THE DOCTRINE OF PARTICULAR ELECTION AND FINAL PERSEVERANCE
EXPLAINED AND VINDICATED
By Isaac Backus,
PASTOR OF A CHURCH IN MIDDLEBOROUGH.
Yea, let God be true, but every Man a Liar. –
The Election obtained it, and the Rest were blinded.
Rom. iii 4; xi 7.
Printed and sold by SAMUEL H ALL at No. 53, Cornhill.
Teachers who turn grace into lasciviousness have men’s persons in admiration because of advantage, Jude 4, 16. With such, nothing can be too bad to say of any who expose their darling errors, while they will not allow us to be charitable if we cannot think them all to be good men, whom they admire. But in what follows I have endeavored to open principles and facts plainly and to leave every reader to judge of men by their fruits and not by their plausible pretences.
Middleboro, July 25, 1789.
Controversy is generally complained of and peace is earnestly sought, but often in a way which denies to all others the liberty we claim for ourselves. The revealed will of God is the only perfect law of liberty, but how little is it believed and obeyed by mankind. Both the Hebrew and Christian churches were to be wholly governed by it, and when the first King of Israel presumed to violate a plain command of God, and then thought to atone for it by acts of worship, he was guilty of rebellion, which is as the sin of witchcraft, 1. Sam. xv, 23. And in like way Mystery Babylon by her sorceries has deceived all nations, and in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth, Rev. xviii, 23, 24. Yet these extensive terms are so limited by carnal reasoners that none of them, in any nation, will allow themselves to be of that bloody city. And at the same time they are for extending general words of grace beyond any limits and are ready to accuse us with making God deceitful if we hold that he did not design the merits of his Son equally for all mankind. If we inquire then, why all are not saved? the general answer is that they would not receive that salvation, or if they did for awhile, and then turned away from it, God rejects and destroys them therefor. We readily grant that God always rewards the righteous and never destroys any for anything but sin and iniquity, but this cannot content many without we will allow that grace hath put power into the wills of all mankind to become righteous and to obtain salvation when they shall please to set about it in earnest. The fruit of which is that men neglect the great salvation because they love darkness rather than light. Yea, everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, Heb. ii, 3; John iii, 19, 20. And when any are brought to obey the truth and so come to the light, every art is made use of to get them into darkness again if possible.
This has been remarkably the case in the southern parts of America. Many of their teachers were so dark as to swear profanely, drink to excess, and follow gaming and at the same time to preach up do and live to their people. But the light of the pure Gospel produced some reformation among them above forty years ago, and it has greatly increased since 1768, as I was well informed when I was called to travel and preach in Virginia and North Carolina last winter. But after this reformation had spread extensively, the followers of Mr. John Wesley introduced his writings against particular election and final perseverance and thereby greatly obstructed the work. I was therefore requested to publish a brief answer thereto. His first piece on that subject was published above fifty years ago under the title of Free Grace, and it was closed with a hymn called Universal Redemption, and therein he says,
Thine eye surveyed the fallen race,
When sunk in sin they lay,
Their misery called for all thy grace,
But justice stopped the way.
Mercy the fatal bar removed,
Thy only Son it gave,
To save a world so dearly loved,
A sinful world to save.
For every man he tasted death,
He suffered once for all,
He calls as many souls as breathe,
And all may hear the call.
A power to choose, a will t’ obey,
Freely his grace restores;
We all may find the living way,
And call the Savior ours.
He denied that man had any natural liberty of will left after the fall until it was restored by grace. This he more explicitly did in a pamphlet on predestination, election, and reprobation published in 1776; and said upon it, „We believe, that in the moment Adam fell he had no freedom of will left but that God, when of his own free grace he gave the promise of a Savior to him and his posterity, graciously restored to mankind a liberty and power to accept of proffered salvation,” p. 16. But if the fall took all natural liberty of choice from man until grace restored it, then the fall released him from the authority of the law of God as it was first given to him, and he never hath been under it since, but under grace. The beasts are not under that law because they never had the powers of thinking and choice as rational creatures have, and if men are not under that law, what are they better than beasts? Yea, do they not corrupt themselves more than brute beasts that know and obey their owners? Jude 10; Isai. i, 2-4. And if all freedom of will is from grace, then it is only by grace that any have power to sin against God, as none can sin against him who have no natural liberty of will. This opinion is most plainly confuted by the case of the fallen angels who never had any grace revealed to them. Yet the Devil sinneth from the beginning, and all wilful sinners are children of the Devil in opposition to all those who are born of God, John iii, 8-10. In the same book Mr. Wesley says, „1. God’s love was the cause of his sending his Son to die for sinners. 2. Christ’s dying for sinners is the cause of the Gospel’s being preached. 3. The preaching of the Gospel is the cause (or means) of our believing. 4. Our believing is the cause or condition of our justification. 5. The knowing ourselves justified through his blood is the cause of our love to Christ. 6. Our love to Christ is the cause of our obedience to him. 7. Our obedience to Christ is the cause of his becoming the author of eternal salvation to us,” p. 8.
And is not this going about to establish our own righteousness? For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man who doth those things, shall live by them. This is a zeal of God but not according to knomledge, Rom. x, 2-5. Mr. Wesley goes on to say, „I shall now briefly show the dreadful absurdities that follow from saying Christ died only for the elect. If Christ died not for all, then unbelief is no sin in them that finally perish, seeing there is not anything for those men to believe unto salvation for whom Christ died not. 2. If Christ died not for all men then it would be a sin in the greatest part of mankind to believe he died for them, seeing it would be to believe a lie. 3. If Christ died not for those that are damned, then they are not damned for unbelief, otherwise you say, that they are damned for not believing a lie. 4. If Christ died not for all, then those who obey Christ by going and preaching the Gospel to every creature as glad tidings of grace and peace, of great joy to all people, do sin thereby, in that they go to most people with a lie in their mouth. 5. If Christ died not for all men, then God is not in earnest in calling all men everywhere to repent, for what good could repentance do those for whom Christ died not? 6. If Christ died not for all, then why does he say, He is not willing that any should perish? Surely he is willing, yea, resolved that most men should perish, else he would have died for them also. 7. How shall God judge the world by the man Christ Jesus if Christ did not die for the world or how shall he judge them according to the Gospel when there was never any Gospel or mercy for them?” p.14.
Answer. If Christ died with a design to save all men, why are not all saved? Can the Devil cheat him of a great part of his purchase? Or can men defeat his merciful designs? No, say many, he died for all, and he will finally save all. Others go farther and conclude that a God of infinite goodness could not give existence to any creature that shall be miserable without end, but that he will finally deliver every child of Adam from Hell, though many of them will be tormented therein for ages of ages. But how is their deceit here discovered? Fallen angels were as really the creatures of God as fallen men, yet no salvation was ever revealed for them, but they are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. And this is a clear evidence against ungodly men who turn grace into lasciviousness, Jude 4, 6. God was so far from ever proclaiming atonement to all men, without any exception, that he said, The soul that doth ought presumptuously, the same reproacheth the Lord and that soul shall be cut of from among his people. And for such presumption, Korah and his company perished most terribly, Num. xv, 30; xvi, 1-3, 31-34. And teachers who privily brought damnable heresies into the Christian Church were presumptuous and self-willed under the name of liberty. They despised government and perished in the gainsaying of Core, 2 Pet. ii, 1, 10, 19; Jude 11. For if the inability of debtors and criminals could release them from the authority of the laws, until rulers would give them power to bring the government to their own terms, how would all dominion be despised! These filthy dreamers have now filled the world with Babylonian confusion, Jude 8. The Jews called it heresy in Paul to believe in and obey Jesus as a lawgiver above Moses, Acts xxiv, 14 And this is the first place where the word heresy is used in the Bible, and if we observe what is said in the last chapter in it of every man who shall add to or take from its words, must we not conclude that all men who do so and violently impose their inventions upon others are guilty of heresy? The head of the Church of Rome assumed God’s place in the Church, and exalted himself above God, who never could violate his promise or his oath or entice any into sin, and how justly are all those given up to strong delusion who practice either of these evils? 2 Thess. ii, 3-12; Heb. vi, 18; James i, 13-15. And how happy should we soon be if these iniquities were excluded from our land?
True believers are so far from presuming upon the secret designs of God that when the same are revealed, they dare not make his designs but his laws the rule of their conduct. Though his design of removing Saul and making David King over Israel was clearly revealed, yet David refused to kill Saul when greatly provoked thereto because he had no direction to do it. Neither did David assume the regal power over Israel until each tribe freely received him as their King by a solemn covenant. But the envious Jews no sooner had it declared to them that Jesus was to die for that nation than from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death, John xi, 53. Hereby we may see the plain difference between true believers and reprobates. For unto the pure all things are pure but unto the defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient and unto every good work reprobate, Titus i, 15, 16. In this way, teachers who turn grace into lasciviousness deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ, Jude 4. But many are deceived by them because in words they profess to know him. Since Christ was exalted to the right hand of the Father his only priests upon earth are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Being born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever. These are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that they should show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, 1 Pet. i, 2, 23; ii, 5, 9. But Mr. Wesley, in his piece on predestination, election, and reprobation, says, „They were chosen through belief of the truth and called to believe it by the Gospel; therefore they were not chosen before they believed, much less before they had a being,” p. 5. And in his sermon from Rom. viii, 29, 30, he says, „God looking on all ages from the creation to the consummation as a moment and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men knows every one that does or does not believe in every age or nation. Yet what he knows, whether faith or unbelief, is in no wise caused by his knowledge. Men are as free in believing or not believing, as if he did not know it at all,” p. 6.
I readily grant that his knowledge does not cause any sin, which is altogether of the creature. The angels who fell kept not the first estate but left their own habitation, Jude 6. And those who stood were elect angels, i Tim. v, 21. And sin came into human nature by violating a known command. And Adam was a figure of Jesus Christ, and therefore death reigned over all his posterity, many of whom never committed any actual transgression, as he did. And the word as, so often used in this affair, cannot be true in any sense if both Adam and Christ were not heads and representatives of all the seed of each. It is certain that Adam was not a figure of Christ, as he conveyed death and ruin to his posterity by a just sentence of law; for Christ conveys life and salvation to souls by a free gift of grace. Neither could Adam be a figure of Christ in the great things that he did by one offence, for Christ atoned for many offences; therefore where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, Rom. v, 12-21. Even to the resurrection of the dead, i Cor. xv, 21, 22. I say the word as cannot be true in all these places unless those two men acted for all their seed. Many would have it, that this word cannot be true unless Christ atoned for as many as fell in Adam, but certain death came upon all Adam’s race while multitudes hold that salvation by Christ is uncertain and depends upon the wills of individuals. In this view they would make Christ vastly inferior to Adam whose doings were efficacious, and the doings of Christ exceeding precarious, upon their plan. And they who hold that Christ will finally save all the race of Adam from Hell yet imagine that the creature’s suffering must save them and not the efficacy of the death and grace of Christ. Or if they hold that he will save all from future sufferings, they hold also that he hath now saved them from the authority of the law of God, which Adam never did. By the sentence of it every child of Adam returns to the dust, the righteous as well as the wicked, so that if the doings of Christ are not efficacious for the final salvation of his seed, it cannot truly be said that as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Adam was made upright, but Solomon could not tell how many inventions his children would seek out, Eccl. vii, 29. A darling one in our day is that a man cannot be worthy of reward or punishment unless he hath power in his will to become righteous when he pleaseth. And if so, then faith would be of himself and not the gift of God, directly against the truth of his Word, Eph. ii, 8. Boasting could not be excluded in such a case, as it is by the law of faith, Rom. iii, 27. So that this controversy is not with poor worms but with the eternal God. His will was as really exercised in raising up Pharaoh and others and suffering them to go far in their rebellion and in oppressing the saints, as it was in finally destroying the former and saving the latter. But the objection against this doctrine was and is, Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath ever resisted his will? This was the language of those who followed after the law of righteousness but did not attain to it because they sought it not by faith but as it were by the works of the law, Rom. ix, 16-32. Yea, and those who do so are exceeding partial in the law.
Mr. Wesley in his book called Predestination Calmly Considered says, „I believe election to be conditional, as well as the reprobation opposite thereto. I believe the eternal decree concerning both is expressed in those words, He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not, shall be damned. And this decree without doubt God will not change, and man cannot resist,” p. 10. But where did he make any such decree? In the Gospel commission, he says, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, Mark xvi, 16. But men have presumed to alter that decree ever since the third century, before which no man hath proved that infant baptism was ever named in the world. By baptism believers put on Christ, Gal. iii, 27. Which no one can do for another any more than one can be saved or damned for another in eternity. Christ is the only lawgiver to his Church, and when Kings shall become nursing fathers to her they will bow down to his authority therein, Isai. xlix, 23. And how great is the difference betwixt a nurse and a whoremaster. The good tidings to Zion is, Thy God reigneth. And with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation, Isai. iii, 7; Rom. x, 10, 15. And none will be owned by him in the last day who are now ashamed to confess him before men, Matt. x, 32, 33. And if God looked on all ages as a moment, how could he elect persons and then reject them again in that moment? Yet Wesley says, „One who is a true believer or, in other words, one who is holy or righteous in the judgment of God himself, may nevertheless finally fall from grace,” p. 49.
His first argument to prove this assertion is taken from God’s saying, When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, in his trespass that he hath trespassed and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die, Ezek. xviii, 24. From whence Wesley says, „One who is righteous in the judgment of God himself may finally fall from grace,” p. 51. Answer, God never promised to support any one in an unrighteous way, neither will he destroy any true penitent for his own sins or for the iniquity of his fathers. And if God cannot speak of these things in a conditional way without having the final event uncertain in his own infinite mind until the creature decides it, then this argument may stand, and not else. And if the creature could disappoint the Creator, then we should fear man more than God. A horrible evil! A second argument is drawn from 1 Tim. i, 18, 19, from whence it is said, „Observe, 1. These men had once the faith that produceth a good conscience, which they had or they could not have put it away. 2. They made shipwreck of the faith, which necessarily implies the total and final loss of it,” p. 51. But in the same chapter it is said, „The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned; from which some having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor whereof they affirm.” And if men cannot be greatly enlightened and reformed by the Spirit of truth and yet afterwards swerve from it and put it away, without ever being born again, then this argument may stand and not otherwise. His third argument is framed from Rom. xi, 17, etc. Upon which he says, „Those who are grafted into the spiritual, invisible church may nevertheless finally fail,” p. 53. To which I reply that the unbelieving Jews failed from the visible church, and saving faith was necessary to graft the Gentiles into it, who ought not to be high-minded but fear, as is very evident from this passage, and God says, I will put my fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from me, Jer. xxxii, 40. And who will dare to contradict him! Mr. Wesley takes his fourth argument from John xv, 1-6, from whence he infers, „That true believers, who are branches of the true vine, may nevertheless finally fail,” p. 55. But as Christ is the only head of the true church, many may be visible branches in him and yet be cast into the fire for their unfruitfulness while living branches are purged and made more fruitful. And to such Christ said in the same chapter, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit and your fruit should remain. Afterwards he said to the Father, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none, John xviii, 9. Yet, fifthly, Mr. Wesley brings 2 Pet. ii, 20, 21, to prove that „Those who by the inward knowledge of Christ have escaped the pollutions of the world, may yet fall back into those pollutions and perish everlastingly,” p. 56. But all ought to know that the dog who returns to his vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire, never had their natures changed, though their behavior was so for awhile. Therefore we are warned against giving the holy things of the church to dogs, swine, or wolves as far as we can discover them by their fruits, Matt. vii, 6, 15. His sixth argument is taken from Heb. vi, 4-8, p. 56. But we may see that the persons here spoken of are like ground which beareth thorns and briars and are entirely distinct from souls who receive the seed into good ground, Matt. xiii, 23. Our author takes his seventh argument from Heb. x, 38, which he says, if rightly translated, is, „If the just man that lives by faith draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” p. 58. But we ought to know that living by faith and drawing back are two opposite things, and the first is here urged as an effectual guard against the last. Eighthly, our opponent brings Heb. x, 26-29, to prove „That those who are sanctified by the blood of the new covenant may yet perish everlastingly,” p. 62. But though persons who sin willfully against the laws, blood, and Spirit of Christ will have a much sorer punishment than they who died without mercy under the law of Moses, yet this cannot prove that any such person was ever truly regenerated. However, after quoting many more Scripture warnings against disobedience and apostasy, Mr. Wesley lets us know that he would not have us consider this doctrine by itself „but as it stands in connection with unconditional reprobation, that millstone which hangs about the neck of your whole hypothesis,” p. 65.
From whence we may see that the plain language of revelation is of no avail with him against his horrid ideas of reprobation. When any try to put that terrible word out of their minds, he says, „To think about a certain number of souls, whom alone God hath decreed to save, in that very thought reprobation lurks; it entered your heart the moment that entered; it stays as long as that stays, and you cannot speak that thought, without speaking reprobation. True, it is covered with fig leaves so that a heedless eye may not observe it to be there. But if you narrowly observe, unconditional election cannot appear without the cloven foot of reprobation,” p. 9. Answer, we well know that the doctrine of particular election implies that the rest of mankind are left to perish in their sins as God might justly have dealt with us all. But this idea is rejected by Mr. Wesley. And when it was said, „You know in your own conscience that God might justly have passed by you,” he said, „I deny it. That God might justly, for my unfaithfulness to his grace, have given me up long ago, I grant, but this concession supposes me to have had that grace which you say a reprobate never had,” p. 18. Answer, We are far from believing that all the natural liberty of men is by grace, as he hath asserted, for God says, In the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their ownselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof. From such men turn away. These resist the truth; reprobate concerning the faith, 2 Tim. iii, 1-8. This is a most exact description of the reprobates of our day. But I am far from thinking that grace gave them a power to love themselves above God and their neighbors and to run into all this wickedness under a form of Godliness, while they deny the power thereof. Yea, do not all those deny the power of it who deny particular election and final perseverance? Mr. Wesley says, „I have heard that God the Father made a covenant with his Son before the world began wherein the Son agreed to suffer such and such things and the Father to give him such and such souls for a recompense; that in consequence of this those souls must be saved, and those only, so that all others must be damned.” This idea of the covenant he rejects and says, „The tenor of it is this, Whosoever believeth unto the end, so as to show his faith by his works, I the Lord will reward that soul eternally. But whosoever will not believe, and consequently dieth in his sins, I will punish him with everlasting destruction,” pp. 44, 45. And what difference is there between this and saying, The man that doth them shall live in them? They who turn the Gospel into this sense are bewitched, Gal. iii, 1, 12. As to the covenant, Jesus said, I lay down my life for the sheep. Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them me is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. Jesus lifted up his eyes to Heaven and said, Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him, John x, 15, 26-29; xvii, 1, 2. If particular election and final perseverance are not contained in these passages, I know not what can be intended therein. And as Mr. Wesley and his followers are so vehement against that doctrine and tell of showing their faith by their works, it is needful to examine some of their works concerning America.
In November 1763, Mr. Wesley said in his Journal, „Many have been convinced of sin, many justified, and many backsliders healed. But the peculiar work of this season has been what St. Paul calls The perfecting of the saints. Many persons in London, in Bristol, in York, and in various parts both of England and Ireland have experienced so deep and universal a change as it had not before entered into their hearts to conceive. After a deep conviction of inbred sin, of their total fall from God, they have been so filled with faith and love (and generally in a moment) that sin vanished, and they found from that time no pride, anger, desire or unbelief. They could rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. Now whether we call this the destruction or suspension of sin, it is a glorious work of God. Such work as considering both the depth and extent of it, we never saw in these kingdoms before. It is possible some who spoke in this manner were mistaken, and it is certain some have lost what they then received.” That many of them were mistaken can easily be believed; much easier than to believe that any of them were perfect and then fell from it. For as long as their controversy in Britain about taxing America was carried on by words Mr. Wesley openly appeared in our favor, but when they came to blows, he shifted sides and exerted all his extensive influence in that bloody cause, and so did Mr. John Fletcher, an author much esteemed by that sect. Mr. Wesley was in the city of Bristol in September 1774, and highly recommended to his friends a pamphlet wrote by M. P. entitled An Argument in Defence of the Exclusive Right Claimed by the Colonies to Tax Themselevs. But when the sword was drawn the next year, Mr. Wesley took out the substance of a piece wrote by Dr. J. entitled, Taxation no Tyranny and added some warm reflections of his own and published the whole as his own to inflame all his followers against us. Therefore a Baptist minister in Bristol published a brief answer to him with a mention of these facts under the name of Americanus. Hereupon Wesley reprinted his pamphlet, with a preface in which he said, „The book which this writer says I so strongly recommended, I never yet saw with my eyes. The words which he says I spoke never came out of my lips.” Two of his friends in Bristol each wrote to him that they knew he herein wronged the truth, yet he refused to make any public retraction until Mr. Caleb Evans, the said Baptist minister, published a letter to him in a newspaper, and then he said,
You affirm, 1. That I once doubted whether the measures taken in respect to America could be defended either on the foot of law, equity, or prudence. I did doubt of this five years, nay indeed five months ago. You affirm, 2. That I declared last year the Americans were oppressed, injured people. I do not remember that I did, but possibly I might. You affirm, 3. That I then strongly recommended an argument for the exclusive right of the colonies to tax themselves. I believe I did, but I am now of another mind. You affirm, 4. You say in the preface I never saw that book. I did say so; the plain case was I had so entirely forgotten it that even when I saw it again I recollected nothing of it till I had read several pages. If I had, I might have observed that you borrowed more from Mr. P. than I did from Dr. J. If you please to advance any new arguments (personal reflections I let go) you may perhaps receive a further reply from your humble servant,
London, December 9, 1775.
But did he let go personal reflections? Mr. Evans’ reply is before me wherein he says, „Your insinuating that I have taken more from Mr. P. than you have from Dr. J. is an artifice to cover your own plagiarism, too thin not to be seen through by the most superficial. It is not fact. I have not taken a line from that or any other author without acknowledging it. But when you published your address you gave not even a hint of having taken any part of it from Dr. J. or any other writer.” Thus did Mr. Wesley exert all his influence to assist Great Britain in her attempts to bind us in all cases whatever. And had they succeeded therein we should have been in as bad a case as he says Adam was before a Savior was revealed to him. Yea, as much worse as falling into the hands of unmerciful men is worse than being in the hands of a merciful God. And these men are still pursuing us with attempts to rob us of our only hope in Christ and also of the liberty wherewith he hath made us free. For in 1784 Mr. Wesley and his followers published a book in England, which they call, The Sunday Service in North America. Three orders of ministers are prescribed therein who are to have the whole power of receiving and excluding church members without calling any vote of the brethren. And when the lowest order of those ministers is to be ordained they say to him, „Will you reverently obey them to whom the charge and government over you is committed, following with a glad mind and will their Godly admonitions? Answer, I will endeavor so to do, the Lord being my helper,” p. 283. Soon after which they published a pamphlet entitled, „A Form of Discipline for the Ministers, Preachers, and Members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America Considered and Approved at a Conference held at Baltimore in the State of Maryland, on Monday the 27th of December 1784, in which the Reverend Thomas Coke, LL.D. and the Reverend Francis Asbury presided.” In their first section they say,
Question 1. What was the rise of Methodism, so called, in Europe? Answer. In 1729 two young men, reading the Bible, saw they could not be saved without holiness, followed after it, and incited others so to do. In 1737 they saw likewise that men are justified before they are sanctified, but still holiness was their object. God then thrust them out to raise an holy people. Question 2. What was the rise of Methodism, so called, in America? Answer. During the space of thirty years past, certain persons, members of the society, emigrated from England and Ireland, and settled in various parts of this country. About twenty years ago Philip Embary, a local preacher from Ireland, began to preach in the city of New York and formed a society of his own countrymen and the citizens. About the same time Robert Strawbridge, a local preacher from Ireland, settled in Frederick County in the State of Maryland, and preaching there, formed some societies. In 1769 Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmoor came to New York who were the first regular Methodist preachers on the continent. In the latter end of the year 1771, Francis Asbury and Richard Wright of the same order came over. Question 3. What may we reasonably believe to be God’s design in raising up the preachers called Methodists? Answer. To reform the continent and spread Scripture holiness over these lands. As a proof hereof we have seen in the course of fifteen years a great and glorious work of God from New York through the Jerseys, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, even to Georgia.
And before they admit any man to preach in their society, they say to him, „Have you faith in Christ? Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” After which they say, „We are all agreed, that we may be saved from all sin before death,” pp. 13, 30. Thus a society, many of whose laws are contrary to the laws of Christ and whose head is in Great Britain are spreading their influence in America and have already tried to get some of their leaders elected into the State Legislature in Virginia, if not in other States.
The law of Christ puts all Elders in the church upon a level and says to the whole community, All of you be subject one to another and be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble, 1 Pet. v, 1-5. And when Christ came a light into the world the only persons that believed on him were born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God. Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God, John i, 12, 13; iii, 3. But ever since the rise of the man of sin teachers have claimed a power of office above the church which none could convey to others but officers and also a power in their wills to bring children into the kingdom of God without their own knowledge or choice. And to this day men are exceeding tenacious of this arbitrary power. The followers of Mr. Wesley say in their form of discipline, „Question 1. How is a bishop constituted? Answer. By the election of the majority of the conference and the laying on of hands of a bishop and the elders present. Question 5. If by death, expulsion, or otherwise there be no bishop remaining in our church, what method shall be pursued? Answer. Let the conference immediately elect a bishop, and let the elders, or any three of them, consecrate him to his office.” The Presbyterians hold bishops and elders to be equal but both above the church, and in this way many hold their succession of office from the old bishops in England. The President of their university in Connecticut, in a sermon before the legislature of that State, said of the first ministers in New England, „The induction of the ministers of the first churches was performed by lay brethren, and this was called ordination but should be considered what in reality it was, only induction or instalment of those who were vested with official power. These were all ordained before by the bishops in England.”1 Another of their noted ministers said to the Baptists in the same year, „To be consistent with yourselves you cannot look on any of us as Christians or any church in the world but your own denomination to be a Church of Christ; all the world but yourselves, are in a state of paganism; not one baptized person in it except yourselves; not one minister of the Gospel but your own, and when you rebaptize those in adult years, which we have baptized in their infancy, you and they jointly renounce that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost whom we adore and worship as the only living and true God and on whom we depend for all our salvation.”2 And a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina, though more charitable, yet says of the Baptists, „They made their appearance in Germany soon after the reformation began, but the present race of Baptists are happily very unlike the furious and blood-thirsty bigots who wore the name at that time. Considering that they have no written standard of orthodoxy and that their preachers are men without a liberal education, I have often sat with wonder and pleasure to hear them so sound in doctrine as they really are.”3
Indeed, it may justly be matter of thankful wonder to all considering the errors of learned ministers on every hand. For if our civil rulers should now declare, that they derived their office power from Great Britain and that the people of America had only inducted them into their offices to which they had a prior right, what a confusion should we soon be in! But this is not the worst of our case, for all who have renounced the only living and true God are pagans and the covenant of circumcision, on which infant baptism is built, required Israel to destroy all the pagans in Canaan and to seize upon their estates. And from the bloody imagination that Christians had a right to do the like came the late war. The Church of Rome acted upon this bloody imagination until England revolted from her in 1533 and set up their King as the head of their church. The inhabitants of Munster in Germany did the like in the same year. Yet the madness of Munster, because it was soon defeated, hath been cast upon all believers through the world who refused to put baptism before faith in Christ. And it is now said, „In church government the Baptists have adopted the independent plan, the inconveniency of which they often experience as it provides no final and decisive judge of controversy nor tribunal to pronounce in heresy or false doctrine. But the distinguishing characteristic of the Baptist profession is their excluding infant, and practicing only adult baptism and making it their great term of communion, excluding all other Christians from the Lord’s Table among them and not suffering their members to communicate with other churches. How they can acknowledge any other people to be a Church of Christ and yet continue this bar of separation is not to be accounted for, and we must leave them under the weight of this difficulty until themselves are pleased to remove it.”4
Here all may see that it is much easier to charge others with inconsistency than to act consistently ourselves. For these three last authors profess the doctrine of particular election and final perseverance, and yet they blame us because we dare not practically allow that persons may be brought into the covenant of grace without their own knowledge or choice, many of whom fall away and perish forever. They also condemn the independent plan of government in the church though they celebrate it in the State. But there can be no government in the State if officers therein are not invested with power to compel delinquents to submit to their lawful judgments, but the votes of officers in the church are no more than the votes of the brethren, and the whole community have no more power in this respect than to exclude unworthy members from their communion. And to allow ministers a power of office in any church which that church could not give and cannot take away is to make them lords over God’s heritage instead of being examples to the Rock. We are so far from denying the visible Christianity of all who do not see with us about baptism that we view it as a point of vast importance that none should be baptized but visible Christians. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. Without it they are not Christians, yet many contend with us because we dare not say the contrary in practice. All who have received that Spirit ought to be baptized in water, Rom. vi, 4, viii, 9; Acts x, 47, 48. I believe that the dispensing with the plain laws of Christ and the forcibly imposing the inventions of men in his worship is the scarlet colored beast which supports the whore of Babylon. It was and is not, yet is. It will change into all shapes as circumstances and inclinations carry men. God hath many people in this mysterious city, but his voice from Heaven is, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins and that ye receive not of her plagues. The writings of the apostles who have explained the prophets and all center in Jesus Christ is the only foundation of his church, and they will triumph over Babylon when she falls, Eph. ii, 19; Rev. xvii, 3, 5, 8; xviii, 4, 20. Early warning was given against grievous wolves and perverse schismatics to avoid whom God and the word of his grace is our only security, Acts xx, 29-30. The perfection of the Holy Scriptures is held up as what must be continued in if we would get out of the perils which love to self under a form of Godliness hath brought upon these last days, 2 Tim. iii, 1-5, 14-17. In those writings we have no mention of any instance of baptism without a personal profession of faith and repentance nor of anyone who was admitted into the Christian Church without water baptism.
The followers of George Fox, who have formed a large society without it have set up a rule in themselves above the Holy Scriptures. A late writer of theirs, after attempting to excuse George Fox for saying the soul was infinite, and trying to prove their opinion of an inward rule from the first chapter of the Gospel of John without being able clearly to do it, said, „Is not the apostle John’s Greek as ordinary as G. Fox’s English?”5 Thus he would set the leader of their sect on a level with the oracles of God! And it is well known that the majority of them held with Great Britain in her late bloody attempts against American liberty and also are strongly set against the doctrine of particular election and final perseverance. And can any men be found upon earth who deny that doctrine and yet make conscience of obeying the following plain rules of Scripture? In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision but faith which worketh by love. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision but a new creature, Gal. v, 6, 23; vi, 2, 6, 15, 16. God calls his covenant with Abraham the covenant of circumcision. And Abraham had no right to circumcise any stranger until he had bought him as a servant with money, Acts vii, 8; Gen. xvii, 13. But the Gospel says to Zion, Ye shall be redeemed without money. Thy God reigneth, Isai. lii, 3, 7; Rom. x, 15. He purchased the church with his own blood, Acts xx, 28. And after he had done it he said, Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. I have written unto you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one, no not to eat, i Cor. v, 2; vii, 19, 23. Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them, Eph. v, 6, 7, 11. Every tree is known by his own fruit, for of thorns men do not gather figs nor of bramblebush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil, for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Luke vi, 43-46. When the blade sprung up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. Let both grow together until the harvest. The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one, Matt. xiii, 26, 30, 38.
In these plain Scriptures, the covenant of circumcision is repealed by the name which God gave to it, and the church and world are clearly distinguished as two different judicatories, the one to exclude all who appear by their fruits to be fornicators, covetous, railers, drunkards, or extortioners, from their fellowship, the other to let them grow together with the children of the kingdom, in the world, until the end of it, only punishing such as work ill to their neighbors, Rom. xiii, 1-10. And fighting and oaths are allowed of in this latter government, John xviii, 36; Heb. vi, 16. And wars will not fully come to an end until the nations shall freely receive the law from Zion and guile shall be banished from the church. A loud cry will then be heard, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, Micah iv, 1-10; Rev. xiv, 1-8. The covenant of circumcision will no more be called the covenant of grace nor men be bewitched, as the Galatians were, with the practice of confounding works and grace together. God never injured Cain in giving saving faith to Abel, nor the Midianites, who were of the seed of Abraham, in electing Israel for his church, neither did he injure Korah, or the children of Reuben, Jacob’s first born, in electing Aaron and his lawful seed for priests. And he never injured any man in uniting the priestly and kingly offices in Jesus Christ and in souls who are born again, who are only the kings and priests in the Gospel-church, Heb. v, 4-6; Rev. i, 5, 6; v, 10. And no others have any right to be members therein, and they all ought ever to be like little children instead of striving who should be the greatest, Matt. xviii, 3, 4. None can have a right in the kingdom of God who do not receive it as a little child, Mark x, 15. Such are glad of gifts. But Mr. Wesley has flatly denied that God could justly have passed him by and not have given him power in his will to believe, which is his notion of grace. Wages can be recovered by law, but a gift is bestowed on whom, and in what manner the giver pleaseth. Therefore God says, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good? So the last shall be first and the first last, for many are called but few chosen, Matt. xx, 15, 16.
This is the true idea of election which men have an amazing quarrel against. For if it depends entirely upon the will of God whether he will save any of us or not, then we can have no encouragement to set up our wills against him. If we do so, he can blast all our schemes as he pleaseth, and when we come to die he may then choose whether he will hear our cries for mercy or not. Yea, he hath assured us that he will not hear our cries then if we now delight in scorning and hate knowledge, Prov. i, 20-29. Giving diligence in the believing pursuit of virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, Godliness, brotherly kindness and charity is the only way to make our calling and election sure; while heretics are self-willed, under the name of liberty, 2 Pet. i, 5-11, ii, 1, 10, 19. Our Lord hath set before us an example of great faith which may encourage us in this pursuit, Luke vii, l-9. Here observe, 1. That this Roman centurion took all his encouragement from God as he revealed himself in his Son and none of it from any imaginary worthiness in the creature. I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof, wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee. Yet he believed that Jesus, of his own infinite mercy would grant relief. 2. He was careful to seek it in a lawful way, and before the death of Christ it was unlawful for a member of that church to keep company with other nations, Acts x, 28. Therefore he would not violate the law of God, even to save life. 3. He believed that Jesus could do it when absent as well as if he was present. Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. Herein his faith was much greater than the faith of Martha, Mary, or of Thomas the apostle, John xi, 22, 32; xx, 29. He clearly acted by faith and not by sight. 4. He made good use of his reason to strengthen his faith, and not to weaken or destroy it, as is the case with multitudes. He said, I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doth it. And if an unworthy sinner with a commission from a heathen power could be thus obeyed, what can be too hard for the Captain of our salvation!
He took not on him the nature of angels but the seed of Abraham, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. Every discovery of sin and want should speed our flight to the throne of his grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them, Heb. ii, l4-18; iv, 16; vii, 25. His only temple here below is in them who are poor and of a contrite spirit and tremble at his word. And if their brethren pretend to regard to the glory of God in hating of them and casting them out, yet he says, I shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed, Isai. 1xvi, l-5. The first Christian martyr sealed this testimony with his blood, Acts vii, 48-51. And others overcame the great accuser by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death. And when their souls shall be raised the Devil will be bound and be cast into the bottomless pit out of which the beast came who kills the two witnesses, Rev. xi, 7; xii, 11; xx, 1-4. The Word of God, both by Moses and the Lamb, is as clear as glass and as powerful as fire; and they who obtain the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name stand and act joyfully upon the sea of glass mingled with fire, 2 Cor. iii, 18; Jer. xxiii, 29; Rev. xv, 2, 3. Covetousness is idolatry, Col. iii, 5. And to destroy idolatry Elijah said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him, and if Baal, then follow him, which point was decided by fire from Heaven, 1 Kings xviii, 21, 39. And way for the first coming of our Lord was prepared by a man who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Mal. iv, 1, 2, 5; Luke i, 17. And way for his second coming will be prepared by the raising of the souls of the old martyrs which I think means the resurrection of their Spirit and power in the churches. For God gave them not the spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of a sound mind, 2 Tim. i, 7. Even such love as to sacrifice their lives before they would violate any rule of truth or equity.
All the world have now seen that love is a vastly more powerful principle of action than fear. For as long as the Americans were afraid of destruction or slavery their union and activity defeated all the attempts of their enemies, but no sooner was that fear removed than the love of riches, honors and pleasures prevailed over contracts and oaths and filled the land with discord, treachery, and infidelity. By the love of money vast numbers have erred from the truth and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. And our only remedy is not to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. That we do good, that we be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store a good foundation against the time to come that we may lay hold on eternal life, 1 Tim. vi, 9-19.
1 Stiles’s election sermon, May 8, 1783, p. 61.
2 Huntington’s address, p. 23.
3 Pattillo’s Sermons, 1788, pp. 47, 48
4 Ibid., pp. 48, 49.
5 Phipps against Newton; reprinted at Philadelphia, 1783, pp. 191, 203.