Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

David Jennings replied to the Norwich divine, and Mr. John Wesley also in one of the best and most laboured of his controversial performances; but President Edwards, in 1758, completely demolished his theories in his posthumous work, “ The great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin defended.”

It was the intention of Dr. Watts in his work, not so much to establish the inherent depravation of our nature to be a truth of scripture, as to grapple with its difficulties; to consider the awful questions which connect themselves with the introduction of moral evil, its permission under a benevolentand holy administration, and its transmission to all the descendants of the primal pair. Upon these topics much important matter is collected, and many apparent contrarieties are reconciled, though the judgments of God must remain unsearchable to human litileness and infirmity. In defining the moral state consequent upon the fall, he cautiously avoids the injudicious language of some divines, who have employed terms which the advocates of original innocence have seized upon, to found a charge of making God the author of sin. It is more consonant with the scripture statements, to represent the depravity of man as a positive evil, resulting from his privation of holy principles—"a depravation,” as it has been expressed, “arising from a deprivation"—rather than an effect proceeding from any direct infusion of corrupt dispositions.* In considering the transmission of an evil nature from parents to children, he supposes the soul to be of immediate creation, and not ex traduce; and enters into an elaborate inquiry, how, formed as it must be innocent because formed by God, it becomes corrupt. There is less difficulty connected with the theory of traduction, though many have been scared from adopting it by the frightful cry of materialism. But such a consequence cannot fairly be deduced from it; for the notion of the generation of the soul,

* Qaest. iii.

does not imply its production out of nothing, but simply, as in the case of the body, a disposal of its substance.* The extent of the Adamic curse is discussed at length, a subject about which theologians have widely differed. Pelagius who has been followed by the modern Socinians, held that Adam was created mortal, and that the only penalty inflicted upon him, was his banishment from the garden of terrestrial delight. The opinion of such Arminians as Whitby is, that man's offence subjected him and his descendants to mortality; and at the same time operated unfavourably upon their moral character, yet not so much so, as to produce a depravation of nature. Most Calvinistic writers agree, that the consequences of the fall include temporal, spiritual, and eternal death; the doctrine of the Augsburg confession, and of most of the reformed churches. Bishop Law maintains, that the curse meant an entire destruction, rather than a perpetual punishment; an annibilation of the soul, and a resolution of the body into its original dust; an opinion which Bishop Bull and Mr. Hallet seem also to have entertained. Dr. Watts proposes his sentiments hypothetically, but appears to favoar the idea, that the death threatened extended to the utter extinction of being, and was arrested in consequence of the covenant of mercy that was graciously proposed. But the use of the word “death" in scripture is against this hypothesis ; for the passages where it occurs, referring to the soul, plainly imply a state of conscious punitive infliction.f — The case of those who die in infancy is the subject of a long dissertation, which will be regarded as the most defective part of Dr. Watts's volume. He argues, that the divine conduct, with reference to children, in the instances of it upon record, seems to identify them with their parents : thus the family shares in the curse or blessing pronounced upon its head - the children of Adam are doomed to natural death along with him — the

[blocks in formation]

seed of Abraham participate in the patriarch's blessing - the young buds suffer excision from the “good olive tree" with the larger branches : hence, he concludes, that those dying in infancy are not exempt from the original curse, the provision from which the parents do not accept. But he interprets this curse as signifying a deprivation of all existence, to save himself from a harsh conclusion; and thus supposes, that whilst the infants of believers who die are saved by virtue of the covenant of grace, those of the wicked fall into a state of annihilation. A similar but hardly so intelligible a notion is advanced in the scheme of Dr. Ridgley, who supposes the infants of unbelievers to sink into a state of stupor, and to exist in everlasting insensibility. Both these eminent men have remained almost singular in their opinions, at variance as they are with the sensibilities of our nature, and resulting from very imperfect and mistaken views of what are commonly called the doctrines of Calvinism. It is far more consonant with the statements of the New Testament, the conduct of our Lord, who took little children in his arms and blessed them,” and the infinite value of the atonement, to suppose that they all “enter into life" through “Him that died.” The declaration, that “of such is the kingdom of heaven,"opens by implication this encouraging view; words which were spoken respecting those who evidently belonged to strangers to Christ and his disciples; and which, whether interpreted of the kingdom of grace or glory, intimate that the “free gift” is bestowed upon them “ to justification of life.” There may be, as some imagine, a difficulty in placing all infants who die upon the same level, in admitting no distinction in favour of the “seed of the righteous,” to whom such extensive promises are made; but even the supposition, that some distinction will be made, or that the offspring of unbelievers enter upon a new state of trial, is more congruous with our notions of the divine wisdom and goodness, than the

R r

theory which consigns them to annihilation.* The views of Dr. Watts, as developed in this work, respecting the provision made for human recovery, it may not be uninteresting to notice. He thinks the doctrine of the particular election of persons to eternal life, supported by “plain, and express, and unanswerable texts;” and necessary to vindicate the divine Being from the charge of proposing at such a vast expense a method of salvation, yet leaving it utterly uncertain whether any saving effect in any single instance is to be produced by it. But he does not confine the extent of the atonement within this limit; he departs from the common Calvinistic scheme of his day upon this point, and seems inclined to halt midway under the standard of Baxter. Form the dignity of the person and character of Christ, from the unlimited calls and offers of the gospel, and from considerations relative to the divine equity, he argues strongly, that God is “the Saviour of all men,” though “especially of them that believe" -- that a conditional salvation has been thus provided for all -- that this is offered to them in the gospel and that all legal difficulties have been removed out of the way of their pardon as sinners. “I cannot see,” he remarks, “any reason why the strictest Calvinist should be angry, that the all-sufficient merit of Christ should overflow so far in its influence, as to provide conditional salvation for all mankind, since the elect of God have that certain and absolute sal. vation which they contend for secured to them by the same merit; nor indeed can I conceive why the Remonstrant should be uneasy to have pardon and salvation absolutely provided for the elect, since all the rest of mankind, especially such as hear the gospel, have the same conditional salvation which they contend for sincerely proposed to their acceptance.”+

Few of the works of Dr. Watts had the good fortune to escape animadversion; wedded servilely to no party creed, he seldom wrote without giving offence either to the sceptical * Quest, xvi.

+ Quest. xii.

or the reputed orthodox. He refused, at the instigation of the latter class, to plunge into the depths of the supra-lapsarian scheme, which Dr. Gill was now expounding to delighted multitudes; and they frequently turned their artillery against him, because he would not become more Calvinistic than Calvin. Mr. Brine wrote against him in a pamphlet entitled, “The certain Efficacy of the Death of Christ asserted, in answer to a book entitled “The Ruin and Recovery of Mankind, by Isaac Watts, D.D.'” The author of this critique was a disciple of the high doctrinal school, in early life one of Gill's favourite pupils, and afterwards his intimate friend: in his apprehension, therefore, the divines of Dr. Watts's class were radically unsound; the iraddresses to sinners were so many attempts to break in upon the unity of the divine plan, their dialect was Arminian, their doctrine was rebellion against God's decrees.

The poison of Antinomianism was now spreading in the dissenting congregations; and though the error was chiefly confined to opinion, yet it soon engendered in many instances a fearful laxity of morals. The views which actuated the Presbyterians in going over to Arianism, were too subtle and refined to be embraced or understood by the many; but the Antinomian heresy was a bait exactly suited to the popular appetite, and it was eagerly swallowed by the multitude. In the preface to his second volume of Sermons, as far back as the year 1723, we find Watts admonishing a certain class, who he apprehended would knit their brows, and throw the book aside as a piece of “dull morality;" and he embraced the opportunity of reminding such persons of the intimate connexion which exists between the faith they so loudly magnified, and the works they were apt to despise. During the following twenty years the obnoxious tenet appears to have obtained in several places a firm footing; the peace of the churches was fatally disturbed; and the minister who refused to introduce into his pulpit the cant phraseology of the

« FöregåendeFortsätt »