W. D. (William Dool) Killen.

A reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 online

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Online LibraryW. D. (William Dool) KillenA reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 → online text (page 5 of 8)
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criticism on the original of two passages in the Old Testament. The first
occurs. Psalm Ixxxv. 7. (verse 6 in the English.) Mr. ISTelson warns this
Assembly against quoting this passage in support of revival theology. He
tells us that the Hebrew will not warrant such application of this passage.
He teUs us that there is in it an awfully mysterious term. I will not say
— decidedly say — what he called that mysterious word. The reporters inform
us that he called it hoov, and reporters have practised ears. But we will
give him the benefit of the possible contingency of bad hearing, or inaccurate
reporting, and presume that he said, or meant to say, shoov. This word, we
are told, is an awfully mysterious term, and ought not to be touched by men
imperfectly acquainted with Hebrew — that it gives no countenance to the
doctrine of the Eevivalists. Well this is sage criticism ! Who ever said that
shoov means to revive? — We have never linked the idea of Revival to the
term shoov, but to another terra which Mr. Nelson does not seem to have
discovered in the passage. That term is most expressive and significant on
this point. It is the term techwyaynoo, and has for its root chayah, to be alive.
It is the Piel of that verb, the intensive form, and means to make alive. The
passage literally rendered wo aid read, "Wilt thou not return, wilt thou not
revive us ? " But, as shoov has siuiply the force of an adverb, oxw translators
have very properly rendered the passage, " Wilt thou not revive us again ? "
So much for Mr. Nelson's Hebrew lore, as indicated by his criticism on shoov.
But not satisfied with the laurels won on this arena, Mr. Nelson tries his
critical powers on a favourite passage in the 23d Psalm. He tells us that
tsahnahveth (death shade,) which he pronounces tsoAilmaveth, ought not to be
interpreted as meaning death itself. He does not tell us what is its proper
meaning, but warns us against giving it the meaning which we are all accus-
tomed to attach to it. Well, we ask on what authority is this monition based ?
He has given us none. Are we to accept his ipse dixit as the ultima ratio of
hermeneutics ? Verily nay. Against his assertion I cite Job x. 21 — 22,
where tsalmahveth occurs twice in this very sense, and can mean nothing but
the state of the dead. In addition, I would state that the LXX use the terms
skia thanatou, and hades (Job xxxviii. 17.) as equivalent terms. Mr. Nelson
says " Hear, hear," to sMa thanatou, but he does not find it convenient to cry
" hear, hear," to hades. If hades mean the invisible estate, then so may the
term tsalmahveth. Mr. Nelson, therefore, has ventured into an arena on which
he is not likely to win many laurels. If we are to judge of his knowledge
of Hebrew from these specimens, our estimate cannot be a very high one.
Whatever faculty he may have in a certain species of the vernacular, he is
evidently a stranger to the lishan halcodesh — the holy tongue.

The appellants teU us, Mr. Moderator, that Mr. Dobbin was defending the
doctrines of the Confession of Faith. In his pamphlets, Mr. Dobbin claims,
as an ally, one of Scotland's greatest Theologians. He ventures to cite Dr.
Cunningham in support of the doctrine that a certain and an infallible
assurance is not attainable in the present life. On page 12 of his "Remarks,"
Dr. Cunningham is introduced in the following terms : —

"Further, after almost admitting that BeUarmine, in defending the
decision of the Council of Trent on this subject, has placed himseK behind
intrenchments, from which it is nearly impossible to dislodge him," Principal
Cunningham continues, " It is true that another element than anything con-
tained in Scripture must be brought in as a part of the foundation of their
(Christians') assurance, and when they are called upon to state and vindicate
to themselves, or to others, the grounds of their assurance, they must of
necessity proceed in substance in the line of the following syllogism: — 'Whoso-
ever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved ; I believe, and, there-
fore, &c.' There is no possibility of avoiding, in substance, some such process
as this ; and while the major proposition is proved by Scripture, the minor can
be established only by some use of materials derived from consciousness
and self-examination. There are no positions connected with religion which


can be so certain as tliose which are directly and immediately taught in
Scripture, and wliich are usually said to be believed with ' the certainty of
faith/ or of ' Divine faith.' The introduction of an element as necessary to
the conclusion, derived from a different source — viz., from the knowledge of
what we ourselves are, must be admitted, in fairness, to complicate the evi-
dence, and to affect the Und, if not the degree, of the certainty or assurance that
may result from it." Finally, Dr. Cunningham adds—" Modern Protestants,
as the result of a more careful, deliberate, and unembarrassed examination
of the subject than the Eeformers were able to give it, have become indifferent
about the question, whether this assurance should be called the certainty of
faith, or have plainly admitted that this designation was an improper one ? "

Such, according to Mr. Dobbin, were the views of Dr. Cunningham on the
subj ect of assm-ance. He makes him all but endorse the doctrine of Bellarmine
and the Council of Trent, in opposition to the Eeformers. The Assembly will
be surprised to learn that Mr. Dobbin has won over Dr. Cunningham to his
support by perverting his language. I am sorry to be compelled to make
such a charge before this Assembly against one of our ministers, but the vin-
dication of the truth demands an exposure of such literary tampering.

The quotations, I repeat it, are unfairly made. In the first place, Mr.
Dobbin omits two sentences in which Dr. Cunningham contradicts the doc-
trine which he quotes him as endorsing, and teaches the doctrine for which we
contend. These sentences are as follows : —

"The circumstances that preceded and accompanied their conversion may
have been such as to leave them in no doubt about their having passed from
darkness to light. Their present consciousness may testify at once and
explicitly to the existence in them of those things which the Bible informs us
accompany salvation."

Here ai-e affirmed two of the points which Mr. Dobbin denies. 1. That a
believer may attain to an assurance which is accompanied with no doubt. 2.
That he may attain to such assurance the very moment he has passed from
death unto life. Now, I ask, is it not a remarkable fact that Mr. Dobbin has
left out a passage in which these two points are affirmed, and that the passage
omitted immediately precedes the quotation already referred to ? How comes
it, I ask, that he begins to quote just after this passage which condemns his
doctrine ?

Well, but this is not all. In the quotation just given, Mr. Dobbin puts in
close proximity, two passages which are separated in Dr. Cunningham's article
on assurance, by no fewer than twenty-seven pages, and introduces the second
passage in such a way as to produce the impression that he is giving Dr.
Cunningham's, conclusion on the whole matter. "Finally," he says. Dr.
Cunningham adds : " Modern Protestants, as the result of a more careful,
deliberate, and unembarrassed examination of the subject than the Eeformers
were able to give it, have become indifferent about the question, whether
this assurance should be called the certainty of. faith, or have plainly ad-
mitted that this designation was an improper one ? "

Here again, Mr. Dobbin has found it convenient to leave out the immedi-
ately preceding passage in which Dr. Cunningham contradicts him. To
that preceding context I would ask the attention of this Assembly. It reads
as follows : " The technicalities of the controversy are somewhat altered, while its
substance remains the same." (The italics are Dr. Cunningham's.) " The
grand question still is, as it has always been," {i.e., between Protestants and
Papists) " Is it practicable, obligatory, and expedient, that believers should
be assured of their justification and salvation ? Upon this question the Ee-
f ormed churches have always maintained, and still maintain, the affirmative,
while the Eomanists, for obvious reasons, have always taken the other side."
Why, I ask again, did Mr. Dobbin leave out this immediately preceding con-
text, in which Dr. Cunningham is summing up, and stating the amount of
the variation charged by Sir Wm. Hamilton against Modern Protestants ?
Is it fair, or righteous, to omit this passage, in which Dr. Cunningham
repels this charge, and in which he afibms that whilst "the technicalities of


tlie controversy ai-e somewhat altered, its substance remains tlie same ?" The
reason of the omission is obvious. In the passage omitted. Dr. Cunningham
alFirms that the Reformed churches have always maintained, and do still
maintain, in opposition to Eomanists, and to the appellants, that it is practi-
cable, obligatory, and expedient, that believers should be assured of their
justification and salvation. As Mr. Dobbin wished to make the contrary
impression, he felt constrained to avoid this untoward passage, and not only
so, but was compelled to stop short in the middle of a sentence J

But again, the passage in question, is not the conclusion of Dr. Cunningham'af
article, and gives b-ut a very imperfect idea of the high ground he took upon
the subject of assurance. In the last paragraph, he writes as fallows : "That
it is practicable, obligatory, and expedient, that believers should be assured
of their justification, was not certainly, ' the fundamental principle of all
the Eeformed Churches,' [referring to the inaccuracy of Sir WiUiam'a
language] but the fundamental principle of the teaching of the Reformed
churches on the subject of assurance. It is fuLly and clearly declared in the
Westminster Confession. It has been held professedly by the whole body of
Calvinistic Divines, both before and since the variation which Sir WiUiam has
signalised. And yet we fear it has at all times been too much neglected,
both theoretica.lly and practically, viewed both as declaring a tri^h and en-
forcing a duty. We believe that the prevailing practical disregard of th&
privilege and duty of having assurance, is, to no inconsiderable extent, at-
once the cause and the effect of the low state of vital religion amongst us —
one main reason why there is so little of real communion with G-ai as our recon-
ciled Father, and so little of real heaa-ty devotedness to His cause and

Such is Dr. Cunningham's conclusion as given by himself, and I appeal to
this Assembly to say whether it be not the veiy opposite of what Mr. Dobbin
has put down as his conclusion. In the name of our common Christianity,
in the name of our church's honour, which is at stake- in this matter, I ask,
is this to be tolerated ? May one of our ministers drag a brother minister
from court to court of our church, and try to sustain his charges by palpable
misqotations of venerated authorities ?

Nor has Mr. Dobbin dealt more fairly with the Holy Scriptures themselves.
On p. 16 of his " Remai-ks," he proceeds to give an exiDosition of 1 John v.
13. This passage he quotes as follows : — " These things have I wi-itten unto
you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on
the name of the Son of God." In this quotation he omits the words " that-
believe." The passage is as follows : — " These things have I written unto
you tluit believe," &c., &c. This is the true rendering of the true Greek text.
Why did Mr. Dobbin omit these words ? Simply to make out and sustain
an interpretation of the verse which would neutralise the testimony it affords
in favour of the attaina^bleness of assurance. He was about to interpret the
clause — "that ye may know that ye have eternal life," as meaning simply
" that ye may know that ye have the offer of eternal life," and it would not do
to admit that the Apostle was addressing believers when he made such a
statement. This was his sole reason for leaving out tliis clause of the inspired
text: for there is no ground in the variations of the Greek manuscripts which
any Greek scholar would regard as sufficient to warrant such omission.

But this is not all. In proceeding to interpret this mutilated text, he tells
us that "to understand this Scripture we must attend to the 10th and 11th
verses." Well, we accept the reference, and turn back with him to the 10th
verse. But here again he has recourse to his accustomed tactics, and does
not go back to the beginning of the 10th verse. He had observed that the
clause with which that verse begins, was not the clause for his purpose. He
f ovind that it reads as follows : — " He that believeth on the Son of God hath
the witness in himself " — that is, he found that the first clause of the verse
to which he appealed, affirmed the doctrine he was endeavouring to explain
away out of the context. It may just possibly have occurred that he did
not observe that this clause was in the 10th verse, but one cannot help


feeling that it looks a little strange that he should, altogether unwittingly,
have turned in the ploughshare of his exegesis just after this remarkable

As the Assembly has compelled me to go on, late aa the hour is, I shall
give one other specimen of the critical acumen displayed by Mr. Dobbin in
tliis controversy. We have akeady seen how admu-ably fitted the other
appellant is for the task of criticising the original, and it may not be alto-
gether out of place to put to the test the qualifications of his co-adjutor in
this line. Mr. Dobbin favours us with ("Remarks," pp. 14, 15,) the fol-
lowing criticism on Mr. Crawford's text, 2 Pet. i. 10 : —

" In order to serve the purpose required, the term rendered in this passage
' sure,' must be translated ' cei-tainly known to yourselves.' I affirm, then,
that the word here rendered in the authorised version 'sure,' does not
occur in the sense ' certainly known to a man's self,' in any portion of the
New Testament. The original word occurs nine times in the Greek Testa-
ment ; five times it is in the English version rendered ' steadfast ;' twice it is
translated ' sure ;' once * firm ;' and once, what is equivalent to * firm ' —
viz., * of force ' — in no case is it rendered, or can it be rendered, * cei-tainly
known.' It means sure in the sense of * firm ' or ' steadfast,' in the passage
under consideration, which teaches simply that the profession of being called
and elected, that does not lead to faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience,
brotherly kindness and charity, is ' not to be depended on,' and the man who
is so fooKsh as to do so, wiU certainly be deceived and ' fall.' The basis, then,
is obviously too narrow to support the superstructure erected on it j and it
is with a kind of regret that I see vanishing from the view, an interpre-
tation of a passage which has been so long and so confidently propounded, as
settling the great question under discussion. It has, however, lived out
its day."

The Assembly will observe the term in this text to which Mr. Dobbin turns
his critical powers. It is the term " sure." Now I think the brethren will
agree with me, that no critic wotdd single out that term as the sole subject
of criticism. He tells us, in a tone that implies his own high estimate of the
information he is about to communicate, that the term rendered " sure," in
this text, " does not occur in the sense * certainly known to a man's self,' in
any portion of the New Testament." Well, Mr. Moderator, this is criticism !
Who ever said that hebaios means " certainly known to a man's self ? Com-
petent critics have said that the passage means that believers should give all
diligence to make their calling and election sure to themselves, but they
have not rested their interpretation on the ground that hebaios means " cer-
tainly known to a man's self." They have based their conclusion on the fact
that the Apostle uses the middle voice of the verb poiein "to malce,"
instead of the active voice. He does not say, poidn, but poidsthai. That
is he uses that voice which carries, and conveys the idea of a refiex action.
The proper rendering of the passage, therefore, is, " Give all diligence to
make your calling and election sure to yourselves." That is, it means ex-
actly what Mr. Dobbin says it cannot mean. This specimen of Greek exegesis
may be sufficient to satisfy the Assembly, in regard to the competency of
this appellant to deal with points in theology which turn upon the criticism
of the original text.

Since the Assembly wiU have me proceed, and are willing to submit to a
stiU further infliction, I must be content to enter still further upon the
theology of these extraordinary pamphlets. There is evidently no lack of
material. Mr. Dobbin teaches, pp. 7, 8, 9, that the knowledge of a man's re-
generation cannot be co-incident with that saving change —

" If, then, this reasoning be correct — if in regeneration the supernatural is
so ' concealed behind the natural,' that the fact of our being under the influ-
ence of the Spirit is ascertained only by an indirect inference ; if the convic-
tion of it is a conclusion derived from evidence — from the examination of the
good, the right, the true within us, then it follows that between the period
when the Spirit's power first comes in contact with our souls, and the period


when tlie mind becomes convinced, on solid grounds, of that important fact,
there must be time for the evidence to exist and to be examined — time i<xc
the feelings we denominate good, and right, and true, to become matters of
consciousness and memory — time for them to be repeated, to be formed into
habits, to be developed in holy exercises— in a word, there must be time for
the fruits of the Spirit to be formed, to be examined by the judgment, and
to be decided upon as genuine by the reasoning faculty."

^ As Mr. Dobbin gives us nothing but philosophy in support of these asser-
tions, it will, of course, be sufficient to examine the validity of the canon of
philosophy on which his assertion rests. He does not simply say that "there
must be time for the evidence to exist and be examined, for that process
might be quick as the lightning's flash ; but he adds another important quali-
fication, viz., that there must be time for the feelings which we denominate
good, and right, and true, to become matters of consciousness and memory
— time for them to be repeated, to be formed into habits, to be developed into
holy exercises," &c. Now in regard to the philosophic principle underlying
this assertion, I have simply to say that it is utterly destitute of authority,
and carries on its very face the evidence of its own condemnation. What
does a man mean by saying that a feeling must become a matter of memory
before it can be known, or its moral character decided ? Is it not implied in
the fact that it is now remembered, that it was previously known as a thing
of consciousness ? How could the mind detect the reminiscence, as a remin-
iscence, if its features and lineaments had not been previously apprehended ?
Does hot the vividness of the remembrance depend upon the vividness of the
original experience ? Is it not a fact, too, that the original experience is gen-
erally more vivid and informing than the subsequent consciousness connected
with the repetition of it ? If, then, nothing can be stored awaj'' in memory
of which we have not been previously conscious, and if the original experience
be as vivid and as informing as the subsequent repetition of the feeling, the
element of time, for which Mr. Dobbin contends, is not so essential to an
knowledge of regeneration as he would have us believe.

Mr. Dobbin — I distinguish between a subjective and an objective memory.

Dr. Watts — The distinction, Mr. Moderator, is absurd, and will not serve
the end for which it is made. There are not two faculties of memory — one
for the objective and another for the subjective — ^but one faculty, which deals
both with the objective and the subjective. Memory is simply the represen-
tative faculty, and does not change its natiire according to the class of
phenomena represented. There is, and there can be, no other sort of
memory; and the man who feels compelled to irame such distinctions,
must feel that his case has become desperate.

But Mr. Dobbin ventures to cite the "Confession of Faith" in support of
the assertion that our knowledge of regeneration cannot be immediate on the
occurrence of that change.

" We affirm," he says, " that regeneration may, and can, and must exist in
the fu'st instance, without the certain, undoubting, and infallible knowledge
of it on the part of him who is its subject. The Westminster Confession of
Faith asserts the same principle. In chapter xviii., sec. 3, we read — ' This
infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith but that a true
believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be a par-
taker of it.' "

In reply, I affkm that the passage here quoted does not sustain Mr.
Dobbin's assertion. He says, and this is one of the fundamental positions
of the anti-revivalists, that regeneration, not only may but must exist in the
first instance without assurance, whilst the Confession simply says it " may"
exist without assurance. The Confession, therefore, renders Mr. Dobbin
about as little aid as his philosophy. He says the believer " must " wait ; the
Confession says he " may " wait. When he can prove that " may " means
" must " he may succeed in persuading this Assembly that his anti-revival
theology is in accordance with the Confession of Faith.

The utmost that Mr. Dobbin will aUow in the shape of assurance is a hope.


What he means by that term, however, I am at a loss to discover. In " A
Letter," p. 25, he uses the following language :—

" Ah ! look within : there is conflicting evidence— there is much in you
that is not childlike. Be humble, then, and be content with saying you hope
you are a child of God."

Here " /lope " is employed to express one's persuasion of a present estate.
The Assembly may, perhaps, think that this is but a slip of the pen, but Mr.
Dobbin persists in this use of the term. On page 22, of the same pamphlet,
he speaks of assurance in the following strain : —

'" And as regards the question whether you are a believer, regenerated by
the Spirit, and your sins forgiven, if you are clinging to the cross of your Re-
deemer, depending on His righteousness, cultivating His spirit, and striving
to live in His fear and service, you have good grounds to trust and to hope that
ymi are regenerated and saved. That trust will be stronger, and that hope will
be brighter, as your sanctification advances, but with the remains of the old
nature within, you will never know, with undoubting and infallible certainty,
that you are f orgiven,until the glories of the New Jerusalem burst upon your
astonished gaze, imtil the triumphant anthems of the heavenly host fall upon
your enraptured ear. Then your soul, filled with love and joy unutterable, will
say, with emotion now inconceivable, I am saved — I am saved by the grace of
God, and another voice shall resound in Heaven, singing the song of praise to
God and to the Lamb. Till then, you must be content to walk by faith, not
by sight."

The Assembly wUl perceive that in this passage, also, Mr. Dobbin employs
"hop^' to express one's knowledge of a past event or of a present estate.
Hope with him is manifestly not a prospective emotion. In this marvellous
statement he flatly contradicts the doctrine of our Standards on the subject
of assTirance, and teaches, that no man can be sure of heaven untU the glories
of the New Jerusalem burst upon his gaze, and the anthems of the heavenly
host fall upon his enraptured ears. The faint hope the believer is permitted
to cherish, is not a thing whose attitude is heavenward. Mr. Dobbin's hope,
or the hope he allows, has not heaven and final deliverance as its goal. It
is a hope unknown alike to Scripture and philosophy — a hope that looks back-
wards and not forwards — a hope whose object is a past or a present event,
and which takes no hold upon the hfe that is to come.

In the course of his arguments against the attainableness of an infallible
assurance, Mr. Dobbin advances a view of the believer's union with Christ,
which it were wrong to pass without notice. The following passage, which

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Online LibraryW. D. (William Dool) KillenA reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 → online text (page 5 of 8)