« PreviousContinue »
well be pleaded when George the Third sought to bind down the spirit of American Independence by royal mandates; but every patriot rouses to swell the cry of “ National Unity” when the apostles of secession come preaching their desperate and bloody crusade against constitutional liberty. A truth may be so asserted as to make it as mischievous as any lie ; and one may glorify a method in such circumstances as render it subversive of all practical good.
The Freewill Baptist denomination should be studied and judged in view of the causes and occasions of its separate development; and its doctrines and polity will not be sure of a fair estimate unless we comprehend their special relation to their sphere and era, as well as their general adaptation to the work of aiding Christianity in its struggle to win the mastery of the world. Only a few words can be said upon either topic, and the limits of this essay will allow almost nothing in the way of setting forth the doctrines and polity themselves in any philosophic form. They are not the result of any careful and studied attempt on the part of the founders of the Body to frame a system of divinity, or to produce an elaborate ecclesiasticism. The theology grew up under the influence of a vital force within, rather than by successive accretions from without. The fathers of the denomination were chiefly occupied in defining, developing and defending the separate truths, rather than in fitting them to each other in a body of doctrine; and the different elements of what is now a well-defined church polity were seen and adopted without any clear apprehension of their logical relations. Necessity stimulated their search: needing a method, they found or invented one. Experience subjected each arrangement to the real test; if it worked well it was retained ; if badly, it was abandoned, or modified till it served its purpose. They hardly knew that they were aiding to fashion a body of doctrine or a scheme of polity; they only felt assured that they were bringing out the real teachings of Scripture against its false interpretations, and providing a genuine New Testament Church life for the hearts which could find no true spiritual fellowship in the ecclesiastical bodies around them. They collected the materials; it was left for their successors to classify and build them into harmonious and goodly structures.In the main, Freewill Baptists hold views of the nature and attributes of God, of the divine manifestations, of the Scriptures and their authority, of the spiritual world and the future life, not materially different from those generally avowed by other denominations known as evangelical. So far as there are points of divergence, they appear where God and man are brought into moral relations with each other. Though there may not be thorough uniformity in detail among Freewill Baptists, as there cannot be among any considerable number of independent and thinking minds, the following statements are believed to express the settled convictions of the great mass of Freewill Baptists on the points to which they relate.
THE FALL OF MAN AND ITS MORAL EFFECTS.
Without attempting to decide how thoroughly literal the account in Genesis respecting the temptation and fall of Adam may be, the Scriptures are held as teaching plainly and unequivocally the fall of the human race from the state of innocence and the fellowship with God which were originally enjoyed. In the ordeal through which every moral being must pass, in order to develop a personal and settled moral character, Adam failed and fell ; and with him began the human experience and the mischief of sin, which have swept down the whole course of time and affected the life of the whole race. But it is not believed that, in consequence of Adam's representative character or federal headship, all his posterity sinned in him or with him, or that they share any portion of the guilt or responsibility of his transgression. He sinned for himself, and each and every other human being sins for himself. Nor is it believed that any human being is guilty for any depraved tendencies that may be inherited in consequence of Adam's sin. Strictly speaking none are born sinners, nor are any exposed to the just retribution of God in consequence of the fall of Adam. Real sin and just condemnation pertain to acts of known and voluntary transgression against moral law. Every human being is put, as Adam was, face to face with the law of God on the one side, and the temptation to evil on the other; and so he must individually
decide between good and evil, life and death, God and Satan. Hence, in an important sense, the temptation and fall of man are repeated all through history. Adam's failure did not cheat any of his posterity out of an opportunity for a moral trial, nor bring to them a condemnation before they had made a failure.
True, Adam may have had fewer and weaker inward impulses and outward pressures to evil; and he may also have had more and stronger aids,-inward and outward aids,—to a life of obedience. Standing, too, at the very fountain-head of the stream of life, his obedience or disobedience may have sustained more important moral relations to the race than the obedience or disobedience of any other human being. He struck the first discordant note in the psalm of moral life,—he made the first divergence from the true path,-he gave the first wrong impulse to the human will,—he paid the first act of homage to selfishness which was required by duty,—and so he set in motion the evil forces that now gather about every soul for its overthrow. Sensual appetites, quick and strong passions, active desires that centre in self,—these are now the sad inheritance to which each succeeding century has made a contribution, this is the increasing burden beneath which souls are so ineffectually summoned to walk upward. Add to this the corresponding stupidity and weakness of the higher powers of the mind that make us scious of God and bind us to his service, and the moral effects of the fall stand out in rational and impressive clearness.
The fact and the significance of depravity are therefore brought out by the view already stated. But the use of the phrase “ total depravity,” though susceptible of an explanation that makes it allowable and actually preferred by some Freewill Baptists to any other phrase of similar import, is freely and quite generally objected to, on account of its ambiguity, its false implications, its need of verbose definition, and in view of the extreme and false sentiment of which it so long stood as the symbol. In spite of this hereditary depravity, whatever may be its nature or extent, the Reason and Understanding act legitimately, the Conscience truly affirms moral obligation, the Social Affections are often unselfish, beautiful and strong; and the whole moral nature consents unto the law of God that it is holy and just and good. It is this comparative mental rectitude, and this remaining moral appreciation of that which is true and right, that render the human soul properly subject to moral law, make transgression a personal fault, and constitute the ground of appeal for the gospel.
In spite of inward depravity and outward evil, the mind retains the power of free volition, and the ability to determine its own choices. It is not passive and helpless in the direction of good. It is not governed by motives addressed to it, but governs itself in the presence of motives. It is not coërced in any given direction; it chooses its own path freely, through the exercise of a power which made a contrary choice possible. It lacks no essential element of ability to will in the direction of God's claims, and in opposition to the depraved tendencies within itself, and the pressure of evil influences from without.
But in view of what sin has done in violating the divine law, in depraving the soul; in view of the opposition it has awakened and multiplied and brought to bear against a right way of life, and in view of the personal transgressions of which men become guilty,—there was the most pressing need of some provision for dispensing pardon without robbing moral government of sanctity, of some added gracious influences from God to secure the moral victory and safety of the tempted and perilled soul, and of some method of bringing the assurance of pardon and the inspiration of faith to the guilty and despairing transgressor. This was effected by the work of Christ, who has come to make an atonement, and thus effect a reconciliation between men and God. He does this by furnishing, in his own sacrifice for us, an obvious ground for our faith in God's forgiveness of sin on the condition of our penitence. He thus exalts the holiness of the law which
has been broken,-makes sin appear more grievous while opening the way of forgiveness,—assures us of divine sympathy in all our proper efforts to be right with God,-sets before us the true way
of life,-cheers us with promises and restrains us with warnings,—and brings to act on us new and stronger influences to aid and make successful our endeavors to keep pure hearts and live true and dutiful lives.
Chief among these offices, thus set forth by the service of Christ, is the work of renewing or regenerating the human soul. This consists in the infusion of a new spiritual energy into the soul, under the influence of which the understanding is enlightened to see spiritual things more clearly; the conscience is quickened into a higher and truer activity; the moral affections are roused and animated to find new satisfaction in holy things; the will is aided to exercise itself in stronger and more controlling choices of that which is right; the tendencies to selfishness and sin are mastered, subordinated and relatively weakened; and the inward and outward life is put under the control of religious principle, and swayed by the healthful impulses of Christian affection. But in all this work the soul is not irresponsible and passive, but free and resolutely active. It must take what Christ offers; it must do what Christ directs ; it must put away what Christ prohibits; it must believe what Christ says; and it must thoroughly identify itself with the cause which Christ comes to promote. It must work out its salvation while Christ works within the spirit to will and to do according to his good pleasure.
And the same earnest, practical, resolute, appropriating spirit which is necessary in order that this new life may have a beginning, is equally necessary to its continuance and completion. The true Christian life is always a fight of faith. The new life, though effective and from God, displaces or transforms the elements of the old life, not all at once and completely, but by