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HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF
WHAT ARE NOW CALLED CALVINISTIC DOCTRINES.
THE peace of the church seems to have been little disturbed by any dissention upon these points during the first four centuries; and, as a proof of this, it may be observed, that there is nothing of a controversial spirit in the exposition "the fathers have given of the texts in scripture, 'which have since been the subject of so much dispute. They explained not only the true sense ' of these passages, but the sense which was ad'mitted and understood to be the true one by all the members of the catholic church. The principal object of their writings was, to establish 'the divine origin and superior excellence of the gospel-dispensation; and to enforce the duty ' and necessity of lively faith and practical obe'dience. The universality of the redemption pur' chased by the death of Christ, the assistance of 'divine grace vouchsafed to every sincere believer of the gospel, the freedom of the human will, ' and the possibility of every Christian working out 'his salvation, are treated in the passages I have ' quoted, as fundamental and undisputed truths.'1 In this Historical Account of what are now 'called Calvinistic doctrines,' the whole scripture
is entirely passed over: but, if the doctrines in question are not contained in "the oracles of "God," they ought to be expunged from our creed, at whatever time they were introduced. Holy scripture containeth all things necessary to 'salvation: so that whatsoever is not read there'in, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be re'quired of any man, that it should be believed as ' an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.' If this be so, it is of no manner of consequence, whether the doctrines called Calvinistic were broached in the first, second, third, or fourth century; or not till the days of Calvin; or even not till the synod of Dort. If they are not found in the scripture, they have no authority; and if they are, from thence they derive all their authority. If what has already been attempted has effected any thing, it has proved that several, if not all the doctrines which his Lordship undertook to refute, are contained in the holy scriptures, nay, in the Old Testament as well as in the New; and, if so, to give a history of the doctrines which are called Calvinism, omitting the sacred scriptures, as if quite out of the question, is, in fact, to assume as truth the very point which ought to have been proved.1
I shall not bestow pains in disproving the statement, that the fathers, till the time of Augustine, were not engaged in controversies on these subjects; or that most of them were, so to speak, Anticalvinistic in several particulars; but a few hints may be dropped on this subject.
Here in the first edition the Author detailed the evidence of the Old Testament as given in the Appendix, No. I.
1. Augustine expressly says, that the fathers were well acquainted with the doctrine of predes'Procul dubio noverant prædestina
2. When Pelagius brought forward his sentiments, against original sin, and for free will, in the sense of modern Anticalvinists, and Augustine answered him; the church in general condemned the tenets of Pelagius as heretical, and that sentence was never reversed..
3. When Augustine brought forward his doctrines, (the substance of modern Calvinism,) many seem to have been convinced that they had kept back part of the truth, and had spoken incautiously on some subjects: but neither father nor council presumed at that time, or long afterwards, to bring any charge against Augustine as heretical in his sentiments. Whatever individuals thought or wrote, he was never censured by public authority: nay, his testimony itself afterwards became great authority, even to the time of the Reformation; and then it became still greater. Now this does not appear as if he had broached new doctrines, never before heard of: but rather, as if he had recalled to men's minds truths which had, in process of time, been partly effaced from their memory; but which, when thus recalled, were at once recognized as old acquaintance: or rather, that, comparing his doctrine with the holy scriptures, they discovered that he had stated the true doctrine, from which they had deviated.
'It is material to observe that, in the early days of the gospel, the Jews were rigid predestina
rians, and that these assertions and arguments occur in the dialogue with Trypho the Jew. 'Justin Martyr, therefore, in endeavouring to 'convert Trypho the Jew to the belief of the 'gospel, argues against the Jewish doctrine of predestination, and maintains and enforces the gospel doctrines of the prescience of God, the 'free will of man, and his absolute power over his opinions, thoughts, and faith."1
If the Jews were rigid predestinarians, in our sense of the word, then the doctrine of predestination was much more ancient than Augustine or Calvin. I have no doubt, that numbers learned the scriptural doctrine of the divine sovereignty and decrces from the Old Testament; and probably many of the Jews, and of those who embraced Christianity, were of the number. But the bulk of the nation, who held any opinions of this kind, in the days of Christ and his apostles, seem to have been fatalists; having learned the doctrine of heathen fate, from their intercourse with the Gentiles.
'Pelagius was warmly opposed by Augustine, 'bishop of Hippo in Africa, a man of lively parts, 'but of unsteady principles; of active zeal, but 'so deficient in learning that it is doubted whether 'he could read the scriptures of the New Testa'ment in their original language, or was acquainted with the writings of the primitive 'fathers.' 2
The doctrine of Pelagius in respect of original sin, the freedom of the will, and special grace,
Ref. 573, 574.
can scarcely be distinguished from that of the quotations, in the Refutation, from Origen, Chrysostom, and others, even by a shade of difference ; except as Pelagius more directly denied what they kept out of sight, explained away, or only denied by consequence.-A man of unsteady principles.' That is, Augustine, as he grew older thought that he had become wiser: and, after a more thorough investigation of the scriptures, he was convinced that he had too hastily sanctioned opinions, in eager controversy with one description of heretics, which were themselves heretical: and he was not too proud openly to confess this, and to publish his retractations. He had not sworn (as some have been required to do,) never to change his opinion; and, having changed his sentiments, he counted it his duty, publicly to acknowledge it; and to contend for those doctrines which he had formerly opposed. -So deficient in learning.' 'St. Augustine, the 'best learned of all ancient doctors.'2 I own myself incompetent to decide the question of Augustine's learning, between his Lordship and the compilers of the Homilies: but probably the latter meant, the most learned theologian, the greatest proficient in the school of Christ;' which Augustine might be, though he were not well versed in the Greek language, or in the writings of the primitive fathers. To enlarge upon his eru'dition of every kind, would be the same thing 'as to pour light into the sun. He must be a 'stranger as well in his writings, as in those of ' other men, who does not know, that Augustine C was eminent in the whole circle of the best Homily on Idolatry, Part 2.