Images de page
[ocr errors]

difficult in the New Testament. The phrase on which so much is made to depend, admits equally well of several different translations, each of which will give it a different meaning; and its connexion with the passage in which it stands is not such, as to help us, to any degree of certainty, in determining by which version its true sense is expressed. Dr. Woods himself," allows it to be some respects very obscure." He will doubtless admit then, that the support derived to a doctrine, depending on any particular translation of this text, or any particular meaning assigned to it, will be of very little value; of none indeed any farther, than it receives support itself from other plainer passages

Ephesians ii. 3. "And were by nature children of wrath, even as others." The connexion and circumstances of the case show the meaning of this verse, and that it furnishes no proof of inbred moral corruption, but only of corrupt and wicked habits. It refers to the former state of Jews as well as heathen, before their conversion to Christianity. In that state, they were all alike, children of wrath, deserving of wrath, not as they came into the world, not as they came from their Maker's hand, but as they became by the habits, and customs, and practices of that state, into which they were born; which was a state of nature, as compared with the state of grace, into which they were introduced by Christianity. What they were before they became Christians, they were by nature; what they became afterward, was by the grace of God, which appeared bringing salvation. The state of nature was that, into which they came by their birth; as distinguished from the state of grace into which they came, when they embraced Christianity. When they received Christianity, they were born again, born of water by their baptism, born of the spirit by

* Eq, in our translation, "for that," has been rendered by the several phrases, because, inasmuch as, as far as, in whom, unto which, after whom, on account of whom. When meanings so various are assigned to this text by Schleusner, Elsner, Taylor, Doddridge, Whitby, and Macknight, I am justified in attributing to it a degree of obscurity and uncertainty, which should prevent it from being alleged with much confidence in proof of any doctrine, which it may be supposed to express.

receiving the spirit of Christianity, by being renewed in the temper of their mind. Then they were no longer children of wrath, when the new birth was completed, and their religion had produced all its moral effects.

According to this view of the subject, the state of nature has no reference to what a man brings into the world with him, but it stands opposed to a state of grace. It is that state in which all are, Jews as well as Gentiles, before they become Christians. This language of the Apostle, like much of that in the Epistles, referring to the same subject, relates to men, as bodies of men, not as individuals. It compares them together as bodies, not as individuals. It speaks of them generally, as in their heather and Jewish state, and then in their Christian state. In the former "dead in sin," in the latter, "quickened, and raised up," and (v. 5, 6,)" made to sit together in heavenly places."

The former, (12, 13.) "Strangers, aliens, without God, without hope, afar off;" the latter, "made nigh by the blood of Christ."

The former, (19.) "Strangers and foreigners;" the latter, "fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God."

The former, (3, 1.) "children of wrath, having their conversation in the lusts of the flesh, dead in trespasses and sins; the latter, (4, 5, 10.) "by the rich mercy of God, quickened, saved by grace, created in Christ Jesus unto good works."

The whole of this refers to the same thing; not to the personal condition of individuals as such, but to that of the whole body of Christians, as quickened and raised from the moral and spiritual death of their original Jewish and heathen state; as delivered from the state of wrath, in which they had lived from their birth; and by the rich mercy of God and the faith of the Gospel, made to sit together in heavenly places, that is, to enjoy all the privileges and hopes of Christians.

It has no reference therefore to the state in which persons are born into the world in all ages. Those now born into the world in Christian lands are not in the same sense, that these Ephesians were, children of wrath by nature, but as these same Ephesians were after their con


[ocr errors]

version to Christianity, saved by the grace of God, quick ened, raised from the dead, made nigh by the blood of Christ, fellow-citizens with the saints, of the household of


All this language was applied to the Ephesians universally after their conversion, and all of it is as applicable universally now to those, who are Christians by birth; as distinguished from those, who are heathen by birth.

The phrase we are considering then must be seen to be wholly inapplicable to the purpose for which it is alleged.

We are called upon by the advocates for the doctrine of depravity to show, that it is inconsistent with the moral perfection of God; that it is not taught in the scriptures ; and that all the wickedness in the world may be accounted for without admitting the doctrine.

With respect to the first, I might satisfy myself with saying, that it belongs to those, who maintain the doctrine, to prove its consistency with the moral perfection of God. But I have no wish to avail myself of the right, which every one has, who is called upon to prove a negative, of throwing back the burden of proof. It is one of the cases in which the negative is susceptible of satisfactory proof.

When we charge the common doctrine of depravity with being inconsistent with the moral character of God, it is, as taken in connexion with the rest of the system, of which it makes a part. It is the whole system together that we maintain is incapable of being defended in consistency with the moral attributes of the Author of our being. Whatever the nature of man be, it is such, as he received at the band of his Maker. Whatever tendency and proneness to evil there may be in him, as he is born into the world, it is no greater than his Maker gave him. We assert then that no guilt, no fault can be attributed to him by his Maker for such proneness. If God be a just being, he cannot be displeased with him for being what he made him. If he be a good being, he cannot punish him for it. To subject him to penal evils for a propensity to sin, born with him in consequence of his descent from a sinful ancestor, is not the less cruel and unjust for his being voluntary in following that propensity, unless he had also the natural or communicated power to resist it. If he have that power, then he becomes guilty and deserving of punish



ment, so soon as in the indulgence of the propensity he actually becomes a sinner, but no sooner. Till then, even on the supposition above, no guilt is ncurred. The propensity itself is no sin and implies no guilt. And afterward the justice of his subjection to penal evils depends on his power of being and acting otherwise than he does. Had he no power to be, to feel, and to act otherwise than he does, he could not be guilty and deserving of punishment for continuing in his present state. But according to the scheme, which assumes to be that of Orthodoxy, those who are the subjects of this innate moral depravity, inclination to evil, and wholly wrong state of the moral affections and actions," (p. 31) are utterly incapable of doing any thing toward producing in themselves a moral change, or which shall be a reason with God for granting to them that grace, which is necessary to their regenera tion and sanctification. It is only the irresistible influence of the spirit of God, which can renew and change their nature. Now we assert, that until this grace has been imparted and resisted, there can be no blame-worthiness. Beings so situated may be the objects of pity to the Author of their being, and his pity may be manifested in bringing suffering upon them in the way of discipline, for the purpose of promoting their renovation, and bringing them to a state of holiness: but it cannot be inflicted by a just being as punishment. Now, if I rightly understand the scheme of Calvinism, divine punishments are not, according to that scheme, disciplínary, but vindictive. God punishes his offending creatures, not to reform them, but to vindicate his authority. The sufferings of the wicked have no tendency to reform, but rather to harden and confirm them in their opposition to God and their duty.

Now however consistent with justice may be the infliction of vindictive punishment, where it is in the power of the subject of it to be different from what he is, and to act otherwise than he does; it is contended that it cannot be so, where the guilt to be punished is inbred, a part of man's original nature, such as he came from the Creator's hands; where, in fact, the sinner is as his Maker sent him into the world, not as he has made himself by his own act, by the abuse, or neglect, or perversion of his power, and his faculties and affections.

That the doctrine is not contained in the scriptures I have endeavoured to show, by showing the insufficiency of the several texts from the Old and New Testament, on which Dr. Woods relies for its support; and that they admit of a satisfactory interpretation, which gives no countenance to it. I know very well, that these are not the only texts which are supposed to relate to the subject; but I do not know that any others are thought to have more weight, or to present greater difficulties. I have limited myself to these, solely from a wish not to exteud the discussion beyond what was rendered necessary, by the course pursued by Dr. Woods; and presuming that the texts, which he has selected, were those on which he would place his chief reliance.

When the extent and prevalence of wickedness in the world are urged as indicating an original inherent corruption, and we are called upon to account for it in a satisfactory manner, without admitting the orthodox doctrine of depravity; I shall think it sufficient to refer you to the account which I have given of our moral constitution, and the state of trial in which we are placed. Being, by the whole of our nature and condition, equally capable of virtue and of vice, of a right and of a wrong course; it is no more difficult to account for the actual existence of the highest, than of the lowest degree of either. But I have also another consideration to suggest. It will not, I suppose, be pretended, that our first parents were, previous their fall, subjects of the same moral depravity, which is attributed to their descendants. It will be admitted that they were created innocent and pure, "in the image of God in righteousness and holiness;" yet they became sinners. Now it belongs to him, who urges the wickedness of mankind as a proof of innate original depravity, to account for the sin of our first parents, who are admitted to have been created, not only in a state of innocence, but of positive holiness.

I have one only remark more, which I wish to make in conclusion upon this subject. The doctrine, which I have been considering in this letter, Dr. Woods styles, (p. 31) his humbling conclusion." In this he intimates, what is often more distinctly expressed by orthodox writers, that the doctrine is of a more humbling nature, more expressive


« PrécédentContinuer »