The Eschatology Of The New England Divines -- By: Frank Hugh Foster

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 046:181 (Jan 1889)
Article: The Eschatology Of The New England Divines
Author: Frank Hugh Foster

The Eschatology Of The New England Divines

Rev. Frank H. Foster


After the arrival of Mr. Murray some years passed away before the New England divines felt their position attacked by the Universalists with sufficient vigor to call for a special reply. The Revolutionary War long engrossed the strength and attention of the ministry, and little of either could be given to theology; but when its echoes had died away, the activity of the Universalists began to demand notice. At the same time the secession of King’s Chapel from the Episcopal Church gave to the Unitarian movement form and substance. The orthodox divines began, therefore, publicly to defend their faith and their opponents to reply, so that a number of books and pamphlets appeared on either side of the controversy from 1785 to 1805. The leading Universalist writings have already passed under our review.1 We now attend to the New England writers.

I. The Reply To Rellyanism

John Smalley, of Berlin, Conn., in a sermon preached by request at Wallingford2 struck the key-note of this stage of

the reply. With reference to the idea derived by Relly from Old School theories and expressed in his “union,” that salvation is a matter of necessity, or put by others in the more sober form, that it is a matter of justice, Smalley proposes to show that “eternal salvation is on no account a matter of just debt,” and hence a fortiori no mechanical necessity. After some preliminary statements in explanation of the meaning of justification, he takes up the redemption wrought for us by Christ for the purpose of showing how it is consistent with free grace in justification. He proceeds to present a new theory of the atonement, which has since been called the New England theory, and which, deriving its leading idea from Hugo Grotius, teaches that God, in exacting punishment for sins, did not act as the offended party, but as a Ruler, and that consequently, the atonement of Christ was not the payment of a debt, but “an astonishing expedient of wisdom and goodness that we transgressors might be saved and yet God be just and his righteous law suffer no dishonor”—a penal example making forgiveness consistent with the authority of the government, but in no way establishing a right upon the sinner’s part to forgiveness.3 The great argument of Rellyanism was thus refuted. Smalley had stated it thus: “God is obliged in justice to save men as far as the merit of Christ extends: but the merit of Christ is suff...

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