same object, for we speak of the first choice or preference. The answer which human consciousness gives, is, that the being constituted with a capacity for happiness desires to be happy; and knowing that he is capable of deriving happiness from different objects, considers from which the greatest happiness may be derived; and as in this respect he judges or estimates their relative value, so he chooses or prefers one or the other as his chief good. While this must be the process by which a moral being forms his first moral preference, substantially the same process is indispensable to a change of this preference.” Chris. Spec.. 1829, p. 21.
In this passage several things are either directly stated or implied.
i. That the only inward affection which prompts the choices or preferences of moral beings, God, angels, saints, sinners and devils, is the love of self, otherwise called the desire of happiness.
2. That the ultimate end of all choice, or reason why any object is chosen by rational beings, is the happiness which it is expected to impart to the person choosing. Or, as it is elsewhere affirmed : “Of all specific voluntary action the happiness of the agent in some form is the ultimate end.”
3. As the choices of the wicked and the righteous are not distinguished from each other, either in the principle from which they flow, or the end they seek, they are distinguished solely by the difference in the objects they respectively select as means of gratifying the same ruling desire, and attaining the same ultimate end.
4. Any thing like a sinful nature, or innate sinful affection is of course discarded. Because previous to, and aside from this choice of mammon in preference to God, which occurs after judging or estimating their relative value," there is no principle or affection which does no
exist in the breast of the glorified saint. No wonder then that in the same volume, p. 367, the following interrogatory is put with an air of triumph: “Why then is it so necessary to suppose some distinct evil propensity-some fountain of iniquity in the breast of the child previous to moral action ?”
5. A saving change involves nothing more than a choice of new means to gratify the same reigning principle or affection which prompted a life of sin. God is chosen and the world renounced, simply because the man “judges or estimates” this course most conducive to happiness. Hence it involves no renovation of the heart, or implantation of holy principles and affections, or change of nature by the Holy Ghost, as prior to and causative of holy exercises. Thus regeneration, as the scriptures teach and divines have ever understood it, is done away. If man has no sinful nature by the first birth, there is no occasion for a new birth to produce a holy nature.
6. The only conceivable room which this scheme leaves for the work of the Spirit, is in producing a change of judgment as to the “relative value of God and the world as sources of happiness. For the law of moral action laid down is, that, “as in this respect he judges or estimates their relative value, so he chooses one or the other as his chief good.” If therefore a correct understanding or conviction on this point, be effected, the great work is accomplished. But such a result is not beyond the reach of human argument and persuasion. No new affection or principle needs to be implanted. But principles already existing, are to be excited to a new choice, by gaining a knowledge of the true means of gratifying them, of which they were previously ignorant. If the Spirit's work in regeneration then, be any thing more than that of the preacher —the merest moral suasion—it is, at the utmost, nothing beyond the lowest degree of those operations which are common alike to sinners and saints, and consist in solely quickening old principles, not in imparting new ones. For who does not know that the first and faintest glimmerings of seriousness in the impenitent, from which few entirely escape, arise from the conviction, that they are forfeiting their true welfare and happiness? What is this but selflove somewhat quickened and enlightened? Thus the lowest degree of common grace is all that is requisite to regeneration, and special grace, as to its essence, is filtrated away, as a part of the dregs of an obsolete system. Strongly as