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Being a Letter to the people of the first church and congregation in Northampton.
Though I am not now your pastor, yet having so long stood in that relation to you, I look on myself obliged, notwithstanding all that has of late passed between us, still to maintain a special concern for your spiritual welfare. And as your present circumstances appear to me very evidently attended with some peculiar dangers, threatening the great wounding of the interest of vital religion among you; which probably most of you are not well aware of; I look on myself called to point forth your danger to you, and give you warning. What I now especially have respect to, is the danger I apprehend you are in, from the contents of that book of Mr. W. of Lebanon, to which the foregoing performance is a reply; which I perceive has been written and published very much by your procurement and at your expense; and so (it may naturally be supposed and expected) is dispersed in your families, and will be valued and much used by you as a book of great importance. What I regard, is not so much the danger you are in of being established by that book in your former principles, concerning the admission of members; (though I think these principles are indeed very opposite to the interest of true piety in churches;) but what I now mean is the danger there is, that while you are making much of that book as a means to maintain Mr. Stoddard’s doctrine concerning the terms of communion, you, and especially your children, will by the contents of it be led quite off from other religious principles and doctrines, which Mr. S. brought you up in, and always esteemed as of vastly greater importance, than his particular tenet about the Lord’s supper; and be naturally led into notions and principles, which he ever esteemed as of fatal tendency to the souls of men.
By the way, I would have it observed, that when I take notice of these things in his book, my aim is not to beget in you an ill opinion of Mr. W. as though he were as corrupt in his settled persuasion, as one would be ready to think, if he were to judge only by things delivered in some parts of this book; and especially if it should be supposed, that he embraced all the consequences of what he here maintains. Men often do not see or allow the plain consequences of their own doctrines. And therefore, though I charge very pernicious consequences on some things he says, yet I do not charge him with embracing these consequences: nor will I undertake to explain how it could come to pass, that he should maintain things now in this book, in opposition to me, which are so contrary to the good and sound doctrines he has formerly delivered in other books. Let that be as it will, and however orthodox the principles may be, which he more ordinarily 530 maintains; yet the ill and unsound things he delivers here, may do nevertheless hurt to you and your children, who may read this book without having in view the more wholesome doctrines of his other writings.
For instance, you have ever been taught, that unconverted men do not really believe the gospel, are never truly convinced of its truth.; and that it is of great importance that sinners should be sensible of the unbelief and atheism of their hearts. But contrary to this, Mr. W.‘s book abundantly teaches you and your children this notion, That unsanctified men may really be convinced of the divine truth of the gospel, and believe it with all their hearts.
You have been ever taught, that Christless sinners, especially when under some more slight awakenings, are very ready to flatter themselves that they are willing to accept of Christ as their Saviour; but that they must be brought off from their vain imagination, and be brought to see that the fault is in their own wills, and that their not being interested in Christ is owing to their obstinacy and perverseness, and wilful wicked refusal of God’s terms; on which account they are wholy inexcusable, and may justly be cast off by God. But contrary to these things, this book of Mr. W. abundantly teaches you, that men in an unconverted state, may indeed cordially consent to the terms of the covenant of grace, may comply with the call of the gospel, may submit to its proposals, may have satisfaction in the offer God makes of himself as our God in Christ, may fall in with the terms of salvation propounded in the gospel, and renounce all other ways, and may sincerely and earnestly desire salvation in this way: and that some unconverted men are not wilful obstinate sinners, (p. 21. b.) Which doctrines, if embraced and retained by your children as true, will tend forever to hinder that conviction of the opposition and obstinacy of the heart, which Mr. S. ever taught you to be of such importance in order to the soul’s humiliation, and thorough conviction of the justice of God in its damnation.
You have ever been taught, that the hearts of natural men are wholly corrupt, entirely destitute of any thing spiritually good, not having the least spark of love to God, and as much without all things of this nature, as a dead corpse is without life: nevertheless, that it is hard for sinners to be convinced of this; that they are exceeding prone to imagine, there is some goodness in them, some respect to God in what they do; yet that they must be brought off from such a vain conceit of themselves, and come to see themselves utterly depraved and quite dead in sin.—But now this book of Mr. W. leads you to quite other notions; it leads you to suppose, that some natural men are above lukewarmness in religion, that they may truly profess to be the real friends of Christ, and to love God, more than his enemies, and above the world.
It was a doctrine greatly inculcated on you by Mr. S. as supposing it of great importance for all to be convinced of it, that natural men are not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be; that they never do truly serve God, but are wholly under the dominion of sin and Satan.—But if sinners believe Mr. W.‘s book, they will not be convinced of these things; nay, they will believe quite contrary things, viz. That sinners, while in a state of nature, may have a cordial subjection to Jesus Christ, and may be subject to him with all their hearts, and may be so devoted to the service of Christ as to be above those that serve two masters, may give up themselves to be taught, ruled, and led by him in a gospel-way of salvation, and may give up all their hearts and lives to him.—And is it likely, while sinners believe these doctrines of Mr. W. that they will ever be brought to a thorough humiliation, in a conviction of their being wholly under the power of enmity against God, which Mr. S. taught you to be of such great importance?
You know it was always a doctrine greatly insisted on by Mr. S. as a thing of the utmost consequence, that sinners who are seeking converting grace, should be thoroughly sensible of God’s being under no manner of obligation, from any desires, labours, or endeavours of theirs, to bestow his grace upon them; either in justice, or truth, or any other way; but that when they have done all, God is perfectly at liberty, whether to show them mercy, or not; that they are wholly in the hands of God’s sovereignty. (See Guide to Christ, p. 75. c. d. and Benef. of the Gosp. p. 64. and p. 75, 76.)—Whereas, if a sinner seeking salvation believes Mr. W.‘s book, it will naturally lead him to think quite otherwise. He (in p. 28.) speaking of such sincerity and earnestness of endeavours as may be in natural men, to qualify them to come to the sacrament, and of the great encouragement God has given, that he will bestow his saving grace on such as use such endeavours, adds these words, (near the bottom of the page,) “God never will be worse than his encouragement, nor do less than he has encouraged; and he has said, to him that hath, shall be given.“ Naturally leading the awakened sinner, who is supposed to have moral sincerity enough to come to the sacrament, to suppose, that God is not wholly at liberty; but that he has given so much encouragement, that it may be depended upon he will give his grace; and that it would not be reasonable or becoming of God to do otherwise; because if God should do so, he would be worse than his encouragement, and would not fulfil that word of his, to him who hath shall be given. And how will this tend effectually to prevent the sinner looking on God as absolutely at liberty, and prevent his resigning himself wholly into the hands of God, and to his sovereign pleasure!
It is a doctrine which has ever been taught you, and used for the warning, awakening, and humbling of gospel sinners, that they have greater guilt, and are exposed to a more terrible punishment, than the heathen.—But this is spoken of by Mr. W. as an unsufferable treatment of visible saints; naturally tending to alleviate and smooth the matter in the consciences of those that are not scandalous persons, though they live in unbelief and the rejection of Christ under gospel light and mercy.
If you will believe what Mr. W. says, (p. 56.) those blessed epithets and characters in the epistles of the apostles, which you always, from the first foundation of the town, have been taught to be peculiar and glorious expressions and descriptions of the blessed qualifications and state of true saints, and heirs of eternal happiness; such as “being elected, chosen before the foundation of the world, predestinated to the adoption of children through Jesus Christ; quickened, and made alive to God, though once dead in trespasses and sins; washed, sanctified, justified;—made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ; begotten again, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled;”—with innumerable others the like:—I say if you believe Mr. W. you have been quite mistaken all your days, and misled by all your ministers; these things are no more than were said of the whole nation of the Jews, even in their worst times! Which is (as I have observed) exactly agreeable to the strange opinion of Mr. Taylor, of Norwich, in England, that author who has so corrupted multitudes in New England. Thus you are at once deprived of all the chief texts in the Bible, that hitherto have been made use of among you, as teaching the discriminating qualifications and privileges of the truly pious, and the nature and benefits of a real conversion; too much paving the way for the rest of Taylor’s scheme of religion, which utterly explodes the doctrines you have been formerly taught concerning eternal election, conversion, justification; and so, of a natural state of death in sin; and the whole doctrine of original sin, and of the mighty change made in the soul by the redemption of Christ applied to it.
And this, taken with those other things which I have observed, in conjunction with some other things which have lately appeared in Northampton, tend to lead the young people among you apace into a liking to the new, fashionable, lax schemes of divinity, which have so greatly prevailed in New England of late; as wide as the East is from the West, from those great principles of religion, which have always been taught, and have been embraced, and esteemed most precious, and have justly been accounted very much your glory by others.
If this book of Mr. W. with all these things, is made much of by you, and recommended to your children, as of great importance to defend the principles of the town, how far has your zeal for that one tenet, respecting natural men’s right to the Lord’s supper, transported you, and made you forget your value and concern for the most precious and important doctrines of Jesus Christ, taught 531 you by Mr. Stoddard, which do most nearly concern the very vitals of religion!
I beseech you, brethren, seasonably to consider how dark the cloud is that hangs over you, and how melancholy the prospect (especially with regard to the rising generation) in many respects. I have long been intimately acquainted with your religious circumstances, your notions and principles, your advantages and dangers; having had perhaps greater opportunity for it than any other person on earth.—Before I left you, it was very evident, that Arminianism, and other loose notions in religion, and Mr. Taylor’s in particular, began to get some footing among you; and there were some things special in your circumstances, that threatened a great prevailing of such like notions: which if they should by degrees generally prevail, will doubtless by degrees put an end to what used to be called saving religion.
Therefore let me entreat you to take the friendly warning I now give you, and stand on your guard against the encroaching evil. If you are not inclined to hearken to me, from any remaining affection to one whose voice and counsels you once heard with joy, and yielded to with great alacrity; yet let me desire you not to refuse, as you would act the part of friends to yourselves and your dear children.
He who was once (as I hope through grace) Your faithful pastor,
And devoted servant for Jesus’ sake,
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