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their doctrines, Prof. Fisher remarks in the appendix to his History of the Church in Yale College : “ The election of Dr. Dwight to the Presidency of Yale College, marked the triumph in New England of the Edwardean theology. According to Dr. Hopkins, there were, in 1756, 'not more than four or five who espoused the sentiments which have since been called Edwardean or New Divinity; and since, after some improvement was made upon them, Hopkintonian or Hopkinsian sentiments.' (Park's Life of Hopkins, p. 23.) In 1773, they had increased to forty or fifty. In 1777, under date of Nov. 7, we find the following passage in Dr. Stiles' diary : Rev. Mr. Edwards of New Haven, tells me there are three parties in Connecticut all pleased with my election, viz: Arminians, who, he said were a small party; the New Divinity gentlemen, (of whom he said he was called one,) who were larger, he said, but still small, and the main body of the ministers, which, he said, were Calvinistic.' In a letter written in 1796, Hopkins informs us that among the advocates of the New Divinity, were included more than one hundred in the ministry.”
The New Divinity was substantially that which is found in Dwight's System of Theology, and, if I do not mistake, it came to be generally held by the Congregational churches of New England. But something in it created a wide-spread alarm among most excellent men in certain quarters. In 1816, the Synod of Philadelphia published a circular letter, in which they say: "It appears that all the Presbyteries are more than commonly alive to the importance of contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, and of resisting the introduction of Arian, Socinian, Arminian, and Hopkinsian heresies, which are some of the means by which the enemy of souls would, if possible, deceive the very elect.” In the same letter they say: May the time never come in which our Ecclesiastical Courts shall determine that Hopkinsianism and the doctrines of our confession of faith are the same thing."
What was this dangerous Hopkinsianism? Who were the men that were spreading it to the destruction of souls? Hopkins had passed away years before. Emmons was still living, past the age of threescore and ten. True, he denied the doctrine of Imputation, and held that men became sinners by sinning; but was Emmons, on the whole, a perverter, or a promoter of gospel truth? Dr. Samuel Spring was living, also past seventy, but did he preach dangerous doctrine ? Dr. Woods, of Andover, was a Hopkinsian ; was it important to warn the churches against him, or the doctrines which he taught? The letter from which I have quoted seems calculated to bring suspicion upon New England ministers generally. Would such a result have served the interests of Christ's kingdom ?
Intelligent men, equally devoted to the service of Christ and solicitous for the salvation of souls, entirely agreed in the essential doctrines of the gospel, and alike earnest to “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints," will and must differ about many speculative points pertaining to the doctrines which they hold. Some of these points may be of exceeding importance, for all truth is precious. Let them discuss these subjects as earnestly as they please, and each contend for his own views, but let them be equally careful of the reputation of each other as brethren beloved, and ministers of the Lord Jesus.
I should apply the same remarks to the more recent controversy between the Old and New School theologians. I am unable to understand why the so-called speculations of the New Haven divines were not in the same spirit and of the same general character with those of Edwards, and Hopkins, and Emmons; and with equal sincerity, no doubt, did their opponents contend that errors were involved that were dangerous to the souls of men.
But the awakening and educating effect of these discussions was powerful. Some of us can remember with what intense interest every sermon was listened to; with what animation the points of it were discussed in the Bible-class, in religious meetings, in the social circle, and in the family. The Bible was studied as though life and death depended on ascertaining precisely what it teaches. Men, women, and children were engaged in the earnest study of the profoundest mysteries of revelation and of the human mind.
But are not these speculative errors really dangerous, foreshadowing a lapse into rank heresy? Did not Unitarianism begin in this way? All error is to be avoided. But good men, lovers of God, and of evangelical doctrine, should stand together in charity and confidence, assured that the speculations of such men can never lead far from essential truth, but will rather discover truth and expose error, and that the errors they hold will, with the men themselves, vanish away.
Unitarianism in Eastern Massachusetts, if I rightly understand it, had its origin, not in this way, but in a feeling of opposition to the revival. This was intensified by the extravagancies, the self-righteous and denunciatory spirit and misguided zeal of some of the promoters of the work, and developed at length into a settled hatred of revival measures and revival preaching. The ministers and churches in Boston and vicinity, favorably situated for frequent intercourse, encouraged in each other a distaste for those doctrines most commonly presented with a view to the conversion of sinners. They did not oppose these doctrines in preaching or discussion, but passed them over in silence, except in the way of sneering allusion. From facility of intercourse with England, they were strengthened in their views from that quarter. And thus Unitarianism became established in sentiment before its friends were ready to avow it.
Some men there were, like Dr. Channing, whose pure spiritual lives were a beautiful illustration of the spirit of the gospel. But the tendency of the system was the other way.
The same causes existed in Connecticut, but Calvinistic doctrines were more deeply rooted in the minds of the people. As the people were more scattered, the opposition was less concentrated. And those who, had they lived in Boston, might have become Unitarians, more easily in Connecticut became connected with other denominations. The attempt in Connecticut to restrain the New Light preachers and their measures by legislation, had been less potent to suppress the spiritual life and energy of the churches, than the refined ridicule and contempt employed in Massachusetts.
The Consociation of the churches, under the Saybrook Platform, which was a compromise between the Presbyterian and Congregational elements, may be thought by some to have preserved our churches from lapsing into error. Byt this, in my view, is a mistake, except perhaps in a few cases. The power of Consociation in Eastern Massachusetts, would have been used in support of Unitarianism.*
The safeguard of our churches against a departure from the faith is not to be found in a common creed, as a standard, nor in a strong government with authority over the churches, but in a faithful ministry, and the spirit of Christ in the hearts of the members.
The assaults of infidelity upon the Bible, have entirely changed ground within a few years. But the friends of revealed truth have no occasion for alarm from the results of scientific investigation. For beyond all question, the more fully we come to understand God's " book of nature," and his " book of grace,” the more clearly we shall see that they are in perfect accord.
After the long season of spiritual declension, there commenced, near the close of the last century, a series of revivals that turned the tide of infidelity and wickedness, and saved the churches from utter desolation. A few of the churches had been refreshed about 1784; a larger number, about 1797. But in 1799 occurred that remarkable awakening which spread over a considerable part of New England, and into other portions of the country. Christians were quickened, and thousands of the careless awakened and gathered into the churches. Such instructions were given that most of the evils connected with the revival sixty years previous were avoided. The religious aspect of Yale College was entirely changed. Under the preaching of President Dwight, the infidel philosophy had ceased to be the boast of the students. “Not long before the revival of 1802,” according to Dr. Baird, “there were only four members of the church among the undergraduates.” In the course of that revival, as stated by the late Dr. Porter of Farmington, “of two hundred and thirty in college about one-third were hopefully converted." Since that time a large proportion of the students have been professors of religion.
* The council of the consociation would be likely to represent the views of the constituent churches ; and so long as these, or a majority of them, were sound in the faith, the power of consociation might be used to exclude heretical pastors,—but when the churches themselves have lapsed, it would be exercised in furtherance of their own errors.
These precious seasons of refreshing have been of frequent occurrence to the present time, and have been a principal source of increase in strength and numbers to the churches.
Respecting the best methods of promoting revivals, there have been differences of opinion. The preaching of certain doctrines have been wonderfully blessed to this end ;—is this sure always to produce the same results? Protracted meetings have been attended with special manifestations of the Holy Spirit's presence and power ;-will they always prove equally effective? There was considerable discussion respecting “New Measures," in the days of Nettleton and Finney. Both of those men were messengers of salvation to multitudes of souls; but will the coming of such men, or the adoption of their measures, in all circumstances, be productive of a work of grace? Evangelists have often been employed with the happiest results. But a sad day will it be for the churches, when they come to rely so far on any special agencies from without, as to have little faith in what they themselves can accomplish, by the blessing of God, under the guidance of watchful and earnest pastors. Yet they need not be confined to old methods that have ceased to be effective. The servants of Christ have the same liberty as the children of this world, in view of all the circumstances, and in the light of experience, wisely to adapt their methods to the work to be accomplished
Within the last fifty or seventy-five years, there has been a noticeable change in the general type of religious experience, especially in the exercises attending conversion. Formerly awakened sinners had a deeper sense of the wickedness of their own hearts, and were filled with distress at the