Banner of Truth Trust, £11:50


A long hoped-for sign from the Banner of Truth

     New Divinity, alias New England theology, modified Calvinism radically. Its adherents, termed Edwardeans, took the go-ahead from Jonathan Edwards, hence their nick-name. However, they drew conclusions from Edward’s highly philosophical view of man, that were wildly speculative. This was particularly the case regarding man’s supposed ‘natural’ and ‘moral’ attributes. Joseph Bellamy (1719-90), Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803), Jonathan Edwards Jr. (1745-1801), Nathaniel Emmons (1745-1801) and Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) popularised themselves with such catch-phrases as ‘true religion delineated’; ‘God heartily invites all’; ‘divine efficiency’; and ‘disinterested benevolence’. They were notorious for denying penal substitution; imputation and the inability of man to exercise faith savingly, stressing the need for human agency in appropriating God’s provisions in salvation. Their American contenders claimed that nothing was lacking in man but his choice of God to make him holy. The English branch, under Andrew Fuller, claimed that all man needed to do was to forget his sin and love Christ. Fuller’s work The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation is a rehash of New Divinity teaching, incorporating Joseph Bellamy’s ideas of law-duties being practised to develop a love for God and win faith in Christ.

     As the Banner of Truth in recent years has come down four-square on the Fullerite side, introducing him as a great theologian, worthy of all acceptance, and thus identified themselves with the New Divinity position, it is high time we had a more sober and balanced assessment from the movement which has otherwise played such a positive role in promoting sound theology since the late 1950s. It was thus with eager anticipation that this reviewer turned to the BOT’s new publication, Princeton versus The New Divinity. This anticipation was all the greater after reading the Banner’s other ‘versus’ book, Spurgeon versus Hyper-Calvinism which gave a most lop-sided account of both sides and turned many readers against Spurgeon and made Hyper-Calvinism more attractive for others. 

No thorough examination or modern application

     The book under review is a selection of articles published between 1830-42 at Princeton in the Biblical Repertory and Theological Review. As the New Divinity controversy has returned, readers will look for an up-to-date application in the Publisher’s Introduction which affirms that “the time is now ripe for a re-examination of the thinking”. Sadly, the Introduction does not define New Divinity teaching so we are left in the dark as to its radical nature which split the North American Presbyterian movement and later the Particular Baptists on both sides of the Atlantic. Sadly, too, in spite of the title, several of the articles do not deal with the problem of defining, analysing and refuting New Divinity teaching at all and others merely mention something of the movement, without naming it, in passing. The main studies actually deal with Oberlin Theology and not New Divinity from which it partly developed.


Eight essays by renowned men

     The book features two essays by Charles Hodge (1830 and 1832) entitled Regeneration and The New Divinity Trend. There are three essays by Archibald Alexander two given in 1830, and one in 1831. These are entitled respectively, The Early History of PelagianismOriginal Sin; and The Inability of Sinners. Albert Dod provides a paper written in 1835 entitled On Revivals of Religion; John Woodbridge’s paper on Sanctification written in 1842 follows Dod and the book ends with an article by Thomas Cleland given in 1834 on Bodily Effects of Religious Excitements.

Hodge on Regeneration

     Hodge’s first essay reviews Samuel H. Cox’s sermon Regeneration and the Manner of Its Occurrence. Cox was one of the milder and less scholarly New Divinity theologians, well-known for his hackneyed phrases and addressing God in public prayer with rather meaningless Latin clichés. Surprisingly Hodge repeatedly emphasises that he agrees with Bellamy, Dwight and Cox on issues where this reviewer would highly disagree because of their New Divinity content. Indeed, Cox is rebuked by Hodge for criticising old Calvinists’ doctrine which “do not diverge one tittle” from Cox’s own. Hodge even claims himself that “there is no difference in the world” between the two parties.

     Hodge apologises three times for not coming to the point and, indeed, 45 pages pass with less than three to go before Hodge puts his finger on a most important error in New Divinity teaching. He points out that the New Divinity theory of the interaction in regeneration between man’s ability and God’s provision “throws the Spirit’s influence almost entirely out of view”. He continues “According to their views, regeneration consists in the choice of God as the supreme portion of the soul. This requires that the soul should view him as supremely desirable. This the sinner is not only naturally, but morally able to do; for his corruption does not blind him to the excellence of holiness or its adaptedness to promote happiness. To secure this happiness is the only impulse or motive necessary to make this choice, and he is urged to make it, assured that if he will summon all his powers to the effort, the result, by the grace of God, may follow.” Thus the sinner is the only agent brought to view in regeneration. Therefore in New Divinity teaching, human agency takes over from the agency of the Spirit. Thus Cox can argue that man is not passive in regeneration. Wrong, says Hodge, man is passive in the Spirit’s work of regeneration but is active in repenting, believing, hoping and fearing as a result of it. In spite of Cox’s crucial departure from Biblical theology, Hodge concludes on the same ambivalent note that he has held all through his article. He is convinced that in principle Cox is orthodox. Cox’s weakness, Hodge claims, is that he caricatures the way in which the ‘vast majority’ of Calvinists represent the doctrines of grace and that he even seems to “advocate a principle which we fear is subversive of them all.”


Alexander on Pelagianism, original sin and human inability

     Alexander’s three papers reveal the major weakness of the book. Readers are given no introductory information as to why these essays have been chosen and what light they may throw on the New Divinity problem. A skilled editor could have explained how essential a right view of sin is to a right view of salvation and how the New Divinity people erred in both. Alexander’s essays would thus become meaningful and helpful but the reader is left wondering what the subject matter has to do with the book title. In the first essay on early Pelagianism, there is nothing remotely connected with a refutation of New Divinity teaching apart from a very brief and most veiled reference that just as Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin, so some of Alexander’s contemporary Calvinists (unnamed and unspecified) also denied that Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity.

     In his next article on Original Sin, the author outlines the doctrine as held by some Reformers and their opponents, but does not apply it to New Divinity teaching. Alexander’s third paper on The Inability of Sinners starts with a defence of Jonathan Edwards Sen, philosophical division of natural and moral abilities against European theology which stressed the total inability of man in salvation. Alexander accepts the European view but believes that, “where the distinction has been opposed as false, or as tending to the introduction of false doctrine, it has been misrepresented.” Alexander thus concludes that the distinction is ‘self-evident truth’. Again, as in the case of Hodge, one wonders on whose side the writer is. He merely speaks of those who disagree with the distinction as being wrong but not those, such as the New Divinity people who adhere stringently to it. If it was Alexander’s intention to refute New Divinity teaching, as the Publisher’s maintain, Alexander should have explained briefly New Divinity’s high views of man’s abilities before arguing that man is unable to take any initiative in salvation.

     Slowly, one versed in New Divinity theology, might guess what Alexander’s intention is. He wishes to counteract “some preachers’” teaching that if a man is totally fallen, totally dead in trespasses and sins, he can be under no obligation to repent and believe because God would never demand of man what he cannot do. We note that even here Alexander does not refer to the New Divinity school whose view this is. Alexander shows, after much philosophical deliberation that his fallen state “does not render man excusable; yet it does render his unassisted efforts ineffectual.” He also denies that a command of God automatically presupposes the existence of an ability to perform the act and states that it is impossible for a sinner to change his own heart. This is all good teaching, if one has the patience to separate the Biblical truths from Alexander’s copious wrapping of dialectical philosophy.

     As Hodge, Alexander gets down to solid Scriptural argument towards the end of his essay. These men appear to believe that a doctrine must be argued through logically before it is pronounced upon Scripturally. Also, like Hodge, Alexander sees the teaching he is criticising as against the Biblical doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit, indeed, of the entire Trinity, and argues in the words of Scripture that any sufficiency he has is of the Lord. No man can come to the Father unless he is drawn and it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth but of God that showeth mercy.

Hodge on a review of a review of a review

     Hodge’s second article, The New Divinity Tried has a complicated history. In 1831, Charles Finney preached on making a new heart based on Ezekiel 18:13. Notes on this were made and published by a Mr Rand who was criticised by Finney’s friends for his imperfect presentation. Rand thus brought out a more complete version and published a further review which was, in turn, reviewed by an anonymous writer, which was then reviewed by Hodge. One wonders why Hodge adopted this round about way of analysing New Divinity instead of going straight to the sources. Scholars are fairly unanimous that Charles Finney and Asa Mahan developed New Divinity into its ‘Oberlin Theology’ away from the teaching of New Divinity pioneers such as Bellamy, Hopkins, Dwight and Edwards Jr.. Thus, if Hodge wanted to refute New Divinity teaching, it would have been wiser to tackle the old errors rather than the new developments. The fact that Hodge defines New Divinity as Finneyism allows a number of New Divinity men mentioned positively in these essays, who disagreed with Finney, to appear as if they were orthodox. Amusingly enough, Hodge criticises the anonymous reviewer for not giving “a clear and bold statement of the distinguishing principles of the New Divinity and a frank avowal of dissent” and for ‘mincing matters’ and for ‘claiming to agree with everybody’, features very much Hodge’s own.

     The main thrust of Hodge’s criticism is against the idea that God’s commands prove that man is able naturally and morally to follow them. He also denies that man can choose to be righteous before he is righteous. What angers Hodge the most is that Jonathan Edwards is being quoted as the originator of Finneyite teaching. However, any attempt to discuss the philosophical distinction between ‘moral’ and ‘natural’, leaves Hodge dealing in abstract philosophical, not concrete Scriptural, terms, which is hardly helpful in evangelism. Furthermore, the fact that Edwards Sen. recommended Bellamy’s True Religion Deliniated as displaying “the proper essence and distinguishing nature of saving religion”, though the work affirms that all post-fall men are fully capable of keeping all God’s laws, cannot exonerate Edwards from all blame in helping New Divinity flights of imagination take off. Furthermore, Hodge glides higgledy-piggledy in his argumentation from criticising Finney to Finney’s friends and then from the anonymous reviewer to Rand, at times agreeing, at times disagreeing, so that one can hardly separate friend from foe. Furthermore, Hodge often quotes New Divinity men such as Taylor and especially Dwight as agreeing with him and refers to “the honourable course” of Cox, which confuses the issue all the more. Again, Hodge accuses the reviewer of metaphysics in his discussion of will, heart, purpose, volition etc. but the reader looks for a Biblical discussion here in vain. Hodge’s metaphysical rebuttal of the metaphysical is still metaphysical. When all Hodge’s philosophising is wept aside, he appears to be saying that Finney is wrong when he says that a changing of the heart is just the same as altering one’s purpose. God only can do the former though man, in a highly restricted way, may be able to do the latter.

Dod on revivals of religion

     Albert Dod sees the New Divinity movement as a mixture of error and heresy and fears its true character is little known. He then turns to Charles Finney’s Lectures on Revivals for examples of this error and heresy, seeing Finney as taking a lone position, both in his use of slang in the pulpit and views of creating a new heart; why sinners hate God and total depravity etc.. Much of Dod’s further criticism regarding the new heart is a repeat of Hodge. New is that Finney is presented as the sole source of New Divinity. Dod also tackles Finney on the moral governmental issue of the atonement pioneered by the Dutchman Hugo Grotius. According to this teaching, God does not create redemption by Christ’s substitutionary death, penal atonement and electing love but by morally persuading the sinner to leave his sin and go God’s way. Also there is the secondary idea that as God has done so much for the sinner, he is duty bound to do something for God. Dod touches on Finney’s weak teaching of the Holy Spirit in conversion where He is merely seen as informing the mind rather than drawing the sinner to salvation. Dod also challenges Finney’s view that in order to impress a person to change his heart one must create in him “a state of things, in which it is impossible for God or man to promote religion but by powerful excitements.” Sadly, however, instead of saying simply, thus saith the Lord, Dod discusses at length such topics as “the moral character of mental dispositions”, thus abstracting the problems from the real life of pulpit preaching and Christian witness.


Woodbridge on sanctification

     Woodbridge’s article is a review of W. D. Snodgrass’ The Scriptural Doctrine of Sanctification Stated and Defended against the Error of Perfectionism. This is also a reaction to Oberlin Theology which claims, in the words of Mahan, “that perfection in holiness implies a full and perfect discharge of our entire duty, of all existing obligations in respect of God and call other beings. It is perfect obedience to the moral law.” Now reader’s will see where the legalist idea of duty-faith comes from – seeing perfect faith developing from a perfect fulfilling of duty. Mahan goes on to say that such perfection is possible and some have gained it. Here we see John Wesley looking over Mahan’s shoulder! Woodbridge argues that this is the doctrine of self-sufficiency as entirely opposed to the Biblical doctrine that our sufficiency is of God and in God. At the same time Woodbridge warns against Antinomian indolence which teaches that after rolling our burden on Christ, we may act as we feel best supports our well-being.

Cleland on religious excitement

     Chapter Eight presents Thomas Cleland on Bodily Effects of Religious Excitement. However, the ‘bodily effects’ presented in the course of the paper are such as were evidenced in various denominations and evangelistic enterprises all over the world. We look for specific New Divinity teaching in vain. Presumably the editors have added this most interesting article to combat the Finneyite stress on ‘excitement’. Cleland lists seven conclusions seeing such outbursts as revealing unknown areas in human nature; irregular action of the nervous system; counterfeit of true religion; the necessity of discrimination; error leading astray; real nervous diseases are obviously present and such excitements discredit religion and should be discouraged. There is no attempt in the article to give Scriptural teaching on religious excitement.

Summing up

     In conclusion, several questions rise in the mind of this reviewer. Why does a British publisher set the scene of New Divinity errors in North America alone when they had been rampant in Britain for half a century before the articles were written and which had, in turn, influenced the USA so strongly that Americans by 1830 were naming their children and Indian semi-slaves after British New Divinity evangelists? Is it easier to clean other people’s doorsteps? If the Banner wanted a clear, scholarly, Biblical and readable Princeton account of New Divinity theology, why did they not include Benjamin Warfield essays? Is this because Warfield attacks New Divinity teaching at its roots and the Banner’s selection at its outer branches? This leads to the question why the Banner has shifted the New Divinity accent from the original Edwards, Bellamy, Dwight, Hopkins and Fuller team to the later extravagances of Finney? Is this because they ally themselves with basic New Divinity teaching, though not with its later manifestations in Oberlin Theology? It would appear so. During the last 12-15 years, Banner publications have defended Andrew Fuller’s theology vigorously and closed their eyes totally to his New Divinity and Latitudinarian criticism of most basic Christian doctrines. Though he has rarely been quoted at length in Banner works, his name has been repeatedly dropped as a shield whenever the Banner has been attacked. The Banner has continually used Fuller as a buffer to ward off the theology of those who laid, in their opinion, too strong an emphasis on the doctrines of grace such as Anglican Romaine, Baptist Gill and Independent Huntington. This has not gone unnoticed and the Banner of Truth Trust has been identified closely with New Divinity teaching in recent years on both sides of the Atlantic. Now that New Divinity teaching has become theologically inacceptable, is the Banner seeking to kill two birds with one stone and ward off the New Divinity shadow that hangs over them by claiming that they are not Finneyites but yet keep Andrew Fuller as their theological model? Again, this would seem so. This rather Jesuitic approach, however is bound to fail as with the critical growth in knowledge of true New Divinity errors, criticism of Fullerism must of necessity follow. Though the Banner have vociferously defended Fuller’s theology in recent years, a comparison with what Hodge, Alexander, Dod and Woodbridge has to say about New Divinity and Oberlin Theology proves that Fuller is a close adherent of both position, bar Finney’s ‘excitement’.


English New Divinity teaching

     In his book The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, Fuller clearly teaches that a man can and must choose righteousness before he is righteous. The initial call of God as illustrated by Isaiah 55:1-7 is to the “natural desire for happiness which God has implanted in every bosom” (Works, vol. 2, p. 344.). Saving faith, he tells us, is the duty of the unconverted (ibid. p. 343 ff.). Fuller teaches that God would not command a soul to repent if he were dead and deaf to that command as this would excuse the man his obligations (Ibid, p. 355.). He claims that man is not totally depraved (Ibid, p.378; 438), and that preaching is to tell man to forget his resistance against God and love Him with all his heart as if he had never apostatised (p. 375). This became Finney’s theme a generation later. Equally with Oberlin and New Divinity teaching, Fuller has a low view of the Holy Spirit, seeing His influence on the mind alone which sponsors ‘inferences’ which help to turn the heart and point the sinner to fulfilling the law. See Fuller’s sermon The Inward Witness of the Spirit where Fuller gives ‘inward’ a new meaning as he also does to terms like substitution, penal, imputation etc. etc.. Fuller agrees fully with New Divinity teaching that there was no penal sacrifice necessary for Christ and no true redemption i.e. payment of a price (p. 373 and passim) Fuller also argues that Adam’s natural righteousness and that of the believer are the same (p. 370). Indeed, Fuller teaches the Restitution (back to Adam) theory which denies the need of a substitutionary atonement. In this, Fuller accepts the moral governmental theory of the New England schools, denying that Christ suffered under the law and its penalties for our sakes (pp. 688-689). Fuller also rejects with New Divinity-Oberlin the doctrine of imputation (pp. 680 ff; 702 ff. For this, Abraham Booth pronounced Fuller ‘lost’. Like the American schools, Fuller rejects the Biblical doctrine of Divine sovereignty in justification, but views the justified state not in the mind of God and his decrees but in man’s grasping out and taking what is indiscriminately laid out in the ‘free offer’ (vol. 1. pp. 17-18; vol. 2. p. 338). All this is in keeping with New Divinity-Oberlin teaching that fulfilling the law is accepting the gospel and exercising saving faith (vol. 2. pp. 486-487).

     It thus becomes obvious that in publishing this book, the Banner of Truth has made a brave start in jumping over its own shadow but this must be followed by a crystal clear statement that they have rejected not only Finneyism but all the errors that led up to it, including the New Divinity sand on which Fullerism and therefore the Banner of Truth’s own theology is built.