Dialogue Between A CONDITIONALIST & An ANTI CONDITIONALIST.
BY ELDER THOMAS BARTON.
Conditionalist. Well, neighbor A., how are you getting along in a religious sense? Are you still contented with your old notions of Antinomianism?
Anti-conditionalist. Yes, I see no cause to change my sentiments; and, according to what you call Antinomianism, so worship I the God of my fathers.
C. I do not doubt your honesty; my long acquaintance with you, and knowledge of your character, forbids me to doubt it; but still I cannot but think you are wrong, for the whole world is against you.
A. That is nothing new, nor does it in the least discourage me. Christ and his apostles were in the same condition - the whole world was against them.
C. But I mean the religious part of the world.
A. And so do I, for the world is the world, whether professing or not; I see no difference between the non-professing and the great mass of the professing world; all are under the same delusion, as relates to the plan of salvation; and the professing world is only the old wall whitewashed.
C. You say Christ was in the same condition; but was not Christ very popular while in the world? Great multitudes followed him.
A. Truly, there were great multitudes who followed him, and that, too, from the same motive which leads like great mass of our modern clergy, namely, for the loaves and the fishes; but, as a preacher, Christ was not popular. When he preached the doctrine of sovereign, discriminating grace, they said just what you conditionalists say now: "These are hard sayings; who can bear them?" And "many of his disciples went back and followed him no more." If he should appear among us now, and feed five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, it is very likely our popular clergy would follow him as long as they had any hope thereby of feeding their cupidity; but let him preach his doctrine, and they will soon scamper off, and bear an evil report of him.
C. This is one great objection I have to you - your want of charity; you think none right but Old School Baptists.
A. Just so; but why do you condemn us for what you must allow to everybody else? For there is not a man on earth that does not think everybody wrong who differs with him on any point in which he thinks himself right. Now you think conditional salvation right; and you must think everybody who differs from you on that subject wrong. We claim no more than you do in this particular. But, to your charge. This was the very charge, in substance, which was brought against the apostles and succeeding ministers by the heathens. You know they respected each others gods, and worshipped them when occasion called for it; but the apostles rejected the principle in toto, and thus incurred the charge of Atheism, and of being uncharitable. It is just so now; the popular denominations of the age respect each others gods; for in principle they are one; all the difference is in some sectarian peculiarity.
C. I find we differ as to the state of religion. I think the present a time of uncommon light; while you view it differently. I do not think there ever were such times for the spread of gospel light, for there is hardly a village now but has elegant churches in it, and of different denominations; and we see light is struck up in all directions.
A. Take heed that your light be not darkness. To me, such lights are no more than Will-o'-the-wisps, which only dazzle to blind, and lead to bewilder. Now, Sir, just view the trickery resorted to, to build and decorate the (so-called) churches, their amusing feasts, their gambling fairs, &c., and compare them with the principles and examples of Christ and his apostles, and you must see that there is no more affinity between them, than there is between a cabbage-head and a grindstone. If they would give to their various money-getting schemes their proper names, I should not trouble myself about them; but while they attempt to counterfeit the authority of Christ and his religion to sustain their abominations, the servants of God will have to bear testimony against them, even if the whole vocabulary of slander should be exhausted upon them, or even should they be chained to the stake.
C. True, there are extremes; but, then, the object is a good one, and this will answer the objection which you make to them.
A. It would be quite amusing, were not the subject too serious for amusement, to hear the Protestants crying out so lustily against Popery, when they have stolen one of the main props by which the corrupt edifice is sustained. I mean pious fraud, or the end sanctifies the means. On this principle, new and corrupt books have old and good names attached to them, to give them currency (lies invented to condemn heretics,) indulgencies sold to fill their coffers, and to feed the cupidity of avaricious priests; and now these are resorted to by Protestants, to build and decorate splendid temples, not to line the pocket of hungry clergymen, as they are called.
C. You appear to entertain very bad feelings towards the clergy.
A. I do; for I believe them to be among the greatest curses the world ever groaned under. It is to their influence, more than any other one thing, that the oppression under which the millions in Europe are now groaning, is to be attributed.
C. Ah, but they are the Catholic clergy
A. All the difference between the Catholic and Protestant powers is attributable to the fact, that the latter never had the power of the former. Just the same as it was in the characters of Nero and Herod; the latter was as great a tyrant as the former but his sphere was more limited, and hence he is less conspicuous on the list of tyrants Protestants have whipped, imprisoned, tortured and burned such as they have denounced as heretics; and what more have the Catholics done? True, they have burned more, but that was only because they had more in their power; and now we hear our modern clergy lauding to the very skies their Puritan fathers of New England, whose history is deeply stained with the blood of martyrs.
C. Well, I am not disposed to justify the wrongs of Protestants more than you are; but to go back a little, I do think there is something due to public opinion, and it is certainly a fact, that all the preachers of the different denominations preach the doctrine of free grace; and this, I must think, is presumptive evidence against you.
A. I would like to hear you define what you mean by free grace.
C. Why, that salvation is free for all men, provided they will comply with gospel conditions.
A. That is, that Christ made an universal, conditional atonement; thus, for instance, he has done just the same for A. as for B.; and if A. should perform gospel conditions, he will go to heaven; but if B. should not, he will go to hell. Is this what you mean?
C. Yes, that is what I mean and believe; that Christ has made salvation possible for all men, provided they will comply with gospel conditions.
A. Why, there is neither grace nor salvation in this; both are excluded; for, according to this scheme, Christ has saved none; and if he does not save us, we are certainly lost. You admitted, that if A. performed the requisite conditions, he would go to heaven; but if B. did not, he would go to hell. Well, then, if neither of them performed the conditions, both would be lost; and what has the blood of Christ done for either? Nothing at all; for, after all that has been done for them, as you maintain, he has left them precisely in the same condition as they were before that something, you talk of, was done. And as to grace, there is not a particle of grace in it; for according to your notion of free grace, all our stores and auctions are free-grace stores and auctions. Any of our storekeepers will let you have all their goods, if you will comply with their conditions; and at our auctions, the conditions are generally read, and articles are struck off to the highest bidder. Just so with your conditional preachers; they act the part of auctioneers, by offering Christ to the highest bidder; and I can but think, from their manner, that they have taken lessons from Tidzel, the celebrated indulgence auctioneer. Grace is free favor, but that favor which is obtained upon conditions is not grace, it is reward. If you give a man money for services rendered, it is not grace, it is debt; but if you give to a poor man without service rendered, or to be rendered, it is grace.
C. According to your mode of reasoning, there can be no such thing as free grace; for if to make salvation possible for all men, upon certain conditions, excludes free grace from their salvation, I am sure that limited grace cannot be free; and you, by your contracted view of election, limit salvation to the elect; and I cannot see how this can be free grace.
A. Did you ever give anything to a poor man, in your lifetime, without any expectation of ever being remunerated?
C. Yes, I have more than once.
A. Well, was this act of yours a free favor?
C. Yes, because I had no expectation or desire to be remunerated for it.
A. Did you give the same to every poor man you know?
C. No, that would be out of my power; there are too many poor for me to give to all alike.
A. Well, then, you admit that your gift, though free, was limited, and, according to your reasoning, could not be free, because it was limited. Now, Sir, is it not plain to you, that it was the nature, and not the extent of your donation, that determined the quality of the act? Had you given a dollar, to every poor man within the bounds of your knowledge, for services rendered or to be rendered, this would have made it a debt, not a gift; but had you have bestowed alms upon your poor neighbor without any prospect or desire of ever being remunerated, the act would then have been rendered a free grace act. And so in the matter of salvation; it is not the extent, but the nature of God's salvation, that determines its quality; and if but one poor sinner was the partaker of it, it would be an act of free favor, being bestowed without money or without price. Your system, Sir, may and does suit the views of proud Pharisees, who can stand and say, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men; I pay tithes of all I possess; I fast twice in the week," &c.; but it will not suit the poor mercy-seeking Publican, who, convinced of his sin and guilt, feels experimentally convinced that nothing but mercy can reach his case. Suspend the salvation of such an one upon the small condition of one good thought, it would consign him to everlasting despair; he knows he has it not to render; for he now feels the truth of that Bible declaration, that "The thoughts and imaginations of the heart in man are evil - only evil, and that continually." Your conditionality goes to cover Christ with a mock robe, while it robs him of his glorious diadem, and places it on the head of the creature; his incarnation, toil, and sweat; his unparalleled sufferings in the garden and on the cross, are also rendered nugatory; for by it the whole human family, without one exception, are left precisely in the same deplorable condition in which Adam left them; but I rejoice to know that your system is not true. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." "For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy hath he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Your plan, when brought into competition with the Scriptures, explodes into imperceptible atoms, and leaves its deluded adherents not a pin to stand upon.
C. Deluded adherents! Do you mean to insinuate that I am deluded?
A. I do believe it to be the case, Sir, and can believe nothing else while you deliberately attempt to sustain the rotten hypothesis you are taking refuge in, on a baseless foundation.
C. Well, I must give you credit for your plainness; but still I cannot see as you do. There is a difference between us; yet I am willing you should go to heaven in your own way, and I will take mine.
A. No, Sir, it is not my own way, for had not grace prevented, I should have taken the same way that you are taking; but it is Christ's way, and not mine, and the only way that will lead to heaven. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life;" and, "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me." It is as plain as day, that we are not traveling the same road, but I am willing to trust my eternal all upon the plan I have been trying to define, and leave the final issue to that tribunal from which there is no appeal.
C. I cannot reconcile your system with the justice of God; I cannot see how God can be just in saving some, and not give all an equal opportunity of salvation.
A. If you will prove one thing, I will at once admit the force of your objection; that is, that God was under an obligation to save any of the fallen race of Adam; for if he was under an obligation to save but one, he was under an obligation to all; and if so, and he has only saved some, then your objection has weight.
C. If by obligation you mean, that he was bound to save any from a claim they had on him, I will not pretend to prove that he was, because this would exclude many from their salvation, and this I am not willing to admit; that you admit that he has saved some, and why he should save some and not all, or at least not give all an equal opportunity, is that to which I object in your scheme.
A. Let your objection be what it may, you have admitted enough to refute the objection, founded on the justice of God, by admitting that none have a claim on his salvation. Now, if an individual, having no heir-at-law, should bequeath to my neighbor a legacy, and should not name me in his will, I could not impeach him with injustice merely because my neighbor had no more claim on his estate than I had. The testator had a right to do what he would with his own; and as God was under no obligation to save any, and as he has, by a sovereign act of his own will seen proper to save some; he has done the others no injustice; he has only left them where they were placed by sin, under the curse of his righteous law. I have, however often been led to tremble for such objectors, when I remember that God is just.
C. According to your doctrine, I see no need of preaching, for the elect are sure to be saved.
A. Yes, Sir, they certainly will be saved, certain as that Christ has died for them, and is now at the right hand of God to intercede for them; but, Sir, as I presume you are a farmer, did you ever buy any sheep, and after you had bought them, order your boys to feed them?
A. Well, did you order them to be fed to make them your sheep, or because they were yours?
C. Because they were mine.
A. Then, will you not allow Christ the same right? He has bought a large flock of sheep; and with no less a price than his precious blood; and has he not a right to order servants, as he did Peter, to feed them? "Feed my sheep" - "feed my lambs;" was the command given him. Now this objection arises from a total ignorance of the design of the gospel ministry, which was not to make sheep, but to feed them; not to save or convert sinners, but to comfort and edify the household of faith, as fully explained by Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians, chap. 4:11, "And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Here we have the design of the gospel ministry, given by the Holy Ghost, in which there is not a word about saving or converting sinners, but for the edification of the saints.
C. Well, I believe I must stop for the present, we may have another opportunity.
A. It is my prayer to God, if consistent with his righteous purpose, that, before another interview, you may be brought to see things in their true light, and if so, I am sure you will sing a different song, a song that will not put the crown upon the head of free will, but upon the head of sovereign, discriminating grace; and instead of making Christ a mere nominal savior, by your conditional scheme, you will view him as the Alpha and Omega in your salvation. Adieu!