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is perfectly innocent, he scruples not to appeal to the Gentiles, from whose candour he expected more justice than from their bigotry.
Fix we our eyes also upon the two greatest apostles, encountering each other in the field of controversy. Because St. Peter is to blame, St. Paul "withstands him to the face," with all the boldness that belongs to truth. He does not give him place for a moment, although Peter is his superior in many respects; and he sends to the Churches of Galatia, for their edification, a public account of his elder brother's mistakes. But does Peter resent it? Does he write disrespectfully of his opponent? Does he not, on the contrary, call him his "beloved brother Paul," and make honourable mention of his wisdom?
When I behold these great patterns of Christian moderation and brotherly love, I rejoice to have another opportunity of recommending, to the love and esteem of my readers, the two pious brothers, whom I now encounter, and all those who were more or less concerned in the Circular Letter; in particular, our Christian Deborah, the countess of Huntingdon, and my former opponent, the Rev. Mr. Shirley, who are far less honourable and right honourable by the noble blood that flows in their veins, than by the love of Christ which glows in their hearts, and the zeal for God's glory which burns in their breasts: being persuaded that their hasty step was intended to defend the first Gospel axiom, which, for want of proper attention to every part of the Gospel, they imagined Mr. Wesley had a mind to set aside, when he only wanted to secure the second Gospel axiom.
Once more: I profess also my sincere love and unfeigned respect for all pious Calvinists; protesting, I had a thousand times rather be an inconsistent Antinomian with them, than an inconsistent legalist with many, who hold the truth in practical unrighteousness. I abhor, therefore, the very idea of "dressing them up in devils' clothes, as the Papists did John Huss; and burning them for heretics in the flames of hell." (Review, p. 92.) If I have represented an Antinomian.in practice, as standing on the left hand with wicked Arminians; it was not to condemn the mistaken persons who lead truly Christian lives, though their heads are full of Antinomian opinions; but to convince my readers that it is much better to be really a sheep, than to have barely a sheep's clothing; and that our Lord will not be deceived, either by a goat, who imputes to himself the clothing of a sheep, or by a wolf, who tries to make his escape, by insolently wrapping himself up in the shepherd's garment.
Should it be objected, that, after all the severe things which I have said against the sentiments of the Calvinists, my professions of love and respect for them cannot possibly be sincere: I answer, That although we cannot in conscience make a difference between a man and his actions, candour and brotherly kindness allow and command us to make a difference between a man and his opinions, especially when his exemplary conduct is a full refutation of his erroneous sentiments.
This, I apprehend, is the case with all pious Calvinists. They talk much, I grant, about finished salvation; but consider them with attention, and you will find a happy inconsistency between their words and their actions; for they still "work out their own salvation with fear
and trembling." Again: they make much ado about a robe of imputed righteousness: but still they go on "washing their own robes, and making them white in the blood of the Lamb." Therefore, their errors, which they practically renounce, do not endanger their salvation : and it would be the highest degree of injustice to confound them with abandoned Nicolaitans.
Fantasticus tells you he is possessed of an immense estate in the territories of Geneva; where, by the by, he has not an inch of ground. But though he talks much about his fine estate abroad, he wisely considers that he stands in need of food and raiment; that he cannot live upon a chimera: and that he must work or starve at home. To work therefore he goes, though much against his will. In a little time, by the Divine blessing upon his labour and industry, he gets a good estate, and lives comfortably upon it. And though he frequently entertains you with descriptions of the rich robes which he has at Geneva, he takes care to have always good, decent coat upon his back. Now, is it not plain, that though Fantasticus would be a mere beggar, for all his great estate near Geneva; yet, as matters are at present, you cannot justly consider him as burthensome to his parish, unless you can make it appear, that his trusting to his imaginary property abroad has lately made him squander away his goods personal, and real estate, in England.
This simile needs very little explanation. A pious Calvinist does not so dream about his imaginary imputation of Christ's personal obedience and good works, as to forget that he must personally believe, or be damned; yea, and "believe too with the heart unto personal righteousness," and good works. Therefore, he cries to God for the living "faith which works by love." He receives it; "Christ dwells in his heart by faith," and "this faith is imputed to him for righteousness," because it really makes him righteous. Thus, while he talks about the false imputation of righteousness, he really enjoys the true : he has inherent righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. When he speaks against good works, he is so happily inconsistent as to do them. If he ignorantly builds up the Antinomian Babel with one hand, he sincerely tries to pull it down with the other and while he decries the perfection of holiness, he goes on "perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Thus his doctrinal mistakes are happily refuted by his godly conversation.
Hence it is, that, although we severely expose the mistakes of godly Calvinists, we sincerely love their persons, truly reverence their piety, and cordially rejoice in the success which attends their evangelical labours. And although we cannot admit their logic, while they defend a bad cause with bad arguments; we should do them great injustice, if we did not acknowledge that there have been, and still are among them, men eminent for good sense and good learning;-men as remarkable for their skill in the art of logic as for their deep acquaintance with the oracles of God. How they came to embrace doctrines, which appear to us so unscriptural and irrational, will be the subject of a peculiar dissertation.
In the meantime, I observe, again, that as many, who have right opinions concerning faith, holiness, and good works, go great lengths
in practical Antinomianism; so many Antinomians in principle distinguish themselves by the peculiar strictness and happy legality of their conduct. Both are to be wondered at: the one for doing "the works of darkness," in the clearest light; and the other for " walking as children of light," under the darkest cloud. The former we may compare to green wood, that is always upon the altar, and never takes the hallowed fire. The latter to the bush which Moses saw in the wilderness. The flames of Antinomianism surround them and ascend from them; and yet they are not consumed! Would to God I could say they are not singed!
Nay, what is a greater miracle still, the love of Christ burns in their breasts, and shines in their lives. They preach him, and they do it with success. "Some, indeed, preach him of envy and contention, and some of love and good will. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and we therein do rejoice; yea, and will rejoice." Add to this that some are prudent enough to keep their opinions to themselves. You may hear them preach most excellent sermons, without one word about their peculiarities; or, if they touch upon them, it is in so slight a manner as not to endanger either the foundation or superstructure of undefiled religion. Nay, what is a greater blessing still, sometimes their hearts are so enlarged, and their views of the Gospel so brightened, that they preach free grace as well as we: and in the name of God seriously "command ALL [men] EVERY WHERE to repent."
Far be it from us, therefore, to "cut off all intercourse and friendship" with such favoured servants of the Lord. On the contrary, we thank them for their pious labours; we ask the continuance or the renewal of their valuable love. Whereinsoever we have given them any just cause of offence, we entreat them to forgive us. Upon the reasonable terms of mutual forbearance, "we offer them the right hand of fellowship," together with our brotherly assistance. We invite them to our pulpits, and assure them, that if they admit us into theirs, we shall do by them as we would be done by; avoiding to touch there, or among their own people occasionally committed to our charge, upon the points of doctrine debated between us; and reserving to ourselves the liberty of bearing our full testimony, in our own pulpits, and from the press, against Antinomianism and Pharisaism in all their shapes.
With these pacific sentiments toward all pious Calvinists, and in particular toward your brother and yourself; and with my best thanks for the condescending manner in which you have closed your Remarks upon the Third Check, I conclude this, assuring you, that, (notwithstanding the repeated proofs, which I find in your Review, of your oncommon prejudice against the second Gospel axiom, and against Mr. Wesley, who is set for the defence of it,) I remain, with all my former love, and a considerable degree of my former esteem, honoured and dear sir, your affectionate companion in tribulation, and obedient servant in Christ, J. FLETCHER.
MADELEY, Nov. 15, 1772..
SOME persons think our controversy will offend the world; and, indeed, we were once afraid of it ourselves. Of this ill-judged fear, and of the voluntary humility which made us reverence the very errors of the good men from whom we dissent, the crafty, diligent tempter has so availed himself as to sow his Antinomian tares with the greatest success. Messrs. John and Charles Wesley, and Mr. Sellon have, indeed, made a noble stand against him: but an impetuous torrent of triumphant opposition still rolls and foams through the kingdom, bent upon drowning their works and reputation in floods of contempt and reproach. And some good, mistaken men, warmly carry on still the rash design of publicly turning the second Gospel axiom out of our Bibles, and out of the Church of England, under the frightful names of "Arminianism and Popery." The question with us, then, is not so much whether Mr. Wesley shall be ranked with heretics, as whether the undefiled religion, particularly described in the Epistle of St. James, and in our Lord's sermon on the mount, shall pass for a dreadful heresy, while barefaced Antinomianism passes for pure Gospel.
Now, we apprehend, that, to debate such a question in a fair and friendly manner, will rather edify than offend either the religious or the moral world. Fair arguments, plain scriptures, honest appeals to conscience, and a close pursuit of ridiculous error, hunted down to its last recesses, will never displease inquirers after truth and among the bystanders, few, beside these, will trouble themselves with our publications. If we offend our readers, it is only when we take our leave of Scripture and argument, to cry out, without rhyme and reason, "Disingenuity! Slander! Falsehood! Calumny! Forgery! Heresy! Popery!"
Bad as we are, the moral world regards yet a good argument, and the religious world still shows some respect for Scripture quoted consistently with the context. Fight we then lovingly with such weapons, for what we esteem to be the truth; and be the edge of our controversial swords ever so keen, we shall be sure to wound nobody but the bigots of the opposite party, and such as are so great a disgrace to Christianity, that we shall do the cause of religion service by stumbling them out of their profession of it, if they are above learning the lessons of moderation.
Undoubtedly we are severely condemned by some good people who forget that Moses was once obliged to oppose not only Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who styled themselves the Lord's people, but his own dear elect brother Aaron himself: and that St. Paul was forced by peculiar circumstances, at all hazards, to withstand St. Peter himself. Well-meaning Elis also, who do not consider consequences, and love to enjoy their own ease rather than to make a vigorous resistance against error and sin, will be very apt to conclude that our opposition
springs from mere obstinacy and party spirit. But should such hasty judges read attentively the Epistle of St. Jude, that of St. James, the first of St. John, and the second of St. Peter, which are all levelled at Antinomianism, they will think more favourably of the stand we make against our pious brethren who inadvertently countenance the Antinomian delusion.
However, it is objected, "This controversy will hurt the men of the world, and set them against all religion." Just the contrary. There are, indeed, Galios, men that care for no religion at all, who, upon hearing of our controversy, will triumph, and cry out, "If these men do not agree among themselves, how can they desire that we should agree with them?" As if we had ever desired them to agree with us any farther than the plain letter of Scripture, and the loud dictates of conscience invite them so to do! But such prepossessed judges will not be hurt by our controversy though they should pretend they are: for they have their stumbling block in their own breast. They would not have wanted pretences to ridicule religion, if our controversy had never been set on foot; nor would they entertain more favourable thoughts of it, if we dropped it without coming to a proper eclaircissement.
But these, however numerous, are not all the world. There are, in our universities, and throughout the kingdom, hundreds, and we hope thousands, of judicious and candid men who truly fear God, and sincerely desire to love him. These, we apprehend, are offended at the first Gospel axiom, and driven farther and farther from it by the mixture of "Antinomian dotages," which renders it ridiculous. They are tempted to throw away the marrow of the Gospel, on account of the luscious, fulsome additions made to it, to make it richer. And to these, we flatter ourselves, that our controversy will prove useful, as well as to our candid brethren.
We hope it will open to the view of these Gamaliels and Obadiahs the confused heap of truth and error at which they so justly stumble, and help them precisely to separate the precious from the vile, that while they "abhor that which is evil, they may cleave to that which is good." This is not all: when they shall see that some of those men, whom they accounted wild enthusiasts, candidly take their part, where they are in the right, and fight their battles in a rational and Scriptural manner, their prejudices will be softened, the light will imperceptibly steal in upon them, and, by Divine grace, convince them, that they go as far out of the way to the left hand, as our opponents do to the right.
The truth, which we maintain, lies between all extremes, or rather, it embraces and connects them all. The Calvinists fairly receive only the first Gospel axiom, and the moralists, the second. If I may compare the Gospel truth to the child contended for in the days of Solomon, both parties, while they divide, inadvertently destroy it. We, like the true mother, are for no division. Standing upon the middle Scriptural line, we embrace and hold fast both Gospel axioms. With the Calvinists, we give God in Christ all the glory of our salvation; and, with the moralists, we take care not to give him in Adam any of the shame of our damnation: we have need of patience with both, for they both highly blame us because we follow the poet's direction,
Inter utrumque tene, medio tutissimus ibis :