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they “ think themselves entitled to future happiness on their own account, and rest their hopes of heaven on their own goodness.” But is there no alternative between “ relying on the atoning blood of the son of God, as the sole ground of forgiveness," and relying on our own merit, as the sole ground of acceptance ? Unitarians, as far as I know, and as far as I can learn from their writings, are equally distant from each of these extremes. Their dependence is wholly on the mercy of God, for they believe that all men, on account of their actual sin, stand in need of mercy, and are wholly incapable of meriting salvation, and claiming it as a matter of right; that mercy, they believe, is promised to all who repent : yet that the salvation of the best of men is of grace, and not of debt, what they cannot demand as a right, yet may claim on the ground of the divine promise. A promise, too, not in consideration of satisfaction having been made by the vicarious suffering of a substitute, but originating in free sovereign mercy, and contemplating the change of character implied in repentance, as alone a sufficient reason for this exercise of it.
But though Unitarians, in rejecting the orthodox doctrine of atonement, do not maintain the opinion attributed to them of the worth and sufficiency of human merit; yet they will certainly not acquiesce in the opinion, so strongly expressed by the author of the Letters, of the entire worthlessness of all the works of righteousness and good dispositions of men. They think such expressions equally inconsistent with truth,
and of pernicious tendency. For if human virtue be thought of no value, and of no estimation in the sight of God, the motive for its practice is weakened, if not destroyed. We shall feel little interest in seeking high attainments in that, which is of so little consideration, or is so offensive, that it must not be named in the presence of God. But let me ask, where we are to find the inhibition so confidently asserted. Where “has God taught us, (p. 105) that no works of righteousness which we have done, and no accomplishments or dispositions which we possess, must ever be named in his presence ?" I find instances innumerable, in which the reverse of this is expressed in a very clear and unequivocal manner. It is expressed by Paul, when he said, (Rom. ii. 6, 10) “God will render to every man according to his deeds," and has prepared “glory, and honour, and peace, for every man that worketh good.” And as he thus believed that the good deeds of good men were regarded with approbation and complacency by their Maker; so he was certainly not aware that it was either criminal or improper to name them in his presence, when he so exultingly appealed to the course of his past life, and expressed his so strong assurance of the future rewards of virtue; (2 Tim. iv.7) “ I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith ; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.”
Such a thought must have been far from the mind of our Saviour, when he directed his disciples to plead
their good deeds in their supplications to God for his mercy; (Matt. vi. 12) “ Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” with the express assurance, that this plea will not be disregarded, “ for if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Such a thought seems wholly inconsistent with the declaration, " That the son of man will come in the glory of his Father, and will then reward every man according to his works ;” (Matt. xvi. 27) for such a declaration implies, that the works of men are of some account in the mind of Him, who will be their judge, are to be brought into solemn account, and to furnish the grounds of the decisions of the great day.
I would request you also to compare with the assertion under consideration, “ that God has taught us that no works of righteousness which we have done, and no accomplishments or dispositions, which we possess, must ever be named in his presence;" the parable of the talents in the xxv. chap. of Matthew, and the representation of the final judgment in a more direct form, which immediately follows it. To whom and upon what ground, in the former case, was the eulogy pronounced, and the reward assigned ; “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things?” And in the latter, to whom was addressed the welcome, “ Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ?" It was in each case the faithful, the
humane, and the obedient; and in each case it was the good deeds they had done, “the good dispositions they had manifested, the fidelity with which they had used the talents entrusted to them, the kindness with which they had conducted in the relations in which they were placed, that recommended them to the approbation of the judge, and procured for them the rewards he had to distribute. No allusion is made to a "perfect righteousness, which God has provided for them” to supersede their own personal righteousness, or to render it valueless. Indeed nothing can be more clear, than that if it be of no value, of no account, and not to be named in the presence of God, it is not worth our pursuit, and those are the truly wise, who place their whole dependence on the worthiness of Him, who was righteous for them, and trouble not themselves about the attainment of personal righteousness, which being of no account, can be of no use.
I know that this consequence will be rejected with abhorrence by every serious believer in the doctrine ; but I know, too, that it does not follow with the less certainty from it.
The subject to which I would next call your attention is that of divine influence ; the discussion of which occupies the Xth letter of Dr. Woods. Upon this subject we must keep carefully in mind the distinction between the general doctrine, and that which is peculiar to Calvinism. It is with the latter only that we are concerned as a subject of controversy. To the indistinctness and obscurity, which arises from confounding them together, we owe much of the difficulty, in which this subject is usually involved.
As to the general doctrine of divine influence, I observe, there is no controversy. It is implied in the government of providence, in the acknowledgment of dependence on God, and in every prayer. suppose it to be direct and immediate, or only such as reaches us through the instrumentality of those means, by which common effects are usually produced, and thus not distinguishable from the common course of nature. None, I suppose, will deny the possibility of a direct access to the human mind by him, who gave being and all its powers to that mind; and the reality of it will always be a fact, depending like every other fact upon evidence; to be received or rejected, as the evidence is perceived to be satisfactory or not.
It will not, I presume, be pretended, that the direct influence of the spirit of God upon the mind is of such a nature, that men can be conscious of it at the time,