by William Cunningham
Excerpt from The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation
It has often been alleged that Calvinists are very pugnacious,— ever ready to fight in defence of their peculiar opinions. But a survey of the theological literature of this country for the last half century gives no countenance to this impression. Much more has been published in defence of Arminianism than of Calvinism. Calvinists have scarcely shown the zeal and activity that might have been reasonably expected of them, either in repelling attacks that were made upon them, or in improving advantages that were placed within their reach. In the early part of the century, indeed, the “Refutation of Calvinism,” by Bishop Tomline, was thoroughly refuted by Scott, the commentator, in his “Remarks” upon it, and by Dr Edward Williams, in his “Defence of Modern Calvinism.” But since that time, Copleston, Whately, Stanley Faber, and Richard Watson-—men of deservedly high reputation—have all written against Calvinism, and some of them very elaborately, while no answer to any of them has been produced by its defenders. Whately and Richard Watson—the first from his sagacity and candour, exercised both upon matters of abstract reasoning and of philological investigation, and the second from the general soundness of his views upon original sin and regeneration, so different from the Pelagianism of the school of Whitby and Tomline—have made concessions, and thereby have afforded advantages, to Calvinists, of which they have hitherto failed, so far as we have noticed, to make any public use. The concessions of Watson are nothing but what every one who holds scriptural views of the moral state of human nature, and of the work of the Holy Spirit in changing it, must make; and such accordingly as have been made by all the more evangelical and anti-Pelagian Arminians from Arminius downwards. But his attack upon Calvinism—forming the concluding portion of the second part of his “Theological Institutes,” and published also in a small volume separately, as well as in the collected edition of his works—is, both from its great ability and from the large amount of scriptural anti-Pelagian truth which it embodies, deserving of special attention. It has been thirty years before the world, and it has not, so far as we know, been answered.
Dr Whately, Archbishop of Dublin, in his Essay upon Election,—the third in the volume entitled “Essays on some of the Difficulties in the Writings of the Apostle Paul,”—has made some important concessions to Calvinists, both in regard to matters of abstract reasoning and philological exposition, which are eminently creditable to his sagacity and candour, but which they do not seem as yet to have turned to much account. There is really more of interest, and, in a sense, of something like novelty, in these concessions of Dr Whately, than in almost anything that has been produced upon the subject of this great controversy in the present day. There is indeed nothing like novelty in the statements themselves to which we now refer. They express views which have been always laid down and insisted on by the defenders of Calvinism. The importance and the novelty are to be found only in the circumstance of their being brought forward by one who is not a Calvinist. Dr Whately, in the essay referred to, has admitted, in substance, that the arguments commonly adduced against the Calvinistic doctrine of election, derived from the moral attributes of God, apply as much to actual results occurring under God’s providential government,—in other words, apply equally to the facts of the introduction and permanent existence of moral evil; and that the term election, as used in Scripture, relates, in most instances, to “an arbitrary, irrespective, unconditional decree.” These are positions which have been always asserted, and have been often conclusively proved, by Calvinists; but they have not usually been admitted by their opponents. And it may seem, at first sight, difficult to understand how any one could admit them, and yet continue to reject the doctrines of Calvinism.
We once had occasion to refer to these positions of Dr Whately; and, regarding him as an Arminian, we ventured to apply that designation to him, and to represent these positions as the concessions of an opponent. Dr Whately, it seems, does not believe or admit that he is an Arminian, and took offence at being so designated. In the last edition of the volume above referred to, he adverts to this matter in the following terms:—
“So widely spread are these two schemes of interpretation, that I have known a reviewer, very recently, allude to a certain author as ‘an Arminian,’ though he had written and published his dissent from the Arminian theory, and his reasons for it. The reviewer, on having this blunder pointed out, apologized by saying that he had merely concluded him to be an Arminian, because he was not Calvinist, and he had supposed that every one must be either the one or the other! It is remarkable that, by a converse error, the very same author had been, some years before, denounced as Calvinistic, on the ground that he was not Arminian.” Dr Whately has acted from misinformation or misapprehension in saying that the reviewer to whom he refers apologized for the blunder of representing him as an Arminian. The reviewer has never seen that there was any blunder in the matter, and is prepared to assert and to prove, that, according to the ordinary acknowledged rules applicable to such questions, Dr Whately may be fairly called an Arminian, whether he perceives and admits that he is so or not; and that it is absurd to pretend, as he does, to be neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian.
There is no doubt a sense in which on this, as well as on most of the leading questions in Christian theology, there is a threefold course open to men. They may adopt Socinian as well as Arminian or Calvinistic views on the subject of election, just as on other great doctrines of the Christian system; but Socinianism upon this point is not much brought forward now-a-days, and was therefore scarcely worth adverting to in an incidental and popular allusion to existing differences. Arminians and Socinians oppose, with equal strenuousness, and upon substantially the same grounds, the whole doctrines of Calvinists upon this subject. They agree with each other in all the main conclusions they hold in regard to foreordination and election; so that all parties may really be ranked under the two heads of Calvinists and anti-Calvinists. The main difference here between the Arminians and the Socinians is, that the former admit, while the latter deny, the divine foreknowledge of future events. This is not a difference bearing directly upon what is actually maintained under the head of predestination; though it enters into, and has been largely discussed in connection with, the arguments in support of the one and the other side of that question. Indeed, some of the bolder and more candid of the old Socinians acknowledge, that they denied the doctrine of divine foreknowledge, chiefly because they were unable to see how, if this were admitted, they could refuse to concede the Calvinistic doctrine of foreordination; while, at the same time, some of the bolder and more candid of the old Arminians have made it manifest, that they would gladly have rejected the doctrine of the divine foreknowledge, if they could have devised any plausible evasion of the scriptural evidence in support of it. The admission or denial of the divine foreknowledge—though in itself a difference of very great importance—thus affects rather the mode of conducting the argument, so far as foreordination is concerned, than the actual positions maintained by the opposite parties; though it has often been brought into some of the more popular but less accurate forms of stating the point in dispute. Arminians and Socinians concur in denying all the leading positions held by Calvinists on the subject of the divine decrees or purposes,—the foreordination of all events,—and the absolute election of some men to eternal life; and, practically, the great question is,—Is the Calvinistic affirmation or the anti-Calvinistic negation of these things true? This being so, it is not strictly correct to say, that the only antagonistic alternative to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination is the Arminian one; because the fundamental Calvinistic position is denied equally by Arminians and Socinians; and the real question in dispute may be, and should be, stated in such a way as to omit any reference to the point of difference between the Arminians and the Socinians,—viz. the divine foreknowledge,—and to apply equally and alike to both sections of anti-Calvinists.
But while on this ground it must be admitted, that the antagonistic position to the Calvinistic doctrine is somewhat wider and more comprehensive than the Arminian one, as commonly stated by Arminians themselves; yet the Socinian denial of the divine foreknowledge is now so little brought under our notice, that there was really no call to take it into account in an incidental reference to the subject;—and there is no material inaccuracy in Calvinism and Arminianism being spoken of as the only really antagonistic positions.
It is not upon the ground which has now been adverted to, that Dr Whately objects to being called an Arminian, and tries to throw ridicule upon the idea that a man must be either an Arminian or a Calvinist. He is not a Socinian on this point; for he admits the divine foreknowledge of all events. He denies that he is an Arminian,—he denies that he is a Calvinist; and he denies that a man, though holding the divine foreknowledge of all events, and therefore not a Socinian, must be either a Calvinist or an Arminian on the subject of foreordination. He thus plainly gives us to understand that he holds a doctrine on this subject which is materially and substantially different both from Calvinism and Arminianism,—though he has not suggested any name by which to designate it. Now we take the liberty of dissenting from all this,; and we do not hesitate to affirm that Dr Whately is an Arminian: and further, that every man who has formed an intelligent and definite opinion upon this important controversy, and who repudiates the Socinian denial of the divine foreknowledge, must be either an Arminian or a Calvinist,—or rather must be an Arminian, if he refuses to admit the truth of Calvinism.
It may seem somewhat ungracious to refuse Dr Whately’s own statement about his views, and to continue to maintain that he is an Arminian, when he himself repudiates the name. Most certainly nothing -ungracious is intended; the somewhat uncourteous form of the statement is the result of what was purely accidental; and there are some important considerations, bearing upon the interests of truth, which seem to render it expedient that the ground taken should be maintained. The allegation that the Archbishop is an Arminian was introduced in the most incidental way, and evidently under the influence of a feeling that this was a position of notorious and undeniable certainty,,—a position which no one could dispute, and of which no one would complain. We are neither convinced nor frightened by the somewhat angry allusion made to this matter in the note above quoted from him; and we think it may be fitted to throw light upon an important subject, not well understood, if we attempt to establish the truth of the allegation. We have, of course, no doubt of the integrity and sincerity of Dr Whately in abjuring the name of an Arminian. We differ from him in opinion as to what is or is not Arminianism, and as to what are the grounds and circumstances which warrant the application of this name; and these are matters on which a difference of opinion may be expressed without any want of personal respect being indicated. We think we can prove that Dr Whately’s views upon the subject of election are—notwithstanding his important concessions to Calvinism, above referred to—so accordant in substance with those which have been generally known in the history of the church as Arminian, and so different from those indicated by any other recognised ecclesiastical designation, that it is perfectly warrantable to describe them as Arminianism.
We would scarcely have thought of taking the trouble of attempting to prove this, had we not been persuaded that defective and erroneous views on these matters are very prevalent, especially among the clergy of the Church of England; and that there is not a little in the present aspect of theological literature, fitted to show the importance of trying to diffuse accurate and definite views of the true status quaestionis in regard to the topics involved in our controversy with the Arminians.
Dr Whately is not the only eminent writer of the present day who has advocated Arminianism, without being aware of this, and even while repudiating it. The late Mr Stanley Faber—who has rendered important services in several departments of ecclesiastical literature, and who was greatly superior to Dr Whately in theological erudition, though much inferior to him in sagacity and penetration of intellect—published an elaborate work “On the Primitive Doctrine of Election,” the second edition of which appeared in 1842. In this work he expounds three different theories on the subject of Election—viz. Calvinism, Arminianism, and what he calls Nationalism, or the system advocated by Locke and Dr John Taylor. He labours to prove that all these three theories are erroneous,—opposed equally to the testimony of Scripture, primitive antiquity, and the symbolical books of the Church of England. He then brings forward a fourth theory, different from all these—one which is neither Calvinism, nor Arminianism, nor Nationalism. This he calls Ecclesiastical Individualism,—meaning thereby an election of individuals to the privileges of the visible church—to the enjoyment of the means of grace. This fourth theory—as distinguished from and opposed to the other three—he labours to establish as true, by an application of the three standards just mentioned. While Calvinism, Arminianism, and Nationalism, are all unfounded and erroneous, Arminianism is, in Faber’s judgment, the farthest removed from the truth; or, as he expresses it, —“Of the three systems, Arminianism has the most widely departed from aboriginal Christian antiquity” (including Scripture and the early fathers), “for, in truth, it has altogether forsaken it.” Now, we are firmly persuaded, and think we can prove, that both the Nationalism which he rejects, and the Individualism which he upholds, are just in substance the very Arminianism which he denounces and abjures; that his Arminianism, Nationalism, and Ecclesiastical Individualism, are really just one and the same system or doctrine, exhibited under slightly different aspects, and constituting the one only really antagonistic theory to Calvinism. Faber, we think, has utterly failed to distinguish between the essentials and the accidentals of the different systems which he has investigated. He has not penetrated beneath the surface. He has been entirely carried away by slight and superficial differences, while he has wholly failed to perceive intrinsic and substantial resemblances. The consequence is, that his “Primitive Doctrine of Election”— though containing much interesting matter, which admits of being usefully applied—is practically a mass of confusion; and can produce only error and misapprehension in the minds of those who are unacquainted with some of the more thorough and searching expositions of these important and difficult subjects.
If there be any truth in these statements,—if there be any fair ground for believing that Whately and Faber, the former most favourably representing the ability, and the latter the erudition of the Episcopal Church of this country, are really Arminians, though they are not aware of it,—if these men are truly in substance teaching Arminianism, while they sincerely denounce and abjure it,—there must be some great misapprehension or confusion prevalent, which distorts and perverts men’s views upon these subjects; and if any such state of things exist, it must be important, with a view to the interests of truth, that it should be pointed out and exposed.
The statements of Whately and Faber—to which we have referred—seem to be received as true, without any doubt or misgiving, in the great ecclesiastical denomination to which these authors belong; and we are not by any means confident that the generality of Scotch Calvinists now-a-days have sufficient knowledge of doctrinal theology to be able to detect the fallacy. The discussion of this subject extends greatly beyond what is personal to individuals, as affecting the accuracy of their statements. It really involves the whole question of the right settlement of the true status quaestionis in the great controversy about predestination. The settlement of the status quaestionis is always a point of fundamental importance in great doctrinal controversies. It is especially important in this one, where—unless the state of the question is clearly settled and carefully and constantly attended to—men are very apt to fight at random, to be dealing blows in the dark, and running some risk of wounding their friends. A right estimate of the accuracy of the statements of Whately and Faber, condemning and repudiating Arminianism, must be based upon an investigation of these two questions—1st, What is the real essential point of difference between Calvinists and Arminians on the subject of election? and 2d, Is there any real, definite, and important subject of controversial discussion involved in the exposition of election, and not disposed of by the determination of the fundamental question controverted between Calvinists and Arminians? It is only by settling and applying the first of these questions, that we can satisfactorily determine whether Whately and Faber, and men holding such opinions, may be justly designated as Arminians; and if, by a further application of the results of the same inquiry, we can settle the second of these two questions in the negative, we thus establish the wider and more important conclusion, that men who intelligently investigate the subject of election, and form anything like a clear and definite opinion regarding it, must be substantially either Calvinists or Arminians, whether they perceive and admit this or not.
The consideration of these points, however, has a wider bearing than has yet been indicated. It is fitted to bring out some defects of considerable importance in the way in which this great class of theological topics have been usually discussed by divines of the Church of England. Doctrinal and systematic theology has not ordinarily been studied with much care by the clergy of that church; and the consequence of this has been, not only that crude, confused, and erroneous views upon doctrinal subjects abound in the writings of many of them, but also that the warrantableness and desirableness of vague and indefinite views upon these matters have found in them open and avowed defenders. The clergy of the Church of England at the period of the Reformation were generally, like most of the other Reformers, Calvinists, and continued to be so during the whole reign of Queen Elizabeth and the greater part of that of James VI. Since about the earlier part of the reign of Charles I., the great majority of them have ceased to be Calvinists, though many of these have refused, like Dr Whately, to be called Arminians, and some—though not Calvinists—have even declined to be called anti-Calvinists. These changes in the actual opinions of the clergy of the Church of England have taken place, while their symbolical books have continued unaltered upon doctrinal questions. Since the great body of the clergy have thus been at one time Calvinistic, and at another Arminian; and since probably at all times, at least for two centuries and a half, there have been both Calvinists and Arminians among them, this has tended in many ways to produce great laxity and confusion of doctrinal views, and has not only tended to produce this laxity and confusion in point of fact, but to lead men to justify its prevalence as a sound and wholesome condition of things. Calvinists and Arminians had equally to show that their views were accordant with the Thirty-nine Articles; and this almost unavoidably led, not only to a straining and tampering with the language of the Articles, but even with the full expression of their own personal convictions. Some have contended that the Articles admitted only of a Calvinistic, others only of an Arminian sense; while others have thought it more accordant with the facts of the case, and with the honour of their church, to maintain that they do not decide in favour of either doctrine, but may be honestly adopted by both parties. The position that the Articles are neither Calvinistic nor Arminian, distinctively, does not differ very materially from the one that they are both. Some have preferred to put it in this latter form; and this again has just tended the more to deepen the confusion which has been introduced into the discussion.
We may give a specimen or two of what is a common mode of speaking among the divines of the Church of England upon this subject. Bishop Tomline concludes his “Refutation of Calvinism” in these words:—“Our church is not Lutheran, it is not Calvinistic, it is not Arminian; it is scriptural, it is built upon the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone.” Dr Magee, the late Archbishop of Dublin,—whom we regard as a far superior man to Tomline,—puts the point under consideration in this way, in one of his charges:—“If any proof were wanting that our Articles are, as they profess to be, of a comprehensive character, it would be found in this, that, of the contending parties into which our church is unhappily divided, each claims them as its own. By those who hold the creed of Arminius, they are pronounced to be Arminian; and by those who hold the creed of Calvin, they are pronounced to be Calvinistic. The natural inference of the impartial reasoner would be, that they are neither, whilst they contain within them what may be traced to some of the leading principles of doth. And this is the truth. They are not enslaved to the dogmas of any party in religion. They are not Arminian. They are not Calvinistic. They are scriptural. They are Christian In a note on this passage, he asserts “that the doctrines of the Church of England are not the doctrines of Calvinism, and that the informed and intelligent clergy of that church are not the followers of Arminius.” This has been a favourite mode of statement with very many Episcopalian divines, whom we believe to have been substantially Arminians, perhaps without their being aware of it. Some Episcopalians—whose doctrinal views were sounder—have, as we have hinted, been disposed rather to take the ground, that, without contradicting either Scripture or the English Articles, men might be both Calvinists and Arminians, or partly the one and partly the other. Statements to this effect, or something like it, have been produced from “Cecil’s Remains” and from “Simeon’s Memoir;” and they have been employed by Professor Park of Andover, to countenance his ingenious attempt to involve important doctrinal differences in inextricable confusion, by distinguishing between the theology of intellect and the theology of feeling.
There is, indeed, a distinction to be made between men’s own personal convictions and their views as to the meaning and import of a symbolical document of public authority. It is quite possible to produce a deliverance upon the subject of election, which is neither Calvinistic nor Arminian,—that is, which is so general, vague, and indefinite, as to contain no decision of any of the points really controverted between the opposite parties. A church may think such an indefinite and indecisive statement the most suitable for a symbolical book,—may deliberately intend to include both parties within her pale,—and may so regulate her deliverances as not to make a definite opinion on the one side or the other a term of communion, or what is virtually the same thing, a ground of separation. Very many of the clergy of the Church of England contend that this is realized in the Thirty-nine Articles. And it is quite possible that they may hold this to be an actual feature of these Articles, and approve of it as a right state of things for a church to exhibit in her symbols; while yet they themselves, in their own personal convictions, may have decided the question in favour of the one side or the other. Tom-line and Magee were Arminians as much as Whately and Faber, while maintaining that the Articles are neither Arminian nor Calvinistic; and they might have taken this view of the Articles although they themselves had been Calvinists. But although the Episcopalian clergy may consistently maintain that the Articles are neither Calvinistic nor Arminian,—even while they themselves, in their own personal convictions, may have decidedly adopted the one view or the other,—yet there can be no doubt that the peculiar character of the Articles, and the kind of discussion which this has suggested or required, has tended largely to keep many Episcopalian divines in a state of great uncertainty and confusion in regard to this whole class of subjects. There being some plausible grounds for believing that subscription to the Articles did not require them to have their minds made up on the one side or on the other, very many have not thought themselves called upon to give the time and research necessary for forming a judgment on these difficult and arduous topics; and have preferred to exercise their talents rather in the way of trying to show that it was not only unnecessary, but very difficult, and highly inexpedient and dangerous, to be forming a decided opinion, and to be giving an explicit deliverance, upon such matters. The title of the “Bampton Lectures” for 1855, by the Rev. John E. Bode,— and they form a very respectable work,—is this, “The Absence of Precision in the Formularies of the Church of England scriptural and suitable to a state of Probation.” And this “absence of precision,” which they regard as attaching to the public formularies, they too often extend to their own private personal convictions. This influence of the one upon the other has, no doubt, operated powerfully on the general state of thought and sentiment in the Church of England. But it ought not to have done so. There may be very good grounds why precise deliverances upon some doctrinal controversies should not be embodied in symbolical books; while yet it may be the duty of ministers to have formed for themselves a decided opinion regarding them. The reasons that satisfy many of the warrantableness and expediency of the “absence of precision in the public formularies,” do not necessarily sanction the same quality as attaching to men’s own personal convictions; though we fear that some notion of this sort is very prevalent among the clergy of the Church of England. Many have preserved and cherished the “absence of precision” in their own personal convictions; and in defending the propriety and expediency of this, they have introduced a vast deal of vagueness and confusion into the whole discussion.
This course has been adopted, and this tendency has been exhibited, chiefly by Arminians; and Arminianism certainly has got the benefit of it. Indeed, ignorance and confusion upon this subject always tend to the benefit of Arminianism. Truth is promoted by a thorough knowledge and a careful study of the subject in hand, and by the clear and definite conceptions which are the results of intelligence and investigation; while any shortcoming or deficiency in these respects tends to promote the prevalence of error. This holds true generally of all the ordinary subjects of speculative inquiry. It holds true pre-eminently of the leading points involved in the controversy between Calvinists and Arminians. There are vague, general, and indefinite positions about the divine purposes and plans, and about the divine providence and agency, in which both Calvinists and Arminians concur. Calvinism may be said to involve, and to be based upon, a conversion of these vague and indefinite positions into precise and definite doctrines. These doctrines the Arminians refuse to admit, —alleging that no sufficient evidence can be produced in support of them, and that formidable objections can be adduced against them. They refuse to advance to the more profound and definite positions, which may be said to constitute the distinctive features of Calvinism; and they insist that men should be satisfied with those more superficial and indefinite views in which they and their opponents agree. We are not professing to give this as the formal status quaestionis in the controversy. But this is an account of the difference which is correct, so far as it goes; and it illustrates our present position, that imperfect and confused views upon these subjects tend to injure truth and to advance error,—to damage Calvinism and to favour Arminianism; and this, too, even when men’s views may be so pervaded by ignorance and confusion, that they do not themselves perceive this tendency, or do not really mean to advance the object to which it leads.
It is one of the leading features or results of this vagueness and confusion of thought upon these subjects, that there has commonly been a great tendency to multiply and exaggerate the differences of opinion which have been expressed regarding them; as if to convey the impression that there was a considerable variety of views, out of which men were very much at liberty to make a choice as they might be disposed. As Arminianism is at the bottom of all this confusion, and as it is promoted chiefly for Arminian objects, it has been common for divines of the Church of England to magnify differences subsisting among Calvinists, and to represent each modification of sentiment that may have been brought out, as constituting a distinct and different doctrine. This process tends to increase the general mass of confusion attaching to the whole subject, and to excite a special prejudice against Calvinism, as if its supporters were divided among themselves on points of fundamental importance, and had not any uniform and well-settled position to occupy. We may refer to some historical illustrations of this feature of the controversy.
The first person of any consequence who openly taught Arminianism in the Church of England (not then known by that name) was Peter Baro, a Frenchman, who had held the office of Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge for about twenty years. It was his teaching Arminianism, in opposition to the general doctrine of the Reformers, that occasioned the preparation of the famous Lambeth Articles in 1595,—a transaction, the history of which affords conclusive evidence of the general prevalence of Calvinism in the Church of England till the end. of the sixteenth century. In 1596 he had to resign his office in the university because of his doctrinal views; and on that occasion he prepared a short exposition of his case, under the designation of “Summa Trium de Prsedestinatione Sententiarum,”—the three doctrines being, lst, Supralapsarian Calvinism; 2d, Sublapsarian Calvinism; and 3d, his own Arminianism, which he describes as the doctrine held by the Fathers who preceded Augustine, and by Melancthon and a few other Protestant divines; just as if the first and second differed from each other as much as they both differed from the third.
Arminius himself made large use of the same unfair mode of representation. In his Arnica Collatio with Junius, his predecessor in the chair of theology at Leyden, he brings forward three leading doctrines upon the subject of predestination as prevailing among Protestants, and attempts to refute them in order to make way for his own. The three doctrines are—Supralapsarianism, which he ascribes, unwarrantably, to Calvin; Sublapsarianism, which he ascribes to Augustine; and a theory intermediate between them,—a sort of modification of Supralapsarianism,—which he ascribes to Thomas Aquinas. In his famous “Declaratio Sententise,” published in 1608, the year before his death, he brings forward again the same three opinions as contrasting with his own, though without associating them historically with the names of individuals. He puts first and most prominently the highest Supralapsarianism, and dwells upon it at the greatest length. He admits, indeed, at last, that there is not any very material difference among these three doctrines,—all held by Calvinists. But he has taken care, in the first place, to have the controversial advantage of having conveyed the impression, that there is great diversity of sentiment among his opponents; and of having held up first and most prominently, in his account of their opinions, the highest Supralapsarianism,—the view against which it is easy to excite the strongest prejudice, while it has really been professed by comparatively few Calvinists. It is worth while to mention, as a curious specimen of elaborate controversial unfairness, that of the whole space occupied by the declaration of his judgment concerning predestination, Arminius devotes four-fifths to an exposure of high Supralapsarianism, leaving only the last fifth for the statement of the other two forms of Calvinism, and of his own anti-Calvinistic doctrine.
But we mean to confine ourselves for the present to our own country. The first elaborate Arminian work produced in England, after Laud’s patronage had done something to encourage opposition to Calvinism, and after Bishop Montague had fairly broken the ice, was “An Appeal to the Gospel for the true doctrine of Divine predestination, concorded with the orthodox doctrine of God’s free grace and man’s free will, by John Plaifere, B.D.” He held a living in the Church of England for a period very nearly corresponding to the reign of James VI. in that country, and is not to be confounded with Thomas Playfere, a Calvinist, who succeeded to the Margaret divinity professorship in Cambridge, when Baro lost it in consequence of his Arminianism. John Plaifere begins his "Appeal” with a full and elaborate statement of five different doctrines upon the subject of predestination. The first, of course, is Supralapsarian Calvinism; the second is Sublapsarian Calvinism; the third is a sort of intermediate system between Calvinism and Arminianism, propounded by Bishop Overall, and very similar to what was afterwards called Baxterianism; the fourth he represents as the doctrine held by Melancthon, by the Lutherans, and the Arminians; and the fifth and last is the opinion of Arminius himself, of the Jesuit defenders of scientia media, and, as he alleges, of all the Fathers before Augustine. The first four he regards as erroneous, though in different degrees, while he admits that in all of them there are “some parts and pieces of truth, but obscure and mingled with defects.” The fifth he adopts as his own, and defends it as true; though he has failed to point out any intelligible difference between this and the fourth. The substantial identity indeed of the fourth and fifth opinions is so obvious, that it is admitted, and the representation given is attempted to be accounted for, in the Preface to the republication of this work, in a “Collection of tracts concerning predestination and providence,” at Cambridge in 1719.
The example set by Plaifere, in this the earliest formal and elaborate defence of Arminianism in the Church of England, has been largely followed down to the present day, especially in the point of multiplying and magnifying differences, in order to excite a prejudice against Calvinism, and to shelter Arminianism in the confusion and obscurity. Bishop Burnet, in his Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, has manifested a good deal of candour and fairness. He was an Arminian, or, as he himself expresses it in his preface,—“1 follow the doctrine of the Greek Church, from which St Austin departed and formed a new system.” But he has distinctly admitted, in expounding the 17th Article, that “it is not to be denied that the Article seems to be framed according to St Austin’s doctrine that “it is very probable that those who penned it meant that the decree was absolute;” and that “the Calvinists have less occasion for scruple” in subscribing than the Arminians, “since the Article does seem more plainly to favour them.” But what alone we have at present to do with is, that he follows the common Arminian course, by giving a distinct and separate head to Supralapsarianism. According to Burnet, there are four leading opinions on the subject of God’s decrees or purposes, viz.:—1st, Supralapsarianism; 2d, Sublapsarianism; 3d, “That of those who are called Remonstrants, Arminians, or Universalists;” and 4th, “That of the Socinians, who deny the certain prescience of future contingencies.”
Without further multiplying proofs of this, we come down to the present day. We have already stated Faber’s classification of the leading doctrines upon this subject under the four heads of Calvinism, Arminianism, Nationalism, and Ecclesiastical Individualism,—the first three being, in his judgment, false, and Arminianism the worst,—while we maintain that three of them, including the fourth, which he defends as true, are just Arminianism, and nothing else.
There is a book which seems to be in great repute in England in the present day, which also illustrates the point we .are now explaining. It is, “An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, historical and doctrinal,” by E. Harold Browne, B.D., Norrisian Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. The third edition of it was published in 1856, and a fourth has already appeared, though it is a bulky octavo of about 900 pages. We have done little more than dip into it; but we are satisfied that it is a highly respectable and useful book, embodying a large amount of information, and exhibiting a fair and candid spirit, though certainly not free from errors and inaccuracies. The Norrisian Professor begins his exposition of the 17th Article by an enumeration and brief statement of the leading theories which have been held upon the subject of predestination. According to this author, they are no fewer than six, viz. 1. Calvinism; 2. Arminianism; 3. Nationalism; 4. Ecclesiastical Election. Thus far he has fully followed Faber,—ecclesiastical election being just the election of individuals to outward privileges,—the elect being just virtually the baptized, and the election the visible church. The fifth theory he mentions is a somewhat unintelligible piece of complication, to which no designation is given; and the sixth is Baxterianism. This seems to be now, as indeed it has always been in substance, a favourite mode of representing the matter among the divines o.f the Church of England. Professor Browne’s own opinions are not very explicitly brought out. He seems to think that the Articles were expressed intentionally in such indefinite and general phraseology as to take in the adherents of several of the different theories. His own views seem to be very much the same as Faber’s, while, at the same time, he concedes that there are some scriptural statements which do not easily admit of any other sense than a Calvinistic one.
Mozley’s “Treatise on the Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination,” is one of a different class, and of a higher order, both in point of ability and general orthodoxy; while at the same time it affords another specimen of that predilection for the “absence of precision” on doctrinal questions, which has so generally characterized the clergy of the Church of England. It is a work of very superior learning and ability, and is really a valuable contribution to our theological literature. This treatise is substantially ( an exposition and defence of the Augustinian or Calvinistic view of predestination; while at the same time the author seems determined, for some reason or other, to stop short of committing himself to a full and open assertion of the doctrine which he seems to believe. He appears to be always on the point of coming out with an explicit and unqualified assertion of Calvinism, when he finds some excuse for stopping short, and leaving the subject still involved to some extent in obscurity and confusion. It would almost seem as if Mr Mozley had some secret and inexplicable reason for refusing to come out with an explicit profession of the Calvinism to which all his convictions tend to lead him; and the excuses or pretences he assigns for stopping short on the verge of a full and open proclamation of this system, are of a very peculiar and unreasonable kind. We refer to this very superior and remarkable book as another specimen, though in a somewhat peculiar form, of the tendency of Church of England divines to exhibit and to defend “the absence of precision,” in discussing the points controverted between the Calvinists and the Arminians; and thereby to involve the statement and exposition of this important subject in obscurity and confusion,—qualities which always tend powerfully to promote the prevalence of Arminian error.
We have brought forward these historical notices to illustrate the magnitude and the prevalence of what we believe to involve a serious injury to doctrinal truth; and to show the importance of attempting to settle, as precisely and definitely as possible, the true state of the question—the real meaning and import of the main points controverted on the subject of predestination. This is important, not so much in reference to the topic which has more immediately suggested to us this investigation of it,—viz. determining the accuracy of the application of certain historical designations,—but chiefly in reference to the far higher object of forming accurate and definite conceptions on the whole subject, in so far as we have materials for doing so. We believe that it can be proved, that men who admit the divine foreknowledge of all events, and who have formed a distinct and definite opinion on the subject of predestination, must be either Calvinistic or Arminian, whether they perceive and admit this or not; and that Whately and Faber may be fairly designated as Arminians, notwithstanding their honest repudiation of the name, inasmuch as they accord with the views commonly known as Arminian in every point of real importance, and differ from them only, if at all, on topics that are really insignificant. The determination of these questions must, from the nature of the case, depend upon the true status quaestionis between the contending parties; and there is no great difficulty in settling this,—although it is true that men, notwithstanding its paramount importance, often allow their minds to remain in a condition of great uncertainty and confusion regarding it.
In proceeding to consider this subject, we would begin with observing, that it tends to introduce obscurity and confusion into the whole matter, that men in surveying it are apt, especially in modern times, to confine their attention too much to election,— that is, to the decrees or purposes and agency of God with reference to the eternal destinies of men, without taking in predestination or foreordination in general,—that is, the decrees or purposes and agency of God with reference to the whole government of the world and all the actions of His creatures. The fundamental principle of Calvinism, as stated in the “Westminster Confession,” is, “that God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” If this great doctrine be true, and be validly established by its appropriate evidence, it includes and comprehends,—it carries with it and disposes of,—all questions about the purposes of God with respect to the eternal destinies of the human race. If it be true that God hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, He must have predetermined the whole history and the ultimate fate of all His intelligent creatures. If it be true that God hath eternally and unchangeably ordained whatsoever cometh to pass, it must also be true,—as being comprehended in this position,—that, as the “Confession” goes on to say, “By the decree of God for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” It serves some useful and important purposes bearing upon the apprehension and establishment of sound doctrine, to have regard to the import and evidence of the fundamental and comprehensive doctrine of predestination, or of God’s decrees in general; instead of confining our attention to the more limited topics usually understood to be indicated by the words election and reprobation. The decrees of God are usually understood as describing in general the purposes or resolutions which He has formed, and in accordance with which He regulates His own procedure, or does whatever He does in the government of the world. That God has, and must have, formed purposes or resolutions for the regulation of His own procedure in creating and governing the world, must be admitted by all who regard Him as possessed of intelligence and wisdom; and therefore the disputes which have been raised upon this subject appear to respect, not so much the existence of the divine decrees, but rather the foundation on which they rest, the properties which attach to them, and the objects which they embrace. The main questions which have been usually discussed among divines concerning the divine decrees in general, or predestination in its widest sense, have been these,—1. Are the divine decrees or purposes in regard to all the events which constitute the history of the world conditional or not? and 2. Are they unchangeable or not? Calvinists hold that God’s decrees or purposes in regard to everything that was to come to pass are unconditional and unchangeable, while Arminians or anti-Calvinists deny this, and maintain that they are conditional and changeable. But while this is the form which the general question has commonly assumed in the hands of theologians, the real point in dispute comes practically to this: Has God really formed decrees or purposes, in any proper sense, with respect to the whole government of the world? It seems plain —so at least Calvinists believe—that it is unwarrantable to ascribe to a Being of infinite perfection and absolute supremacy any purposes or resolutions for regulating the administration of the universe, that should be left dependent for their taking effect, or being fully realized, upon the volitions of creatures; and liable to be changed according to the nature and results of these volitions. And this brings us back again to the simple but infinitely important and comprehensive question, Has God eternally and unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass? There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of this question. The foreordination of every event implies, that God from eternity had resolved that it should come to pass, and had made certain provision for this result. And the real subject of controversy is just this, Has God foreordained, in this the only proper sense of the word, whatsoever comes to pass? All Calvinists say that He has; and all anti-Calvinists say that He has not. Arminians and Socinians equally deny this divine foreordination of all events; while Socinians also deny, but Arminians admit, that God foreknew or foresaw them all. The divine foreordination of all events must either be affirmed or denied,—all who affirm it are Calvinists, and all who deny it are anti-Calvinists; and if, while denying foreordination, they admit foreknowledge, then they may be fairly and justly described as Arminians, because this is the designation by which, for nearly two centuries and a half, the actual doctrinal position they occupy upon this fundamental and all-comprehensive subject has been commonly indicated.
Whately and Faber deny the divine foreordination, while they admit the divine foreknowledge, of all events; and therefore, according to the acknowledged rules and the ordinary practice by which this matter is regulated, they may, without any transgression of accuracy, or justice, or courtesy, be designated as Arminians.
But it was not this great doctrine of the foreordination of all events which Whately and Faber discussed, or seem to have had in their view. It comprehends indeed and disposes of the subject they discussed; and it is an act of ignorance or inconsideration, tending to involve the whole matter in confusion, that they did not take it into account. If they had been familiar with the whole subject in this its highest and widest aspect, and if they had seen that the settlement of the question of foreordination, as commonly discussed, disposes of the question of election, they would scarcely have ventured to deny that they were Arminians. But we must see what was their position in regard to the subject which they had under consideration, viz. election, or the doctrine of the purposes and procedure of God in regard to the ultimate destinies of the human race. What is Calvinism, and what is Arminianism, on this subject? The Calvinistic doctrine is this, that God from eternity chose or elected some men, certain definite individuals of the human race, to everlasting life,—that He determined certainly and infallibly to bring these persons to salvation by a Redeemer, —that in making this selection of some men, and in resolving to save them, He was not influenced by anything existing in them, or foreseen in them, by which they were distinguished from other men, or by any reason known to or comprehensible by us, but only by His own sovereign good pleasure, by the counsel of His own will,—and that this eternal decree or purpose He certainly and infallibly executes in time in regard to each and every one included under it. This is the Calvinistic doctrine of election; every Calvinist believes this, and every one who believes this is a Calvinist. The meaning of this doctrine, solemn and mysterious as it is, is easily understood; and men are Calvinists or antiCalvinists according as they affirm or deny it. The grand question is,—Is this election—such a choice of men to eternal life, on the ground of the good pleasure of God—a reality, established by scriptural authority, or is it not? From the nature of the case it is manifest, that everything of real importance hinges upon the reality of such an election as has now been described; and that the controversy, so far as it involves anything vital or fundamental, is exhausted, whenever it is settled,—that is, practically, whenever a man has conclusively made up his mind, either that such an election is or is not revealed in Scripture. All men who are not Calvinists deny the reality of any such election on the part of God; and if, while denying this, they admit that God foresaw from eternity the whole of the actual history of each individual of the human race, then they are Arminians,—and nothing but ignorance will lead them to object to this designation.
The fundamental principles of the Arminian doctrine upon the subject of election—the leading features of the theory which has been always historically associated with that name—may be accurately exhibited in the two following positions, lst, That God made no decree—formed no purpose—bearing immediately and infallibly upon the final salvation of men, except this general one, that He would save or admit to heaven all men who should in fact believe in Jesus Christ and persevere till death in faith and holiness, and that He would condemn and consign to punishment all who should continue impenitent and unbelieving. And 2d, That if there be any act of God, bearing upon the ultimate salvation of particular men considered individually, which may be called in any sense an election, or decree, or purpose, it can only be founded on, and must be determined by, a foresight of their actual faith and perseverance.
The first of these is the true proper anti-Calvinistic position, held equally and alike by Arminians and Socinians; and constituting manifestly the main substance of what must be held by every intelligent man who has not embraced Calvinism. It implies that God did not make an election of particular persons to eternal life, and resolve to bestow upon them faith, holiness, and perseverance, in order to secure the end of this election; but that He merely made choice of certain qualities or features of character, and resolved to treat them according to their proper nature, in whatever individuals they might turn out at last to be found. Having formed this general purpose to save those who might believe and persevere, and to condemn and punish those who might be impenitent and unbelieving, God virtually left it to men themselves to comply or not with the terms or conditions He had prescribed;—having no purpose to exercise, and, of course, not in fact exercising, any determining influence upon the result in any case, whatever amount of assistance or co-operation He may render in bringing it about. This must be in substance the ground taken by every one intelligently acquainted with the subject, who is not a Calvinist. We could easily prove that this ground was taken by Arminius and his followers, and really formed the main feature of the discussion about the time of the Synod of Dort. The Synod of Dort, in their deliverance upon the controversy raised by Arminians and his followers in opposition to the Calvinism of the Reformers, not only gave an exposition of the positive scriptural truth upon each of the five points, but also subjoined to these a rejection of the errors (rejectio errorum) which had been broached by Arminians; and upon the first of the Articles, that on predestination, the very first of the Arminian errors which the Synod rejected and condemned was this, that “the will of God concerning the saving of those who shall believe and persevere in faith and the obedience of faith, is the whole and entire decree of election unto salvation, and that there is nothing else whatever concerning this decree revealed in the word of God”. Arminianism was fundamentally and essentially a rejection of the Calvinism taught by the great body of those whom God raised up and qualified as the instruments of the Reformation. Its leading positions thus came to be a denial of the scriptural warrant for such a decree of election as Calvinists usually advocate, and an assertion that the whole of what is said in Scripture about a decree of election bearing immediately upon the final salvation of men, is exhausted by the doctrine,—which, of course, all admit to be true,—viz. that God has determined to save all who shall believe in Jesus Christ and persevere to the end in faith and holiness, and to consign to punishment all who continue impenitent and unbelieving.
The second position above laid down, states accurately the true place and standing of the subject of the foreknowledge or foresight of faith and perseverance, about which so much is said in the controversy between Calvinists and Arminians. We believe that it is chiefly from want of clear and accurate conceptions of the true logical position and relations of this matter of foreknowledge or foresight, that so many men are Arminians without being aware of it; or rather that so many honestly but ignorantly repudiate Arminianism while they really hold it. The fallacy which leads many astray, upon this point is the notion, that the doctrine that the divine decree of election, or the divine purpose to save certain men, is based or founded only upon the foreknowledge that these men will in fact believe and persevere, is an essential, necessary part of the Arminian system of theology; and affords a precise test for determining, both negatively and positively, whether or not men are Arminians. This, though a very common notion, and one not unnaturally suggested by some of the aspects which this controversy has assumed, is erroneous. This matter of foreknowledge does not intrinsically and logically occupy so prominent and important a place in the controversy—or at least in that branch of it which concerns the settlement of the state of the question—as is often imagined. Its real place in this department of the controversy is collateral and subordinate; and the practical result of a correct view of its position is, that while the founding of election upon foreknowledge proves that a man is an Arminian, the rejection of this idea is no proof that he is not. The fundamental position of Arminius and his followers was in direct opposition to the Calvinistic doctrine of the absolute election of some men to everlasting life, based only upon the sovereign good pleasure of God. They held that this doctrine is opposed to the testimony of Scripture, and to right views of the divine character and government. But Arminians, while denying that God absolutely chooses some men to life in the exercise of His sovereign good pleasure, admit that He does infallibly foresee everything that comes to pass,—that thus the history and fate of each individual of the human race were from eternity present to His mind, and of course became in some sense the objects of His actings and purposes;—and that, on this ground and in this sense, He might be said to have resolved from eternity to save each individual who is saved. The notion of an election to life originating in and founded upon the foresight of men’s character and conduct, is thus no necessary or fundamental part of the actual position which the Arminians occupy. It is merely a certain mode of expression into which they can, without inconsistency, throw their leading doctrine; and the use of which involves something of an accommodation or approximation to the language of Scripture, and of their Calvinistic opponents. Arminians virtually say to their opponents,—“We wholly deny your doctrine of election to life on the ground of God’s sovereign good pleasure foreordaining and securing this result; and the only sense in which we could, consistently with this denial, admit of anything like an election of individuals to life, is God’s foreseeing and recognising this result as a thing determined in each case by men’s actual character. An election to life in this sense and upon this ground is undoubtedly a reality, a process which actually takes place; and we are quite ready to admit it, especially as it seems to accord with and to explain those scriptural statements about election on which you base your doctrine. In short, if you will insist upon something that may be called an election, at least in a loose and improper sense, we have no objection to allow an election founded on foresight, but we can concede nothing else of that sort.” This is the true state of matters, and it brings out clearly the subordinate and collateral place held by the subject of foreknowledge in the investigation of the state of the question.
Some Arminians are willing so far to accommodate themselves to the scriptural and Calvinistic usage of language, as to admit that, in the sense now explained, God had from eternity His own . fixed and unchangeable purposes in regard to the admission of men individually into heaven; while others think it more manly and candid to avoid the use of such language, when their fundamental principle requires them so thoroughly to explain it away. All that is implied in the election of any individual to eternal life, in the only sense in which any one not a Calvinist can admit it, is, that God foresees that that individual will in fact believe and persevere; and that on this ground—this being “the cause or condition moving him thereto”—He decrees or purposes to admit that man to heaven, and to give him everlasting life. The result is thus determined by the man himself,—God’s decree (falsely so called) with respect to his salvation being nothing but a mere recognition of him as one who, without His efficacious determining interposition, would certainly, in point of fact, comply with the conditions announced to him. A decree or purpose based solely upon the foreknowledge or foresight of the faith and perseverance of individuals, is of course practically the same thing as the entire want or non-existence of any decree or purpose in regard to them. It determines nothing concerning them, it bestows nothing upon them, it secures nothing to them. It is a mere word or name, the use of which only tends to involve the subject in obscurity and confusion. Whereas, upon Calvinistic principles, God’s electing decree in choosing some men to life is the effectual source or determining cause of the faith and holiness which are ultimately wrought in them, and of the eternal happiness to which they at last attain. God elects certain men to life, not because He foresees that they will repent and believe and persevere in faith and holiness, but for reasons no doubt fully accordant with His wisdom and justice, though wholly unknown to us, and certainly not based upon anything foreseen in them as distinguished from other men; and then further decrees to give to these men, in due time, everything necessary in order to their being admitted to the enjoyment of eternal life, in accordance with the provisions of the scheme which His wisdom has devised for saving sinners.
But we are in danger of travelling beyond the consideration of the state of the question, and trenching upon the proper argument of the case. Our object at present is simply to show, that although the idea of the foresight of men’s faith and perseverance is commonly brought into the ordinary popular mode of stating the difference between Calvinists and Arminians, yet it does not really touch the substance of the point controverted, so as to be, out and out, a discriminating test of men’s true doctrinal position.
It is rather a certain mode of speaking, by which Arminians endeavour to evade a difficulty, and to approximate to scriptural language without admitting scriptural truth. When men say, as many Arminians do, that the divine decree of election is based upon the foresight of faith and perseverance, they are virtually saying that there is no decree of election, in any proper sense of the word; or, what is practically the same thing, that the whole and entire decree of election is God’s eternal purpose to save all who shall, in point of fact, believe and persevere. Foreknowledge thus does not really affect the proper status quaestionis,—the real substance of what is maintained on either side, or made matter of actual controversy; though it does enter fundamentally into the argument or proof,—the Arminian admission of divine foreknowledge affording to the Calvinists an argument in favour of foreordination which has never been successfully answered.
It is on such grounds as these that we contend that, while the basing of election upon foreknowledge is a proof that men may be justly described as Arminians, the declining or refusing to embrace this idea is no proof that they may not be justly so designated. We believe that erroneous and defective conceptions, on this point, are one main cause why men are not aware that they are Arminians, and unwarrantably repudiate the designation. There are various reasons that lead men, who are really Arminians, to reject this idea of an election founded on foresight. Some think it more manly and straightforward to declare openly that there is no such thing as an election to eternal life, instead of grasping at what has the appearance of being an election, but is not. Others rather wish to leave divine foreknowledge altogether in the background, and to say as little about it as they can, either in the statement or in the argument of the question. Many, while admitting foreknowledge and denying foreordination, see the difficulties and inconveniences of attempting to connect them in this way. The attempt to found an election on foreknowledge brings out, in a peculiarly palpable light, the fundamental objection of Calvinists against the system of their opponents,—viz. that it leaves everything bearing upon the character and eternal condition of all the individuals of our race undetermined, and indeed uninfluenced, by their Creator and Governor, and virtually beyond His control; and degrades Him to the condition of a mere spectator, who only sees what is going on among His creatures, or foresees what is to take place, without himself determining it, or exerting any real efficiency in the production of it,—and who must be guided by what He thus sees or foresees in all His dealings with. them. All this, indeed, can be proved to be involved necessarily in the denial of Calvinism; but it comes out very plainly and palpably when Arminianism is put in the form of maintaining an election founded on foresight, and on this account many Arminians shrink from that mode of representation. For these reasons, many who zealously maintain what is really the essential characteristic feature of Arminianism, dislike and avoid the basing of election upon foresight; and as this mode of putting the matter is popularly regarded as the distinctive mark of Arminianism, those who avoid and reject it are very apt, when their acquaintance with these subjects is imperfect and superficial, to regard themselves as warranted in repudiating the designation of Arminians.
Faber has made it quite manifest that it was chiefly by some confusion upon this point that he was induced to abjure Arminianism, while he really believed it; and we suspect that this has operated as an element, though perhaps not the principal one, in producing the same result in the case of Archbishop Whately. Faber has developed his views upon these points much more fully than Whately, and it may tend to throw light upon the matter under consideration, if we advert to his mode of representing it. Faber entitles his work, “An Historical Inquiry into the Ideality and Causation of Scriptural Election.” By the ideality of election, he means the investigation of the question as to what it is to which men are said to be elected or chosen; and by the causation of election he means the investigation of the question as to what is the cause, or ground, or reason of God’s act in so electing or choosing them. It is plain enough, from the nature of the case, that there can be only two distinct questions of fundamental importance in regard to the idea of election,—viz. 1st, Did God choose men only to what is external and temporal? or 2d, Did He also choose them to what is internal and everlasting? In other words, Did God choose men only to external privileges and opportunities, not determining by any act of His, but leaving it to be determined by themselves, in the exercise of their own free will, whether or not they shall improve these means of grace, and consequently whether or not they shall be saved? or, Did He choose them also to faith, and holiness, and heaven, to grace and glory, resolving absolutely to save those whom He had chosen, and to give them everything needful to prepare them for salvation, in accordance with the provisions of the scheme which He had devised and proclaimed? The cause of election must, in like manner, be resolved either into something in men, existing or foreseen, or into something in God himself; and if everything in men themselves be excluded from any causal influence upon God’s act in election, this is evidently the same thing as tracing election to God’s sovereign good pleasure—to the counsel of His own will.
It is by the application of these two pairs of differences that Faber discriminates his four different doctrines on election, viz. Calvinism, Arminianism, Nationalism, and Ecclesiastical Individualism,—taking some assistance also from another distinction of much inferior importance,—viz. that between an election of nations or masses of men collectively, and an election of individuals. Calvinism he represents as teaching, that the idea of election is God’s choosing absolutely some men individually to eternal life, and that the cause of election is not anything in these men themselves, but only the sovereign good pleasure of God. As Calvinists, we have no objection to make to this representation. Faber rejects the Calvinistic idea of election, but approves of our view of its cause. Arminians, according to him, agree with the Calvinists in representing the idea of election to be a choosing of men individually to eternal life, but differ from them in representing the cause of this election to be the foreknowledge of men’s’ character and conduct, or their faith and perseverance foreseen. And here we see the fallacy which involves the views of Faber, and many others, upon this whole matter in confusion, and which we have already in substance exposed. It is only a great ignorance of the whole bearing and relations of the notion of basing election upon foresight, that could lead any man to assert, as Faber does, that Arminians agree with Calvinists in maintaining that the idea of election is that God chooses some men to eternal life. Beyond all question, the fundamental principle of Arminianism is just a denial of the Calvinistic doctrine, that God really, in the proper sense of the word, chooses some men to eternal life—a denial that such an election is sanctioned by Scripture; while the idea of representing foreknowledge as the ground of election, is merely a collateral subordinate notion, having something of the character of an afterthought, and forming no part of the real substance or essential features of the actual position maintained. Arminians deny out-and-out that Scripture reveals any real election by God of some men to eternal life; while they often add to this denial a statement to this effect, that if there be anything in Scripture which seems to indicate an election of some men to eternal life,—anything resembling or approximating to the Calvinistic idea of election,—it can be only an election based upon a foresight of men’s character, which is manifestly, as intelligent and candid Arminians admit, no election at all. But, after the explanations formerly given, we need not dwell longer upon this point. Arminians then are, according to Faber, unsound, both in regard to the idea of election, in which, it seems> they agree with Calvinists; and in regard to the cause of it, in which they differ from them.
Let us attend now to what he says about the two other schemes, which are different from both of these. The third is what he calls Nationalism,—a doctrine taught by John Locke, Dr John Taylor of Norwich, and Dr Sumner, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, in his book on Apostolical Preaching. It is this, that the election spoken of in Scripture is merely a choice made by God of nations or masses of men to form His visible church, and to enjoy the outward means of grace; and that the cause of this election is the sovereign good pleasure of God, who gives to different ages and countries the enjoyment of the means of grace, and withholds them, according to the counsel of His own will. Here Faber thinks the causation right; it being resolved, as in the case of Calvinism, into the good pleasure of God. He thinks the ideality partly right and partly wrong: right in so far as it represents election as being only a choice to outward privileges and means of grace, and not, as Calvinists and Arminians concur in holding, a choice to salvation and eternal life; and wrong, in so far as it implies that election has for-its object, not individuals, but nations or communities. The fourth theory which he expounds, and which he labours to prove to be altogether, both in ideality and causation, accordant with the sacred Scriptures, with primitive antiquity, and with the symbolical books of the Church of England, he calls by the name of Ecclesiastical Individualism. In point of causation, it agrees with Calvinism and Nationalism, in resolving the cause of election into the good pleasure of God. In regard to ideality, it agrees with Nationalism in the fundamental point of representing election as a choice of men only to the communion of the visible church and to the enjoyment of the means of grace, and not to anything implying or securing salvation; while it differs from it only in the insignificant point of making the objects of election individuals instead of nations.
It thus appears why it is that Faber represents Arminianism as the most erroneous of the three erroneous doctrines. Arminianism is erroneous both in point of ideality and of causation: whereas Calvinism and Nationalism are both right in point of causation, and Nationalism is only partially and slightly wong in point of ideality. It must also be very plain, we think, from the explanation which has been given, that Faber—while condemning and abjuring Arminianism, with, we have no doubt, perfect sincerity—is himself an Arminian, and nothing else. The fundamental principle of Calvinists is, that God has absolutely chosen some men to salvation, resolving to give them eternal life, and of course infallibly executing this purpose. The fundamental principle of Arminians, and of all who are not Calvinists, is and must be, that God has made no such decree,—formed no such purpose; that He has not chosen any men to eternal life, or to anything which implies or secures it, but only to that which is in itself external and temporary, though, if rightly improved, it avails to men’s salvation,—viz. the communion of the visible church and the enjoyment of the means of grace. Faber repudiates the fundamental principles of Calvinism; he strenuously contends for the fundamental principle of Arminianism; and therefore he may be justly called an Arminian.
The subject may also be illustrated in this way. Election is frequently spoken of in Scripture, and ascribed to God. Men are bound to understand the Scriptures, and they should investigate and ascertain what is there meant by election. Calvinists admit that election and cognate words are used in Scripture in a variety of senses. They admit that God, in fact, chooses nations and chooses men individually to the enjoyment of the means of grace; and that this choice of nations and individuals to external privileges is described in Scripture by the name of election, and is ascribed to the good pleasure of God. Thus far all parties are agreed. The distinctive principle of Calvinism is, that, while election .is used in Scripture in these senses,—to describe these processes,—it is also used in a higher and more important sense, to describe a process in which God, out of His own good pleasure, chooses some men to eternal life, and to the certain improvement as well as the outward enjoyment of the means of grace; and by which, therefore, He secures their salvation. God determines the outward privileges enjoyed by nations and individuals,—it is admitted that whatever He does in time He resolved from eternity to do,—and therefore He may be said to have chosen from eternity nations and individuals to the outwTard privileges which they come in time to enjoy. Nationalism and Ecclesiastical Individualism are thus both true so far as they go. No Calvinist denies either the one or the other. They both describe realities,—processes which actually take place under God’s moral government,—which He resolved from eternity to carry through, and which are sometimes indicated in Scripture by election and cognate words. This is certainly true. The question is, Is it the whole truth? Is there, or is there not, another and higher sense in which the word election is used in Scripture, as descriptive of an act of. God bearing directly and conclusively upon the salvation of men? Calvinists maintain that there is; Arminians and all other antiCalvinists maintain that there is not; and this is indeed the one essential 'point of difference between them. Nationalism and Ecclesiastical Individualism,—or the choice of nations and individuals to the means of grace,—though true so far as they go, viewed as descriptive of actual realities, are yet, when represented as embodying the whole truth, or as exhausting the senses in which election is used in Scripture, just a denial of the fundamental principle of Calvinism, and an assertion of the fundamental principle of Arminianism; and therefore both Nationalists and Individualists are equally and alike, at least when they admit foreknowledge, Arminians, and nothing else.
In the exposition of the scriptural meaning of election, the ground taken by Calvinists is this, that whatever other acts of God, bearing in any way upon the salvation of men, are or may be described by this name, there is an election spoken of in Scripture, of which the three following positions can be established:—1st, That it is not founded upon anything in men (foreseen or existing) as the cause or reason why they are chosen, but only on God’s own sovereign good pleasure. 2d, That it is a choosing of individuals, and not merely of nations, or masses of men collectively. And 3d, That it is directed immediately not to anything merely external and temporary, but to character and final destiny; that it is a choosing of men to eternal salvation, and does certainly and infallibly issue in that result in the case of all -who are included in it. Calvinists believe that there is an election spoken of in Scripture, of which these three positions can be established; and it is the maintenance of all this that makes them Calvinists. But the question with which at present we are chiefly concerned is,—What is the Arminian mode of dealing with these three positions? and what mode of dealing with them entitles us to call men Arminians?
With regard to the first of these positions, the more candid and intelligent Arminians admit, that there is an election spoken of in Scripture .which is founded not on anything in men, but only on the good pleasure of God. Some Arminians have denied this, notwithstanding the clearest scriptural evidence. But these have not been the most reputable and formidable advocates of Arminianism. There is nothing in their Arminianism that should prevent them from admitting this; and it is only the misapprehension and confusion which we have already exposed about the bearing and relations of the idea of foreknowledge or foresight, that could lead any one to suppose that this admission involved them in inconsistency, or afforded any presumption that they were not Arminians. Arminians, indeed, must repudiate—in order to preserve anything like consistency—an election to eternal life, founded only on the good pleasure of God, and not on anything in men themselves. If there w ere any such election as this, it could be founded only upon a foresight of faith, holiness, and perseverance. But rejecting any proper election to eternal life, there is nothing to prevent them from admitting an election of men to what is external and temporary, founded only on the good pleasure of God. Whately and Faber both admit what is sometimes called arbitrary or irrespective election; but as it is only an election to outward privileges,—which men may improve or not as they choose,—the admission does not afford even a presumption that they are not Arminians, although they seem to think it does.
The second position—viz. that there is an election spoken of in Scripture, the object of which is not nations or masses of men collectively, but men individually—does not of itself determine anything of much importance. Calvinists admit that there is an election of nations spoken of in Scripture; and many Arminians admit that there is also brought before us in the Bible an election of individuals as distinguished from masses. If the only election spoken of in Scripture be an election of masses or communities,— and this, of course, is the distinctive tenet of those who are called Nationalists,—it follows that the election could be only to what was external and temporary, that is, to outward privileges. And it is'this plainly which has commended the notion to a certain class of Arminians. Finding it conceded that there are instances in Scripture in which the election spoken of is applied to nations, they have bethought themselves of employing this notion for the purpose of shutting out Calvinism altogether, by showing that there is no other election—no election of individuals—spoken of in Scripture; and consequently that "scriptural «election is only to outward privileges. Nationalism, then, so far from being a different doctrine from Arminianism, is merely a form or aspect in which Arminianism may be embodied, with something like a show of an argument in support of it. The maintenance of Nationalism proves that men are Arminians; while the denial of it—in other words, the admission that Scripture speaks also of an election of individuals—is no proof that they are not.
The truth is, that the hinge of the whole question turns upon the third position above stated as maintained by Calvinists in regard to the meaning of election,—viz. that Scripture does tell us of an absolute and unchangeable election of some men to eternal life, an election which infallibly secures to these men grace and glory. The only conclusive proof that a man is not an Arminian, is the proof that he holds this fundamental principle of Calvinism. If men do not admit this great distinctive principle of Calvinism, they must maintain that the election spoken of in Scripture is only an election to what is external and temporary,—that is, to privileges or opportunities which men may improve or not as they please. It is impossible to examine an Arminian commentary upon the scriptural statements concerning election, without seeing that the one grand object aimed at is just to establish, that there are none of them which prove a real election to grace and glory, and that they may be all explained so as to imply nothing more than an election to outward privileges. All the leading Arminian divines have taken—and from the nature of the case could not avoid taking—this ground, in dealing with the scriptural argument on the subject of election; and every one who takes this ground is thereby conclusively proved to be an Arminian. They» may concede to Calvinists the first two of the positions we have laid down in regard to the scriptural meaning of election,—that is, they may admit that there is an election spoken of in Scripture which is founded only on the sovereign good pleasure of God, and which has respect to men individually, and not merely to nations or masses. They are quite consistent in their Arminianism, and have quite a sufficient basis on which to rest it, so long as they deny the third position, and maintain the converse of it; and by occupying this ground they prove themselves to be Arminians. This is precisely the case with Faber and Whately. They both deny that Scripture gives any sanction to a real electioli of some men to faith and holiness, to grace and glory; and therefore they are not Calvinists. They both maintain that the only election spoken of in Scripture is an election to outward privileges and opportunities, which men may improve or not, according to their Own good pleasure; and therefore (since at the same time they admit foreknowledge) they may be most warrantably held to be Arminians.
From the explanation which has been given, it must, we think, be very evident, that Nationalism and Individualism as explained by Faber, instead of being, as he represents the matter, two distinct doctrines on the subject of election, different both from Calvinism and Arminianism, are just two devices for evading the scriptural evidence in support of the former, and for assisting to furnish a scriptural argument in favour of the latter. There is very little real intrinsic difference between these two Arminian devices for answering the Calvinistic argument and evading the testimony of Scripture; for, on the one hand, an election of nations must be an election only to outward privileges; and, on the other hand, outward privileges are usually—in the ordinary course of God’s moral administration—bestowed rather upon nations or communities than upon individuals. Some Arminians prefer the one and some the other of these two modes of disposing of the Scripture testimony in favour of Calvinism; while others again think it best to employ both methods, according to the exigencies of the occasion. The two together form the great staple of the scriptural argument of the whole body of Arminian divines; and it has been no uncommon practice among men to employ the one or the other mode of evasion, according as one or the other seemed to afford the more plausible materials for turning aside the argument in favour of the Calvinistic doctrine of election, derived from the particular passage which they happened to be examining at the time. Dr Whately takes the ground, directly and at once, that the election ascribed to God in Scripture is not an election to faith and salvation, but only to outward privileges or means of grace, which men may improve or not as they choose; while Dr Sumner, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, takes the other ground, and maintains that scriptural election is a choice not of individuals but of nations; and thus, of course, comes round to the same inevitable Arminian position, by a slightly different and somewhat more circuitous process.
We are almost ashamed to have dwelt so long, and with such reiteration, upon these matters. But when we find it gravely put forth by such a writer as Faber, that Calvinism, Arminianism, Nationalism, and Ecclesiastical Individualism, indicate four different theories upon the subject of election,—Arminianism being at once more erroneous in itself, and yet nearer to Calvinism, than either of the other two; when we find the same views of the general import of these alleged theories brought out by one at present holding the office of a professor of divinity in the University of Cambridge, in a work which seems to be in great repute, having gone through four editions in the course of the last seven or eight years; and when we reflect upon the various indications presented, that these views of Faber and Professor Browne pass current as undoubted truths among many of the clergy of the Church of England, we cannot but believe that ignorance, misapprehension, and confusion are widely prevalent upon these subjects, and that there is an imperative call to attempt to dispel this thick darkness, while at the same time we cannot but feel that it may probably not be easy to effect this. We have surely said enough to prove—lst, That there are just two really distinct theories upon this subject which, with substantial historical accuracy, may be called Calvinism and Arminianism,—that the great point which forms the proper subject of controversy between Calvinists and Arminians is the existence or the non-existence, the affirmation or the negation, of a real decree, or an absolute purpose of God, formed from eternity, originating in His sovereign good pleasure, choosing some men to eternal life, and effectually securing that these men shall have grace and glory; 2d, That it is a thorough fallacy to represent Arminianism—as is done by Faber and Professor Browne—as countenancing any proper decree or purpose of God really bearing upon the salvation of men,—a fallacy arising from the want of a right perception of the true bearing and relations of the idea of foreknowledge or foresight, as it has been brought into the discussion of this subject; and 3d, That Nationalism and Individualism, instead of being theories differing from Arminianism, are just forms or aspects of it,—or rather, perhaps, attempts at arguments in support of it. All who believe that Scripture establishes the existence of such an election as is described in the first of these positions, are Calvinists; and all who deny this, provided they at the same time admit the divine foreknowledge, are Arminians. When tried by this,—the only really sound and searching test,—Faber and Whately are undoubtedly Arminians; and there is no violation of historical accuracy or of substantial justice in applying to them that designation notwithstanding that they through misapprehension disclaim it.
Dr Whately, in his latest work, “The Scripture Doctrine concerning the Sacraments,” has a remark which bears upon this matter, and may require to be adverted to. He says there, “It is utterly improper that any should be called either by themselves or by others ‘Calvinists,’ who dissent from any part of what Calvin himself insists upon as a necessary portion of his theory;” and upon this principle he would probably contend that it is “utterly improper to call him an Arminian/’ since he dissents from (i some part of what Arminius insists upon as a necessary portion of his theory.” Personally we have no objection to the principle of the rule indicated by Dr Whately. We could not, even if so disposed, escape from the imputation of being Calvinists, by alleging that we dissent from any part of what Calvin insisted upon as a necessary portion of his theory, though we do dissent from some of his opinions. But in regard to the application of Dr Whately’s remark to his own case, we venture to affirm, lsi, That the rule which he lays down about the application of such designations is unnecessarily and unwarrantably stringent; and 2d, That even conceding the soundness of this stringent rule, we are perfectly warranted in calling him an Arminian. lst, The rule is unduly stringent. This matter must be settled —for there is no other standard applicable to the point—by considering the practice of the generality of divines of different denominations. Now, there can be no doubt that it is a common and usual thing for divines to apply such designations as those under consideration in a wider and more indefinite way than Dr Whately’s rule would sanction. Calvinism, Arminianism, and similar names, are generally employed to indicate, not so much the actual views held by Calvin, Arminius, and others, but rather the general system of doctrine which these men did much to bring out and to commend, even though it may have been considerably modified in some of its features by the discussion to which it has been subsequently subjected. Controversy conducted by competent persons usually leads—though it may be after an interval, and even after the removal of the original combatants—to clear up and modify men’s views upon both sides; and yet, for the sake of convenience, the same compendious designations may still be retained. The general practice of divines sanctions this use of these names, though it is manifest that they must often be employed in a somewhat vague and ambiguous way,—there being no precise or definite standard to which reference can be made, in order to determine their proper meaning and import. This unavoidable vagueness and. uncertainty in the use and application of those words, leaves much room for carping and quibbling when men are disposed to evade or escape from a difficulty. But even with this drawback, there is much convenience in the use of such designations; the general usage of theologians sanctions it; and it is trifling to make an outcry about any matter of this sort, unless in a case of gross and deliberate unfairness, Calvin and Arminius must not be held responsible for any opinions which they have not themselves expressed. Still there is no great difficulty in distinguishing between their personal opinions and the leading features of the systems of theology to which their names have been attached, as these seem to be logically related to each other, and as they have been commonly set forth by the most eminent divines of either denomination. Arminius never positively and decidedly renounced the Calvinistic doctrine of the certain perseverance of believers; but no one has ever had any hesitation about calling the denial of this doctrine Arminianism, upon these grounds—1st, That logically it forms a natural, necessary part of the Arminian system of theology, although Arminius himself did not perceive this, and did not insist upon it as a necessary portion of his theory; and 2d, That historically, the doctrine of perseverance has been denied by the great body of those divines who, ever since Arminius’s time, have been called after his name. It is true, on the one hand, that men of sense do not suppose that these designations—even when applied in a way which, general usage warrants —afford of themselves anything like a proof either of the truth or the falsehood of the doctrines to which they are attached; and it is also true on the other, that men of sense will not raise an outcry about the application of one of these designations to themselves, if their views agree in the main with the general system of doctrine to which this designation has been usually applied. We would not object to be called Calvinists, though we differed much more widely from Calvin’s own views than we do, nay, even though we dissented from some point which “Calvin himself insisted upon as a necessary portion of his theory,” so long as we held the fundamental distinguishing principles of that scheme of theology with which his name is usually associated.
But 2df Though Dr Whately’s rule is unduly stringent, still its fair application does not prove the unwarrantableness of calling him an Arminian. Not only does he hold, all the fundamental distinguishing principles of the system of theology which has been generally known in the history of the Church under the name of Arminianism, as expounded by the generality of the most eminent divines who have accepted that, name for themselves, but he does not dissent from any part of what Arminius himself insisted upon as a necessary portion of his theory; nay, he does not dissent from Arminius, or from the general body of Arminian divines, in any doctrine of real importance. Arminius was very unwilling to bring out, honestly and explicitly, his peculiar opinions. It was only in 1608, the year before his death, that he was induced to come out with a profession of his doctrines; and even then his conduct was not very manly and straightforward. We have four different statements, more or less explicit, prepared by him in that year, of his sentiments upon predestination. They are to be found in his works. We are unable to perceive any material difference between the views of Arminius—as there stated—and those of Dr Whately; and we are confident that no such difference can be established. Dr Whately, in asserting that he is neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, must be understood as intending to affirm that he differs in some points of real importance, not so much from the opinions of Calvin and Arminius, as from the leading views on the subject of election that have commonly been held by Calvinistic and Arminian divines. He probably also intended, in making this statement, to convey the idea that his views lay somewhere between the one system and the other; or, in other words, that he neither went so far in one direction as the Calvinists, nor so far in the opposite direction as the Arminians. If this was his intention—as it seems to have been—the fact would only show how imperfect is his knowledge of these matters. For it is evident that in so far as anything like a material difference from Arminius could be pointed out, it is to be found principally in this direction, that Arminius retained more of the doctrines generally held by Calvinists than Dr Whately has done. But whatever there be in this, it is certain that he holds the whole substance of what has been well known in the history of the Protestant church for the last two centuries as Arminianism, as opposed to Calvinism, and differing somewhat from Socinianism, on this subject; and that therefore we are fully warranted, by the ordinary, reasonable, and convenient practice of theologians, to call him an Arminian. We must be careful, indeed, to ascribe to him no opinions which he has not professed or acknowledged. But he has no right to demand that, because he has a dislike to the designation Arminian, we must have recourse to circumlocution in indicating his theological position, when he is utterly unable to prove that calling him an Arminian involves inaccuracy or injustice, or implies any deviation from the mode of dealing with such topics which is sanctioned by the ordinary practice of theologians.
Faber having written a book upon the subject of election, and having there brought out his views fully and elaborately, has made it manifest what were the grounds that led him to believe that he was not an Arminian; and we have had no difficulty in pointing out the source of the fallacy in his case. Whately has referred to this matter only incidentally, and has not gone into any formal or elaborate exposition of the different theories which have been held regarding it. In this way, while he has afforded us abundant ground for believing that he is an Arminian, and for calling him by that name, he has not told us explicitly or in detail what are the grounds on which he considers himself warranted to repudiate the designation. Our views upon this point must therefore be inferential, and to some extent conjectural. We think there are some indications, in his statements upon the subject of election, showing that he was to some extent misled by the same fallacy about the relation between election and foreknowledge which we have exposed in the case of Faber.' They both concur in rejecting the Arminian interpretation of Rom. viii. 29, “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son;” and of 1 Pet. i. 2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God;”—denying, as Calvinists do, that these passages afford a warrant for basing election upon foresight. And there are other indications—though none, so far as we remember, of a very explicit kind—that Whately concurred with Faber in rejecting altogether the idea of basing election upon foresight; and in imagining that, in rejecting this idea, he was abjuring the fundamental, distinctive principle of Arminianism. We have said enough, w’e think, to show that any such notion can originate only in a very defective and superficial knowledge of the intrinsic merits of this great controversy.
We have had occasion to refer to some points on which Dr Whately has expressed opinions different from those held by the generality of Arminians. These we have always regarded as eminently creditable to him, especially as we could not but view them as the concessions of an opponent. It is probably on these-differences that he founds his warrant and right to deny that he is an Arminian. We think it proper to advert to these points of difference, not merely for the purpose of showing that they afford no ground for his abjuring the designation, but for the more important object of bringing out the valuable concessions thus made to Calvinism by one whom we must still take the liberty of calling an Arminian.
The first point of this nature which we would notice we have already adverted to. It is one which only partially comes under the present head, as the same concession has been made by many Arminians. It is this, that Dr Whately distinctly admits that the word election, as used in Scripture, “relates, in most instances, to an arbitrary, irrespective, unconditional decree;” and shows that those who endeavour to answer the Calvinistic argument founded upon the Scripture passages where election and its cognates occur, by denying this, are incapable of maintaining the position they have assumed. There are some Arminians who are so afraid of admitting anything that might be called “arbitrary, irrespective, or unconditional” in God’s purposes or procedure in regard to men, that they labour, in spite of the strongest opposing evidence, to exclude everything of this nature from every passage in Scripture where the words occur. But Dr Whately, and many of the more sagacious and candid Arminians, admit that this mode of dealing with the matter is unnecessary and unwarrantable. They could not indeed believe in any arbitrary, irrespective, unconditional decree of God bearing directly upon men’s salvation, and exerting a determining influence upon the result.
And, as we have fully explained, the fundamental, distinctive principle of all anti-Calvinists—Arminians included—is just to deny that any such decree was or could be formed. But there is nothing in point of consistency to make it impossible for Arminians to admit an arbitrary, irrespective, and unconditional election, provided it be an election not to faith and salvation, to holiness and heaven, to grace and glory, but only to what is external and temporary, to outward privileges or means of grace; it being still dependent on men’s free will to improve or not their opportunities, and thus to attain or not to eternal life. Any such thing as an election to salvation could, upon anti-Calvinistic principles, be based only upon a foresight of what men individually would actually be and do; and in fairness and reason this could not properly be called an election. But an election to outward privileges or means of grace might be based upon the sovereign good pleasure of God, as it exerts no efficacious determining influence upon men's eternal destiny. Dr Whately denies the existence of any real election of some men by God to eternal, life, and admits only an election to the means of grace. This is a conclusive proof that he is an Arminian; and the proof is not in the least affected by his admission, that this election of some, whether nations or individuals, to outward privileges, is “arbitrary, irrespective, and unconditional,”—in other words, is founded on the sovereign good pleasure of God, and not on anything existing or foreseen in men themselves.
Some of the other concessions which Dr Whately has made to Calvinists are points in which he has few or none of the Arminians to countenance him, and they are therefore all the more creditable to his sagacity and candour; while at the same time we may say of them, in general, that the£y cannot be of any avail in proving that he may not be warrantably called an Arminian, inasmuch as they do not affect the state of the question, or the real meaning and import of the actual positions held on either side and controverted between the two parties, but only the force and value of some of the arguments employed in conducting the contest.
The second—and in some respects the most important—of these concessions is the admission that the arguments commonly adduced against Calvinism, derived from the moral attributes and government of God, are unsatisfactory and invalid; and that the grand difficulty of this whole subject applies to every system, inasmuch as it attaches to the facts—admitted by all—of the introduction and permanent continuance of moral evil. His views upon these subjects are brought out not only in his “Essay on Election,” but also in what he has said in connection with the Discourse of his predecessor, Archbishop King, on Predestination, which he has republished, with Notes and an Appendix, in the later editions of his “Bampton Lectures.” He has fully adopted, as had been previously done by his friend Bishop Copleston, in his “Inquiry into the Doctrines of Necessity and Predestination,” the leading principle, expounded in King’s famous Discourse. The principle is in substance this (we are not called upon to go into any details upon the point), that we know too little about God and the divine attributes and perfections, to warrant us in drawing conclusions from them as to the divine procedure; that the divine attributes, while infinitely superior in degree, are:—though called by the same names—not the same in kind as those which we ourselves possess; that our knowledge of them is almost wholly, if not altogether, analogical; and that, therefore, we are not entitled to draw inferences or conclusions about the divine procedure from the divine power and knowledge, or from the divine justice and holiness, as we would from the same qualities in men. There is as much truth in this general principle, as to lay a good ground for condemning much presumptuous and ill-founded speculation, which has been brought to bear upon the discussion of this subject. But the principle is surely carried too far, when it is laid down so absolutely that our knowledge of God’s attributes is wholly analogical, and does not warrant any inferences as to the mode of the divine procedure. The incomprehensibility of Jehovah—the infinite distance between a finite and an infinite being—should ever be fully recognised and acted on. But Scripture and right reason seem plainly enough to warrant the legitimacy and propriety of some inferences or conclusions as to God’s procedure, derived from the contemplation of His attributes. King developed the leading principle of his Discourse for anti-Calvinistic purposes; and Copleston brought it forward—to use a favourite phrase in the present day—in the same dogmatic interest. Their object was to wrest, by means of it, from the hands of Calvinists, the formidable arguments usually adduced against Arminianism, derived from God’s power, knowledge, and wisdom, which are often spoken of as His natural attributes. Dr Whately, with superior sagacity and candour, sees and admits that this principle, if true and sound, is equally available for wresting from the hands of Arminians the arguments they have been accustomed to adduce against Calvinism, derived from what are often called God’s moral attributes—His holiness, justice, and goodness. The great staple of the argument against Calvinism has always been, that the procedure which it ascribes to God is inconsistent with the holiness, justice, and goodness which all attribute to Him. If the argument derived from this source must be thrown aside as unwarrantable and invalid,—and Whately concedes this as necessarily involved in the fair application of King’s principle,—Arminians are stripped of by far the most plausible things they have to adduce. They may still, indeed, consistently retain their leading position upon other grounds. They may still deny the fundamental principle of Calvinism, though deprived of what has been always felt to be the most formidable argument against it; and this is, indeed, just the position occupied by Dr Whately. He still holds that there are good and sufficient grounds for rejecting the Calvinistic doctrine, though he declines to make any use of the common argument against it, derived from God’s moral attributes. The abandonment of this argument as unsatisfactory, does not produce any change in the actual doctrines he maintains. The position he occupies may be, and in point of fact is, the very same as that of those who continue to believe in the validity of the old favourite anti-Calvinistic argument; and as the abandonment of this argument does not make him less anti-Calvinistic, so neither can it afford any evidence that he is not an Arminian. We must therefore continue to regard Dr Whately’s abandonment of King’s principle of the common argument from God’s moral attributes, as the concession of an opponent, due to the force of truth; while we are not called upon to attach the same weight to his continued adherence to the ordinary Arminian ground of the invalidity of the argument in favour of Calvinism, derived from God’s natural attributes. Calvinists do not, in general, admit the soundness of King’s principle. They think they can establish the invalidity of the Arminian argument from the divine perfections upon other and more specific grounds; and thus they profess to be able to show, that they are warranted in accepting the concession of Dr Whately, as to the utterly precarious and uncertain character of the argument against Calvinism, from its alleged inconsistency with God’s moral attributes; without at the same time needing to renounce the argument in favour of Calvinism and against Arminianism, derived from the consideration of His natural attributes.
The substance of this important concession is also presented by Dr Whately, in a more definite and specific form. He virtually admits that the arguments which have been commonly adduced against Calvinism on account of its alleged inconsistency with God’s moral attributes, really apply to and tell against actual facts, —undoubted realities occurring under God’s moral government,— that they thus prove too much, and therefore prove nothing; in short, that the real difficulty is not anything peculiar to Calvinism, but just the introduction and the permanence of moral evil,—an awful reality, which every system must equally deal with and in some way dispose of. It is admitted, that whatever God does in time He resolved from eternity to do; and if so, no peculiar or additional difficulty attaches to His eternal decree or purpose, as distinguished from that attaching to its execution in time, or to what God actually does in determining men’s character and destiny. Whatever takes place in time God resolved from eternity to produce or to permit; and the fact of its occurrence proves that there was nothing in His character to prevent Him from producing or permitting it; and, of course, nothing to preclude His having resolved from eternity to produce or permit it. By following out these obvious considerations, Calvinists have proved that the great difficulty in this whole subject is just the permanent existence of moral evil under God’s administration; and as this is admitted on both sides to be an actual reality, the difficulty suggested by the contemplation of God’s moral attributes is thus proved to be one which Calvinists and Arminians are equally bound, but at the same time equally unable, to solve. All this has been proved to demonstration by Calvinists, times without number; and it manifestly removes out of the way by far the most formidable and plausible objections by which their system has ever been assailed. Anti-Calvinists have never been able to devise a plausible answer to this line of argument, so subversive of their favourite and most effective allegations. But not one of them has ever, so far as we remember, conceded its truth and soundness so fully and frankly as Dr Whately has done. This concession is so important in itself, and so honourable to him, that we must present it in his own words: —
“Before I dismiss the consideration of this subject, I would suggest one caution relative to a class of objections frequently urged against the Calvinistic scheme—those drawn from the conclusions of what is called Natural religion, respecting the moral attributes of the Deity; which, it is contended, rendered the reprobation of a large portion of mankind an absolute impossibility. That such objections do reduce the predestinarian to a great strait, is undeniable; and not seldom are they urged with exulting scorn, with bitter invective, and almost with anathema. Bat we should be very cautious how we employ such weapons as may recoil upon ourselves. Arguments of this description have often been adduced, such as, I fear, will crush beneath the ruins of the hostile structure the blind assailant who seeks to overthrow it. It is a frightful, but an undeniable truth, that multitudes, even in Christian countries, are born and brought up under such circumstances as afford them no probable, even no possible, chance of obtaining a knowledge of religious truths, or a habit of moral conduct, but are even trained from infancy in superstitious error and gross depravity. Why this should be permitted, neither Calvinist nor Arminian can explain; nay, why the Almighty does not cause to die in the cradle every infant whose future wickedness and misery, if suffered to grow up, He foresees, is what no system of religion, natural or revealed, will enable us satisfactorily to account for.
“In truth, these are merely branches of the one great difficulty, the existence of evil, which may almost be called the only difficulty in theology. It assumes indeed various shapes: it is by many hardly recognised as a difficulty, and not a few have professed and believed themselves to have solved it; but it still meets them, though in some new and disguised form, at every turn, like a resistless stream, which, when one channel is dammed up, immediately forces its way through another. And as the difficulty is one not peculiar to any one hypothesis, but .bears equally on all alike, whether of revealed or of natural religion, it is better in point of prudence as well as of fairness that the consequences of it should not be pressed as an objection against any.”
“I cannot dismiss the subject without a few practical remarks relative to the difficulty in question (the origin of evil).
“First, let it be remembered, that it is not peculiar to any one theological system; let not therefore the Calvinist or the Arminian urge it as an objection against their respective adversaries, much less an objection clothed in offensive language, which will be found to recoil on their own religious tenets, as soon as it shall be perceived that both parties are alike unable to explain the difficulty. Let them not, to destroy an opponent’s system, rashly kindle a fire which will soon extend to the no less combustible structure of their own.
“Secondly, let it not be supposed that this difficulty is any objection to revealed religion. Revelation leaves us, in fact, as to this question, just where it found us. Reason tells us that evil exists, and shows us in some measure how to avoid it. Revelation tells us more of the nature and extent of the evil, and gives us better instructions for escaping it; but why any evil at all should exist, is a question it does not profess to clear up; and it were to be wished that its incautious advocates would abstain from representing it as making this pretension, which is, in fact, wantonly to provoke such objections as they have no power to answer.”f These views are, of course, familiar to intelligent Calvinists, as furnishing what they regard as a satisfactory answer to the most plausible objections of their opponents; their soundness is now for the first time fully conceded by a very able Arminian; and this concession, so honourable to him, may be expected to put an end to the coarse and offensive declamation in which Arminians have commonly indulged on this branch of the argument, and which has usually formed a very large share of their whole stock in trade as polemics.
The only other concession made by Dr Whately to Calvinism which we mean to notice is one connected with its alleged practical application. It has always been a favourite allegation of Arminians, that the Calvinistic doctrine of election tends to lead men to be careless about the improvement of the means of grace and the discharge of practical obligations, on the ground—as they represent the matter—that the result in each case is already provided for and secured irrespective of these things. The answer to this allegation is, in substance, that it is not only consistent with, but that it constitutes an essential part of, the Calvinistic doctrine, that God has foreordained the means as well as the end, and has thus established a certain and invariable connection de facto between them. This doctrine of the foreordination of the means as well as of the end, not only leaves unimpaired, to second causes, the operation of their own proper nature, constitution, and laws, but preserves and secures them in the possession of all these. It thus, when viewed as a whole, establishes most firmly the actual, invariable connection between the means and the end; and in its legitimate application, is at least as well fitted as any other doctrine can be, to keep alive in the minds of men a deep sense of the reality and certainty of this connection. All this Calvinists have conclusively proved, times without number; but Arminians have never been willing to concede it, since it completely disposes of a favourite objection, which, upon a partial and superficial view of the matter, appears very formidable. But Dr Whately admits the validity of the Calvinistic answer to the Arminian objection— that is, he admits that the Calvinistic doctrine of election, when the whole doctrine is taken into account and fully and fairly applied, does not tend to exert an injurious influence upon the improvement of the means of grace and the discharge of practical obligations; while, at the same time, he tries to make a point against Calvinism, by labouring to show, that by the same process by which Calvinists prove their doctrine to be harmless or innocent, it can be proved to be entirely useless, and to admit of no practical application whatever.
“It has indeed been frequently objected to the Calvinistic doctrines, that they lead, if consistently acted upon, to a sinful, or to a careless, or to an inactive life; and the inference deduced from this alleged tendency has been, that they are not true. But this is a totally distinct line of argument, both in premises and conclusion, from that now adverted to; and I mention it, not for the purpose either of maintaining or impugning it, but merely of pointing out the distinction. Whatever may be, in fact, the§ practical ill tendency of the Calvinistic scheme, it is undeniable that many pious and active Christians, who have adopted it, have denied any such tendency,—have attributed the mischievous consequences drawn, not to their doctrines rightly understood, but to the perversion and abuse of them; and have so explained them to their own satisfaction, as to be compatible and consistent with active virtue. Now if, instead of objecting to, we admit, the explanations of this system, which the soundest and most approved of its advocates have given, we shall find that, when understood as they would have it, it can lead to no practical result
whatever. Some Christians, according to them, are eternally enrolled in the book of life, and infallibly ordained to salvation, -while others are reprobate and absolutely excluded; but as the preacher (they add) has no means of knowing, in the first instance at least, which persons belong to which class, and since those who are thus ordained are to be saved through the means God has appointed, the offers and promises and threatenings of the gospel are to be addressed to all alike, as if no such distinction existed. The preacher, in short, is to act in all respects as if the system were not true.
“Each individual Christian again, according to them, though he is to believe that he either is or is not absolutely destined to eternal salvation, yet is also to believe that if his salvation is decreed, his holiness of life is also decreed; he is to judge of his own state by ‘the fruits of the Spirit’ which he brings forth: to live in sin, or to relax his virtuous exertions, would be an indication of his not being really (though he may flatter himself he is) one of the elect. And it may be admitted, that one who does practically adopt and conform to this explanation of the doctrine will not be led into any evil by it, since his conduct will not be in any respect influenced by it. When thus explained, it is reduced to a purely speculative dogma, barren of all practical results.”
There is here no abandonment of his anti-Calvinistic position, —nothing that should lead either himself or others to believe that he is not an Arminian,—but there is a very explicit abandonment of a favourite and plausible Arminian objection against Calvinism; and this important concession by such an opponent is one of which Calvinists are well entitled to take advantage. We cannot enter upon any exposition of the practical application of the Calvinistic doctrine of election, for .the purpose of answering Dr Whately’s allegation,—that, by the very same process of explanation by which Calvinism escapes from the positive objection of having an injurious or dangerous tendency, it is proved to have no practical application whatever, but to be a mere useless barren speculation. We think we could prove that this notion is a confusion and a fallacy; and that it can be without much difficulty traced to this cause, that he has not here made the same full and candid estimate, as on some other branches of the argument, of the whole of what Calvinists are accustomed to advance in explaining the practical application of their doctrine, but confines his observation to some of the features of the subject, and these not the most important and peculiar. We think we could prove that it is this alone which gives plausibility to his attempt to show that the Calvinistic doctrine of election, when explained by its more intelligent advocates in such a way as to escape from the imputation of having an injurious tendency, is deprived of all practical effect or utility whatever, and that we should act in all respects as if the doctrine were not true.
In these various ways, and in one or two other points of less importance, Dr Whately has made valuable concessions to Calvinism. In doing so he has been guilty of no inconsistency, and we insinuate no such charge against him; for his deviations from the course pursued by other anti-Calvinists affect, not the meaning and import of any of the main positions actually held, but only the validity of some of the arguments commonly adduced in the course of the discussion. He no doubt believes that he can still produce sufficient and satisfactory evidence against the Calvinistic doctrine of election, though he has felt himself constrained to abandon as unfounded the objections commonly adduced against it from its alleged inconsistency with the divine character and government, and from its supposed injurious practical tendency. We regard these concessions as eminently creditable both to his head and to his heart, to his ability and his courage, to his sagacity and his candour. We value them very highly as contributions—though not so intended—to the establishment of what we reckon important scriptural truth. They have undoubtedly the advantage of being the concessions of an opponent; for Dr Whately admits that he is opposed to Calvinism, though he seems anxious to impress the conviction that he is equally opposed to Arminianism. We so highly admire the ability and candour Dr Whately has shown in the discussion of these topics, and we are so grateful for the valuable concessions he has made to what we reckon truth, that we would most willingly abstain from saying anything that was disagreeable to him, except in so far as a regard to the interests of truth might require this. But we cannot retract the assertion that he is an Arminian. Were the matter, indeed, now to begin again de novo, we might avoid the use of this expression, knowing, as we now do, that he dislikes it, and feeling that we could express otherwise, by a little circumlocution, all that we meant to convey by it. But having been led to use the expression in all simplicity, without imagining that it cOuld be objected to or complained of,—and feeling confident that we can defend the perfect warrantableness of its application to Dr Whately,—it would be an injury to truth to retract it, or to refuse, when called upon, to defend it. In one aspect, indeed, it is a matter of no importance whether Dr Whately, or any man, may or may not be warrantably called an Arminian; for the application of such terms, even when fully warranted by ordinary usage, settles nothing about the truth or soundness of doctrines. But when a question as to the application of the name comes up in such a form, and is attended with such circumstances as virtually to involve the whole question of what is Arminianism, and wherein does it differ from Calvinism, or what is the true status quaestionis in the great controversy between Calvinists and Arminians on the subject of Election, then the importance of the matter is manifest. Dr Whately’s unexpected denial that he is an Arminian, plainly raised the questions, What is Arminianism, and in what respect does it differ from Calvinism? and whether there be any distinct and definite position that can be taken upon the subject of election differing materially from both? The works of Faber and Professor Browne seemed to us to indicate the existence of a great amount of misapprehension and confusion as prevalent upon these questions among the clergy of the Church of England, and suggested to us the desirableness of taking advantage of Dr Whately’s groundless repudiation of the charge of being an Arminian, for giving some such explanation of the state of the question as we have attempted. Faber has brought out fully and distinctly the sources and the grounds of the misapprehension under which he, and no doubt many others, have been led to abjure Arminianism while really believing it; and Dr Whately is just as clearly and certainly an Arminian as Faber was; but he has not brought out formally and in detail the grounds on which he considers himself entitled to deny that he is so. We have, in consequence, not ventured upon any explicit allegations as to the origin and the cause of the strange fallacy under which he labours in repudiating Arminianism as well as Calvinism; but we have examined all the leading points in which —so far as we remembered—he has deviated from the common course of sentiment and expression among Arminian writers; and we have shown, we think, that these deviations—while highly honourable to him, and very valuable concessions to us—imply no 'disbelief or denial of the fundamental distinctive principles of Arminianism, and, indeed, do not affect the true state of the question between the contending parties, but only the soundness and validity of some of the arguments adduced on the opposite sides respectively.
There is one other feature of Dr Whately’s mode of dealing with this subject to which we must refer, though we scarcely know what to make of it. It is brought out in the following passages:—
“It is on these principles, viz., that the first point of inquiry at least ought to be, What doctrines are revealed in God’s word? and that we ought to expect that the doctrines so revealed should be, not matters of speculative curiosity, but of practical importance—such as ‘belong to us that we may do them;’—it is in conformity, I say, with these principles, that I have waived the question as to the truth or falsity of the Calvinistic doctrine of election, inquiring only whether it is revealed.”
“I am far from thinking harshly of predestinarians, or of deciding that their peculiar doctrines are altogether untrue; though to me they do not appear, at least, to be either practical or revealed truths. I do not call on them to renounce their opinions as heretical, but merely to abstain from imposing on others as a necessary part of the Christian faith a doctrine which cannot be clearly deduced from Scripture, and which there is this additional reason for supposing not to be revealed in Scripture, that it cannot be shown to have any practical tendency.”
“I wish it, then, to be distinctly understood (1) that I do not impute to any one opinions which he disclaims, nor am discussing any question as to what is inwardly believed by each, but only as to what is, whether directly or obliquely, taught; and (2) that I purposely abstain, throughout, from entering on the question as to what is absolutely true, inquiring only what is or is not to be received and taught as a portion of revealed gospel truth. For no metaphysical dogma, however sound and capable of philosophical proof, ought to be taught as a portion of revealed truth, if it shall appear that the passages of Scripture that are supposed to declare it, relate in reality to a different matter. 11 would wish it to be remembered,’ says Archbishop Sumner, ‘that I do not desire to argue against predestination as believed in the closet, but as taught in the pulpit.’
And the same general idea is repeated, without the addition of anything else to explain it, in his last work, on the 11 Doctrine of the Sacraments.”
It is not easy to understand what Dr Whately meant by such statements as these. They surely indicate something very like confusion, vacillation, and inconsistency. It would almost seem from them as if he had something like a latent sense that Calvinism, though not taught in Scripture, could yet be defended upon such grounds—in the way of general reasoning of a philosophical or metaphysical kind—as scarcely admitted of an answer; so that he shrank from any formal deliverance on the question of its actual truth or falsehood. We do not wonder much at something like this state of mind being produced, especially in one who discerned so clearly, and who proclaimed so manfully, the weakness of some of the leading anti-Calvinistic arguments based upon topics of an abstract or metaphysical kind. We believe that the arguments in favour of Calvinism, derived from reason or general considerations, are just as triumphant—viewed as a mere appeal to the understanding—as the arguments from Scripture; and we do not wonder that there should occasionally be men who, while rejecting Calvinism, should have felt greater difficulty in disposing of the metaphysical than of the scriptural proof. This seems to be the case with Dr Whately. He appears to have something of the feeling, that on the field of general abstract discussion he would not like to face a Calvinist; and that this department of the argument he would rather leave in abeyance than fairly grapple with. But, as we have said, we do not know well what to make either of the meaning or the consistency of some of his statements upon this subject. We must in fairness judge of his theological position, chiefly from the views he has expressed as to the meaning and import of the teaching of Scripture; and here, certainly, his position is not negative or ambiguous. He teaches explicitly and unequivocally, that the Calvinistic doctrine of election is not taught in Scripture; and he teaches further, that the only election which Scripture sanctions, is an election to outward privileges or means of grace, and not to faith, holiness, and heaven. This should settle the whole question with all who believe in the authority of Scripture; and the position here maintained is not only anti-Calvinistic, but may, when accompanied with an admission of the divine foreknowledge of all events, be warrantably and fairly designated as Arminian.
We are unwilling to quit this subject without some reference, however brief, to the objections by which the Calvinistic doctrine of election has been commonly assailed. The leading practical lessons suggested by a survey of the controversy, for guiding men in the study of it, are such as these:—1st, That we should labour to form a clear, distinct, and accurate apprehension of the real nature of the leading point in dispute,—of the true import and bearing of the only alternatives that can well be maintained with regard to it. 2nd, That we should familiarize our minds with definite conceptions of the meaning and the evidence of the principal arguments by which the truth upon the subject may be established, and the error refuted. 3d, That we should take some pains to understand the general principles at least applicable to the solution, or rather the disposal (for they cannot be solved), of the difficulties by which the doctrine we have embraced as true may be assailed. And 4th, That we should then seek to make a wise and judicious application of the doctrine professed, according to its true nature, tendency, and bearing, and its relation to other truths; without allowing ourselves to be dragged into endless and unprofitable speculations in regard to its deeper mysteries or more intricate perplexities, or to be harassed by perpetual doubt and difficulty. A thorough and successful study of the subject implies the following out of all these lessons, and this conducts us over a wide and arduous field. It is on the first only of these four points we have touched,—one on which a great deal of ignorance and confusion seem to prevail. Of the others, the most important is that which enjoins a careful study of the direct and positive evidence that bears upon the determination of the main question on which the controversy turns. The strength of 'Calvinism lies in the mass of direct, positive, and, as we believe, unanswerable proof that can be produced from Scripture and reason, confirmed by much that is suggested by experience and the history of the human race, to establish its fundamental principles of the foreordination of whatsoever comes to pass, and the real and effectual election of some men to eternal life. The strength of Arminianism lies, not in the direct and positive evidence that can be produced to disprove Calvinistic foreordination and election, or to establish anti-Calvinistic non-foreordination and non-election, but mainly in the proof, that God is not the author of sin, and that man is responsible for his own character and destiny; and in the inference, that since Calvinism is inconsistent with these great and admitted truths, it must be false. This view of the state of the case shows the importance of being familiar with the direct and positive evidence by which Calvinism can be established, that we may rest on this as an impregnable foundation. But it shows also the importance of being familiar with the way and manner of disposing of the plausible and formidable difficulties on which mainly the Arminians found their case. These difficulties—that is, the alleged inconsistency of Calvinism with the truths, that God is not the author of sin, and that man is responsible for his conduct and fate—he upon the very surface of the subject, and must at once present themselves even to the most ordinary minds; while at the same time they are so plausible, that they are well fitted to startle and to impress men, especially if they have not previously reflected much upon the subject. We do not intend to adduce the direct and positive evidence in support of the Calvinistic doctrine; but a few brief hints may help a little to show, that the difficulties attaching to it are, though not admitting of a full solution, yet by no means so formidable as at first sight they appear to be; and at any rate furnish no sufficient ground in right reason for rejecting the body of direct, positive, unanswerable proof by which the fundamental principles of Calvinism can be established. The following are some of the most obvious yet most important considerations bearing upon this matter, that ought to be remembered and applied, and especially that ought to be viewed in combination with each other, as parts of one argument upon this topic.
lsi, When the same objections were advanced against the same doctrines as taught by the Apostle Paul, he manifested no very great solicitude about giving them a direct or formal answer; but contented himself with resolving the whole difficulty into God’s sovereignty and man’s ignorance, dependence, and incapacity. “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” He knew that the doctrines were true, because he had received them by inspiration of the Holy Ghost; and we know that they are true, because he and other inspired men have declared them unto us. This should satisfy us, and repress any great anxiety about disposing of objections based upon grounds, the investigation of which runs up into matters, the full comprehension of which lies beyond the reach of our natural faculties, and of which we can know nothing except from the revelation which God has given us.
2d, It is utterly inconsistent with right views of our condition and capacities, and with the principles usually acted upon in regard to other departments of Christian theology,—as, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity,—to assume, as these objections do, that we are entitled to make our actual perception of, or our capacity of perceiving, the consistency of two doctrines with each other, the test or standard of their truth. We do not pretend to be able to solve all the difficulties connected with the alleged inconsistency between the peculiar doctrines of Calvinism, and the truths that God is not the author of sin, and that man is responsible for his character and conduct, so as to make their consistency with each other plain and palpable to our own minds or the minds of others; but we cannot admit that this affords any sufficient reason why we should reject one or other of the doctrines, provided each separately can be established upon competent and satisfactory evidence.
3d, The difficulties in question do not apply to the Calvinistic system alone, but bear as really, though not perhaps at first view as palpably, upon every system of religion which admits the moral government of God, the prevalence of moral evil among His intelligent creatures, and their future eternal punishment. Indeed, it is easy to show that the leading difficulties connected with every scheme of doctrine virtually run up into one great difficulty, which attaches, and attaches equally, to them all, viz. the explanation of the existence and prevalence of moral evil; or, what is practically the same question in another form, the exposition of the way and manner in which God and men concur (for none but atheists can deny that in some way or other they do concur) in forming men’s character and in determining men’s fate. This subject involves difficulties which we cannot, in our present condition, fully solve, and which we must just resolve into the good pleasure of God. They are difficulties from which no scheme of doctrine can escape, and which every scheme is equally bound, and at the same time equally incompetent, to explain. Men may shift the position of the one grand difficulty, and may imagine that they have succeeded at least in evading it, or putting it in abeyance or obscurity; but with all their shifts and all their expedients, it continues as real and as formidable as ever. Unless men renounce altogether, theoretically or practically, the moral government of God, the prevalence of moral evil, and its eternal punishment, they must, in their explanations and speculations, come at length to the sovereignty of God, and prostrate their understandings and their hearts before it, saying with our Saviour, “Even so, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight;” or with the great apostle, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
Excerpt from The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation