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  • TRADITIONS OF THE ELDERS - C
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    But, another inevitable tendency of these traditions is, to lead those who embrace them, to adopt the waiting system. If he is reallyunable to obey God, of what use are his efforts; while he believes himself unable, he must regard it as of no use to try; efforts are idle, and worse than idle. That he must quietly wait for God to change his heart, is both the logical, and irresistible inference from such premises, and God alone is to blame for his continued impenitence.

    Again, Universalism is another logical, and irresistible inference from these dogmas. Assuming as a fact, that men are constitutionally depraved, unable to obey the gospel, under the necessity of waiting for a physical regeneration, one must either adopt the conclusion that God is an infinite tyrant, or that all will be saved.

    Again, these traditions have a manifest tendency to conduct a thinking mind into the regions of infidelity. What! exclaims a man of thought, am I to believe that a book containing such absurdities as these, is from God. That God has made men sinners; incapable of serving him, suspended their salvation upon impossible conditions, made it indispensable that they should have a physical regeneration, and then damns them for being sinners, and for not complying with these impossible conditions, monstrous! blasphemous! Believe this who can! Thus having neither inclination, or perhaps time, for examining the Bible for himself, and hearing incessant changes rung upon these dogmas he becomes disgusted, and very naturally concludes that if these are the doctrines of the Bible, its religion is but a dream.

    Once more. These dogmas, are calculated to beget and often have produced the most high handed and dreadful rebellion against Almighty God. Sinners, supposing these to be true, and supposing that God would damn them if they did not repent, and yet were unable to repent; that he had made them sinners; that their very nature was itself depraved, and for this depravity, they were exposed to, and threatened with eternal death: they have been led in many instances to curse him to his face. And what is wonderful, this very natural, and I must say, reasonable opposition, upon the assumption that these sentiments are true, has been dwelt upon by their abettors, as evidence of their truth.

    Another, and the last tradition to which I shall call your attention at the present time, is what is generally called irresistible grace. This doctrine maintains that sinners are irresistibly converted; that if they are of the number of the elect, they will be converted in spite of themselves. By irresistible grace I understand and mean nothing more than that it is not, in those cases, resisted. But it has been maintained by some that it was properly irresistible. This is evidently a limb of physical regeneration. If that is true, this must be true also. But what is more calculated to quiet a man in his sins, than the idea of irresistible grace in regeneration. That do what he will; live as he will; resist as he will; still if he is to be converted, he will be irresistibly wrought upon, converted, and saved in spite of himself. I cannot conceive of a sentiment more directly calculated to break the power of the gospel, to strengthen the sinner's hands in his rebellion, and settle him quietly down upon his lees until he sinks to the depths of hell. It is believed that in millions of instances the traditions of physical or constitutional depravity, and inability, with their kindred errors, have led men very consistently to justify themselves, and condemn God. Hence when they have been called upon to repent, and believe the gospel, they have replied that they were willing and waiting God's time. The inference from their premises was irresistible, that they must wait, and consequently a compromise pursued; instead of calling upon him, and insisting upon his immediate repentance; instead of urging him to make to him a new heart and a new spirit, on pain of eternal death, he has been told to pray, to use the means, to call upon God for the influences of his spirit and wait for sovereign grace to change his heart. Thus when the sinner has felt straitened, and shut up to the faith, and ready to break down under the pressure of the requirement to repent and believe the gospel; his conscience has been relieved; the pressure of obligation mitigated, and the agonizing obligation to instant submission deferred. The sinner has found his pains removed, his obligation to present duty postponed; he has turned away, in the use of means, quenched the Spirit, prayed himself to sleep, and sunk to the depths of hell.. And no wonder; for the requirements of God, are set aside, and another rule of duty substituted in its place. The requirement of the gospel is, repent now, and believe that your soul may live. It gives not the sinner a moment's time to wait; it presses upon him with all the weight of Jehovah's authority, instantly to ground his weapons, and submit to God. He feels hedged in, as with a wall of fire; he pants, and struggles, and is driven to extremity; he prays, but still the gospel cries repent and believe; he goes to church, and reads his Bible, and attends upon the means; but his conscience finds no relief, the commandment comes thundering upon his ear repent and believe the gospel. Whatever he does, or omits to do,--wherever he goes; the requirement still follows him, and increases his distress. But here comes in the charming, soothing opiate of inability. He meets some one, who tells him to use the means, that God is a sovereign, that he cannot repent himself; that he must not think to take the work out of the hands of God; that if he prays, and waits, at the gospel pool, he has no reason to be discouraged; that by-and-by, he has every reason to hope that God will change his heart. Ah, says the sinner; is it so. I feel relieved. I felt as if ten thousand voices were crying in my ears, repent, repent? And the more I prayed and used the means, the more guilty I felt: for I supposed that God required nothing less than absolute, and unconditional, and instantaneous submission. But I thank you for your comforting conversation. If this is all, to pray, and use the means, and wait God's time, I can do it without distraction. Thus another requirement being substituted for that of God, the power of the gospel is broken; and the commandment that was about to crush the sinner in the dust, that had hedged him in, and gave him no gleam of hope, but in instant submission is rendered of no effect by this tradition. The sinner breathes easier, feels relieved from the pressure of present obligation, drinks the lethean draught of the soul-killing poison, and goes down to hell.

    If he believes himself in the performance of dutywhen in the use of means; the more industriously he uses the means, the less real conviction of sin he will have; if he supposes this is what is required of him; of course, while he is thus performing what he supposes to be duty, he must suppose himself to be growing better. The more he multiplies his unrepentant prayers, and tears, and efforts: the more acceptable he must suppose himself to be to God. Thus his fears gradually subside; his good opinion of himself increases; his delusions deepen; and "while his judgment of a long time lingereth not, and his damnation slumbereth not;" he is gradually, but surely sinking into the slumbers of a stifled conscience; of a hardened heart; and about to cry peace and safety, until sudden destruction come upon him that he cannot escape. INFERENCES AND REMARKS. 1. You see, from this subject, why some deny total depravity. The principal reasons are two. The first, is founded on inattention to the spirituality of God's law, confining their attention to the prohibitory applications of it, as contained in the ten commandments, and considering it as designed merely to restrain outbreaking sins; overlooking the absolute, positive perfection that it enjoins, in thought, word, and deed, they in reality substitute another rule of conduct, in the place of the law of God. Thus comparing themselves with a false standard, they of course mistake their own character. Instead of closely weighing their thoughts, their affection, and all the movements of their minds, in the delicate scales of the sanctuary: instead of bringing all their heart and all their soul under the clear blaze of the law of God; they weigh themselves in the corrupt scale of their own imaginings, and sink down to death.

    2. Another reason why men deny total depravity, is, that they cannot see how the constitutional powers of the mind should be in themselves sinful; nor how it is that a God of justice could make men with a nature in itself totally depraved. Nor can I. If this be what is meant by depravity, I not only deny total depravity, but in this view of it, all depravity.

    3. You see why some see no need of an atonement for sin. They have entirely misunderstood the nature of God's law. This was the reason why the Scribes and Pharisees, seemed to have had no right notion of the necessity of an atonement. Their system was mere self-righteousness. They, therefore, esteemed the announcement of the Deity of Jesus Christ, and the doctrine of his atonement, as blasphemous.

    4. You see from this subject why the doctrines of grace, as they are called, lead to a pure morality. Some have regarded the doctrine of the vicarious sufferings of Jesus Christ, his making an atonement for sin, and making the conditions of salvation to be faith and repentance, as a dangerous doctrine, calculated to encourage men in iniquity, by holding out to them the hope of heaven, though they may continue to the last hour of their lives in rebellion against God. Thus, they look upon the doctrines of grace, as calculated to overthrow the very foundations of morality, and as highly prejudicial to the well-being of society. But the fact is, as all experience shows, that those who most cordially embrace the doctrines of grace, exhibit the purest morality. The reason is, they have right views of the spirituality of God's law; and nevertheless they understand the conditions of the gospel to be repentance and faith; still they regard God's law, in all the length and breadth of its spirituality, as the rule of their lives. Upon this they keep their eye, as upon a pure mirror; in this they see their exact moral image; this leads them to watchfulness, to prayer, and to walking with God. And while the purity of its precepts annihilates every hope of being saved by their own works; they see and feel, that until they are perfectly conformed to the full length and breadth of its requirements, they never can be perfectly happy.

    5. You see why those who reject the doctrine of the atonement, and depend upon their own works, and the general mercy of God for salvation, exhibit a spurious, and lax morality. The fact is, it is their loose and vague notions of the spirituality of God's law, which lies at the foundation of their rejecting the doctrine of atonement: and as their views of the rule of duty is defective; their morality will be in like manner defective.

    6. You see from this subject, why it is that some professors of religion, when they are pressed up to holy living, their sins pointed out, and they are required to obey the law of God; cry out, this is not the gospel; this is preaching the law; tell us of the mercy of God; we want to hear about Christ, not about the law. The fact is, such persons are Antinomians. They regard the gospel simply as a system of pardon, and overlook the great design of its making them holy, and bringing them back to perfect obedience of the law of God.

    7. From what has been said, we may understand, why it is, that for so many hundred years, the gospel has had so little influence over the minds of men. For many centuries, but little of the real gospel has been preached, that is, it has been so mixed with the traditions of men, so much that is human, so much that is false, has been added to it, and intermingled with it, as to break its power. All the multitudinous errors, and false notions that have clustered around the doctrine of physical depravity, have every one of them served to shield the sinner form the arrows of the Almighty. Physical depravity, physical regeneration, the sinner's inability, and all their kindred errors, have formed so many hiding places, under which, millions upon millions have been entrenched, until the hail has swept away their refuges of lies, and the waters of Almighty wrath have overflowed their hiding places: and it is not to be doubted, that thousands of millions of our race are now groaning in hell, that might have been saved, but for these traditions of the elders that have made void the commandment of God. The design, and the tendency of the gospel, is, to bring men to immediate repentance. It lays upon them no requirement short of this. It never calls upon them to do any thing less than to repent, and obey the gospel. But men, holding, as many of them have, that sinners were unable to do this, have set them to do something else, which God never required at their hands, as a condition of salvation; and in doing which, they put off repentance sinned away their day of grace, and lost their souls. I have already observed that the gospel was early corrupted. These corruptions have continued in a greater or less degree, to mingle themselves with the pure gospel; and precisely in proportion as more or less error has been mingled with the truth, the gospel has been more or less successful. Its power depends on its purity.

    8. Multitudes have preached the substance of the gospel, but the misfortune is, they have added to it something of their own. They have preached, and boldly called on men to repent, but before they left the pulpit, would be sure to admonish them that they had no power to obey. Suppose the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, when the alarmed Jews cried out, sirs, what shall we do to be saved; instead of saying, "repent every one of you," had said, you can't repent, you are dependent upon the spirit of God; you must pray, and use the means, and wait God's time. If the multitude had believed them, it is manifest that not one of them had been converted on the spot.

    9. Again, the day of earth's redemption can never come, till the traditions of the elders are done away; till all those dogmas that afford hiding places for the enemies of God, are rejected as making no part of the gospel of Christ. When ministers of all denominations shall see eye to eye, shall disencumber the glorious gospel of all these traditions of men's devising; shall take the pure commandment of God, and bring it with an uncompromising spirit to bear with mountain weight upon the rebellious hearts of dying men; when they call on them instantly to repent, and treat them as if they expected them to repent; when they live, and labor, and pray, and preach, and exhibit the true gospel in all they say and do; then, and not till then, will the full power of God's moral government be felt on earth.

    10. These traditions of the elders are the grand sources of most of the fatal errors of the present day. Universalism, as I have before remarked, has evidently had its origin in the notion of inability, and physical depravity. They have reasoned thus:--If men came into being with a depraved nature, physically and naturally inclined to all evil; if they are unable to obey God, as they really must be, if such is their nature; then surely a God of justice cannot damn them. Now this inference is irresistible from their premises. For God to make men physically incapable of obedience, and then damn them for disobedience, would be infinite tyranny and injustice. From the benevolence, and even upon the ground of the justice of God, upon the principles of physical depravity and inability, the arguments for Universalism are irresistible. Upon this hypothesis, they are right in rejecting, as most modern Universalists do, mercy from their system, and placing the salvation of men upon the ground of justice.

    But take away the foundation, and the superstructure falls of course. Annihilate the dogma of physical depravity and inability; show the sinner that his depravity is a thing of his own creation; that his wicked heart is his voluntary selfishness, and the rejection of God and his commandments; that it is not for his nature, but for his conduct, that he is blamed; show him that what he calls his cannot, is his will not, and you destroy the very foundation upon which his Univeralism is built, you convince him of his sin, and shut him up to the faith of Christ.

    11. Again, as I have before said from this subject, in the doctrine of physical depravity, and its kindred dogmas, you see the foundation of modern infidelity. Thinking men, hearing those doctrines, so often reiterated from the pulpit, become disgusted, when they hear men called upon to repent, and at the same time told that they cannot repent; when they hear the doctrine of the new birth, darkened by words without knowledge, when every thing is covered with mystery; the depravity of nature, the infusion of a new holy taste or principle; the mysterious and mystical nature of sin and holiness, of depravityand of regeneration; this confounding of mind and matter, of body and soul, of heaven, and earth, and hell; they look upon it as unphilosophical, ridiculous, absurd, and impossible; they turn away from such a loathsome exhibition of it, as something impossible for them to understand, and conclude that it is all a dream.

    12. It is easy to see why revivals do not, and cannot prevail more extensively than they do. There is such a sticklishness on the part of many, for these crippling errors; such a constant effort to maintain these traditions of the elders, as to paralyze the influence of a great portion of the church. Many good men are halting and doubting whether they should reject them or not; and they are in that state of "betweenity," that they can heartily exhibit neither one thing nor the other. Many come out boldly, and strenuously, and hold up those dogmas, and while these are the topics continually held before the mind, it cannot be expected that revivals should prevail. It is true that men have had great and powerful revivals who have held and sometimes exhibited these views; but it was not when they exhibited them, that their preaching took effect. But when happily they were inconsistent enough to lay aside these peculiarities, and come out with the pressure of the gospel upon the hearts and consciences of men. Take a parable. A lady, who had been a long time under conviction, had often called on her minister, to know what she should do to be saved. He had as often reminded her of her helplessness, and dependence upon God; exhorted her to pray, and use the means, and wait patiently for God to change her heart. On the Sabbath, he would frequently call upon sinners to repent; but before he closed would be sure to caution them against self- confidence, depending upon their own strength; and would solemnly remind them that they had no power of themselves to repent and embrace the gospel. But one day, when this agonized woman was present, he happily forgot his accustomed inconsistency, and after pressing sinners to immediate repentance, sat down without the usual addition that they could not. Before the last hymn had concluded, the gospel had done its work in the woman's heart; and after the congregation was dismissed, she was observed to stand weeping and waiting as he passed out to speak with him. As soon as he came near enough she exclaimed, my dear Mr. ------- why did you not tell me of this before? Tell you of this before, replied the astonished pastor, why I have declared it to you every Sabbath. Yes, she replied, but always until now, you told me before you set down, that I could not repent. I hope, said the pastor, you have not gone on in your own strength; no she replied, not in my own, but in the strength of God I have repented, and should have done it before had you not told me that I could not. This is the legitimate tendency of cannotism; if they believe it, they certainly will not repent: and how can revivals prevail, how can the world be converted, while so many are vehemently contending for these traditions of the elders. These dogmas, are exalted into fundamental doctrines, and they are supposed to be heretics, who do not keep these traditions. Well might Christ turn upon them with the rebuke, "wherefore do ye make void the commandment of God by your traditions." Oh! when will the day arrive, when the spurious philosophy upon which these dogmas are based, shall be given up? When unanimity of sentiment, and clearness of views, and brotherly love shall prevail? then will righteousness run down our streets, and salvation as an overflowing stream.

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