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does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


If the doctrines of Calvinism are contrary to all our ideas of justice, at what an infinite remove are they from any idea of benevolence! Yet how benevolent is the character of God as it is represented to us in the Bible. He is there exhibited as our Father. And the love of a father to his child is but a faint emblem of the love of God to us. Our Saviour says, “if ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask him.”

What thoughts of love, what sweet associations rush in upon the heart when we call our God by the tender name of Father! How could God more forcibly have impressed his love upon us? What child of a kind earthly father does not understand in a moment the endearing, the intimate relation he sustains to God, when he allows us to view Him as a Father? But, moreover, the Bible certainly reveals the Creator as a being of infinite justice and goodness. Nor is he merely just to Himself and to his law, he is just to his creatures.

But, you will say, the same Bible also reveals the truth that man, in consequence of Adam’s sin, comes into the world totally depraved, and that he is liable to everlasting punishment in consequence of that hereditary depravity. We answer that such a doctrine cannot be taught in the same book which reveals God as good and just, because it is contrary to all our ideas of justice and goodness. You will tell me that no estimate can be formed of the character of God from our knowledge of these attributes as they exist in ourselves. But our conceptions of the attributes of God can be formed in no other way. The Bible is a special revelation to us, and its language must be in accordance with the principles of our nature. The only ideas we can form of moral and spiritual attributes, must be from ourselves. Why else were they revealed to us at all? We have no other means of judging. Because in us they are finite, and in God they are infinite, it does not follow that their nature may not be precisely the same. [1]

I acknowledge that the man who has so debased himself that he has no honor, no integrity, no justice, no benevolence, can know but little of such things in others—can form scarcely any idea of those attributes as they exist in the character of God or of his fellow men. But men so totally devoid of every correct feeling are not often found. Most men possess a share of these attributes, and some possess them in a very high degree.

The things around us take their complexion very much from the state of our own minds. If there be beauty within, we shall be very apt to discover beauty without; if there be loathsomeness and deformity within, everything around us will seem loathsome and deformed. A discontented mind sees no fitness nor beauty in anything, while a contented one gives its possessor “a continual feast.” If we apply this law of the mind to our conceptions of God’s character, we must acknowledge that the more perfect our character is, the more exalted will be our ideas of God’s glorious attributes.

If then, our ideas of the character of God, so far as it has been revealed to us, must be founded upon those of our own nature, a system which does violence to these natural ideas is a system of doubt and confusion, and is apt to lead, on the one hand, to blind superstition, or, on the other, to thorough infidelity. That these results are not more universal, I ascribe to the fact that the practical truths which are mingled with such speculative errors, are all-powerful to preserve the majority of those who profess them from dangerous extremes. I have had the pleasure of knowing a great number of Calvinists who were cheerful, spontaneous, practical Christians; not, as I think, in consequence of their creed, but in spite of it. There are a great many persons in whom natural good sense, sound judgment, and the kindly influences of surrounding circumstances have operated to render inert and harmless the evil tendencies of their speculative belief. Many are theoretically wrong, while they are practically right.

You have told me also that “you cannot understand how, with my eyes about me, I can doubt the natural and total depravity of all the human race. It is indeed very true that I see all around me too many convincing evidences of depravity not to believe in its existence. But that it is innate or total, I do not believe. I have made up my mind, after a diligent search for the Calvinistic doctrine of original sin, that such a doctrine is not to be found in the Bible, and that those passages which seem to teach it have been misapplied and misunderstood. They speak of the fact of its existence, not of its origin.

I think also that such a belief fosters immorality, and is exceedingly debasing to the mind. If we are taught from our earliest years that we are by nature entirely disposed to evil, and unable to do good, we shall be very apt to feel that we must content ourselves with a state of things which we cannot possibly remedy; and, on other subjects certainly, this would seem to be real philosophy. Naturally enough, we should conclude that any effort of ours to alter our miserable condition, would be entirely superfluous and useless.

It appears to me also that our incessant notice of the prevalence of evil arises from the fact that vice attracts this notice more than virtue. It strikes us, because it is unnatural. It interrupts the natural harmony of things, and introduces discord and confusion. Thus we notice vice because it disturbs us, and because it disturbs the course of moral nature, while virtue is in harmony with the general and common feeling—with the moral world around us. Vice attracts our notice because we do not expect it, while virtue is what we seem naturally to expect. Vice excites our surprise and reprehension, while virtue, except, it may be, in some uncommon and splendid cases, is passed by as a matter of course. In short, virtue is the rule, and vice the exception.

Now if men are in the corrupt and helpless condition in which Calvinism places our unfortunate race, the exhibition of the smallest virtue would naturally be a matter of unbounded surprise. Yet how common, how almost universal, are the delightful domestic virtues! Where they do not exist, we feel that our nature has be outraged, and its principles violated. We call such cases unnatural. But if men are prone to evil, and only evil, and that continually, and so prone to it that they are entirely disabled from doing any good thing at all, why is there any redeeming trait? Why are not all men just as bad as they can be? Why are there any restraints upon society? If all are totally depraved, why are not all alike? Unless it be, as some person once remarked, that all are totally depraved, only some are more totally so than others.

And what possible good can degrading views of our nature do us? Surely they are not calculated to teach us humility; for he who regards himself as naturally degraded, has no reason to be humbled because of his degradation. He cannot help it, he is the victim of inexorable fate. He is driven on to his own ruin by a power which he cannot resist. He is a mere machine, performing faithfully the work for which he was created. If any one says that this is not Calvinism, I ask him to read the works of Calvin, and see. Surely there is no room for humility when a man is only fulfilling, by compulsion, his destiny. But, on the contrary, if he who knows himself to be capable of great and noble things falls far short of fulfilling his glorious destiny, has he not cause to be humbled in the very dust? In the former case, the man’s want of ability is certainly an excuse; in the latter, his ability affords strong ground for the deepest self-condemnation and humility.

[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.]


1. See Appendix O. Back to top

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