Writing a hundred years ago, Benjamin Warfield looked on the New Divinity teaching of Jonathan Edwards Jun., Samuel Hopkins and Joseph Bellamy as a lost cause. He felt it had forsaken all traces of Calvinism for Pelagianism, becoming the staple fare of Arminians. He looked upon it as an evangelistic, revivalist movement quite void of a Christian gospel with its rejection of the satisfaction of Christ and the doctrine of imputation and perversion of Edwards Sen.’s philosophical distinction between man’s natural and moral inability.  He thought it could only result in creating havoc in the churches.

     Today, there is a renewed fascination with this school, initially because of its historical association with Jonathan Edwards Sen.. In particular, Joseph Bellamy’s work True Religion Delineated  is being re-valued as a book which influenced 18th century Particular Baptist thinking so radically that it became an evangelistic force second to none in the world. As Andrew Fuller claimed indebtedness to Bellamy for his ideas underlining his work The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, and as this book has been labelled the “health-restoring purgative to the sluggishness of our age” and “the shot heard around the world in this spiritual offensive,”  we ought to examine the sources which Fuller used. Indeed, by rights, if pre-eminence is given to Fuller’s system, then it should be Bellamy, not Fuller, who is given this credit as Fuller copied Bellamy so extensively that often, when outlining the peculiarities of his system, he adopts exclusively Bellamy’s terminology.

     Bellamy was born in New Cheshire, Connecticut, USA in 1719 and died in the same State in 1790. Even in early childhood, he showed a deep love and aptitude for study, entering Yale University at 16. He was also tutored by Jonathan Edwards. Around 1737, Bellamy was called by the New Haven Association as a minister of the gospel and ordained pastor in 1740. As the Great Awakening was underway, Bellamy felt more called to do itinerant work and for the next two years he visited several hundred different areas preaching almost daily. He was soon being compared to Whitefield in his eloquence and outreach. He was judged to be an absolutely brilliant speaker, excelling in all forms of rhetoric but was also seen to have a deep faith, a solid understanding of the Scriptures and a clear apprehension of their truth. He was however, very commanding and demanding in his attitude to his hearers and tended to domineer his followers, the bulk of whom seemed not to mind. It was not long before Bellamy was linked with Edwards and Hopkins as the leading North American theologians and revival preachers. At the height of this fame, Bellamy was called to the only Presbyterian church in New York but his association refused to part with him.

     Bellamy now opened a training school for preachers in his own home and drew men such as Jonathan Edwards Jun., Ephraim Judson and Aaron Burr, who became highly influential in American Christian and political life. His influence spread to England and encouraged Fuller positively to leave Johnsonism and John Ryland Jun. negatively to leave the teaching of John Collet Ryland, James Hervey and John Gill. Bellamy became popular in Scotland through John Erskine and Earl Buchanan and he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Aberdeen University.

     There is no doubt that Bellamy became a much-loved, successful and highly influential man so it is of great importance that we examine the teaching that accompanied this man’s alleged great charisma, especially as he is being hailed as the spokesman of Jonathan Edwards Senior and the one who popularised his teaching. This will be something of a surprise to those who know Jonathan Edwards as a highly Biblical preacher and are familiar with Benjamin Warfield’s and Ezra Stiles’ conclusion that the New Divinity School was far from orthodox.

     Many theologians, gifted spiritually and intellectually as preachers, are seen to lose their unction when they strive in the lecture hall to express their experimental religion in philosophical terms. Philip Doddridge, for instance, preached convincingly and edifyingly of the unity of the Godhead but when he tried to analyse and categorise the Trinity in his philosophical lecturers, apparent dry modalism was the result. This was also true of Jonathan Edwards who was a marvellous preacher of righteousness, proclaiming man’s inabilities but God’s sufficiency, who, however, puzzled the saints when he came to draw philosophical deductions from the facts of the fall and of God’s plan in salvation. Newton often discussed Edwards with Cowper and confessed that he thought Edward’s philosophising pointless coming from a minister of the gospel and that it was more than the Athenian spirit of the times could bare and would put people off reading his more theological works and sermons. Indeed, it was the Athenian spirit of the New Divinity School which took Edwards philosophical distinction between the natural and moral inabilities of man and made a theology of it which was drawn more from rationalism than the Scriptures.  The tragedy is that Edwards did not see that his pupils were building their faith on his philosophical ideas rather than on his experimental sermons. He actually thought they were showing great intelligence in their philosophical dissertations. Thus when, in 1750, Edwards was asked to read through Bellamy’s True Religion Delineated and author its Preface, he read it as a philosophical work, praising the logical deductions in it as “a discourse wherein the proper essence and distinguishing nature of saving faith is deduced from the first principles of the oracles of God.”  Interestingly enough, Edwards felt that the rational logic of this work was so compelling that especially “persons of vulgar capacity” would understand it. Indeed Bellamy makes a great effort to show how Scripture and logic combine to bring the ‘common’ reader to the point where he can say, “It is impossible, when we see the infinite beauty of the self-moving goodness of the divine nature, as exercised in the whole affair of our redemption and salvation, towards creatures so infinitely vile, unworthy, and ill-deserving, but that we should love that glorious goodness, and be changed into the same image, and have it become natural to us to love enemies, and forgive injuries, and be like God.”  The teaching is clear. You take any person of ‘vulgar capacity’ who is vile, unworthy and ill-deserving and show him that he is loved by God and then that person will find it not at all impossible to love God, indeed, such love will come naturally. It is all a matter of moral persuasion. Either what Bellamy called the common man i.e. the uneducated person, was a great deal more gifted philosophically and linguistically in those days than now or Bellamy quite overestimated his readers. Thus when he explains the terrors of hell to those ordinary people he wishes to convert, he tells them:

“The least sin may be an infinite evil, because of the infinite obligation we are under to do otherwise, and yet all sins not be equally heinous; for there is as great a difference among infinites as among finites – I mean, among things that are infinite in only one respect. For instance, to be forever in hell is an infinite evil, in respect of the duration; but yet the damned are not all equally miserable. Some may be a hundred times as miserable as others, in degree; although the misery of all is equal in point of duration.”

     The question now is how did Bellamy come to the conclusion that, given the illuminating powers of the Spirit on the mind, one could argue a man into heaven? It is impossible to attempt an analysis of his over 175 arguments which are meant to bring the reader to this position but a few essential points drawn from them may suffice to give the reader some idea of Bellamy’s gospel of moral consideration.

His view of God

     Bellamy’s portrayal of God is almost entirely restricted to a His character and office. He is the sum of all moral excellencies and the Governor of His creation. Traditional Christianity sees God governing the world according to His own intrinsic, personal character which is the measure of all things. Bellamy, however, believes as Grotius and Chandler that those moral attributes which we see in God are external to Him and God is God because He has appropriated them to Himself. God is thus a convert, albeit from eternity, of a moral law or law of nature which knows right from wrong. If we deny this, Bellamy argues, we must assume that the moral perfections of God are mere empty names having no intrinsic basis in reality and there would be nothing for God to love or hate considered as a moral agent. If there were no such moral law to which God owned His voluntary allegiance, then God would be a mere despot who commanded us merely to do what was his selfish will and not what is right. God’s rule is good because it is based on what is right and wrong irrespective of Himself. God’s goodness is shown in that He wills to do what is right and refuses to do what is wrong. If there were no right and wrong in the world apart from God, we would have no reason to love God and might just as well hate Him. God, the Follower of ‘the nature and fitness of things’ gave man the Mosaic law and the gospel to help him follow in His footsteps.

His view of the law

     The will of God expressed in His revealed law is therefore a reflection of the external law. God recognises in Himself that he understands the moral law and that the perfections of His nature stem from His always knowing what is morally fit and proper. He therefore naturally and logically expects His creation to be willingly governed by the same law. It is absurd, Bellamy argues, to feel we ought to love God merely because He says we must! We love God because we see in Him the realisation of a life doing what is fit and proper.  He concludes:

“From all which, it is evident, to demonstration, that right and wrong do neither result from the mere will and law of God, nor from any tendency of things to promote or hinder the happiness of God’s creatures. It remains, therefore, that there is an intrinsic moral fitness and unfitness, absolutely, in things themselves; as that we should love the infinitely glorious God, is, in the nature of things, infinitely fit and right; and to hate and blaspheme him, is, in the nature of things, infinitely unfit and wrong; and that, antecedent to any consideration of advantage nor disadvantage, reward or punishment, or even of the will or law of God. And hence it is that God infinitely loves right and hates wrong, and appears so infinitely engaged to reward the none and punish the other. And hence his law and government are holy, just, and good: they are glorious; and in and by them the infinite glory of the divine nature shines forth. (Isa. vi.3. Rev. iv. 8. Rev. xix. 1-6.)”

     Not surprisingly, Bellamy sees the law of God as containing nothing foreign to man’s natural capacities. Obedience to the law is man’s natural way of coming into contact with the love of God displayed in the law as a presentation of all His moral perfections. God, Bellamy argues, who has created and governs the world and shown that He lives an absolutely morally ‘fit’ life, must clearly be loved for such provisions and characteristics. Bellamy will not entertain the idea that man is incapable of such a love as he equates fulfilling the law with demonstrating love to God and proudly tells his readers that, “All mankind are capable of perfect conformity to God’s law.” Thus if we refuse to exercise our natural ability to obey the law perfectly, we are judged guilty by God. We are not following His example in following the moral law. “If sinners were unable to exercise a right temper,” he tells us, “then the more sinful, the less guilty.” If anyone contradicts this, Bellamy argues, then he is saying man is not responsible for his actions and therefore cannot sin.

     All revealed law from God to man thus does not seek to reconcile man with God personally but seeks to have man play a morally right part in God’s government of the world according to the absolutes of ‘the nature and fitness of things.’ Thus Bellamy can say:

“As to all his (God’s) positive injunctions, they are evidently designed to promote a conformity to the moral law. And as to the moral law, it is originally founded upon the very reason and nature of things. The duties required therein are required originally, because they are right in themselves. And the sins forbidden are forbidden originally, because they are unfit and wrong in themselves. The intrinsic fitness of the things required, and the intrinsic unfitness of the things forbidden, was the original ground, reason, and foundation of the law.”

His view of man

     Although Bellamy often speaks of the vileness of man, this in no way reflects man’s capacities and abilities but solely his moral inclinations. All the powers Adam enjoyed before his fall are still at man’s disposal. Indeed, Bellamy sees man almost exclusively as a probationer Adam who has been given a second chance not to sin. In his opening words, Bellamy says:

“We are designed, by God our Maker, for an endless existence. In this present life we just enter upon being, and are in a state introductory to a never-ending duration in another world, where we are to be forever unspeakably happy or miserable, according to our present conduct. This is designed for a state of probation, and that for a state of rewards and punishments. We are now upon trial, and God’s eye is upon us every moment; and that picture of ourselves, which we exhibit in our conduct, the whole of it taken together, will give our proper character, and determine our state forever. This being designed for a state of trial, God now means to try us, that our conduct, under all the trials of life, my discover what we are, and ripen us for the day of judgment; when God will judge every man accord-ing to his works, and render to every one according to his doings. He does not intend, in the dispensations of his providence, to suit things to a state of ease and enjoyment, which is what this life is not designed for; but to a state of trial: He puts men into trying circumstances of set purpose, and, as it were, contrives methods to try them. One great end he has in view is, that he may prove them, and know what is in their hearts.”

The work of Christ

     Bellamy fails to present fully the Christ and the Holy Spirit of the Scriptures, though he is full of references to Christ’s death and the way the Spirit gives us rational light. Unlike Fuller, however, Bellamy does teach the necessity rather than the arbitrary nature of the atonement and that Christ placed Himself savingly under the law on our behalf. However, the ‘our’ includes both the elect and non-elect. Under the title Showing a Door of Mercy Opened by Jesus Christ for a Guilty World, Bellamy takes up the argument why all are not brought to salvation if Christ died for all. He answers that Christ purchased eternal life for all on the condition of faith. Asked if Christ had died in vain if He died for all because many are not saved, Bellamy answers:

“The next and immediate end of Christ’s death was to answer the ends of moral government, and so secure the honor of the moral Governor, and open a way in which he might honourably declare himself reconciled to a guilty world upon their returning through Christ, and use means to reclaim them; but this end Christ did obtain; and so did not die in vain.”

     This is followed by another repetition of Bellamy’s theory of the second-chance probationship of man after which he takes up the criticism that he is teaching rank Arminianism. This Bellamy denies, returning again to his basic teaching on the moral law. Arminians believe in turning to God, he explains, through an exercise of free will and their own goodness. This is false. Arminians show that they do not understand the moral law “but if their mistakes about the moral law might once be rectified, and they be brought really and heartily to approve it, as holy, just, and good, one principle source of all their errors would be dried up; and particularly their wrong notions about election and universal redemption.”

His view of the gospel

     Bellamy sees the work of the gospel in encouraging man to change his inclinations. It is a removing of rational and moral obstacles. As Fuller, Bellamy opposes the ransom doctrine of the atonement, or ‘the commercial view’ as he calls it. This is the doctrine of Antinomians, he argues, who have no right view of faith. Faith to Bellamy does not begin with the blotting out of sin but with an approval of the law of nature.’ Man knows what is right and wrong and must be shown the advantages of choosing right rather than wrong. He must approve of what is right. This he equates with the duty of sinners to repent and turn to God through Christ.” Faith has thus no relation whatsoever with the imputed righteousness of Christ or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer or a trust in the vicarious work of Christ or any of the traditional definitions but it is a mere ‘seeing the fitness of things.’ So, ideally speaking, there is nothing to stop anyone accepting the gospel and changing their inclinations. Thus Bellamy can say, “The non-elect have the same offer and the same ability as the elect, and are lost only by their own perverseness.” Bellamy still speaks in Calvinistic terms of the elect and the non-elect. His elect, however, are those who have learnt to love God as the living example of moral perfection according to the fitness of things. The non-elect can never say that they have not been given the same chance as, in the atonement, “God designed only to remove the obstacle in their way, on condition of faith.” In other words, both the elect and the non-elect have exactly the same chances of being saved, yet some are saved and not others thus “no non-elect is brought to glory.”

His view of conversion.

     Bellamy believes that when the gospel is preached, it awakens all men to a realisation of the loving perfections of God. This he likens to regeneration. But an awakened man is not a converted man. Man can reject the notion of God he has been given. The conditions of repentance and faith must be now obeyed and then justification, adoption and conversion ensue. Faith is not the hand that accepts and appropriates justification as Keach, Gill, Owen, Calvin, etc. taught but it is its cause and origin. Saving faith is thus a compliance with the gospel based on an approval of and conformity to the whole law. It is becoming as Adam was before his fall. Faith is the probationer at work passing the test!

Conclusion

     A recent work  has shown approvingly how Bellamy’s writings helped Fuller and his associates to escape from ‘false Calvinism’ and that Bellamy was Ryland Jun’s and Fuller’s favourite reading next to Edwards. We are also shown how Fuller’s own views very much corresponded to Bellamy’s as taught in his True Religion Delineated. Though we may rejoice that people flee from false Calvinism, the above brief account will show how far from a safe Calvinistic haven Bellamy’s views are and those who adopt them are taking spiritual poison. Bellamy’s probation view is unscriptural. The only probationer was Adam and our probation was in him as our federal head. The only place of probation was Eden where Adam fell and all his seed fell with him. Bellamy’s view of converted man as Adam restored is unscriptural as Adam was a natural man who would have kept his natural perfections in a natural environment had he not sinned. The believer is not placed back in natural Adam but is placed under the spiritual Headship of Christ. His future is an eternal spiritual inheritance in heaven not a perpetual natural sojourn on earth. Bellamy’s conception of God is unscriptural. God alone dwells immutably in eternity and all things exist by Him and He is not subject to any externals. Sin is any want of conformity to His will and not to an external codex, co-eternal with God. This view robs God of His uniqueness and thus His glory. Bellamy’s view of man is unscriptural because God’s will is not rationally but spiritually discerned, a thing impossible to fallen man. Man has not only lost the spiritual image of God but any natural image also. The fall has permeated and perverted his entire being. Bellamy’s view of Christ and His atonement is unscriptural as He views Christ’s entire work as merely opening a door to heaven rather than securing a place for the elect there. Bellamy’s view of conversion is unscriptural as it proceeds from man’s right use of his own inherent capacities and understanding of the law displayed in fulfilling conditions which reinstates him in God’s favour. In all this, the work of the Spirit is seen as an encouraging external conscience rather than the transformer from within. Where there is no true atonement, there can be no true conversion.