« PoprzedniaDalej »
NO. IX.-MARCH, 1836.
ART. I. An ENQUIRY RESPECTING THE THEOLOGICAL ORIGIN
OF PERFECTIONISM, AND ITS CORRELATIVE BRANCHES OF
By Joseph I. Foot, Cortland, N. Y.
It is but a short time since it was regarded as impious to say, that there were principles, in operation which threatened extensive injury to the American churches. Whoever, in the integrity of his heart, dared to give the alarm, was immediately admonished to take heed, lest he be found fighting against God. But it seems now to be conceded, by nearly all intelligent Christians, that there exists, in many churches, a most mischievous fanaticism. To give the statistics of its extent would require a tedious, and probably an offensive minuteness. The delusion of those infatuated individuals in the city of New York, which prepared them to receive one of the worst of men as the “Spirit of Truth," and as “God the Father,” is far from being a solitary instance of the evil. Even with our limited knowledge, we think we could mention more than fifty places, in which that impostor might have found as many individuals, equally prepared to admit his claim to divinity, and to yield to him the correspondent worship. Precisely the same pretensions to divine attributes, the same disregard to the marriage covenant, and the same claim to the property of others, have existed, wherever the principles of Perfectionism have grown into maturity. Nor has the evil been, in all respects, limited to the places in which this heresy has decidedly manifested itself. The public mind has, by some process, become widely prepared, either for the spontaneous production, or the ready recepVol. III.
tion, of such delusions. The antecedents of this evil have appeared extensively in the churches : and had it not been for an early and thorough exposure of the irreligion and immorality which follow them, there is reason to believe that they would have been productive of far greater injury.
It is not our present design to declare the nature of this delusion. This is already so thoroughly understood, that no intelligent mind can easily mistake it. Our present intention is, to trace it to its legitimate parentage, in a CORRUPT THEOLOGY. It is now generally known, that an individual, upon fully receiving the “ New Dispensation," rejects the principle which he once held respecting “ perfect ability, independently of grace, to keep all the commands of God.” He also discards the idea, that all sin lies in the volitions, or imperative acts of the will ; and that, by “ a fixedness of purpose,
he can overcome the world, and perform his whole duty." He professes to have entered into the rest which remaineth for the people of God, and no longer to have any use for his body, his understanding, or his will : these are, in his view, so identified with the Deity, as to be moved by him alone. Antecedently to adopting this opinion of a personal union with God, he professes to be guided by divine impulses, or immediate revelations. Here it is assumed, by the subjects of the delusion, that their internal man" is ready to obey, and does immediately obey, whatever is thus revealed to their minds, or impressed on their consciences.
It may perhaps be proper, in this place, to enquire, in what particulars this assumption fails of being a tolerably correct translation, from the original tongue, of the Arminian doctrines of " free grace and freedom of the will ?"* Without waiting, however, for an answer, we proceed to say, that the principal antecedent of this, and its kindred species of fanaticism, is found in the idea of an unusual intercourse with the Almighty. The individuals who are infected with it affirm, at first, that they are sometimes led by the Spirit. Soon they declare themselves to be continually under His guidance, and free from the possibility of mistake. All the operations of their understandings, or the dictates of their passions, are believed to be the voice of the Spirit speaking within them and declaring their duty. This
See Six Discourses by Daniel Whitby, D. D. particularly Disc. ii. & iv.
is a uniform trait in those who adopt Perfectionism ; nor can it easily fail to exist in every other species of Antinomianism.* If the moral law be rejected as a rule of life, some other guide must be adopted. This, with all who believe in any thing above rationalism, will be impulses, or immediate revelations.
Pelagians, or Arminians, have generally professed to find the origin of this reliance on impulses, and its consequent Antinomianism, in the Calvinistic views of the operations of the Holy Spirit. Because Calvinists believe man, by nature, to be so depraved, as not to repent and believe, except by an operation of the Holy Spirit, in turning the attention to the written word of God, quickening the conscience, exciting the feelings, and renewing the heart. Because they believe regeneration and salvation to be dependent on efficacious grace, they have uniformly been charged, by divines of the Arminian school, with all the excesses and fanaticism which have any relation to the doctrine of divine influence. The Antinomianism of John Agricola is often said to have had its origin in the doctrines of Martin Luther. The Rev. John Wesley, confessedly an Arminian, published, in 1759, his Thoughts on Christian Perfection.” In these he taught, that“ perfection is consistent with infirmities,” “ignorance and mistakes,"—with “ thinking wrong” and “ doing wrong!”+ He also taught certain things respecting the Spirit's helping men to distinguish the temptations of Satan from their own depravity, and testifying to the reality of their regeneration. These doctrines, though never designed to produce such an effect, and though as carefully guarded as possible against it, were speedily followed by a burst of fanatical Antinomianism in many of their societies. So extensive in their borders, and so alarming, did this evil become, in a few years, as to be earnestly discussed in the conference; and the question was gravely proposed, “Wherein have we leaned too much to Calvinism ” Thus Calvin, who never tolerated the idea of an abatement in the moral law, was held responsible for the Antinomianism which resulted from the “infirmities," the “ignorance," and the “ mistakes” of the Wesleyan sys
• For the use and meaning of the term Antinomianism, in this article, see vol. i. pp. 561-570 of Lit. and Theol. Review.
* Plain Account of Christian Perfection, by the Rev. John Wesley, N. York, 1824. p. 15.
tem. The same trait has exhibited itself in modern times. Those who are justly chargeable with holding such doctrines respecting the human will, and the operations of the Holy Spirit, as produce this fanaticism, and under whose influence it has grown up to its present extent, were at first disposed to maintain, that some bird of the air had imported the seeds of the delusion from the garden of Edward Irving. But finding that this theory could not obtain credence, they changed their ground, and attributed its existence to the prevalence of the received doctrine respecting the operations of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. As the notion of being led by the Spirit seems to lie near the foundation of the evil; and as on this foundation the doctrine of impulses and immediate revelation seems to be built, they appear to have drawn the conclusion, that the whole mischief is referable to the doctrine, which maintains the necessity of a renovation of the heart, not by “the will of the flesh,” nor“ by the will of man,” but “ of God." Those who unwaveringly hold this truth, are regarded as believing in a higher degree and a greater amount of divine influence, in regeneration, than others suppose to be requisite; and hence the latter have always been ready to impute to the former all the excesses and fanaticism which have any relation to the Spirit. So uniform has this practice been, for more than a century, amongst the opposers of Calvinism, and so rarely has the charge been repelled, that this species of delusion seems to have acquired the name of Ultra-Calvinism : nor is it uncommon to see, in the writings of those Calvinists, from whose discernment we might expect better things, an implication, and in some instances an admission, that all these evils are remotely attributable to Calvinism.
To show the errour of imputing the fanaticism of these days, to such a source, would require only a specification of the churches in which Perfectionism has spontaneously sprung up, and brought forth its fruits. Exclude those places into which its seed has evidently been carried and sown by the disciples of the “ New Dispensation," or by their publications; and it is believed, that neither this errour, nor its antecedents, have been found in scarcely a congregation which the modern instruction and measures had not previously penetrated. It would be easy to mention several churches in the same place, and equally accessible to errourists, except from the pulpit, in one of which, under “ the focal blaze” of the modern doctrines and measures it sprung up, like tares amongst the wheat; while, in the others, under the received doctrines and wholesome usages of our fathers, no instance of it is known to have existed. Perhaps it would not be just to affirm, that this is universally true; but no one, who is particularly acquainted with the state of the churches in our land, can readily deny its general application, nor doubt but very many of them, in which this species of instruction has been prevalent, contain within themselves materials which can be easily ignited, and made to blaze with the fires of fanaticism.
But while a faithful account of the times, places, and circumstances of its prevalence, would be a triumphant vindication of Calvinism from such an aspersion; it probably will tend more to promote the cause of truth, to ascertain with what system of doctrine the elements of this delusion are combined. Here it is necessary to say, that an extensive mistake exists, respecting the Arminian view of the influences of the Spirit. It seems to have been believed, that the difference between Arminians and the disciples of Augustine, of Luther, of Calvin, and of Edwards, consists chiefly in the different degrees of importance which the theory of each gives to the operations of the Holy Spirit, in regeneration and sanctification. This position, however, cannot be sustained by a comparison of writers in these two schools of
Theology. It will be found, that the disciples of Arminius, as implicitly as those of Augustine and Calvin, believe divine influence to be necessary to the conviction and conversion of men. It is impossible to read any of their principal writers, without being compelled to adopt this conclusion. But, owing to the opinion in many of the present generation, that the dividing line between Calvinism and Arminianism, places the former within the circle of the operations of the Spirit in regeneration, and excludes the latter from it; some have supposed the Arminian doctrine, on this topic, to be, that " light and motives," or "moral suasion," administered by men, is adequate to effect the work of conversion. They have also deemed themselves to be at a sufficient remove from errour, if, rejecting this doctrine, they held, that “ light and motives," or "moral suasion," administered by the Spirit, is sufficient to renovate men, and prepare them