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ters of the church, and observations upon them, are highly boasted in by our present Photinians. And, as it may be, it will not be easy for this author positively to declare what was the judgment of any one ancient writer in all points of Christian belief, especially in such as had not received an especial discussion from oppositions made unto them in their own days, or before them; so it is confessed by all, that an allowance is to be given unto general expressions of such writers as seem occasionally to declare their present thoughts in any particular doctrines, about which there had never been any controversy in the church. For the proper signification of words themselves, whereby men express their minds, is never exactly stated, until the things themselves which they would signify have been thoroughly discussed. Hence the same words have had various uses and divers significations in several ages. And by this rule, whatever be supposed that none of the ancients before Austin were of the same mind with those who assembled at Dort, it may with more truth be affirmed, that none of them were otherwise minded but Origen only, and those who were influenced by him, he being by many, on evident grounds, accused to have prepared the way and opened the door both unto Arianism and Pelagianism.
The censure passed on Austin, namely, 'That his piety was far more commendable than his reason,' is at least as novel as the Dutch synod. For it is not the commendation of his piety, but the disparagement of his reason that is intended. And I must take the liberty to say, that either this author hath not been much conversant in the writings of this great and holy person, or he is a very incompetent judge of the rational abilities of them in whose writings he is conversant. This confidence in pronouncing a censure so contrary to the concurrent sense of the generality of learned men of all sorts in the church for twelve hundred years, savours too much of partiality and prejudice. But it is some relief, that the adversaries of the truth with whom he had to do, were never able to discover, nor make advantage of the weakness of his reason. It was sufficient for the work whereunto God designed him, which was not only to check and suppress the many instances wherein sundry crafty persons apostatized from the truths of the gospel, both in his own
days and before; but also to give over the light of truth clearly discovered and strenuously vindicated, unto posterity, for the benefit of the church in all ages. Persons may freely despise the men of their present contests, against whom they have all the advantages which may prompt them thereunto; and they have so much countenance in casting contemptuous reflections on the principal first reformers, as not to think therein they invade the bounds of Christian modesty. But what will be the apology for their confidence in such censures of the rational abilities of Austin, I cannot conjecture, though the reason of it I can easily guess at. However it needeth not be much taken notice of, seeing a censure somewhat more severe hath not long since been passed on St. Paul himself by a writer of the same strain and judgment.
There is little ground of fear, as I suppose, that a novel Dutch synod (as it is called), though consisting of persons delegated from all the principal reformed churches of Europe (that of France only excepted), 'should prescribe doctrines to the church of England;' seeing in that synod the church of England did rather prescribe doctrines to the Dutch, than receive any from them. For the divines, which had the preeminence of suffrage and authority in that assembly, were those of the church of England, sent thither by public authority to testify the doctrine of this church, and to lead the Dutch into the same confession with themselves.
But to return, it is to be feared that lest as Pelagianism, in its first edition, did secretly and gradually insinuate itself into the animal and vital spirits of the body of the church in those days, proving a poison unto it; so that under its new varnish and gilding it will be received, until it diffuse itself into the veins and vitals of the present reformed churchstate in the world. This I know, that some pretending a zeal for holiness and reformation of life, do yet with a shameful partiality charge those doctrines as a principal means of the decay of piety, which they cannot but know were generally believed and avowed then when piety most flourished in this nation. But this is part of that entertainment which the church of England meets with at this day from her degenerate offspring. The doctrine of all the ancient bishops must be traduced as the means of the decay of piety. And which increaseth the wonder, it had not this effect till it
began to be publicly deserted and renounced. For whether they are the one the cause of the other or no, yet there is a demonstrative coincidence between the originals of our visible apostacy from piety, and the admission of these novel opinions contrary to the faith of the first reformed churches, and that they both bear the same date among us.
But there is yet a greater abomination effectually taking place among us, to the utter overthrow of the faith of some, and the corrupting of the minds of others from the truth of the gospel. This is the leprosy of Socinianism, which secretly enters into the walls and timber of the house, whence it will not be scraped out. It commenced in the world some time before the other spring of a partial apostacy beforementioned. But for a good space it lay fermenting in some obscure places of Poland and the countries adjacent. When the books and writings of the authors and promoters of the opinions called by that name, came once to be known and read in other places, they were continually all of them abundantly answered and confuted by learned men of all sorts, so as it was justly hoped it would obtain no great success or progress in the world. But,
Latius excise serpit contagio gentis
The vanity of the minds of men, their weariness of sound doctrine, which they will endure no longer whatever they embrace, have given it admission, either in part or in whole, among multitudes who once professed the faith of the gospel. For whereas the whole system of the opinions of those men is but a collection of such errors as formerly perplexed the church, and overthrew the faith of many, the principal and most material of them may be referred unto two heads: (1.) Photinianism; and, (2.) Pelagianism. Unto the first are referred their denial of the Trinity, and consequently of the divine person and incarnation of the Son of God. Under the latter, their opposition unto the satisfaction of Christ, the true nature of his priesthood and sacrifice, justification by faith in his blood, and the imputation of his righteousness, of the efficacy of his grace, and the corruption of our natures by the fall may be comprised. The denial of the resurrection of the same bodies, the eternity of the punishment of the damned in hell, with other of their imaginations, were also
traduced from some of old. The first part of their heresy as yet takes no great place but only among themselves, the doctrine opposite unto it being secured by law, and the interest of men thereon who have advantage by the public profession. But yet it is to be feared, that the coldness of many in asserting and defending those fundamental doctrines of the gospel which they oppose, yea, their indifferency about them, and the horrid notions, with strange expositions, that some have embraced and do use concerning the person of Christ, do proceed from some secret influence on the minds of men, which the venom of their opinions and sophistical disputes have had upon them. And from a just improvement of their sentiments have proceeded those bold efforts of atheistical imaginations and oppositions unto the Scripture, both the letter and sense of it, which have of late been divulged in public writings, which being brought from the neighbour nation, do find no slack entertainment by many among us.
But as to the latter branch of their profession, or their Pelagianism, it hath diffused itself among multitudes of persons who were sometimes of another persuasion, and have yet engagements on them so to be. All that unreasonable advancement of reason in matters of religion which we have amongst us, the new notions men have of the satisfaction of Christ, pretending to the acknowledgment of it, indeed destructive unto it, the noisome conceptions of the little use of the person of Christ in religion beyond the revelation and confirmation of the gospel; doctrines of the possibility, yea, facility of yielding acceptable obedience unto all evangelical commands without the aids of effectual grace; of the powers and incorruption of our natures; of justification by and upon our own obedience; of the suitableness of all gospel mysteries to unrenewed reason or an unsanctified mind; of regeneration, as consisting only in the reformation of our lives; with a rejection of all internal real efficacy in converting grace, and the substitution of morality in the room of grace; with the denial of any influences of grace from Jesus Christ unto the holiness of truth; and many other opinions wherewith men even pride themselves to the contempt of the doctrine received and established in the reformed churches of old, are borrowed out of the storehouses of their 2 B
imaginations, shall I say, or raked out of their dunghill. And whither the infection may diffuse itself, I know not; The resurrection of the same bodies substantially, the subsistence and acting of the soul in its separate state and condition, the eternity of hell torments, the nature of Christ's sacerdotal office as distinguished from his regal, begin to be either questioned or very faintly defended amongst many. And many other noisome opinions there are, about the Scriptures, the nature of God, his attributes and decrees, the two covenants, our union with Christ, the gifts and operations of the Spirit, which some vent as pure mysteries and discoveries of truth, and value themselves for being the authors or maintainers of them, that came all from the same forge, or are emanations from the same corrupt fountain of Socinianism.
We have, as I suppose, sufficiently demonstrated the truth of what we before observed, concerning the proneness and readiness of mankind to relinquish and fall off from the mystery and doctrine of the gospel, after it hath been declared unto them, and received by them. Withal we have stated the matter of fact, namely, That such a defection there hath been, and is in the world at this day; the reasons and causes whereof we are now to inquire into. Only I must premise, that the principal instance designed, and which is among ourselves, I have referred to an especial consideration by itself, wherein we shall inquire into the especial reasons of it, which are superadded unto those more general, which equally respect apostacies of this kind.
The reasons and causes of apostacy from the truth or doctrine of the gospel, and the inclination of all sorts of persons thereunto in all ages, inquired into and declared. Uncured enmity in the minds of many against spiritual things, and the effects of it in a wicked conversation, the first cause of apostacy.
FOR an entrance into the ensuing discourse, I shall lay down that principle which I presume all men will give their assent unto; namely, That a defection from the truth of the gospel once professed, is a sin of the highest guilt, and that