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STATING SOME CIRCUMSTANCES, WHICH DREW THE
AUTHOR, RELUCTANTLY, INTO THE DISCUSSION.
- It is well known to the Christian public, that
New England, for more than half a century, has been famed for discussing the plainest evangelical subjects, in a deep, abstruse, metaphysical way; so that simple, honest, and well informed christians, have oft been perplexed and confounded with incomprehensible mysteries and difficulties, where none seem to have been apprehended by the sacred writers. In various instances, new philosophical theories have been invented, and attempted to be grafted on the simple and precious truths of the Gospel, as very important, if not essential to the system; and, by elaborate discussions, and excessive refinements, the humble spirit and life-giving power of these truths, have been, as by a chemical fire, carried off by sublimation. Hence a New England divine, in Europe, had well nigh become a term of reproach. In a sarcastic tone, they have been spoken of as acute divines, with whom, in the metaphysical palestra, few would presume to contend. One, who it seems did not condemn their speculations without examination, and who was willing to allow them credit for every real improvement in elucidating evangelical subjects, thus writes from London:
“The religious people of Old England look upon me as a New England divine, which is to them in general no recommendation." —Again he says, “I mean not to offend, but it appears to me, that the pride of reasoning and confident speculation is as much the danger of re- :ligious people in North America, as antinomian laxity and selfishness, is of those in Old England. Religion came from God in full perfection, and can never be improved, though it may be spoiled by philosophy: and the nearer our sentiments and expressions accord to those of the holy prophets and apostles, the purer
will be our religion. The pride of self-wisdom is as congenial to our fallen nature, and as opposite to christianity, as any other kind of selfishness; "for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."*
Far be it from me to deny that respect and honor, which is due to many of the writings of
* Theolog. Mag, for Dec. 1798. p. 421.
New England divines. I have been as much attached to these, as any mere human compositions. I have read them with much delight, and, as I hope, real profit. The nature of original sin; the nature of holiness; the highly important distinction between natural and moral ability; the nature of the atonement; the sinfulness and inefficacy of unregenerate doings,&c. these subjects were never more justly stated, and clearly illustrated, than by American divines. But not satisfied with refining the pure gold, and dissipating some mists that render the rays of eternal truth less effulgent and powerful, some have extended their speculations on various points so far, as to savor of an awful intrusion into the unsearchable depths of the ways of God, and thereby to endanger the spiritual interests of men. Of the truth of this fact, many have had a painful sense, who, still, as to any public testimony against it, have held their peace; hoping that these things would never be attempted to be imposed upon our belief, as important articles of divinity:
Dr. Benedict, of Plainfield, Con. one of the most excellent of men, my preceptor in divinity, and other sciences; to whose friendship I am greatly indebted; a profound scholar and great textuary, assured me, he would not have written some things to be found in the works of a few New England divines, for his right arm; alluding particularly to the point which is the main topic of this Essay.
Dr. Griffin, in the dedication of his ParkStreet Lectures, has hinted at some of the speculations of this new divinity.
“In these discourses,” says he, "you will find no reasonings on points foreign to godlinessno theories about the origin of sin, -no challenge for a conditional consent to be damned, no perplexing speculations about taste and exercise, but the fundamental and practical truths of our holy religion,” &c.
To those, to which there is here an allusion, we might add many more, quite as foreign to godliness. But among them all, the point to be examined in the following sheets holds a distinguished place. But had even this been suggested only as a mere philosophical problem, and not magnified into an important article of Christianity, it might have been left to rest: undisturbed in the works of philosophers, as a mere lusus of their speculating temper.—More than twenty years ago, I remember to have discussed this point with that able and judicious divine, the Rev. Samuel Niles, of Abington. The ground that I then attempted to maintain, was, that waving all questions regarding its influence on the character of the Deity or moral agency of man, such an immediate divine efficiency in the excitement of men to sin, was false in fact.-No doubt but his peculiar views of the subject descended with him to the grave. And nothing has yet occurred to shake, but much to confirm my belief. But what I have to remark is, that in this great and good