Letters from Mary Dana (1845) Letter 14

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L E T T E R X I V
CALVINISM

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]

MY DEAR SIR,

I not long ago heard two orthodox divines of the Calvinistic school congratulating themselves upon the perfection of their system, remarking that they prized it because all the parts of it “dovetailed” together so nicely. Yes, Sir, it is certain they do dovetail in a beautiful manner, but it is only as a system of human invention that they do so; they certainly do not harmonize with human reason, nor, it is plain to me, with Scripture; certainly not with the character of God as it is revealed to us in the Bible.

But it gratifies me to observe that the Calvinists, with whom I am acquainted, are quite solicitous to soften down the rigid features of they system. It is an evidence that in the present age of the world it cannot be received in all its harshness, as Calvin himself taught it, nor as it has since been taught by some of the leading divines in this and other countries. What would the stern reformer say, could he know the modifications of his system common at the present day? A short time since I heard a very intelligent lady attempting to shield it from reproach, and she avowed that she had no sympathy with “Calvinism run mad,” as she termed the view of it which had been presented to her mind. But that insane Calvinism is by no means as insane as it was when Calvin gave it to the world. The truth is, Calvinists shrink with horror when the legitimate consequences of their system are portrayed before them; they are unwilling to admit the truth of the exhibition. Such persons, I take it, are Calvinists only in name. I hear frequent remonstrances against pushing these doctrines to extremes, but I cannot see that these extremes reach even as far as Calvin pushed them, or as far as they were carried by the Westminster divines, or President Edwards. [1]

Those who oppose Calvinism are generally charged with misrepresenting its doctrines; but a few extracts from the standard Calvinistic writers will suffice to show that this is not the case; that is, if language conveys the same meaning upon this subject that it does upon others. It is difficult to portray the horrors of Calvinism in stronger language than its own advocates have used. The Westminster Assembly’s Catechism speaks of “the corruption of his (man’s) nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually.”

Calvin says, “even our very natural faculties are all depraved and contaminated. Whence it is that we are moved from within by no thought to do well. Wherefore,” he goes on to say, “I detest those who ascribe to us any freedom of will, by which we may prepare ourselves to receive the grace of God, or by which we may of ourselves co-operate with the Holy Spirit, which may be given us.” Then there is nothing which we can do; and what becomes of our responsibility? And is the last remark quoted from Calvin consistent with the benign spirit of Christianity? Where has our Master ever given us leave to detest those who differ from us in mere opinion? Oh, my dear Sir, let it be our aim to follow our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and not Calvin.

President Edwards says: “So long as men are in their natural state, they not only have no good thing, but it is impossible that they should have or do any good thing.”

Do you say they are to blame for being in this state, or even for remaining in it? How are they to get out of it? President Edwards says that, while in this state, which is their natural state, it is impossible for them to do any good thing. How are they to blame for what it is, in the nature of things, impossible for them to do? If you insist that they are to blame, pray tell me how.

According to Calvinism, they cannot help themselves. They cannot repent and turn to God, as the Scriptures command “all men, everywhere,” to do. What a mockery does this system make of the precious invitations which the gospel gives to “every creature?” If they are “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all that is spiritually good,” how can God entreat, aye, command them to become so? It is bitter mockery to press the claims of the gospel upon those who are so utterly helpless.

The God who will punish men for being and remaining in the condition in which they were born, and from which they have no ability to free themselves, cannot be the God of the Bible, who, we are told, is LOVE. To make the case still more desperate, they are, according to Calvin, the subjects of an absolute decree of the Almighty: a decree which he declared, at some moment when the horrible deductions from his premises stared him in the face, to be “a dreadful one.” He informs us that the reprobate were created for this very purpose—that they might be examples of God’s severity. He declares that “they cannot avoid the necessity of sinning, especially as this necessity is imposed upon them by the ordinance of God.”

The Assembly’s Catechism says, “the rest of mankind (that is, the non-elect) God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” And President Edwards asserts that God “decrees all sins.”

Now if we are under such a government as this, how can God, even consistently with his attribute of justice, punish or reward us for anything we do? But the Catechism says, “the punishment of sin in the world to come is everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments, in soul and body, without intermission, in Hell-fire forever.” This punishment is the consequence of sin growing out of what Edwards calls the dreadful condition of natural man. He says that “natural men are held in the hands of God over the pit of Hell;they have deserved the fiery pit,and are already sentenced to it;and God is dreadfully provoked; his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the execution of the fierceness of his wrath in hell.”——”The devil is waiting for them; hell is gaping for them; the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up.”

Addressing the unconverted, he says, “the God who holds you over the pit of hell, much as holds a spider or some loathsome insect, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes, as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours.” I ask, my dear Sir, is this the God who is represented by the father in the beautiful parable of the prodigal son?

Calvin says, that “even infants bring their damnation with them from their mother’s womb; for, although they have not yet produced the fruits of their iniquity, they have the seed of it enclosed within them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed of sin, so that it cannot be otherwise than odious and abominable to God.” And yet our Saviour said of little children, “of such is the kingdom of Heaven!”

I could easily go on, my dear Sir, and quote page after page of such dreadful sentences, but you know as well as I do where they are to be found, and I long to turn my thoughts away from the sickening subject. It brings dark pictures of the past afresh to my mind—it recalls hours of anguish which I would forever forget. But I wished to do my part in shielding from the charge of exaggeration those who oppose Calvinism, and among these I now rank myself. With how much reason the charge is made, let the foregoing extracts decide.

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


Endnotes:

1. See Appendix N. Back to top