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ARTICLE IV.-A Historical Sketch of Opinions on the Atone
ment; interspersed with Biographical Notices of the Leading Doctors, and Outlines of the Sections of the Church, from the Incarnation of Christ, to the present time; with Translations from Francis Turrettin, on the Atonement. By the Rev. James R. Willson, A. M. Philadelphia: published by E. Earle. 1817. pp. 351. 8vo.
Mr. Willson is a thorough, consistent and fearless Calvinist. His doctrinal views correspond with our own, and of course we think his writings valuable. We may be deemed partial in reviewing him, but we shall endeavour to be just; while we make it our principal business to give an outline of his history of the doctrine of the atonement.
That Christ Jesus entered into covenant, in the counsels of eternity, to save all that were chosen in him into eternal life; that in the fulness of time he became man and fulfilled his mediatorial engagements, by rendering a perfect active
obedience to the precepts of the moral law, and by suffering the penalty incurred by the sins of his people, and of their sins alone, so that it is a matter of debt to Christ, but of grace to the elect, that they should all be effectually called, justified, sanctified, and glorified, is the doctrine of a plenary, definite, personal atonement, which Mr. W. thinks was inculcated by the apostles, and prevailed in the first and purest age of evangelical sentiment. The Scribes and Pharisees he considers as having been the first opposers of this doctrine of life, for they taught men to expect acceptance with God on condition of ritual observances, regard to traditions, and mere morality.
Among the Christian Fathers there seems to have been no controversy about either the nature or the extent of the atonement, and therefore they did little more than occasionally quote the Bible on the subject, until Arius arose, who denied the essential divinity of the Son of God; and was condemned as a heretic, by the council of Nice in the year of Christ 325. Arianism, however, became the religion of the imperial court, and
prepared the way for the introduction of “the man of sin,” and “the dark ages” of his reign. In place of the atonement of Christ, the Romish church exalted her unbloody sacrifices, penances, absolutions from priests, the superabundance of merit in the saints, and various institutions of human invention. Religion with the true doctrine of Christ's satisfaction to divine justice, fled away into the vallies of the Alps, and continued there, until God sent them, hand in hand, to enlighten Martin Luther, and God's heroes of the Reformation from popery. They revived the doctrine that “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark x. 45.
Among the Protestants, John Arminius, who was born in Holland, A. D. 1560, was the first who extensively propagated the tenet of an indefinite, universal atonement. That Jesus died for every child of Adam, so as to render satisfaction for the sins of Judas, as much as for Peter, was a doctrine of Arminius and his followers, condemned in the Synod of Dort, in 1616. The British divines who were present, expressed the sentiments of the majority of that body, when they stated, that “All those for whom Jesus died shall experience the efficacy of his death, for the mortification of sin; and they shall become kings and priests unto God.'” From Arminius all who bear his nanie in the Protestant churches, have derived their doctrine of uni. versal atonement or redemption, which they couple with that of salvation on condition of personal repentance and perseverance. From the time of Arminius to the present day, the greater part of professing Christians not in the papal connexion, have been denominated either Calvinists or Arminians, according as they have favoured the doctrines of the Rev. John Calvin, or of the Rev. John Arminius, concerning election, the ex. tent of the atonement, human depravity, human ability, and the perseverance of saints. As distinct ecclesiastical denominations, however, neither party has existed, but in almost every organized section of the Christian
church, both Calvinists and Arminians have been found.
In the Protestant church of France, Piscator, Cameron and Amyraut were the principal instruments of turning men from the truth. Mr. Willson conceives that the revocation of the Edict of Nantz, which exterminated that church, was a divine judgment for the shameful manner in which she temporized in her great councils, about the introduction of pernicious errors. The Armi. nian doctrine of atonement was probably originated by a desire to reconcile Socinianism and Calvinism, for before Arminius modified the protestant creed upon this subject, he had probably become conversant with the sentiments of Lælius and Faustus Socinus, who while they opposed popery in Tuscany and Switzerland, opposed also the divinity of the Son of God, and denied every species of atonement. “While error was spreading in Holland, by Arminius and his disciples; in France, from the Saumur; and heresy from Racow, in Poland, the school of Geneva for a great many years preserved its attachment to the system of the reforma. tion, without the least deviation.” p. 63. The Reformed Church of Holland is to this day orthodox in her professions; the Reformed Church of France was dispersed, and at present the Romish religion prevails there, with the exception of a few Protestant Episcopal English churches; and in Germany, and indeed on the continent of Europe generally, either Socinianism or Arianism, is the predominant system among the public teachers of the order of Protestants. A respectable German minister of the city of New York assured the conductor of this Review, that he was personally acquainted with more than one hundred German Protestant ministers, and among them all four only could be found, who did not wholly deny the divinity of Christ and every kind of satisfaction to divine justice for the sins of men.
From the continent, Mr. W. passes in his historical researches, to England and thence to Scotland. He gives us the result of his investigations in relation to the first reformers in these countries, the Established Epis
copal church, the Presbyterians, the Independents, the Westleyan Methodists, the Quakers, the Baptists, the Swedenburghians, and the different species of Scotch Seceders and Covenanters.
From Scotland Mr. W. passes to America, and devotes more than ninety pages to the historical sketch of opinions and parties in this western world. As might have been expected, he is more minute in his details concerning his native land, than any other. The English Puritans who first settled New England were Calvinists, who believed and taught the doctrines of the Westminster and Savoy Confessions of Faith. Our author makes us particularly acquainted with the views of Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather, of John Harvard, Benja. min Coleman and others, who were zealous opposers of Arminianism. It found its way, however, into Yale College, even in the time of Coleman, greatly to his sorrow. In Virginia, Arminianism was planted simultaneously with the established Episcopal clergy of the colony; and Maryland received the Romish religion from George Calvert, Baron of Baltimore; while Pennsylvania was originally imbued with Quakerism,
by the celebrated William Penn. The Reformed Dutch Church in New York and New Jersey was a branch of the Reformed Church in Holland, and retained the orthodox confession of the reformation. The Presbyterian churches in the United States were at first formed through the influence of emigrants from the different Presbyterian churches in England, Scotland and Ireland: and they too adopted the orthodox crecd of their progenitors, in the old world.
To presume that there were, from the organization of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches, no Arminian teachers in them, would be presuming too much; but it is certain, that the Westminster Confession was generally acknowledged by these denominations in the United States, to be a correct exhibition of scriptural doctrine, until the appearance of the “ New Lights” in the days of that eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the Rev. George Whitefield. When he first Vol. I.
preached in this country he maintained some few erroneous tenets, which he subsequently retracted and refuted, as will be evident to any candid reader of his works. He was the honoured instrument of calling mul. titudes of sinners into the faith and fellowship of the Son of God.
Through his instrumentality, many who were fast asleep in the soundness of their faith, were aroused to activity. The pious generally hailed him as the great apostle of the latter days. Many opposed him from very different motives. Dr. Chauncey of Boston, the inventor of a protestant purgatory for the Universalists of his order, in which a few thousand years of torment are to fit them for heaven, was called into the streets of that town very early on a certain morning by the ringing of bells: he found the multitude pressing along as men in haste to extinguish a fire, and could not divine the cause of their eagerness, until in Cornhill he met Mr. Whitefield in his robes. “Good morning, Dr. Chauncey," said the mighty orator.
“What! are you here, Mr. Whitefield, making all this noise?” said Dr. Chauncey, with more unceremonious roughness than he was accustomed to use; “ I'm sorry to see you, Sir!”
Whitefield bowed very graciously and replied, as he shot by him, “ Ah! good Doctor, and so is the Devil.”
Others opposed Whitefield because they thought his preaching too exclusively addressed to the feelings of his auditors. “They admitted, that Mr. Whitefield might be, and no doubt was, instrumental in the conversion of numerous sinners; that he was pious and honest in his intentions; but they feared that the storm of passion which was raised, would lay waste the order of the church, and in the end, produce more evil than good.” p. 137. Of the revival which followed his mi. nistry, Mr. Willson judiciously observes, that through the instrumentality of Satan and the corruptions of the human heart, it was the means of introducing into the Presbyterian church evils of which it has never yet been able to purge itself; even while God made it