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Concerning the design of my writing and publishing my book, and the question debated in it.
Mr. Williams asserts it to be my professed and declared design, in writing the book which he has undertaken to answer, to oppose Mr. Stoddard. He has taken a great liberty in this matter. He charges me with a declared design of writing in opposition to Mr. Stoddard, no less than nine or ten times in his book. And he does not content himself merely with saying, there are passages in my Preface, or elsewhere, whence this may be inferred; but he says expressly, that I profess to be disputing against Mr. Stoddard’s doctrine, (p. 14. d.) That I tell my readers, I am disputing against Mr. Stoddard’s question, (p. 37. d.) That I tell them so in my Preface, (p. 107. d.) That I often declare that I am opposing Mr. Stoddard’s opinion, (p. 132. d.) And on this foundation he charges me with blotting a great deal of paper, disserving the cause of truth by changing the question, and putting it in such terms as Mr. S. expressly disclaims, and then confuting it as Mr. S—d’s principle; unfair treatment of Mr. S. (p. 2. d. e.)—surprisingly going off from Mr. S—d’s argument to cast an odium upon it, treating Mr. S. and his doctrine in such a manner as to reproach him and his principles, tending to render them odious to the unthinking multitude, and telling a manifest untruth, (p. 14. d. and 15. c. d.) Whereas, I never once signified it to be the thing I aimed at, to oppose Mr. Stoddard, or appear as his antagonist. But the very reverse was true; and meddling with him, or what he had said, I studied to avoid, as much as the circumstances of the debate with my people would allow, who had been taught by him, and who so greatly and continually alleged against me the things which he had said. Nor is there any appearance in those passages Mr. W. cites from my preface, that this was the thing I aimed at. Nay, one of those passages which he produces to prove it, shows the contrary: as it shows, that what I wrote being not consistent with, but opposite to, what Mr. S. had maintained, was an unsought for and unpleasing circumstance of that publication. My words are, “It is far from a pleasing circumstance of this publication, that it is against what my honoured grandfather strenuously maintained, both from the pulpit and the press.” Certainly my regretting and excusing such an unavoidable circumstance was a thing exceeding diverse from 487 giving notice to the world, that the thing I aimed at was to set myself up as Mr. Stoddard’s antagonist, and to write an answer to, and confute, what he had written. It will, at first sight, be manifest to every impartial reader, that the design of my Preface was not to state the subject and intention of the book. This is done professedly, and very particularly afterwards, in the first part of the essay itself. And if I might have common justice, surely I might be allowed to tell my own opinion, and declare my own design, without being so confidently and frequently charged with misrepresenting my own thoughts and intentions.
The very nature of the case is such as must lead every impartial person to a conviction, that the design of my writing must be to defend myself, in that controversy which I had with my people at Northampton; as it is notorious and publicly known, that that controversy was the occasion of my writing; and that therefore my business must be to defend that opinion or position of mine which I had declared to them, which had been the occasion of the controversy, and so the grand subject of debate between us; whether this were exactly agreeable to any words that might be found in Mr. Stoddard’s writings on the subject, or not. Now this opinion or position was the same with that which I expressed in the first part of my book. In such terms I expressed myself to the committee of the church, when I first made that declaration of my opinion, which was the beginning of the controversy, and when writing in defence of my opinion was first proposed. And this was the point continually talked of in all conversation at Northampton, for more than two years, even till Mr. W.‘s book came out. The controversy was, Whether there was any need of making a credible profession of godliness, in order to persons being admitted to full communion; whether they must profess having faith, or whether a profession of common faith were not sufficient; whether persons must be esteemed truly godly, and must be taken in under that notion, or whether if they appeared morally sincere, that were not sufficient? And when my book came abroad, there was no objection made, that I had not truly expressed the subject of debate in stating the question: but the subject of debate afterwards, in parish meetings, church-meetings, and in all conversation, was the question laid down in my book. No suggestion existed among them, that the profession persons made in Mr. Stoddard’s way, was taken as a profession of real godliness, or gospel-holiness; or that they were taken in under a notion of their being truly pious persons, as Mr. W. would have it. There was no suggestion, that the dispute was only about the degree of evidence; but what was the thing to be made evident; whether real godliness, or moral sincerity? It was constantly insisted on, with the greatest vehemence, that it was not saving religion, which needed to be professed, or pretended to; but another thing, religion of a lower kind. The public acts of the church and parish, from time to time, show, that the point in controversy was, Whether the professors of godliness, only, ought to be admitted? Public votes of which I made a record, were several times passed to know the church’s mind concerning the admission of those who are able, and willing to make a profession of godliness; using these terms. And once it was passed, That such should not be admitted in the way of publicly making such a profession. And at another time the vote passed, That the admission of such persons in such a way (described in the same words) should not he referred to the judgment of certain neighbouring ministers. At another time, it was insisted on by the parish, in a parish-meeting, That I should put a vote in the church, in these words, Whether there be nut a dispute between Mr. Edwards pastor of the church, and the church, respecting the question he hath argued in his book last published. And accordingly the vote was put and affirmed, in a church-meeting, in the same terms. And this was the question I insisted on in my public lectures at Northampton, appointed for giving the reasons of my opinion. My doctrine was in these words, It is the mind and will of God, that none should be admitted to fall communion in the church of Christ, but such as in profession, and in the eye of a reasonable judgment, are truly saints, or godly persons. The town was full of objections against those sermons; but none, as ever I heard, objected, that my doctrine was beside the controversy.—And this was all along the point of difference between me and the neighbouring ministers. This was the grand subject of debate with them, at a meeting of ministers, appointed on purpose for conference on the subject. It was wholly concerning the matter of profession, or the thing to be exhibited and made evident or visible; and not about the manner of professing, and the degree of evidence. And this was the doctrine directly opposed by Mr. A—y, one of the neighbouring ministers, whom my people had got as their champion to defend their cause in the pulpit at Northampton. Thus one of the corollaries he drew from his doctrine (as it was taken from his mouth in writing) was, That “a man may be a visible saint, and yet there be no sufficient grounds for our charity, that he is regenerate.“ Quite contrary to what Mr. W. maintains. Another of his corollaries was in these words, “ A minister or church may judge a man a saint, and upon good grounds, and not have grounds to judge him regenerate.“ He proposed this inquiry, “Do not such as join themselves to the church, covenant not only to be visible saints, but saints in heart?” The answer was in the negative; quite contrary to Mr. W. Another was, “Does not a visible saint imply a visibility of grace, or an appearance of it?” The answer was, “Not always.“—Quite contrary to Mr. W. Another was, “Is not hypocrisy in any man, to make a profession of religion, and join himself to the church, and not have grace ?” The answer was in the negative; also quite contrary to Mr. W.—But these sermons of Mr. A—y were highly approved by the generality of the people of Northampton, as agreeable to their minds.
And the controversy, as I have stated it in my book, was that in which the church and I appeared before the council, who determined our separation, when we each of us declared our sentiments before them. The point of difference was entirely the matter of profession, and the thing to be made visible: not the degree of evidence or visibility. No hint was given as though we both agreed, that true piety or gospel-holiness was the thing to be made visible, and that such only should be received as are truly godly persons in the eye of the church’s judgment, (as Mr. W. holds,) and that we only differed about the proper grounds of such a judgment.
And therefore it is apparent, this controversy and its consequences, were the ground of my separation from my people; and not any thing like the controversy which Mr. W. professes to manage in his answer. This controversy, when it came out in Mr. W—‘s book, was new in Northampton, and entirely alien from all the dispute which had filled that part of the country, and a great part of New England, with noise and uproar, for about two years and a half. The thing which Mr. W. over and over allows to be true, was the very same, both in effect and in terms, which the people had been most vehemently fighting against, from week to week, and from month to month, during all this time. And therefore the design of my writing led and obliged me to maintain that position or doctrine of mine, which was the occasion of this debate.
And be it so, that I did suppose this position was contrary to Mr. Stoddard’s opinion, and was opposed by him, 564564 Whether I was mistaken in this, will appear in the sequel. and therefore thought fit in my Preface to excuse myself to the world for differing from him; did this oblige me, in all that I wrote for maintaining my position, to keep myself strictly to the words which he had expressed his question in, and to regulate and limit myself in every argument I used, and objection I answered, by the terms which he made use of in proposing his opinion and arguments? And if I have not done it, do I therefore deserve to be charged before the world with changing the question, with unfair treatment of Mr. Stoddard, with surprisingly going off from his argument, with disserving the cause of truth, &c.
It would have been no great condescension in Mr. W. if he had allowed that I knew what the question was, which was disputed between me and my people, as well 488 as he, in a distant part of the country. Yea, if he had acknowledged, that I was as likely as he, to understand Mr. Stoddard’s real sentiments and practice; since I was in the ministry two years with him, as co-pastor of the same church, and was united with him in ecclesiastical administrations, in admitting members, and in examining them as to their qualifications. I have stood for more than twenty-three years in a pastoral relation to his church, most intimately acquainted with the nature of its constitution, its sentiments and method of administration, and all its religious concerns. I have myself been immediately concerned in the admission of more than three quarters of its present members, and have had the greatest occasion to look into their way of admission, and have been acquainted with every living member that Mr. S. had admitted before my coming; and have been particularly informed, by many of them, of the manner of Mr. S—d’s conduct in admitting them, their own apprehensions concerning the terms of their admission, and the profession they made in order to it; and also the sentiments of the whole of that large town, who were born and brought up under his ministry, concerning his constant doctrine and practice, relating to the admission of members, from their infancy.—Whereas, Mr. W. from his youth had lived in another part of the country, at seventy miles distance.
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