Chapter XII

The New Haven Theology

As early as 1808, Dr. Taylor, whilst yet a student of theology, under Dr. Dwight, had given occasion for anxiety to the friends of sound doctrine, by his views, then developed. Dr. Nettleton, who was, at the time, a member of the senior class, in Yale College, says of him: “We then differed in regard to the nature of the doings of the unregenerate. He also read me a dissertation on the doctrine of the divine decrees, and the free agency of man, which I then regarded as a virtual denial of the former, and an avowal of the self-determining power of the will.”

Dr. Taylor was subsequently settled as a pastor of a church in New Haven, in which he continued, until called to the professorship of theology. In 1820 and 1821, a discussion was in progress, on the Socinian controversy, between Professor Woods of Andover and Dr. Ware, the Unitarian professor of divinity in Harvard. Dr. Taylor, and others of the New Haven brethren, expressed great dissatisfaction with the positions taken by Dr. Woods, especially on the subject of native depravity, and were understood to approve the views of Dr. Ware.

Prior to this date, the students of Yale, who were destined to the ministry, had, generally, and, almost, as a matter of course, gone to Andover, to study theology. But, about this time, dissatisfaction began to prevail in Yale College, on this subject. Through the Bible-class of Professor Goodrich, sentiments were instilled into the minds of the pious youth, which purported to be a reproduction of the doctrines of the elder Edwards and Bellamy; from which the professors at Andover were charged with departing. Thus, insidiously, was the way prepared for the full developments which followed.

The apprehensions, which these indications tended to excite, were aggravated by the report of doctrines more formally enunciated in a lecture by Professor Goodrich, to his pupils in Yale, on Saturday evening, December 15, 1821. He commenced by stating that he was about to present a different view of the subject of his lecture,original sin, from that which was commonly held. He then proceeded to set forth a doctrine, which the better informed students recognized as bearing a striking resemblance to that with which Dr. Ware had opposed Dr. Woods. During the preceding winter, Dr. Nettleton had been occupied some time preaching in New Haven, in an extensive revival. With him, Dr. Beecher spent a number of days, laboring in the work.

“In all our social intercourse,” says Nettleton, “the arguments of Wood and Ware seemed to form the principal topic of conversation. Dr. Beecher, at that time, did not fully agree with Dr. Taylor, and they were often, as I expressed it, `like two cocks, by the gills,’ Dr. Taylor clear over the mark, and Dr. Beecher so far over that I could agree with neither.”

When the report went abroad of Professor Goodrich’s lecture, Nettleton was laboring in Dr. Beecher’s church, at Litchfield, Connecticut. The latter wrote to Dr. Taylor on the subject of the lecture. He did not fully approve of the views of New Haven; yet made such concessions as greatly dissatisfied Dr. Nettleton, who wrote to Dr. Taylor, “With all my love and respect for brothers Taylor, and Goodrich, and Beecher, I must say that neither my judgment, nor conscience, nor heart, can acquiesce; and I can go with you no farther. Whatever you may say about infants, for one, I solemnly believe that God views and treats them, in all respects, just as he would do if they were sinners. To say that animals die, and therefore death can be no proof of sin in infants, is, to take infidel ground. The infidel has just as good a right to say, Because animals die, without being sinners, therefore adults may…You may speculate better than I can; but I know one thing, better than you do. I know better what Christians will, and what they will not, receive; and I forewarn you, that, whenever you come out, our best Christians will revolt. I felt a deep interest in the controversy, between the Orthodox and the Unitarians, while it was kept out on the open field of total depravity, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, divine sovereignty, and election. For this was taking the enemy by the heart, and I knew who would conquer. But you are giving the discussion a bad turn, and I have lost all my interest in the subject, and do not wish my fellow-sinners to hear it.”

This letter of warning was written in December, 1821. The next spring, it began to be understood that a seminary was about to be founded, in the interest of the new divinity. At the meeting of the Hartford North Association, the Rev. Dr. N. Perkins “spoke of Drs. Taylor, Beecher, and others, as associates in founding a new seminary; being apprehensive that Andover might not be what they desired it to be.” Dr. Perkins remarked, with some emotion, “Dr. Beecher says, ‘We,’ (meaning Dr. Beecher, Taylor, and others,) ‘We must have another seminary; and then, if we lose one, we shall have one left.’ Dr. Perkins said, ‘This is good logic,’ but, like all other men who had seen Stuart’s letters to Charming, or Woods’ letters to Unitarians, he did not seem disposed to think, that the cause of orthodoxy was, at that time, in such peril as to demand another seminary; and appeared to suspect their meaning to be, ‘If Andover will not inculcate our views, we must have a seminary that will.’”

In the summer of 1822, mainly through the exertions of Prof. Goodrich, measures were taken to enlarge the theological department of Yale College, upon the plan of adding one professor for the theological class, to be assisted by the other professors, then existing. An endowment was raised for the chair of Didactic Theology, the founders requiring the Professor to sign a declaration that “I hereby declare my free assent to the Confession of Faith and Ecclesiastical Discipline, agreed upon by the churches of this State, in 1708,” (that is, the Saybrook Platform.) It was provided that “If, at any future period, any person, who fills the chair of this Professorship, holds or teaches doctrines contrary to those referred to, it shall be the duty of the Corporation of the college to dismiss him forthwith; and, if they do not dismiss him, then, we reserve to our heirs the right to demand the several sums which we have paid, or may, hereafter, pay respectively.”

The Corporation made record of this requirement, and voted that” this Board doth accordingly, found and establish, in this college, on said fund, a professorship of Didactic Theology, on the terms, conditions, and limitations expressed in said instrument.” Dr. Taylor was elected to the newly-founded chair, signed the required declaration, and was inducted into office. This action was afterward vindicated, by the faculty of the college, in a published statement, upon the ground that the subscription required at Yale, to articles of faith, is only binding “for substance of doctrine;” and that Dr. Taylor “had certain knowledge, from personal intercourse with the founders of that professorship that, had he embraced every minute doctrine of the Confession, it would have been considered a decisive disqualification for the office.” Was it, then, the design of the founders to mislead the public?

For some time after the organization of the theological department, the professors were occupied in the quiet propagation of their sentiments, through the instruction of their classes, without any public demonstration, on the subject. But, soon, the students of the institution began to issue forth, eager to disseminate the new discoveries which they had received. Says a writer who, in March, 1826, spent two or three weeks in New Haven—“I had much conversation with several theological students, and some interviews with tutor Edward Beecher, and also with Professors Gibbs and Fitch. Such phrases were very common, as, ‘Our views,’ ‘ New divinity,’ ‘Dr. Taylor’s views;’ and there seemed to be a general opinion that New Haven had made some advances in theology.”

At this time the Rev. Eleazer T. Fitch occupied the chair of Divinity, in Yale College. It was one of the duties of his office, to preach, statedly, in the college chapel, to the students. In the summer of this year, he preached, on one Sabbath, in fulfillment. of this office, two sermons, on the nature of sin; which, at the request of the theological students, were published. In these discourses, the Professor undertook to establish “the unlimited proposition, that sin, in every form and instance, is reducible to the act of a moral agent, in which he violates a known rule of duty.” Having endeavored to establish this position, he hence deduced, among others, the following conclusions. “2. That the truth which we have considered shows us that there is not a sinful heart in any moral agent, distinct from his own sinful choices, determinations, or preferences.” “I have not denied,” says the preacher, “and do not deny, that one purpose, choice, or preference of the agent., may have influence over him, in regard to another; but what I deny is, that any such disposition, itself moral, which is supposed to influence the agent to a given resolution, is itself, in its origin and continuance, at all distinct from a determination of will in the agent.”

“3. We learn, from the present subject; that, in the connection of Adam with his posterity, no sin of his is reckoned theirs.”

“4. The subject may assist us in making a right explanation of original sin.” The explanation however is very vague, and amounts to this, that “the Scriptures intend not to teach, that men are individually the subjects of sin, by imputation of guilt; or, by vitiosity of constitution, previous to moral and accountable action, or separate from such action. We are led, therefore, to the conclusion that, although man may be so affected, at his origin, in his constitution, as to render certain his commencing moral agency in sinful action, yet, that nothing can with truth be called his original sin, but his first moral choice or preference being evil; which original determination of will, or moral purpose, operates, in addition to his original susceptibilities, as a ground of his succeeding acts being sinful.”

These discourses excited comparatively little attention, in New England, where the imputation of Adam’s sin had been almost universally repudiated; from the time when the writings of Edwards acquired authority and his theory of identity became identified with the doctrine; and where many of the “orthodox” held the Hopkinsian position, that all sin and holiness consist in exercise, or action. They were reviewed by the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green, in the Christian Advocate; to whom the Professor replied, in a pamphlet of ninety-five pages, characterized by an extraordinary display of arrogance and hauteur. He scouts the absurdity “of carrying our views of guilt beyond the voluntary agency of man, to (we know not what,) the nature of man, the seat of the affections.” A self‑determining power of the will, a power in the sinner to make him anew heart, is also urged with great emphasis, (although not directly asserted;) by holding up to scorn the opposite doctrine. “Will he,”—the preacher on that text—“say, ‘You know, and the King knoweth, that none ever do make them new hearts?’ Where is his warrant for this? Who has told him, that men cannot and do not ‘work out their own salvation,’ when the Spirit of God is influencing them to will and to do?”

At the commencement of Yale College, in 1828, Dr. Taylor preached the “Concio ad Clerum,” in the college chapel, to a large assembly of the clergy of Connecticut. The text was from Eph. ii. 3. “And were, by nature, children of wrath.” The doctrine announced was, “that the entire moral depravity of mankind is by nature.” From this good beginning, the professor proceeded to develop a doctrine essentially identical with that set forth in Fitch’s discourses. He defined moral depravity as, in general, the entire sinfulness of man’s moral character, that state of the mind and heart to which guilt and the desert of wrath pertain. This, he says, “does not consist in any essential attribute or property of the soul, not in anything created in man by his Maker.” “Nor does it consist in a sinful nature, which they have corrupted, by being one with Adam, and acting in his act.” Nor “in any constitutional propensities of their nature.” “Nor does any degree of excitement of these propensities or desires, not resulting in choice, constitute moral depravity.” “Nor does the moral depravity of men consist in any disposition or tendency to sin, which is the cause of all sin.”

In what then does it consist? “I answer, it is man’s own act., consisting in a free choice of some object, rather than God, as his chief good; or a free preference of the world and of worldly good, to the will and glory of God” In support of this statement, he pretends to appeal to Calvin, Bellamy, Edwards, and the Westminster Assembly, itself! “The Westminster divines say that ‘every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God,’ etc. I ask, Is not transgression action ? Is it not something done, and done knowingly and voluntarily?”

The second head of the discourse is, “that this depravity is by nature.” What does this mean ? “I answer, that such is their nature, that they will sin and only sin, in all the appropriate circumstances of their being.” “then I say that mankind are entirely depraved by nature, I do not mean that their nature is itself sinful, nor that their nature is the physical or efficient cause of their sinning; but I mean that their nature is the occasion, or reason of their sinning; that such is their nature, that, in all the appropriate circumstances of their being, they will sin and only sin.”

The discourse closes with two or three “remarks.”

“1. It is consistent with the doctrine of this discourse, that infants should be saved through the redemption of Christ. They belong to a race who, by nature, and in all the appropriate circumstances of their being, will sin…Do you ask when he will begin to sin? I answer, I do not know the precise instant. The Scriptures do not tell us, and I can see no possible use in saying that we do know, what it is most palpably evident we do not know. Is it then said, that we sin before we are born? But there is no such thing as sinning without acting; and an apostle has told us of two infants, who, while ‘not yet born,’ had done ‘neither good nor evil”‘

Another “remark,” whilst carefully avoiding any express assertion of the self-determining power of the will, and the ability of the sinner to make himself a new heart., very earnestly intimates that doctrine to be true, and urges precisely the same arguments which had been employed before, by Professor Fitch, of whose discourses, the Concio ad Clerum was a more elaborate reproduction.

One new point, however, was now introduced into the controversy. The Professor challenged proof that God could have adopted a moral system, and prevented all sin. “Do you say, that God gave man a nature, which he knew would lead him to sin? What if he did? Do you know that God could have done better—better, on the whole; or, better, if he gave him existence at all, even for the individual himself? The error lies in the gratuitous assumption, that God could have adopted a moral system, and prevented all sin, or at least, the present degree of sin. For no man knows this; no man can prove it…I say then, that, as ignorance is incompetent to make an objection, and as no one knows that this supposition is not a matter of fact, no one has a right to assert the contrary, or even to think it.”

In a long marginal note, he assails two “common but groundless assumptions:” “First, That sin is the necessary means of the greatest good, and, as such, so far as it exists, is preferable, on the whole, to holiness in its stead. Secondly, That God could, in a moral system, have prevented all sin; or, at least, the present degree of sin.” In opposition to the latter dogma, he says, “If holiness, in a moral system, be preferable, on the whole, to sin, in its stead, why did not a benevolent God, were it possible to him, prevent all sin, and secure the prevalence of universal holiness? Would not a moral universe of perfect holiness, and of course, of perfect happiness, be happier and better than one comprising sin and its miseries? And must not infinite benevolence accomplish all the good it can ? Would not a benevolent God, then, had it been possible to him, in the nature of things, have secured the existence of universal holiness in his moral kingdom?…Is there, then, the least particle of evidence that the entire prevention of sin, in moral beings, is possible to God, in the nature of things ? If not, then, what becomes of the very common assumption of such possibility?”

The Concio ad Clerum was ably reviewed by the Rev. Dr. Harvey, to whom a reply was published, in the Christian Spectator, from the pen of Professor Goodrich; who incorporated therein the substance of his own lecture of 1821.

In the course of the year 1829, the successive numbers of the Christian Spectator contained a series of articles, from Dr. Taylor, on regeneration. Taking occasion from a recently published treatise on the means of regeneration, by Dr. Spring, of New York, which was briefly noticed, in the first article, the professor proceeded to develop fully and boldly the views, on that and the connected subjects, which had only been implied or cautiously suggested, in the previous disclosures, from New Haven. These articles completed the development of the essential features of the New Haven system. The writer undertakes to analyze regeneration, and show what it is, and what the means by which it is accomplished. The definition, and the process indicated, alike ignore the scriptural doctrine of regeneration, and exclude it. There is, in the scheme, no room, and no occasion, for the renewing of the Holy Ghost, the new creation of the elect in Christ Jesus.

“Regeneration, considered as a moral change, of which man is the subject, giving God the heart, making a new heart, loving God supremely, etc., are terms and phrases which, in popular use, denote a com plex act. Each, in popular use, denotes what, in a more analytical mode of speaking, may be viewed and described, as made up of several particular acts and states of mind; or, as a series of such acts and states; which are, yet., so related and connected, that, for all ordinary purposes, they are sufficiently defined when spoken of in combination, and as constituting one act, under one name. Indeed, it is of this combination or series of mental acts, only, that moral quality can be predicated; since no one act of the process, viewed abstractly from the other acts, can be a moral act. The act of the will, or heart, viewed abstractly from the acts of the intellect, is not moral; nor are the acts of the intellect, viewed abstractly from the will or heart.”

“When we speak of the means of regeneration, we shall use the word, regeneration, in a more limited import than its ordinary popular import; and shall confine it, chiefly for the sake of convenient phraseology, to the act of the will or heart, in distinction from other mental acts, connected with it; or, to that act of the will or heart, which consists in a preference of God to every other object; or, to that disposition of the heart, or governing affec tion or purpose of the man, which consecrates him to the service and glory of God.” It is “that ultimate act of the will, in which the soul, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, chooses God, as its supreme good.”

“We affirm that there are certain mental acts and states, which, in the order of nature, at least, precede regeneration; or which precede, as we propose to use the term, regeneration, that act of the will or heart, in which God is preferred to every other object. Of these mental acts and states, our object does not require that we give an accurate analysis. It is sufficient for our purpose, to, show that there are such acts and states, and that we so far describe them, that it may be understood, what class of mental acts we designate, as preliminary to regeneration, and as constituting using the means of regeneration. We proceed then to say, that before the act of will, or heart, in which the sinner first prefers God to every other object, the object of the preference must be viewed or estimated as the greatest good. Before the object can be viewed as the greatest good, it must be compared with other objects;. as both are sources or means of good. Before this act of comparing, there must be an act dictated, not by selfishness, but by self-love; in which the mind determines to direct its thoughts to the objects, for the sake of considering their relative value, of forming a judgment respecting it, and of choosing one or the other as the chief good. These acts, also, imply, under the presentation of the objects to the mind, an intellectual perception of their adaptedness to the nature of man, as sources or means of happiness; and, also, an excitement of constitutional susceptibilities, in view of the objects; i.e., involuntary propensities, inclinations, or desires, toward each object respectively.”

“Divine truth does not become a means to this end, until the selfish principle, so long cherished in the heart, is suspended, and the mind is left to the control of that constitutional desire for happiness which is an original principle of our nature. Then it is, we apprehend, that God and the world are contemplated by the mind as objects of choice, substantially as they would be by a being who had just entered on existence, and who was called upon, for the first time, to select the one or the other, as his supreme good.”

“The sinner is the subject of that constitutional desire of happiness, called self-love; to which no moral quality pertains. Let the sinner, then, as a being who loves happiness and desires the highest degree of its under the influence of such a desire, take into solemn consideration the question, whether the highest happiness is to be found in God, or, in the world; let him pursue the inquiry, if need be, till it result in the conviction that such happiness is to be found in God only; and let him follow up this conviction, with that intent and engrossing contemplation of the realities which truth discloses, and with that stirring up of his sensibilities, in view of them, which shall invest the world, when considered as his only portion, with an aspect of insignificance, of gloom, and even of terror, and which shall chill and suspend his present active love of it; and let the contemplation be persevered in, till it shall discover a reality and an excellence in the objects of holy affections, which shall put him upon direct and desperate efforts to fix his heart upon them; and let this process of thought, of effort, and of action, be entered upon as one which is never to be abandoned, until the end proposed by it is accomplished; until the only living and true God is loved and chosen, as his God for ever; and we say, that in this way, the work of regeneration, through grace, may be accomplished.”

Such is the plan devised at New Haven to make regeneration so easy that men may not be discouraged from attempting to do it. It has one defect. We are not told how to get rid of selfishness; which is the first and essential step in the whole case. Further, it will be remembered that “all sin is selfishness;” and, according to this New Haven means of regeneration; self-love, which is to be the motive power, in the process described, has no moral quality; nor have any of the series of acts enumerated, abstractly from the final act of the will, by which, as a result of the whole process, God is chosen. In the mean time, is the man in a neutral state, neither sinful nor holy?

Surely there is a better way than this. There are those who “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Dr. Taylor’s closing number was a designed modification of the previous ones; partly, at the suggestion of Dr. Beecher. The latter told him that he had employed terms badly, in speaking of the “suspension of selfishness.” “All that Dr. Taylor means,” said he, to Dr. Porter of Andover, is, that “the carnal mind is held in check, or does not act, and not that it is extinct:” “While this carnal mind is thus checked, has it moral qualities?” said Dr. Porter. “Doubtless,” he replied. “Is it sinful, or holy, or neither?” (Pause.) “The man is doubtless a sinner” said he. “Can one who pugnaciously and ostentatiously maintains that all sin consists in action, maintain that a carnal mind is sinful, when its action has ceased?” (No reply.)

While the articles on regeneration were publishing, a conference was held, at Andover, at the house of Dr. Porter, with a view to see whether mutual explanations might not result in a restoration of confidence. There were present, the Andover professors, Professors Taylor and Goodrich, Drs. Beecher, Church, Spring, Cogswell, Hewit, Mr. Nettleton and others. The explanations given, by the New Haven professors, however, only served to increase the anxiety. In the course of the. interview, Dr. Woods said to Dr. Taylor, “Does the infant need regenerating grace, in the first month of its existence?” Dr. Taylor replied, “No.” “Does he need this grace in the second month?” Again, he answered, “No.” “Does he need it in the third month?” He replied as before. Dr. Woods pursued his inquiry, to the fourth, the fifth or sixth month of the child’s age; and at one of these points, Dr. Taylor said, “I don’t know but that the child may then need renewing grace.”

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