A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Hopkinsians

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HOPKINSIANS, or HOPKINTONIANS, so called from the Rev. Samuel Hopkins, D. D. pastor of the first congregational church at Newport: who in his sermons and tracts has made several additions to the sentiments first advanced by the celebrated Jonathan Edwards, late president of New Jersey college.

The following is a summary of their distinguishing tenets, with a few of the reasons by which they are supported.

I. That all true virtue, or real holiness, consists in disinterested benevolence. The object of benevolence is universal being, including God and all intelligent creatures. It wishes and seeks the good of every individual, so far as is consistent with the greatest good of the whole, which is comprised in the glory of God, and the perfection and happiness of his kingdom. The law of God is the standard of all moral rectitude, or holiness. This is reduced into love to God, and to our neighbour: and universal good-will comprehends all the love to God, our neighbour, and ourselves, required in the divine law; and therefore must be the whole of holy obedience. Let any person reflect on what are the particular branches of true piety; and he will find that disinterested affection is the distinguishing characteristic of each. For instance: all which distinguishes pious fear from the fear of the wicked, consists in love. Holy gratitude is nothing but good will to God and man, ourselves included, excited by a view of the good will and kindness of God. Justice, truth, and faithfulness are comprised in universal benevolence; so are temperance and chastity: for an undue indulgence of our appetites and passions is contrary to benevolence, as tending to hurt ourselves or others; and so opposite to the general good and the divine command. In short, all virtue is nothing but love to God and our neighbour, made perfect in all its genuine exercises and expressions.

II. That all sin consists in selfishness. By this is meant an interested affection, by which a person sets himself up as the supreme, or only object of regard; and nothing is lovely in his view, unless suited to promote his private interest. This self-love is, every degree of it, enmity against God: it is not subject to the law of God, and is the only affection that can oppose it. It is the foundation of all spiritual blindness, and the source of all idolatry and false religion. It is the foundation of all covetousness and sensuality; of all falsehood, injustice, and oppression; as it excites mankind, by undue methods, to invade the property of others. Self-love produces all the violent passions; envy, wrath, clamour, and evil speaking: and every thing contrary to the divine law, is briefly comprehended in this fruitful source of iniquity, self-love.

III. That there are no promises of regenerating grace made to the actions of the unregenerate. For as far as men act from self-love, they act for a bad end: for those, who have no true love to God, really fulfil no duty when they attend on the externals of religion.[1]

IV. That the impotency of sinners, with respect to believing in Christ, is not natural, but moral: for it is a plain dictate of common sense, that natural impossibility excludes all blame. But an unwilling mind is universally considered as a crime, and not as an excuse; and is the very thing wherein our wickedness consists.

V. That, in order to faith in Christ, a sinner must approve in his heart of the divine conduct, even though God should cast him off forever; which however neither implies love to misery, nor hatred of happiness.[2] For if the law is good, death is due to those who have broken it; and the judge of all the earth cannot but do right. Gen. xviii. 25. It would bring everlasting reproach upon his government to spare us, considered merely as in ourselves. When this is felt in our hearts, and not till then, we shall be prepared to look to the free grace of God, through Christ's redemption.

VI. That the infinitely wise and holy God has exerted his omnipotent power, in such a manner as he purposed should be followed with the existence and entrance of moral evil in the system. For it must be admitted on all hands, that God has a perfect knowledge, foresight, and view of all possible existences and events. If that system and scene of operation, in which moral evil should never have existence, was actually preferred in the divine mind, certainly the Deity is infinitely disappointed in the issue of his own operations.

VII. That the introduction of sin is, upon the whole, for the general good. For the wisdom and power of the Deity are displayed in carrying on designs of the greatest good: and the existence of moral evil has, undoubtedly, occasioned a more full, perfect, and glorious discovery of the infinite perfections of the divine nature, than Could otherwise have been made to the view of creatures.

VIII. That repentance is before faith in Christ. By this is not intended, that repentance is before a speculative belief of the being and perfections of God and of the person and character of Christ; but only, that true repentance is previous to 'a Saving faith in Christ, in which the believer is united to Christ, and entitled to the benefits of his mediation and atonement. So Christ commanded, Repent ye, and believe the gospel; and Paul preached repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. Mark i. 15. Acts xx. 21.

IX. That, though men became sinners by Adam, according to a divine constitution, yet they were, and are accountable for no sins but personal; for (1.) Adam's act, in eating the forbidden fruit, was not the act of his posterity; therefore they did not sin at the same time he did. (2.) The sinfulness of that act could not be transferred to them afterwards: because the sinfulness of an act can no more be transferred from one person to another, than an act itself. (3.) Therefore Adam's act, in eating the forbidden fruit was not the cause, but only the occasion of his posterity's being sinners. Adam sinned, and how God brings his posterity into the world sinners.

X. That though believers are justified through Christ's righteousness, yet his righteousness is not transferred to them. For personal righteousness cannot be transferred from one person to another, nor personal sin, otherwise the sinner would become innocent and Christ the sinner. (See Crispians.) The scripture, therefore, represents believers as receiving only the benefits of Christ's righteousness in justification, or their being pardoned and accepted for Christ's righteousness' sake: and this is the proper scripture notion of imputation. Jonathan's righteousness was imputed to Mephibosbeth, when David showed kindness to him for his father Jonathan's sake. 2 Sam. ix. 7.

The Hopkinsians warmly advocate the doctrine of the divine decrees, that of particular election, total depravity, the special influences of the spirit of God in regeneration, justification by faith alone, the final perseverance of the saints, and the consistency between entire freedom and absolute dependence; and therefore claim it as their just due, since the world will make distinctions, to be called Hopkinsian Calvinists.[3]

In this place it may be proper to notice the difference between Calvnists and Hopkinsians, which consists in the following particulars: Firstly, on the origin of sin. Secondly, on the consequences of Adam's sin. Thirdly, on the nature and character of virtue or holiness. Fourthly, on the nature of sin. Fifthly, on the nature and extent of the atonement. Sixthly, on the effects of divine influences. Seventhly, on justification. Eighthly, on the christian graces.

Firstly, on the origin of sin. Calvinists, though they maintain, that "God hath decreed whatsoever comes to pass;" yet deny that he is the efficient author of sin;—but the Hopkinsians assert, that God is the efficacious cause of all volitions in the human heart, whether good or evil.[4]

Secondly, on the consequences of Adam's sin. The Calvinists maintain, that "All mankind sinned in and fell with Adam, in his first transgression;" the Hopkinsians assert, that Adam alone was guilty of original sin; that guilt is a personal thing, and can no more be transferred than action. Calvinists[5] maintain, that mankind, since the fall, labour under a natural or physical incapacity to obey God;—but the Hopkinsians suppose, that total depravity consists in the opposition of the heart or will, to do what they are really able to perform; which they call moral inability.

Thirdly, on the nature and character of virtue or holiness. Calvinists maintain,that holiness in a moral agent consists in the conformity of the whole being to the will of God. The Hopkinsians assert, that holiness in a moral agent consists exclusively in disinterested benevolence, and that those who love God for what he is, abstractedly considered, will be willing[6] to sacrifice their temporal and eternal interest for the glory of God, and the greater good of the whole. Calvinists maintain, that love to God originates from a sense of his goodness to us in particular, as well as from a consideration of the perfections of his nature; and deny that love to God implies in any circumstances a willingness to be eternally condemned.

Fourthly, on the nature of sin. Calvinists define sin to be,"any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God" The Hopkinsians assert, that sin consists exclusively in selfish moral exercises.

Fifthly, on the extent and nature of the atonement. Many of the Calvinists maintain that Jesus Christ, by his death and sufferings, made an atonement for the sins of the elect only. The Hopkinsians assert, that the atonement was coextensive with the effects of the fall; and that Christ died not for a select number only, but for all mankind; they suppose, however, that though by the atonement[7] a way was opened for all, yet none but those who were elected to eternal life will be saved.

The Calvinists maintain that Christ was substituted for the elect, to obey and suffer in their stead, and was by imputation legally guilty, and that God cannot consistently with his justice, refuse to pardon those, whom Christ has ransomed by undergoing the penalty due to their sins. On the other hand, the Hopkinsians assert, that the atonement differs essentially from all notions of debt and credit, and is simply an exhibition of God's hatred to sin, and regard to his holy law. By the atonement, a way is opened for the great governour of the world, consistently to bestow or withhold mercy as should most effectually answer the purposes of divine goodness.

Sixthly, on the effects of divine influences. The Calvinists maintain that "effectual calling is the work of God's spirit, whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. The Hopkinsians assert, that "effectual calling consists in God's creating in the hearts of sinners, by his own immediate energy, a willingness to be saved." They teach, that all God performs by his holy spirit is to make them willing to do, what they are really able to do before.

The Calvinists maintain, that the best actions of good men are blended with imperfection , but some of the most eminent of the Hopkinsian divines teach that every moral exercise of a renewed person, is either perfectly good or perfectly evil.[8]

Seventhly, on justification. The Calvinists maintain, that "justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone." The Hopkinsians teach that, though the righteousness of Christ is the only ground of a sinner's justification, his righteousness is not transferred to them. According to their system, neither sin nor holiness can be transferred, either from Adam to his posterity, or from Christ to his people.

Eighthly, on the Christian graces. The Calvinists maintain, that true faith in Christ is the beginning of spiritual life, and the foundation of all the other christian graces. The Hopkinsians assert, that repentance is previous to faith; and that love comprehends in its essence all the christian graces.

The reader may compare the standard works of the Calvinists and Hopkinsians, from which the general collective sentiments of each denomination may be known. There are so many shades of difference between Calvinists and Hopkinsians; and Hopkinsians differ so much among themselves, that it is next to impossible to draw the line between them, so as to do perfect justice to all.

Those who wish to see a more detailed account of the real and verbal differences between Calvinists and Hopkinsians, may consult Ely's Contrast, Wilson's Letters to Ely, the Triangle, a Series of Numbers upon Three Theological Points, &c. published at New York, 1816— 1817, and Wilson on the atonement, published at Philadelphia, 1817.

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. The author of the moral Disquisitions, while comparing Hopkinsian-Calvinists with real Calvinists, has this inference: "It is evident that Hopkinsian sentiments are only the genuine, flourishing, and fruitful branches of the calvinistic tree: for the Hopkinsians plead that there is no duty in the actions of sinners, because they are totally depraved. The broad foundation, which supports our ample superstructure, was long since deeply and firmly laid in the first principles of Calvinism. To support our theory we need no first principles, except those which Calvinists have adopted and improved against Pelagians and Arminians." Bee Spring's moral Disquisitions, p. 40.
  2. "As a particle of water is small, in comparison of a generous stream, so the man of humility feels small before the great family of his fellow-creatures. He values his soul; but when he compares it to the great soul of mankind, he almost forgets and loses sight of it: for the governing principle of his heart is to estimate things according to their worth. When, therefore, he indulges a humble comparison with his Maker, he feels lost in the infinite fulness and brightness of divine love, as a ray of light is lost in the sun, and a particle of water in the ocean. It inspires him with the most grateful feelings of heart, that he has opportunity to be in the hand of God, as clay in the hand of the potter; and as he considers himself in this humble light, he submits the nature and size of his future vessel entirely to God. As his pride is lost in the dust, he looks up with pleasure towards the throne of God, and rejoices with all his heart in the rectitude of the divine administration."
  3. Hopkins on Holiness, p. 7—202. Edwards on the Will, p 234—289. Bellamy's True Religion Delineated, p. 16. Edwards on the Nature of True Virtue. Bellamy's Dialogues, p. 185. West's Essays on Moral Agency, p. 170—181. Spring's Nature of Duty, p. 23. Moral Disquisitions, p. 40. Manuscript by Dr. Emmons.
  4. Dr. Hopkins says, that "God is as much the author of sinful, as of holy volitions, and that the professed Calvinist, who denies this, is not so consistent with himself as the Arminian" See Hopkins' System, vol. i. p. 197.
  5. Some who call themselves Calvinists maintain with the Hopkinsians, that the inability of sinners is of a moral nature.
  6. The willingness Hopkinsians contend for, ir restricted to those moments, while as yet the regenerate man has no certain evidence that hi is a christian, or that God will save him.
  7. The Hopkinsians say, that "atonement and redemption are widely different in their nature and effects: the former sets open the door of mercy, the latter applies the benefits of Christ." See the Triangle, p. 62
  8. This doctrine is not held universally among the Hopkinsians; but it is advocated by Dr. Emmons and Dr. Strong.