Jane Attwater to Mary Steele, c. March 1779.
Excuse me my valued Friend for taking the liberty to address you on a Subject yt I have lately heard has been much on your Mind & has consequently I suppose involved you in many Intricacies of thought – A Subject wch has been by many debated & yet ye Inquisitive Mind has been still left in ye dark at least Meridian Light has not shone & perfectly dispersed ye shades by any human performance. ’Tis not with a thought of removing yr scruples yt I now undertake this task but only to offer you a few of my sentiments on this point, I mean on Election. Conscious of my Inability I by no means pretend to controversy I think controversial topicks ought to be avoided as much as possible as they seldom promote real Edification but when our thoughts turn on such topicks we are fond of hearing others opinions on ym & when difficulties arise to see ye way in wch others has escaped out of ym – I would advise my young Friend not to think too much of this doctrine – Many perhaps may be good disputants & bad Christians – Many may contend for Victory more yn for Truth. Let all Names & party zeal be intirely laid aside, let us take ye Bible for our guide & impartially search after truth – adhere to ye doctrines duties & precepts there recommended by our blessed Lord. Search the Scriptures for in ym is eternal Life – be this our Rule of Faith & practice & whatever divine truths our degenerated Reason cannot rightly digest let us adore yt God whose thoughts & ways are so far above our poor ignorant finite Conceptions! Shall we attempt to scan Infinity? No – enough is revealed clearly for our Salvation & whatever mysteries or secret things there are wch mortality cannot comprehend. Let us leave ym to God for such belongs to Him.
I submit ye following reasoning’s with myself to your judgment & beg yr candor & patience – whilst I recite some wch has appeared plain to me – I profess to & I hope I do believe the Scriptures the Sacred Word of God altogether as it is without detaching some texts & omitting others & if so (according to my views of truth) I dare not deny this doctrine so plainly revealed in so many parts of divine writ – (’tis true I have not had Election so much on my thoughts as some has for wch I hope I am thankfull but – the Active powers of ye mind will be making researches often times into this as well as other difficulties). I am conscious that humane Reason will raise many objections to it but are there not other things recorded in ye word of God wch is far beyond our Comprehensions? At least I must own yt my weak mind cannot develop many Glorious truths wch I believe not only assent to but to wch I cheerfully consent.
This amongst others I cannot pretend or presume to explain as to its various consequences tho’ scripture & experience bids me believe it. I have thought that we can’t pretend to assert yt ye Incomprehensible Infinite & Omniscient God whom we serve does not know things yt are to come as well as those that are past. If we deny ye foreknowledge of our Creator in whom we live move & have our being we make ourselves Equal with God or at least greatly derogates from his Glory – if we own yt God foreknows all things – we must of Necessity own that future events must have been appointed to be – Otherwise there would be no foreknowledge of ym for we cannot know & uncertainty &c &c.
My Reason yn suggests if ye Almighty has predestinated all yt is to be how are Mortals accountable for sin? – or what justice can there be in ye condemnation of sinners? – We know by Experience yt God has given us all privileges more yn we do well improve – we likewise know yt he has given us more power yn we use for his Glory & our good – we are conscious that we have not done what was in our power to do as to fullfilling ye commands of God – is not yn ye Condemnation of a Sinner just? “has a Creditor no right to require his money because ye debtor has foolishly squandered it away”? If God has power to command wch right I cannot deny he has yn a right to punish his creatures for disobeying his righteous precepts – we shall not be condemned for want of what we have not received but for a misimprovement of what we have – a slighting dispising those offers wch were made us – Let this thought silence every Objection – the Lord is just & Righteous in all his ways – the Lord our God is a Sovereign Holy being who has a right to dispose of all things as he please. Truth Justice Faithfulness Holiness Mercy & Love with every glorious perfection – dwells in our unchangeable Jehovah – Who does whatsoever he pleases in ye Armies of Heaven above & amongst ye children of men beneath – & shall not ye judge of ye whole Earth do right? – peace all my rebellious surmises – avaunt thou suggester of Errors – Yes Him whom my Soul adores whose Infinite perfections whose Incomprehensible Nature is above frail Mortality fully to explore is just & righteous tho’ every one of my fellow atoms with myself may be accounted false yet God is true.
In what way He predestinates as to ye minute or particular methods in every respect – or in what way God permits sinners to remain in a natural state – what are the Almighty’s secret & unerring reasons for the various dispensations of providence & grace – is not for us to pry into – “Secret things belong to God” – I am ready to believe that ye many various opinions wch there are of this as well as other doctrines (amongst good people I mean) that ye difference consists chiefly in words &c I look forward to that happy period when all those distinctions shall forever cease – All Christians those who are really such own ye word of God as our guide to Eternal Glory if we believe obey & receive this word in our health practise it in our lives following its dictates it will if divinely blest to us shew us our state by Nature, our Necessity of Christ as a Saviour, his Suitableness & willingness to save repenting sinners – it will shew us our Inability to come of ourselves “yt it is God yt worketh in us to will & to do &c” – Our Experience will answer to those truths we shall under Conviction of sin come to God for Repentance unto Life for Saving Faith in Jesus – as these with every other good Gift cometh down from ye Father of Lights & in the sacred records we behold Jesus set forth as the only Saviour – & those who are inabled to humbly seek salvation thro’ Him we are assured shall in “no wise be cast out” this my Friend is enough to encourage you & all that sincerely desire salvation by Christ to come rely on ye gracious promises accept those kind Invitations with wch the holy Scriptures are enriched – & leave mysterious things to be fully known wn “that wch is perfect is come” – After we have had a sight of our State by Nature & are favored with any hope yt God has delivered us from it we shall then press forward for a greater Likeness to our Glorious Redeemer for a greater Conformity to him who we hope has done so much for us – Christ is set forth to us as a propitiation for our sins – for our purification & Righteousness before God & grateful Love wch must certainly accompany true Grace will make us very earnest that we might be thoroughly sanctified & enabled to keep his commands whose great & unmerited favors call for our highest Love & most cheerful Obedience. The Beauty & Excellency wch we view in our blessed Lord will make us fervent in our desire here also for our Satisfaction Comfort & happiness we shall be led to see ye Utility of yt command & to be dilligent in striving to obey it. Viz: “Use all dilligence to make yr calling & Election sure” wch certainly includes a caution against doing any thing to darken our Evidences for heaven or to grieve ye holy Spirit of God. We know yt we cannot (if we go on in a course of willfull sin) expect Communications of ye holy Spirit or yt he will deign to witness with our spirits that we are ye Children of God – We cannot serve two masters. It is therefore very absurd to say Election leads to Licentiousness for it is contrary to ye nature of true Grace to admit of ye least sin with any degree of Approbation as opposite as anything yt thought can suggest – those who abuse this Doctrine so much as tender ye sanction of it to live in any known Sin allowing ymselves in it cannot love God who is perfectly holy consequently without Holiness no one shall see ye Lord
But not to dwell longer on subjects wch has been so well discuss’d not longer to call yr attention fm yt best of Books I mean ye Bible that I would recommend you to as an unerring Standard by wch to determine this with all other things of a divine nature leaving the decisions of men as falable whilst we all unite in this that the Word of God is Infalable just & holy. What we can’t by reason of ye degeneracy of our Nature (not for any defect in ye sacred records or in ye divine spirit yt dictated ym) what we cannot fully comprehend I must again remind you I wish to leave – let a consideration of our small knowledge of ye imperfection of our Capacities & powers of our Inabillity to explore Divine truths, of our Nonimprovement of what we enjoy, our willful omissions & commissions, let a consideration of these things humble us before our Incomprehensible Creator who condescends to behold the sinful race of mankind any of ym with benign Love & mercy – may it also tend to make us very dilligent in imploring ye guidance of ye holy spirit yt we might be instructed in all necessary truths preserved from all Errors both of principle & practice & yt we may be kept by ye mighty power of God thro’ Faith unto Eternal Salvation. – I am aware yt Satan ye busy adversary of souls is very ready to embrace every opportunity & this amongst ye best to distress poor mortals with intricacies wch it can be no real use for us to endeavor to fathom – ye reality of wch we cannot deny – but I would wish myself with every Friend whom ye busy deceiver thus assaults not to give way to any of his suggestions on this Head. Be very Cautious of entering too far into ye mysteries of Grace or of providence, adore & admire yt grace wch we cannot comprehend – be earnest with God for deliverance from all curious & vain surmises about it ye time hastens before us – we have enough to do without attempting to pry into those things yt are in infinite wisdom made superior to our present finite comprehensions – the Glorious gospel reveals enough if attended with a divine power to guide us safe to Glory to that may we strictly adhere we shall yn perhaps be of that number for whom the King of Glory ye Prince of Peace & ye Author of Salvation came into this world to give his Life a ransom.
With this peradventure let us persevere in our Xtian race – be earnest for divine strength – In his name & for ye sake of Him even Jesus let us come boldly to ye throne of divine grace & say “if I perish Ill perish there,” but this has never been ye care none yt God thus inables to come to him in & thro’ our Lord Jesus ever met with a final repulse. No! he yt began ye work of grace will crown it with Glory all yt with true humility comes to God I must again repeat he will not reject – the smoaking flax shall he not quench the Bruised Reed shall he not break &c – but thro’ ye Glorious mediator they shall be accepted.
In whose Intercession & Salvation may you & your unworthy Friend be found to be Interested. Then shall we appear with ye Elect of God with those he foreknew – with those he predestinated to be conformed to ye Image of his Son in Life be made meet to be partakers of ye Inheritance with ye Saints in light called & justified by his free & Sov’reign Grace & yn if we are of this happy number we shall be Glorified & ascribe ye whole of ours to God & his free unmerited mercy thro’ Jesus Christ – may this be our happy & desireable State
Wishes yr sincere Friend
Text: Attwater Papers, Angus Library, acc. 76. Address page and salutation are missing, but this is clearly written to Mary Steele; for an annotated edition of this letter, see Timothy Whelan, ed., Nonconformist Women Writers 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 3, pp. 295-98. The content of this letter clearly reflects Attwater’s orthodoxy and her obvious concern over Steele’s opinions on election and free will, grace and human responsibility, the imputed righteousness of Christ and the perseverance of the saints. Steele expressed doubts about several of these doctrines in her spiritual autobiography, especially about the time of her birthday, 22 July 1779, which provides a possible clue to dating the letter. Attwater makes it clear that election produces a desire for good works, which in turn provides assurance through an increase in one’s religious affections; it does not lead to antinomianism (what she terms ‘Licentiousness’ in the letter), the one doctrine, far more than Arianism, that moderate, evangelical Calvinists like Attwater sought to eradicate from among their families, friends, and congregations during the latter half of the eighteenth century.