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“ There is too much truth in the remark, that many, professedly orthodox, are unwittingly aiding the cause of Socinianism. The views of atonement, taught in a celebrated theological seminary in New England [Andover, we presume], but not confined to the region or church with which it is associated, are in a very slight degree better than Socinianism, and are unquestionably an advance towards that system. We are not at all surprised that Unitarians should exult in the propagation of such theories, or that it should hail them as pioneers of a still more thorough disclaimer of the distinctive peculiarities of orthodoxy. If the persons referred to, do not speedily resume their armour of proof,' the good old-fashioned doctrine of atonement, they may as well give up the battle. They fight uncertainly, as one that beateth the air; and while they deny Uni. tarianism, it, in turn, smiles on them, as efficient auxiliaries." Just so; Unitarianism is willing to relinquish its name, and whatever else may be deemed peculiar or sectarian in its system, so soon as reasonable and scriptural views of Christianity become generally known and properly valued. When other denominations begin zealously to do our work (and some have already begun) under other names, and perhaps with greater efficiency, our motto will be “forbid them not.” Indeed, from the spirit which breathes from the best orthodox literature of these times, we are beginning to feel that “our occupation,” as advocates of Unitarianism, is almost at an end, and that able and zealous friends, in other churches, are prepared to share the responsibilities and blessings of aiding in the spread of liberty and truth. A writer in the Methodist (American) Quarterly Review, for October, employs great eloquence and learning in proving that the Calvinistic view of the atonement is unscriptural, unphilosophical, and irrational! When we hear it asserted, that Unitarianism is passing away, the statement conveys this gladdening truth, that its peculiar work will soon be accomplished, and its warfare at an end. Its principles will continue to spread and circulate so long as the gospel of Christ endures.
BY M. A. COQUEREL.
SECTION VI.-THE GRACE OF GOD.
( Continued from No. III, Vol. 11. page 90.) Our sixth general principle is thus announced (see I. U. M. vol. I. page 170)—“We believe in the necessity of God's grace to aid our efforts; but we repel every doctrine which, directly or indirectly, either denies, or in any way infringes upon, the moral liberty of man."
This article of our creed embodies two particulars, most closely allied, viz. the action of God's grace upon the heart of man, and the fact that the operation of this grace does not interfere with man's liberty. There is no occasion to dwell long upon the first. No church, with which we are acquainted, denies the necessity of God's grace in the work of conversion and sanctification, a necessity arising from the admitted fact that man is a sinner: it is only when we are required to follow the operations of this grace into the details of ordinary life, or the private recesses of the soul, and to place them in clear opposition to the free agency of man, that a serious diversity of opinion presents itself. If we are required to give a precise and satisfactory definition of grace, and to define its mode of operation upon the heart, we betake ourselves to Holy Scripture, and preserve with it a calm and profound silence. Is there in the word of God any definition of the grace of God? We know not any. The operations of grace are no more explained than the mode of creation. They are everywhere taken for granted as admitted facts. They are everywhere visible in their aids and appliances, in the prayers which they prompt, in the tears which they sanctify, in the triumphs which they secure: they are nowhere visible in outward agency or external control. Grace in the spiritual is like light in the physical world: it fills the same office, and pursues the same path. Without the genial influences of light, there would be neither animal nor vegetable life; all would languish, wither, and die. Without the aids of grace, a like result would follow in the moral world. Man would remain immeasurably distant from the perfection he ought to attain, and the salvation to which he is destined to arrive: he would have “a name to live," while in reality dead; his progress would be continually interrupted, and be no longer in a right way or just direction; humanity, falling back continually upon herself, would find herself without refuge and without succour. Yet, manifest as are its effects, no one has yet succeeded in defining light; even Newton, who decomposed its rays, left its nature unexplained; nor has theology succeeded in explaining grace, although she has also invented prisms and devices through which to regard it. Better, therefore, to rest content with a knowledge of its results in the heart and life of the Christian !
The silence of Holy Scripture upon the nature of grace, though so explicit upon the subject of doctrine, a silence which eludes inquiry and bafiles curiosity, has given occasion to divines to introduce into the discussion of this topic an extra amount of vague and mysterious verbiage. It is quite an ordinary circumstance to meet with weak-minded persons, easily carried away by meaningless fluency or wild speculation, who listen with delighted attention to long sermons, prayers, or conversations, where a torrent of words conceals an absolute poverty of thought; who take for granted that the grace of God is a sort of mysterious emanation from his nature, which the
Christian receives as a ray of light, or breathes as a perfume-50 sudden and vapour-like influence which falls from above, some gush of Heaven's magnetic fluid, which envelops and subdues us in a moment! These absurd and mean conceptions of a subject so holy and sublime, are the offspring of a disordered imagination and not of a healthy faith-abortive efforts of an excited fancy, attempting to depict that which reason and revelation have left undefined. Like the glory which the old masters represent descending from the sky upon the heads of expiring martyrs, such descriptions of grace may be imaginative, but they are not scriptural. For ourselves, if we could overlook the difficulty of giving any idea of grace to those who have not felt it, and forget that those who have felt it have no need of such an explanation, we should say, that the grace of God in the religious world, is like the providence of God in the physical world. We should designate it, the providence of the intellectual and moral worlds, everywhere existing, everywhere operating: a universal agent, converting everything into an instrument of sanctification, and rendering every circumstance of life a means of leading the Christian to holiness and truth. The fall of an apple awoke the slumbering genius of a Newton, and called into being an idea which revealed the law of universal nature. By a means still more minute, may the grace of God operate upon the soul of man, and disclose to it the truths of the eternal world.
The aid of God's grace is never given so as to interfere with, nor to destroy, the free agency of man. Every penitent who cries to Heaven for aid, will find God's promise amply realized, “My grace is sufficient for you;" but that grace will not be a substitute for the efforts nor the responsibility of the Christian.
No subject has been a more fruitful source of debate and controversy, no subject has been more satisfactorily determined, no point has been more completely set at rest by the rules of philosophy, the precepts of morality, and the authority of revelation, than the free agency of man. There remains no possible excuse for the denial of this truth; the jocose incredulity of Bayle, the serious doubts of other writers, are equally misplaced. In fact, we think the best course to pursue is to decline any farther discussion of the matter; and leaving those at liberty to regard themselves as mere machines who wish to do so, we pass to discussions of more interest and utility. We are not afraid that a truth such as the doctrine of man's free agency, which has triumphed in the arena of reason, will fall in the arena of faith. We have no apprehension that, having passed safely through the rocks and shoals of false philosophy, it will be wrecked upon the breakers of Calvinistic grace or predestination! Divines may tell men that they are predestined by an irrevocable decree to an eternity of happiness or misery; they may require them to sign a confession of faith, as the guarantee of salvation, which prescribes the same belief; but, nevertheless, men will not believe either them or the creed: they cannot do so; they cannot believe that the grace of God will constrain, compel, and oblige them against their own will, to repent, to be converted, and to be saved !
They will not believe this, because they feel it is untrue. They feel themselves, alas! but too free to transgress the laws of God; and the conscience of every man who sins, tells him but too distinctly that he has sinned wilfully; and when a duty has been performed, conscience equally assures him that it might have been neglected.
They will not believe this, because free agency is as much God's gift as grace; and the Almighty is not a capricious tyrant who takes away with one hand what he gives with the other. He will not bestow one faculty to neutralise another.
They will not believe it, because, if grace is irresistible, it destroys free agency ; it renders man virtuous in spite of himself (the reader will excuse the contradiction in terms we are thus obliged to employ). It is no longer man who acts, it is God who thinks, and wills, and speaks ; it is God who obeys himself, and in prayer addresses himself! Man becomes a mere passive instrument-a spring which alone acts on the pressure of some external force. But in thus making God the direct agent of every virtuous act, the theologian forgets that he makes him also the direct author of all sin. If God's grace is the source of all virtue, it is no reproach to man that this grace is not everywhere active, a consideration to which we shall subsequently revert.
Finally, they will not believe it, because all the arguments which have so triumphantly established the free agency of man, on moral grounds, are equally conclusive when applied to the question of constraining grace. It matters not whether he be deprived of his free agency, by the loss of reason in the vigour of life, or the approach of second childhood in the imbecility of age, or by the power of an irresistible temptation to sin, or by the constraint of an irresistible impulsion to virtue—the means differ, but the result is the same. All consciousness of God or evil has ceased; the praise of virtue and the reproach of vice have ceased with it. A forced holiness is not holiness: the angels of God themselves are holy, only because God leaves them free to fall. There can be no honour in aspiring to heaven, unless there be some risk of sinking to hell! The grace of God may be an aid, but not a force; the free agency of man is a reality which grace cannot annul.
What a magnificent and touching idea does this representation of God's grace, and man's free agency, give of the providence which rules, and the divine love which blesses mankind. The virtue of man is always aided, his freedom of action always respected ; and we have the guarantee of infinite wisdom, and infinite love, that while our weakness is assisted, our rights are preserved. How consistent are such views with the manifest purposes of the Creator, with the destinies of humanity, with the perfections of God, with the faculties of the soul. Free agency is a counterpoise to grace, as grace is to natural infirmity; and true Christian faith pours an equal light on both, showing how the feebleness of humanity is capable of virtue, and privileged with responsibility.
There remains but one point to which we desire to advert in connexion with this subject; one which may be ranked among the most dangerous illusions of religious pride. From this doctrine of the absolute corruption and incapacity of man for good works, thoughts, or prayers, and that salvation is the work of grace alone, has arisen a notion (which, we must admit, is a fair and logical deduction from such premises), that divine grace operates instantaneously, renews in a moment the whole moral being, and, in the twinkling of an eye, changes the scoffer into a Christian, and the sinner into a saint! This doctrine appears to us as little reconcileable with the faculties of man as the perfections of God; and nothing in the gospels, nor in the history of the primitive church, seems to countenance the belief in such sudden conversions. As to the examples which have been quoted from the evangelists, we contend that, however interpreted, they must be regarded as exceptions, and are pierverted, if employed as the basis of hope to the unawakened and lethargic sinner. But even these examples, we believe, are not rightly interpreted, and, did time permit, we could prove our assertion. The gospel history everywhere nar. rates the slow and progressive advance of humanity towards truth and holiness; it speaks of men gradually becoming conscious of the importance of the truths proclaimed by Christ; of hearts slowly awakening to prayer, and becoming, by degrees, familiar with enlarged and charitable views; of “the smoking flax being fanned into a flame,” and “the bruised reed” in time recovering its elasticity, of the grain of mustard seed growing into a mighty tree, and the believer as “not having already attained” perfection, but “ rendering faith to the things that are before.” This regular progression towards truth and holiness, is especially noticeable in the lives of the apostles. For three years they were intimate with the Saviour, yet no sudden illumination nor conversion is narrated of them. Even after their Lord's resurrection from the grave, they still expect his reappearance