A Trans-Atlantic Discussion Regarding Theological Anthropology in the Long Eighteenth Century

Joseph Bellamy of Connecticut (1719-1790) was introduced to John Erskine (1721-1803) the minister of Kirkintilloch, north of Glasgow, by their mutual friend Jonathan Edwards. Through exchange of letters across the sea, Bellamy was resourced with the latest moral philosophers in the UK. Of note, Erskine sent Bellamy a library of books, including A System of Moral Philosophy, by University of Glasgow Professor, Francis Hutcheson (1696-1746). According to Mark Valeri, Bellamy found “a grammar with which to unite doctrinal fidelity and ethical responsibility—without concession to Arminian notions of the covenant.”

Despite the Hutchesonian insistence upon a naturally received morality, Bellamy was able to produce a practical tool for the English-speaking world that would unite common sense and piety together. The Scottish influence would predominate New England Theology over the next century under auspices of Scottish Common-Sense Realism; however, in the hands of Bellamy, True Religion Delineated provided many in Scotland a means to combat “refined antinomianism” and Deism in their day. Erskine attempted to disseminate Bellamy’s ideas in Scotland.

Yet not everyone in Scotland was thrilled with Bellamy. For example, Robert Riccaultoun (1691-1769) warned John Erskine that “modern philosophical divines” like Bellamy were so captured by “the nature of things, moral fitness, the true taste or moral sense, [and] moral beauty” that they were beginning to neglect God’s “revelation of himself in Christ.” Riccaultoun was once a leading figure among the “Marrow Brethren,” and by this time, an elder statesman in the Presbyterian church. The “Marrow Brethren” had fought dearly for “the whole Christ” and were concerned that the gospel be not lost in the next generation. Were his fears justified?

This paper will argue that while Riccaultoun’s concern was valid, Bellamy’s True Religion Delineated is nevertheless rooted in a robust theological anthropology handed down to him by his mentor Jonathan Edwards. The use of Hutcheson’s categories provided to him a platform for popular discourse. This presentation if accepted, will present 1) the historical context and categories of Moral Sense Philosophy popularized by Hutcheson relevant to Bellamy’s treatise. Then it will compare 2) this Scottish influence on Joseph Bellamy’s treatise in conversation with his received theological anthropology through Jonathan Edwards, and 3) evaluate Bellamy from the perspective of Riccaultoun’s concern.

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