« PreviousContinue »
Assembly to torture this into a plea for driving out a brother minister from their church.
It is not to be denied that the elect only of mankind are ultimately saved; nor that Calvin and the Westminster Confession seem to limit the power of Christ's death to the elect alone: but the limitation of its efficacy is a necessary consequence of the limitation of the number of those who are to be saved. The limitation is not in its power, but in the extent of its application; and that limitation not arising from a limitation of the value of the blood of God, but, like all other impediments to the beneficence of God, from the rebellion and obstinacy of the creature: while they who deny this do make God the author of the destruction of the creature, a position to which all writers, who have been honest in holding these opinions, have confessed that they are driven. It is also true, that many passages in Calvin are either erroneous or ambiguous in this respect; but neither was Calvin nor were the Reformation divines called upon to express a deliberate judgment upon the point. If they had been, we do not doubt that there was that teachableness in them, that really submissive spirit to the word and will and mind of God, that, upon sounder views being laid before them, they would honestly and gladly have embraced them. Moreover, if they could have foreseen the day when Calvinism, right or wrong, would have been deliberately preferred to Christianity, Calvin would have denounced Calvinism as hotly as he did Popery, and treated the sectarians of Edinburgh with as little ceremony as he did the apostates of Rome. It is one thing to write sentences containing error, in the midst of works containing sound doctrine upon many other points more immediately under consideration; and it is another, and very different thing, deliberately to choose that error when pointed out, and when the subject of it is made the principal instead of the collateral matter at issue. Thus, in the Bible Society, it is one thing to have omitted prayer at the opening of its meetings from the first establishment of the Society, but it is a far greater crime now to resolve, formally and advisedly, that it will not pray. The same observation applies to its conduct about the Apocrypha : it was one thing to have admitted it unwittingly into the Popish copies, but it was quite a different thing formally and of malice aforethought to defend the adulteration of God's word. In the Long Parliament a motion was made, that a law should be passed to punish as an idolater any one who should bow the head at the name of Jesus in the Creed. Sir W. Dering opposed this motion successfully, by shewing, that, although he was as strongly opposed to idolatry as the mover, and would not bow the head if so doing could be construed into an improper act; yet it was one thing not to do it, and another to pass a law that it should not be done;
and he implored the House not to order by law that no man should bend the head to Him to whom the Father had decreed that every knee should bow.
Dr. Barr then adds the following charges against Mr. Campbell:
"Mr. Campbell is, moreover, accused of having held and taught that, in believing the Gospel as a message of forgiveness to him, every man necessarily imbibes the assurance of his being in a state of favour and acceptance with God, a child of adoption, and an heir of glory; and that faith cannot exist without such an assurance."
The question of assurance of faith, on which M. Malan, Mr. Campbell, and some others, lay so much stress, is, after all, neither more nor less than whether a man who believes is sure he believes; a question which we should have conceived it, à priori, extremely absurd to affirm, if we had not found others much more absurd to deny at all events it ought to be considered harmless, and not calling for the smallest censure from any one, still less from a Christian Assembly. In every case it must be admitted that the expressions are capable of being so guarded as to render it impossible that they should lead to harm. This Dr. Barr seems to acknowledge; and the consequence of his perception of this truth must be stated in his own words :
66 Now, Sir, though these grave charges admit of being conveyed under different forms of expression more or less offensive to the ear, and may, perhaps, be susceptible of such modifying explanations as would altogether deprive them of their obnoxious character, and reduce them to a consistency with our received notions of Christian truth; yet I venture to affirm, that it will require a very moderate share of effort to demonstrate, and of discernment to perceive, and of candour to acknowledge, that in substance, in their obvious, unambiguous, undoubted import, they are irreconcileably opposed to, and utterly subversive of, the whole of that system of doctrine which the Scriptures reveal, and which has been embodied in the venerable standards."
This is one of the most extraordinary documents that ever appeared. A Christian minister of "confessedly great powers makes a statement of Divine truth which his brethren do not like: they confess, however, that, notwithstanding their dislike of his statement, it is "susceptible of such modifying explanations as would altogether deprive it of its obnoxious character, and reduce it to a consistency with their received notions of Christian truth" nevertheless they proceed to condemn it exactly as they would if it possessed none of this susceptibility of modifying explanations; as they would if it could not be deprived at all of its obnoxious character; and as if it could not be reduced to a consistency with Christian truth. Dr. Barr admits that
"Mr. Campbell is certainly the best qualified to declare his own views and interpret his own language, but I confess I found it extremely difficult to listen to some portions of his speech this day, without suspecting either the soundness of his understanding or the honesty of his heart."
Dr. Barr would have been more usefully employed, for himself and for the church of Christ, in suspecting the soundness of his own understanding, and the honesty of his own heart, than in calling for punishment upon the sentiments of a Christian minister of acknowledged great power, whose opinions he did not comprehend, since he conceived them to express that which he, who, by Dr. Barr's own confession, was best qualified to interpret them, declared they did not. Dr. Barr, however, leaves this point, and comes to the real gravamen of the offence of Mr. Campbell in their eyes; the real merit of his teaching; and the real point which stamps the apostasy of the General Assembly upon one of the most awful subjects which the Bible contains, namely, the value of the death of Christ. In a very long strain of angry invective, such as has been unheard of in England from a judge towards a person on trial before him since the days of Jeffries, it is not easy to discover whether Dr. Barr or Mr. Campbell are most in the wrong, until we come to the following sentence, which shews, that, however Mr. Campbell may have unguardedly made use of expressions which might separate pardon from faith, yet that the extent of Christ's death is that which is the root of the bitterness of his enemies.—
"It is to subvert the very foundation of our faith and hope, by representing Christ to have died intentionally for all, whilst it admits the possibility of his having died effectually for none; it is, in short, to frustrate the grace of God by substituting another gospel,' which possesses hardly one feature of resemblance to that whose place it has usurped, and which is calculated to exert an influence alike hostile to the cause of truth, and ruinous to the interests of godliness."
The love of God is an essential attribute of His being; and to speak of its limitation, is as disgusting in theology as it is contemptible in philosophy: it is as absurd as to ascribe limit to infinity, omniscience, or omnipotence. In Revelation, the incar nation of the Son of God is the manifestation of God's love to the human race; not to believers or unbelievers as such, but to mankind as such. To introduce the terms believers and unbelievers, is to introduce one which betrays confusion in the mind of him who uses it; incompetence to argue the question; and can produce no other effect than that of bewildering persons no better instructed than himself. Christ died intentionally for the whole race whose nature he assumed. He did not die for angels, because he did not take the nature of angels on him: he did not die for the elect alone, because he did not assume the nature of the elect alone: he assumed the nature common to all mankind; and that common nature, and all who are partakers of it, is interested in what he did; in his life, in his death, in his resurrection. The Jews would with much better shew of reason contend that he took alone the seed of Abraham and of David: but both Jews and General Assembly have to shew in what a Jew's nature differs from a Gentile's nature; in what
function or property the body of Abraham differed from the body of Mohammed, of the emperor of China, or the king of Timboctoo. Non constat from this statement that the whole race on whose behalf he lived and suffered is therefore finally saved. The final salvation of each individual is the work of another Person in the Trinity, even the Holy Ghost, who, by enabling the elect to take advantage of this atonement, causes them to be saved. But this is a wholly distinct question from the extent of the death of Christ, with which the General Assembly seems to confound it.
Perhaps, in the midst of so much that is reprehensible, the most culpable passage is that which follows:
"For, sir, the doctrines specified in the libel ought to be viewed, not only in themselves, but in their necessary connection. They form part of a system to which they have in some measure given birth, with which they are inseparably interwoven, and for all the errors and absurdities of which they are clearly responsible. On some points of this system the gentlemen opposite have expatiated freely; on other points, still more extravagant, they have maintained a prudent silence. When we hear all the attributes of God reduced to a modification of love, and the righteousness which justifies the sinner explained to be a knowledge of God's character-when we hear the Christian life made to consist in the experience of unmingled joy, unvarying confidence, and triumphant hope-when we hear the gift of the Spirit to every man, and of the special revelations of the Spirit to them that believe, speaking in them and by them to the world-above all, when we hear of the miracle-working virtue of faith; of the existence of a power in the church to produce signs and wonders, such as illustrated and enforced the mission of the Apostles; and of the actual, though still limited, operation of this power, in the use of unknown tongues, and in the cure of divers diseases ;-when, sir, we hear such notions as these put forth and propagated, we recognise in them the undoubted offspring and inseparable concomitants of those very tenets which are condemned by the decision now submitted to your review, and we may confidently allude to them as strong corroborative proofs of the wisdom, justice, and necessity of that decision."
We can scarcely believe our eyes in reading such a statement. Is it in a British court of judicature that we find a judge introducing extraneous matter for the purpose of inflaming the minds of his brother judges; calling upon them to pass a sentence of condemnation, upon a person accused before them, upon questions out of the record on which he is arraigned, and on which, by the confession of the said judge himself, the accused has "maintained a prudent silence?" We may defy the Holy Office to exceed this in malignity, and in violation of all the decencies as well as of the substantials of equity. It would be superfluous to follow the statements of Dr. Barr any further: but there is one topic on which we feel anxious to vindicate the Church of England; and that is, from the monstrous charge that her Articles sanction the detestable doctrines of Dr. Barr, that Christ died only for the General Assembly and some few more like the members of that body.
"He has alluded to a part of the thirty-first Article of the Church of England;
but the most cursory perusal of the whole of that Article will convince every intelligent and candid reader, that the design of it is to teach, not the universality, but the perfect efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ, in opposition, not to the doctrine of a limited atonement, but to the Popish doctrine of the Mass, which implied an incomplete atonement. But the question now submitted to the consideration of this house, I conceive, has not any thing to do with the creeds and catechisms of former ages, and of other churches. They may be very excellent and useful, but they are no guides to us. We may venerate them for their antiquity, and value them for their truth, but, as a church, we neither know nor acknowledge them: and though we may consult them for advice, we refuse to bow to their authority."
The Thirty-first Article certainly denies the makeweight of Popish penances, but it equally denies the only point in question, a limited atonement;" and Dr. Barr had better improve his theology by learning from the Catechism of the Church of England to say, "I believe in God the Father, who hath made me and all the world; secondly, in God the Son, who hath redeemed me and all mankind; thirdly, in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God." Nothing can more distinctly prove that the Church of England teaches that Christ hath redeemed all mankind: and, indeed, as he took the nature of all mankind, and not of a part of mankind only, the idea of his only redeeming a part of the whole nature which he took is as absurd as it is contrary to the express words of Scripture.
Whatever other characteristics Popery may have, that which constitutes its blasphemy is the setting up of the decrees of its fathers and doctors above the word of God. This blasphemous character is now assumed by the General Assembly. What Paul and Isaiah say is nothing to them: the sole question about which they concern themselves is, what Calvin and Knox has said
"So, that, how widely soever men may differ on the question, whether or not the doctrine of a limited atonement is the truth of Scripture, there can, I think, be no difference of opinion, by those who are capable of forming an opinion on the question, whether or not it is the doctrine of the Church of Scotland."
The truth of Scripture is nothing to them when trying the correctness of the opinions of an ambassador of Jesus Christ! Whether he delivers his Master's message or not, is of little moment: he must deliver the message of the General Assembly. They will force him to be an ambassador of Calvin, and prohibit him from being an ambassador of Christ.
This is just the rock upon which every church has split. The Jewish traditions, many of which were harmless, and some useful, were made superior to the weightier matters of the Law, as declared in the word of God; and God destroyed the Jewish church, whilst it nevertheless supposed itself to be the sole depository of Jehovah's will. The Church of Rome, in subsequent times, set up her dicta above the word of God, and denied any true