The Journals & Notebook of
 Nathan Bangs 1805-1806, 1817

 

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Editorial Annotations


Jonathan Edwards was a fiery New England puritan of Calvinist convictions. John Wesley was familiar with his works though they were not included, even in expurgated form, in his fifty-volume Christian Library (1749-1755).

Before completing his term as presiding elder of the Rhinebeck district in 1816 Bangs published Errors of Hopkinsianism Detected and Refuted (1815) which sold 3,000 copies in only six months (Flores 234).

At first glance this entry seems to consist of two disjointed parts, one dealing with Edwards and the second with Bangs's activities while presiding elder of the Rhinebeck district. The theme that runs through it all, however, is the continual struggle of Methodist preachers against Calvinism and all its variants. Bangs probably knew that Hopkins had been a student of Edwards and his musings on the latter's theology triggered a memory of his own struggle against Hopkins's brand of Calvinism as a presiding elder. 

 

Jan.y. 7th 1816 [1817]

I have been reading Rev. Jonathan Edwards [Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)] on the will. I do not wonder that persons previously biased in favour of Calvinism by education, and strongly inclining to it, from interest, should be captivated by the ingenious subtlety of his arguments. He strongly contends for the moral necessity of all actions, both virtuous and vicious, from the inseparable connection of motives and volition, and from the moral inability of every man, to do otherwise than he does. He, however, maintains, in theory, the freedom of man, in doing as he pleases. The moving cause, of this moral inability, he studiously conceals from his reason; but, by tracing his principles to their source, it will be found that the first cause of this capital defect of our will, originates immediately from Adam and he sinned, and thereby brought this moral inability upon his posterity from the same necessity, that an effect follows its cause, namely, because God determined he should. If, indeed, we had brought this inability upon ourselves, by our own voluntary act, unnecessarily performed, we might then be reasonably and justly responsible, for all the wickedness, resulting from such inability to good. But this is not so, even upon his own hypothesis. How then can we be justly accountable for acting under the influence of invincible inclination, which is entailed upon us totally indepent [independent] of our own act of choice? Choosing good or evil, under such circumstances, is no more an [sic] free act, than the circulation of the blood, through the arteries and veins. For this supposed choice, is entirely under the controlling influence of extraneous motives, and preponderating causes, which are as totally independent of our volitions as was that adamic sin, which is supposed to be the immediate, operating cause of our present disinclination, (moral inability) to good. So that, while this system of Mr Edwards, professes to allow man the dignity of the rational, free, moral agent, yet, when rightly understood, it fully reduces him to the level of inert matter, totally incapably acting, especially in the first volition of his mind, until he is propelled either by the influence of an external motive, or by the immediate operation of an Almighty energy.

This being the case, how can rational responsibility be attached to man? If God see fit to hide the motive to good, from the sinner's mind, or refuse to influence him by his own immediate agency, how can he choose the good, and refuse the evil? Indeed, I consider the whole book, but an abortive attempt, to render Calvinism tolerable; to make it appear consistent with the moral attribution of God, and the just responsibility of man. The ingenuity of its author, will not be questioned; and if his respectable abilities had been brought to bear upon the solid anvil of truth, his sparkling genius would have shed a luster far more bright, than what they have in this attempt, to drain the ditch of error from the stagnant waters which have been flowing into it, ever since the days of Augustine.

Which The third and four years of my travels on the Rhinebeck district [1815-1816], we had some very promising revivals of religion. The pure doctrines of the gospel shone with peculiar luster, and many were captivated with their divine beauty and excellence. Places, where before our preachers had no access, were visited by them, doors were opened for preaching and were filled with attentive hearers. And although we felt ourselves under obligation to preach pointedly against the distinguished tenets of Hopkinsianism, nevertheless prejudice gradually declined, and our doctrines met with a more favourable reception than formerly. In many instances the presbyterian meeting houses were opened, without our request, and filled with hearers. I firmly believe that, if prudent measures are pursued, with Christian candor, fortitude and perseverance, New England will yet be the glory of the Church; for primitive purity and simplicity. The habits, the prepossessions, and the education of the people, are all favourable to Christianity; and if that strong bias which they now so generally have for the peculiarities of Calvinism, were once removed, a window would be opened for the light of evangelical truth to pour into their understanding; conversions would soon be multiplied; pure and undefiled religion would rapidly and extensively spread among them.

The Christian affection which the people very generally manifested towards me, has bound them strongly to my heart. I certainly laboured with delight among them; and was happyly [sic] united to the Preachers who were in the District.
   

Autumn 1800

3 June 1817

Primary Sources


Edwards, Jonathan (1703-1758) Freedom of the Will (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

 

Terms


Calvinism: Derives its name from its founder John Calvin (1509-1564) who, among other beliefs, held that certain people (the "elect") were predestined by God for salvation while others were not (and could do nothing to achieve salvation as a result). John Wesley rejected Calvinism in favour of the belief that salvation was open to all who might wish it according to the teachings of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). Jonathan Edwards was a leading American Calvinist where the doctrine was popular, particularly in the New England states.  

Hopkinsianism: A modified form of Calvinism developed by American Samuel Hopkins (17211803). It lost much of its popularity after the American Civil War.

 

Edited by Scott McLaren
Book History Practicum
University of Toronto