Samuel Whelpley.

The Triangle : a series of numbers upon three theological points; enforced from various pulpits in the city of New York online

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Various Pulpits in the City of New-York.



Van Winkle & VS^iley, Printerg.



To the People of JVew-York,

The first of the following numbers was pub-
lished in the New-York Courier. A note in that paper,
the following day, stated, that the editor of the paper
dechned publishing the remainder of the work, be-
cause it was likely to give offence. I preferred a
public paper to a pamphlet form, for two reasons ; one
was, that a newspaper is read by many persons who
seldom have leisure, or inclination, to labour through
the Essays on didactic theology, found in Magazines,
Sermons, and Systematic Discourses. The other was,
that I entered on the publication not as a theologian
or controversialist, but as a spectator and reporter
of facts.

To be candid, the work was principally designed
for the edification of those who would be wiUing to
be styled high-toned Calvinists. And it may seem,
perhaps, to some, a little paradoxical, that the very
first number should kindle such a flame of resentment,
as to cause alarm to the editor, of whose correct taste
and liberal sentiments I have ho doubt, wlien it is a


fact, that that number does no more than condemn a
sentiment which Calvin condemns or, at any rate,
does not justify — I mean the imputation of the guilt of
Mam's sin to his posterity, independently of their own
conduct and character. Neither Calvin, Luther, nor
Melancthon believed in that doctrine.

People of New-York, I desire you to take notice,
that these high-toned Calvinists were so enraged at
Calvin's own sentiments, that ihe editor of the Courier
was induced not to proceed. .For your satisfaction I ,
give you the words of Calvin. He sums up his opin-
ion of original sin in few words : " Videtur, ergo,
peccatum originale haereditare natura3 nostra) pravitas
et corruptio, in omnes animee partes diffusa." Where-
fore, onginal sin seems to be the hereditary depravity and
corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the
soul. " Neque," subjoins Calvin, " ista est alieni de-
licti obligatio. Non ita est accipiendum, ac si, inson-
tes ipsi et immerentes, culpam delicti ejus sustincre-
mus." JYeither is that an ohlimtion or accountablcness
for another^s fault. It is not to be understood as though
we, ourselves innocent, should sustain the blame of his
(j^darn's) transgression.

I am aware that most people have not leisure to
examine authors. Those, however, that will take
that trouble, will perceive that the views of Ori-
ginal Sin, Depravity, and Atonement, advocated in
these numbers, are not peculiar to New-England, but,
on the contrary, have been known and maintained in
the church, by many of the ablest divines, since the
reformation, and by a majority in the American

But, fellow citizens, it is not so much with their
sentiments that I am disposed to contend, although
they are sufficiently incorrect and erroneous ; it is with
their horribly intolerant, bigoted, and persecuting
spirit; against which every man should lift his voice,
and proclaim his indignation. The holy fathers and
friars of the inquisitorial commission were never more
vindictive or implacable. It comes in thunders and
anathemas from their desks : in cants, whispers, and
innuendoes among the throng: it comes larded with
much holy grimace^ and many sanctimonious sighs, for
the credulous and pious ; with much logical jargon
and biblical criticism for sraatterers ; with spleen and
gall enough, when the company has sufficient pride
and malice to bear it; and with firebrands for all the
young foxes they can catch. ^Vhen they have ex-
hausted their topics of argument, and that they can
soon do, Avithout a miracle, they resort to sarcasm ancl
ridicule, and here their talents are wonderful : Her-
cules often comes in " head and shoulders."

These gentlemen surely forget the age and country
in which they hve, by three hundred years. They
ou^lit to feel comfortable whilst others think for
themselves. And one object of these numbers is to
remind them, that they live in the year 1816. A man
in this city does not expect to share the fate of Ser-
vetus, though he should differ from Calvin. I will
not say what a man ought to expect Avhcn lie is ffo for-
tunate as not to diffi^r with Calvin.


THE TWp^tlhr^^,,^%:^^''

No. I.

It is an old, and perhaps will be regarded as a trite saying, that
the decline of morality, in a nation, precedes and ensures the
decline of its prosperity. The tendency of the increase of
wealth numbers, and refinement to a deterioration of morals is
exemplified in the history of the greatest nations, and is too ob-
vious to require proof, and too well known to need illustration.
Happy would it be for mankind, if the natural tendency of na-
tions and societies to sink into luxury, extravagance, dishonesty,
aud ail the extremes of immorality, were not, in many instances,
aided by the very means and institutions which are professedly
established for the opposite purpose.

Even religion, descended from Heaven, arrayed in the beauties
of virtue, and her head encompassed with the rays of divinity,
has been counterfeited, her institutions perverted, her doctrines
corrupted, her glories sullied : so that, instead of presenting any
barrier to vice, or any check to immorality, she has often become
their most efficient auxiliaries. It has been the boast, perhaps
the felicity of this city, that it abounds more than any other city
with iostitutions designed to favour morality ; and while I leave
it for the reader to judge for himself, of the effect and success of
these institutions, I am concerned to say that, in my opinion,
some of the most showy and prepossessing, at any rate, the most
noisy means used to 'promote morality and religion in this city,
are amongst the most useless, false, and hollow. I refer to nothing
less than the strain of preaching continually and incessantly used,
in many of the pulpits of this city !

I have no controversy with any one, nor do I enter on this
spbject in any other than a political point of view. I consider

morality as the }iia;hest ornament and strongest bulwark of soci*
ety; whatever, therefore, diminishes the motives and weakens
the obligations to morality, conies no less under the animadver-
sion of ihe politician tiian of the divine : as it surely no less imj>airs
the temporal than the Er>intual interests of the community.
There are a few points v* hich go perpetually into the strain of
preaching of certain gentlemen : and their scheme may be com-
pared to a triangle, from which they never depart, and in which,
if they step out of one angle, their next step is into nnolher ; the
succeeding (sne. into the one from whence they started.

The want of variety might be compensated by force and ex-
pansion of talents, were their angular scheme laid, both as to its
sitles and angles, in the great field of truth.

Their scheme commences by leaching that ihe whole human
race are guHty of Ihe dn of Adam, independently of their own
conduct, and for that sin arc iruli/ deserving of eternal punish-
ment. We are apt to take our opinions on the credit of venera-
ble names, and very many names deemed venerable, if weighed
in the balance of unerring truth, would be found to have derived
their importance from a long and industrious propagation of error.
Probably no individual man yet had time, candour, patience, and
resolution, to examine and substantiate,^ on proper evidence, the
whole njass of his opinions. Jtew men proceed to any conside-
rable length in tills arduous work. They take their opinions, nay,
thfir articles of faith, as they do the fashion of their garments,
not uj>on a careful inquiry, whether they arc the best, but upon
ihe testimony of the tailor who makes them, that they are in the

The (iocirine of original sin, as jus* stated, is thus received
by its advocates. It has descended mm the lumber and trash
of the dark times of ignorHnce and supr.rstilion, mysticism and
bigotry. The great reformers did nobly, but they did not do
every thing. They merit the approbation of men, and met with
divine acceptance for what they did, and are certainly to be ex-
cused for what they omitted, in thtir great work. 1 speak as
though the reformers held the doctrine of original sin according
to tile tenor of the preceding statement. Some of them did,
others dill not; and the truth is, that a candid examination of the

sentiments of the fathers, — of the most learned and judicious
divines in Europe, before the reformation, and since, will show,
beyond all dispute, that the above statement of the doctrine of
original sin has never been the general or prevailing opinion of
the christian church.

Yet you shall hear it inculcated from Sabbath to Sabbath in
many of our churches, and swallowed down, as a sweet morsel
by many a gaping mouth, that a man ought to feel himself actu-
ally guilty of a sin committed six thousand years before he was
born; nay, that, prior to all consideration of his own moral con-
duct, he might to fee', himself deserving of eternal damnation for
the first sin of Adam. I hesitate not to say, that no scheme of
religion ever propagated amongst men, contains a more mon-
strous, a more horrible, tenet. The atrocity of this doctrine is
beyond comparison. The visions of the Koran, the fictions of
the Sadder, the fables of the Zendavesta all give place to this: —
Rabinical legends, Brahminical vagaries, all vanish before it.

The idea, that all the numerous millions of Adam's posterity
deserve the inefifable and endless torments of hell, for a single
act of his, before any one of them existed, is repugnant to that
reason which God has given us, is subversive of all possible con-
ceptions of justice. No such doctrine is taught in the scriptures,
or can impose itself on any rational mind, which is not trammel-
led by education, dazzled by interest, warped by prejudice, and
bewildered by theory. — This is one corner of the triangle above

This doctrine perpetually urged, and the subsequent strain of
teaching usually attached to it, will not fail to drive the incau-
tious mind to secret and practical, or open infidelity. An at-
tempt to force such monstrous absurdities on the human under-
standings will be followed by the worst efifects. A man who finds
himself condemned for that of which he is not guilty, will feel
little regret for his real transgressions.

I shall not apply these remarks to the purpose I had in view,
till I have considered some other points of a similar character; —
or, if I may resort to the metaphor alluded to, till I have pointed
out the other two angles of the triangle.



No. II.

WHF.THrn it may be termed a disposition, or passion, or call-
ed by any other naiiie, there is som'thlng in t-onie men which
may be denominated ai* huinhle pride. I tear, could it be ana-
lyzed, it would not be found to want any of the most virulent
qualities of tl-.e true and old-fashioned pride, known in the world
ever since the fall of man, and which, indeed, threw a morning
star from heaven, before it inflamed man to rebellion. It seems
to be the pride of the gentlemen alfuded to in the preceding
number, t» plunge down human nature as low as possible. They
are by no means safi?fied with laying the wlxde human race un-
der the ban of eternal damnation, for an act which was commit-
ted before any of them existed; — they go much farther. And
this brings me to the second angle of the true diagram of their

They teach, and strenuously insist, that all men labour under a
true and physical incapacity to do any thing which God requires.
To this total and universal inability they deny all figurative or
metaphysical import, and contend that men are as truly, and in
the same sense, unable to obey the law of God as they are to
overturn the Andes, or drain the ocean. What do we hear next?
They turn immediately round, and exhort their hearers, with
great pathos, to do every thing which God requires, and denounce
their disobedience as meriting eternal damnation. Nay, this in-
ability and thraldom, in its whole extent, they carry back to the
original fountain of tlieir guilt and condemnation, and say that
it was all done in Adam; — that all the human race were made
guilty, and were wholly incapacitated to do any good act, in their
first father. Nevertheless, they go on with mighty eluq%uce t»
exhort them to do every duty.

Had I not already said that their notion of original sin con-
tained the most monstrous error ever advanced in any scheme
of religion, I should be tempted to say the same of this. But I
will venture to say I think them both infinitely tlisfant from the
truth. But, says the advocate of these truly tremendous and de-
testabl» teuits, " This is Calviuiam; and dare you dispute Cai.-


viN ?" To which I reply, If Calvin believed in these doctrines,
which we deny, he must have derivt'd his light (hertiri, for auiht
I know, from the flames of StRVExus ; indeed, they more resem-
ble the light of iulernal than celestial fire.

This doctrine of man's inability is an insult to every man's
unbiassed understanding — to the light of his conscience. It is
contrary to the whole current of the sacred scriptures: and, in-
deed, its warmest advocates are tempted to contradict themselves
every moment ; and when they prea< h best, this temptation is
effectual; or, to say the least, their contradictions are seldom far-
ther apart than (he improvement from the sermon. 'J'heir
preaching often reminds me of the mode of writing used by some
ancient nations, which was from left to right, ami from right to
left, alternately crossing the page in opposite directirins.

These gentlemen, however, might be laid off into different
sections. Some of them, aware of the inconsi.-teucy, frankly own
that wicked men are under no obligation to lo'-e or obey God:
and thus, for the sake of theory and system, plunge -till deeper
in error. Others boldly deny all moral ai:ency to mankind : —
others again contend that men are moral agents to do wrong, but
not to do right; evincing still more ignorance of the philosophy
of the human mind than of the word of God.

Is it wonderful that there should be so many Gallios in this
eity ? That so many should with scornful smile turn from this
monstrous jargon, and cy out, " Wretched mysticism !— Rid-
dles ! — contradictions! — What, was I rendered, by Adam's first
act of sin, a criminal deserving endless torments? Wa? I, at the
same time, totally incapacitated to yield obedience to the Al-
inighty Ruler? Was I bound hand and foot six thousand years
ago, and rocks of adamant laid on the seal of my eternal perdition ?
Impossible! The glorious volume of nature itself contradicts all
this, and shows me a far different character of my Cieator and



No. III.

Wk coine to the third and last great point of their system of
theology, which makes out the triangle, from which, as I said,
they do not depart. They tell you there is a remedy for a part
of mankind; Christ has died for an elect number. They, and
they only, enjoy an ofifer of salvation; and for them alone is pro-
vision made. On the contrary, they plumply deny that " Christ
has tasted death for every man f they will by no means allow
that " He is a propitiation for the sins of the 7vhole world:'" they
abhor the idea of going " into a'l the world and preaching the
gospel to every creature.'''' They would tell you, thai, if they could
distinguish who the elect are, in their assemblies, they should
preach the gospel only to them ; they should tell them that Christ
died only for them : but, as for the rest, they should preach no-
thing but the certainty of eternal damnation.

Nor does this, though it gives the lines of the triangle, display
the worst features of their scheme. They go on to state, that
even the elect are not bound to believe in the Saviour, or to love
and obey him, till he has convinced them, in a supernatural way,
that he died for them. Thus, to the grossest error in doctrine
adding the basest selfishness in heart and practice. Nothing of-
fends them so deeply as the assertion, that the perfection and
glory of the Saviour are the highest motives of love and obedience
to him. Yet, as for the non-elect, they assure them that their
condemnation will be vastly aggravated for rejecting salvation
by Christ.

The whole of their doctrine, then, amounts to this, that a man
is, in the first place, condemned, incapacitated, and eternally re-
probated for the sin of Adam : in the next place, that he is con-
demned over again, for not doing that which be is totally, in all
respects, unable to do ; and, in the third place, that he is con-
demned, and doubly and trebly condemned, for not believing in
a Saviour, who never died for him, and with whom he has no
more to do than a fallen angel.


This is what I call strojig meat, and the stomach which cao
digest such food, can, I should think, digest iron and adamant.
The natural and necessary deductions from these leading tenets,
their various ramifications and subordinate collateral branches,
exert a deep influence, and diffuse an alarming complexion over
the whole plan of revelation. These teachers have turned their
faces towards the ages of darkness, and are travelling back with
rapid strides to the jargon of schoolmen, and the reveries and
superstitions of Monks. Were a painter to draw an emblem of
their plan, you would see the distorted phiz, squinting eye, and
haggard features of perfect selfishness, mounted on the huge, in-
flated, and putrescent carcass of Antinomianism.

Whether they admit or deny the doctrine of moral agency,
their crude notions of that, and other things correlative, amount
to an absolute and universal virtual denial of it: of course, their
scheme embraces the strongest and most odious features of fatal-
ism, or, rather, that men are mere machines, dead as inorganic
matter. They have no notion of moral virtue as an exercise of
the human mind ; they even wish that phrase expunged from
our lanfjuage. Of course, their sermons generally lie within the
narrow limits already marked out ; which they are pleased to
style, p-eaching Christ.

To this it is proper to add, that they are tenacious of their
"■own opinions, and intolerant of those of others in no ordinary
degree. I shall justify (his remark, by simply adverting to the
recent expulsion of a young man of unblemished character
and respectable talents, from a theological seminary in this
city. 1 cannot but notice, as an extraordinary coincidence, that
the very man who expelled him has, at this time, come out and
astonished the world by a pompous and flaming production in
favour of general communion, Catholicism and christian charity.
I wish he would inform the world whether he intends they shall
follow his book, or his example. I cannot express what gratitude
I feel to providence, Hiat though Bonner and Gardiner should re-
vive, they would not find, in this country, a government ready
to second their intolerance by the flames of persecution. The
tiger may show his teeth and growl, but he cannot bite.



No. IV.

With no design to exa^2:erate or colour too hicilily. I have, in
the pfeceding numbers, given a sketch of the inces^-ant strain of
preaching jjursued in many congregations of this city. 1 have
not misrepresented, neither have I withheld the truth. As I said,
I have no cojitroversy with any man : and am willing to give full
credit to the leainitig and talents of many who teach these doc-
trines. Indeed, 1 have a charitable hope that some of them ima-
gine they are labouring in the cause of truth. But truth will one
day instruct them that, as " they have sown the wind they shall
reap the whirlwiiid "

I will not undertake to say that all the vices of the city are
chargeable to the account of their errors ; far from it; but I will
undertake to say that their doclrint^s are calculated, and tend,
to drive men to skepticism, dei?m, atheism, libertinism; nay, to
madness. The rash and unwary man that enters their assembly
is amazed to hear his assent clia!lenge