Read PART II - PARTICULAR OBJECTIONS of On Calvinism , free online book, by William Hull, on


The existence of moral evil is a fact, not to be denied by any man who révérences his own understanding; and that it seemed fit to the Divine Wisdom to permit its introduction into the world, is equally beyond contradiction, unless we limit the divine power, and suppose that, by a necessity antecedent to the divine will, and controlling the divine conduct, the Deity himself acts, not spontaneously but from coercion. That sin, with its awful consequences, should even exist by permission, under the administration of infinite benevolence, has been regarded by theologians as one of the most perplexing mysteries of “the deep things of God.”

But Calvinism leads to the direct and inevitable conclusion, not only that God has permitted the fall of angels and of men, but that He is himself the original author of their defection, and of the guilt and suffering which have been incurred by disobedience. No subtlety of argument, no special refinements or metaphysical distinctions, no ingenious evasions can rescue from this fatal conclusion the Calvinistic exposition of the divine decrees. If the Creator in the construction of the human mind rendered it naturally, morally, absolutely impossible, that man should maintain his obedience to the divine law under the circumstances in which he was placed the act of transgression, be it what it may, must be traced to the will and intention of the Deity the effect, sin, guilt, condemnation, undefinable misery, diffused over the face of the creation, and coextensive with the numberless generations of the family of man the cause, God; that Being who is perfect reason, perfect goodness, light without darkness, love without malevolence; who cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man; with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning! Contrasted with this monstrous compound of impiety and absurdity, which makes infinite goodness the eternal source of infinite misery, there is wisdom in the Manichaean doctrine of two conflicting principles, holding a divided dominion over the universe, and contending, one for the production of the universal degradation and wretchedness, the other, for the purity and bliss of all intellectual and moral beings!

The advocates of scriptural truth have not failed to expose, with holy indignation and eloquent remonstrance, the inconsistency of these views of the divine government with the entire scope and spirit of the evangelic economy of grace. While the love of God to a fallen world is the great theme of the apostolic ministry, and, in language too explicit to be misunderstood, the propitiation of Christ is said to be for the sins “of the whole world,” while, in exact agreement with the consolatory declaration that God “delighteth not in the death of a sinner,” the apostles of Christ are commissioned to “preach the gospel to every creature,” we are taught by Calvinism, that the God of truth is only mocking the great mass of his miserable creatures with a semblance of mercy, from whose tenderness they are excluded, and with promises and invitations which He never designed should be accepted by them. A dark and unrelenting fate has already sealed their destiny, and their perdition is rendered inevitable before they have committed those offences for which, as if in derision, they are commanded to repent, in order that they may escape the wrath of the Almighty. Thus, in total disregard of all that is holy and majestic in the character of the Deity, He is described as a Being invested with the most detestable of Satanic attributes, assuming the gentle affections of a father, only to exercise more effectually the wanton power of a tyrant, and treacherously inviting our confidence and our love, when, with such falsehood and cruelty, as the most debased of his creatures would not be able to perpetrate, He is only preparing victims for his inexorable malice.

Let it not be said, in opposition to this, that we are imperfect judges, in any particular case, of the rectitude of the divine procedures; that our ignorance renders our decision in such a case daring and presumptuous. We are not ignorant of what is meant either by justice or mercy. These moral qualities are essentially the same in nature, whether in created beings or in their Creator. The only difference is in degree. In the Deity they are infinite; and, if infinite justice and mercy are compatible with conduct which, on a smaller scale, would expose a human being to eternal infamy, then are we disqualified for all just conceptions of the character of God. If wanton cruelty be consistent with Divine compassion, then may deception be reconciled with inviolable faith, and they, who deem themselves to be happy in the electing love of God, may awake at last to the fearful discovery, that, having indulged in the dream of special grace, they are only reserved for a destiny still more terrible than others, whom they had abandoned as reprobate to the sovereign wrath of God! By what infatuation are men induced to rely on any supposed distinctions in favour of themselves, when they have removed the only grounds of confidence in the righteous administration of the Deity?

It is an impressive feature in the works of rigid predestinarians, that their own minds seem to partake of the fearful gloom with which they depict the divine attributes. They appear awed and terror -stricken with the stern aspect of the great Being whose moral character they have distorted, until they tremble at the creations of their own imagination. They write as men whose minds are rendered morbid with mysterious fears, rather than brightened into holy gladness, by a filial love of God. They seem to be vindicating with servile dread a character, whose wrath they would deprecate, and whose doubtful favour they would propitiate on their own behalf. Even when they express their persuasion of their own interest in “special grace,” it is more in the spirit of men who are conscious of being the favoured objects of capricious tyranny, than of that serene and hopeful and cheering confidence which inspires the devout heart, when it contemplates through a happier medium the beneficent and universal Father. Nor is this unnatural. The moral character of the Deity, as misrepresented by Calvinism, both unsettles all our ideas of rectitude, and renders insecure our hold upon Infinite Goodness.

That the mental disease of Cowper was intensely aggravated by depressing views of the divine character, which he received from Newton and others, and that the consolations which might have soothed his mind, from a scriptural view of the grace of the gospel, were neutralised or destroyed by his supposing himself the victim of an irreversible decree, is clear to every impartial reader of his most interesting and most melancholy life. Yet of his piety we have this touching proof, that, amidst the wildest aberrations of his intellect, and while oppressed with the conviction that he was numbered with the reprobate, his persuasion of the rectitude of the divine government never wavered; he acquiesced in the doom which he believed to await him; and declared that if it were the will of God that he should perish, he would not lift a finger to reverse his fate! Who would not lament, that a mind thus tempered to pious confidence, should be taught by a pernicious creed to distrust its own interest in the love of God a delusion which passed away only in death!


Whatever extent we assign to the corruption of human nature, by which its moral powers have been impaired, or the soul disqualified for the due and proper use of those powers, it is plain that men are still capable of acting, and of being treated as the subjects of moral government. Calvinistic writers do themselves admit the turpitude of sin and the loveliness of virtue that vice entails suffering, and that happiness is the consequence of a religious conformity to the will of God. That is, setting aside all special refinements by which they attempt to disprove that the present state of man is probationary, they confess that practically mankind are treated as accountable beings whose guilt is punished and their goodness rewarded. This broad and unquestionable fact defies controversy. Although we may not be able to give a definition of freedom which may satisfy the philosopher, and although we may concede to the opposers of the freedom of the will, that virtue and vice moral good and moral evil are to be predicated, not of the cause, whether it be freedom or fate, from whence our volitions spring, but of the good or evil nature of the volitions themselves in whatever way these questions are decided, or, if we leave them undecided, as being beyond the present grasp of the human intellect, men are unquestionably subjected by the Deity to the laws of a moral economy. They are, sooner or later, rendered happy in exact proportion to their conformity to the commands of God, and miserable if they remain rebellious.

And all we contend for is, that such a state of things can never be explained on the supposition of absolute predestination or inevitable necessity, founded on the irreversible decrees of Heaven. The reason appears on a moment’s consideration. The good or evil nature of the volition belongs, on this hypothesis, not to the created being, who is a passive instrument, without actual power but to the Creator, who is the only real agent, as well as the efficient cause. The instrument by which He accomplishes his purposes may be good or evil, the volitions of that instrument may be characterised by whatever qualities you please, still, a mere instrument is not an object of moral approbation or blame; no responsibility attaches to it, and the condition on which it acts is perfectly incongruous with all the ideas we have of reward or punishment. These are inapplicable to a state of fatalism. The volitions, and the actions they produce, are in reality those of the Deity. To Him they belong, and to Him alone. On this critical and decisive point all the great Calvinistic writers break down. While they award to human beings the treatment due to moral agents, they deny to them the attributes without which they cannot be responsible for their actions.

To beings under moral government, personal agency is essential; but Calvinistic fatalism reduces all agency to that of the Deity alone. The human soul is moved mechanically by impulse from without, and passively yields to an irresistible power.

It supposes the exercise of faculties by which we are made sensible of our relation to the Deity, and our obligation to obey his laws. Hence results the consciousness of rectitude or guilt, and all the noble motives by which we are led to self-government and self -renunciation from a sense of duty, and with a view to future happiness in the enjoyment of the divine approbation. But Calvinistic necessity destroys the majesty of the human mind, as “an arbiter enthroned in its own dominion, endowed with an initiating power, and forming its determinations for good or for evil by an inherent and indefeasible prerogative.” It tells us that we have neither power to act nor freedom to fall that our sense of liberty is delusive, that we are predestined to sin or to holiness by a decree of the infinite mind, and that our fate has been sealed from eternity! If we really believe it and act upon it, our moral energies are for ever suppressed, and the consciousness of virtue and of guilt must give way to the humiliating persuasion that we can do nothing, and that we have nothing to do, but to yield to our lot and await our doom, whether to be lost or saved!

The absurdity of such a theory of religion is a light consideration compared with the perilous consequences it must produce, if it were possible that the mass of ignorant and unreflecting creatures, of which society is composed, should really believe it true and act in accordance with their belief. Instructed to regard their present conduct and future allotment, as being already determined, the notion of a state of trial, in which they were accountable to God, would be cast off, with all its salutary restraints upon the passions, and all its noble incentives to a virtuous life. Nor would it be possible to enforce the laws of morality by mere temporal sanctions, the fear of exile, the dungeon, or the gibbet, when conscience no longer enforced the dictates of religious faith. The great auxiliary and support of all human authority is to be found in that most noble attribute of human nature the sense of duty, which ceases to operate the moment we lose the consciousness of freedom, believing that our thoughts, our actions, ourselves, are but necessary links in an eternal chain of causes and effects.

Such a theory of religion renders it absurd to admonish mankind of their duty, whether to obey the law of God, or to believe the Gospel of Christ.

To this reasoning the Calvinist replies: “I acknowledge that men are morally, spiritually dead. But at the command of God I would preach to the dead: at his word the dead shall hear and live.” But this reply is irrelevant to the great points of the argument. It remains to be proved, that God would be just in punishing as a crime that spiritual death, of which, on the Calvinistic theory, He is the author; that it is possible for infinite goodness to subject created beings to an inevitable necessity of breaking his laws, and then hand them over to perdition. This is the point which cannot be evaded; and it is fatal to the predestinarian theology. Doubtless God can raise the dead, literally or spiritually; but that does not touch the question.


By the visible Church is meant the great body of persons who are baptized into the faith of Christ, and openly profess his religion; and the term is used in contradistinction to the invisible Church, which consists of real, sincere, and spiritual disciples of our Lord. These may be said to be invisible, since to search the heart and penetrate its secrets, is the prerogative of God alone. The truly faithful, as distinguished from the mere professors of Christianity, will not be seen in their distinct character until the hour when the final judgment shall separate the righteous from the wicked. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

The visible Church, with her apostolic ministry, her worship, her sacraments, and her various provisions for the edification of the body of Christ, is instituted and constructed on the manifest principle that the present is a probationary state, and that those who by her ministrations are brought under the obligations of the Christian covenant, are not thereby absolutely but conditionally sealed to eternal life, which is suspended on their faithful adhesion to Christ, and final perseverance in his holy ways.

In exact accordance with this statement, our Lord describes the kingdom of heaven, or the Christian Church, as a field in which the wheat and the tares grow up together until the harvest; and as a net cast into the sea and gathering of all kinds of fishes, bad and good, which are afterwards to be separated.

Not a syllable occurs in the New Testament, not a single fact transpires in the history of the apostolical Churches, to justify the persuasion, that such only as were decreed to eventual salvation, were received as members of the Christian community. Such an order of fellowship, had it really existed, would have amounted to a pre-judgment of characters, anticipating and superseding the judicial sentence of the last day. In that case, to obtain an entrance into the communion of the Church was virtually to be proclaimed a member, not only of the visible, but also of the invisible society of the redeemed, rendering needless all exhortations to perseverance, and impossible all danger of apostasy. But such an exclusive and select and judicial order of fellowship never did and never can exist under the present dispensation, which is essentially a mixed state, and one of probation, supplying the means of working out our own salvation, and of making our calling and election sure, but not requiring evidence of our effectual calling and of our certain election to life previous to our introduction to the worship and sacraments of the Church.

From the earliest records we have of the administration of ecclesiastical affairs, as well as from all later history, we may learn that the Catholic Church never aimed at the senseless project of a pure communion, which, by excluding all but the finally elect, should rival in sanctity the fellowship of the saints above.

The worship of the Christian Church has always been open, unrestricted, unconfined by classical distinctions, such as those of the elect and the reprobate. The gates of the temple are closed against none who would join in the celebration of its holy rites. God is the Father of all; Christ the Saviour of all; the manifestation of the Spirit was given for the profit of all; the Gospel is to be preached to all. “And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come, and let him that heareth say, Come, and let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

The same free and charitable principle has directed the administration of the sacraments, a circumstance the more remarkable, since, in the judgment of the most eminent Fathers of the Church, these are the channels by which spiritual grace is actually communicated to all who are rightfully baptized, and religiously partake of the Lord’s supper. The formularies of our own branch of Christ’s Catholic Church are so clear and definite on this point, that every effort of ingenious casuistry to give them another meaning, or to reconcile their use with the Calvinistic theology, has ended in discomfiture. The sacraments are “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” This grace is imparted, not as to the elect and to them exclusively, but as to beings who are free and responsible, who have to account for their use of this sacred and inestimable gift, and who may forfeit its blessings by subsequent guilt and final impenitence. The present state of our knowledge, or rather ignorance of the philosophy of the human mind, may not supply us with a satisfactory answer for those, who, in a cavilling or sceptical spirit, ask, “How can these things be?” But it is the doctrine of the Scriptures and of the Church, and it is perplexed with fewer difficulties than will be found to press upon every other hypothesis.

Supposing the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination to be founded in truth, the very existence of the visible Church in its present form is a mystery which requires to be solved. No part of its constitution or order harmonises with a scheme based on fatalism, and limiting the grace of Heaven to a narrow section of the human family.

The Sabbath bell, joyously or solemnly, invites all who hear to come to the house of God; and in the name of the “great congregation” the minister of Christ addresses the Deity, saying, “Our Father which art in heaven!”

But Calvinism pronounces that God is not “the lovely Father of all mankind;” and, that while He has instituted the rites of religious worship, and invites all to mingle in its sacred duties, He regards the greater number as “cursed children,” marked out for perdition, “before the morning stars sang together, or ever the sons of God shouted for joy.”

The ministers of the Church administer to all adult converts from paganism, Judaism, or Mahometanism, who make a credible profession, and to all infants, whose sureties engage for their Christian education, the rite of baptism, signifying the remission of past sin, original or actual, and pledging the communication of whatever grace is needful to remedy or assist the weakness of nature in the moral warfare with temptation.

But Calvinism not only abjures this indiscriminate bestowment of grace; but denies that even the elect are regenerated in baptism, leaving it to the arbitrary determination of God’s decree, at what given period, and under what circumstances, they shall be, instantaneously, and without regard to any foregoing state of mind or habits of life, transformed into the beloved, and loving, and lovely children of God!

In a word, Calvinism supposes and requires an order of administration totally distinct from that which actually exists in the visible Church of God. And, accordingly, various Calvinistic communions, which have separated from the Church since the Reformation, have attempted a literal “fellowship of saints,” presuming to discriminate from the mass of nominal Christians those who have experienced the conclusive and saving change of Calvinistic conversion, and admitting such only to the full enjoyment of Church privileges and to the Lord’s table. It seems not a little surprising, that not only sagacious individuals but extensive communities should persevere in an attempt which, in the nature of things, can lead only to disappointment; for, the sincerity of that species of conversion which is supposed to be final, of that grace which is said to be irrevocable, can never be decided until the Judge of all has pronounced his verdict. In the meantime, the terms of communion must agree in some measure with the actual state of man; and when the matter is quietly examined, it appears that even in Calvinistic communions the terms of membership are reduced to a profession of the received “faith and order,” and an assurance, on the part of the initiated, that he believes himself to be a converted person by God’s special grace. This is all that is required besides evidence of good moral character; more than this is impracticable. The spirit of Calvinism can never be fully embodied in a system of Ecclesiastical polity corresponding exactly with its own nature, and marked by its own exclusiveness; for who shall discern the elect?

This discovery appears to have been made by an eminent Calvinistic clergyman of the present day, who, instead of coming to the legitimate conclusion that Calvinism is therefore untenable, as being an impracticable system, has recourse to a delusive theory of ecclesiastical fellowship, which confounds the visible with the invisible Church, or reduces the former to a mere nullity. According to his view of the subject, the Church of Christ consists, not of the collective body of persons who may happen to be in fellowship with any particular Christian communities, nor of the aggregate of persons who throughout the world make an outward profession of our holy faith, but of those, and those only, who “maintain the doctrines of grace, and uphold the authority of Christ in the world,” with whatever denomination of Christians they are in external fellowship. These, being the truly regenerate, are to tolerate each other’s differences on minor questions, to love each other as being one in Christ, and to co-operate in every way for the diffusion of their common principles throughout the world. Mr. Noel’s theory confirms the statement made in this section, that Calvinism, which it is presumed he means by “the doctrines of grace,” denies the claim of any mixed body of professing Christians, such as the Anglican, or the Lutheran, or the Scottish, or any other church, in its aggregate character, to be a church, or a distinct branch of the Catholic Church. That is, Calvinism is opposed to the constitution and the purposes of a visible church. Mr. Noel’s theory is fatal to its existence. For, when it is said of those exclusively, who, in whatever denomination, “maintain the doctrines of grace,” “and this one body is the church,” it is clearly proveable, that these persons have no intelligible grounds on which to rest that high and exclusive pretension; they are not the visible church.

These persons may, or may not, be members of the spiritual or invisible Church; that is known only to the Searcher of the heart. They may or may not be the most holy and sincere individuals in the several churches or denominations with which they hold external communion; that also remains to be confirmed or refuted by “the final sentence and unalterable doom.” But they do not constitute what is commonly understood by the visible Church of God. They have no ministry, no worship, no administration of the sacraments, visibly distinct from the mass of persons who are of the same external fellowship with themselves; and the error of assigning to them the distinction of being alone the true Church arises from the ambiguity of the word Church, on which changes are rung, producing a confusion of ideas a double confusion of ideas, “confusion worse confounded.” What is the mental process by which Mr. Noel arrives at this point? First, the invisible Church is tacitly put and mistaken for the visible, the truly spiritual for the nominal, it being assumed that we can know the hearts of others. Then, secondly, this invisible Church is supposed to become visible, and to be alone visible, in the persons of those who maintain the doctrines of grace; while the really external Church, consisting of the entire body of professing Christians throughout the world, vanishes out of sight, and is declared to have no ecclesiastical existence! The truth is, that Calvinism and a visible Church are incongruous ideas, and that no man, of whatever talent he may be possessed, can make them harmonize. The Calvinist believes, and is consistent in his belief, that the elect only are “the Church,” but since it is impossible to discriminate them from others, it is impossible to unite them in an exclusive visible fellowship. And, if it were possible, they would form such a Church as never before existed. Calvinism is irreconcileable with the order which has descended from the apostolic age, by the consent of the Catholic Church, and with any visible constitution.

If Mr. Noel has succeeded in making converts to his theory of a visible Church, from the difficulty they find in detecting its fallacies, it only proves, that

“Sheer no-meaning puzzles more than wit.”

The dissenter who, on objecting to a Church rate, said, that “If all Churchmen were like Mr. Noel, neither he nor his brethren would object to join them,” does not seem to have been aware that they were already members of Mr. Noel’s Church. Or, what is more probable, it was designed significantly to hint to that reverend gentleman, that he was no more attached than themselves to the Church of which he is a pastor, and whose ordination vows are upon him, and that with Churchmen who are prepared so to betray or deny their Church, under an erroneous sense of duty, dissenters may without difficulty form an alliance.


When Lord Chatham taunted the Church with having “a Calvinistic creed, a popish liturgy, and an Arminian clergy,” that illustrious person was the author of a libel on this holy and apostolical institution. Her creed is not Calvinistic, for it says nothing about absolute predestination; her liturgy it not popish, for there is no worship of saints or of the Virgin; her clergy are not Arminian, for their moderation has preserved them, as a body, from all extremes in doctrine, and that, as well as their unrivalled erudition and intellectual power, has been the admiration of the most eminent protestant divines and men of letters in Europe. And to her truly scriptural character, especially her rejection of the Calvinistic theology, with its gloomy, turbulent, and intolerant spirit, may be traced the high tone of moral feeling and practical reverence of religion which have honourably distinguished the people of England. Happily, Calvinism in its palmy days was confined to the Puritanical party, which made comparatively small progress within the pale of the Church; while the most influential of her clergy, and the great majority of her well educated laity, embraced the doctrines of a more generous and scriptural theology. Without falling into Pelagianism, a charge made by Calvinists on all who reject the system improperly called “the doctrines of grace,” they held the great evangelic truth that Christ “died for all,” and its correspondent views of the benevolence of God, and the moral dignity of human nature, impaired, but not destroyed, by the fall.

The principles of the remonstrants, without being servilely embraced, influenced and modified the religious opinions of the people of England, who were never generally favourable, either to the dogmas or the discipline of the Genevan reformer, and to this circumstance are we largely indebted for the manly and the moral character of our country.

This statement, founded on the history of the Reformation and the times which followed, is not intended as an indiscriminate attack on the moral character of Calvinists. Many of them are to be classed with the holiest of men; not because they are Calvinists, but because their erroneous notions are rendered innoxious, by the prevalence of a sincere piety, and by a secret and practical disbelief of the principles which, in speculation or imagination, they seem to hold.

It would be both unjust and uncharitable to judge any class of persons simply by the creed they subscribe, or to impute to them the consequences which might be supposed to follow from a rigid adherence to its doctrines. There are antagonist principles at work; there is the law written on the heart; there is grace to counteract the tendency of false impressions; there is the love of God and of man to render those who are truly good men superior to any bad principles they have unhappily imbibed. Their Christianity is dominant, and their Calvinism is made harmless.

But evil speculation has a tendency in all minds to lessen or destroy the power of those dictates of conscience which are honourable to us as moral agents; and it will counteract, so far as it goes, the salutary influence of those scriptural truths which still retain their hold upon the judgment or the feelings. In but few instances, comparatively, can Calvinism be altogether harmless; in the ordinary course of things, it is productive of results positively injurious.

In persons of serious religion, it will produce opposite effects, as they may be gentle and timid, or bold and presumptuous. In the former, anxiety, fearful apprehension, deep distress, approaching to despondency, lest the tremendous decree of reprobation should have been recorded against them in the indelible page. In the latter, who can bring a sanguine temperament of mind to the contemplation of the subject, the effect may be, and often is, unbounded confidence, leading to self-complacency and spiritual pride; the very natural result of believing that they are special objects of the love of God, and that their persuasion is a divine impulse, God speaking to the heart. Spiritual pride may assume the aspect of profound humility, and thus impose on its victim by the notion that he is only magnifying the sovereign grace of Heaven in his election to eternal life. But such is the weakness of human nature, that the consciousness of this high distinction needs to be chastened by very lofty views of the moral virtue required by Christianity, and by very humbling conceptions of our own, to prevent a false and dangerous elation of the heart.

And, in how many instances this consciousness is mere delusion, it would seem almost needless to suggest. It is often professed under suspicious circumstances by doubtful characters. Nothing can be more groundless than the persuasion so commonly entertained by persons of this creed, that to be fully convinced of the truth of the doctrine is a sufficient ground of confidence that they are therefore of the number of the chosen people. The strongest conviction may be deceptive. The firmest assurance may be the result of ignorant or fanatical presumption. And whatever may be the readiness of this class of persons to say, “My mountain standeth firm I shall never be moved,” it cannot but be feared respecting many of them, that they have yet to learn the very “first principles of the oracles of God.” The remarkable absence of humility and charity in these “children of special grace” is alone enough to render their Christianity questionable, exposes the dangerous nature of their delusion, and proves the practical inutility of their scheme; since, after all, without the evidence of a truly evangelical temper and life, no inward assurance would satisfy a reflecting mind; and in the possession of such evidence, no other assurance is needed.

The self-righteousness of the Pharisee is scarcely more to be dreaded than the spiritual pride of the Calvinist, when it has passed from under the control of holy wisdom. It assumes the character of selfishness, bigotry, and the lust of intolerant dominion.

The same spirit of exclusiveness and domination, which pervades in general their ecclesiastical polity, affects their allegiance to the state. Under cover of abolishing episcopacy, the doctrinal Puritans were the principal authors of that revolution which introduced the Commonwealth after the fall of the monarchy; and their aim was the exclusive dominion of the saints, that by political power they might establish their own forms of Church government. Religion was really their object, and they were not hypocritical in professing it; but to accomplish their spiritual projects, they considered themselves entitled to secular dominion; and their tyranny in Church and State was so overbearing, that the nation, after the death of Cromwell, eagerly threw itself into the arms of the Stuarts, almost without a compact, rather than endure the sanctimonious intolerance of Calvinistic patriots and republican saints.

The same leaven is still at work. The doctrinal Puritans of the present day have the same lordly consciousness of a right to dominion. They have declared their resolution to “stagger senates, and smash cabinets” until their points are carried. They have given to the nation a significant announcement of their claims to power, by their politico-religious synod of Manchester. The imperial parliament of these realms is, in future, it seems, to make its fiscal arrangements, and legislate on points of purely political economy, under the dictation of the Calvinistic divines of the nineteenth century. Doubtless, our future Chancellors of the Exchequer will be selected from this body of sacred financiers.

While it produces effects so remote from those of true Christianity in the religious professors of Calvinism, on the mass of ignorant, sordid, unreflecting, and worldly-minded persons, who are taught these doctrines, its worst influences are seen to operate; and, as the country was notoriously demoralized at the close of the Cromwellian dictatorship, when Calvinistic divines had enjoyed a long and signal triumph, so is the present age marked by a degeneracy in the public morals, which has kept pace with the progress of opinions of similar character and tendency. The rude multitude is taught that there is no grace but special grace, and this produces recklessness and indifference, since no efforts will avail if they are not to be partakers of these, to them, forbidden streams of the river of the water of life. Or, perhaps, this gloomy doctrine produces a sullen suspicion, vague and undefined, of the rectitude of God, and thus alienates still more those hearts which are already adverse to the Divine government.

Of all the mischievous extravagances of opinion, none has produced more fatal consequences, than the notion, that God takes particular delight in selecting the vilest of men for the object of his electing love; and that the gross sinner is better prepared for the grace of Christ, than they who have walked in the paths of virtue.

It is a melancholy but instructive fact, that in Calvinistic families, the puritanical order and discipline which are often highly commendable, have proved insufficient to counteract the malignant effects of the doctrines inculcated on the minds of the young. Instead of being taught that grace is given to all, and that all are responsible for its use, they are instructed that this blessing may perhaps be withholden. And no families have sent forth into the world more affecting examples of worthless and unprincipled young men, who have brought down the grey hairs of their excellent but mistaken parents with sorrow to the grave!

If the unguarded preaching of “the doctrines of grace,” and the scanty instruction given on the great duties of practical religion, have contributed to the demoralized state of the people, let it not be supposed that other causes have been wanting to swell the tide of corruption. From the Revolution, toleration has been gradually enlarged, until all salutary restraints have been swept away, and the glorious liberties of our country have degenerated, by a fatal abuse, into unbridled licentiousness. The press is daily infusing poison into the public mind. What once would have been punished as profaneness and blasphemy, is no longer noticed by the gentle guardians of the law, and treason has almost ceased to be a crime. Liberalism has trampled over law, and the reigning evils have been unhappily aggravated by those whose position in the state ought to have dictated other conduct than that of making anarchical principles the road to dominion.


The general tenor of the Holy Scriptures is so clearly against it, that it is impossible to account for the facts or the doctrines of the Bible on supposition of the truth of the Calvinistic theology: Nor would it be needful to discuss the subject, however briefly, on scriptural grounds, but for a few particular texts which are cited against the current testimony of the word of God. It is said that one text, if plain and direct, is evidence enough for the establishment of any doctrine. This may be a sound canon of interpretation, where the one text admits but one meaning, and that meaning is not opposed by conflicting evidence, but not otherwise. In the present instance, there exists, in addition to the opposing stream of Scripture testimony, the following strong presumption against the Calvinistic view of particular texts. Supposing the doctrine of Calvinistic fatalism to be correct, no explanation can be given of the general tenor of Divine revelation, none which can be made to harmonize with that doctrine. The entire history of providence and redemption, as given in the Bible, proceeds on the principle, not of fate, but of freedom; and if we are not free, we are reduced to the suspicious and unworthy conclusion, that the secret and the revealed will of God are at variance with each other; that we are deceived by a scheme of things designedly arranged to convey false impressions of truth, and that while God treats us now as though we were accountable beings, He fixes our final destinies without any regard whatsoever to our imaginary freedom and pretended responsibility.

On the other hand, taking the general tenor of the sacred volume to be the true representation of the moral economy under which we are placed by the infinite wisdom of God, all the passages which are cited by Calvinists, as being favourable to their cause, may be so explained, and that without violence, as to accord with the current testimony of the Scriptures to the freedom and moral agency of man. A stronger presumptive argument cannot be conceived against the claim of Calvinism to scriptural authority.

Let it be also distinctly observed, that the cause of Calvinism is not served by those passages of Scripture which relate to the election of individuals, or of nations, to certain privileges which do not extend to the absolute enjoyment of eternal life. Of this description is the ninth of the Romans. The subject of that celebrated chapter is not the election of individuals to final salvation, but the election of the Jews to the honor of being the visible Church, and their subsequent rejection through open unbelief. Nor does the allusion contained in it to the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea, yield an argument in favour of Calvinistic reprobation. The fact that the infatuated monarch was hardened in heart by the leniency which spared him under so many provocations and insults offered by him to the Almighty God, does not prove, nor was it designed to prove, that he was the fated victim of an eternal decree, whether in regard to his secular or spiritual condition.

Nor can Calvinism plead for itself those texts which are supposed to refer to the election of individuals to final salvation, but which at the same time leave unsettled the important question at issue; whether that election was absolute and irrespective of character, or whether it was founded on the foreknowledge of their faith and obedience. Such for example is the language of St. Paul, 2 Thess. i, 14. All such passages leave the controversy undetermined, proving only that the doctrine of election is scriptural, but not fixing the sense in which it is to be taken, whether absolute or conditional.

The terms election and predestination, with their correlates, are of frequent occurrence in the New Testament, and with various significations, which are to be explained by the particular subjects to which they refer. But the only texts which really bear on the Calvinistic controversy, are those which may seem to represent election as sovereign, arbitrary, and totally irrespective of the faith and obedience of the elect; such are few indeed. Let us review that which is deemed by the advocates of Calvinism among their most conclusive evidences. “That election,” says Edwards, “is not from a foresight of works, as depending on the condition of man’s will, is evident by 2 Tim. . ’Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.’” Edwards was not more remarkable for acuteness and subtlety as a reasoner, than for his lax and indiscriminate citations of Scripture. He appeals to this text with such confidence, that he deems no analysis to be necessary. The bare citation is enough.

But a brief examination of the passage will make it clear that it yields no support to Calvinism. The Calvinist affirms “that God, by an absolute decree, hath elected to salvation a very small number of men without any regard to their faith and obedience whatsoever.” That is, the decree which insures the safety of the elect is not founded on God’s foreknowledge of their holiness and of their perseverance in the faith. To show that this doctrine is supported by the passage under our consideration, it must be proved, that when the Apostle says, “not according to our works,” he means our Christian good works, our faith, our repentance, our charity, our evangelic obedience to Christ; of this, there is not the shadow of evidence. On the contrary, the works alluded to are those, whether good or bad, which were done in a state of heathen or Jewish depravity, at any rate done before believers exercised faith and repentance, and were called to the privileges of the Christian Church. No other interpretation will hold.

St. Paul states that God “hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling.” He then proceeds to trace this happy condition to its sources. He begins with a negation. The antecedent cause of our salvation and calling was not our works; we were not treated according to our works; not after the measure, the proportion, the merit or demerit of our works: these might have brought punishment, but could never have procured for us blessings so great and undeserved. The real cause was the purpose of God and his grace given in Christ before the world began.

Here, our works are put in distinct opposition to the purpose and grace of God.

They could not, therefore, be our Christian works, done in a state of salvation and subsequent to our obeying the holy calling. These are the practical results, the moral effects, of our holy calling according to the gracious purpose of God. These could never have been done but for that holy calling. They could not therefore in any sense be the antecedent cause of that holy calling. In the order both of nature and of time, both the gracious purpose and the holy calling must have preceded these works. To tell any man of common sense, that they were not the procuring cause of the grace from whence they were themselves derived, was needless.

To one so intelligent as Timothy, such instruction was worse than superfluous. Works could not hold the twofold relation of cause and effect to God’s grace. Nor can it be supposed that St. Paul was the author of a solecism so obvious, as that of formally setting in opposition to the purpose and the grace of God those evangelic works, which were the moral effects of the influence of that grace and of the execution of that purpose. The works alluded to were those which might be done before men were partakers of the Christian salvation, or independently of the dispensation of grace, and according to such works no man could be entitled to the blessings of eternal redemption.

This important text lends no support to the Calvinist. It cannot be cited in proof, that the election of God is arbitrary and uninfluenced by his foreknowledge of the faith and obedience of his chosen people, for the works here intended are not Christian good works done in faith. Edwards did wisely in not analyzing this text.

The same principle of interpretation is applicable to Titus ii. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” These works are not those of the truly regenerate, which being the effects of the grace of Christ, cannot be mistaken for the meritorious cause of the communication of that grace. It is rather to be taken as a broad assertion, that the blessings of the Christian covenant, are not the result or the reward of human deserts; that apart from the redemption of Christ, there are no works of righteousness by which we can be saved; and that while Christians are made really holy and good, their sanctification is to be traced to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. In neither passage is there any statement on which to rest an argument for the arbitrary and unconditional decree of the Calvinist, nor for depreciating the intrinsic value of those really good works which the Christian performs in faith. Calvinism has no foundation in the word of God. It is in direct collision with that sacred authority. St. Paul rests the divine election on the foreknowledge of the Deity, and let his decision be final. “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

The seventeenth Article of the Church accords with the Scriptures, and its doctrinal statements are made almost entirely in the language of the sacred writers, and of those eminent divines of the Reformation who abjured Calvinism and adhered to the Bible. It is drawn up with great moderation, says nothing of absolute decrees and unconditional election, and it treats the subject practically. The concluding paragraph relating to “curious and carnal persons” shows that the venerable compilers of the Article rejected extreme views of this doctrine, since these only could lead to “a most dangerous downfall.” But if the article itself be at all equivocal, it must be interpreted by the formularies of the Church and by the Scriptures, since no dogma is to be imputed to this holy branch of Christ’s Catholic Church, that is at variance with the attributes of God, the moral constitution of man, the testimony of the Bible, and the obligations of practical religion.

If Calvinism be the doctrine of our Church, then are the Catechism, and the Order for the Ministration of Baptism, the most absurd and delusive compositions by which the minds of men were ever led astray.


It was not in the nature of things, that Calvinistic predestination should be received as truth, without producing such a modification of the entire system of divine revelation, as would impress on it a new and completely different character. Christianity, in its unadulterated simplicity, is distinguished by the consolatory views it imparts of the benignity and grace of God, and by the direct and cogent motives it suggests for holiness and righteousness of life. But the first article of the Calvinistic creed throws a veil of awful and suspicious mystery over the divine goodness, and represents it “as the sun shorn of his beams.” Having determined that God is not the universal Father, nor “the Saviour of all men,” but the projector of a scheme which predetermines the ruin of the great mass of his creatures, Calvinism models to its own purpose all those doctrines of Christianity which are in beautiful accordance with the truth that “God is love.” It denies that the atonement of Christ was intended to make satisfaction for “the sins of the whole world.” It announces that the non-elect are laid under an irresistible necessity of sinning to destruction, and that no spiritual grace is imparted to rescue them from the dominion of native, incurable, uncontrolled depravity.

The gracious invitations and promises of the Gospel are reduced to unmeaning terms, so far as the many are concerned. And while Calvinism is denominated by its admirers “the doctrines of grace,” it obliterates from the Scriptures every trace of sincere mercy, and robs the diadem of heaven of its purest and brightest gem. Calvinism and grace are heterogeneous terms, representing discordant ideas.

The motives to a holy life, governed by piety and adorned with virtue, must be impaired by the views here given of the Deity. No human mind can be habituated to the contemplation of the divine conduct, as it is seen distorted by the predestinarian theology, and retain its just sentiments of what is right, what is just, what is honourable, what is lovely in goodness. The man who imitates the God of the Calvinist, that phantasm of a morbid or dreaming imagination, cannot fail to have his moral sentiments corrupted, and to become deceptive, shuffling, treacherous, and eventually insensible to the misery of others.

The Calvinistic doctrines of regeneration and perseverance are not calculated to rectify these evils. These are made to harmonize with the fatalism which bears all men along with irresistible energy, the reprobate to perdition, the redeemed to blessedness. The new birth is described as a sudden transformation of our spiritual nature, effected by sovereign grace, unconnected with the preceding states of the mind, whether good or evil, and attended with the communication of spiritual life which can never afterwards be forfeited or lost. No sins, however enormous, can endanger the elect, although they may for a time cloud their evidences. The effects produced by this doctrine on the mind of that individual who believes himself to be thus specially distinguished, must be of a very dangerous kind, unless counteracted as it frequently is by other principles, or restrained by the genuine spirit of Christianity operating with antagonist energy.

It is this necessary corruption of the great truths of the Gospel that renders Calvinism an object of distrust and alarm. If it was a mere speculation, which was intended, in the calm spirit of Christian philosophy, to solve a problem in theology or morals, leaving untouched the essential character of revealed religion, it might pass without rebuke. But it weakens the moral sense, and it leads to the subversion of all that is consolatory in our prospects of the final destinies of the human race, leaving us no security for the salvation even of the supposed elect; for what hope can repose with confidence on the supreme Arbiter of events, when He is believed to be the author of a religion which represents Him as acting without any intelligible moral motive, destroying the majority of the human race for offences not their own, and saving the remnant without regard to their Christian virtues!

It is remarkable that, while in modern times many disavow their belief in those views of the divine decrees which form the basis of the Calvinistic creed, and which have occasioned this corruption of Christian truth, they still hold to these corruptions, and write and preach on the implied principle that the grace of God is limited by decree to those whom they specially designate his children. They have been driven from the foundation, and still they cleave to the superstructure. They assume the designation of moderate Calvinists, not perceiving that the doctrines of particular redemption, and special grace, and exclusive assumption of a filial relation to God, are untenable when absolute predestination is exploded. Calvinism, after all, is their creed, since the system to which they adhere cannot rest on any other foundation.

It is to be inferred, therefore, that for persons of a certain temperament this doctrine has charms so powerful as to negative the calm dictates of the judgment, and practically to render the mind insensible to the force of truth.

And what are its recommendations to those who embrace it?

1. Calvinism is both exciting and sedative, exciting to the imagination, and sedative to the conscience. Thus it is accommodated to two of the leading principles of human nature, the love of the awful, the terrific, the deeply tragic, and the natural anxiety which all men feel, to be rid of the consciousness of guilt and of personal danger. Nothing can exceed the tremendous scenes opened to the imagination by that system of theology, which dooms to perdition the great mass of human beings, who are permitted by their Creator to sport or suffer upon earth through a few rapid revolutions of time, and are then swept away for ever into an abyss of ruin; while, with confounding and dreadful mystery, the Author of their being is represented as the great agent in this work of appalling desolation. To redeem his character for mercy, He rescues an elect few, but leaves the devoted multitude without pity and without hope, to everlasting torment. Whether we contemplate this fearful character of the Deity, or endeavour to realize the scenes which await the departure of lost souls, or attempt in imagination to identify ourselves with the happy spirits of the redeemed, who have escaped, they know not why, the general destruction of all that is dear to man, we must be sensible that all the ordinary conceptions of the human mind are comparatively powerless for pity, or terror, or intense expectation of what is to come.

At the same time its tendency, excepting in the case of a few sensitive and tender spirits, is to deaden the consciousness of guilt, to still the remonstrances of the self-convicted mind, and to enable men of no religion and of no morals to hear these doctrines proclaimed from the pulpit without any salutary disquietude of heart. They do not really believe them, or they find in them an apology for their corruption. It has sometimes been said, by way of severe reflection, of a moral sermon, that it could not be the Gospel, for that a Socinian might have heard it without offence. The objection is very absurd; but what then ought to be the inference drawn by the same persons, respecting the character of doctrines which, although in speculation they are fearful and appalling to the utmost, tend in reality to stupify the moral sense, and can be listened to by the profane and the profligate with complacency or apathy? While it explains their popularity, it is a presumption against their truth.

2. This doctrine has the recommendation of freeing those who hold it from anxiety about the practical part of religion, by substituting a system of belief purely speculative. When examined in all its bearings, it may be seen to consist of faith and assurance: faith in the divine decrees; assurance of being numbered with the elect. Get clear views of the divine sovereignty, believe that Christ died for you in particular, construe the persuasion of your safety into an especial witness of the Holy Spirit; doubt nothing, fear nothing; look entirely out of yourselves; and remember that there is a finished salvation for the elect; and all is well! This is Calvinism. And this is speculation. If repentance, self-government, virtue, and the duties of Christian piety and obedience are inculcated, these must be enforced on grounds not supplied by the predestinarian theology, and irreconcileable with that scheme of doctrine. Doubtless, the best writers of this school insist on holiness of temper, and sanctity of life, and enforce these by motives derived from the moral perfections of God, the turpitude of sin, and the necessity of a renewed heart as being essential to religion here and happiness hereafter. But all these considerations are totally independent of the speculations of the fatalist, and are rendered powerless as incentives to action exactly in proportion to the practical influence of these speculations on the mind and the heart.

Let the professor of Christianity give up his thoughts to eternal decrees, and special grace, and the soothing dream of irrevocable promises sealed to the heart by the clear witness of the Spirit, and the moral conflict with sin and temptation will languish with the salutary fear of danger. This is suited to the depraved indolence of man. All false systems of religion have in view the indulgence of this perilous but seductive peace. Any thing is acceptable to corrupt human nature that supplies a substitute for the duties of moral righteousness and a sublime virtue, lulling the conscience into a state of artificial repose. And to produce this effect, no scheme of religious belief, that ever emanated from the perverse ingenuity of the human mind, was ever so perfectly contrived as the Calvinistic notion of predestinating grace.

3. Of the multitudes of truly religious persons, who embrace this doctrine or give their passive assent to it, but few are competent to detect its fallacies, or to trace its evil consequences.

They are to be found chiefly among the lower ranks of life, or the uneducated portions of the middle and the higher classes. If there are any whose minds have been disciplined by sound instruction, and expanded by liberal acquirements, they are, for the most part, the children of Calvinistic families, who, having been taught to reverence these opinions in their childhood, have not had energy of mind to rise above their early impressions. That multitudes of persons piously disposed, but without the requisite knowledge, or intellectual culture, should be influenced by the arguments of men skilful in dialectics, and zealous to make prosélytes, cannot be deemed matter of wonderment. Especially let it be noticed, that these teachers and preachers know well how to appeal to ignorant timidity and to sincere but unguarded piety.

They are told, that to reject these doctrines shows “a heart secretly disaffected to the government of God,” and daring to oppose presumption and ignorance to the wisdom of the Eternal. As if it were not the fact, that Calvinism has been viewed with abhorrence by men of the humblest and the purest piety, by men of seraphic minds and of the sublimest intellect.

They are also instructed to believe, that the grace of the Redeemer is magnified by degrading human nature to the utmost, and making the redeemed passive recipients of predestinated and exclusive grace. But they do not perceive that Calvinism destroys all ideas of grace, by making God the author of the misery which He affects to pity, and by tracing the divine conduct to mere motiveless caprice, to blind and arbitrary choice or rejection.

These distinctions are lost upon the superficial minds of the multitude. And when they are told that Calvinism honours the sovereignty of God, and exalts the grace of Christ, their religious and holy feelings are enlisted in a cause which little deserves these high and evangelic eulogies. While the love of God in Christ, to themselves in particular, is made the prevailing topic, the gloomy and suspicious parts of the system are kept in the back ground, or positively denied.

If there be truth in the preceding remarks, the degree of popularity which attaches to this view of religion, far from yielding a presumptive argument in its favour, is, at least, a reason for regarding it with suspicion. It has not the recommendation of being the faith of the most numerous portion of the wise, of the holy, of the virtuous. It appeals to the weaknesses rather than to the nobler principles of human nature. It can never be the sincere and cherished belief of an enlightened, community.

The advocates of this creed appear to be aware of this, and therefore supply their want of conclusive argument by fulminations intended to effect by fear, what more honourable means could not accomplish.

They not only contend for the truth of their doctrine, they make the belief of it essential to salvation. None are elect who do not receive their views of election. All others are reprobate. “Shall I tell you,” says one of their most eminent men, “some of the ends that may be answered by preaching this doctrine? One important end is, to detect hearts which are unwilling that God should reign; to lay open those smooth, selfish spirits, which, while they cry Hosannah, are hostile to the dominion of Jéhovah. The more fully God and the system of his government are brought out to view, the more clearly are the secrets of all hearts revealed.” Men, who fancy themselves impelled by a “special influence” to receive this creed, may consistently pronounce judgment on those who reject it. The absurdity in one case, is not greater than in the other. But their attempts at intimidation will have no other effect with persons of dispassionate reflection, than to render more repulsive those errors which foster insolent conceit in vulgar minds, and encourage those who appear to have but a superficial knowledge of themselves to pass sentence of condemnation on the hearts of others.

Formally to disclaim a charge so gross and misapplied as that of “hostility to the dominion of Jéhovah,” would be to treat it with more respect than it deserves. But it may not be improper to remark, that the charge proceeds with the worst possible grace from the vindicators of a creed which obliterates from the divine government every trace of wisdom, of rectitude, of goodness, and so represents the Ruler of the word, as to make Him an object of detestation and terror to his creatures. Other sentiments must inspire the heart before we can reverence the divine administration, and unite in “the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty: just and true are thy ways, Thou king of saints.”