The Act of Uniformity, which came into effect in 1662, accomplished the purpose of its framers in expelling Puritanism from the Church established by law in England and Wales. Puritanism was obnoxious to King Charles II. and his court, and a large majority of the men high in office in both Church and State, chiefly for the godliness of living which it enjoined, and for the Calvinism of its teaching. With the ejectment of the two thousand ministers who preferred freedom and purity of conscience to the retention of their livings, Calvinism was banished from the Church of England, excepting so far as the Articles were concerned. Arminianism took its place. Then the State Church, which the great reformers had planted, and which some of them had watered with their blood, presented the spectacle which went far to justify the sarcasm of an eminent writer, that she possessed "A Popish Liturgy, a Calvinistic Creed, and an Arminian Clergy." The ejected were Calvinists almost to a man. Previous to this period, some few Free Churches had been founded, and were Independent or Baptist, the latter being mainly of the General section, and of Dutch origin.
The ejected, who were in one sense alone the first Nonconformists, were mainly Presbyterians; some, however, were Independents, and a few Baptists. The Churches they established were all Calvinistic in their faith, and such they remained for at least that generation. It is a matter of veritable history, however, that such they did not all continue for any great length of time. Some of them, in the course of two or three generations, or even less, became either Arian or Socinian. This was eventually the case with nearly all the Presbyterians, and later on, with some of the Independents, and with many of the General Baptist Communities. By some means or other, first the ministers, and then the Churches, got on "the down grade," and in some cases, the descent was rapid, and in all, very disastrous. In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old Puritan godliness of life, and the old Calvinistic form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation. Natural theology frequently took the place which the great truths of the gospel ought to have held, and the sermons became more and more Christless. Corresponding results in the character and life, first of the preachers and then of the people, were only too plainly apparent.
The race of preachers which followed the first Nonconformists, that is, the ejected ministers who became Nonconformists, retained the soundness of doctrine, and purity of life, for which they were everywhere remarkable. Their sermons were less lengthy, but still long, and less burdened with divisions and sub-divisions. The life, savor, and power of the gospel remained among them, and the churches, walking in the fear of God and the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were slowly increased.
The Presbyterians were the first to get on the down line. They paid more attention to classical attainments and other branches of learning in their ministry than the Independents, while the Baptists had no academical institution of any kind. It would be an easy step in the wrong direction to pay increased attention to academical attainments in their ministers, and less to spiritual qualifications; and to set a higher value on scholarship and oratory, than on evangelical zeal and ability to rightly divide the word of truth.
Some of the ministers retained their Calvinistic soundness and their purity of character and life, and these, as a rule, gave prominence to the doctrines of the gospel, and were zealous in their ministry. But some embraced Arminian sentiments, while others professed to take a middle path, and called themselves Baxterians. These displayed, not only less zeal for the salvation of sinners, and, in many cases, less purity or strictness of life, but they adopted a different strain in preaching, dwelt more on general principles of religion, and less on the vital truths of the gospel. Ruin by sin, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and redemption by the blood of Christ—truths on the preaching of which God has always set the seal of his approbation—were conspicuous chiefly by their absence. In fact, the "wine on the lees well refined" was so mixed with the muddy water of human speculation, that it was no longer wine at all.
There was another section among the Presbyterians who, like the former two, retained a nominal orthodoxy, and professed to believe, though they seldom preached, evangelical sentiments. Men of this stamp were chiefly remarkable for the extreme coldness of their sermons, and the extreme dullness of their delivery.
Among those who called themselves Baxterians there was little likeness to Baxter; and his zeal and earnestness, and his close, penetrating preaching, and powerful appeals to the heart and conscience were wholly wanting, except in a very few. This remark will apply also to those who called themselves Arminians.
It would appear that the Arian and other heresies did not spread at first so quickly in London as in the country. The author of a manuscript written about 1730, professes to give the sentiments of all the Nonconformist ministers in London at that time. Among the Presbyterians there were, he says, nineteen Calvinists, thirteen Arminians, and twelve Baxterians. All the Independents, he avows, were Calvinists: "twenty-seven thoroughly, one somewhat dubious, three inclined to Antinomianism, and two who were disorderly." There were two Seventh-day Baptists—one a Calvinist, and the other an Arminian. There were sixteen Baptists, of the Particular order; of whom seven were Calvinists, and "nine inclined to the Antinomian strain."
Antinomianism was the term applied to the teaching of Dr. Tobias Crisp. Crisp had been an Arminian, but became an ardent Calvinist, going, perhaps, a little beyond Calvin in some things. He died in 1642, and his sermons were published by his son forty-five years after his death. They were printed from short-hand notes compared with Dr. Crisp's own notes, and therefore were lacking in that correctness and finish which the author's own hand would have given them. This will account for the crudeness of some of his expressions. He was a man of strong faith, ardent zeal, holy life, and great devotion and faithfulness in his ministerial work. He was called an Antinomian, but the term was misapplied. Many of his statements, however, while they will readily admit of an orthodox sense, lie open to the charge of going beyond the truth.
The publication of his sermons awoke a fierce controversy, which lasted some years, and did much mischief. Dr. Williams exposed what he considered the errors and erroneous tendency of some of his utterances; and even John Flavel was among those who denounced his teaching as erroneous and Antinomian. There need not have been such an outcry. The books written against Crisp, many of them good in their way, had the effect of frightening the timid, the doubtful, and the hesitating, who, to avoid Crispianism, as it was called, went as far as they could to the opposite extreme. They verged upon Arminianism, and some actually became Arminians. The Arminianism of that day was a cold, dry, heartless thing, and many who took that name proved that they were already on "the down grade" towards Socinianism.
As is usual with people on an incline, some who got on "the down grade" went further than they intended, showing that it is easier to get on than to get off, and that where there is no brake it is very difficult to stop. These who turned from Calvinism may not have dreamed of denying the proper deity of the Son of God, renouncing faith in his atoning death and justifying righteousness, and denouncing the doctrine of human depravity, the need of Divine renewal, and the necessity for the Holy Spirit's gracious work, in order that men might become new creatures; but, dreaming or not dreaming, this result became a reality.
It is exceedingly painful to have to state—and the conduct is no less censurable than pitiable—that among the two classes into which those who held Arian sentiments may be divided, the first were so mean and dishonest as to conceal their sentiments under ambiguous phrases. They so expressed themselves that their orthodox hearers might appropriate their statements in support of their own views, while their Arian adherents could turn them to support their scheme. It is stated on very good authority that "many wore this disguise all their days, and the most cautious carried the secret with them to the grave." This is terrible to think of; men going down to the grave with a whole life of the very worst kind of hypocrisy unconfessed, the basest deceit and dishonesty unacknowledged, the life-long practice of a lie unrepented of. Such a course is the very worst form of lying, for it is telling lies in the name of the Lord. Others were only a little less hardened in their career of falsehood; they prepared a sermon, or other composition, revealing their true sentiments, which was made public after their decease. Still more confided their real sentiments to a small circle of adherents, who told the tale of heresy to the world only when the grave had closed over the teacher.
Such were the crafty devices of the men of "broad views," and "free thought," and "advanced sentiments," in those days of "rebuke and blasphemy." The almost blasphemous utterances of Mr. Voysey, daring and frightful as they are (see "Fortnightly Review" for Jan., 1887), have the one redeeming feature of honesty. He puts the mark of unbelief in large characters on his own brow, and does not seek in the least to hide it from any one, but rather to glory in it, that he has set himself to deny and denounce all that is sacred, and true, and holy in the gospel of our salvation. But these men deepened their own condemnation, and promoted the everlasting ruin of many of their followers by their hypocrisy and deceit; professing to be the ambassadors of Christ, and the heralds of his glorious gospel, their aim was to ignore his claims, deny him his rights, lower his character, rend the glorious vesture of his salvation, and trample his crown in the dust.
The second, and less numerous, class of Arian preachers were more honest. They boldly avowed their sentiments to their congregations, who as readily received them. In most cases, in both preachers and hearers, it was only a short step down from the Arianism which makes the eternal Son of God a super-angelic being to the Socinianism (miscalled Unitarianism) which makes him a man only, denying alike original sin, human depravity, the mediation of Christ, the personality and work of the eternal Spirit, and that new birth without which divine truth has declared no one can see the kingdom of God.
The descent of some few was less gradual, but more commonly, when once on "the down grade" their progress was slow, though unhappily sure. The central truth of Calvinism, as of the Gospel, is the person and work and offices of the Lord Jesus Christ. We love to use this Pauline and inspired description of our divine Savior and royal Master, and so to "give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name." When men begin to hesitate about, and hold back the truth in relation to him, it is a sign of an unhealthy state of soul; and when these truths are diluted, omitted, or otherwise tampered with, it is a sign which in plain words means "Beware."
The remark of a writer of reliable ability in reference to these times is worthy of quotation:—
"The deficiency of evangelical principles in some, and the coldness with which they came from the lips of others, seem to have prepared the way for the relinquishment of them, and for the introduction, first of Arminianism, and then of Arianism."
Those who were really orthodox in their sentiments were too often lax and unfaithful as to the introduction of heretical ministers into their pulpits, either as assistants or occasional preachers. In this way the Arian and Socinian heresies were introduced into the Presbyterian congregations in the city of Exeter. The Rev. Stephen Towgood and Mr. Walrond, the ministers, were both reputed as orthodox, but the Rev. Micaiah Towgood, an avowed Arian, was chosen their assistant. The old ministers preached evangelical doctrine, but they complied all too readily with the wishes of their new colleague, and ceased to require a declaration of faith in the divinity of Christ in those who sought admission to the Lord's table. Sad to say, they continued to labor on in peace, the older men dealing out the "wine of the kingdom," and the "Living Bread," while the younger minister intermixed his rationalistic concoctions and his Socinian leaven. A similar case occurred in London. Dr. William Harris, an avowed Calvinist, and whose preaching was in accordance with Calvinistic doctrine, had for his assistant, during the last twenty years of his life, an avowed though not strongly pronounced Socinian, Dr. Lardner, who took the afternoon lectureship. When Dr. Harris died, Dr. Lardner was elected to be his successor. For some reason he declined, when Dr. Benson, another Socinian, succeeded to the pastorate. Thus, the old, old proverb was again proved true, "The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge."
This down-grade course was, we have said, more rapid, more general, and more fatal among the Presbyterians than among the Independents and General Baptists. We say General Baptists, for the deadening doctrines of Socinianism had made little inroad upon the Particular Baptists. We could not point to a single case of perversion to Socinianism during more than two centuries, though other and less vital errors have dealt much mischief among the churches of that order. Will our children and grandchildren be able to say as much of this and the next generation in fifty years time? Who can tell? But we pray and hope that they will be.
The principal cause of the quicker descent on "the down grade" among the Presbyterians than among other Nonconformists, may be traced, not so much to their more scholarly ministry, nor altogether to their renunciation of Puritan habits, but to their rule of admitting to the privileges of Church membership. Of course their children received the rite of baptism, according to their views of baptism, in infancy. They were thereby received—so the ministers taught, and so the people believed—into covenant with God, and had a right to the Lord's table, without any other qualification than a moral life. Many such children grew up unregenerate, and strangers to the work of renewing grace; yet they claimed to be Christians, and to be admitted to all the privileges of the church, and their claim was not disallowed. To such the earnest appeals of faithful ministers of Christ would be irksome and unpalatable. The broader road and easier way of the "men of reason and culture," which admitted of laxity of discipline and pliancy of sentiments and habits, was far more agreeable to their tastes and ideas, while the homage paid to reason and understanding, at the expense of revelation, gratified their pride, and left them free to walk after their own hearts in things pertaining to religion. Thus they chose them pastors after their own hearts, men who could, and would, and did, cry "Peace, peace," when the only way of peace was ignored or denied.
These facts furnish a lesson for the present times, when, as in some cases, it is all too plainly apparent men are willing to forego the old for the sake of the new. But commonly it is found in theology that that which is true is not new, and that which is new is not true.
In another paper we propose to trace "the down grade" course among other Protestants in this country—a sad piece of business, but one which must needs be done. Oh that it might act as a warning to the unsettled and unsettling spirits of our own day!
The period from 1688, when William III. began his reign, to the time of the commencement of the long reign of George III., has been described as "a quiet time" among Nonconformists. It was so in more senses than one. There was a cessation of open and organized persecution. The Laudian spirit still lived, but it did not reign. The battle between Conformists and Nonconformists was no longer as it had been, one of the sword and of force, but rather of the pen, and by means of that quiet, subtle influence which abettors of State churches know so well how to wield. It was quiet, too, in the sense that there were few instances of lively faith, earnest zeal, and whole-souled devotedness in the cause of the gospel. To a large extent, and with some notable and happy exceptions, it was the quiet of corruption and death. The profligacy of Charles II., and the perfidy of James II., had told upon the Court, upon the nobility, upon pulpit and press, and upon society generally. True religion languished; and, but for a small remnant of earnest and faithful men, the decay and death would have been complete. It was a fitting time for the propagation of the Pelagian and Socinian heresies. Arminianism, which is only Pelagianism under another name, had, to a large extent, eaten out the life of the Church of England, and Arianism followed to further and complete the destruction.
As if to show how powerless in themselves are the best defined articles of faith, the first open advocates of Arianism were clergymen of the Established Church. Dr. William Whiston, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Samuel Clarke, Rector of St. James's, Westminster, were the captains in this unholy war with truth. Many of the clergy, and a few among the laity, embraced their sentiments. The majority of professed adherents to the State Church were too indifferent to religion to trouble themselves about the matter. But it was otherwise among Nonconformists. Many of the hearers were not much, if at all, behind their ministers in intelligence and interest in theological matters; and where this was the case, the bungling theories of Whiston and Clarke were readily embraced as agreeable to their taste and flattering to their reason. James Pierce, a Presbyterian minister, first at Cambridge, then at Newbury, and afterwards at Exeter, wrought incalculable mischief. He was a man who, for learning, eloquence, and other natural and acquired abilities, held a high place in the esteem of the congregations to which he ministered. So much the more subtle and powerful was the influence of his teaching, and so much the more disastrous were the results.
Among the Independents the leaven worked. In the colleges, or academies, as they were then called, the mischief first came to a head. Doctor Doddridge was as sound as he was amiable; but perhaps he was not always judicious; or more probably still, he was too judicious, and not sufficiently bold and decided. As the pastor of an influential church, and as the head of an academy which ranked higher than any other, his amiable disposition permitted him to do what men made of sterner stuff would not have done. He sometimes mingled in a fraternal manner, even exchanging pulpits, with men whose orthodoxy was called in question. It had its effect on many of the younger men, and served to lessen in the estimate of the people generally the growing, divergence of sentiment. No one, however, could, and certainly the present writer will not, insinuate even the suspicion of heresy against the author of
"Jesus, I love thy charming name."
Dr. Doddridge was succeeded by Dr. Ashworth, of Daventry. He was recommended to the Independent church at Northampton as his successor in the pastorate, as well as in the academy, in Dr. Doddridge's will. But Dr. Ashworth elected to remain at Daventry, and the Academy was removed thither. Great abilities, much learning, consummate prudence, unaffected modesty, with great devotion and diligence in his tutorial duties, are the outlines of his character as drawn by the historian. He was a Calvinist of the moderate order, and we should be disposed to put a strong emphasis on the "moderate." So, at least, it is fair to infer from the testimony of one of his pupils, Dr. Joseph Priestley, the great champion of Socinianism among Nonconformists. He says:—"In my time the academy was in a state peculiarly favorable to the serious pursuit of truth, as the students were about equally divided upon every question of much importance, such as liberty, necessity, the sleep of the soul, and all the articles of theological orthodoxy and heresy; in consequence of which, all these topics were the subject of continual discussion. Our tutors, also, were of different opinions, Dr. Ashworth taking the orthodox side of every question, and Mr. Clark, the sub-tutor, that of heresy, though always with the greatest modesty. Both of our tutors being young, at least as tutors, and some of the senior students excelling more than they could pretend to do in several branches of study, they indulged us in the greatest freedoms. The general plan of our studies, which may be seen in Dr. Doddridge's published lectures, was exceedingly favorable to free enquiry, as we were referred to authors on both sides of every question. In this situation I saw reason to embrace what is generally called the heterodox side of every question."
The subsequent history of the famous academy, founded and supported by Mr. Coward, and afterwards endowed by him, "with the express condition that the students shall be educated in the principles of the Assembly's Catechism," illustrates the folly and the virtual unfaithfulness of the course adopted by the professors. Mr. Robins was Dr. Ashworth's successor as pastor and tutor, and he was reputed as sound in the faith. His assistant tutor, however, was Thomas Belsham, who afterwards succeeded him in the theological chair. Belsham was a fellow-student of Priestley, and became an avowed opponent of Calvinism, and the open advocate of Socinianism. He had the honesty to resign his tutorship. But the mischief had been done. When the enemy had sowed tares among the wheat, "he went his way." The seed could not easily be dislodged. Mr. Horsey, his successor, could have been little better, for "most of the pupils were found to be Socinians." He had to resign, as not faithfully executing the will of the founder, and the Academy was dissolved.
This was the application to an institution thoroughly infected with theological leprosy of the wise law—wise in both a sanitary and spiritual sense—which God gave of old. The house had been scraped, and patched, and repaired, but the leprosy increased. "And, behold, if the plague be spread in the house it is a fretting leprosy in the house: it is unclean. And he shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place."
As the fish decays first at the head, and as the old, old proverb is still commonly true, "Like priest like people," so little good can be expected of such ministers, and little hoped for of the hearers who approve their sentiments. Surely there was need enough of Whitefield and the other great preachers connected with the evangelical revival. That revival came not a day too soon, for the churches in general were indeed "low in a low place."
The Independent churches, though many of them were grievously tainted with heresy, did not remain corrupt. A race of earnest and faithful ministers were raised up who built again that which had been thrown down, leaving their mark on the age and their example to their successors. Do the present race of men prove themselves worthy successors of their fathers? Some do, no doubt. Would that the same could be said of all! But in too many cases sceptical daring seems to have taken the place of evangelical zeal, and the husks of theological speculations are preferred to the wholesome bread of gospel truth. With some the endeavor seems to be not how steadily and faithfully they can walk in the truth, but how far they can get from it. To them divine truth is like a lion or a tiger, and they give it "a wide berth." Our counsel is—Do not go too near the precipice; you may slip or fall over. Keep where the ground is firm; do not venture on the rotten ice. Take the advice of an old missionary, the late Thomas Morgan, of Howrah. The writer, and a worthy brother who fell asleep twenty years ago, were all journeying in the direction of Maidstone, where the missionary was to meet the late Mr. Dobney. Said one of us to him, "How about Mr. D.'s theory concerning future punishment?" The old Welshman replied, "Well, if he brings up the subject to me, I shall say, 'Don't try it, that's all.'" So we venture to say to any venturesome spirit who wants to follow the Will-with- a-wisp of modern thought, "Don't try it; there are dangerous bogs near, where you may soon lose yourself and all that is dear to you." If anyone wishes to know where the tadpole of Darwinism was hatched, we could point him to the pew of the old chapel in High Street, Shrewsbury, where Mr. Darwin, his father, and we believe his father's father, received their religious training. The chapel was built for Mr. Talents, an ejected minister; but for very many years full-blown Socinianism has been taught there, as also in the old chapel at Chester, where Matthew Henry used to minister, and where a copy of his Commentary, of the original edition, is kept for public use, the only witness, we fear, to the truths he taught there. It is of less importance, but still worthy of note, that the property with which the old High Street church at Shrewsbury was endowed, producing now from £300 to £400 per annum, has long been appropriated to uphold Socinian teaching.
The General Baptists have yet to be noticed. And here we must draw a line hard and sharp between the Old Connexion and the New Connexion. The latter was formed in 1770, and was the result of the heterodoxy of the former. The Old Connexion generally became Arianized, and, with hardly an exception, followed on "the down grade" to Socinianism. A writer of acknowledged repute, writing at the early part of the present century, makes this rather startling statement:—
"Arminianism among the dissenters has, in general, been a cold, dry, and lifeless system, and its effects upon the heart have been commonly weak and spiritless. With the General Baptists, who avowed it to be their creed, this was remarkably the effect, and their congregations did not increase. Besides, from facts too stubborn to be bent, and too numerous to be contradicted, Arminianism has been among them the common road to Arianism and Socinianism. Their ministers and congregations were the first who openly professed these opinions; and their societies have felt the decay which these opinions have uniformly produced."
The writer can point to several places in the county of Kent where General Baptist congregations of the Old Connexion existed, and he can describe their present condition. That at Dover has been for many years Socinian, and, perhaps, it is one of the most vigorous in the county, though the chapel is small and the attendance few. That at Deal is Socinian likewise, if we can describe it as being anything, when the place is open for one service only in three weeks. That at Wingham has been closed very many years. That in the large and wealthy parish of Yalding, has been closed for half a century. The writer often visited and preached in this old, stable-like building thirty years ago, the place being lent for the purpose; but of all dead places, that was the most dead. Spiritually, it was like the face of the country around Dowlais Top—not a vestige of herb, or grass, or any living thing to be seen.
The old church at Eythorne was for nearly two hundred and fifty years General Baptist, belonging first to the Old Connexion, and then to the New. About a hundred years ago the pastor and congregation became Calvinistic, and joined the Particular Baptist body. Strange to say, but the fact is so, that from that time it began to develop and increase in numbers, spiritual power, and social position. And now it can be said with truth, that there are very few churches in Great Britain whose career, during the past hundred years, has been equally remarkable. From the church in this village of less than six hundred inhabitants swarms have been sent out to Dover, Canterbury, and Deal, while its members or their descendants have been instruments in planting, or have helped to found, churches in Folkestone, in Ramsgate, Margate, and other places in the Isle of Thanet.
In the General Baptist Church at Bessels Green, near Sevenoaks, there was a long, and fierce, and painful struggle between Socinianism and evangelical orthodoxy, the latter at last prevailing.
These last two cases illustrate the "up grade," rather than the "down grade," and they will bring out the latter in bolder relief.
Narrowness of space and abundance of facts have burdened and hampered us in these sketches, and we can only add a few hints as to the cause or causes of the sad decay in piety and principle which it has been our painful duty to narrate.
In the case of every errant course there is always a first wrong step. If we can trace that wrong step, we may be able to avoid it and its results. Where, then, is the point of divergence from the "King's highway of truth"? What is the first step astray? Is it doubting this doctrine, or questioning that sentiment, or being sceptical as to the other article of orthodox belief? We think not. These doubts and this scepticism are the outcome of something going before.
If a mariner, having to traverse an unknown sea, does not put implicit confidence in his charts, and therefore does not consult them for guidance in steering the ship, he is, as anyone can see, every moment exposed to dangers of various kinds. Now, the Word of God—the Book written by holy men as they were moved by the Spirit of God—is the Christian's chart; and though, in a ship's company, some of the men may have little critical knowledge of navigation, the captain is supposed to be well instructed therein, and to be able, by consulting the charts, to steer the ship aright; so in reference to ministers of Christ's gospel, and pastors of Christ's church, which he hath purchased with his blood. The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God's Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. "To the law and to the testimony," is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.
In looking carefully over the history of the times, and the movement of the times, of which we have written briefly, this fact is apparent: that where ministers and Christian churches have held fast to the truth that the Holy Scriptures have been given by God as an authoritative and infallible rule of faith and practice, they have never wandered very seriously out of the right way. But when, on the other hand, reason has been exalted above revelation, and made the exponent of revelation, all kinds of errors and mischiefs have been the result.
If this be a fact—and who can disprove it?—then we live in dangerous times, and there is great peril very near all those, whoever they may be, who call in question the inspiration—the divine inspiration-of the Word of God. "O earth, earth, earth! hear the word of the Lord."
The writer is of opinion that the great majority of those who are sound in the doctrine of inspiration, are more or less Calvinistic in doctrine; and that the more the oracles of divine truth are humbly and prayerfully studied, the more closely the student's views will coincide with evangelical truth. That he is not alone in his opinion will be seen from the following:—
"Veneration for the sacred Scriptures may certainly be considered as a test of the general purity of religious sentiments. Whether any will be found to equal Calvinists in this respect, shall be left to the judgment; of those readers who have made extensive observations on the subject. Perhaps it cannot be contradicted that, in proportion as any sect recedes from Calvinism, their veneration for the Scriptures is diminished The Bible is the Calvinist's creed. Whatever God has spoken, he feels himself bound to receive and believe, however mysterious the doctrine may be. Arminians, in general, will not be found to be equal to them in this respect, and many of that creed lay down their ideas of the moral perfections of the Deity as the foundation, and explain every part of Scripture in consonance with them, though, in order to accomplish this, no small degree of force must be employed. The Arian venerates the Scriptures still less than the Arminian; his ideas of inspiration are lower; his canons of criticism less honorable to the sacred writers; human reason is exalted to a higher office, and what is not comprehensible by its grasp, is not readily received. The mind of the Socinian feels still less veneration for the Word of God; for, according to his sentiments, some parts of it are not inspired; mistakes occur in the reasoning of the apostles; not a few passages are unauthentic, and what remains is interpreted with a latitude as to the expressions and language of Scripture, which would not be tolerated in expounding the sense of any other writer." ("History of Dissenters," by Bogue and Bennet.)
The Rev. Job Orton, one of Dr. Doddridge's students, and for a short time an assistant tutor with him at Northampton, was the minister of the united congregation of Presbyterians and Independents, meeting at High Street, Shrewsbury, from 1741 to 1765. He was not considered fully orthodox, though many of his sentiments were sound and good. Many of his hearers suspected him of heresy concerning the Godhead of Christ, and when, in preaching those expositions of the Bible, which were afterwards published in six volumes, he came to Isaiah 9:6, "Unto us a son is born," etc., and they were listening with breathless attention as to what he would say on that part, "The mighty God," they were sadly disappointed when he passed the glorious declaration over by saying, "The mighty God. The meaning of this I cannot tell; and how should I, when his name is called Wonderful?" It need be no matter of surprise that his successor at High Street was a Socinian, and that the orthodox part of his congregation founded the Independent church at Swan Hill, which retains, in all essential things, its primitive soundness.
And yet Mr. Orton strongly recommended Philip Henry's statement of his religious belief, and has left on record, in his letters, remarks which are worthy to be pondered, as coming from a man whom Socinians regarded with favor.
"I have long since found," says he "(and every year that I live increases my conviction of it), that when ministers entertain their people with lively and pretty things, confine themselves to general harangues, insist principally on moral duties, without enforcing them warmly and affectionately by evangelical motives; while they neglect the peculiars of the gospel, never or seldom display the grace of God, and the love of Christ in our redemption; the necessity of regeneration and sanctification by a constant dependence on the Holy Spirit of God for assistance and strength in the duties of the Christian life, their congregations are in a wretched state; some are dwindling to nothing, as is the case with several in this neighborhood, where there are now not as many scores as there were hundreds in their meeting-places, fifty years ago. But where, by trade and manufactures, new persons come to the place, and fill up the vacant seats, there is a fatal deadness spread over the congregation. They run in 'the course of this world,' follow every fashionable folly, and family and personal godliness seems in general to be lost among them. There is scarcely any appearance of life and zeal in the cause of religion, which demands and deserves the greatest.
"Whereas, on the contrary, I never knew an instance where a minister was a pious, serious man, whose strain was evangelical and affectionate, but his congregation kept up, though death and removals had made many breaches in it.
"These letters were written when he had retired from the pastorate, residing at Kidderminster for the last eighteen years of his life."
It would seem that Orton had seen the folly of "the down grade" course, and was anxious to bear his testimony, to deter others.
But leaving men and their opinions, the Word of the Lord standeth fast for ever; and that Word to every one who undertakes to be God's messenger, and to speak the Lord's message to the people, is "He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord."
The Lord help us all to be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."
—Down Grade Controversy, The