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As a strong corroboration, that a literal cons struction of Scripture, with respect to what we are to believe and practise, is all that is necessary to salvation, it is credibly asserted, that the very learned Bishop Butler (author of the Analogy*) declared, a little while prior to his decease, that though so large a portion of his time had been de- : voted to a critical examination of the Scriptures, he entirely grounded his hopes of salvation on those plain texts of Scripture which were intelligible to men of the meanest capacities. I hope, however, not to be so misunderstood, as to be supposed to discourage a careful and elaborate study of the Scriptures in general, and of the ten first chapters of Genesis, the Prophecies, Epistles, and many other parts, in particular; for without such study, and a competent knowledge of the manners, local customs, and idolatries of the eastern nations, they cannot be understood. I only mean to confine the observation to the great danger there is, and always will be, in the finite and imperfect intellect of man presuming to entertain any other ideas respecting the attributes and decrees of God, or of his past, present, and future dealings with mankind, or any other ideas which respect our
* Respecting this most excellent book, I heard the late Bishop of Salisbury (Dr. Douglas) declare, that he was present when Mr. Hume affirmed it as his opinion, that its contents could not be confuted by either Deist or Atheist.
faith and practice, than those which appeal in a plain unforced manner to the common sense of the human species, whether learned or unlearned; for, as Lord Bacon observes,“ men fall, when 6 they pretend to unravel the secrets of God “ merely by the force of their own finite under“ standing, by the waxen wings of the senses.”
If any Calvinist imagines, from what I have written respecting the doctrines of Calvin, that I am or have been actuated by a spirit of animosity or uncharitableness, he is extremely mistaken. I admire Calvin as a man of genius, as a classical writer, and, above all, for the noble and resolute opposition he made against the tyranny and errors of the Church of Rome, as much as he can do: his writings, and especially his numerous letters to Melancthon, Farrel, and others, are in the highest degree elegant and interesting. His Preface to his Christian Institution, addressed to Francis the First, in favour of the principles and conduct of the first Reformers, has always obtained the admiration of men of taste and erudition: and, as far as I am any judge, his Preface, “ Montrant " comment Christ est la fin de la Loi," prefixed by him to the Bible, printed at Geneva in French in the year 1693, is as fine a composition, though of a different kind, as the one before mentioned ; likewise the greatest part of his Christian Institu'tion is very excellent; and nothing can more prove
its being so than the morality and piety which evidently distinguish those of his followers, who reject his doctrines of election and predestination", (as I believe by far the greatest part of them do): but every thing was against Calvin at the time he . flourished. Wollaston, in his Religion of Nature delineated, observes, “ that truth is the offspring “ of silence, of unbroken meditations, and of “ thoughts often revised and corrected.” The turbulence of the times when Calvin lived admitted not of this silence, leisure, or composure; neither were the Scriptures by any means so well understood as they are at present; they had for ages been secluded from the perusal of men by the Roman Pontiffs, and the secession from that power by the Reformation was much too recent, to have allowed of a general and critical perusal of them. Since Calvin's time the Scriptures have been carefully examined, with every advantage that could be derived from a state of leisure and peace, by men possessed of as much learning, piety, and zeal, and more humility, and a less saturnine temper, than Calvin : their plain, literal, unsophisti
: * This sanctity of character among the Calvinists I had an opportunity of witnessing when in Germany: and though I was never in Scotland, Mr. Pennant, in his Tour through it, speaks of the body of the Scotch clergy as men of the correctest characters, and who, in general, possess great learning and piety; and which indeed is evident from their writings. I have heard the same character of them from other persons.
cated, and therefore genuine meaning, has been restored; and that mystical interpretation, with respect to election and predestination, so erroneously adopted between two and three hundred years ago, has been justly exploded by most or all men of erudition, though unhappily retained by the lower order of Calvinists. At the period of the Reformation, the minds of all men on the continent, both in politics and religion, were in a raging fever: the Pope was in the most violent agitation, from the increasing progress of the Re
ormation : Charles the Fifth and Francis the First were contending not only in general for dominion, but particularly who should be King of the Romans; and as it suited their secular purposes, they alternately threatened and favoured the German Princes, the Pope, and the Reformers: the Calvinists and Lutherans opposed each other, as both these did the Pope; and in this theological ferment, the opinions of Melancthon and Arminius, the only two men whose minds seem to have been actuated with true charity, and the unpersecuting spirit of the Gospel, were not heard or attended to. At the Synod of Dort, the English Doctors opposed the doctrine of unconditional decrees : and though the Calvinists, by the favour of secular power, triumphed at this famous Synod, Mosheim remarks, that immediately after it the doc. trine of absolute decrees lost ground from day to
day; and that from the period of the assembling of this celebrated Synod to the present time, the Arminians have had the pleasure of seeing the decisions and doctrines of the Synod of Dort, relative to the points in debate between them and the Calvinists, treated with something more than mere indifference; beheld by some with aversion, and by others with contempt. He further adds what. is still more - remarkable, and therefore ought not to be passed over in silence, “ We see the city of “ Geneva, which was the parent, the nurse, and “ the guardian of the doctrine of absolute predes“ tination and particular grace, not only put on “ sentiments of charity, forbearance, and esteem “ for the Arminians, but become itself so far Ar“ minian, as to deserve a place among the Churches " of that communion.” Thus it would be doing great injustice to many Calvinists of learning, piety, and virtue, to imagine, because they adopt Calvin's creed in most points, that they do so universally; especially with respect to his doctrine of absolute decrees. In reality, the difficulties which attend this doctrine are entirely insuperable; they so offend reason, common sense, and Scripture, so evidently call in question that wisdom, justice, and goodness of God, that equity and loving-kindness towards the human race, which, in his holy word, God declares he delights in exercising towards it, that no man of