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perfect system of morality. The principle of Pela-
gianism, or of those who hold the opinions of Pela-
gius, is this, that the natural powers of man since
the fall are sufficient to enable him to keep the law
of God. From this principle flow the opinions of
the Pelagians concerning original sin, the decrees of
God, the influences of the Spirit, and the measure of
perfection which may be attained upon earth.

This method of arranging the controversies is
manifestly much more scientific than the former.
In every set of opinions which deserves the name of
a system, there are some leading principles which
connect the several parts. It is an agreeable exer-
cise of the understanding to trace these principles,
and to mark that kind of unity and subordination
which arises from their influence. It is an act of
justice in those who examine the opinions of others,
to take into view that mutual dependence which
renders them a consistent whole ; and it is an end-
less unavailing task to attempt to defend the truth
against a multitude of detached errors, unless your
reasoning reach the sources from which these errors


proceed. I recoinmeiid it, therefore, to those stu-
dents who, in the course of their reading, have at-
tained an intimate acquaintance both with the evi-
dences of Christianity and with the particular doc-
trines of our faith, to study the most important con-
troversies in this scientific manner. You will derive
much assistance in this branch of your researches
from Mosheim's Church History, which is an in-
valuable treasure of theological knowledge. This
most learned and ingenious author, who, when read
along with the able and judicious notes of his trans-
lator Maclaine, is in almost every instance a safe
guide, has given, in one division of his work, a sum-
mary of all the heresies or particular opinions that
were held in the different ages of the church. He
has traced their rise and their progress, and has dis-
criminated, with critical acumen, those w^hich ap-
pear to an ordinary eye almost the same. As his
work, from its nature, makes mention of all the con-
troversies, both those which are important and those
which are trifling, you cannot expect that even the
opinions upon which he has judged it proper to be-
stow the most particular attention* will be fully elu-
cidated in a book which comprehends such an extent
of time, and such a variety of matter. You will
supply this unavoidable defect by the books which
Mosheim quotes in his notes, or which I recommend :
and from the general index which he furnishes, and
the treatises which professedly explain the particular
subjects, you will be able to form a distinct connect-
ed view of every one of the five controversies which
are universally interesting, and which are commonly
known by the names of Arianism, Pelagianism, So-
cinianism, Arminianism, and the Popish controversy.

VOL. I. 2 G


There are many other controversies that turn upon
very important points. But they have not been so
perfectly digested into the form of a system as the
five now mentioned, nor have they been defended
with such ability as to occupy a great part of the
attention of a student.

Although I thus earnestly recommend attention
to the scientifical arrangement of the controversies,
I have been restrained from adopting it as the plan
of my course by the following reasons. Some of the
five great controversies resemble one another in se-
veral points. Thus Pelagianism and Arminianism
both turn upon the natural powers which man has,
since the fall, to obey the will of God. Socinianism
agrees with Pelagianism upon this point, and it
agrees with Arianism in denying that Jesus is truly
God, while it differs from Arianism in the account
which it gives of his person. You may judge from
this specimen, that although the scientifical method,
which I mentioned, is unquestionably the best for
making you acquainted with any particular system
of opinions, yet to us, who mean to review all the
most important controverted points, it would neces-
sarily be attended with much repetition. We should
often meet, under different names, with the same ob-
jections, and the same heretical opinions, and we
should be obliged to bring forward the same argu-
ments and the same passages of Scripture in answer
to them. Further, our object is not so much to
know who held the particular opinions, and what
was the age in which they lived ; but what were the
various opinions upon the great subjects of theology,
and what were the grounds upon which they rested.
We may attain this object, although we confound


the shades of difference between systems that nearly
approach, and therefore to us it were a needless
waste of research and of time to discriminate them
nicely. Further still, as every one of the five great
controversies embraces particular opinions upon
many different points, the arranging the five separ-
ately breaks the subjects of theology into parts, and
does not afford a full united view of any one sub-
ject. You will understand what I mean" from an ex-
ample. Besides the opinions of the early ages con-
cerning the person of Christ, one opinion was held
in the third century by Arius, another at a much
later period by Socinus, and a third has been the
general doctrine of the Christian church. Any one
who wishes to make himself master of this interest-
ing subject will desire to see the different opinions
brought together, that he may compare their proba-
bility, that he may judge of the support which every
one of them receives from particular passages of
Scripture, or from the analogy of faith, and may
thus attain a conclusion which he can defend by
good reasons. Had you a book continually by you,,
in which all the controversies were arranged singly,
you might make a collation of the different opinions
upon the same subject,'jby reading first a part of Ari-
anism, then the corresponding part of Socinian-
ism, and next the corresponding part of that system
which is called Orthodox, in the same manner as
you get a full view of a siege in the Peloponne-
sian w ar, by passing directly from the portion of the
siege which is written in one book of the history of
Thucydides, to the portion of the same siege which
is written in another book. But you could not
make this collation in hearing a course of lectures,
unless I repeated under one controversy as much of


what I had said under the corresponding part of
another, as to bring it to your mind ; and this repe-
tition would be a proof that the arrangement, how-
ever favourable to your understanding any one sys-
tem of opinions, is unfavourable to your understand-
ing the Avhole controverted subject.

Once more, there is in the different opinions up-
on the same subject a progress that may be traced,
by which you see how one paved the way for the
other ; and the succeeding opinion is often illustrat-
ed by the preparation which had been made for its
reception. This advantage is lost, when you throw
together the different subjects that were agitated in
one system of opinions. You see, in this way, the
chain which binds together all the parts of Pelagi-
anism, Arminianism, or Socinianism. But in pass-
ing along the chain, you miss the thread which con-
ducts you from the opinions on a particular subject
found under one system, to the opinions on the same
subject found imder another.

For these reasons, I resolved neither to follow the
path of the ordinary systems of theology, nor to
adopt the more scientific mode of classing the opin-
ions that distinguish different sects of Christians.
The plan of my course is this :

Out of the mass of matter that is found in the
system, I select the great subjects which have agi-
tated and divided the minds of those who profess to
build their faith upon the same Scriptures. I con-
sider every one of these subjects separately ; I pre-
sent the whole train and progress of opinions that
have been held concerning it ; and I state the
grounds upon which they rest, passing slightly over
those opinions which are now forgotten, or v/hose


extravagance prevents any danger of their being
revived, and dwelling upon those whose plausibility
gave them at any time a general possession of the
minds of men, or which still retain their influence
and credit amongst some denominations of Christians.
In selecting the great subjects to be thus brought
forward, I was guided by that general view of the
Gospel which was formerly illustrated. We found
its distinguishing character to be the religion of sin-
ners, — a remedy for the present state of moral evil,
provided by the love of God the Father, brought
into the world by Jesus Christ, and applied by the
influences of the Spirit. All the controversies which
are scattered through the ordinary systems, and which
have been classed under the different heads, Arianism,
Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Socinianism, respect
either the Persons by whom the remedy is brought
and applied, or the remedy itself. The different
opinions respecting the Persons comprehend the
whole of the Arian, a part of the Socinian, and all
that is commonly called the Trinitarian controversy,
upon which so much has been written since the
beginning of the last century. The different opin-
ions concerning the remedy itself respect either the
nature of the remedy, the extent of the remedy, or
the application of it ; and they comi^rehend the
whole system of Pelagian and Arminian principles,
a part of the Socinian, and many of the doctrines of
Popery. Opinions as to the nature of the remedy
depend upon the apprehensions entertained of the
nature of the disease ; so that all the questions con-
cerning original sin, the demerit of sin, and the
manner in which guilt can be expiated, fall under
this head. Opinions as to the extent of the remedy


embrace the questions concerning universal and par-
ticular redemption, and concerning the decrees of
God. Opinions as to the application of the remedy-
turn upon the necessity of divine assistance, the
manner in which it is bestowed and received, and
the effects which it produces upon the mind and the
conduct of those to whom it is given.

It appears to me, therefore, that by this distribu^
tion we do not omit any of the great controversies,
with which students of divinity ought to be ac^
quainted ; at the same time, by tracing with undis-
tracted attention the progress of opinions upon
every subject, by viewing their points of opposition,
and examining their respective merits, we consider
one subject closely upon all sides before we proceed
to another, and are thus saved the necessity of re-
turning at any future period upon the ground which
we had formerly trodden. Much light will proba-
bly be struck from this collision of different opinions.
You have experience that you are never so tho-
roughly acquainted with a subject, as when you
have heard the discussion of the several questions to
which it gives rise, either in conversation, or in
more formal debate ; and therefore you have reason
to expect that your knowledge of theology will be
rendered much more accurate and profound, by can-
vassing the different opinions held in a succession of
ages by very able men, and defended by them with
a zeal that cannot be supposed to have omitted any
argument, because it was dictated not merely by the
love of truth, but in many instances by the desire of

After I have derived all the benefit which the
labours of these men can afford, in opening to you


those doctrines of Christianity which are the great
subject of your studies, I next consider the church
of Christ as a society founded by its Author. This
branch of our course entered into the general view
of the Scripture system ; and it demands your par-
ticular attention, not only from the mention made
of it in Scripture, but also from the many violent
controversies to which it has given birth. The no-
tion of a society implies the use of certain external
observances, which are necessary to distinguish it
from other societies, and to maintain order amongst
the members. It is natural, therefore, in speaking
of the Christian society, to give a history of church
government, or an account of the various practices
and questions which have occurred upon this head ;
and in this account I am led to investigate the
grounds of that claim advanced by the Bishop of
Rome, as the Head of the church, and the Vicar of
Christ upon earth. There are many of the doctrines
of the church of Rome, which fall under some of
the controversies that we propose to review. But
these doctrines were only called in as auxiliaries of
the hierarchy, to lend their aid in supporting that
system of spiritual power, of which the claim made
by the Bishop of Rome was the principal pillar ; so
that by much the greater part of the Popish contro-
versy belongs to the head of church government.

It is impossible, in this country, to consider
Church government without bestowing attention
upon the claims of Episcopacy and Presbytery.
After examining the support which they derive
from the word of God, and from the practice of an-
tiquity, the transition is natural to the constitution
of that Church, of which you expect to become


members. The Church of Scotland, like eveiy other
established Church, requires her office-bearers to
subscribe a declaration of their faith. It is proper,
therefore, to consider the right upon which such re-
quisition rests, and the propriety of that right being-
exercised. The peculiar doctrines contained in that
declaration, which we call the Confession of Faith,
will have passed in review before we come to this
part of our course. But it will be proper that you
then attend to the reason of the peculiarities of that
worship, in which you may soon be called to pre-
side, and to the principles of that discipline and
government, of which you may soon be called to be
the guardians and the administrators.

The different parts of the office of a parish mini-
ster are familiar to those who live in this country,
where they are not neglected. But some observa-
tions, with regard to the importance of performing
them properly, and the manner in which they may
be rendered most useful, will not appear unseason-
able to those who are about to enter upon the office
of the ministry ; and there is one branch of that of-
fice, I mean the preparation and the delivery of
sermons, concerning which, after all that you have
heard of composition elsewhere, you will naturally
expect some practical rules in a place where your
own discourses, the legal specimen of your proficien-
cy in the study of theology, are exhibited and judg-

When I have filled up this plan to my own satis-
faction, I shall think that I discharge that part of
the public duties of my station which consists in lec-
turing, by contributing the whole stock of my infor-
mation and experience for your advantage. My


principle is, to condense the execution of the plan as
much as possible. I shall be disappointed, if I be
not able to comprise my whole course in such a pe-
riod as will give to every residing student of divi-
nity an opportunity, if he chooses, of hearing all the
parts of it ; and I shall think it an advantage, if, by
omitting some parts, and abridging others, I can so
reduce the course, as to admit of passing over it
twice, in the time prescribed for regular attendance
at college.

Turretin, abridged by Russenius, is a very useful book for giving
a short view of all tbe controverted points.

Stapferi Instit. Theol. Polemicae, in 5 vol. is a valuable work.
The different systems of opinions concerning the truths of re-
ligion are there separately arranged.


VOL. I. 2 H


Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 32 of 32)