by William Cunningham
We have given some account of the doctrine promulgated, and of the influence exerted upon important theological questions, by the leading Reformers,—Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin,—keeping in view chiefly the object of furnishing materials for the formation of correct opinions in regard to those aspects of their doctrines, character, and influence, which have been made subjects of controversial discussion in more modern times. We have also given a view of the character and theological position of Melancthon, chiefly because of the influence he seems to have exerted in leading the Lutheran churches to abandon the Calvinism of their master, and even contributing eventually to the spread of Arminianism among the Reformed churches,—and because of the connection alleged to exist, historically and argumentatively, between his views and those of the Church of England. The only other man among the Reformers whom we propose to bring under the notice of our readers is Beza. Beza stood in a relation to Calvin very similar in some respects to that in which Melancthon stood to Luther; and there is this further point of resemblance between him and the Preceptor of Germany, that they were the two great scholars of the Reformation, in the more limited sense in which that word is commonly employed,—that is, they possessed a thorough and critical knowledge of the classical writers of Greece and Rome, they had a great talent and predilection for philological expositions and discussions, and they exhibited, in an eminent degree, that cultivation and refinement both of thought and style, which a thorough acquaintance with classical literature is so well fitted to produce.
Beza was, during the latter years of Calvin’s life, most intimately associated with him. He was one of the very ablest defenders of Calvin’s system of theology. He succeeded to the high position which Calvin had long held, not only in Geneva, but in the Protestant world; and was, for a period of above forty years after Calvin’s death, the most prominent and influential theologian in the Reformed, as distinguished from the Lutheran, church. He was thirty years of age before he openly and thoroughly abjured the Church of Home,—a step which involved exile from his native country, and the sacrifice both of a handsome private patrimony and lucrative ecclesiastical benefices. But after joining the Reformed church, and settling in Switzerland, first at Lausanne and then at Geneva, he was spared, in providence, for considerably more than half a century in the full vigour of his powers; and during this long period he was enabled, by the excellence of his character, the strength of his intellect, the extent of his erudition and literary acquirements, and by his strenuous and unwearied exertions, to confer the most important benefits upon the church of Christ and the cause of Protestant truth.
He exerted great influence for a very long period in most of the Reformed churches, and in none more than in that of Scotland. He advised and encouraged our own great Reformer, John Knox, in the whole course of his arduous struggle with the Church of Home, and strenuously exhorted him to take care that Scotland should be delivered from Prelacy as well as Popery. He did much to form the character and to direct the views of Andrew Melville, who went to Geneva when a very young man, who was for some years a professor in the university of that city over which Beza presided, and who continued to carry on an intimate correspondence with Beza during the whole of his noble struggle in his native land against Prelatic and Erastian usurpation.
Beza’s character, as might have been expected, has been subjected, like that of his great coadjutors in the work of the Reformation, to the most unscrupulous Popish slanders. The grosser charges which have been adduced against him are unsupported by any appearance of evidence, and are utterly unworthy of notice. They are still occasionally adverted to, as well as those of a similar kind against Calvin, by some of the obscurer class of Popish controversialists, though we are not aware that since the publication of Bayle’s Dictionary, any Papist, who wished to put on even the appearance of a regard for candour or fairness, has ventured to repeat them. There is, indeed, one charge against Beza’s character of a less heinous description, which has a foundation in truth, and of which even the more respectable Romanists have endeavoured to make the most. It is, that in early life he published a volume of poetical pieces, some of which were of a licentious description. The fact is true; but the circumstances of the case, which Popish writers, of course, usually conceal, were these: —The poems were written before he was twenty years of age, and before he joined the Protestant Church, though it appears that even as early as his sixteenth year he had some religious convictions, and some impression of the falsehood of Popery. He afterwards repeatedly and publicly expressed his contrition for the offence. He did what he could to suppress the circulation of the work, and he at length published, by the advice of his friends, another edition of the poems, in which all that was unbecoming and offensive was omitted. He always, indeed, denied and defied his enemies to prove, that at any time his conduct was such as his poems might have led men to suspect. And it is certain, in point of fact, that some measure of looseness and coarseness in conversation and in writing was not uncommon then, among persons whose general character and conduct were in other respects unobjectionable.
It may be worth while to quote one or two of his expressions of contrition for this juvenile offence, which was at once a sin against the law of God, and at the same time, by furnishing a handle to his enemies, an obstruction, to some extent, to his future usefulness. In 1560, soon after his settlement at Geneva, he published one of the most important of his smaller works, entitled “Confessio Christianse fidei.” He dedicated it to his early instructor, Melchior Wolmar, who had been professor of Greek in the universities of Orleans and Bourges, who had the singular honour of being also for a time the preceptor of Calvin, who exerted an important and wholesome influence in the formation of the character and views of his two illustrious pupils, and who has been immortalized by their grateful and affectionate eulogies. In this dedication to Wolmar, Beza gives a brief but very interesting summary of his past history, and refers to the publication of his poems in the following terms:—“As to these poems, no one condemned them earlier, or now detests them more, than I, their unhappy author. I wish they were buried in perpetual oblivion, and that God would grant me that, since what is done cannot become undone, those who read my other writings, so different from these, would rather congratulate me on the Lord’s kindness to me, than continue to accuse one who, of his own accord, confesses and deplores this sin of his youth.” Again, in his note upon Matthew i. 19, having occasion to refer to a statement of an ancient author, about some one who had exposed himself to disgrace by publishing “versus parum honestos,” he introduces this reference to his own case,—“Quod et mihi juveni, necdum in ecclesiam Dei adscito, evenit, quam tamen maculam spero me turn dictis turn factis eluisse.” All this ought in fairness to have shut the mouths of his enemies. But it had no such effect, and Papists have continued ever since to dilate upon the “Juvenilia,” as the poems were called, and to make them much worse than they are, by perverting some of their statements, which mean no such thing, into actual confessions of heinous crimes. This is the only charge that can be substantiated against Beza’s character. It does not affect his position or influence as a Reformer, as it was not till about ten years after the publication of his poems that he joined the cause of the Reformation. And after he did take this important step, he was enabled, by God’s grace, for more than half a century, not only to maintain an unblemished public reputation, but to afford, like his fellow-reformers, the most satisfactory evidences of personal piety, of zeal for God’s glory, and of devotedness to the cause of truth and righteousness.
Beza’s works are, to a large extent, controversial and occasional, —that is, they arose very much out of the particular controversies which at the time engaged the attention of the Reformers,—and on this account perhaps they have been less read in subsequent times than they deserved. They comprehend, however, full discussions of all the various topics which engaged the attention of the Reformers, and affected the cause of the Reformation and the interests of Protestant truth, during the whole of the latter half of the sixteenth century. They thus occupy a very important place in a survey of the history of theological speculation at that important era; and in all of them certainly Beza has afforded abundant proof, that he was possessed of great talents and extensive erudition, and that he was fully qualified in all respects to expound and discuss the most profound and difficult questions in theology. The Church of Rome was still a formidable opponent; and Beza has made some valuable contributions to the Popish controversy, especially in his “Antithesis Papatus et Christianismi,” subjoined to his Confession of Faith, in his “Apologia de Justi-ficatione,” and in his treatise on “the Notes or Marks of the True Church.” The controversy between the Lutheran and the Reformed churches, which had been much embittered in the interval between the death of Melancthon in 1560 and that of Calvin in 1564, continued during the remainder of the century; and Beza was thus under the necessity, as Zwingli had been, of spending a great deal of time and pains in exposing the absurdities of consubstantiation, and of the strange notion invented to explain and defend it, known by the name of the ubiquity or omnipresence of Christ’s body. The Lutherans became much more unsound in their general theological views after the death of their master; and they proceeded so far at length as to reject what are commonly reckoned the peculiarities of Calvinism, while they still continued, though very inconsistently, to repudiate, even in the “Formula Concordiae,” the semi-Pelagian or Arminian views about synergism or co-operation, to which Melancthon had given some countenance. This change, of course, widened the subjects of controversy between the Lutheran and Reformed churches; and Beza in consequence was led to write much, and he did it with great ability, on predestination and cognate topics. The fuller discussion which this important subject underwent after Calvin’s death, led, as controversy usually does when conducted by men of ability, to a more minute and precise exposition of some of the topics involved in it. And it has been often alleged that Beza, in his very able discussions of this subject, carried his views upon some points further than Calvin himself did, so that he has been described as being Calvino Calvinior. We are not prepared to deny altogether the truth of this allegation; but we are persuaded that there is less ground for it than is sometimes supposed, and that the points of alleged difference between them in matters of doctrine, respect chiefly topics on which Calvin was not led to give any very formal or explicit deliverance, because they were not at the time subjects of discussion, or indeed ever present to his thoughts.
The principal subjects in regard to which the allegation referred to has been made, are the question controverted between the Sublapsarians and the Supralapsarians about the order of the divine decrees in their bearing upon the fall of the human race,— the imputation of Adam’s first sin to his posterity,—the extent of the atonement,—and the nature and import of justification. It may not be uninteresting to explain how the matter stands as to the views of Calvin and Beza respectively upon these important subjects. We mean to devote to this matter the principal portion of our present discussion; and we think it will appear, from the survey, that there is really no very material difference between the theology of Calvin and of Beza, any apparent discrepancy arising chiefly from the usual tendency of enlarged controversial discussion to produce a greater amount of exactness and precision in details; while it may also appear that Beza, by his very able exposition and defence of the doctrines of Calvin, has rendered important services to the cause of scriptural theology and Protestant truth, and has to some extent anticipated that exactness and precision with respect to definitions and distinctions, which are characteristic of the great systematic divines, especially the Dutch and Swiss theological professors, of the seventeenth century. But we must first notice the services of Beza in some other departments of theological literature.
A class of subjects came to be discussed in the latter part of the sixteenth century which had not engaged so much of the attention of the earlier Reformers,—especially the Erastian and the Prelatic controversies,—and in the discussion of these matters Beza bore his part nobly as an able and faithful champion of the truth. The Erastian controversy, indeed, as conducted between Erastus and Beza, turned mainly upon the particular subject of the excommunication of church members; and it was not till the following century, that the whole of the principles usually regarded by Presbyterian divines as comprehended in the Erastian controversy, were subjected to a full and thorough discussion. Still, even at that early stage, the question was mooted, on which the entire progress of the subsequent discussion, down even to our own day, has made it more and more manifest that the whole controversy hinges,—viz. whether or not Christ has appointed in His church a government, distinct from, independent of, and in its own province not subordinate to, civil magistracy. And on this great question, as well as on the particular topic of excommunication comprehended under it, Erastus took the side which has always been supported by politicians, sycophants, and worldlings, while Beza ably defended that which has been adhered to by all intelligent and conscientious Presbyterians.
The subject of Prelacy was more fully discussed during this period than that of Erastianism, mainly because the Church of England, differing in this from almost all the Reformed churches, adopted a prelatic constitution. Beza entertained very strong and decided views upon this subject, and his two books, the one, “De Triplici Episcopatu,” and the other a reply to Saravia’s “Treatise de Ministrorum Evangelii Gradibus,” are still important and valuable works in the contest between Presbytery and Prelacy; although Episcopalian controversialists have continued, down even to the present day, to produce garbled and mutilated extracts from Beza as well as from Calvin, to prove that these great men were favourable to the prelatic form of church government. Hadrian Saravia, his principal opponent upon this subject, had been a minister in the Low Countries, and was ultimately settled as a prebend of Canterbury, where he became intimate with Hooker. He, of course, knew well that Beza was a decided Presbyterian, and indeed he gives him the exclusive credit of preventing Prelacy from being adopted in the Reformed churches. “Nam hoc audeo affirmare, si unus D. Beza episcopos retineri ecclesise judicasset utile, nullae ab us abhorrerent Reformatse ecclesise, quas hodie episcopos nullos admittere primum reformationis esse caput sesti-mant.” This is really doing Beza too much honour; for we may confidently assert, that Andrew Melville would have kept Prelacy out of Scotland at least, even if Beza had been tempted to abandon the cause of Presbytery. It is, however, a fine testimony to the important and extensive influence which Beza exerted, in maintaining in the Protestant churches that form of government which has the full sanction of apostolic practice as set before us in the New Testament,—confirmed by the testimony of the only genuine and authentic remains of apostolic men, the Epistles of Clement and Polycarp,—and which was decidedly approved of by the great body of the Reformers.
Beza was one of the very first who attempted anything in an important department of theological literature, which has since his time received a great deal of attention. We mean what is now usually comprehended under the two heads of criticism and exegesis, — the former including everything bearing upon the settlement of the true text of the Greek New Testament, or of the actual words which should be held to constitute it; and the latter including everything bearing upon the exact grammatical interpretation of all the words and phrases which are found to compose it. And Beza’s labours in these departments, including his different editions of the Greek text from MSS., and his translation and annotations or commentary, were such as—considering the circumstances in which he was placed, and the means and opportunities he enjoyed—reflect great credit upon his scholarship and critical acumen. A very unjust and unfair attack has been made upon Beza’s character and labours, through the medium of his translation of the New Testament into Latin, and his annotations or commentary upon it, by Dr Campbell of Aberdeen, in the tenth of his “Preliminary Dissertations to his Translation of the Gospels;” and as we remember receiving from the perusal of this Dissertation in our student days an unfavourable impression of Beza, which we have been long satisfied was thoroughly unjust, we think it proper to make some observations upon it.
Dr Campbell’s Preliminary Dissertations form a work which is in many respects very valuable,—one of the most important contributions, indeed, which have been made by Scotland to a department of theological study far too little cultivated among us—the critical exposition of the New Testament. It is a work, however, which ought to be read with much caution, as there is not a little about it that is very defective and objectionable, and fitted to exert an injurious influence upon the minds of students of theology. Dr Campbell was a very great pretender to impartiality and candour. But it is very plain, that he had his blinding and perverting prejudices like other men, and that these were not in favour of what we have been accustomed to regard as the most important truths revealed in God’s word, or of the men who were most zealous in defending them. We had formerly an opportunity of pointing out how destitute Dr Campbell was of all adequate sense of the importance of sound doctrine, and how incompetent, in consequence, he was to appreciate aright the most important service rendered to the church by the Reformers. Such a man was not to be expected to have any liking to so able, faithful, and zealous a champion of Scripture truth as Beza was. And accordingly, in the Dissertation formerly referred to, he has made an attack upon Beza’s Latin translation of the New Testament, and upon his character generally, which we think belies all his loud and frequent professions of fairness and candour.
The general charge which he adduces against Beza, and which he illustrates by a detail of instances, is that—under the influence of theological prejudice and partisanship-—he mistranslates a number of passages, and even acknowledges that he had done this in order to promote his own theological views, or to deprive those of his opponents of some appearance of scriptural support. The case is put by Dr Campbell in a very unfair and exaggerated form, and in such a way as evidently to insinuate a charge against Beza’s integrity in dealing with the word of God. He has adduced nothing, however, which—even were it all true and correct —would amount to a proof of anything like a want of integrity. For there is not the slightest ground to allege, that Beza either introduced into his translation, or brought out in his annotations, anything but what he honestly believed to be the true and real mind of God in His word. The charge derives its whole plausibility from these two things:—1st, That Beza was not always sufficiently careful to keep distinct the functions of the mere translator and those of the commentator, and did in consequence sometimes deviate in his translation from the literal meaning of the mere words, that he might bring out more plainly and distinctly what he believed to be the true scriptural sense of the passage; and 2nd, That he sometimes assigned, as the reason for this deviation, that a more literal translation of the mere words would seem to contradict some other portion of Scripture, or some truth which he believed to be taught there,—a statement on which, wherever it occurs, Dr Campbell puts an unfair and offensive construction, as if it were a confession of a dishonourable or fraudulent motive or purpose. Now, this conduct of Beza indicates, no doubt, a defective and erroneous conception of the precise and proper functions of the mere translator, as distinguished from the commentator; but it should not be regarded as inconsistent with integrity, especially when we take into account the circumstances in which the translation was put forth, and the relation between it and the commentary. Beza’s translation of the New Testament into Latin was not published, or intended to be used, separately or by itself, but was printed alongside of the original Greek, while the Vulgate Latin version was also inserted in a third parallel column; and the annotations subjoined at the foot of the page, were intended chiefly to explain the reasons of the translation, which was thus virtually embodied in the commentary as a part of it.
The true state of the case will be better understood by adverting to the instances which Dr Campbell founds upon; some of which indeed are based upon misrepresentation, and others are mere specimens of wire-drawn criticism and special pleading, illustrating nothing but his unfairness and anxiety to make out a case. One is, that in Acts xvi. 23, Beza has translated the words χειροτονησαντες δε αὐτοις πρεσβυτερους, “quumque ipsis per suffragia creassent presbyteros;”—and this Dr Campbell represents as an unfair translation of the word χειρετονεω, in order to sanction the doctrine of the popular election of ministers. That Beza believed in the doctrine of the right of the Christian people to the substantial choice of their pastors, and that he regarded this passage as a proof of it, is certain; and no man of good sense and sound judgment, who has deliberately and impartially examined his writings, can entertain any doubt of this. But the unfairness of the version cannot be established; for Beza certainly thought, whether rightly or wrongly, and many other competent judges have agreed with him, that he gave here the most literal and exact rendering of the word χβφοτονβω, and that any other version would have come short of bringing out the whole meaning of what was implied in it. On several occasions Beza has translated ηταντες 'άνθρωποι, not by omnes homines, but by quivis homines,—that is, men of all sorts and in all varieties of circumstances, without distinction or exception; and Dr Campbell represents every instance of this sort as an unfair perversion of Scripture to serve Calvinistic purposes. Beza, of course, honestly believed that quivis brought out more accurately the real mind of the inspired writer in these passages than omnes did, as it would have been generally understood; and in this we have no doubt that he was right. It would have been more accordant, however, with correct views of the precise functions of a translator, to have retained the word omnes, and explained its sense in the notes as a commentator. But considering the circumstances formerly adverted to, as to the object of his translation, and the relation in which it stood to his annotations, it is quite unfair to represent this as a violation of integrity. Perhaps the worst case for Beza which Dr Campbell has adduced is his translation of Heb. x. 38, and in this he has been followed by the authors of our authorized version. In this passage Beza has, without warrant from the original, inserted the word quis,— in our version any man,—to prevent the text from appearing to discountenance the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This was certainly an unwarrantable deviation from the proper functions of a translator; though it ought to be mentioned, in justice to Beza and our translators, that Grotius (in loc.), who did not believe in the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance, agreed with Beza in thinking that some countenance is given to the insertion by the passage in Habakkuk, here quoted by the apostle; and that —as is noticed by Dean Trench, in his admirable work “On the Authorized Version of the New Testament, in connection with recent Proposals for its Revision” —the same sense is assigned to the passage upon purely philological grounds by De Wette and Winer, who had no Calvinistic predilections.
The most unwarranted and unjust of Dr Campbell’s instances of Beza’s alleged unfairness, is that founded on, and suggested by, his translation of 1 John iii. 9,—πας ὁ γεγεννημενος ἐκ Θεου ἁμαρτιαν οὐ ποιει, which he translated—quisquis natus est ex Deo peccato non dat operam. Of course Beza’s reason for, and object in, translating the last words of the clause, peccato non dat operam, —instead of peccatum non facit, as the Vulgate has it,—was, as he states explicitly, to avoid the appearance of the passage teaching the doctrine of the sinless perfection of regenerate persons in this life, and thus contradicting many explicit declarations of Scripture.
So far this instance is exactly similar to those already adverted to, in which the proper functions of the translator and the commentator are not kept sufficiently distinct. But Dr Campbell farther makes Beza’s translation of this passage, combined with his annotations or commentary on two other passages,—Matt. v. 20 and vii. 23,—the foundation of a more general and more serious charge against his character and teaching. He distinctly accuses him of having for his object in these passages, “kindly to favour sinners, not exorbitantly profligate, so far as to dispel all fear about their admission into the kingdom of heaven,” and of endeavouring with this view to elude the force of our Lord’s declaration,! and “reconcile it to his own licentious maxims.” He supports this very heavy charge by perverting Beza’s statements in these passages, in order to extract from them the sentiment, that men need have no doubt of getting to heaven unless they were, and continued to be, gross and heinous sinners, Now, this is really, in plain terms, a misrepresentation and a calumny. The passages adduced manifestly afford no ground whatever for the allegation, that Beza intended to teach the doctrine ascribed to him; and we can scarcely persuade ourselves that Dr Campbell himself believed that the proof which he adduced was sufficient to establish his charge. It is perfectly plain that Beza, in the passages quoted or referred to, intended to teach and did teach this doctrine, and no other, viz. that the fact that men are still sinners in God’s sight—sinning every day in thought, word, and deed—was not of itself a sufficient reason why they should conclude, that they had not been united to Christ by faith, and why they might not enjoy good hope through grace; while he has never said anything fitted, and much less intended, as is alleged, to lead men to remain at ease in their sins, because sure of heaven, if only they are “not exorbitantly profligate.” Dr Campbell quotes in the original Latin, a sentence from the middle of Beza’s note on 1 John iii. 4, where this matter is most fully explained, and does so for the purpose of showing that Beza acknowledged, that his object in giving the translation peccato non dat operam instead of peccatum non facit, was to shut out the appearance of this statement countenancing the doctrine of sinless perfection in this life. But in the sentence almost immediately preceding that which he quotes for this purpose, Beza expressly describes the kind of person to whom his statement applies, whom he regards as unregenerate, and therefore inadmissible into heaven, and shut out from the present hope of it,— not as one who is merely “not exorbitantly profligate,” but as one “who does not strive after holiness, that is, in whom sin reigns,”— qui sanctitati non studet, id est, in quo regnat peccatum,—referring, of course, to the apostle’s description of the distinction between the regenerate and the unregenerate, sin reigning in the latter, and still present and very manifest at least to themselves, though not reigning, in the former. And what makes the matter much worse is, that in the words immediately succeeding the extract quoted by Dr Campbell, Beza has expressly and solemnly protested against this very misinterpretation of his meaning, in the following scriptural and most striking and edifying statement:—
“Why do we say this? Is it to discountenance the earnest pursuit of holiness? is it to show that men should not every day be growing in grace? By no means; for we teach that a perpetual progress in holiness is the certain and perpetual effect of faith. Why then do we say this? It is lest Satan should deprive us of our comfort. For if we can conclude that we are in Christ, only when we shall no longer need to offer the prayer, ‘Forgive us our debts,’ who does not see, who does not feel, who does not experience a thousand times every day, that it is quite in vain that this consolation is offered to us?”
Dr Campbell had no right to distort and pervert the plain meaning of Beza’s statements, and to ascribe to him “licentious maxims,” which he had not only never countenanced, but had expressly and solemnly disclaimed. Dr Campbell, it is to be feared, disliked Beza’s Calvinistic doctrine, and probably disliked still more his strict Calvinistic morality and experimental godliness; and the whole of his remarks upon Beza’s translation of the New Testament are characterized by uncandid misrepresentation. It is quite unwarranted to represent Beza’s general character as a controversialist, as marked by a want of fairness and candour. There are some controversialists who—from strong prejudice and impetuosity, from rashness and recklessness, or from something like a sort of natural obliquity of understanding and a deficiency of sense and judgment—manage their disputes in such a way, that we find some difficulty in determining whether a want of fairness and candour is the worst charge that can be justly adduced against them, and whether we are not warranted in accusing them of a positive want of integrity. But men who are acquainted with Beza’s writings, and who can judge of them with anything like impartiality, will have no such difficulty in forming their estimate of his character. They will not only reject the suspicion which Dr Campbell has laboured to raise against his general integrity, but they will be convinced that, though he sometimes indulged most unwarrantably in the severity of invective against opponents, which was then so common, he showed no disposition to take unfair advantages, Or to practise the mere artifices of controversy, but manifested habitually no ordinary measure of impartiality and candour; in short, they will probably conclude, that Beza possessed a much larger amount of integrity and fairness than Dr Campbell did, though he did not make so ostentatious a parade of these qualities.
The chief points, as we have mentioned, on which it has been alleged that Calvin and Beza differed in their theological sentiments, and that Beza was more Calvinistic than Calvin, are the order of the divine decrees in their bearing upon the fall as controverted between the Sublapsarians and the Supralapsarians,—the imputation of Adam’s first sin to his posterity,—the extent of the atonement,—and the nature and import of justification; and to each of these four points we now propose to advert in succession, contemplating them chiefly in their historical aspects.
I. The controversy been the Sublapsarians and the Supralapsarians is one of no great intrinsic importance, though it has occasionally been discussed with considerable keenness. In modern times, indeed, it is much more frequently and fully dwelt upon by Arminians than by Calvinists. They usually labour to give prominence to this matter, as if it were a topic of great importance, about which Calvinists were at irreconcilable variance among themselves; insinuating at the same time that Supralapsarianism—which is more likely to appear harsh and offensive to man’s natural feelings—is the truest and most consistent Calvinism, though in point of fact it has been held by comparatively few Calvinistic theologians. This artifice seems to have been first tried by Baro, the Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, who was compelled by the academical authorities to resign his office because of his anti-Calvinistic notions. It was adopted by Arminius himself; and he has been followed in this by most of those who have been called after his name, including even, though in a less offensive form, Richard Watson, whose “.Theological Institutes” is the leading text-book of the evangelical Arminianism of the Wesleyan Methodists.
We do not intend to dwell at length upon the topics usually introduced into this controversy, because they scarcely he within the line of legitimate discussion, and because to give them much prominence is really to countenance the unfair use which the Arminians have commonly made of this subject. It is usually discussed in the works of the great systematic divines of the seventeenth century, under the heads of “The Object of Predestination,” and “The Order of the Divine Decrees.” The question is usually put in this form, whether the object of the decree of predestination, electing some men to eternal life and leaving others to perish, be man unfallen or man fallen; or, in other words, whether we should conceive of God as in the act of electing some men to life and passing by the rest, contemplating men, or having them present to His mind, simply as rational and responsible beings whom He was to create, or as regarding them as fallen into a state of sin and misery, from which He resolved to save some of them, and to abstain from saving the rest. Those who go above and beyond the fall, and regard the object of the decree of predestination as man or the human race, viewed as not yet created and fallen but simply as to be created, are called Supralapsarians; while those who stop as it were before the fall, and regard the object of the decree of predestination as man or the human race, viewed as already fallen into a state of sin and misery, are called Sublapsarians. It is evident that this question virtually resolves into that of the order of the divine decrees,—or the investigation of this topic, how we should conceive of the relation in point of time between the different decrees, or departments of the one decree, of God in regard to the human race. The fundamental Supralapsarian position, as above stated, is virtually identical with this one, —that we ought to conceive of God as first decreeing to manifest His character in saving some men and in consigning the rest to misery; then, in sequence and subordination to this decree, resolving to create man, and to permit him to fall into a state of sin; while the fundamental Sublapsarian position is, that we ought to conceive of God as first decreeing to create man and to permit him to fall, and then as resolving to save some men out of this fallen and corrupt mass, and to leave the rest to perish. The whole history of the discussion which has taken place between Supralapsarians and Sublapsarians shows, that this really embodies the true state of the question; and this again shows, that the question runs up into topics which he beyond the reach of our faculties, and which are not made known to us in Scripture. And this general position is confirmed by the fact, that both parties admit that there is not any real succession of time in the divine mind, and that the whole of the decree or decrees of God with respect to the human race are in truth one simple undivided act of the divine intelligence, exercised in accordance with all the perfections of the divine nature.
The views which most naturally and obviously occur in surveying the discussions which have taken place on this subject, are such as these. It seems plainly enough to have been made the principal design of the revelation which God has put into our hands, to inform us of the fall of man from the estate in which he was created into an estate of sin and misery; and especially of the great and glorious scheme which God has devised and executed for saving some men from this condition of guilt, depravity, and wretchedness, and bringing them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer. Accordingly Scripture tells us little or nothing that does not bear more or less directly upon these objects. It tells us very little of God’s plans and purposes, except what we see actually being executed or carried into effect, in the process by which some men are saved from the death in sins and trespasses in which all men he, and are prepared for everlasting blessedness. This is the substance of what God is now doing with the race of man, and this is the substance of what He has represented himself in His word, as from eternity decreeing or purposing to do. In the absence of any definite scriptural information, we have no satisfactory materials for ascertaining more than this concerning the divine counsels and plans, and we should carefully abstain from precarious and conjectural speculations upon topics which he so far beyond the reach of our capacities. We can scarcely frame a conception of any plans or purposes which God could have formed concerning the eternal salvation of men, which did not assume or imply, that they were regarded or contemplated as having all fallen into a state of sin and misery, from which some of them were to be rescued. And thus it appears that, practically, any conception we can form of God’s act in predestinating some men to life and in passing by the rest, must proceed substantially upon Sublapsarian principles. The Supralapsarian theory is founded rather upon abstract reasonings, by which we follow out the connection of doctrines in the way of speculation, than upon any direct information that is given us in Scripture. And however plausible, or even conclusive, some of these reasonings may appear to be, we can scarcely fail to feel that in prosecuting them we are involved in matters which are too high for us, and with respect to which it is impossible for us to attain to anything like firm and certain footing.
It may be said that all Calvinists agree in everything which almost any Calvinist regards as taught upon this subject in Scripture with clearness and certainty. They all believe that God, according to the eternal counsel of His own will, hath unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; and they include the fall of Adam in God’s eternal purpose, and in His sovereign execution of that purpose in providence. And this of course is the great difficulty, from which Sublapsarians cannot indeed escape, but which seems to be somewhat aggravated upon the Supralapsarian theory. For by that theory, God appears to be represented as more directly and positively decreeing and appointing the fall,— as a mean necessary for carrying into effect a purpose,—conceived of as already formed, of saving some men, and leaving others to perish. Although all Calvinists believe and admit that God foreordained the fall of Adam, and that He decreed to exercise, and did exercise, the same providence or agency in regard to that event, as in regard to the other subsequent sinful actions of men,— “having purposed to order it to His own glory,” —yet most Calvinists have thought it more in accordance with the general representations of Scripture, and with the caution and reverence with which we ought to contemplate the counsels and actings of Him who is incomprehensible, but of whom we know certainly that He is not the author of sin, to conceive of Him as regarding men as already fallen into a state of sin and misery, when He formed the purpose of saving some men and of leaving others to perish.
The difference, then, between Calvinists upon this subject is not of any material importance. It does not affect the substance of the doctrine which all Calvinists maintain in opposition to the Arminians. It is a point rather of abstract speculation upon the logical consequences of doctrines, than a matter of direct revelation; and it is one on which many judicious Calvinists, in modern times, have thought it unnecessary, if not unwarrantable, to give any formal or explicit deliverance, while they have usually adhered to the ordinary representations of Scripture upon the subject, which are at least practically Sublapsarian. Sublapsarians all admit that God unchangeably foreordained the fall of Adam, as well as every other event that has come to pass; while they deny that this doctrine can be proved necessarily to involve the conclusion, that, to use the word of our Confession of Faith, “God is the author of sin,” or “that violence is offered to the will of the creatures,” or that “the liberty or contingency of second causes is taken away.” And Supralapsarians all admit that God’s eternal purposes were formed in the exercise of all His perfections, and upon a full and certain knowledge of all things possible as well as actual,—that is, certainly future; and more especially that a respect to sin does come into consideration in predestination, or, as Turretine expresses it, in setting forth the true state of the question upon that point, “in praedestinatione rationem peccatiin» considerationem venire, ut nemo damnetur nisi propter peccatum, et nemo salvetur nisi qui miser fuerit et perditus.” Even when this question used to be discussed among Calvinists, both parties, .though occasionally betrayed into strong statements in the excitement of controversy, admitted that the difference involved nothing of material importance, and did not really affect the substance of any doctrine revealed in Scripture. The Supralapsarians have always been a small minority among Calvinistic divines, and have had to defend their views against the great body of their brethren. They have usually been men of high talent, with a great capacity and inclination for abstract speculation, and considerable confidence in their own powers. In these circumstances, it is quite in accordance with the well-known principles of human nature, that they should have been specially disposed to overrate the importance of their peculiar notions. And yet we find that they generally concurred with the Sublapsarians in representing the difference as one of no great moment. There never was a more able or more zealous Supralapsarian than Dr William Twisse, the prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly. No one has written in support of Supralapsarian views at greater length or with greater keenness, and yet he, to his honour, has made the following candid admission as to the great importance of the points in which the opposite parties agreed, and the small importance of the one point in which they differed:—“It is true there is no cause of breach either of unity or amity between our divines upon this difference, as I showed in my digressions (De Praedestinatione, Digress. 1), seeing neither of them derogates either from the prerogative of God’s grace, or of His sovereignty over His creatures to give grace to whom He will, and to deny it to whom He will; and consequently to make whom He will vessels of mercy, and whom He will vessels of wrath; but equally they stand for the divine prerogative in each. And as for the ordering of God's decrees of creation, permission of the fall of Adam, giving grace of faith and repentance unto some and denying it to others, and finally saving some and damning others, whereupon only arise the different opinions as touching the object of predestination and reprobation, it is merely apex logicus, a point of logic. And were it not a mere madness to make a breach of unity or charity in the church of God merely upon a point of logic?”
On this unnecessary and now obsolete subject of controversy, it has been alleged that Calvin and Beza took opposite sides,— that the former was a Sublapsarian, and the latter a Supralapsarian. There is no doubt that Beza, in defending the doctrine of predestination, was led to assert Supralapsarian views; though he was not, as has been sometimes alleged, the first who broached them, for they had been held by some of the more orthodox schoolmen, as has been shown by Twisse and Davenant. But, while Beza’s opinion is clear enough, it is not by any means certain on which side Calvin is to be ranked, and this question — viz. whether Calvin is to be regarded as a Sublapsarian or a Supralapsarian— has been made the subject of formal and elaborate controversy. The Sublapsarians have endeavoured to show that they are entitled to claim Calvin’s authority in support of their views, while Supralapsarians and Arminians have generally denied this,—the former of these two classes, that they might claim his testimony in their own favour, and the latter, that they might excite odium against him, by giving prominence to all the strongest and harshest statements that ever dropped from him on the subject of predestination. A specimen of the way in which this question, as to what Calvin’s views were, has been handled by Sublapsarians, will be found in Turretine.f The case of the Supralapsarians is elaborately pleaded by Twisse, in his “Vindicise Gratiae, potestatis, ac providentiae Deiwhile the Arminian view is brought out by Curcellseus, in reply to Amyraldus, in his treatise “De jure Dei in creaturas innocentes.”
All this, of course, implies that there is real ground for doubt and for difference of opinion as to what Calvin’s sentiments upon this subject were; and the cause of this is, that the question was not discussed in his time,—that it does not seem to have been ever distinctly present to his thoughts as a point to be investigated,—and that, in consequence, he has not been led to give a formal and explicit deliverance regarding it. This is the cause of the difficulty of ascertaining what Calvin’s opinion upon this point was; and if it be indeed true that this precise question he was never led formally and deliberately to consider and decide, it is scarcely worth while to spend time in examining the exact meaning of statements which bear upon it only indirectly and incidentally. At the same time, we are of opinion that the preponderance of evidence here is in favour of the Sublapsarians,—that is, we think that, on taking a fair and impartial view of Calvin’s general character and principles, and of all that he has written connected with this matter, it appears more probable that, if the question had been directly and formally proposed to him, and he had been called upon to give an explicit deliverance regarding it, he would have decided in favour of Sublapsarian views. But as matters stand, we do not think that either party is entitled to claim him as an actual adherent. There is a remarkable passage in Calvin’s “Tractatus de Eterna Dei Praedestinatione,”—which is published in Niemeyer’s “Collectio Confessionum,” under the title of “Consensus Genevensis,”—containing perhaps about as near an approximation as anything he has written to a deliverance upon this question. It cannot be reconciled with the Supralapsarian view; while at the same time that view, or something very like it, is set aside rather as unwarrantable and presumptuous, than as positively erroneous. We think it worth while to quote this passage, not only because of its bearing upon the matter under consideration, but also because it furnishes a good illustration of the injustice often done to Calvin by men who have never read his writings, and a specimen of the abundant evidence that might be adduced of his genuine moderation, his thorough good sense, his mature wisdom, and of the profound reverence and caution with which he usually conducted his investigations into divine things. Having occasion to refer to the difference between the two topics of the bearing of God’s foreordination and providence upon the fall of Adam on the one hand, and the bearing of foreordination and providence upon the election and reprobation, the salvation and final misery, of fallen men individually on the other,—and this virtually involves the point controverted between the Supralapsarians and the Sublapsarians,—he expresses himself in the following words:—“Ceterum qugestionem hanc (i.e. the bearing of divine foreordination and providence upon Adam’s fall) non ideo tantum parcius attingere convenit, quod abstrusa est ac in penitiore sanc-tuarii Dei adyto recondita, sed quia otoisa curiositas alenda non est, cujus ilia nimis alta speculatio alumna est simul ac nutrix. Quamquam interim quae Augustinus Libro de Genesi ad literam undecimo disserit, quum ad Dei timorem et reverentiam omnia temperet, minime improbo. Altera autem pars (i.e. the bearing of divine foreordination and providence upon the fate and destiny of fallen men individually), e quod ex damnata Adae sobole Deus quos visum est eligit, quos vult reprobat, sicuti ad fidem exercen-dam longe aptior est, ita majore fructu tractatur. In hac igitur doctrina, quae humanse naturse et corruptionem et reatum in se continet, libentius insisto, sicufci non solum ad pietatem propius conducit sed magis mihi videtur theologica (i.e. more intimately connected with a full exposition of the scheme of Christian theology). Meminerimus tamen in ea quoque sobrie modesteque philosophandum, ne alterius progrech tentemus quam Dominus nos verbo suo deducit.” In this noble passage Calvin virtually puts aside Supralapsarian speculations, and insists only on that great doctrine of predestination, in the maintenance of which all Calvinists are agreed. Beza, then, in his explicit advocacy of Supralapsarianism, went beyond his master. We do not regard this among the services which he rendered to scriptural truth; especially as we are bound in candour to admit that there is some ground to believe that his high views upon this subject exerted a repelling influence upon the mind of Arminius, who studied under him for a time at Geneva.
We may add some historical notices of the subsequent discussions connected with this subject, especially as the references we have made to Dr Twisse will naturally suggest the inquiry, how this matter was dealt with by the Westminster Assembly. In addition to Beza, the most eminent men who defended Supralapsarian views in the sixteenth century were Whittaker and Perkins. These were the greatest divines in the Church of England during the latter part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign,—men quite entitled to rank with Jewel and Hooker in point of ability and learning, and superior to them in knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, and in acquaintance with the system of doctrinal theology. But in the next generation the Sublapsarian view was advocated by Dr Robert Abbot, Bishop of Salisbury, brother of Archbishop Abbot, a very able divine and a thorough Calvinist. His opinion upon this point was adopted by Bishop Davenant, and the other English delegates to the Synod of Dort; and Supralapsarianism has not again been advocated by any very eminent theologian in England except Twisse. The eminent men who most elaborately and zealously defended Supralapsarianism in the seventeenth century were Gomarus, Twisse, and Voetins,—all of them perhaps more distinguished by their erudition, subtlety, and pugnacity, than by their comprehensive ability, judgment, and discretion; though they have all rendered very important services to theological literature. Gomar, who, when a young man, had. visited. England and. studied, theology under Whittaker at Cambridge, was the zealous opponent of the views which his colleague Arminius laboured, at first secretly, and. afterwards more publicly, to introduce into the university of Leyden. He resigned his chair when Vorstius was chosen as his colleague upon the death of Arminius; and after officiating for a few years at Saumur, he was settled at Groningen, and laboured there as professor of theology and Hebrew during the remainder of his life. He was a member of the Synod of Dort as one of the Belgic professors, and there he openly and strenuously maintained his Supralapsarian views; and though he stood almost alone, he gave a great deal of annoyance to the Synod by his vehemence and pertinacity. There were five Belgic theological professors members of the Synod, and they formed one collegium. Three of them—Polyander, Thysius, and Walaeus—entirely concurred in their Judicia on all the five points on which the Synod gave a deliverance. The fourth—Sibrandus Lubbertus, who, from Dr Balcanquhall’s Letters, appears to have exhibited a good deal of the temper and spirit of Gomar—gave in a separate Judicium of his own, but subscribed also that of his three colleagues. Gomar gave in a separate Judicium, differing from those of his colleagues and of the great body of the members of the Synod, in the one point of asserting the Supralapsarian theory as to the object of predestination.
But the great question is, whether the Synod of Dort gave any deliverance upon this point, and if so, what that deliverance was. The Synod of Dort, representing as it did almost all the Reformed churches, and containing a great proportion of theologians of the highest talents, learning, and character, is entitled to a larger measure of respect and deference than any other council recorded in the history of the church. That the great body of the members of the Synod were Sublapsarians is certain. This appears clearly from the Judicia of the different colleges, as they were called, of the divines who composed it. The collection of these Judicia forms the second part of the important work, entitled, “Acta Synoch Nationalis Dordrechti habitse,” and constitutes the most interesting and valuable discussion that exists of all the leading points involved in the controversy between Calvinists and Arminians. These Judicia all take, more or less explicitly, Sublapsarian ground; except that of Gomar, and that of the divines of South Holland, who leaned to the Supralapsarian side, but thought that it was not necessary for the Synod to decide this question, as the difference was not very important in itself, and admitted of being reconciled by explanations. The Synod seems to have adopted this suggestion, and to have abstained from giving a formal or explicit deliverance upon the point in dispute, though in the general scope and substance of its canons it certainly takes Sublapsarian ground. It has been contended, however, that the Synod condemned Supralapsarian views; and this question gave rise to a very keen controversy, which was carried on for a long time by Gomar and Voet on the one side, and on the other by Maresius or Des Marets, who succeeded Gomar as professor of theology at Groningen. Voet, then a young man, was a member of the Synod, indeed one of the delegates from South Holland. He lived to a great age, surviving all the other members of the Synod, and having been for many years professor of theology at Utrecht. He became a man of prodigious learning, published many valuable works, and was well known beyond the bounds of theological literature by the controversies he carried on with Des Cartes. Gomar and Voet, who had subscribed the canons of the Synod, held their Supralapsarian views to the last; and while they did not deny that the great majority of the members of the Synod were Sublapsarians, they maintained that the Synod, in its public collective capacity, had done nothing to condemn the opposite theory, while Maresius and others asserted that it had. We are satisfied that on this point Gomar and Voet have the superiority in the argument, and have succeeded in proving that the Synod did not intend to frame, and did not frame, their canons so as to make it impossible for Supralapsarians honestly and intelligently to subscribe them,—that they did not intend to make, and did not make, any definite opinion upon this point a term of communion, or a ground of exclusion. The ground taken in the canons of the Synod is indeed practically and substantially Sublapsarian; but the matter is not put in such a form as necessarily to exclude Supralapsarians, who, without straining, can assent to all that is in the canons as being true so far as it goes, though they do not regard it as containing a full statement of the whole truth upon the subject.
The course pursued by the Synod of Dort upon this question was just that followed by the Westminster Assembly in the Confession of Faith which they prepared; and the mode of dealing with this matter adopted by these two most authoritative representatives of Calvinistic theology was, we are persuaded, marked by great Christian wisdom. Dr Twisse, the prolocutor or president of the Westminster Assembly, died before they had done much, if anything, in the way of preparing their Confession. But there can be little doubt that his writings must have exerted a considerable influence upon the minds of many, in regard to a point which he had elaborated so zealously. Baillie tells us that they had some tough debates in the Assembly upon the subject of election, but that this matter was at length harmoniously adjusted. As the members were all decided Calvinists, these debates must have turned only upon such minute and unimportant points as those involved in the controversy between the Supralapsarians and the Sublapsarians about the object of the decree of predestination; and the adjustment was effected, as the result proves, by the omission in the Confession of any statement that might be fairly held to contain or to imply a denial of Supralapsarianism. There are two or three expressions in the canons of the Synod of Dort, which Supralapsarians may require to explain, if not to qualify. But there is nothing in the Westminster Confession to which they would object, while it is also true that there is nothing in it that sanctions their peculiar position; and while it is equally true of it as of the canons of Dort, that in developing the scheme of salvation, it adopts practically and substantially Sublapsarian ground. We have no doubt that, as in the case of the Synod of Dort, the great majority of the members of the Westminster Assembly were Sublapsarians in their own convictions; while, at the same time, they intended to leave this an open question, and framed their statements in such a way as to exclude neither party. And this, we have no doubt, was the course of true Christian wisdom; because, while, on the one hand, Supralapsarians can adduce in support of their theory processes of argumentation which do not perhaps easily admit of being directly answered, so that some men of speculative capacities and tendencies would shrink from meeting the leading Supralapsarian position with a direct negation; yet, on the other hand, it is plain that Scripture, in the ordinary current and complexion of its representations, assumes the fall of man, starts as it were from that point, and is chiefly directed to the object of unfolding the provision made for remedying the effects of the fall, and the way in which this provision is brought into full practical operation.
There has been no discussion upon this subject of any great importance since the controversy which was carried on so long and so angrily between Voet and Des Marets, about the middle of the seventeenth century. The “Formula Consensus Helvetica,” adopted as a test of orthodoxy by the Swiss churches in 1675, the chief authors of which—Heidegger and Turretine—were decided Sublapsarians, contains a formal and explicit repudiation of Supralapsarianism, thus contrasting unfavourably in point of wisdom and good sense with the canons of the Synod of Dort and the Confession of the Westminster Assembly. This injudicious procedure was the more inexcusable, because those Calvinistic divines who would have been most likely to shrink from a formal repudiation of Supralapsarianism, would have been the most strenuous opponents of the loose views of the Saumur divines about the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity and the extent of Christ’s atonement, against which principally the “Formula Consensus” was directed. Some attention was called to this subject by a dissertation of Mosheim published in 1724, “De Auctoritate Concilii Dordraceni paci sacrse noxia,” in which he adduced it as a serious charge against the Synod that they had not condemned Supralapsarian views. An elaborate answer to this dissertation was published in 1726 by Stephanus Vitus, professor in the German Reformed Church at Cassel, entitled, “Apologia pro Synodo Dordracena,” and containing a great deal of curious matter. The most important thing, however, in Vitus’s “Apologia” is a proof —the most full and elaborate with which w.e are acquainted—that Luther, of whom Mosheim professed to be a follower, held as high Calvinistic doctrine as the Supralapsarians; that his followers, in renouncing his Calvinism, had sunk very much to the level occupied by Erasmus in his controversy with their master; and that all the attempts which have been made by Lutheran writers to disprove these positions have utterly failed. The question that had been agitated about the object of the decree of predestination continued to be discussed in systems of theology, though rather as a matter connected with the history of the past, than as a living, subsisting, subject of controversy; and for more than a century and a half it may be regarded as having become practically obsolete.
II. The second topic to which we proposed to advert, is the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s first sin to his posterity. It has been alleged that, while Beza’s views upon this subject were distinct and explicit, in full accordance with the higher and stricter tenets which have been generally held by Calvinistic divines, Calvin’s were much more vague and indefinite. It has been contended that Calvin’s views upon this doctrine were in substance the same as those which were put forth by Plaeseus or La Place at Saumur, and condemned by the National Synod of the Reformed Church of France in 1644-45, and which have been generally regarded by Calvinistic divines as amounting to a virtual denial of imputation in the fair and legitimate sense of the word. Almost all professing Christians, Romanists and Arminians admit what may in some sense or other be called the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity,—that is, they all admit that mankind, the human race, suffer on account of Adam’s sin, or are placed in a worse position, both with respect to character and circumstances, as the result or consequence of that, sin, and of the relation in which they stand to him who committed it. But there have been great differences of opinion among those who professed to believe in divine revelation, both with respect to the nature and amount of the deterioration that has taken place in men’s moral character and spiritual capacities through the fall; and with respect to the nature of the relation subsisting between Adam and his posterity, with which this deterioration is admitted to be in some way connected. As we have at present to do only with differences among men who are substantially Calvinists, we may assume upon the first of these points—the nature and amount of the deterioration—the truth of the doctrine which is held by all Calvinists, and even by the more evangelical Arminians, viz. that all men bring with them into the world a thoroughly depraved moral nature,—a universal and pervading proneness or tendency to sin,—which certainly leads, in the case of every individual, to many actual violations of the divine law, which cannot be subdued or taken away by any human or created power, and which, but for some special extraordinary divine interposition, must issue in consigning men to everlasting destruction from God’s presence. This is the great fundamental doctrine in that department of theological science which is now commonly called anthropology, or the investigation of what man is. This doctrine is just the assertion of a fact with respect to the moral character of human nature, or the moral qualities, capacities, and tendencies of men as they come into the world. Its truth or falsehood ought to be investigated as a matter of fact, by the examination of all the evidence, from any quarter, that legitimately bears upon it. This great doctrine or fact is clearly revealed to us in the sacred Scriptures, but it is not a matter of pure revelation. Something may be learned concerning it from an examination of man’s constitution, and from a survey of the doings of men collectively and individually; and all that can be learned from these sources— from psychology and history, from observation and experience— fully accords with, and decidedly confirms, the information given us upon the subject in Scripture. Jonathan Edwards’ work on “Original Sin” is devoted to the investigation of this great doctrine or fact; and it certainly establishes its truth or reality, by evidence from Scripture, observation, and experience, which never has been, and never can be, successfully assailed.
Now this great doctrine as to what man is, or as to the actual moral character of human nature, is evidently, from the nature of the case, the fundamental and most important truth upon the whole subject to which it relates. It is plainly the most important thing that can be known in regard to the natural condition of man, the most important both theoretically and practically, in itself, in its relation to the general scheme of Christian doctrine, and in its bearing upon the duties which men are called upon to discharge. All the other questions which have been agitated with respect to the natural state and condition of man, may be said to be in some sense subordinate and inferior to this one. They respect chiefly the origin and cause, the explanation or rationale, of the great fact which this doctrine asserts; and therefore they cannot rise in point of intrinsic importance to the level of the question as to the reality of the fact itself. The matter of fact, when once established by its own appropriate evidence, must be admitted to be true, and must be dealt with and applied as a reality, even though we knew nothing, and had no means of knowing anything, about its origin or cause; and though we were unable to give any explanation or solution of difficulties that might be started upon the subject, viewed either in its relation to the moral government of God, or to the responsibility of man. Upon all these grounds it is of the last importance that men—especially those who are called upon to instruct others in the way of salvation—should be thoroughly established in the assured belief, that we all bring with us into the world a thoroughly depraved moral nature, which infallibly involves us in violations of the divine law, and subjects us to the divine wrath and curse; and familiar with the whole evidence by which the reality of this great fact can be established.
All Calvinists, many Arminians, and, indeed, we may say almost all of whatever name or denomination, who have given good evidence that they had honestly submitted their understandings to the authority of Scripture, and had cordially embraced the truth as it is in Jesus, have admitted the truth of this humbling and alarming doctrine with respect to the actual moral condition of mankind. There have been considerable differences, indeed, as to what was the most accurate way of stating and applying it. But among Calvinists at least—and with them only we have at present to do—the differences which have given rise to controversy have turned, not upon the nature, import, and evidence of this great fact as to what man by nature is, but upon the explanations or theories which have been propounded as to its cause, ground, or origin; and especially as to the relation subsisting between the first sin of Adam, and the moral character and condition of his posterity. All who believe in the moral depravity of human nature as an actual feature of character, universally attaching to the race, admit, upon the authority of Scripture, that the origin of this is to be traced to Adam’s sin, and to the connection subsisting between him and his posterity; and the leading controversies upon the subject may be said to resolve into these two questions: Have we any materials in Scripture that enable us to draw out this general idea, of some connection subsisting between the sin of Adam and the moral character of his posterity, into more distinct and definite positions? and if so, What are the precise positions to which the fair application of these materials points? All the discussions which have taken place among Calvinists about the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity may be ranked under these general heads. The doctrine which has been held upon this subject by the great body of Calvinistic divines is this, that in virtue of a federal headship or representative identity, established by God between Adam and all descending from him by ordinary generation, his first sin is imputed to them, or put down to their account; and they are regarded and treated by God as if they had all committed it in their own person, to the effect of their being subjected to its legal penal consequences,—so that, in this sense, they may be truly said to have sinned in him and fallen with him in his first transgression. Upon this theory, the direct and immediate imputation of Adam’s first sin to his posterity, or the holding them as involved in the guilt or reatus of that offence, is regarded as prior in the order of nature and causality to the transmission and universal prevalence among men of a depraved moral nature, and as being to some extent the cause or ground—the rationale or explanation—of the fearful fact that man is morally what he is,—a thoroughly ungodly and depraved being. The great body of Calvinistic theologians have believed that Scripture sufficiently warrants this definite doctrine about the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, or about the true character of the relation subsisting between him and them, and the bearing of the results of this relation upon their condition; and in this belief we are persuaded they are right. But there have been some men who have held Calvinistic views in regard to the actual depravity of human nature, and in regard to the other departments of Christian truth, who have not been able to find in Scripture a sufficient warrant for this doctrine, who have in consequence rejected it, and have contented themselves with very vague and indefinite views, or with no views at all, upon this branch of the subject. And these men have generally contended that Calvin himself was of their mind upon this question, and differed from the great body of those who, following Beza in this matter, have been generally classed under the name of Calvinists. It must be admitted that there is some plausible ground for this allegation, though we believe that it cannot be substantiated.
Before proceeding to consider how the case stands upon this point, it may be proper to explain somewhat the grounds usually taken by those Calvinists who have not concurred with the ordinary Calvinistic doctrine. In surveying the history of the discussions which have taken place upon this subject, we find even among the minority of Calvinists who have rejected the generally received doctrine of the direct and proper imputation of Adam’s sin, as the cause or explanation, pro tanto, of the universal prevalence of a depraved moral nature among his posterity, three pretty well marked divisions:—1st, Some simply refuse to receive the ordinary Calvinistic doctrine, on the ground that they see no sufficient warrant for it in Scripture; abstain from all further discussion; and profess to receive the fact of universal moral depravity, as fully established by its appropriate evidence, without attempting anything in the way of accounting for it. 2d, There are others who, wishing to adhere to the common orthodox phraseology, profess to admit imputation, but evacuate it or explain it away, by distinguishing between an immediate or antecedent, and a mediate or consequent, imputation,—rejecting the former, which is what Calvinists in general contend for, and admitting only the latter, which is not imputation in any true and proper sense. 3d, There are some who admit the substance of the ordinary orthodox doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin, but who abstain or shrink from the use of the phraseology in which orthodox divines have been accustomed to express or embody it. There is no good ground for alleging that Calvin is to be ranked with either of the two first of these classes; but it may be contended, with some plausibility, that he might be ranked with the third. And, indeed, we are disposed to admit that this is not far from the truth, provided the admission be taken with these qualifications,—that there is no ground to believe that he denied or rejected any part of the doctrine which has been generally held by Calvinists on this subject; and that his not employing very fully the phraseology commonly used by later Calvinists when treating of this matter, is not to be ascribed (as it is in the case of some of those whose writings have suggested to us this third head in our classification) to his having considered this phraseology, and having disliked or disapproved of it, but simply to its having never been present to his mind. .
Beza brought out this doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity more fully and precisely than it had been before. He expounded and developed it more fully than any preceding theologian,—both as directly and in itself an element in the guilt or realm of the condition into which the human race fell through Adam’s transgression, and as the cause, ground, or explanation of the actual moral depravity attaching to all men as they come into the world. These more precise and definite views had not occurred to Calvin, and do not seem to have ever been distinctly present to his thoughts. The course which the discussion of this whole subject took in his time, not only did not tend to lead his thoughts in that direction, but tended powerfully to lead them in what may be called an opposite one. This is the true and full explanation of the want of definiteness and precision which, it must be admitted, characterize many of Calvin’s statements about the imputation of Adam’s sin viewed as a distinct topic of discussion, as compared with the fulness and exactness with which it was brought out afterwards; while there is really no reason to doubt that he held the whole substance of the doctrine which has since been generally maintained by Calvinistic divines.
It may be worth while to give some account of the way in which this subject was usually discussed in Calvin’s time; as this will not only furnish an explanation of the reason why he did not usually give so much prominence as might have been expected to the doctrine of imputation, and why he did. not always treat it with great exactness and precision, but will also expose the inaccuracy of a notion which seems to prevail, that this doctrine of imputation is a mere Calvinistic peculiarity,—nay, even that it is the most extreme, objectionable, and mysterious dogma of ultra-Calvinism.
The doctrine of the fall of the whole human race in Adam was, from the beginning, a part of the creed of the universal church; and, from Augustine’s time, this had been generally spoken of under the designation of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity. Most of the schoolmen continued to use this language, though in their hands the doctrine of Augustine was obscured and corrupted. The whole subject of original sin was discussed at length in the Council of Trent, in the year 1546; and, through the respect generally professed and entertained for Augustine, the deliverance of the Council regarding it was in the main true and sound so far as it went,—containing little of positive error,— though chargeable with vagueness, obscurity, and much imperfection. But the discussion brought out some of the errors which had been broached by the schoolmen, and still prevailed extensively in the Church of Rome. Albertus Pighius, who was one of the leading opponents of Calvin, and against whom Calvin’s two most important controversial treatises—the one on Free-will and the other on Predestination—were principally directed, and Ambrosius Catharinus, another eminent divine of that period, attended the Council of Trent, and took a prominent part in its discussions. In the debates on original sin, these two theologians zealously maintained the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity; and Catharinus delivered a long address, the substance of which is given by Father Paul in his History of the Council, and in which he laboured to establish this doctrine from the testimony of Scripture and the authority of Augustine. But then these men also maintained that the guilt of Adam’s first sin imputed, constituted the whole of the sinfulness of the estate into which man fell, and they denied the transmission of an actually corrupt or depraved moral nature from Adam to his descendants; and as they also held a doctrine which had been generally adopted by Romish theologians, and has been formally sanctioned by the Council of Trent,—viz. that this imputation of Adam’s sin was wholly done away in Christ, and that an actual deliverance from it, and all its consequences, is communicated to all men in baptism,—they thus practically reduced the sinfulness of man’s natural condition to little or nothing, and deprived it of any great power to impress the minds of men. Father Paul tells us that the doctrine of Pighius and Catharinus was very well received by many of the bishops; but that, as the authority of most of the theologians was opposed to it, they did not venture to adopt and sanction it. The theologians, however, who opposed it, did not deny the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity; this was universally admitted; they maintained that this imputation did not constitute the whole of original sin, but that there was also, in conjunction and in connection with this, the transmission from Adam to his descendants of a deteriorated moral nature. And this view, which certainly could be just as conclusively established by testimonies both from the Bible and Augustine, prevailed in the Council. Cardinal Bellarmine, accordingly, says, that the doctrine of Pighius and Catharinus is partly true and partly false,—true, in so far as it admits the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity,—and false, in so far as it maintained that this imputation was the whole of original sin, and that there was no transmission of a corrupted nature; and then he proceeds to show that this negative portion of their doctrine was a heresy, as being opposed to the decrees of the Council of Trent.
This doctrine of Pighius and Catharinus, which prevailed widely in the Church of Home even after the deliverance of the Council, was dealt with by Calvin and the other Reformers very much in the same way as by Bellarmine. Since the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity was not denied by the Church of Rome, and was not rejected but sanctioned, though not defined and developed, by the Council of Trent; and since, on the contrary, some of those who were most zealous in maintaining it, employed it practically to soften and explain away the most important features of the sin and misery of men’s natural condition,—Calvin was naturally led to give more prominence, in his expositions and discussions of this subject, to the transmission and the actual universal prevalence of a depraved moral nature than to the imputation of Adam’s sin, which was not then a subject of controversy. This was the true cause or explanation why Calvin was led to make occasionally statements upon this subject, which have induced some men to allege that he did not hold the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, but believed the sinfulness of men’s natural condition to consist only in the want of original righteousness, and in the possession of a depraved moral nature, certainly and invariably producing actual transgressions.
The truth as to Calvin’s sentiments upon this subject is in substance this: that he has never, directly or by implication, denied the imputation of the guilt of Adam’s sin to his posterity, and that he has, on a variety of occasions, plainly enough asserted it; though he has not, from the cause above stated, given it the prominence to which, if true, it is entitled, in a systematic exposition of the scheme of divine truth,—has not always introduced it where, perhaps, we might have expected it to be introduced, and has not stated it with so much fulness and precision—especially in the aspect of its being regarded as producing, and to some extent explaining, the universal prevalence of a depraved moral nature—as was done by later Calvinists after this whole matter was subjected to a fuller controversial discussion. There is, we think, sufficient evidence that this is really the true state of the case to be found in the extracts from Calvin, quoted and referred to by Turretine; and there would be no difficulty in producing other passages quite as explicit, and some perhaps still more so, from his two treatises on Free-will and Predestination. There is no reason, then, to fear that, in maintaining the higher and more precise views upon the subject of the imputation of Adam’s sin, which have been held by the great majority of the ablest and most accurate theologians, we may expose ourselves to the risk of having the venerable authority of Calvin adduced against us.
The question as to what were Calvin’s views upon the subject of the imputation of Adam’s sin was first brought into prominence by Placseus, who broached sentiments upon this point differing from those which had been generally held by Calvinistic divines, and claimed Calvin himself as an authority upon his side. As the discussion raised by Placseus forms the most important era in the history of this subject, and as his peculiar opinions have received some countenance in influential quarters in the present day, it may be proper to give some notice of it. Placseus or La Place, Amyraldus or Amyraut, and Cappellus or Cappel, were all settled in the year 1633 as theological professors in the Protestant University of Saumur. They were all men of great learning and ability, of great industry and activity, and though they did not renounce the fundamental principles of the Calvinistic system of theology, they exerted an extensive influence in diffusing loose and unsound opinions upon some important doctrinal questions, not only in France, but over the Reformed churches. Placseus, in a Disputation published in the “Theses Salmurienses,”—“De statu hominis lapsi ante gratiam,”—put forth some views on the imputation of Adam’s sin, which were regarded by many as contradicting the doctrine which had been generally professed in the Reformed churches. Accordingly, the National Synod held at Charenton in December 1644 and January 1645, condemned his book, though without mentioning his name, and prohibited the publication of the doctrines it advocated. This decree of the Synod led to a good deal of controversial discussion. Garisolles, the moderator of the Synod, defended it, and answered Placseus’s “Disputatio” in a work which we have never seen, but which is highly praised by Turretine. Andrew Rivet, perhaps the most eminent divine of the period, published a defence of the Synod, consisting chiefly of extracts from the Reformed confessions, and from all the most eminent divines, both of the Reformed and Lutheran churches. Most of these extracts were translated and published in the first series of the “Princeton Essays.” They are a very valuable body of testimonies, but there are some of them which can scarcely be regarded as sufficiently precise and definite to contradict Placseus’s position. Placseus defended himself in a very elaborate treatise, published in 1665, “De imputatione primi peccati Adami.” In this work he laboured to show, that his opinion was not inconsistent with the generally received doctrine of the Reformed churches; for that they merely asserted the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, and that he had not denied this, but held it in a certain sense. In this work he developed fully the distinction, on which chiefly he based his defence, between immediate or antecedent, and mediate or consequent, imputation. He rejected the former and maintained the latter, and contended that Calvin and other eminent divines concurred in the substance of doctrine, though they had not expressed it in this particular definite form. His doctrine is in substance this, that the guilt or reatus of Adam’s first sin is not imputed to his posterity directly and immediately, as a distinct step in the process,—a separate and independent element in the sinfulness of the estate into which man fell,— having its own proper basis or warrant in the federal relation subsisting between Adam and his posterity, and affording, by its antecedence in the order of nature, a basis or explanation for the moral depravity which came upon men as a consequence, in the way of penal infliction through the withdrawal of divine grace. This is the doctrine which has been generally held by Calvinistic divines; , but this doctrine Placseus openly and earnestly repudiated. He contended that the imputation of Adam’s sin is simply a consequence or result of the moral depravity which is admitted to attach to men, in consequence somehow of their connection with Adam, but of the existence and transmission of which no explanation is given or attempted; and that all that is meant by the imputation of Adam’s sin is this, that God—contemplating men as actually and already, in virtue of their connection with Adam, subject to moral depravity, and involved thereby in actual transgressions of His law—resolves, upon this ground, to regard and treat them in the same way as Adam by his sin had deserved to be treated. God’s act in regarding and treating men in the way in which Adam deserved to be treated, is thus based upon the medium of the previous existence of moral depravity as already an actual feature of men’s condition, and is a consequence of its universal prevalence; instead of being viewed as an antecedent of this depravity in the order of nature, and the ground, and in some measure the explanation or rationale, of it. And hence the name of mediate and consequent, as distinguished from immediate and antecedent, imputation, by which this notion has since Placseus’s time been commonly designated.
Independently of the question, which of these doctrines has the sanction of Scripture?—though that of course is the only question of vital importance,—it is surely very manifest that it is a mere abuse of language to call this notion of Placseus by the name of imputation; that it is not imputation in any real honest meaning of the word; and that he never would have thought of calling this imputation, unless he had been tied up by ecclesiastical authority and his own voluntary engagements, to maintain that in some sense or other Adam’s first sin was imputed to his posterity. It is also very manifest that this doctrine does not give, or attempt or profess to give, any account of the origin, or any explanation of the cause, of the moral depravity of man, and the universality of actual transgression proceeding from it. Nay, it precludes any attempt to explain it, however partially, except this, that God in mere sovereignty established a constitution, in virtue of which it was provided, and did actually result, that all men should have transmitted to them the same depraved moral nature which Adam brought upon himself by his first sin. And . there certainly can be nothing which more directly and immediately than this resolves at once the sin and misery of the human race into the purpose and the agency of God. Placseus, moreover, brings out very plainly in this work the true character and tendency of his peculiar doctrine, and its palpable inconsistency with the views which have been generally held by Calvinistic divines, by explicitly denying that God made any covenant with Adam, or that any federal relation subsisted between him and his posterity; and makes it manifest that his doctrine of imputation, falsely so called, at once results from and produces—at once flows from and leads to—an entire rejection of the principle of Adam’s federal or representative headship.
This doctrine of Placseus was not adopted by almost any divines of eminence who really believed in inherent depravity as an actual feature of man’s moral nature. It was explicitly condemned by the churches and divines of Switzerland in the “Formula Consenus.” It has been made a question among the Presbyterians of the United States, though we do not remember that the point has been mooted in this country, whether the Westminster Confession condemns the view of Placseus; and the general opinion there seems to be, that there is nothing in the Confession so precise and definite as to make it unwarrantable for one who believes only in mediate and consequent imputation to subscribe it. The leading statement upon the subject is this—“They (our first parents) being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.” Now this statement, read in the light of the discussions which Placceus occasioned, is certainly vague and indefinite, and resembles much more closely the deliverances given on this subject in the Confession of the sixteenth century than that embodied in the Consensus of 1675. The Confession was completed about the end of 1646, not quite two years after the National Synod of Charenton. It is probable that the members of the Assembly were not yet much acquainted with the discussions which had being going on in France, and were in consequence not impressed with the necessity of being minute and precise in their deliverance upon this subject. It is a curious circumstance, that both in the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms, there are statements upon this point more full and explicit, and more distinctly exclusive of the views of Placseus. The Larger Catechism says, “The covenant being made with Adam, as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation sinned in him, and fell with him, in that first transgression and both Catechisms, more distinctly than the Confession, represent the guilt of Adam’s first sin as the first, and in some sense the leading, element in the sinfulness of man’s natural condition. More than a year elapsed between the completion of the Confession and that of the Catechisms; and we think it by no means unlikely—though we are not aware of any actual historical evidence bearing upon the point—that during this interval the members of the Assembly may have got fuller information concerning the bearing of the discussions going on in France, and that this may have led them to bring out somewhat more fully and explicitly in the Catechisms the views which, in common with the great body of Calvinistic divines, they undoubtedly entertained about the imputation of Adam’s sin. Every one who has read Placseus’s book will see, that he would, without hesitation, have subscribed the statement in the Confession, but that he would have had extreme difficulty in devising any plausible pretence for concurring in what has been quoted from the Larger Catechism.
In the seventeenth century this doctrine of Placseus received some countenance from Vitringa and Venema. It was adopted by Stapfer in his “Theologia Polemica,” who, however, when accused of error on this account, endeavoured to defend himself, by maintaining that both views of imputation were sound,—a position which, though in a certain sense it can be defended, was in the circumstances a mere evasion of the charge. From Stapfer it was adopted by Jonathan Edwards in his great work on Original Sin. Edwards’ views, however, upon this point do not seem to have been clear or consistent, as he sometimes makes statements which manifestly imply or assume the common Calvinistic doctrine. It is, indeed, plain enough that Edwards had never subjected this particular topic of imputation to a careful investigation, —his work on Original Sin being devoted to the object of establishing the doctrine or fact of man’s inherent native depravity, an object which he has thoroughly and conclusively accomplished. Dr Chalmers, in the first volume of his lectures upon the Epistle to the Romans, gives some indications that he had adopted this doctrine, though he does not bring it out with anything like fulness and explicitness. He had evidently, when he published that volume, not examined this subject with much care and attention, and was probably altogether unacquainted with the discussions which had previously taken place among theologians concerning it,—which, in all likelihood, was the case also with Edwards. It is most gratifying to notice that Dr Chalmers, upon a more careful and deliberate study of this subject, renounced the defective and erroneous view which he had imbibed from Edwards; and that in his great work, the “Institutes of Theology,” he, with the candour and magnanimity of a great mind, retracted his error, and supported the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin as it has been generally held by Calvinistic divines.J This doctrine of mediate or consequent imputation—which admits imputation only in this sense, that, on account of our inherent, moral depravity, as an actual feature of our condition, we are regarded and treated by God in the same way as Adam had deserved to be treated, in the same way as if we had committed Adam’s sin—has also been maintained by one of the most powerful, brilliant, and valuable writers of the present day, Mr Henry Rogers, in a very interesting Essay on the "Genius and Writings of Jonathan Edwards,” prefixed to an edition of his works published at London, in two volumes, in 1840. His views are brought out in the following passages:—
“We dislike the second term, ‘imputation of Adam’s sin,’ because the word imputation is apt to suggest the idea of an arbitrary transfer of the guilt and consequent punishment of one moral agent to another moral agent, whose moral condition is essentially different. But this is not what is meant by it. If we could suppose one of the descendants of Adam born without this depraved bias, and actually, when master of his own actions, persevering in unbroken obedience to the law of God, then the imputation of Adam’s guilt would be considered by Calvinists quite as absurd and as unjust as our opponents profess now to consider it. All that is meant by the ‘imputation of Adam’s sin,1 is that, as in the original constitution of things, Adam and his posterity were linked together by an inseparable union, as the root of a tree and its branches; and as the moral state of the latter (as well as their state in every other respect) was affected by that of the former, so it was reasonable that Adam should be treated as the federal head of his race. They are so far one as to warrant similarity of treatment. In this hypothesis the moral state of his descendants is not the consequence of the imputation of Adam’s sin, but presupposed as the reason of such imputation, and as prior to it in the order of nature. They are treated as he is because they are presupposed to be, and are really, morally like him. Thus, the great, and we may say the sole difficulty, is to reconcile it with justice, that the destinies of our race should be linked in a chain of mutual dependence with those of our first father; that not only our physical condition (a fact universally admitted), but that our moral condition should take its complexion from his own; that as he was, we should be; that if he fell, and as a consequence became mortal, we should fall with him, and become mortal too. Such a constitution, however, of course, presupposes the state of Adam’s descendants to correspond with his own; and the imputation of Adam’s sin means nothing more than that they are treated as Adam was, simply because they are virtually in the same condition with him. According to this doctrine, therefore, the real difficulty is not to reconcile the imputation of sin and guilt where there is no sin and guilt at all (for that is not the case supposed), but to vindicate the reasonableness of a constitution by which one being becomes depraved by his dependence on another who is so, or by which the moral condition of one being is remotely determined by the moral condition of another. Such is the doctrine when freed from all theological technicalities; and the more we consider it, the more we shall perceive that the sole difficulty is the one we have mentioned.
“Such is the explication of the doctrine of Original Sin, which, it will be seen, does not, as is so often represented, imply the arbitrary.imputation of the guilt of one moral agent to another in no sense guilty; and then an equally arbitrary infliction of punishment. But, presupposing the moral state of Adam’s descendants to resemble his own, and to necessitate, therefore, the same treatment, it represents it as just to deal with us as in our great progenitor, as virtually one with him, as grafted on his stock, as bound up in his destinies.’
“It will be seen by the defence we have just made, that we should not choose to attempt to vindicate, by direct argument, that constitution by which the moral destinies of one being are, in fact, entrusted to the keeping of another.. This is one of the mysteries about which, in our present state, it is in vain to reason. The difficulty is to be met simply by appealing, in the first instance, to the facts which prove such a constitution, and then by showing that the very same difficulty presses on any hypothesis that can be adopted on this subject, and, indeed, may be objected to all the proceedings of God towards this lower universe—consequently can never be conclusive against the Calvinistic doctrine of Original Sin.”
Mr Rogers is rather stating his doctrine than expounding and defending it; and for this, as well as for other reasons, it would be out of place to enter here upon a full discussion of it. But there are some obvious reflections suggested by these extracts, which we may state, without enlarging upon them. It is a somewhat peculiar procedure on the part of Mr Rogers, virtually to give his definition or description of the imputation of Adam’s sin, as if it were the only true and sound one, and that which was generally adopted by Calvinistic divines. Mr Rogers adopts the mediate and consequent imputation of Placseus,—a view which is neither accordant with the natural ordinary meaning of the word, nor with the doctrine that has been held by the generality of orthodox theologians. His whole statement is plainly fitted to convey the impression that this, and this alone, is, and should be, recognised as the true Calvinistic doctrine,—any other notion which the word imputation might suggest, and which may have been put forth in some quarters, being merely an unwarranted misrepresentation, repudiated by the judicious friends of the doctrine itself. Now, this is certainly a very erroneous impression concerning the actual facts of the case; for it can scarcely be disputed, that the doctrine of immediate and antecedent imputation, which he brings in as if it were merely a misrepresentation of opponents, and which he himself misrepresents, especially by the application of the word “arbitrary,”—an epithet which Arminians are so much in the habit of brandishing against all the doctrines of Calvinism,—has been explicitly maintained by the great body of the ablest Calvinistic divines who have flourished since Placseus’s time.
The doctrine concerning the imputation of Adam’s sin is not to be settled, as Mr Rogers seems to assume, by laying down an arbitrary definition, warranted neither by the natural proper meaning of the words, nor by the prevailing usus loquendi among theologians. It can be determined only by an examination of Scripture, by ascertaining what it is that Scripture asserts or indicates concerning the actual relation subsisting between Adam and his descendants,—the real bearing of his first sin upon the moral condition of his posterity. Placseus, the great champion, if not the inventor, of Mr Rogers’s notion of imputation, undertook to show that there was nothing in Scripture to warrant any other idea of what might be called the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, except this, “that because of the sin inherent in us from our origin, we are deserving of being treated in the same way as if we had committed that offence.” But most Calvinistic divines have maintained that this position, though true so far as it goes, does not embody the whole truth; that Scripture gives us somewhat fuller and more definite information upon the subject, and warrants us to believe that Adam was constituted the covenant-head, or federal representative, of his posterity,—God having resolved to make the trial or probation of Adam the trial or probation of the human race; that thus they sinned in him, and fell with him in his first transgression; and that thus the sin and misery of their natural condition assumes the character of a penal infliction, to which they are subjected because involved in the guilt of Adam’s first sin imputed to them, or put down to their account. Whether Scripture does warrant and require us to believe this, is a question on which there is room for a difference of opinion. If it does not,
then we must fall back upon the mediate or consequent imputation of Placseus and Mr Rogers. But if we were satisfied that this is the true state of the case, we would scarcely be contented with “disliking,” as Mr Rogers confesses he does, “the term, imputation of Adam’s sin;” nor would we attempt to explain it away by an arbitrary and unwarranted definition: we would reject it altogether as improper and unsuitable, fitted only to convey an erroneous impression.
Mr Rogers has not entered into any examination of the scriptural grounds by which this question should be determined, and neither can we at present advert to them. _ We can only assert that, for above two hundred years past, the generality of the most eminent Calvinistic divines have contended, that the doctrine of immediate and antecedent imputation is taught in the natural and obvious, meaning of the apostle’s statements in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and is only confirmed by the most thorough, searching, critical investigation of their import; while it is also in full accordance with the whole history of God’s dealings with the human race, and with the principles by which they have been regulated,—and especially with the great principle of covenant-headship and federal representation, so plainly exhibited in God’s arrangements with respect to the recovery as well as the ruin of mankind. We have admitted that the great doctrine or fact of the transmission from Adam, and the actual prevalence among all his descendants, of a depraved moral nature, is of more intrinsic and fundamental importance, in itself and its consequences, viewed both theoretically and practically, than any particular tenet as to the cause, or ground, or rationale of this state of things can be. But this does not in the least affect our obligation to ascertain and to proclaim all that Scripture makes known to us on the subject. We admit, also, that the evidence of this great fact from Scripture, confirmed as it is by the testimony of observation and experience, is more varied, abundant, and conclusive than can be adduced in support of the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin, as it has been usually held by Calvinists. But the evidence for this doctrine is, we believe, sufficient and satisfactory; and if so, men are bound to receive it. It certainly cannot be legitimately set aside by anything but a disproof of the scriptural evidence on which it is professedly based; and this, we are persuaded, has not been and cannot be produced.
Mr Rogers represents it as a great advantage of his virtual denial of imputation, by resolving it into what is only mediate and consequent upon the existence of depravity as an actual feature of human nature, that it leaves only one difficulty unsolved,—viz. “to vindicate the reasonableness of a constitution by which one being becomes depraved by his dependence on another;” and he plainly insinuates that any other doctrine upon the subject must be attended with additional and more formidable difficulties.
The substance of the only answer he attempts to this difficulty is, that the matter of fact as to man’s natural condition is conclusively established by its appropriate evidence, and must therefore be received as true, and, of course, consistent with God’s attributes and moral government, however great may be the difficulties attaching to it. This answer we admit to be quite sufficient and satisfactory; but we contend that the doctrine of imputation, in the only true and fair sense of the word,—the doctrine of immediate and antecedent imputation,—does not introduce any additional difficulty into the investigation of this subject, and upon the whole rather tends to diminish or alleviate the admitted difficulty, than to strengthen or aggravate it. It is a principle of the greatest value and importance in the consideration of the difficulties attaching to speculations on religious subjects, and especially in dealing with the objections commonly directed against Calvinism, that the difficulties or objections really apply, not to particular doctrines or representations, but to actual facts or results, which are admitted, or can be proved, to exist or t'o take place under God’s moral government. This principle applies equally to the views generally held amongst us with respect to the fall of mankind in Adam, and their salvation through Christ. The great, the only difficulty, in the one case is, that all men come into the world with morally depraved, natures, which certainly and invariably involve them in actual violations of the divine law, and thus subject them to punishment; and in the other case, that of the whole human race thus involved in sin and misery, some only are saved from this condition and the rest perish, while this difference in the result cannot be fully explained by anything in men themselves, or by anything they have done or can do, but must be referred ultimately to the good pleasure of God. These are actual facts or results which can be conclusively proved, and must therefore be admitted to be true. It is with the fall alone we have at present to do; and here the great, the only real difficulty is, the universality of depravity, with its certain and invariable consequences. This we undertake to prove to be an actual matter of fact’. If its truth be denied, we must stop, and before proceeding further we must establish it, for it is the great fundamental position with respect to the moral condition of mankind. But it is admitted by all Calvinists, and we have to do at present only with differences subsisting among them,—differences which we are persuaded do not and cannot seriously affect, either in the way of
alleviation or aggravation, the difficulties attaching to the admitted fact.
Some Calvinists—agreeing in this with those more evangelical Arminians who admit the great fact of the universal native depravity of mankind—contend that, beyond establishing the reality of the fact, Scripture gives us no further information on the subject, except this, that this depravity was transmitted by Adam to all his posterity, and that it is in some way or other to be traced to the relation subsisting between him and his descendants. They stop here, because they think that Scripture goes no further, and because they have a vague notion—which Mr Rogers appears to sanction—that to go any further would involve them in new and additional difficulties; though there really can be no greater difficulty than what stands out palpably on the face of the fact itself. They usually allege, that Scripture makes known to us no other relation as subsisting between Adam and the human race, except that they are all his natural descendants; while in connection with this they admit, that God had established a constitution or arrangement, in virtue of which all Adam’s descendants were in point of fact to have the same moral character into which he fell by his first sin. This constitution or arrangement of God, in virtue of which Adam transmitted to all his descendants the same depravity of moral nature which he brought upon himself, is of course admitted by all who, upon the authority of revelation, believe in the depravity of the human race. But it manifestly does not furnish, or appear or profess to furnish, any explanation or solution of the one great difficulty; which consists essentially in this, that God appears to be represented as the author or cause of the sin and misery of mankind. The admission of this divine constitution is really nothing more in substance than an assertion of the matter of fact, as a matter of fact; and then tracing the fearful result, directly and immediately, to a purpose and appointment of God. The view held by a certain section of Calvinists, from Placseus to Mr Rogers,—denying the imputation of Adam’s sin in any fair and legitimate sense of the expression, and.reducing it to a mere name or nonentity,—implies that Scripture makes known to us no other relation, no other kind of unity or identity, as subsisting between Adam and the human race, except that of progenitor and posterity —the unity or identity of a father with his descendants; and .this is simply asserting, in another form, the mere fact of the actual transmission of a depraved nature, as the result of a constitution or arrangement which God has established. This view of the matter leaves the difficulty just where it found it. It interposes nothing whatever between the result and the exercise of the divine sovereignty; it does nothing whatever towards explaining or vindicating that divine constitution or arrangement under which the result has taken place. At the same time, it is to be remembered that it is universally admitted that this relation of progenitor and posterity, this species of oneness or identity, does subsist between Adam and his descendants,—that it is in no way inconsistent with the more strict and definite views of imputation which have been held by the generality of Calvinists,—and that in so far as it can be made available or useful in the exposition of this subject, this advantage belongs equally to those who believe, and to those who deny, the generally received doctrine of imputation; while those who deny it have nothing else whatever to adduce in explanation or defence of their position.
If Scripture gives us no further information upon this subject, then we must stop here, and—in dealing with the objections of opponents—take our stand upon the position, that the fact of the fall and the depravity of the human race has been conclusively proved, and must therefore be received as true. This ground is common to all who admit depravity, and it is sufficient to dispose of the difficulty. But Calvinists in general have contended, that Scripture does give us some additional information upon this subject; and that this additional information—while certainly not furnishing a solution of the difficulty, which all admit to be insoluble—introduces no additional difficulty, and not only does not aggravate the difficulty admitted to exist, but rather tends to alleviate it. The peculiarity of the doctrine of imputation,—immediate and antecedent imputation,—as held by the generality of Calvinists, consists in this, that it brings in another relation besides that of mere natural descent as subsisting between Adam and his posterity—another species of oneness or identity between them, viz. that of covenant-headship or federal representation. Their doctrine is, that God made a covenant with Adam, and that in this covenant Adam represented his posterity, the covenant being made not only for him but for them,—including them as well as him in its provisions. The proper result of this was, that, while there was no actual transfer to them of the moral culpability or blameworthiness of his sin, they became, in consequence of his failure to fulfil his covenant engagements, in,—or incurred reatus, or guilt in the sense of legal answerableness,—to this effect, that God, on the ground of the covenant, regarded and treated them as if they themselves had been guilty of the sin whereby the covenant was broken, and that in this way they became legally involved in all the natural and penal consequences which Adam brought upon himself by his first sin. Now this doctrine—viewing it merely as a hypothesis, and independently of the actual support it receives from Scripture—neither introduces any new difficulty into the investigation, nor aggravates the difficulty which all admit to exist. It does not in any respect make more sinful or miserable the actual condition of the human race as a reality or matter of fact, and it does not ascribe anything to God which appears more liable to objection or more incapable of explanation, by bringing His agency more closely into contact with the actual result of the sin and misery of mankind. On the contrary, it rather tends to alleviate the difficulty, and to throw some light upon this mysterious transaction, by bringing it somewhat into the line of the analogy of transactions which we can comprehend and estimate, and illustrating its accordance with great general principles, which are exhibited, not only, in God’s ordinary providence, but specially and emphatically in the scheme of salvation by a Redeemer.
The great difficulty of course is to explain how, consistently with God’s attributes and man’s responsibility, the human race could come to be placed in a condition of sin and misery, without any apparent adequate ground in justice for their being so treated. And we think it by no means unlikely, that to a man reflecting upon this state of things as an ascertained reality,—even while he knew nothing of the information given as concerning it in Scripture,—the idea might occur, that the best and most satisfactory way of getting to anything like an explanation of it would be, if it could be shown to be of the nature of a penal infliction upon the human race—an evil that had come upon them as a punishment of actual sin committed. There is no great difficulty in believing, that the moral depravity of Adam’s own nature was a penal infliction upon him, through the withdrawal of the Divine Spirit— a punishment to which he was justly subjected on account of his first sin; and we cannot but feel, that if this idea of legal responsibility could in any way be introduced, and could in any measure be applied to the human race as a whole in connection with Adam, it would tend somewhat to alleviate or lighten the difficulty attaching to this mysterious and incomprehensible subject. Now, this is precisely what Scripture, according to the views of the defenders of the ordinary Calvinistic doctrine of imputation, does in the matter; this is the very service it renders, by leading us to believe, that God resolved to make the trial or probation of Adam the trial or probation of the human race,—that the covenant which He made with Adam comprehended all his posterity,—and that it laid a foundation for a legal or federal oneness or identity between him and them. The doctrine that Adam was the federal head or representative of his posterity in the covenant, lays a foundation for the imputation—the immediate and antecedent imputation—to them of the guilt or reatus of his first sin; and this imputation furnishes a ground for dealing with them as if they had committed that sin themselves, and thus involving them in the penal results which Adam brought upon himself by his own sin. There are thus interposed several steps between the actual moral character and condition of mankind and the mere sovereign purpose and agency of God; and these steps interposed, while they do not solve the difficulty, do not introduce into it any additional darkness or perplexity. On the contrary, being in accordance with analogies furnished by God’s ordinary providence and by human jurisprudence, as well as by the arrangements of the scheme of redemption, they tend somewhat to relieve and satisfy the mind in the contemplation of this great mystery.
There are many persons—and Mr Rogers is evidently one of them—who have a strong prejudice against this doctrine of the imputation of the guilt or reatus of Adam’s first sin to his posterity, as if it brought in some new and additional difficulties into the investigation of this subject,—as if it were the most mysterious and incomprehensible dogma of ultra-Calvinism, one which all moderate and reasonable Calvinists must repudiate. But if the considerations we have hinted at were duly weighed, this unfounded prejudice might possibly be removed; and it might be expected, that all men who admit the total depravity of human nature as an actual feature of man’s condition, of which they can give us no account or explanation whatever, would be more likely to yield to the weight of the evidence—quite sufficient, we think, though not overwhelming—which Scripture furnishes in proof of the doctrine, that “the covenant being made with Adam, as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, fell with him in his first transgression.”
Among the three different classes or sections into which we divided those divines who, while admitting the universal depravity of the human race, declined to admit the orthodox doctrine of imputation, one consisted of those who rejected the ordinary orthodox phraseology, yet so far deferred to the authority of Scripture as to receive, though in a confused and inconsistent way, some part of the doctrine which they professed to reject. This has appeared most prominently and palpably among the New England Congregationalists and some of the New School Presbyterians in the United States; though there have been frequent indications of it among men who were fond of deviating from the old beaten paths, and aspired to be thought reasonable, moderate, and liberal. This is a curious and important feature of the controversy, and furnishes some interesting materials in confirmation of the old orthodox faith. An admirable specimen of what can be done in this department will be found in a crushing exposure, by Dr Hodge, of Princeton, of the inconsistency and confusion exhibited by Professor Moses Stuart, of Andover, in his commentary upon the Epistle to the Romans. We have dwelt so long upon these two subjects, that we must be very brief upon the remaining two; and, indeed, must confine ourselves to a mere statement as to what Calvin’s sentiments upon these two topics really were, without digressing into the more general history of the controversies concerning them.
III. It has been contended, very frequently, and very confidently, that Calvin did not sanction the views which have been generally held by Calvinistic divines, in regard to the extent of the atonement,—that he did not believe in the doctrine of particular redemption, that is, that Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect, for those who are actually saved,—but that, on the contrary, he asserted a universal, unlimited, or indefinite atonement. Amyraut, in defending his doctrine of universal atonement in combination with Calvinistic views upon other points, appealed confidently to the authority of Calvin; and, indeed, he wrote a treatise entitled, “Eschantillon de la Doctrine de Calvin touchant la Praedestination,” chiefly for the purpose of showing that Calvin supported his views about the extent of the atonement, and was in all respects a very moderate Calvinist. Daillee, in his “Apologia pro duabus Synodis,” which is a very elaborate defence, in reply to Spanheim, of Amyraut’s views about universal grace and universal atonement, fills above forty pages with extracts from Calvin as testimonies in his favour. Indeed, the whole of the last portion of this work of Daillee, consisting of nearly five hundred pages, is occupied with extracts, produced as testimonies in favour of universal grace and universal atonement, from almost every eminent writer, from Clemens Romanus down to the middle of the seventeenth century; and we doubt if the whole history of theological controversy furnishes a stronger case of the adduction of irrelevant and inconclusive materials. It was chiefly the survey of this vast collection of testimonies that suggested to us the observations which we have laid before our readers in our discussion of the views of Melancthon.
It is certain that Beza held the doctrine of particular redemption, or of a limited atonement, as it has since been held by most Calvinists, and brought it out fully in his controversies with the Lutherans on the subject of predestination; though he was not, as has sometimes been asserted, the first who maintained it. It has been confidently alleged that Calvin did not concur in this view, but held the opposite doctrine of universal redemption and unlimited atonement. Now it is true that we do not find in Calvin’s writings explicit statements as to any limitation in the object of the atonement, or in the number of those for whom Christ died; and no Calvinist, not even Dr Twisse, the great champion of high Supralapsarianism, has ever denied that there is a sense in which it may be affirmed that Christ died for all men. But we think it is likewise true, that no sufficient evidence has been produced that Calvin believed in a universal or unlimited atonement. Of all the passages in Calvin’s writings, bearing more or less directly upon this subject, which we remember to have read or have seen produced on either side, there is only one which, with anything like confidence, can be regarded as formally and explicitly denying an unlimited atonement; and notwithstanding all the pains that have been taken to bring out the views of Calvin upon this question, we do not recollect to have seen it adverted to except by a single Popish writer. It occurs in his treatise “De vera participatione Christi in coena,” in reply to Heshusius, a violent Lutheran defender of the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The passage is this —u Scire velim quomodo Christi carnem edant impii pro quibus non est crucifixa, et quomodo sanguinem bibant qui expiandis eorum peccatis non est effusus.” This is a very explicit denial of the universality of the atonement. But it stands alone—so far as we know—in Calvin’s writings, and for this reason we do not found much upon it; though at the same time we must observe, that it is not easy to understand how, if Calvin really believed in a universal atonement for the human race, such a statement could ever have dropped from him. We admit, however, that he has not usually given any distinct indication that he believed in any limitation as to the objects of the atonement; and that, upon a survey of all that has been produced from his waitings, there is fair ground for a difference of opinion as to what his doctrine upon this point really was. The truth is, that no satisfactory evidence has been or can be derived from his writings, that the precise question upon the extent of the atonement which has been mooted in more modern times, in the only sense in which it can become a question among men who concur in holding the doctrine of unconditional personal election to everlasting life, ever exercised Calvin’s mind, or was made by him the subject of any formal or explicit deliverance. The topic was not then formally discussed as a distinct subject of controversy; and Calvin does not seem to have been ever led, in discussing cognate questions, to take up this one and to give a deliverance regarding it. We believe that no sufficient evidence has been brought forward that Calvin held that Christ died for all men, or for the whole world, in any such sense as to warrant Calvinistic universalists—that is, men who, though holding Calvinistic doctrines upon other points, yet believe in a universal or unlimited atonement—in asserting that he sanctioned their peculiar principles.
It is true that Calvin has intimated more than once his conviction, that the position laid down by some of the schoolmen, viz. that Christ died “sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis,” is sound and orthodox in some sense. But then he has never, so far as we remember or have seen proved, explained precisely in what sense he held it, and there is a sense in which the advocates of particular redemption can consistently admit and adopt it. It is true also, that Calvin has often declared, that the offers and invitations of the gospel are addressed by God, and should be addressed by us, indiscriminately to all men, without distinction or exception; and that the principal and proximate cause why men to whom the gospel is preached finally perish, is their own sin and unbelief in putting away from them the word of life. But these are principles which the advocates of particular redemption believe to be true, and to be vitally important; and which they never hesitate to apply and to act upon. It is quite fair to attempt to deduce an argument in favour of the doctrine of a universal atonement from the alleged impossibility of reconciling the doctrine of an atonement, limited as to its objects or destination in God’s purpose or intention, with the universal or unlimited offers and invitations of the gospel, or with the ascription of men’s final condemnation to their own sin and unbelief. But as the generality of the advocates of a limited atonement deny that the inconsistency of these two things, or the impossibility of reconciling them, can be proved, and profess to hold both, it is quite unwarrantable to infer, in regard to any particular individual, that because he held the one, he must be presumed to have rejected the other. And there is certainly nothing in Calvin’s general character and principles, or in anything he has written, which affords ground for the conclusion, that the alleged impossibility of reconciling these two things would, had he been led to investigate the matter formally, have perplexed him much, or have tempted him to embrace the doctrine of universal atonement, which is certainly somewhat alien, to say the least, in its general spirit and complexion, to the leading features of his theological system. And this consideration is entitled to the more weight for this reason, that this difficulty is not greater than some others with which he did grapple, and which he disposed of in a different and more scriptural way,—or rather, is just the very same difficulty, put in a different form, and placed in a somewhat different position.
There is not, then, we are persuaded, satisfactory evidence that Calvin held the doctrine of a universal, unlimited, or indefinite atonement. And, moreover, we consider ourselves warranted in asserting, that there is sufficient evidence that he did not hold this doctrine; though on the grounds formerly explained, and with the one exception already adverted to, it is not evidence which bears directly and immediately upon this precise point. The evidence of this position is derived chiefly from the two following considerations:— .
lst, Calvin consistently, unhesitatingly, and explicitly denied the doctrine of God’s universal grace and love to all men,—that is, omnibus et singulis, to each and every man,—as implying in some sense a desire or purpose or intention to save them all; and with this universal grace or love to all men the doctrine of a universal or unlimited atonement, in the nature of the case, and in the convictions and admissions of all its supporters, stands inseparably connected. That Calvin denied the doctrine of God’s universal grace or love to all men, as implying some desire or intention of saving them all, and some provision directed to that object, is too evident to any one who has read his writings, to admit of doubt or to require proof. We are not aware that the doctrine of a universal atonement ever has been maintained, even by men who w£re in other respects Calvinistic, except in conjunction and in connection with an assertion of God’s universal grace or love to all men. And it is manifestly impossible that it should be otherwise. If Christ died for all men,—pro omnibus et singulis, —this must have been in some sense an expression or indication of a desire or intention on the part of God, and of a provision made by Him, directed to the object of saving them all, though frustrated in its effect, by their refusal to embrace the provision made for and offered to them. A universal atonement, or the death of Christ for all men,—that is, for each and every man,— necessarily implies this, and would be an anomaly in the divine government without it. No doubt it may be said that the doctrine of a universal atonement necessitates, in logical consistency, a denial of the Calvinistic doctrine of election, as much as it necessitates an admission of God’s universal grace or love to all men; and we believe this to be true. But still, when we find that, in point of fact, none has ever held the doctrine of universal atonement without holding also the doctrine of universal grace,—while it is certain that some men of distinguished ability and learning, such as Amyraut and Daillee, Davenant and Baxter, have held both these doctrines of universal atonement and universal grace, and at the same time have held the Calvinistic doctrine of election,—we are surely called upon in fairness and modesty to admit, that the logical connection cannot be quite so direct and certain in the one case as in the other. And then this conclusion warrants us in maintaining, that the fact of Calvin so explicitly denying the doctrine of God’s universal grace or love to all men, affords a more direct and certain ground for the inference, that he did not hold the doctrine of universal atonement, than could be legitimately deduced from the mere fact, that he held the doctrine of unconditional personal election to everlasting life. The invalidity of the inferential process in the one case is not sufficient to establish its invalidity in the other; and therefore our argument holds good.
2d, The other consideration to which we referred, as affording some positive evidence, though not direct and explicit, that Calvin did not hold the doctrine of a universal atonement, is this,—that he has interpreted some of the principal texts on which the advocates of that doctrine rest it, in such a way as to deprive them of all capacity of serving the purpose to which its supporters commonly apply them. If this position can be established, it will furnish something more than a presumption, and will almost amount to a proof, that he did not hold the doctrine in question. As this point is curious and interesting, we may adduce an instance or two in support of our allegation. In commenting upon 1 Tim. in. 4, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” Calvin says: “Apostolus simpliciter intelligit nullum munch vel populum vel ordinem a salute excluch, quia omnibus sine exceptione evangelium proponi Deus velit. Est autem evangelii prsedicatio vivifica, merito itaque colligit Deum omnes pariter salutis participatione dignare. At de hominum generibus, non singulis personis, sermo est; nihil enim aliud in-tendit quam principes et extraneos populos in hoc numero inclu-dere.” Again, in commenting upon 1 John in. 2, “And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world,” he says: “Qui hanc absurditatem (universal salvation) volebant effugere, dixerunt sufficientur pro toto mundo passum esse Christum, sed pro electis tantum efficaciter. Yulgo hsec solutio in scholis obtinuit. Ego quanquam verum esse illud dictum fateor, nego tamen prsesenti loce quadrare. Neque enim aliud fuit consilium Joannis quam toti ecclesise commune facere hoc bonum. Ergo sub omnibus reprobos non comprehendit, sed eos designat qui simul credituri erant, et qui per varias munch plagas dispersi erant.” He gives the very same explanation of these two passages in his treatise on “Predestination.” Now this is in substance just the interpretation commonly given of these and similar texts by the advocates of the doctrine of particular redemption; and it seems scarcely possible that it should have been adopted by one who did not hold that doctrine, or who believed in the truth of the opposite one.
Let it be observed, that our object is not to show that we are warranted in adducing the authority of the great name of Calvin as a positive testimony in favour of the doctrine of particular redemption,—of a limited atonement,—as it has been generally held by Calvinistic divines; but rather to show that there is no adequate ground for adducing him, as has been done so frequently and so confidently, on the other side. To adduce Calvin as maintaining the doctrine of particular redemption, could scarcely, upon a full and impartial survey of the whole circumstances of the case, be regarded as warrantable. It is evident that he had never been led to examine this precise question, in the form which it afterwards assumed in controversial discussion, and to give an explicit deliverance upon it. He seems to have attached little or no importance to any definite doctrine about the extent of the atonement. In his “Antidote” to the earlier sessions of the Council of Trent, he passes by without comment or animadversion the fourth chapter of the sixth session, although it contains an explicit declaration that Christ died for .all men; and he does this not tacitly, as if per incuriam, but with the explicit statement, “tertium et quartum caput non attingo,”—as if he found nothing there to object to. He was in no way sensitive or cautious about using language, concerning the universality of the offers and invitations, or—in the phraseology which then generally prevailed— the promises of the gospel, and concerning the provisions and arrangements of the scheme of redemption, which might have the appearance of being inconsistent with any limitation in the objects or destination of the atonement. And it is chiefly because the great body of those who have been called after his name—even those of them who have held the doctrine of a definite or limited atonement—have followed his example in this respect, believing it to have the full sanction of Scripture, that Daillee and others have got up such a mass of testimonies from their writings, in which they seem to give some countenance to the tenet of universal redemption, even at the expense of consistency. But this is no reason why Calvinists should hesitate to follow the course, which Scripture so plainly sanctions and requires, of proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation to all men indiscriminately without any distinction or exception, setting forth, without hesitation or qualification, the fulness and freeness of the gospel offers and invitations,—of inviting, encouraging, and requiring every descendant of Adam with whom they come into contact, to come to Christ and lay hold of Him, with the assurance that those who come to Him He will in no wise reject. The doctrine of particular redemption, or of an atonement limited, not as to its sufficiency, but as to its object, purpose, or destination, does not, either in reality or in appearance, throw any greater obstacle in the way of preaching the gospel to every creature, than the doctrines which all Calvinists hold, of the absolute unconditional election of some men to eternal life, and of the indispensable necessity and determining influence of the special agency of the Holy Spirit in producing faith and conversion. The difficulty of this whole subject lies in a department which belongs to God’s province, and not to ours. He has imposed upon us the duty of making Christ known to our fellow-men, not only as able, but as willing. and ready, to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him; and this duty we are bound by the most solemn obligations to discharge, without let or hindrance, without doubt or hesitation; assured that God, while exercising His own sovereignty in dealing with His creatures, will, in His own time and way, fully vindicate the consistency and the honour of all that He has done Himself, and of all that He has required us to do in His name.
IV. The only other topic to which we referred,—as one in regard to which it has been made matter of discussion what Calvin’s views were, and whether he did not come short of the accuracy and precision exhibited by Beza, and the generality of later Calvinists,—is the doctrine of justification. Some Arminians have gone so far as to allege, that Calvin held their fundamental distinguishing principle upon this subject,—that, viz., of the imputation of faith as a substitute for, or in the room and stead of, a perfect personal righteousness, as the ground of a sinner’s forgiveness; in distinction from, and in opposition to, the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness through the instrumentality of faith. But no evidence has been produced from his writings in support of this allegation, sufficient to entitle it to examination. It has also, however, been alleged, and with much greater plausibility, that he held justification to consist solely in pardon or remission of sin, without including in it, as the generality of Calvinists have done, the distinct additional idea of the acceptance of men as righteous; and that, as a natural consequence, he did not admit the distinction—which has also been held by most of his followers—between the passive righteousness of Christ, or His vicarious sufferings, as more immediately the ground of our pardon, and His active righteousness, or perfect obedience to the law, as more immediately the ground of our acceptance and title to heaven. With respect to the first of these points,—viz. his making justification to consist solely in pardon or remission,—it is undeniable that he has repeatedly made statements in which this is asserted in terminis. But the meaning and bearing of these statements have been somewhat misconceived, from not attending to the leading object which he had in view in making them, and to the import of the tenet against which he was arguing. His chief object in laying down this position, was to deny and exclude the Popish doctrine of justification, which makes it comprehend not only remission, but also regeneration. And the sum and substance of what he meant to inculcate, in laying down the position that justification consisted only in remission, was just this, that it did not comprehend, as the Papists maintained, a change of character, but merely a change of state in relation to God and to His law. That he did not mean to deny, and that he really believed, that justification included acceptance as a distinct element from forgiveness,—separable from it in thought, though always united with it in fact,—and that he based the one as well as the other solely upon the righteousness of Christ imputed through faith, can be clearly established from his writings. Indeed, this may be said to be put beyond all doubt by the following very explicit commentary upon the apostle’s statement, that 66 Christ is made unto us righteousness,” or justification: “quo intelligit (apostolus) nos ejus nomine acceptos esse Deo, quia morte sua peccata nostra expiaverit, et ejus obedientia nobis in justitiam imputetur. Nam quum fidei justitia in peccatorum remissione et gratuita acceptione consistat, utrumque per Christum consequimur.” This statement is far too precise and explicit to admit of being explained away, and it is quite conclusive as to what were Calvin’s views upon the point now under consideration.
It may be worth while to advert to another expression which Calvin sometimes used when treating of this subject,—an expression which confirms the accuracy of the account we have given of his sentiments, but which in itself is not strictly correct, as was indeed brought out in the course of the subsequent controversies. Calvin repeatedly speaks of justification as consisting in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. There can be no reasonable doubt that, when he used this form of expression, he meant by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness just acceptance, or positive admission into the enjoyment of God’s favour,—the bestowal of a right or title to eternal life, as distinguished from and going beyond mere forgiveness. In any other sense, and, indeed, in the strict and proper meaning of the expression, the statement is inaccurate. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness, correctly understood, is to be regarded as, in the order of nature, preceding both remission and acceptance, and as being the ground or basis, or the meritorious or impulsive cause of these two results—that to which God has a respect when in any instance He pardons and accepts a sinner.
As to the distinction between the passive and the active righteousness of Christ,—the first regarded as more immediately the ground of our pardon, and the second of our acceptance,—this does not appear to be formally brought out in the writings of Calvin. It is to be traced rather to the more minute and subtle speculations to which the doctrine of justification was afterwards subjected; and though the distinction is quite in accordance with the analogy of faith, and may be of use in aiding the formation of distinct and definite conceptions, it is not of any great practical importance, and need not be much pressed or insisted on, if men heartily and intelligently ascribe their forgiveness and acceptance wholly to what Christ has done and suffered in their room and stead. ' There is no ground in anything Calvin has written for asserting, that he would have denied or rejected this distinction, if it had been presented to him. But it was perhaps more in accordance with the cautious and reverential spirit in which he usually conducted his investigations into divine things, to abstain from any minute and definite statements regarding it. Much prominence came to be given to these distinctions between forgiveness and acceptance, and between Christ’s passive and active righteousness, in the Lutheran Church; and it is interesting to notice, that down till about the middle of last century,— when everything like sound doctrine and true religion were swept away by the prevalence of rationalism,—not only these distinctions, but the whole of the scriptural doctrine on the subject of justification, were strenuously maintained by the Lutheran theologians. Very few Calvinistic divines have rejected the distinction between forgiveness and acceptance, though many have been disposed to pass over or omit the distinction between Christ’s passive and active righteousness. The most eminent Calvinistic divines, who have maintained that justification consists only in remission of sins,—thus denying or ignoring the generally received distinction between forgiveness and acceptance, and rejecting the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness,—were Piscator and Wendelinus, who both belonged to the German Reformed Church, the former of whom flourished near the beginning, and the latter about the middle of the seventeenth century. The general reasonings on which these men based their peculiar views are of no force, except upon the assumption of principles which would overturn altogether the Scripture doctrines of substitution and imputation. The question resolves into this—Whether we have sufficient evidence in Scripture for these distinctions? And in the discussion of this question it has, we think, been shown that the scriptural evidence is sufficient; and that those who deny this, demand an amount of evidence, both in point of quantity and of directness and explicitness, which is unreasonable.
But many eminent divines have been of opinion that the controversies which have been carried on upon this subject, have led some of the defenders of the truth to press these distinctions— especially that between Christ’s passive and active righteousness— beyond what Scripture warrants, and in a way that is scarcely in keeping with the general scope and spirit of its statements. There is no trace of this excess, however, in the admirably cautious and accurate declarations upon this subject in the Westminster Confession; where, while pardon and acceptance are expressly distinguished as separate elements in the justification of a sinner, they are both ascribed, equally and alike, to the obedience and death of Christ, without any specification of the distinct places or functions which His passive and active righteousness hold in the matter.
“Those whom God effectually calleth He also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting then’ persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”
This statement contains a beautifully precise and exact repudiation of Popish and Arminian errors, and assertion of the opposite truths, upon the subject of justification; but it wisely abstains from giving any deliverance, directly or by implication, upon those more minute points which are less clearly indicated in Scripture, and have been made subjects of controversial discussion among Calvinists. The same wisdom and caution are exhibited in dealing with this topic in the corresponding portions of the catechisms. In the Larger Catechism, pardon and acceptance are both based, equally and alike, upon “the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ;” and in the Shorter Catechism, while they are still distinguished from each other, they are both declared to be based upon “the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone.” The danger of yielding to any excess, or undue minuteness, of exposition upon this subject, and at the same time the necessity and importance of maintaining the whole truth regarding it, as sanctioned by Scripture, are very clearly and judiciously enforced by Turretine, with his usual masterly ability.
The general subject which we have been surveying might suggest some reflections fitted to be useful in the study of theology and of theological literature, bearing especially upon the two topics—of the use and application of testimonies from eminent writers as authorities upon controverted questions, and the value and importance of definite and precise statements in the exposition of the doctrines of Christian theology.
In almost all theological controversies, much space has been occupied by the discussion of extracts from books and documents, adduced as authorities in support of the opinions maintained; and there is certainly no department of theological literature in which so much ability and learning, so much time and strength, have been uselessly wasted, or in which so much of controversial unfairness has been exhibited. Controversialists in general have shown an intense and irresistible desire to prove, that their peculiar opinions were supported by the Fathers, or by the Reformers, or by the great divines of their own church; and have often exhibited a great want both of wisdom and of candour in the efforts they have made to effect this object. It is indeed very important to ascertain, as far as possible, the doctrinal views which have prevailed in every country where theology has been studied, and in each successive generation since the canon of Scripture was completed. And it is a gratifying feature in the condition of the church, that so much attention has been given in modern times—especially on the Continent—to the full and scientific treatment of the history of doctrines. The history of opinion can always be turned, by competent persons, to good account in the investigation of truth. It is important also to ascertain fully the views held even by individuals, who have exerted an important influence on their own and subsequent ages,—epoch-making men as they have been called,—such as Origen, Augustine, Abelard, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, and Socinus. Some deference is due to the opinions of men who have brought distinguished gifts and graces to bear on the study of theology. But no deference that may be shown to the opinions of men, should ever be transmuted into submission to authority, properly so called; as if it ever could be of essential importance, or of determining influence, to ascertain what other men believed on matters which are revealed to us in God’s word. No document has ever been prepared by uninspired men, which did not exhibit some traces of human imperfection,—not indeed always in actual positive error, yet in something about it defective or exaggerated, disproportionate or unsuitable,—exhibited either in the document itself, or in its relation to the purpose it was intended to serve. There is no man who has written much upon important and difficult subjects, and has not fallen occasionally into error, confusion, obscurity, and inconsistency; and there is certainly no body of men that have ever been appealed to as authorities, in whose writings a larger measure of these qualities is to be found than in those of the Fathers of the Christian church. We have never read anything more wearisome and useless than the discussions which have been carried on between Romanists and Protestants, especially divines of the Church of England, concerning the opinions of the Fathers of the early ages. Never have ability and learning been more thoroughly wasted, than in those endless debates, in which so much pains have been taken to bring out the meaning of passages in the Fathers, which really have no meaning, or no meaning that can be ascertained,—which in many cases their authors, if they could be called up and examined, would be unable to explain intelligibly; and to harmonize the confusion and reconcile the inconsistencies which abound in their works. It was right and important indeed to show conclusively and once for all, that the Romanists are not warranted to appeal to the early church, in support of their leading peculiar opinions; and the conclusive evidence which has been produced in proof of this position, it may be necessary occasionally to refer to. But beyond this, elaborate discussions of the meaning of particular passages in the Fathers, should in general be now regarded as nothing better than learned lumber. Occasions indeed do sometimes occur in theological literature where something of this kind may be called for. And we think that there was a dignus vindice nodus, and that an important service was rendered to the cause of truth, when Dr Goode, the Dean of Ripon, undertook and endured the labor improbus of proving—as he has done unanswerably, in his “Divine Rule of Faith and Practice”—that the Tractarian appeal to the authority of the Fathers, and also of the great Anglican divines, was characterized by the same incompetency and unfairness which have usually marked the conduct of Romish controversialists.
In adducing extracts from eminent writers in support of their opinions, controversialists usually overlook or forget the obvious consideration, that it is only the mature and deliberate conviction of a competent judge upon the precise point under consideration that should be held as entitled to any deference. When men have never, or scarcely ever, had present to their thoughts the precise question that may have afterwards become matter of dispute,—when they have never deliberately examined it, or given a formal and explicit deliverance regarding it,—-it will usually follow', lst, That it is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain what they thought about it,—to collect this from incidental statements, or mere allusions, dropped when they were treating of other topics; and 2d, That their opinion about it, if it could be ascertained, would be of no weight or value. A large portion of the materials which have been collected by controversialists as testimonies in favour of their opinions from eminent writers, is at once swept away as useless and irrelevant, by the application of this principle. The truth of this principle is so obvious, that it has passed into a sort of proverb,—“auctoris aliud agentis parva est auctoritas.” And yet controversialists in general have continued habitually to disregard it, and to waste their time in trying to bring the authority of eminent writers to bear upon questions which they had never examined; and have not scrupled, in many cases, to have recourse to garbling and mutilation, in order either to silence testimonies or to make them speak more plainly. The opinion even of Calvin, upon a point which he had never carefully examined, and on which he has given no formal deliverance, is of no weight or value, and would scarcely be worth examining; were it not that so much has been written upon this subject, and that his views upon many points have been, and still are, so much misrepresented.
In dealing with authorities, then, it is necessary to ascertain whether the authors referred to and quoted have really formed and expressed an opinion upon the point in regard to which their testimony is adduced. It is necessary further to collect together, and to examine carefully and deliberately, the whole of what they have written upon the subject under consideration, that we may understand fully and accurately what their whole mind regarding it really was, instead of trying to educe it from a hasty glance at partial and incidental statements. And in order to conduct this process of estimating and applying testimonies in a satisfactory and successful way, it is also necessary that we be familiar with the whole import and bearing of the discussion on both sides, as it was present to the mind of the author whose statements we are investigating. Without this knowledge, we shall be very apt to misapprehend the true meaning and significance of what he has said, and to make it the ground of unwarranted and erroneous inferences. We have seen how necessary it is, in order to understand and construe aright Calvin’s statements about imputation and justification, to know in what way these subjects were discussed at the time among Romanists as well as among Protestants; and many other illustrations of the necessity of a thorough acquaintance with the whole question in all its aspects, and of the errors arising from the want of it, might easily be adduced from this department of theological controversy. To manage aright this matter of the adduction and application of testimonies or authorities, requires an extent of knowledge, a patience and caution in comparing and estimating materials, and an amount of candour and tact, which few controversialists possess, and in which many of them are deplorably deficient. This is not indeed a department of investigation which can be regarded as possessed of any great intrinsic importance, with a view to the establishment of truth. But it has always occupied, and it is likely to continue to occupy, a prominent place in theological literature; and it is therefore of some consequence that it should be conducted judiciously, accurately, and honourably.
Much more important than this subject of authorities and testimonies, is the other topic suggested by the survey in which we have been engaged, viz. the increasing fulness, exactness, and precision of deliverances on doctrinal matters, as the result of controversial discussion. The great lessons suggested by the investigation in which we have been engaged, and suggested indeed by the whole history of the discussion of all such questions, are, 1st, The obligation to improve the controversies which have sprung up in the church, for aiding in the formation of clear and accurate, precise and definite, opinions upon all topics of doctrinal theology, up to the full extent which Scripture, correctly interpreted and reasonably and judiciously applied, may be fairly held to sanction; 2d, The danger and mischief of laying down explicit deliverances, and indulging in elaborate controversies, about minuter matters which are not revealed to us, and which Scripture really furnishes no materials for determining; and 3d, The necessity of great caution and much wisdom in introducing into symbolical books, and thereby imposing as articles of faith or terms of communion, even true positions of a minute and definite description, which may possess no great intrinsic importance as connected with the development of the scheme of salvation, or which may derive their importance from temporary or local discussions. These, of course, are just truisms admitted by every one. Everything depends upon the right application of them to particular cases and topics; and this requires thorough and comprehensive knowledge, great soundness and discrimination of intellect, and much careful and deliberate investigation,—qualities which are very rare, and which especially are very seldom found in combination with each other.
In regard to each of these three positions, there are temptations and dangers on both sides,—great risks both of defect and of excess; and one chief means fitted, with the divine blessing, to guard against error in these matters, both on the right hand and on the left, is a comprehensive survey of the history of past discussions, and a sincere and impartial determination to turn it to the best account, with a view to the ascertaining of truth and the determining of the church’s duty. It is an imperative obligation, attaching to every man, according to his means and opportunities, to acquire as accurate and complete a knowledge of the contents of divine revelation as he can. And next to the diligent and prayerful study of the word of God itself, in the unwearied and impartial application of all legitimate apparatus and auxiliaries, a comprehensive and discriminating investigation of past discussions, conducted by competent parties, affords the best means of discharging this duty and securing this result. Wherever men of ability, learning, and integrity, have brought their minds to bear upon the investigation of divine truth,—and especially when, by the collision of men of this stamp, the sifting analytic process of controversial discussions has been brought to bear upon the subjects examined,—materials are provided, which, by men who have not themselves been involved in the controversies, may be turned to the best account, in forming an accurate estimate, first, of the truth, and then, secondly and separately, of the importance, of the points involved. Men are bound to improve to the uttermost all their opportunities of acquiring the most clear, accurate, and exact knowledge of all the truths revealed in the sacred Scriptures; and some men, in seeking to discharge this duty, have been honoured by the Head of the church to contribute largely to diffuse among their fellow-men more correct, definite, and comprehensive views of Christian doctrine than had prevailed before, and to show that these views were indeed sanctioned by the word of God.
The men who have been most highly honoured in this important department of work, were Augustine in the fifth century,— the Reformers of the sixteenth century, and especially Calvin, the greatest of them all,—and lastly, the great Calvinistic systematic divines of the seventeenth century. The works of this last class of writers—such men as Francis Turretine, John Henry Heidegger, Herman Witsius, and Peter Yan Mastricht—are based wholly upon the theology of the Reformation; but they carry it out to its completion, and may be said to form the crown and the cope-stone of theological science, viewed as an accurate, comprehensive, and systematic exposition and defence of the doctrines revealed in the word of God. We believe that these men have given an exposition of the doctrines which are made known to us in the sacred Scriptures, and which all men are bound to understand and believe, because God has revealed them, such as in point of clearness and fulness, accuracy and comprehensiveness, was never before equalled, and has never since been surpassed. In the writings of these men, and of others of the same class and period, we find that almost every discussion raised for the last century and a half about the substance of theology—that is, about the doctrines actually taught in Scripture concerning all matters of universal and permanent importance, concerning God and man, Christ and the way of salvation, the church and the sacraments— is dealt with and disposed of,—is practically exhausted and conclusively determined. But it does not by any means follow from this, that the precise and definite statements, on doctrinal subjects, which the writings of these men present—although true in themselves and warranted by Scripture, as in general we believe them to be—should be embodied in symbolical books, and be thereby made terms of communion with a view to ordination to the ministry, and grounds of separation among churches. The duty of a church in settling her symbols, or arranging her terms of communion, is to be regulated by different principles from those which determine the duty of individuals, who are simply bound to acquire and to profess as much of accurate and distinct knowledge of truth as they can attain to, on all matters, whether important or not. When a church is arranging her terms of communion, other considerations, in addition to that of the mere truth of the statements, must be brought to bear upon the question, of what it is right, necessary, and expedient to do, or of what amount of unity in matters of opinion ought to be required. The principles applicable to this branch of the church’s duty have never been subjected to a thorough discussion by competent parties, though they are very important in their bearings; and the right application of them is attended with great difficulty. Calvin would probably have made a difficulty about adopting precise and definite deliverances on some points, concerning the truth of which the great Calvinistic divines of the seventeenth century had no hesitation. But it will probably be admitted that he was qualified for the office of a minister in a Calvinistic church, even in this advanced nineteenth century.
The great general objects to be aimed at in this matter, though the application is, of course, the difficulty, are embodied in the famous maxim, which Witsius adopted as his favourite motto—u In necessariis unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in omnibus caritas.”
From The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation by William Cunningham