Saturday, 9 February 2013

THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION.

 THE "SOUTHERN CROSS" ON CALVINISM.

Sir,—I observe in the Southern Cross, just issued, an article purporting to reply to some of your remarks on Calvinism. The writer says :—" All moderate Calvinists likewise reject the doctrine which asserts that men were created to be lost. We do not believe one Presbyterian minister can be found in the colony who believes that, and it certainly is not the doctrine of the Presbyterian Church."
Now, Sir, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which every minister of the Church of Scotland is obliged to assent to occur these passages in chapter III, sections 3 and 4:— 
"By the decree of God for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
" These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished."
Does the Southern Cross wish its readers to understand that Presbyterian ministers subscribe to a confession of faith they do not believe in, and that the Westminster Confession of Faith does not contain the doctrine of the Presbyterian Church -Yours,&c.,

AN INQUIRER.


 THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION.

Sir,-" A Presbyterian Minister" gives me to understand that the Westminster Confession has an esoteric and an exoteric meaning ; that it says one thing and means some thing diametrically opposite, and that, when it declares that "some men and angels an predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death," the number of both being "so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished," it is "absurd" to conclude that the elect are predestinated to everlasting life in the Presbyterian heaven, and that " the rest of mankind "—to quote the seventh clause of the same chapter—have been "ordained to dishonour and wrath for their sin," in the Presbyterian hell, "to the praise of the glorious justice." I suppose it it equally 'absurd' to assume that the 12th and 13th clauses of the Larger Catechism, which reaffirm the same doctrines, almost in the same words, mean what they say.

" A Presbyterian Minister" recommends me to consult any elementary exposition of the Confession. Well, I go to Calvin and to Jonathan Edwards, and there I find that Calvinism subjects mind and body, our thoughts and our actions to the decree of an unchangeable necessity. It teaches us, in fact that God punishes His own creatures with eternal torments, because they fail to do that which His own decree has made impossible for them and because they do those things which He himself had, from eternity, determined and ordained them to do. Calvin even goes the length of asserting that God deliberately plans the damnation of the non-elect, for he says in the 24th chapter of the 3rd book of his Institutes:—
   "To those whom God does not wish to be illuminated, He presents His doctrine involved in enigmas, lest they should derive any other profit from it than that of being abandoned to a greater blindness." In the second chapter of the same book Calvin actually represents or rather misrepresents, God as " insinuating Himself into the minds " of the reprobate (se insinuai in corum mentes), "in order to render them more guilty and inexcusable (ut magis convictos et inexcusabiles reddat).
Why, Sir, not only does "the stainless banner of our faith " as I recently heard Dr. Cairns call the Westminster Confession, teem with explicit declarations of the doctrine of inflexible iron-bound predestination, in virtue of which a limited number of Scotchmen have been particularly and unchangeably designed to everlasting happiness in a Calvinistic paradise, while " the rest of mankind " will be undergoing the eternal torments of the Calvinistic hell, but the joys of the former, it is declared by many Calvinistic divines, would be incomplete if they were denied the exquisite pleasure of seeing the damned writhing in the tortures of the Presbyterian pandemonium—where as the pious and reverend Thomas Haliburton says, in his "Great Concern of Salvation," "the poor wretches are lying in bundles, boiling eternally in that
stream of brimstone."
That "A Presbyterian Minister" should be ashamed of the doctrines taught in the Westminster Confession I can well believe, but that he should endeavour to explain them away is a somewhat uncandid proceeding, as well as unjust to the tens of thousands of Scottish divines who, during the last two centuries have been preaching them in their most literal sense, one of them assuring us that, before the creation of man, God was actively employed in "preparing hell for curious and proud fools." (Binning's Sermons quoted by Buckle vol 3 n 241.)

YOURS, &c., AN INQUIRER.


THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION.

Sir -I have quoted Calvin's own words it which he represents God as deliberately planning the damnation of the non elect at presenting His doctrine to them involved in enigmas, so that they might be abandoned to a greater blindness, as insinuating Himself into the minds of the reprobate, in order to render them more guilty and inexcusable and as declaring that men do nothing—sin included—but by the secret will, deliberate purpose, and eternal decree of God ; and what does "A Presbyterian Minister " say to all this? He first of all insinuates that my quotations from the "Institutes are untrustworthy, and then, when I tell him the very sections of the chapters in which he may find them for himself, he cites what Dugald Stewart thought about the Confession of Faith, and what Sir William Hamilton imagined that Calvin must have meant by what he said. I submit that Calvin must have known his own meaning much better than either of the "two authorities" referred to, and I am not at all disposed to accept their dicta and "be silent."
Is moral freedom compatible, I would ask, with the following state of things, as described by Calvin? "Infants themselves bring their own damnation with them from their mother's womb, who, though they have not yet brought forth the fruits of their iniquity, yet have the seed of it enclosed within them. Nay, their whole nature is a certain seed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God." (Inst lib 4 c 15 sec. 10 ) Is there any free will here ? God is actually represented as creating infants on purpose to be damned. And that there may be no mistake about his meaning, this repulsive theologian says in another place —"Whence came it to pass that the fall of Adam should involve so many nations, together with their infant children, in eternal death, without a remedy (absque remedio), unless, because God saw it right that it should be so ? I confess " he has the grace to admit, " " that it is indeed a horrible decree (decretum horribile), yet no one can deny that God foreknew, before He created man, what end He would have, and He knew it because He had by His decree determined it." (Inst, lib 3, c 23, sec 7 ) Can we wonder, Sir, at what the biographers of Jonathan Edwards tell us, that, when this passage from Calvin was quoted from the American pulpits, "whole congregations shuddered, and simultaneously rose to their feet, smiting their breasts, weeping and groaning?" —as well they might. And we can feel just as little surprise at what the Rev. Walter Sellon writes in the introduction to his treatise on " General Redemption:"   " I have heard some curse and blaspheme the God of Love in a manner shocking to think of, on account of His supposed 'horrible decree.'  I have known other serious Christians, of a timorous disposition, walk for years together on the very brink of despair, always in fear lest they should not be in the number of the elect, and so perish at last."
That Calvinism, as instituted by Calvin and defined by the Westminster Confession, has been understood by numbers of the most eminent Presbyterian preachers as implying that a small number of persons—chiefly Scotchmen—will be saved, and that the great bulk of mankind will be damned for ever, because God has foreordained and predetermined, from all eternity, that it should be so could be proved by citations from published sermons and treatises more than sufficient to fill half a dozen numbers of The Argus. I will just quote a few. The Rev. Augustus Toplady says:—
"Nothing comes to pass without the decree of God ; no, not the wicked actions of men, which God not only foresees, but decrees. " Ergo, he makes out God to be the author of sin. And again "God's predestination is most certain and unalterable, so that no elect person can perish, nor any reprobate be saved. " Dr. John (not Jonathan) Edwards informs us that "God did from all eternity decree the commission of all the sins of the world. " And if men are "ordained," or appointed, to sin, it follows that, according to Calvinism, they are forced to sin. The Rev. Anthony Burgesse, by way of consoling those parents whose deceased infants are supposed to be writhing in the flames of the Calvinistic hell, informs them that their sufferings might be much greater than they are. For, he says "Those who hold some infants dying in original sin to be damned, do yet acknowledge that it is the mildest of all punishments, because they have no actual sins joined with their original sin to increase the torments of hell." Would anybody like to know what these "torments " are, which Calvinism adjudges "infants a span long" to undergo simply because they were foreordained to do so from all eternity? Here is the description of it by Jonathan Edwards, whose eminence as a "divine " no Calvinist will venture to dispute :—"A vast ocean of fire in which the wicked shall be overwhelmed which will always be in tempest, in which they shall be tossed to and fro, having no rest day or night, vast waves or billows of fire continually rolling over their heads, of which they shall for ever be full of a quick some within and without, their heads, their eyes, their tongues their hands their feet, their loins, and their vitals shall for ever be full of a glowing, melting fire fierce enough to melt the very rocks and elements ; and also they shall eternally be full of the most quick and lively sense to feel the torments—not for one minute, nor for one day, nor for one age, nor for two ages nor for a hundred ages, nor for ten thousands of millions of millions of ages one after another but for ever and ever, without any end at all, and never, never to be delivered ! "
And to these unspeakable, inconceivable interminable torments Calvin solemnly assures us that "infant children " have been eternally and unchangeably foreordained absque remedio, quia Deo ita visum est. De cretum quidem horribile, fateor. It is indeed. Nevertheless, "A Presbyterian Minister" wants to make us believe that Calvin did not know what he was talking about, but that Sir William Hamilton did. I am not surprised at this for I find a similar assumption running through all the Commentaries—and notably the Calvinistic ones—upon the Holy Scriptures. Each commentator holds up his farthing rushlight for the purpose of illuminating the sun ; and each believes the Most High to be so in capable of intelligibly communicating His eternal truths to man, that He requires the assistance of a whole army of muddle-headed conceited, and self righteous theologians for their elucidation, the final result being that frightful condition of discord, controversy, confusion, schism, dogmatism, scepticism, materialism, and atheism which prevails throughout the whole of Christendom at this moment.
In conclusion let me assure "A Presbyterian Minister" that his Parthian arrow labelled "the yell of a maniac" glances past me and leaves me unwounded. Such an allegation has been freely used in all ages by religionists against their opponents. Our Lord's own friends and relations in the flesh, when they heard him attacking the established religion, and denouncing the preachers and the missionaries of that time went out to lay hold on him, for they said, "He is beside himself," while the orthodox religionists, who "believed in him," were the first to exclaim, "Now we know that thou hast a devil."  Perhaps "A Presbyterian Minister" has never read the elder Hoods admirable "Ode to Rae Wilson," a few lines from which I will venture to quote, and address to your correspondent :—
" If my offence be rank, should yours be rancour ?     
Mild light, and by degrees, should be the plan
To cure the dark and erring mind ;
But who would rush at a benighted man,
And give him two black eyes for being blind ? 

Yours &c.

AN INQUIRER,

The Argus 20 April 1876, 

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