Unreasonableness of Religion

Joseph Hart

Originally Printed In 1741

Posted On October 7, 2020

The Unreasonableness of Religion. Being Remarks and Animadversions on Mr. John Wesley’s Sermon upon Romans 8:32. By Joseph Hart. 1741.

Biographical Sketch: Joseph Hart was born in London, about 1712, to believing parents, who attended the ministry of George Whitefield at the Tabernacle in Moorfields. He begins the record of his own spiritual journey, {which he prefaced to his hymnbook,} thus, “as I had the happiness of being born of believing parents, I imbibed the sound doctrines of the Gospel from my infancy; nor was I without touches of heart, checks of conscience, and meltings of affections, by the secret strivings of God’s Spirit with me while very young. But the impressions were not deep, nor the influences lasting, being frequently defaced and quenched by the vanities and vices of childhood and youth.” Whilst his early life is somewhat hidden in obscurity, we do know that Hart was given a classical education, and eventually would become a language teacher of some sorts himself. He continues his narrative, “about the twenty-first year of my age I began to be under great anxiety concerning my soul. The spirit of bondage distressed me sore; though I endeavoured {as I believe most under legal convictions do} to commend myself to God’s favour, by amendment of life, virtuous resolutions, moral rectitude, and a strict attendance on religious ordinances.”

“And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight; these things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” Isa.42:16. This scripture was verily fulfilled, as young Hart took many spiritual lumps over the next few years in order for him to embrace more fully that blessed hope that was being set before him, Heb.6:18, and to look more exclusively to Christ as “the author and finisher” of his faith. Heb.12:12. He continues, “how did I now long to feel the merits of Christ applied to my soul by the Holy Spirit! How often did I make my strongest efforts to call God my God! But, alas! I could no more do this than I could raise the dead. I found now, by woeful experience, that faith was not in my power; and the question with me now was, not whether I would be a Christian or no, but whether I might; not whether I should repent and believe, but whether God would give me true repentance, and a living faith. After some weeks passed in this gloomy, dreadful state, the Lord was pleased to comfort me a little, by enabling me to appropriate, in some measure, the merits of the Saviour to my own soul. This comfort increased for some time; and my understanding was wonderfully illuminated in reading the Holy Scriptures; so that I could see Christ in many passages where before I little imagined to find Him; and was encouraged to hope I had an interest in His merits, and the benefits by Him procured to His people.”

Around 1740, the Methodist John Wesley, who by this time began broadcasting, {i.e., dazzling the religious world with his oratory skill,} his avowed hatred to numerous fundamental Gospel Truths, {amongst them, Eternal Unconditional Divine Election unto Salvation in Christ – Efficacious Particular Redemption of God’s elect by Sovereign Divine Imputation – Irresistible & Invincible Grace by the Word of the Son of God in Holy Spirit Regeneration – Divine Preservation of the Called in Christ Jesus by the power of God through Faith unto Eternal Glory,} preached at Bristol a sermon from Romans Chapter Eight, which he afterwards had published, and which he deliberately and cunningly titled, Free Grace, a title well-suited to confound the minds of the simple, in dressing up many pernicious lies in the sheepish attire of ‘grace,’ even whilst vilifying that grace from cover to cover in a confused jumble of bare naked truths & errors so blatantly against the Gospel of Christ, that it deserves to be cast to the dunghill, from whence it ensued.

But just as the Lord, {in accordance with his predetermine purpose to fulfil all his good pleasure,} “put a lying spirit in the mouth” of John Wesley, I Kings 22:23, which spirit now cloaked under “all deceivableness of unrighteousness” {or in other words, unrighteous and outright evil doctrines lurking under a form of self-manufactured righteousness,} in going about to parade an empty form of blind devotion under the pretence of ‘free grace,’ so the Lord will, {in accordance with his redemptive glory in Christ,} equip those that belong to him, not so much with an excellency of speech, I Cor.2:1, but rather with a determination to know nothing but “Christ, and him crucified,” I Cor.2:2, and make them zealous for the glory which belongs to him alone! “I am the LORD; that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another.” Isaiah 42:8.

And one of these simple believers was Joseph Hart, to whom the Lord had granted a measure of discernment, {having his spiritual senses exercised to discern both good and evil, Heb.5:14,} that for the elect’s sake, Matt.24:22, {whom are chosen in Christ unto eternal salvation,} called or uncalled, or that were to arise in upcoming generations or succeeding times, he might be given a Gospel sickle in order to separate the precious from the vile, Jer.15:19, to blow a distinct trumpet in Zion, I Cor.14:8, for only when the trumpet is blown aright will it blast all Conditionalism to pieces, {i.e., salvation conditioned on a conversion experience, as opposed to the finished work of Christ,} as it magnifies the grace of God, and exalts the person of our Redeemer.

Though shamefully, relatively few of the friends of truth took issue with Wesley’s sermon, or rather his {Doeg the Edomite like, I Sam.22:18} attempt to slay the faithful testimony of so many Gospel witnesses, {Ephesians 2:20, and the remnant few that embraced their message,} of former years, that have paved a road for the godly in all ages to travel upon, in all their journeys that lead them to Christ, {“every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me,” John 6:45,} there were a few contemporary ‘brethren’ that likewise sensed the danger of Wesley’s message, and were not dazzled by any man’s popular acclaim or moral rectitude, but instead judged all things in the light of “the mind of Christ,” I Cor. 2:15-16, as revealed in sacred Scripture, of which Augustus Toplady, {known for his hymn ‘Rock of Ages,’} was one, when he wrote, “it has also been suggested that Mr. Wesley is a very laborious man, not more laborious, I presume, than a certain active being, who is said to go to and fro in the earth, and walk up and down in it; nor yet more laborious, I should imagine, than certain ancient Sectarians, concerning whom it was long ago said, woe unto you Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte.”

In another work, concerning the poison of Arminianism, Toplady writes, “can anything be more shockingly execrable, than such a degrading and blasphemous idea of the ever blessed God? And consequently, is not the doctrine of human self-determinability the most daring, the most inconsistent, the most false, the most contemptible, and the most atheistical tenet, that was ever spawned by pride and ignorance in conjunction?” The theology of John Wesley, according to Toplady, was “an equal portion of gross Heathenism, Pelagianism, Mahometism, Popery, Manicheaenism, Ranterism, and Antinomianism, culled, dried, and pulverized, secundum artem; and above all, mingled with as much palatable atheism as could be possibly scraped together.”

Robert Sandeman, the Scottish Nonconformist theologian, whose followers became known as Sandemanians, leaves no uncertainty as to his opinion of Wesley, when he in 1757, writes, “perhaps it will be thought needful, that I should define, with greater precision than I have hitherto done, what I mean by the popular doctrine; especially as I have considered many as preachers thereof who differ remarkably from each other; and particularly as I have ranked amongst them Mr. Wesley, who may justly be reckoned one of the most poisonous reproachers of that God, whose character is drawn by the apostles, that this island has produced. To remove all doubt concerning my meaning, I shall thus explain myself. Throughout these letters, I consider all those as teachers of the popular doctrine, who seek to have credit and influence among the people, by resting our acceptance with God, not simply on what Christ hath done, but more or less on the use we make of him, the advance we make toward him, or some secret desire, wish, or sigh to do so; or of something we feel or do concerning him, by the assistance of some kind of grace or spirit; or, lastly, on something we employ him to do, and suppose he is yet to do for us.”

Whilst others cuddled this enemy of Christ, most extolling a show of religious piety as a far greater virtue than the truth itself, Hart proceeded to destroy Wesley’s Arminian altars, break down his images, cut down his groves, &c., Deut.7:5, incapable of speaking spiritual peace to those who embraced and proclaimed a false gospel, being made conscientious of this solemn and soul-searching truth that “whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” II John 1:9. And though this book was written in Hart’s earlier days, there is no historical or written evidence whatsoever, {in direct contrast to many current religious articles that say that Hart himself was unconverted at the time of his writing this reply to Wesley,} that he ever deviated in one iota from the resolutions which he sought to bring to the forefront in this book.

Of course, those familiar with the name Joseph Hart, will know that he is mostly remembered as a hymn writer, many of his hymns being marked by great earnestness of spirit, accompanied with a passionate love of the Redeemer. The first edition of Hart’s hymnbook was published in 1759, and a year later he became a minister of the Gospel at Jewin Street Chapel in London, a large building with multiple galleries, and a congregation of significant size. A few Calvinistic Nonconformist groups have used Hart’s hymns exclusively over the years, of which William Huntington, and all those assemblies in ‘his’ connection were perhaps the most notable. His hymns have also appeared in many ‘church’ hymnbooks, and even today one can find most of his selections in Gadsby’s Hymnbook, which is used by the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists of England. In his preface to his own hymnbook, William Gadsby said that “Hart and Berridge are the sweetest and greatest experimental writers {many of Hart’s hymns reflecting his own spiritual pilgrimage} that have left any hymns on record.” So likewise the Old School Baptists of America, in their hymnbook simply entitled Beebe’s Collection, {named after their ‘founder’ Gilbert Beebe,} contains many of his choice hymns.

We will close with a copious extract from Hart’s own experience, {as affixed to most copies of his hymnbook,} where we find his conclusion to all things, summed up in these extraordinary words, “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, is now the only thing I desire to know. In that incarnate mystery are contained all the rich treasures of Divine wisdom. This is the mark towards which I am still pressing forward. This is the cup of salvation of which I wish to drink deeper and deeper. This is the knowledge in which I long to grow; and desire at the same time a daily increase in all true grace and godliness. All duties, means, ordinances, &c., are to me then only rich when they are enriched with the blood of the Lamb; in comparison of which, all things else are but chaff and husks.”

And now having to look back in remembrance upon all the way which the LORD had led him in the wilderness, Deut.8:2, and from the wonderful dealings of God towards him, he endeavours to draw the following observations, “on the one hand, I would observe, that ‘it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God which sheweth mercy.’ That none can make a Christian but He that made the world. That it is the glory of God to bring good out of evil. That whom He loveth, he loveth unto the end. That though all men seek, more or less, to recommend themselves to God’s favour by their works, yet to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. That the blood of the Redeemer, applied to the soul by His Holy Spirit, is the one thing needful. That prayer is the task and labour of a Pharisee, but the privilege and delight of a Christian. That God grants not the requests of His people, because they pray; but they pray, because He designs to answer their petitions. That self-righteousness and legal holiness rather keep the soul from, than draw it to Christ. That they who seek salvation by them, pursue shadows; mistake the great end of the law; and err from the way, the truth, and the life. That God’s design is to glorify His Son alone, and to debase the excellence of every creature. That no righteousness besides the righteousness of Jesus {that is, the righteousness of God} is of any avail towards acceptance. That to be a moral man, a zealous man, a devout man, is very short of being a Christian. That the eye of faith looks more to the blood of Jesus than to the soul’s victory over corruptions. That the dealings of God with His people, though similar in general, are nevertheless so various, that there is no chalking out the paths of one child of God by those of another; no laying down regular plans of Christian conversion, Christian experience, Christian usefulness, or Christian conversation. That the will of God is the only standard of right and good. That the sprinkling of the blood of a crucified Saviour on the conscience, by the Holy Ghost, sanctifies a man, without which the most abstemious life and rigorous discipline is unholy. Lastly, that faith and holiness, with every other blessing, are the purchase of the Redeemer’s blood; and that He has a right to bestow them on whom He will, in such a manner, and in such a measure, as He thinks best; though the spirit in all men lusteth to envy.”

“On the other hand,” he continues, “I would observe, that it is not so easy to be a Christian as some men seem to think. That for a living soul really to trust in Christ alone, when he sees nothing in himself but evil and sin, is an act as supernatural as for Peter to walk the sea. That mere doctrine, though ever so sound, will not alter the heart; consequently, that to turn from one set of tenets to another is not Christian conversion. That as much as Lazarus coming out of his grave, and feeling himself restored to life, differed from those who only saw the miracle, or believed the fact when told them; so great is the difference between a soul’s real coming out of himself, and having the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by the precious faith of God’s elect, and a man’s bare believing the doctrine of imputed righteousness because he sees it contained in Scripture, or assenting to the truth of it when proposed to his understanding by others. That a whole-hearted disciple can have but little communion with a broken-hearted Lord. That ‘if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’ That a prayerless spirit is not the Spirit of Christ; but that prayer, to a Christian, is as necessary and as natural as food to a natural man. That the usual way of going to heaven is through much tribulation. That the sinner which is drawn to Christ, is not he that has learnt that he is a sinner by head-knowledge, but that feels himself such by heart-contrition. That he that believeth hath an unction from the Holy One. That a true Christian is as vitally united to Christ as my hand or foot to my body – consequently, suffers and rejoices with Him. That a believer talks and converses with God. That a dead faith can no more cherish the soul than a dead corpse can perform the functions of life. That where there is true faith, there will be obedience and the fear of God. That he that lives by the faith of the Son of God, eateth His flesh, and drinketh His blood. That “he that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.” That many imagine themselves great believers, who have little or no faith at all; and many, who deem themselves void of faith, cleave to Christ by the faith of the operation of God. That faith, like gold, must be tried in the fire, before it can be safely depended upon. Lastly, that Christians are sealed by the Holy Ghost to the day of redemption; and to this seal they trust their eternal welfare – not to naked knowledge, or speculative notions, though ever so deep. They dread to dream they are rich, when they are blind and poor; to have a name to live, and yet be dead; or to be forced to fly for precarious refuge to the conjectural scheme of universal salvation, with those who hope to be saved, because they think there will be none lost.”

“For my own part,” Hart acknowledges, “I confess myself a sinner still; and though I am not much tempted to outward gross acts of iniquity, yet inward corruptions and spiritual wickedness continually harass and perplex my soul, and often make me cry out, ‘O wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death!’ From me they are not yet removed; though I once hoped, with many others, that I should soon get rid of them. All I can do is to look to Jesus through them all; cling fast to His wounded side; long to be clothed with His righteousness; pray Him to plead my cause against these spiritual enemies that rise up against me; and, though I feel myself leprous from head to foot, believe that I am clean through the word which He hath spoken unto me. In short, I rejoice, not because the Spirits are always subject to me, {for, alas! I find they are often too strong for me to control,} but because my name is written in heaven. I am daily more and more convinced that the promises of God, to His people, are absolute; and desire to build my hopes on the free electing love of God in Christ Jesus to my soul, before the world began; which, I can experimentally and feelingly say, He hath delivered from the lowest hell. He hath plucked me as a brand out of the fire. Though my ways were dreadfully dangerous to the last degree, His eye was all along upon me for good. He hath excited me to love much, by forgiving me much. He hath showed me, and still daily shows me, the abominable deceit, lust, enmity, and pride of my heart, and the inconceivable depths of His mercy; how far I was fallen, and how much it cost Him of sweat and blood to bring me up. He hath proved Himself stronger than I; and His goodness superior to all my unworthiness. He gives me to know, and to feel too, that without Him I can do nothing. He tells me, {and He enables me to believe it,} that I am all fair, and there is no spot in me. Though an enemy, He calls me His friend; though a traitor, His child; though a beggared prodigal, He clothes me with the best robe, and has put a ring of endless love and mercy on my hand. And though I am often sorely distressed by spiritual internal foes, afflicted, tormented, and bowed down almost to death with the sense of my own present barrenness, ingratitude, and proneness to evil, He secretly shows me His bleeding wounds; and softly, but powerfully, whispers to my soul, ‘I am thy great Salvation.’ His free distinguishing grace is the bottom on which is fixed the rest of my poor, weary, tempted soul. On this I ground my hope, oftentimes, when unsupported by any other evidence, save only by the Spirit of adoption received from Him. He hath chosen me out from everlasting, in whom to make known the inexhaustible riches of His free grace and long suffering. Though I am a stranger to others, and a wonder to myself; yet I know Him, or, rather, am known of Him. Though poor in myself, I am rich enough in Him. When my dry, empty, barren soul is parched with thirst, He kindly bids me come to Him, and drink my fill at the Fountain-head. In a word, He empowers me to say, with experimental evidence, ‘where Sin abounded, Grace did much more abound.’ This was written in 1759.

Joseph Hart died on May 24th, 1768, and his body was laid to rest in Bunhill Fields, London, where there is an obelisk erected over his grave, and on his tombstone he had written the following words, “Joseph Hart was by the free and sovereign grace and Spirit of God raised up from the depths of sin, and delivered from the bonds of mere profession and self-righteousness, and led to rest entirely for salvation in the finished atonement and perfect obedience of Christ.”