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Jonathan Dickinson.

Familiar letters to a gentleman, upon a variety of seasonable and important subjects in religion online

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3* — 2_



* THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, f

* Princeton, N. J. §






BR 120 .D5 1841
Dickinson, Jonathan, 1688-

1747.

Familiar letters to a

gentleman. —



FAMILIAR LETTERS



GENTLEMAN,



UPON A VARIETY OF



SEASONABLE AND IMPORTANT SUBJECTS



IN RELIGION.



BY



JONATHAN DICKINSON, A. M.

LATE MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL AT EL1ZAUET11TOWN, N. J.



PHILADELPHIA:

I'UESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION.

JAMES RUSSELL, PUBLISHING AGENT.

1841.
f



Printed by

WILLIAM B. MART1EN.



CONTENTS.



Preface, 5

LETTER I.— The Danger of Infidelity briefly represented - 9

LETTER II. — A brief and general view of the Evidences of Chris-
tianity, 16

LETTER III.— A Historical Account of the Birth, Life, Passion,
Resurrection, Ascension, and Future Kingdom of our Blessed Sa-
viour, collected from the Prophecies of the Old Testament, - 29

LETTER IV. — The certainty of those facts, upon which the Evi-
dences of Christianity depend, 43

LETTER V. — Some of the Internal Evidences of Christianity con-
sidered, 53

LETTER VI. — Some Objections against the Internal Evidences of
Christianity considered and answered, - . - 67

LETTER VII.— The Doctrine of God's Sovereign Grace Vindicated;
and some Exceptions against it considered and answered, - 78

LETTER VIII.— The Difference between a True Saving Faith,
and a Dead Temporary Faith, distinctly considered, - 91

LETTER IX.— The Difference between a Legal and Evangelical
Repentance distinctly considered, - - - - - 108

LETTER X.— The Seventh Chapter to the Romans contains the
Description and Character of a Converted State, - - 130

LETTER XL— The doctrine of a Sinner's Justification, by the Im-
puted Righteousness of Christ, explained and vindicated, 151

LETTER XII.— Whether we arc Justified by Faith and Obedience
to the Gospel, as a New Law of Grace, - - - - 17 4



4 CONTENTS.

LETTER XIII. — The notion of a First Justification by Faith, and a
Secondary Justification by Sincere Obedience, discussed and con-
futed, 201

LETTER XIV. — The Apostle James's Doctrine of Justification by
Works, in his Second Chapter, distinctly reviewed, and set in its
genuine light, by a comparison with the Apostle Paul's doctrine
of Justification by Faith, 202

LETTER XV. — Wherein is considered in what respects Good
Works are Necessary ; and our Obligations to them represented
and urged, 242

LETTER XVI.— The Nature of the Believer's Union to Christ
briefly explained and the Necessity of it asserted and de-
fended, 265

LETTER XVII — Antinomian Abuses of the doctrine of Believers'
Union to Christ, or Pleas from it for Licentiousness and Security in
sinning, considered and obviated, ..... 286

LETTER XVIII.— Particular advice and direction for a Close and
Comfortable Walk with God, 309



PREFACE.



The irregular heats and extravagancies of some
late pretenders to extraordinary attainments in
religion, their imaginary divine impulses, and
ecstatic raptures, with other effects of their dis-
ordered fancies, have cast such a blemish up-
on the Christian profession, in the eyes of un-
settled and unthinking people, that it is well if
too many are not in danger of calling Christianity
itself into question, from the manifestly false pre-
tences and enthusiastic flights of some, who have
put in a claim to so eminent an experience in the
divine life. It is therefore thought needful, as
well as seasonable at this time, that a brief and
plain confirmation of the Christian religion be
sent abroad among our people, to establish them
in the foundation of our eternal hope. This has
been my special motive to the publication of some i
of the first of the ensuing Letters.

On the other hand, whether for want of duly
distinguishing between delusive appearances and
the genuine effects of an effusion of the Holy
Spirit, or from whatever cause, such has been
the violent opposition of some to the late revival



G r R E F A C E .

of religion in the land, that the doctrine of spe-
cial grace and of experimental piety seem now
by too many not only rejected and opposed, but
even treated with contempt; as if they had
never before been heard of, or professed among
us. This I take to be one of the darkest symp-
toms upon this land, that we have ever yet seen.
It must on that account be not unseasonable, to
represent to our people, in a clear and distinct
view, the experiences of vital religion, which
are necessary to constitute them Christians in-
deed. This is aimed at in the publication of the
most of the following Letters.

The danger we are in of prevailing Antino-
mianism, and the actual prevalence that it has
already obtained in some parts of the country, is
a sufficient justification of the attempt I have
made to set the foundation error of the Antino-
mians in a true light, and to discover its danger-
ous tendency.

If any are inclined to censure me for troubling
the world with new discourses upon such sub-
jects, as I had publicly treated on before ; parti-
cularly the evidences of Christianity, the sove-
reignty of divine grace, faith, and justification;
they may consider that these are most impor-
tant points, and deserve the most particular
illustration ; that there is at this time a special
call to remove the objections against them out of
the way ; and that this is now attempted in a



P R EFACE,



different manner from my former discourses on
these subjects, and, I trust, with some additional
evidence to the truth.

If any of my readers are so curious to inquire
to whom these letters were directed, it is suffi-
cient answer, that they are now by the press di-
rected to them; and if they can improve them
to their spiritual advantage, it will answer the
end of their publication. May the blessing of
God attend them to this purpose.

J. DICKINSON.



FAMILIAR LETTERS,



LETTER I.



THE DANGER OF INFIDELITY BRIEFLY REPRESENTED.

Sir — I heartily rejoice to hear from yon, that you
are at last come into a " resolution, immediately to
enter upon a serious and impartial examination of the
Christian religion." What you observe is certainly
true, that " this is an affair of too great consequence,
to be carelessly neglected, to be decided at the club,
or to be rejected by wholesale, with the too common
arguments of mirth and raillery, sneer and banter."
I should therefore be inexcusable, should I refuse a
compliance with your request, to " maintain a corres-
pondence with you by letter; and assist you what I
can, in your inquiries into the truth of Christianity,
the nature of the Christian institution, and the charac-
ter and qualifications of those who are entitled to the
rewards therein promised." But what can a gentle-
man of your capacities expect from me? And has not
this cause been clearly and fully handled, especially
of late, by a variety of authors ? Has it not triumphed
over all opposition? Have not its poor deluded op-
posers been covered with shame and confusion, in all
their feeble attempts to subvert our faith, and to de-
stroy the blessed hope of our future happiness? And
are not these books in your hands? — Read them, Sir,
Avith that attention which such an awful and import-
ant affair demands of you; and I think you cannot
fail of obtaining conviction and satisfaction.

2



10 FAMILIAR LETTERS.

To your inquiry, "How shall I first enter upon a
proper disquisition of this cause?" I answer in a few
words. Consider the importance of it : Consider, I
entreat you, that it is an eternal concern. Were this
duly considered, it would be impossible for you to
content yourself in such a state, wherein there is so
much as a peradventure as to the dreadful and aston-
ishing consequences of a disappointment.

You may perhaps have hitherto concluded all re-
vealed religion to be but a mere cheat and imposture.
You may have borne your part in the conversation at
taverns or coffee houses against priestcraft, cant, and
enthusiasm. You may have ridiculed all pretences
to vital piety; and exploded all the gospel doctrines
respecting future rewards and punishments, as un-
reasonable, or unintelligible dreams and fictions.—
Well! supposing you were in the right, what happi-
ness, what comfort or satisfaction would your infi-
delity afford you ? What rational man would envy
you the consolation, of imagining yourself upon a
level with the beasts, and of expecting that death will
terminate all your hopes and fears? — What believer
would part with the glorious hope of eternal and in-
expressible happiness and joy, for the gloomy pros-
pect of annihilation!

It is certain upon this supposition, the believer can
be in no danger; he has nothing to lose, or to fear;
but has every way the advantage of you. He has the
present satisfaction of being a favourite of heaven.
He has a continual source of support and comfort,
amidst the darkest scenes of providence, from the gra-
cious promises of the gospel. He can overcome the
miseries of life and the terrors of death, with the ra-
vishing view of a blessed immortality. And it is cer-
tain, if mistaken, he will never lament his disappoint-
ment: but sleep as quietly in a state of non-existence
as you can do.

But perhaps I have mistaken your sentiments. You
may possibly have given into an ■ pinion of a future
existence, though you have called the truth of the
gospel into question:— Be it so. Yet upon this sup-



FAMILIAR LETTERS. 11

position also, the believer has vastly the advantage of
you. He has all the happiness in this life which
Christianity affords: and this you must be a stranger
to. He can live in comfort, and die in peace. His
religion deprives him of nothing which can any way
contribute to his rational happiness and delight; but
every way tends to subserve and promote them. And
certainly (even upon your own principles) he may
have as fair a claim to sincerity, in his endeavours to
approve himself to the glorious Author of our being,
as you can have; and consequently as good a pros-
pect of future blessedness. So that, upon the whole,
it is evident that he has nothing to fear from his prin-
ciples, whether they be true or false. He has no
cause for those stinging reflections : What if I am
mistaken! What if my sentiments should prove false,
when it comes to the decisive trial!

And now let us turn the tables, and consider the
bitter fruits of your fatal mistake, if Christianity
should at last prove true. You cannot but acknow-
ledge, that there have been great numbers of men of
the best moral qualifications, whose intellectual pow-
ers were no ways inferior to theirs on the other side
of the question, who have professed the truth and ex-
perienced the power of that religion which you have
despised. How many most excellent persons of the
greatest integrity, learning, and sagacity, have at
their peril appeared to stand by this cause; and have
sacrificed their estates, their honours, and their lives,
to the despised and persecuted doctrines of the cross!
It is certain that you cannot have a greater assurance
of being in the right than these men have had; and
consequently there is at least a probability on their
side, as much as on yours. You yourself, therefore,
and all the unbelieving gentlemen of your acquaint-
ance, who have any degree of modesty left, must ne-
cessarily own, that the cause possibly may turn out
against them. And what if it should? I am even
afraid to represent the consequences in a proper light;
it will probably be esteemed preachment or cant; or
be voted harsh, uncivil, or unmannerly treatment.



12 FAMILIAR LETTERS.

But, Sir, I would pray you to consider this matter,
without any resentment of my rustic method of ad-
dress. Consider it only as it is represented in the
Scriptures; and in that view it will appear, that the
dreadful confusion, the amazing horror, and the eter-
nal misery, which will be the consequence of your in-
fidelity, will be vastly beyond the utmost stretch of
your most exalted apprehension or imagination. As
soon as your soul is separated from your body, it
will become the immediate object of the divine
wrath ; and how lightly soever you may think of
these things at present, you will find, that is a fearful
thing to fall into the hands of the living God. When
the great Judge of the world shall descend from hea-
ven, to take vengeance on all those who do not obey
the gospel of Jesus Christ, where will our unbelieving
gentlemen appear? Will not their mirth be quite
spoiled, their sarcastic flouts and fleers be for ever
over, when they must stand trembling at the left hand
of their judge, having no possible refuge to betake
themselves to, no plea to make for their infidelity, no
place of retreat in a dissolving world to hide their
heads! What comfort will it then afford them, to
say, "Alas! how have we been deceived! We never
thought it would have come to this ! Now we have
found to our cost, that there is something more in the
doctrines of a final retribution than fable or fiction,
priestcraft or fanaticism, however we have, in the
gaiety of our temper rejected and despised them."
Will they then be possessed of a sufficient bravery
and presence of mind, to out-face their glorious Judge;
and to hear with intrepidity the terrible sentence, De-
part, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the
devil and his angels! Will they with their usual frolic
humour, endure the execution of this sentence, and
with sport and pastime, welter in the eternal flames
of that furnace of fire, that is the destined abode of
every final unbeliever?

Now, Sir, does it not infinitely concern you, to con-
sider the case before you in this awful view, to com-
pare and make a proper estimate of the inconceivably



FAMILIAR LETTERS. 13

different states of the believer and the infidel, both
with respect to time and eternity; and to enter upon
the disquisition yon propose, with a mind duly im-
pressed with the vast importance of your coming to a
safe conclusion ?

You tell me, that you " cannot, from the nature of
things, see any necessity of such a way of salvation,
as the gospel proposes. The light of nature teaches
us, that God is merciful ; and consequently that he
will pardon sinners, upon their repentance and amend-
ment of life." Let us then consider this case im-
partially.

I think there is no need of arguments to convince *
you that you are a sinner. Do but consider the natu-
ral tendency of your affections, appetites, and pas-
sions; and review the past conduct of your life; and
a demonstration of this sad truth will unavoidably
stare you in the face. Let any man enter into him-
self, and seriously consider the natural operations of
his own mind, and he must necessarily find, that in-
stead of a frequent and delightful contemplation of
the perfections of the Divine nature, instead of a
thankful acknowledgment of his obligations to the
divine goodness and beneficence, and instead of that
sublime pleasure and satisfaction, that should flow
from the remembrance of his Creator and Benefactor,
his affections are naturally following mean, low and
unreasonable, if not vile and wicked, entertainments
and gratifications. He will find, that all communica-
tions with his glorious Creator are naturally painful
and uneasy to him: while every trifling amusement,
and the vilest sensual object of his thoughts, find a
more easy entrance, and a more peaceable rest in his
soul. From hence it is most evident, that the heart
is revolted from God, and that we have substituted
the creature in his stead, as the object of our pursuit
and delight. And besides this, who are there among
the best of the children of men, whose consciences
will not charge them with innumerable actual trans-
gressions of the law of nature ? From this view of the



14 FAMILIAR LETTERS.

case, you must therefore certainly find yourself in a
state of moral pollution and guilt.

And can you in such a state as this, reflect upon a
God of infinite purity and justice with comfort and
courage? Will not conscience fly in your face, and
upbraid you with your guilt and danger? Does not
your reason tell you, that the great Creator and Gov-
ernor of the world is too holy to approve, and too just
to overlook such a fixed aversion to him, and such
numerous sins and provocations against him as you
cannot but charge to your own account ?

But " God is merciful." True, he is so, to all pro-
• per objects of mercy, and in a way agreeable to the
laws of his immutable justice and holiness. But can
you suppose, that God will give up his justice and
holiness, as a sacrifice to his mercy, out of compas-
sion to those who deserve no pity from him, to those
who refuse the offers of his mercy in the gospel, be-
cause disagreeable to their sinful desires and imagi-
nations?

But " Repentance will entitle the sinner to pardon,
without any other atonement." Are you sure of
this? Certain it is, that mankind have always, in all
ages, thought otherwise. What else was the mean-
ing of those sacrifices, that have every where obtain-
ed, and what the meaning of those superstitious aus-
terities, and severe penances, that have been so com-
monly practised in the heathen world, if some atone-
ment beside repentance was not thought necessary to
pacify an offended deity? Consider, I entreat you, that
as sin is contrary to the divine nature, it must be the
object of God's displeasure. As it is contrary to the
rules of his governing the world, it must deserve pun-
ishing. If God be the rector and governor of the
world, he must have some laws to govern by. If he
has laws to govern by, they must have some penal-
ties to enforce them; these must be executed, or else
they would be but scare-crows, without truth or jus-
tice. I entreat you also to consider, how the repent-
ance of a guilty criminal can answer the demands of



FAMILIAR LETTERS.



15



justice. What satisfaction will our sorrow for sin
afford to the Divine Being? How will it repair the
dishonour done to the perfections of his nature ? How
will it rectify our depraved appetites and passions,
and qualify us for the enjoyment of his favour? How
will it vindicate his holiness, and discover to the ra-
tional world, his natural aversion to sin and sinners ?
Or how will the fear of God's displeasure be a suffi-
cient restraint to men's lusts and vicious appetites, if
sinners may suppose, that when they have gratified
their lusts and taken their swing in sin, they can re-
pent when they please, and thereby have an access
to the favour of God ? In a word, what evidence can
you possibly pretend to from the light of nature, that
repentance only will satisfy the divine justice, and re-
concile you to God?

But, after all, were it even supposed that repent-
ance would necessarily give us a claim to mercy,
without any other satisfaction to God's justice, it must
then be another sort of repentance, than you seem to
suppose. You must then allow that this repentance
must be a thorough change of heart and life. For
you can hardly suppose that we are qualified for
God's favour, while all the powers of our souls are in
direct opposition and aversion to him. And is this
repentance in our power? Can we at pleasure renew
our own souls, and give ourselves new affections, dis-
positions, desires, and delights? Can we change the
bent and bias of our inclinations to the objects of
sense, and bring ourselves to love God above all
things, and to take our chief delight and complacency
in him! This must be obtained in order to enjoy the
favour of God. And yet it is manifestly out of our
reach. It must be the effect of an almighty power.

I hope you may now see the necessity of a Saviour,
both to expiate your sin and guilt, which your re-
pentance can never do, and to sanctify your depraved
soul, and make you meet for the service and enjoy-
ment of God. If these are obtained, you must be
certainly and eternally safe: but if you dare venture



16 FAMILIAR LETTERS.

into eternity without them, I must needs say you do
not want courage.

o

You see, I have addressed you with unreserved
freedom and familiarity. I have overlooked the dis-
tance of your character; and treated you as if we
were in the same state of equality now as we shall
quickly find ourselves before the tribunal of our glo-
rious Judge. The cause requires this at my hands;
and I should have been unfaithful, I had almost said
unmerciful, to you, if I had not failed of the decorum
which would have been my duty to have observed in
any other case. I shall therefore depend upon your
candid interpretation of this unpolished address, and
your kind acceptance of the faithful designs and de-
sires of,

Sir, your most obedient

humble servant.



LETTER II.

A BRIEF AND GENERAL VIEW OF THE EVIDENCES OF CHRIS-
TIANITY.

Sir — You tell me, " My letter had almost thrown
you into a fit of the spleen." But I cannot but hope,
from your "awful concern lest you meet with the
confusion I have therein described," that it will have
a better effect. I acknowledge, that " a pathetic de-
clamation cannot be received for argument." And
that "your faith must be built upon evidences, that
will reach the understanding, as well as the softer
passions of the soul." But what evidence do you de-
sire or want of the truth of Christianity? Consider,
Sir. Consult your books and your friends. Make
your demands as large as you or they can contrive.
And whatever rational evidence you are pleased to ask



FAMILIAR LETTERS.



17



for, shall be at your service. I have myself, with parti-
cular application, been considering, what reasonable
evidence can possibly be consulted or desired, which
the glorious God has not already given us in confir-
mation of the Christian institution, and I find nothing
wanting, which we are capable of receiving. And I
cannot but presume, that if you likewise would im-
partially and earnestly put yourself upon the same in-
quiry, you must meet with a full and complete satis-
faction.

You will certainly acknowledge, that the great
Creator is capable some way or other to communicate
his will to intelligent beings, with sufficient evidence
that the revelation is from him. Now, what I desire of
you is to sit down, and consult upon some such means
of doing this, as would strike your mind with the
strongest conviction, obviate all your doubts, and give
you the fullest confirmation of the divine original of
such a revelation. When you are come to a point,
consider the credentials of Christianity, and see whe-
ther you can find what you yourself would demand,
and what you suppose most likely to give you satis-
faction.

Would you expect from such a revelation a reason-
able account of our first original? Look into the Mo-
saic history of the creation, and there you will find
how the world, and how yourself originally sprung
from the divine Fiat, and in what manner we are
the offspring of God.

Would you expect a narrative of such circum-
stances of God's dispensations towards us from the
beginning as would be correspondent with our con-
stant experience and observation? The same history
will inform you of those irregular affections and vi-
tiated appetites and passions, which every man finds
in himself, and which have brought such destruction
and misery upon the world, in all its successive peri-
ods, since Adam's fall.

Would you expect that there should be early mti-*
mations of the method of our recovery from the state
of sin and guilt, into which we had brought ourselves



18



FAMILIAR LETTERS



by oar apostasy? You will there also find the gra-
cious promise, that the seed of the woman shall bruise
the serpent's head, and deliver us from the deadly
effects of his malicious temptation.

Would you desire to find a particular prediction of
the promised Saviour, by whom we are to obtain
redemption, his lineage and descent, the time, place,
and manner of his birth, the circumstances of his life,
death and resurrection, a particular description of the
nature, the subjects, and the continual progress of his
kingdom? Read the prophecies of the Old Testament,
and read the history of the New, and you will find
such a correspondence and agreement as will afford
you matter of fullest satisfaction, that they are both
from God.

Would you expect that there should be some
means to keep the promised Saviour in the continued
view of God's people, before his actual and personal
manifestation, and to keep alive their faith and hope
in him? What were all their sacrifices, their legal pu-
rifications, their priesthood, and all their long train of



Online LibraryJonathan DickinsonFamiliar letters to a gentleman, upon a variety of seasonable and important subjects in religion → online text (page 1 of 28)