Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

ing from Religious Truth, and acting at once upon the spiritual part of our nature, change and improve the mass of society by transforming the characters of the men who compose it.' Vol. III. pp. 201, 2.

(To be Continued.)

Art. 11.-1. Letters to the Rev. Nathaniel W. Taylor, D.D. By

Leonard Woods, D.D. 8vo. pp. 114. Andover (United States).

1830. 2. The Christian Spectator. Nos. I. II. III. IV. New Haven, Con

necticut. 1830. SOME importance attaches, on various grounds, to this speciw men of American polemics; and we shall give our readers a brief account of it *, subjoining nothing more than a word or two as we pass on.

The preliminary paragraphs of Dr. Woods's pamphlet are not only in themselves highly deserving of perusal, but will serve to explain the circumstances of the controversy. Dr. Woods, Theological Professor at the Andover College, addresses his brother in office, Dr. Taylor, holding a similar station in the college of New Haven; and after adverting to the apostolic rule of controversy (2 Tim. ii. 24), says :

. My present design, I am well aware, is attended with circumstances of peculiar delicacy. I have undertaken to address myself to a respected and beloved brother, from whom I am constrained to differ: a brother invested with the same sacred office with myself, both as a minister of the Gospel, and a Professor of Christian Theology. And I cannot but notice the circumstance also, that this is no common case; as there has been, in our country, scarcely an instance, before the present, in which a teacher of Christian Theology, in an orthodox Institution, has come before the public in his own name, to controvert the opinions of another man, placed in a similar station. This circumstance, I confess, makes a touching appeal to my feelings ; and excites in me a desire which words cannot fully express, that every thing relative to the manner of the present discussion may be unexceptionable. It cannot be thought improbable that, among the professors of our numerous seminaries, there will, from time to time, be differences of opinion, more or less important, and that these differences will be made the subject of free investigation. Now, my dear brother, as we have been led to think it our duty to engage in the difficult, and shall I say, perilous business of publicly discussing controverted points, let us consider well what is before us, and guard, with sacred care, against every thing which

* We are not aware that any other copy than the one before us, has yet reached this country. At any rate, the volume is not very likely to meet the cyc of many of our readers.

would render our example unworthy of imitation; or in any way injure the great interests which we wish to advance. Who can count up the evils which might result to the cause of Christ, if our manner of treating controverted subjects should, in any respect, be such as would tend to promote in others around us, and especially in our pupils, feelings of unkindness and acrimony ? On the contrary, may we not hope that important good will result from our example, if, whenever we engage in discussing such subjects, under all the excitements and provocations attending public debate, we may be enabled by Divine Grace, to copy the meekness and gentleness of Christ? When I dwell on such reflections as these, I cannot avoid the persuasion, that I should commit a less offence against the Christian Religion by bad reasoning, than by a bad spirit; and therefore, that I am bound to take as much pains, at least, to cherish right feelings, as to frame right arguments. But a Christian disposition pervading our writings, is not only required by the spirit of our religion, but is necessary to the success of our cause, since, without it, our opinions and arguments, especially those which we may regard as improvements, will not be likely to pass easily and pleasantly into the minds of others; as we may have frequently found by our own experience.

It will undoubtedly be a question with some good men, whether it can, in any circumstances, conduce to the welfare of the Church, for Christian ministers, and especially for professors in our Theological seminaries, to enlist in a public discussion of the topics on which they differ. . And I readily acknowledge that controversy, or even the appearance of controversy, among theological professors, is likely to be attended with peculiar danger, as the feelings of their pupils, and the vital interests of their respective institutions, must be so much involved. On this account, I have felt a strong reluctance to take any part in the examination of those peculiar opinions which you have exhibited before the public. But after all, is there any sufficient reason why we should be deprived of the right, or rather exempt from the duty, of bearing testimony against the errors of the day, and especially against whatever we may consider erroneous in one another ? Is it not a matter of special propriety, that we should hold ourselves responsible, in a sense, to each other, and to all devout Christians in the community? Is there any thing in our situation, or employment, which can free us from this responsibility ? Nay, is it not true that we are peculiarly responsible ? And is it not true also, that we are, in some respects, peculiarly liable to error ? Now, if at any time we are betrayed into wrong opinions, especially if we make those opinions public, can we expect to escape animadversion ? Can we justly desire to escape ? I well know what noble sentiments you have expressed in relation to this subject ; and how often you have invited your brethren to a thorough and unsparing examination of your opinions. And I trust you will now join me in saying " Let the Christian community watch over our Theological seminaries with an ever wakeful eye. Let these seminaries extend a kind, but faithful inspection over one another. Let no deviation from sound doctrine pass unnoticed. If any of those who are appointed to give instruction to the rising ministry shew the least signs of error; if they only begin to indulge in modes of interpreting the word of God, or in modes of reasoning on moral or metaphysical subjects, which have an unfavourable, or even doubtful tendency, in regard to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity; let all the teachers of religion in our churches, colleges, and seminaries be awake to the danger. It is far better for the cause of Divine Truth, that this general wakefulness to danger should rise to an extreme; better that solicitude, and fear, and even jealousy should be excited, than that those who are appointed to stand as Zion's watchmen, should slumber on their posts."'pp. 6, 7, 8.

Dr. Woods goes on further to affirm the necessity of vigilance, in regard to the opinions of public men, on the ground of the infirmity of the human understanding, even at the best.

Formerly,' he says, 'when I turned my thoughts towards particular ministers of the Gospel, and particular Christians, I was ready to think it impossible that they should ever abandon any of the truths of Revelation, or embrace any hurtful error. But what I have seen of the human mind during more than thirty years in the ministry, and more than twenty in my present office, has led me to entertain other views on this subject; and has impressed my mind with a serious conviction, that there is no teacher of Religion in our churches, or in our seminaries, no, not one, who can think himself free from the danger of error, or who has not reason to apprehend that a deceived heart may turn him aside. And if, in these days of adventurous speculation, any of those who are called by Divine Providence to instruct in our Theological Schools, should wholly, or in part, renounce the doctrines of Revelation, and become advocates of error, it would only be a repetition of what has often occurred in past ages.' p. 8.

The New Haven Tutor, it seems, has attributed greater value, and given greater prominence to metaphysical theology, or to what is termed the philosophy of Religion, than the Andover Tutor can allow; and the latter insists, with considerable force, upon the inefficiency of an abstruse style of pulpit instruction, and upon the importance of adhering, with the utmost simplicity, to the purely Scriptural mode of affirming and enforcing the great principles of the Gospel. We observe that, apparently for the sake of saring EDWARDS, he makes a distinction, which we imagine may be much more easily made or stated, than respected, or indeed understood or heeded, in specific instances.

• There is,' he says, ' a wide difference, in point of clearness and importance, between what would be called the philosophy of evangelical doctrines, in one case, and in another. In one case, the investigation may relate to facts in man's intelligent and moral nature, or to principles in the Divine Government, which are certain and obvious. In another case, it may relate to what is uncertain, conjectural, or obscure; --in a word, to what lies beyond the limits of our intelligence. I consider Edwards's metaphysical treatises to be generally of the former character.' p. 11.

This is claiming, we fear, rather too much for the profound Author of the Enquiry concerning Freedom of Will; but we shall not here dispute the point. After stating forcibly the dangers and evils of metaphysico-theological controversy, Dr. W. feels that he is bound to excuse his own conduct in entering upon this ground of argument. He pleads necessity,—the necessity of controverting what he deems erroneous. But why might not his opponent avail himself of an apology equally valid ? He too has stepped forward to oppose what he thinks prevalent errors. In fairness we must say, that those who inveigh against metaphysical theology, as dangerous or unprofitable, should themselves keep entirely aloof from it.

The second Letter opens the controversy, occasioned by a Sermon of Dr. Taylor's, entitled “ Concio ad Clerum,” and by certain articles contained in the quarterly publication we have named at the head of this article. With more of vivacity, and ingenuity, and activity, (as it seems to us,) than of depth, or comprehension, Dr. T. appears to have flattered himself, that he has shifted the grand difficulties that press upon the question of moral and physical evil, from the position where they chafe our religious notions, by giving a new form to the often-tried expedient of the Optimists. - There is evil,—there is sin in the world ;-true. But who knows whether it could have been prevented ? God has done

the best in his power, for his creatures.'-- Do you know that 'God could have done better, better on the whole, or better if he . gave man existence at all, to the individual himself?' Now his Opponent fairly assumes, from the terms and style of several statements of this kind, that the New Haven Professor's intention is, to affirm an independent or extrinsic impediment in the way of a better system of things; and not merely such an impossibility as is to be traced only to the Divine purpose and free choice. He thinks he can relieve theology of its burdens, by throwing the weight of all evil upon some anterior impossibility, by which even the Divine power and benevolence were controlled, or limited. Not content with saying,—'God has done what infinite wisdom ' and benevolence dictated; and He has not done differently,

because infinite wisdom and benevolence did not permit, or did 'not lead to it;' which, Dr. Woods says, is the common theory, - the theory adopted by orthodox ministers and Christians ge'nerally; the New Haven Professor has employed language which makes quite a different impression.

To say we have no reason to complain of God for what he has done, because he could not have done better, either on the whole, or for any individual, sounds much like making an apology; and is very similar to what we often say in behalf of a weak, imperfect man, who is incompetent to the work he has undertaken, and, for want of power, fails of doing what he really wishes and endeavours to do. Any being surely ought to be excused, if he means right, and does all he can, though not all he would be glad to do. Now your language would seem to imply, that you intend to offer something like this, as a justification of the conduct of God; and of course it would seem to impls, that the inability ascribed to God was meant to be understood in the first, or literal sense. If this was not your meaning, and if you intended to advance nothing different from the common theory, then why should you deny the positions which exhibit that theory, and use language which would be likely to make an impression só different from your wishes ? I hold in common with others, that God would have for ever excluded moral evil from the created universe, if he had seen that such a measure would on the whole be most conducive to the object of His benevolence. But it would be very strange, and contrary to all good usage, to express this by saying, “ God could not prevent his creatures from sinning ;-this is what he wished, but was unable to accomplish.” No one uses phraseology like this, except to denote the want of power in the literal sense.' p. 28.

But, when a statement of this kind in naked terms is presented to Dr. Taylor, he rejects the imputation of its being his own opinion ; nevertheless, he returns to it, in the general bearing of his argument: for, while he repudiates the common theory, that God might, but did not see fit to exclude evil from his creation, and therefore will not allow the impossibility to be resolved into one of a moral kind, he still goes on to say, -'God could not • have done better than he has '; that is, could not consistently with the nature of things. What this nature of things' means, Dr. Woods proceeds to inquire in his third letter.

Not the nature of God, or his attributes, natural and moral, comprehensively; for Dr. Taylor affirms, that these would have inclined him to exclude evil,-if it could have been done. Is it then the nature of man? But this nature is God's work.- No: but the nature of inoral agency made it impossible wholly to prevent the occurrence of sin, or indeed to lessen the actual amount of it. This position stands in need of proof; and in shewing the fallacy of his opponent's method of establishing his doctrine, Dr. Woods very fairly retorts upon him the charge of assuming to 'know, and of endeavouring to explain, far more than man ac'tually knows, or is competent to explain ':-which same charge is for ever on the lips of Dr. Taylor, and his coadjutors, the Editors of the Christian Spectator.

The Christian Spectator, in reviewing Dr. Taylor's work, says: -So far is Dr. Taylor from opening a new career of rash and

fruitless speculation, that his object is, to recal past speculations 'to greater truth and soberness.' Again :-'We pretend not to . assert what was, or was not possible with God. Our object has

been to inquire, whether men know as much respecting it as • some have assumed to know.'

• Now my impression', says Dr. Woods, 'bas been widely different

« EdellinenJatka »