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evident from other passages, you include scripture,) "that can deserve the least notice, or be " thought worthy of a moment's attention on this subject." You call it, (page 60.) "A present and standing miracle of our own, in consequence of which we stand no longer in need of any of the credit of ancient miracles." You tell us, it produces "such indelible characters stamped upon the heart, as no misrepresentation can ever possibly intervene to corrupt :" And say, "that this faithful monitor and guardian has promised to continue this office to the end of the world, that we may not be left liable one moment to a possibility of error and imposition." So that, (not to multiply citations from many parallel passages,) as you express it, (page 90.) in as strong and determinate terms as can be imagined, "Actual infallibility is the only title whereon to ground any plausible claim to our discipleship."
Now, Sir, I seriously apprehend, that every intelligent reader will immediately conclude, that if this representation of the matter were indeed the genuine doctrine of christianity itself, this third part of your treatise, separate from the two former, which I hope have been already sufficiently confuted, would alone be an unanswerable demonstration, that christianity was false. If this be its language, and these its engagements, it is evidently condemned out of its own mouth, for surely all christians are not in fact infallible. Every error, and every contradiction maintained by any of them, on one side the question or the other, evinces this; unless both parts of a contradiction could be true. You must therefore, on these principles, reconcile error and infallibility, which it seems very difficult to do: Unless you should think fit to evade that necessity by saying, that they only among all the contending parties are to be acknowledged for christians, who are free from error; from any error, of any kind, or any degree, in any question in which religion is concerned. And this surely, in the judgment of every candid and impartial man, would be no other than acknowledging, that there is no such thing as a christian now in the world. And this would consequently prove christianity itself false, as it is confessedly a part of the scheme, that it was to be perpetuated to all ages by a succession of faithful disciples; which, according to the whole of your argument, it was the design of this extraordinary agency of the spirit to secure.
The absurdity of this is so flagrant, that I suppose you will rather chuse to say, that the reason why christians fall into error is, because they do not follow this infallible guide. But you must give me leave to remind you, that you have cut your
self off from this retreat, by asserting this light to be irresistible, and to flash conviction in a moment: and by saying expressly, that it is an indelible character, instamped (as it seems by what you elsewhere maintain,) at our baptism, and incapable of being corrupted. You cannot surely imagine such a subterfuge consistent with saying, (as in the place quoted above,) "that actual infallibility is the only title to the claim of being a disciple." An actual infallibility, liable for want of due attention to be mistaken, is as incoherent an idea, as that of a square circle, or a cylindrical cone. Christianity must appear ridiculous, if it taught such a doctrine; and you will, I hope, Sir, examine your own conscience, as to the view in which you wished it should appear, when you fathered such a scheme upon it.
As I cannot remember ever to have seen the doctrine of the spirit's influence set in so injurious a light, and turned so visibly to the reproach of that gospel, to which, when duly explained, it is so distinguished a glory, I shall therefore set myself to canvass this point with you at large: And hope to shew, that this misrepresentation of what the scripture teaches on this head is as gross, as the scheme itself is inconsistent and absurd.
Now that this point may be set in as clear and easy a light as possible, I shall endeavour to shew,
First, That the scripture may say many very important things of the agency and operation of the spirit on men's minds, without carrying it to such a height as you suppose.
Secondly, That it says many things concerning these influences, and the persons under them, utterly inconsistent with your scheme. And,
Thirdly, That the passages on which you build your hypothesis, will none of them, if fairly interpreted, support it, and several of them are in themselves sufficient to subvert and overthrow it, though they have been unnaturally pressed into a contrary service.
Most of what I have farther to offer in reply to your letter, will be comprehended under one or other of these heads: But before I enter into the discussion of them, I must take leave to premise one preliminary; which is, That the question we are debating, is not by any means to be decided by human authority. I am very sensible, Sir, that some eminent divines of the Roman communion, and of the established church at home, as well as among our nonconformists, have, in the zeal and humility of their hearts, expressed themselves in a manner which cannot be defended, and thereby have given too plausible 3 Z
an occasion for your dangerous and fatal misrepresentations. Yet I am not aware, that any of them, even Bishop Beveridge, or the celebrated Archbishop of Cambray himself, ever ran your lengths; and their other writings shew, how utterly they would have abhorred some of the consequences, which you have drawn, or suggested, from these principles. But my business is with the law and with the testimony; and where these holy and excellent men have not spoken according to that rule, I cannot believe that celestial light to have been in them, or suppose their minds under the guidance of that spirit, whom, though by illjudged methods, it was undoubtedly their sincere and affectionate desire to glorify. Taking the matter, therefore, as the scripture represents it, it will be very easy to shew,
First, That the scripture may say many very high and important things concerning the agency and operation of the blessed Spirit on the hearts of believers, without carrying it so far as you represent, or laying any just foundation for the arguments you would build on such passages. Many things may be said of the Xapouala, or the extraordinary gifts and powers of the apostles and primitive christians, which were so peculiar to that age, that we have no personal concern in them at all:And many things might be said of those operations which were to continue in all ages of the church, which though of great moment and universal concern, may fall very far short of what you assert, and must maintain, in order to establish the consequences you would connect with these principles.
It is of great importance here to recollect, (though you have artfully contrived, if possible, to keep your readers from such a view,) that many things in scripture, which relate to the operations of the Spirit of God on the mind, have a reference to those extraordinary gifts, which were peculiar to the apostles, and in which we of these later ages have no farther concern, than as the general knowledge of them may establish our regard to the writings of those eminent servants of Christ, who were wisely and graciously distinguished by their divine Master, by such extraordinary endowments, to fit them for the extraordinary office they sustained: An office, by which they were called out to plant the gospel, amidst a thousand oppositions, discouragements, and dangers, in countries where it was before utterly unknown; and also to draw up those important and sacred records, by which the knowledge of it was, in the purest and most comprehensive manner, to be communicated to the remotest ages and nations. It would be quite
foreign from my purpose, to enter into a nice enumeration of their peculiar gifts and powers. It plainly appears congruous to the general scheme of providence, so far as we can judge of it, that persons destined to such a work should have some uncommon furniture for it; not only beyond what could be expected by christians in future ages, when the gospel was settled in the world, and many ordinary helps provided, of which the church was then destitute; but also beyond what could be pretended to by private christians, or even by subordinate ministers, in those early days: And accordingly, modest and humble as the apostles were, we frequently find them speaking in their writings as the authorised ambassadors of Christ, who bore unequalled credentials from him; to whose decisions therefore, both churches, and their ministers were to submit, if they would not incur the guilt of despising their common Lord.
It will on these premises therefore be very readily granted to you, that these holy men might, as you speak, have many particular revelations, separately and supernaturally imparted to each ;" and that in such a manner as, while they were receiving them, might so far supersede the exercise of reason, as to leave them only to observe, report, and record the oracles of God, delivered to them, as of old to the prophets, who spake as they were immediately moved, or borne on, by the Holy Ghost*, though all the Lord's people had no warrant to expect to be so immediately instructed and favoured. Whatever were the peculiar signification of the word of wisdom, and the word of knowledge, which were given to the apostles by the Spirit, (concerning which there has been, and perhaps still may be, much debate,) it is put out of question by many evident passages in the New Testament, that the apostles were divinely assisted in the interpretation of the sacred oracles of the old, and were also favoured with such comprehensive views of the whole christian scheme as they could not have learnt by any human methods of investigation; or even by the personal instructions they had received from Christ in the days of his flesh, who expressly referred them to the Spirit as the great teacher, by whom they were to be instructed in many things which, while he was with them, they were not able to bear. These were such things, as eye had not seen, nor ear heard, neither had it entered into the heart of man to conceive
2 Pet. i. 21.
+1 Cor. xii. 8.
John xvi. 12.
them; and it is easy to imagine, that with respect to these, they might very properly say, in a sense peculiar to themselves, God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit, which searcheth all things, even the deep things of God: For we have received the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things which are freely given us of God; which things also we speak, in words which the Holy Ghost teacheth, so as to be judged by no man, because we have the mind of Christ+.
These, Sir, were glorious apostolical prerogatives, in the highest sense which the words will bear; yet I cannot but observe, that, so far as we can judge by the New Testament, the degree of inspiration granted to them would not warrant some of those expressions which you use, when describing that which you suppose common to every christian. You will find it hard to prove, that all this conviction was flashed into their souls in a moment; that a finished creed was produced in their minds at once; and that none of them were for a moment left liable to a possibility of error. I think the contrary is demonstrable, even with regard to them; though I doubt not their being at length led into all necessary truth, and qualified to transmit it to us, without any mixture or alloy of falsehood.
The scripture may also, without establishing your peculiar doctrines on this head, farther teach, (as I am well satisfied it does,) that the holy Spirit was to continue with the church in all ages, even to the end of the world; that it was to be his stated office to convince men of sin, to direct their believing regards to a Saviour, and to glorify Christ, by taking of his things and shewing them, not only to the apostles but to succeeding believers. It may teach us, that, by his influence, God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shines into hearts, to give the knowledge of his glory, as reflected from the face of his Son§; that he irradiates our understandings, and sanctifies our affections, so that in consequence of this, when we commence cordial believers, we are born of the Spirit. The whole genius of scripture may lead us, (as I am fully persuaded it does,) chiefly to ascribe unto his gracious influences, our understanding in divine things, as well as our disposition to comply with the method of salvation which the gospel exhibits, and with the precepts it establishes. All this may be granted, may be asserted, may be contended for, witho mantaining "a constant and supernatural revelation, to be parted to every individual, so as to be the all-sufficient
9. 10. 1 Cor. ii. 12, 13, 15, 16. John xvi. 14. § 2 Cor. iv. 6.