Landon Duncan (1786-1867)
Papers, 1814-37, n.d., Ms97-023
no date. Letter from Landon Duncan to his cousin Hiram Duncan in Blakely, Stokes County, North Carolina.
Note_words having a long mark thus_under them are emphatical.
Very dear Cousin:
Yours of the 28th of June, came to hand on the 12th of this inst. It afforded me no little comfort in one aspect, Viz. That God in whose hands our lives are, has continued to manifest his long_ suffering to you. This is a reflection that has often afforded consolation to my mind amid the pains & afflictions that has been my almost constant companion for many years. My job arose by reflecting on the design of the long suffering of God, & the use I should make if it, Viz. "Account that the long sufferings of our Lord is salvation." 2 Tel 3, 15. connected with this I hear an apostle of ----- say "For our light afflection which is but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding & eternal weight of glory." Here we might pause for a moment to make some enquires. 1st Why are our afflections said to be light? 1. Because, they are not proportionate in soverity or duration, in the life, to the number, or Magnitude of our offences. 2nd Much of their poignancy is abated, by the operation of the numerous Mercies of God upon our souls in a state of probation.
3d. They are light when properly appreciated, for in the care, they often prove to be the means of turning us to, instead of, from God. Psa. 119.67. When they have this effect their tendency is to produce for us not only an abundant weight, but, blessed be God, an Eternal Weight of Glory. O my soul, How grand. how sublime is the idea of the Apostle_ then, no more repine or faint, when thou are chastened of the Lord. Dear cousin, My heart burns while I meditate, & my eyes overflow with tears while I write upon the gracious truths of my Lord and heavenly Master. O May the good Lord give you the Comforter that you may feel, & know by sweet experience the peace of God which passeth understanding. In my last letter I attempted an elucidation of the Atonement, according to the most natural & simple import of the term, as explained in the scriptures, I do not now recollect what I did say upon that important subject, but gave you, (as I apprehend.) a few of the most prominent & leading features, of that doctrine, as believed & advocated by myself, & & those preachers of the Christian names, & order with whom I have any acquaintance. You state the subject is treated differently from what you have been accumstomed to hear it. This I was fully aware of when I wrote, therefore I confined my remarks to that subject, that if by so doing I might remove some things which have been introduced into the doctrine by the Wisdom of Men, which things not only retard the progress of those devoutly searching for the plain & unadulterated truth; but withhold from them that comfort which under grace it is their privilege to enjoy. In my first I think I treated mostly upon repentence. In this I shall more particularly confine my remarks to the subject of Faith that being a p---- upon which you appear to have some difficulties, arising as I apprehend from being accustomed to hear conflictingviews of that subject. The conflicting views to which I refer if I mistake not_ are the following_ That faith is the Gift of God_ That faith is the a-- - of the creature. Each of these propostitions have been warmly advocated by many of our public teachers both from the pulpit & the press, & perhaps in their heated declamations have done the truth of Revalation more disservice that otherwise: this had led to another very important difficulty, Viz. whether the Salvation of man is of works or of Grace. This state of things has produced Strife & confusion_ and we are told where these exist, there is every evil work. Jas. 3, 16. I conceive the knot of the difficulty to lie here Viz. How we shall reconcile what God effects, with what man does. This being promised, I will next attempt a solution of the difficulty in the following proposition Viz. (turn over)
God through grace incited, or inclines Man by his Spirit, this grace as means, is some one or more of the divine truths as contained in the Gospel, Man when this incited, or inclined, is persuaded, and he believes, or has faith as a natural result of the incitement & persuasion. In accordance with this view of the subject, I view God as being the author of the creatures faith, but the exercise of it, to be the Act of the creature. In support of the idea as above, I will now offer a few arguments. For the first I will refer to the call of Moses. Ex 3 ch. 1 v. & c. "Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro" &c. (read the whole.) "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked & behold the bush burned with fire & the bush was not consumed" Here it is positively declard that the angel appeared to Moses. It will be acknowledged that he saw it with his natural eyes as described, & that no supernatural operation on his eyes was necessary to enable him to see it, further than what was ----tained in the exhibition of this strange & interesting phenomenon. (strange it was to him at that time.) The conclusion to which we are conducted is this: To see any object, even an angel, all that is or can be wanted, is that it (the object.) must be brought within the range of our sight. The effect, (effect of God.) produced in the mind of moses is an incitement, or inclination which persuaded him to say & act. Hear him. "And Moses said, I will now turn aside to see this great site, why the bush is not burnt" This miraculous apperance both called & fixed the attention of Moses. He was in amazement what it should be; and if nothing more had occured, what do you suppose Moses could have told, more than the simple, strange appearence as discribed_ But let us proceed with the order of events, one following another, in a rational & natural order. "And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush & said Moses, " & c.N. 6. "Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father ---- and Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God." Here Moses began to tremble, the miraculous appearance was now explained to him, & to his supprize he now found himself in the presence of God through the angel. What convinced Moses? I ansr. He saw the flame, &c. "then heard the word of the Lord." Thus we are led to the conclusion, to be enabled to hear the word of the Lord, is that it must come within the range of our hearing. If I am not mistaken I have proved three things 1. That God is the author of faith. 2ndly. That he used such means as are brought within the range of our sight or hearing & sometimes both. 3d. That these are means of his grace, (because revealed or made known by him.) and sufficient to enable us to believe_ is the evidence or testimony by which faith is generated & every motion of that faith so produced is the act of the Creature
My 2nd argument I take up to reconcile what God effects, with what man does_ I take up the case of moses being sent to deliver Israel. And God said, "come now therefore, & I will send thee." &c. Now, when Moses came to his people, what was he to say to them? Thus shall thou say unto them I am hath sent me unto thee &c. But Moses doubts the sufficiency of this declaration he is thus furnishes with an instrument by which was to establish the declaration what is this for? "That they may believe, (or have faith.) that the Lord God of their fathers &c. hath appear ed unto thee." by the way I observe two or three additional signs were authorized to accomplish the same design Viz that they might believe. Here we are led in beautiful gradation from one step to another until we reach the last in this chain; to wit, that to enablethem to believe (or have faith.) it was indespensiable that they should have testimony of equal weight, or in accordance with the fact communicated. According to this view, it is evident, that facts & testimony must be submitted to the ear, or eye or both before we can believe_ and that, all that is necessary to enable us to believe (or have faith.) a fact_ We require a sufficiency of testimony of the proper grade and credible. But to carry on our argument, The Lord promised to reveal to Moses, and he was to be the teacher, leader & law giver of the people. So far from promising or indicting a design to reveal himself to every Israelite, he did not reveal these things to Aaron, but commanded Moses to do so. So far from intimating that some that some spiritual operation (of modern origin.) was necessary to enable them to beleive Moses, & an assurance of such aid, we are informed in so many words, that the signs, wonders, or miracles were intended to answer that end. "And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord, who had sent him, & all the signs which he had commanded him. And Moses & Aaron went & gathered together all the elders of the childern of Israel; & Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had spoken unto Moses, & did the signs in the sight of the people & the people believed, &c." In this as in the former argument we are brought to the same conclusion. It is evident that the people saw the signs with their eyes and heard the word spoken by Moses & Aaron, & believed because the word reached the heart_ thus Paul is sustained in his assertion, when he averred that faith comes by hearing & hearing by the word of God." This argument proves what ----- almost daily within our own observation, Viz. Facts seen or testified to, equally demand our faith & obedience, and as such are recd & practised on. A witness who swears to a false fact, is guilty of purjury. And a juror who disregards competent, credible testimony, & so renders a virdict, is looked upon as equally, culpable, & acts equally, in dissregard to his oath. Testimony to a fact then; stands in place of our own personal observation of the fact; & if we doubted after the exhibition of sufficient testimony, we should excite the astonishment of others as much as if we doubted the evidence of our own sight.
From what I have said, I hope you understand in what sense I consider faith to be the gift of God. Properly speaking I do not know that we can say that "faith is a gift of God," because he has no where said he would bestow such a gift, He has promised means which he designed to operate as a moving cause but no where is it said that the effect was his gift or act. It is declared of Christ that he "is the author & finisher of our faith." this passage conveys the following idea_ Viz That Christ does furnish all necessary means of grace, from first to last, to produce that faith in us, which might eventu---- in our Salvation. By this time perhaps, you are ready to offer a passage of scripture to prove that faith is said to be the gift of God, It is, "For by grace are ye saved, through faith; & that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Eph. 2.8._ But let us consider he sentence is not completed without the next verse, that reads, thus "Not of works, lest any man should boast. What is it that is not of works? I ansr. Salvation_ A salvation not by Works lest man should have wherewith to glory_ But glorying is completely excluded, how? Salvation is the gift of God by grace. Now, let us read the passage again with parenthesis "For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that (Salvation by grace) is not of yourself it (salvation by grace) is the gift of God." I understand faith is the passage to be the medium through which grace passes, operates & eventuates in Salvation. To test the truth of this idea, I will offer in proof some plain testimony. "he that believeth, & is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall de damned." Here it is obvious that unbelief is the medium through which men are lost; even so faith is the medium through which men are saved. I will further add & say, that faith is not only the medium, but a Condition of Divine appointment, through which all spiritual blessing flow to, or are enjoyed by us. To prove it to be a condition of Divine appointment look at, 1 Jno. 3, 23. Acts 13, 38, 39. A Condition too without which we cannot please God. Theologians have distinguished faith into various kinds, Viz. Faith of credence; Historical; Temporary; of miracles; Evangelical, or saving faith. I will observe the Scriptures know no such distiniction, faith is a simple idea, & notwithstanding this distictions raised up by men_ Still, faith continues to be the same act of the mind, believing various truths, as god has revealed them. I have doubted whether there is a plainer idea in nature than faith or believing. Children understand it, so soon as they understand language. How common is it to hear them say, I don't believe it, when something strange or incredible is related to them? Their unsophisticated minds understand the term; and they perfectly understand the effects upon themselves. For example, Tell a child that a mad dog is approaching; if it believes how soon will it be moved with fear, & seek for refuge. This was the very faith of Noah. He was told of an approaching deluge, he believed, and being moved with fear, prepared an ark of safety. But perhaps I shall be told, that this faith of the child and of Noah, is not saving faith. I answr. It certainly is; for the child was saved from the bite of the dog, and Noah from the devouring flood, by their faith. Paul had said that, "we are of them that believe to the saving of the soul." and then (Heb. 11.) describes that saving faith & its effects & produces the faith of Noah and its effects, to establish his position.
From this view of the subject I am brought to this conclusion, Viz. God informs the world of the dreadful ruin impending them, and points the way of Salvation_ they who believe, are moved with fear, and fly to the Saviour, and attend his word for salvation.
But your views of faith does not accord with the experience of Christians, I remember, says one, that ---- I would have given a World, if ---- ---- to believe in Jesus, but I could not. Ansr. Should this person be asked, how much he would have given to believe in Mahomet? He would easily have answered, not a cent. Why? Because he believed Jesus was able to save him. This is the fact. He already believed, but had not received the fruits of his faith, as love, joy, peace, & the witnessing Spirit. This was what he wanted, and for which he would have given a world. By not distingushing between faith & its fruits, many have been mistaken on this point. I have now dwelt upon the subject much longer than I expected when I commenced, but I feel that I cannot yet dissist before I have pointed out the place, which faith or believing (for they are synonymous terms.) occupies in Regeneration. From what has been said, respecting the simplicity of faith, I hope you have in some degree discovered its use & place in regeneration. The Gospel believed, or faith in the truths of the gospel produces, or effects regeneration; therefore, faith precedes regeneration. This as evident as that the cause precedes the effect, & the means the end. I will now offer some proof. "For ye are all the children of God by faith" Gal. 3. 26. If we become children by or through faith, then it is plain we were not children or born again, before faith, "But as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even, to them that believe on his name Jno. 1,12. Therefore, before they believed they were not the sons of God, neither did they receive power to become sons before they believed. Again, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth ---- ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" Rom 4, 5. Here we see the ungodly are the persons, who are justified; but as God justifies none but them that believe, therefore the ungodly believe; and so faith precedes regeneration.
To assert (as many have.) that regeneration precedes faith, is to destroy the very foundation and nature of the Gospel. No unregenerate sinner would then have any warrant to believe; he would be more solicitous to work for righteousness, than believe unto righteouness; & until he imagined --- had the evidences of regeneration in himself, he never would regard the Lord Jesus as the Saviour of sinners. This would be legallity. Before I close, let me request you to read the above remarks with attention & test every sentence with the Standard of truth which is the Scriptures_ In my remarks I have endeavoured to confine myself to that as the source we should apply for doctrinal ideas and the standard by which those ideas are to be tested. Since I have wrote now three times to you upon doctrinal points, and as I had no idea of arranging my views in methodical order_ you will therefore be pleased to make that arrangement for me_ by placing this on faith first, that on repentance in the second & that on the atonement in the third place_ by reading & meditating in the subjects in this order, you may derive more information_ the Lord save you.
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