||delphia > Lectures on SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by Charles G. Finney (page 6 of 11)
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
"SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY" in 12 html pages-
Introduction ---New Window
LECTURES 1-7 of page 1
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LECTURES 48-57 of page 6 (this page)
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LECTURES 75-80 of page 9 ---New Window
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APPENDIX on page 11 ---New Window
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Table of Contents
LECTURE XLVIII. -- Natural Ability.
Show what is the Edwardean notion of ability . . This natural ability is no ability
at all . . What, according to this school, constitutes natural inability . . This
natural inability is no inability at all . . Natural ability is identical with freedom
or liberty of will . . The human will is free, therefore men have ability to do all
LECTURE XLIX. -- Moral Ability.
What constitutes moral inability according to the Edwardean school . . Their
moral inability consists in real disobedience, and a natural inability to obey .
. This pretended distinction between natural and moral inability is nonsensical .
. What constitutes moral ability according to this school . . Their moral ability
to obey God is nothing else than real obedience, and a natural inability to disobey
LECTURE L. -- Inability.
What is thought to be the fundamental error of the Edwardean school on the subject
of ability . . State the philosophy of the scheme of inability about to be considered
. . The claims of this philosophy
LECTURE LI. -- Gracious Ability.
What is intended by the term . . This doctrine as held is an absurdity . . In
what sense a gracious ability is possible
LECTURE LII. -- The Notion of Inability.
Proper mode of accounting for it
[There is no Lecture LIII in the printed book. The lectures are incorrectly numbered.
In the Contents of the printed book, the next five lectures are numbered LIII-LVII.
Then there are two entries for 'Entire sanctification is attainable in this life'
numbered LVIII and LIX.]
LECTURE LIV. -- Repentance and Impenitence.
What repentance is not, and what it is . . What is implied in it . . What impenitence
is not . . What it is . . Some things that are implied in it . . Some evidences of
LECTURE LV. -- Faith and Unbelief.
What evangelical faith is not . . What it is . . What is implied in it . . What
unbelief is not . . What it is,--What is implied in it . . Conditions of both faith
and unbelief . . The guilt and desert of unbelief . . Natural and governmental consequences
of both faith and unbelief
LECTURE LVI. -- Justification.
What justification is not . . What it is . . Conditions of gospel justification
LECTURE LVII. -- Sanctification.
An account of the recent discussions that have been had on this subject
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE XLVIII. Back to Top
We next proceed to the examination of the question of man's ability or inability
to obey the commandments of God. This certainly must be a fundamental question in
morals and religion; and as our views are upon this subject, so, if we are consistent,
must be our views of God, of his moral government, and of every practical doctrine
of morals and religion. This is too obvious to require proof. The question of ability
has truly been a vexed question. In the discussion of it, I shall consider the elder
President Edwards as the representative of the common Calvinistic view of this subject,
because he has stated it more clearly than any other Calvinistic author with whom
I am acquainted. When, therefore, I speak of the Edwardean doctrine of ability and
inability, you will understand me to speak of the common view of Calvinistic theological
writers, as stated, summed up, and defended by Edwards.
In discussing this subject I will endeavour to show,--
I. PRESIDENT EDWARDS'S NOTION OF NATURAL ABILITY.
II. THAT THIS NATURAL ABILITY IS NO ABILITY AT ALL.
III. WHAT CONSTITUTES NATURAL INABILITY ACCORDING TO THIS SCHOOL.
IV. THAT THIS NATURAL INABILITY IS NO INABILITY AT ALL.
V. THAT NATURAL ABILITY IS PROPERLY IDENTICAL WITH FREEDOM OR LIBERTY OF WILL.
VI. THAT THE HUMAN WILL IS FREE, AND THEREFORE MEN ARE NATURALLY ABLE TO OBEY GOD.
I. I am to show what is President Edwards's notion of natural ability.
Edwards considers freedom and ability as identical. He defines freedom or liberty
to consist in "the power, opportunity, or advantage, that any one has, to do
as he pleases." "Or, in other words, his being free from hindrance or impediment
in the way of doing or conducting in any respect as he wills."--Works, vol.
ii., page 38.
Again, page 39, he says, "One thing more I should observe concerning
what is vulgarly called liberty; namely, that power and opportunity for one to do
and conduct as he will, or according to his choice, is all that is meant by it; without
taking into the meaning of the word anything of the cause of that choice; or at all
considering how the person came to have such a volition; whether it was caused by
some external motive, or internal habitual bias; whether it was determined by some
internal antecedent volition, or whether it happened without a cause; whether it
was necessarily connected with something foregoing, or not connected. Let the person
come by his choice anyhow, yet, if he is able, and there is nothing in the way to
hinder his pursuing and exerting his will, the man is perfectly free, according to
the primary and common notion of freedom." In the preceding paragraph, he says,
"There are two things contrary to what is called liberty in common speech. One
is, constraint; which is a person's being necessitated to do a thing contrary to
his will: the other is, restraint, which is his being hindered, and not having power
to do according to his will."
Power, ability, liberty, to do as you will, are synonymous with this writer. The
foregoing quotations, with many like passages that might be quoted from the same
author, show that natural liberty, or natural ability, according to him, consists
in the natural and established connexion between volition and its effects. Thus he
says in another place, "Men are justly said to be able to do what they can do,
if they will." His definition of natural ability, or natural liberty, as he
frequently calls it, wholly excludes the power to will, and includes only the power
or ability to execute our volitions. Thus it is evident, that natural ability, according
to him, respects external action only, and has nothing to do with willing. When there
is no restraint or hindrance to the execution of volition, when there is nothing
interposed to disturb and prevent the natural and established result of our volitions,
there is natural ability according to this school. It should be distinctly understood,
that Edwards, and those of his school, hold that choices, volitions, and all acts
of will, are determined, not by the sovereign power of the agent, but are caused
by the objective motive, and that there is the same connexion, or a connexion as
certain and as unavoidable between motive and choice, as between any physical cause
and its effect: "the difference being," according to him, "not in
the nature of the connexion, but in the terms connected." Hence, according to
his view, natural liberty or ability cannot consist in the power of willing or of
choice, but must consist in the power to execute our choices or volitions. Consequently,
this class of philosophers define free or moral agency to consist in the power to
do as one wills, or power to execute one's purposes, choices, or volitions. That
this is a fundamentally false definition of natural liberty or ability, and of free
or moral agency, we shall see in due time. It is also plain, that the natural ability
or liberty of Edwards and his school, has nothing to do with morality or immorality.
Sin and holiness, as we have seen in a former lecture, are attributes of acts of
will only. But this natural ability respects, as has been said, outward or muscular
action only. Let this be distinctly borne in mind as we proceed.
II. This natural ability is no ability at all.
We know from consciousness that the will is the executive faculty, and that we can
do absolutely nothing without willing. The power or ability to will is indispensable
to our acting at all. If we have not the power to will, we have not power or ability
to do anything. All ability or power to do resides in the will, and power to will
is the necessary condition of ability to do. In morals and religion, as we shall
soon see, the willing is the doing. The power to will is the condition of obligation
to do. Let us hear Edwards himself upon this subject. Vol. ii. p. 156, he says, "The
will itself, and not only those actions which are the effects of the will, is the
proper object of precept or command. That is, such a state or acts of men's wills,
are in many cases properly required of them by commands; and not only those alterations
in the state of their bodies or minds that are the consequences of volition. This
is most manifest; for it is the mind only that is properly and directly the subject
of precepts or commands; that only being capable of receiving or perceiving commands.
The motions of the body are matters of command only as they are subject to the soul,
and connected with its acts. But the soul has no other faculty whereby it can, in
the most direct and proper sense, consent, yield to, or comply with any command,
but the faculty of the will; and it is by this faculty only that the soul can directly
disobey or refuse compliance; for the very notions of consenting, yielding, accepting,
complying, refusing, rejecting, &c., are, according to the meaning of terms,
nothing but certain acts of will." Thus we see that Edwards himself held, that
the will is the executive faculty, and that the soul can do nothing except as it
wills to do it, and that for this reason a command to do is strictly a command to
will. We shall see by and by, that he held also that the willing and the doing are
identical, so far as moral obligation, morals, and religion are concerned. For the
present, it is enough to say, whether Edwards or anybody else ever held it or not,
that it is absurd and sheer nonsense to talk of an ability to do when there is no
ability to will. Every one knows with intuitive certainty that he has no ability
to do what he is unable to will to do. It is, therefore, the veriest folly to talk
of a natural ability to do anything whatever, when we exclude from this ability the
power to will. If there is no ability to will, there is, and can be no ability to
do; therefore the natural ability of the Edwardean school is no ability at all.
Let it be distinctly understood, that whatever Edwards held in respect to the ability
of man to do, ability to will entered not at all into his idea and definition of
natural ability or liberty. But according to him, natural ability respects only the
connection that is established by a law of nature between volition and its sequents,
excluding altogether the inquiry how the volition comes to exist. This the foregoing
quotations abundantly show. Let the impression, then, be distinct, that the Edwardean
natural ability is no ability at all, and nothing but an empty name, a metaphysico-theological
III. What constitutes natural inability according to this school.
Edwards, vol. ii. p. 35, says, "We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing
when we cannot do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature, does
not allow of it; or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic
to the will; either in the faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external
objects." This quotation, together with much that might be quoted from this
author to the same effect, shows that natural inability, according to him, consists
in a want of power to execute our volitions. In the absence of power to do as we
will, if the willing exists and the effect does not follow, it is only because we
are unable to do as we will, and this is natural inability. We are naturally unable,
according to him, to do what does not follow by a natural law from our volitions.
If I will to move my arm, and the muscles do not obey volition, I am naturally unable
to move my arm. So with anything else. Here let it be distinctly observed, that natural
inability, as well as natural ability, respects and belongs only to outward action
or doing. It has nothing to do with ability to will. Whatever Edwards held respecting
ability to will, which will be shown in its proper place, I wish it to be distinctly
understood that his natural inability had nothing to do with willing, but only with
the effects of willing. When the natural effect of willing does not follow volition,
its cause, here is a proper natural inability.
IV. This natural inability is no inability at all.
By this is intended that, so far as morals and religion are concerned, the willing
is the doing, and therefore where the willing actually takes place, the real thing
required or prohibited is already done. Let us hear Edwards upon this subject. Vol.
ii. p. 164, he says, "If the will fully complies and the proposed effect does
not prove, according to the laws of nature, to be connected with his volition, the
man is perfectly excused; he has a natural inability to the thing required. For the
will itself, as has been observed, is all that can be directly and immediately required
by command, and other things only indirectly, as connected with the will. If, therefore,
there be a full compliance of will, the person has done his duty; and if other things
do not prove to be connected with his volition, that is not criminally owing to him."
Here, then, it is manifest, that the Edwardean notions of natural ability and inability
have no connection with moral law or moral government, and, of course, with morals
and religion. That the Bible everywhere accounts the willing as the deed, is most
manifest. Both as it respects sin and holiness, if the required or prohibited act
of the will takes place, the moral law and the lawgiver regard the deed as having
been done, or the sin committed, whatever impediment may have prevented the natural
effect from following. Here, then, let it be distinctly understood and remembered
that Edwards's natural inability is, so far as morals and religion are concerned,
no inability at all. An inability to execute our volitions, is in no case an inability
to do our whole duty, since moral obligation, and of course, duty, respect strictly
only acts of will. A natural inability must consist, as we shall see, in an inability
to will. It is truly amazing that Edwards could have written the paragraph just quoted,
and others to the same effect, without perceiving the fallacy and absurdity of his
speculation--without seeing that the ability or inability about which he was writing,
had no connection with morals or religion. How could he insist so largely that moral
obligation respects acts of will only, and yet spend so much time in writing about
an ability or inability to comply with moral obligation that respects outward action
exclusively? This, on the face of it, was wholly irrelevant to the subject of morals
and religion, upon which subjects he was professedly writing.
V. Natural ability is identical with freedom or liberty of will.
It has been, I trust, abundantly shown in a former lecture, and is admitted and insisted
on by Edwards,--
- 1. That moral obligation respects strictly only acts of will.
- 2. That the whole of moral obligation resolves itself into an obligation to be
disinterestedly benevolent, that is, to will the highest good of being for its own
- 3. That willing is the doing required by the true spirit of the moral law.
- Ability, therefore, to will in accordance with the moral law, must be natural
ability to obey God. But,--
- 4. This is and must be the only proper freedom of the will, so far as morals
and religion, or so far as moral law is concerned. That must constitute true liberty
of will that consists in the ability or power to will, either in accordance with,
or in opposition to the requirements of moral law. Or in other words, true freedom
or liberty of will must consist in the power or ability to will in every instance
either in accordance with, or in opposition to, moral obligation. Observe, moral
obligation respects acts of will. What freedom or liberty of will can there be in
relation to moral obligation, unless the will or the agent has power or ability to
act in conformity with moral obligation? To talk of a man's being free to will, or
having liberty to will, when he has not the power or ability, is to talk nonsense.
Edwards himself holds that ability to do, is indispensable to liberty to do. But
if ability to do be a sine quà non of liberty to do, must not the same be
true of willing? that is, must not ability to will be essential to liberty to will?
Natural ability and natural liberty to will, must then be identical. Let this be
distinctly remembered, since many have scouted the doctrine of natural ability to
obey God, who have nevertheless been great sticklers for the freedom of the will.
In this they are greatly inconsistent. This ability is called a natural ability,
because it belongs to man as a moral agent, in such a sense that without it he could
not be a proper subject of command, of reward or punishment. That is, without this
liberty or ability he could not be a moral agent, and a proper subject of moral government.
He must then either possess this power in himself as essential to his own nature,
or must possess power, or be able to avail himself of power to will in every instance
in accordance with moral obligation. Whatever he can do, he can do only by willing;
he must therefore either possess the power in himself directly to will as God commands,
or he must be able by willing it to avail himself of power, and to make himself willing.
If he has power by nature to will directly as God requires, or by willing to avail
himself of power, so to will, he is naturally free and able to obey the commandments
of God. Then let it be borne distinctly in mind, that natural ability, about which
so much has been said, is nothing more nor less than the freedom or liberty of the
will of a moral agent. No man knows what he says or whereof he affirms, who holds
to the one and denies the other, for they are truly and properly identical.
VI. The human will is free, therefore men have power or ability to do all their
- 1. The moral government of God everywhere assumes and implies the liberty of
the human will, and the natural ability of men to obey God.
- Every command, every threatening, every expostulation and denunciation in the
Bible implies and assumes this. Nor does the Bible do violence to the human intelligence
in this assumption; for,--
- 2. The human mind necessarily assumes the freedom of the human will as a first
truth of reason.
- First truths of reason, let it be remembered, are those that are necessarily
assumed by every moral agent. They are assumed always and necessarily by a law of
the intelligence, although they may seldom be the direct objects of thought or attention.
It is a universal law of the intelligence, to assume the truths of causality, the
existence and the infinity of space, the existence and infinity of duration, and
many other truths. These assumptions every moral agent always and necessarily takes
with him, whether these things are matters of attention or not. And even should he
deny any one or all of the first truths of reason, he knows them to be true notwithstanding,
and cannot but assume their truth in all his practical judgments. Thus, should any
one deny the law and the doctrine of causality, as some in theory have done, he knows,
and cannot but know,--he assumes, and cannot but assume, its truth at every moment.
Without this assumption he could not so much as intend, or think of doing, or of
any one else doing anything whatever. But a great part of his time, he may not, and
does not, make this law a distinct object of thought or attention. Nor is he directly
conscious of the assumption that there is such a law. He acts always upon the assumption,
and a great part of his time is insensible of it. His whole activity is only the
exercise of his own causality, and a practical acknowledgment of the truth, which
in theory he may deny. Now just so it is with the freedom of the will, and with natural
ability. Did we not assume our own liberty and ability, we should never think of
attempting to do anything. We should not so much as think of moral obligation, either
as it respects ourselves or others, unless we assumed the liberty of the human will.
In all our judgments respecting our own moral character and that of others, we always
and necessarily assume the liberty of the human will, or natural ability to obey
God. Although we may not be distinctly conscious of this assumption, though we may
seldom make the liberty of the human will the subject of direct thought or attention,
and even though we may deny its reality, and strenuously endeavour to maintain the
opposite, we, nevertheless, in this very denial and endeavour, assume that we are
free. This truth never was, and never can be rejected in our practical judgments.
All men assume it. All men must assume it. Whenever they choose in one direction,
they always assume, whether conscious of the assumption or not, and cannot but assume,
that they have power to will in the opposite direction. Did they not assume this,
such a thing as election between two ways or objects would not be, and could not
be so much as thought of. The very ideas of right and wrong, of the praise and blameworthiness
of human beings, imply the assumption on the part of those who have these ideas,
of the universal freedom of the human will, or of the natural ability of men as moral
agents to obey God. Were not this assumption in the mind, it were impossible from
its own nature and laws that it should affirm moral obligation, right or wrong, praise
or blameworthiness of men. I know that philosophers and theologians have in theory
denied the doctrine of natural ability or liberty, in the sense in which I have defined
it; and I know, too, that with all their theorizing, they did assume, in common with
all other men, that man is free in the sense that he has liberty or power to will
as God commands. I know that, but for this assumption, the human mind could no more
predicate praise or blameworthiness, right or wrong of man, than it could of the
motions of a windmill. Men have often made the assumption in question without being
aware of it, have affirmed right and wrong of human willing without seeing and understanding
the conditions of this affirmation. But the fact is, that in all cases the assumption
has laid deep in the mind as a first truth of reason, that men are free in the sense
of being naturally able to obey God: and this assumption is a necessary condition
of the affirmation that moral character belongs to man.
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE XLIX. Back to Top
MORAL ABILITY AND INABILITY.
I. WHAT CONSTITUTES MORAL INABILITY, ACCORDING TO EDWARDS AND THOSE WHO HOLD WITH
II. THAT THEIR MORAL INABILITY TO OBEY GOD CONSISTS IN REAL DISOBEDIENCE AND A NATURAL
INABILITY TO OBEY.
III. THAT THIS PRETENDED DISTINCTION BETWEEN NATURAL AND MORAL INABILITY IS NONSENSICAL.
IV. WHAT CONSTITUTES MORAL ABILITY ACCORDING TO THIS SCHOOL.
V. THAT THEIR MORAL ABILITY TO OBEY GOD IS NOTHING ELSE THAN REAL OBEDIENCE, AND
A NATURAL INABILITY TO DISOBEY.
I. What constitutes moral inability, according to Edwards and those who hold with
I examine their views of moral inability first in order, because from their views
of moral inability we ascertain more clearly what are their views of moral ability.
Edwards regards moral ability and inability as identical with moral necessity. Concerning
moral necessity, he says, vol. ii., pp. 32, 33, "And sometimes by moral necessity
is meant that necessity of connexion and consequence which arises from such moral
causes as the strength of inclination or motives, and the connexion which there is
in many cases between these and such certain volitions and actions. And it is in
this sense that I shall use the phrase moral necessity in the following discourse.
By natural necessity, as applied to men, I mean such necessity as men are under through
the force of natural causes, as distinguished from what are called moral causes,
such as habits and dispositions of the heart, and moral motives and inducements.
Thus men placed in certain circumstances are the subjects of particular sensations
by necessity. They feel pain when their bodies are wounded; they see the objects
presented before them in a clear light when their eyes are open: so they assent to
the truth of certain propositions as soon as the terms are understood; as that two
and two make four, that black is not white, that two parallel lines can never cross
one another; so by a natural necessity men's bodies move downwards when there is
nothing to support them. But here several things may be noted concerning these two
kinds of necessity. 1. Moral necessity may be as absolute as natural necessity. That
is, the effect may be as perfectly connected with its moral cause, as a natural effect
is with its natural cause. Whether the will is in every case necessarily determined
by the strongest motive, or whether the will ever makes any resistance to such a
motive, or can ever oppose the strongest present inclination or not; if that matter
should be controverted, yet I suppose none will deny, but that, in some cases a previous
bias and inclination, or the motive presented may be so powerful, that the act of
the will may be certainly and indissolubly connected therewith. When motives or previous
bias are very strong, all will allow that there is some difficulty in going against
them. And if they were yet stronger, the difficulty would be still greater. And therefore
if more were still added to their strength up to a certain degree, it might make
the difficulty so great that it would be wholly impossible to surmount it, for this
plain reason, because whatever power men may be supposed to have to surmount difficulties,
yet that power is not infinite, and so goes not beyond certain limits. If a certain
man can surmount ten degrees of difficulty of this kind, with twenty degrees of strength,
because the degrees of strength are beyond the degrees of difficulty, yet if the
difficulty be increased to thirty, or a hundred, or to a thousand degrees, and his
strength not also increased, his strength will be wholly insufficient to surmount
the difficulty. As therefore it must be allowed that there may be such a thing as
a sure and perfect connexion between moral causes and effects; so this only is what
I call by the name of moral necessity." Page 35, he says: "What has been
said of natural and moral necessity may serve to explain what is intended by natural
and moral inability. We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing when we cannot
do it if we will, because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to
the will, either in the faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external
objects. Moral inability consists not in any of these things, but either in a want
of inclination, or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the
act of the will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary. Or both these
may be resolved into one, and it may be said in one word that moral inability consists
in the opposition or want of inclination. For when a person is unable to will or
choose such a thing, through a defect of motives or prevalence of contrary motives,
it is the same thing as his being unable through the want of an inclination, or the
prevalence of a contrary inclination in such circumstances, and under the influence
of such views."
From these quotations, and much more that might be quoted to the same purpose, it
is plain that Edwards, as the representative of his school, holds moral inability
to consist, either in an existing choice or attitude of the will opposed to that
which is required by the law of God, which inclination or choice is necessitated
by motives in view of the mind, or in the absence of such motives as are necessary
to cause or necessitate the state of choice required by the moral law, or to overcome
an opposing choice. Indeed he holds these two to be identical. Observe, his words
are, "Or these may be resolved into one, and it may be said in one word, that
moral inability consists in opposition or want of inclination. For when a person
is unable to will or choose such a thing, through a defect of motives, it is the
same thing as his being unable through the want of an inclination, or the prevalence
of a contrary inclination, in such circumstances and under the influence of such
views," that is, in the presence of such motives. If there is a present prevalent
contrary inclination, it is, according to him: 1. Because there are present certain
reasons that necessitate this contrary inclination; and 2. Because there are not
sufficient motives present to the mind to overcome these opposing motives and inclination,
and to necessitate the will to determine or choose in the direction of the law of
God. By inclination Edwards means choice or volition, as is abundantly evident from
what he all along says in this connexion. This no one will deny who is at all familiar
with his writings.
It was the object of the treatise from which the above quotations have been made,
to maintain that the choice invariably is as the greatest apparent good is. And by
the greatest apparent good he means, a sense of the most agreeable. By which he means,
as he says, that the sense of the most agreeable, and choice or volition, are identical.
Vol. ii., page 20, he says, "And therefore it must be true in some sense, that
the will always is as the greatest apparent good is." "It must be observed
in what sense I use the term 'good,' namely, as of the same import with agreeable.
To appear good to the mind, as I use the phrase, is the same as to appear agreeable,
or seem pleasing to the mind." Again, pp. 21, 22, he says: "I have rather
chosen to express myself thus, that the will always is as the greatest apparent good
is, or as what appears most agreeable, than to say that the will is determined by
the greatest apparent good, or by what seems most agreeable; because an appearing
most agreeable to the mind and the mind's preferring, seem scarcely distinct. If
strict propriety of speech be insisted on, it may more properly be said, that the
voluntary action, which is the immediate consequence of the mind's choice, is determined
by that which appears most agreeable, than the choice itself." Thus it appears
that the sense of the most agreeable, and choice or volition, according to Edwards,
are the same things. Indeed, Edwards throughout confounds desire and volition, making
them the same thing. Edwards regarded the mind as possessing but two primary faculties--the
will and the understanding. He confounded all the states of the sensibility with
acts of will. The strongest desire is with him always identical with volition or
choice, and not merely that which determines choice. When there is a want of inclination
or desire, or the sense of the most agreeable, there is a moral inability according
to the Edwardean philosophy. This want of the strongest desire, inclination, or sense
of the most agreeable, is always owing; 1. To the presence of such motives as to
necessitate an opposite desire, choice, &c.; and 2. To the want of such objective
motives as shall awaken this required desire, or necessitate this inclination or
sense of the most agreeable. In other words, when volition or choice, in consistency
with the law of God, does not exist, it is, 1. Because an opposite choice exists,
and is necessitated by the presence of some motive; and 2. For want of sufficiently
strong objective motives to necessitate the required choice or volition. Let it be
distinctly understood and remembered, that Edwards held that motive, and not the
agent is the cause of all actions of the will. Will, with him, is always determined
in its choice by motives as really as physical effects are produced by their causes.
The difference with him in the connexion of moral and physical causes and effects
"lies not in the nature of the connexion, but in the terms connected."
"That every act of the will has some cause, and consequently (by what has already
been proved) has a necessary connection with its cause, and so is necessary by a
necessity of connection and consequence, is evident by this, that every act of the
will whatsoever is excited by some motive, which is manifest; because, if the mind,
in willing, after the manner it does, is excited by no motive or inducement, then
it has no end which it proposes to itself, or pursues in so doing; it aims at nothing,
and seeks nothing. And if it seeks nothing, then it does not go after anything, or
exert any inclination or preference towards anything; which brings the matter to
a contradiction; because for the mind to will something, and for it to go after something
by an act of preference and inclination, are the same thing.
"But if every act of the will is excited by a motive, then that motive is the
cause of the act. If the acts of the will are excited by motives, then motives are
the causes of their being excited; or, which is the same thing, the cause of their
existence. And if so, the existence of the acts of the will is properly the effect
of their motives. Motives do nothing, as motives or inducements, but by their influence;
and so much as is done by their influence is the effect of them. For that is the
notion of an effect, something that is brought to pass by the influence of something
"And if volitions are properly the effects of their motives, then they are necessarily
connected with their motives. Every effect and event being, as was proved before,
necessarily connected with that which is the proper ground and reason of its existence.
Thus it is manifest that volition is necessary, and is not from any self-determining
power in the will."--Vol. ii., pp. 86, 87.
Moral inability, then, according to this school, consists in a want of inclination,
desire, or sense of the most agreeable, or the strength of an opposite desire or
sense of the most agreeable. This want of inclination, &c., or this opposing
inclination, &c., are identical with an opposing choice or volition. This opposing
choice or inclination, or this want of the required choice, inclination, or sense
of the most agreeable is owing, according to Edwards, 1. To the presence of such
motives as to necessitate the opposing choice; and 2. To the absence of sufficient
motives to beget or necessitate them. Here then we have the philosophy of this school.
The will or agent is unable to choose as God requires in all cases, when, 1. There
are present such motives as to necessitate an opposite choice; and, 2. When there
is not such a motive or such motives in the view of the mind, as to determine or
necessitate the required choice or volition; that is, to awaken a desire, or to create
an inclination or sense of the agreeable stronger than any existing and opposing
desire, inclination, or sense of agreeable. This is the moral inability of the Edwardeans.
II. Their moral inability to obey God consists in real disobedience and a natural
inability to obey.
- 1. If we understand Edwardeans to mean that moral inability consists,--
- (1.) In the presence of such motives as to necessitate an opposite choice; and,--
(2.) In the want or absence of sufficient motives to necessitate choice or volition,
or, which is the same thing, a sense of the most agreeable, or an inclination, then
their moral inability is a proper natural inability.
Edwards says, he "calls it a moral inability, because it is an inability of
will." But by his own showing, the will is the only executive faculty. Whatever
a man can do at all, he can accomplish by willing, and whatever he cannot accomplish
by willing he cannot accomplish at all. An inability to will then must be a natural
We are, by nature, unable to do what we are unable to will to do. Besides, according
to Edwards, moral obligation respects strictly only acts of will, and willing is
the doing that is prohibited or required by the moral law. To be unable to will then,
is to be unable to do. To be unable to will as God requires, is to be unable to do
what he requires, and this surely is a proper, and the only proper natural inability.
- 2. But if we are to understand this school, as maintaining that moral inability
to obey God, consists in a want of the inclination, choice, desire, or sense of the
most agreeable that God requires, or in an inclination or existing choice, volition,
or sense of the most agreeable, which is opposed to the requirement of God, this
surely is really identical with disobedience, and their moral inability to obey consists
in disobedience. For, be it distinctly remembered, that Edwards holds, as we have
seen, that obedience and disobedience, properly speaking, can be predicated only
of acts of will. If the required state of the will exists, there is obedience. If
it does not exist, there is disobedience. Therefore, by his own admission and express
holding, if by moral inability we are to understand a state of the will not conformed,
or, which is the same thing, opposed to the law and will of God, this moral inability
is nothing else than disobedience to God. A moral inability to obey is identical
with disobedience. It is not merely the cause of future or present disobedience,
but really constitutes the whole of present disobedience.
- 3. But suppose that we understand his moral inability to consist both in the
want of an inclination, choice, volition, &c., or in the existence of an opposing
state of the will, and also,--
- (1.) In the presence of such motives as to necessitate an opposite choice, and,--
(2.) In the want of sufficient motives to overcome the opposing state, and necessitate
the required choice, volition, &c., then his views stand thus: moral inability
to choose as God commands, consists in the want of this choice, or in the existence
of an opposite choice, which want of choice, or, which is the same thing with him,
which opposite choice is caused:--
(i.) By the presence of such motives as to necessitate the opposite choice,
(ii.) By the absence of such motives as would necessitate the required choice.
Understand him which way you will, his moral inability is real disobedience, and
is in the highest sense a proper natural inability to obey. The cause of choice or
volition he always seeks, and thinks or assumes that he finds, in the objective motive,
and never for once ascribes it to the sovereignty or freedom of the agent. Choice
or volition is an event, and must have some cause. He assumed that the objective
motive was the cause, when, as consciousness testifies, the agent is himself the
cause. Here is the great error of Edwards.
Edwards assumed that no agent whatever, not even God himself, possesses a power of
self-determination. That the will of God and of all moral agents is determined, not
by themselves, but by an objective motive. If they will in one direction or another,
it is not from any free and sovereign self-determination in view of motives, but
because the motives or inducements present to the mind, inevitably produce or necessitate
the sense of the most agreeable, or choice.
If this is not fatalism or natural necessity, what is?
III. This pretended distinction between natural and moral inability is nonsensical.
What does it amount to? Why this:--
- 1. This natural inability is an inability to do as we will, or to execute our
- 2. This moral inability is an inability to will.
- 3. This moral inability is the only natural inability that has, or can have,
anything to do with duty, or with morality and religion; or, as has been shown,--
- 4. It consists in disobedience itself. Present moral inability to obey is identical
with present disobedience, with a natural inability to obey!
- It is amazing to see how so great and good a man could involve himself in a metaphysical
fog, and bewilder himself and his readers to such a degree, that an absolutely senseless
distinction should pass into the current phraseology, philosophy, and theology of
the church, and a score of theological dogmas be built upon the assumption of its
truth. This nonsensical distinction has been in the mouth of the Edwardean school
of theologians, from Edwards's day to the present. Both saints and sinners have been
bewildered, and, I must say, abused by it. Men have been told that they are as really
unable to will as God directs, as they were to create themselves; and when it is
replied that this inability excuses the sinner, we are directly silenced by the assertion,
that this is only a moral inability, or an inability of will, and, therefore, that
it is so far from excusing the sinner, that it constitutes the very ground, and substance,
and whole of his guilt. Indeed! Men are under moral obligation only to will as God
directs. But an inability thus to will, consisting in the absence of such motives
as would necessitate the required choice, or the presence of such motives as to necessitate
an opposite choice, is a moral inability, and really constitutes the sinner worthy
of an "exceeding great and eternal weight" of damnation! Ridiculous! Edwards
I revere; his blunders I deplore. I speak thus of this Treatise on the Will, because,
while it abounds with unwarrantable assumptions, distinctions without a difference,
and metaphysical subtleties, it has been adopted as the text-book of a multitude
of what are called Calvinistic divines for scores of years. It has bewildered the
head, and greatly embarrassed the heart and the action of the church of God. It is
time, high time, that its errors should be exposed, and so exploded, that such phraseology
should be laid aside, and the ideas which these words represent should cease to be
IV. What constitutes moral ability according to this school.
It is of course the opposite of moral inability.
Moral ability, according to them, consists in willingness with the cause of it. That
is, moral ability to obey God consists in that inclination, desire, choice, volition,
or sense of the most agreeable, which God requires together with its cause. Or it
consists in the presence of such motives as do actually necessitate the above-named
state or determination of the will. Or, more strictly, it consists in this state
caused by the presence of these motives. This is as exact a statement of their views
as I can make. According to this, a man is morally able to do as he does, and is
necessitated to do, or, he is morally able to will as he does will, and as he cannot
help willing. He is morally able to will in this manner, simply and only because
he is caused thus to will by the presence of such motives as are, according to them,
"indissolubly connected" with such a willing by a law of nature and necessity.
But this conducts us to the conclusion,--
V. That their moral ability to obey God is nothing else than real obedience, and
a natural inability to disobey.
Strictly, this moral ability includes both this state of will required by the law
of God, and also the cause of this state, to wit, the presence of such motives as
necessitate the inclination, choice, volition, or sense of the most agreeable, that
God requires. The agent is able thus to will because he is caused thus to will. Or
more strictly, his ability, and his inclination or willing, are identical. Or still
further, according to Edwards, his moral ability thus to will and his thus willing,
and the presence of the motives that cause this willing, are identical. This is a
sublime discovery in philosophy; a most transcendental speculation! I would not treat
these notions as ridiculous, were they not truly so, or if I could treat them in
any other manner, and still do them anything like justice. If, where the theory is
plainly stated, it appears ridiculous, the fault is not in me, but in the theory
itself. I know it is trying to you, as it is to me, to connect anything ridiculous
with so great and so revered a name as that of President Edwards. But if a blunder
of his has entailed perplexity and error on the church, surely his great and good
soul would now thank the hand that should blot out the error from under heaven.
Thus, when closely examined, this long established and venerated fogbank vanishes
away; and this famed distinction between moral and natural ability and inability,
is found to be "a thing of nought."
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE L. Back
THERE are yet other forms of the doctrine of inability to be stated and considered
before we have done with this subject. In the consideration of the one before me,
I. STATE WHAT I CONSIDER TO BE THE FUNDAMENTAL ERRORS OF EDWARDS AND HIS SCHOOL
ON THE SUBJECT OF ABILITY.
II. STATE THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE SCHEME OF INABILITY WHICH WE ARE ABOUT TO CONSIDER.
III. CONSIDER ITS CLAIMS.
I. I am to state what I consider to be the fundamental errors of Edwards and his
school upon the subject of ability.
- 1. He denied that moral agents are the causes of their own actions. He started,
of course, with the just assumption, that every event is an effect, and must have
some cause. The choices and volitions of moral agents are effects of some cause.
What is that cause? He assumes that every act of will must have been caused by a
preceding one, or by the objective motive. By the reductio ad absurdum, he easily
showed the absurdity of the first hypothesis, and consequently assumed the truth
of the last. But how does he know that the sovereign power of the agent is not the
cause? His argument against self-determination amounts to nothing; for it is, in
fact, only a begging of the whole question. If we are conscious of anything, we are
of the rational affirmation that we do, in fact, originate our own choices and volitions.
To call this in question, is to question the validity of the intuitions of reason.
But if the testimony of this faculty can deceive us, we can be certain of nothing.
But it cannot deceive us, and no man can practically doubt the intuitions of the
reason. All moral agents do, and always must, in all their practical judgments, assume
and admit the truth of all the rational intuitions. Edwards, as really as any other
man, believed himself to originate and be the proper cause of his own volitions.
In his practical judgment he assumed his own causality, and the proper causality
of all moral agents, or he never could have had so much as a conception of moral
agency and accountability. But in theory, he adopted the capital error of denying
the proper causality of moral agents. This error is fundamental. Every definition
of a moral agent that denies or overlooks, his proper causality, is radically defective.
It drops out of the definition the very element that we necessarily affirm to be
essential to liberty and accountability. Denying, as he did, the proper causality
of moral agents, he was driven to give a false definition of free agency, as has
been shown. Edwards rightly regarded the choices and volitions of moral agents as
effects, but he looks in the wrong direction for the cause. Instead of heeding the
rational affirmation of his own mind that causality, or the power of self-determination,
is a sine quà non of moral agency, he assumed, in theorizing, the direct opposite,
and sought for the cause of choice and volition out of the agent, and in the objective
motive; thus, in fact, denying the validity of the testimony of the pure reason,
and reducing moral agents to mere machines, and stultifying the whole subject of
moral government, moral action, and just retribution. No wonder that so capital an
error, and defended with so much ability, should have led one of his own sons into
scepticism. But the piety of the president was stronger than even his powerful logic.
Assuming a false major premise, his straightforward logic conducted him to the dogma
of a universal necessity. But his well-developed reason, and deep piety of heart,
controlled his practical judgment, so that few men have practically held the doctrines
of accountability and retribution with a firmer grasp.
- 2. Edwards adopted the Lockean philosophy. He regarded the mind as possessing
but two primary faculties, the understanding and the will. He considered all the
desires, emotions, affections, appetites, and passions as voluntary, and as really
consisting in acts of will. This confounding of the states of the sensibility with
acts of the will, I regard as another fundamental error of his whole system of philosophy,
so far as it respects the liberty of the will, or the doctrine of ability. Being
conscious that the emotions, which he calls affections, the desires, the appetites
and passions, were so correlated to their appropriate objects, that they are excited
by the presence or contemplation of them, and assuming them to be voluntary states
of mind, or actions of the will, he very naturally, and with this assumption, necessarily
and justly concluded, that the will was governed or decided by the objective motive.
Assuming as he did that the mind has but two faculties, understanding and will, and
that every state of feeling and of mind that did not belong to the understanding,
must be a voluntary state or act of will, and being conscious that his feelings,
desires, affections, appetites and passions, were excited by the contemplation of
their correlated objects, he could consistently come to no other conclusion than
that the will is determined by motives, and that choice always is as the most agreeable
- Had he not sat down to write with the assumption of the Lockean school of philosophy
in his mind, his Treatise on the Will, in anything like its present form, could never
have seen the light. But assuming the truth of that philosophy, a mind like his could
arrive at no other conclusions than he did. He took upon trust, or assumed without
inquiry, an error that vitiated his whole system, and gave birth to that injurious
monstrosity and misnomer, "Edwards on the Freedom of the Will." He justly
held that moral law legislates and can strictly legislate only over acts of will,
and those acts that are under the control of the will. This he, with his mental developement,
could not deny, nor think of denying. Had he but given or assumed a correct definition
of the will, and excluded from its acts the wholly involuntary states of the sensibility,
he never could have asserted that the will is always and necessarily determined by
the objective motive. Assuming the philosophy of Locke, and being conscious that
the states of his sensibility, which he called acts of will, were controlled or excited
by motives, or by the consideration of their correlated objects, his great soul laboured
to bring about a reconciliation between the justice of God and this real, though
not so called, slavery of the human will. This led him to adopt the distinction which
we have examined between a moral and a natural inability. Thus, as a theologian,
he committed a capital error in suffering himself to take upon trust another man's
philosophy. Happy is the man who takes the trouble to examine for himself, whatever
is essential to his system of opinion and belief.
II. I am to state the philosophy of the scheme of inability which we are about
- 1. This philosophy properly distinguishes between the will and the sensibility.
It regards the mind as possessing three primary departments, powers, or susceptibilities--the
intellect, the sensibility, and the will. It does not always call these departments
or susceptibilities by these names, but if I understand them, the abettors of this
philosophy hold to their existence, by whatever name they may call them.
- 2. This philosophy also holds, that the states of the intellect and of the sensibility
are passive and involuntary.
- 3. It holds that freedom of will is a condition of moral agency.
- 4. It also teaches that the will is free, and consequently that man is a free
- 5. It teaches that the will controls the outward life and the attention of the
intellect, directly, and many of the emotions, desires, affections, appetites, and
passions, or many states of the sensibility, indirectly.
- 6. It teaches that men have ability to obey God so far as acts of will are concerned,
and also so far as those acts and states of mind are concerned that are under the
direct or indirect control of the will.
- 7. But they hold that moral obligation may, and in the case of man at least,
does extend beyond moral agency and beyond the sphere of ability; that ability or
freedom of will is essential to moral agency, but that freedom of will or moral agency
does not limit moral obligation; that moral agency and moral obligation are not coextensive;
consequently that moral obligation is not limited by ability or by moral agency.
- 8. This philosophy asserts that moral obligation extends to those states of mind
that lie wholly beyond or without the sphere or control of the will; that it extends
not merely to voluntary acts and states, together with all acts and states that come
within the direct or indirect control of the will, but, as was said, it insists that
those mental states that lie wholly beyond the will's direct or indirect control,
come within the pale of moral legislation and obligation; and that therefore obligation
is not limited by ability.
- 9. This philosophy seems to have been invented to reconcile the doctrine of original
sin in the sense of a sinful nature, or of constitutional moral depravity with moral
obligation. Assuming that original sin in this sense is a doctrine of divine revelation,
it takes the bold and uncompromising ground already stated, namely, that moral obligation
is not merely co-extensive with moral agency and ability, but extends beyond both
into the region of those mental states that lie entirely without the will's direct
or indirect control.
- 10. This bold assertion the abettors of this philosophy attempt to support by
an appeal to the necessary convictions of men and to the authority of the Bible.
They allege that the instinctive judgments of men, as well as the Bible, everywhere
assume and affirm moral obligation and moral character of the class of mental states
- 11. They admit that a physical inability is a bar to or inconsistent with moral
obligation; but they of course deny that the inability to which they hold is physical.
III. This brings us to a brief consideration of the claims of this philosophy
- 1. It is based upon a petitio principiis, or a begging of the question. It assumes
that the instinctive or irresistible and universal judgments of men, together with
the Bible, assert and assume that moral obligation and moral character extend to
the states of mind in question. It is admitted that the teachings of the Bible are
to be relied upon. It is also admitted that the first truths of reason, or what this
philosophy calls the instinctive and necessary judgments of all men, must be true.
But it is not admitted that the assertion in question is a doctrine of the Bible
or a first truth of reason. On the contrary both are denied. It is denied, at least
by me, that either reason or divine revelation affirms moral obligation or moral
character of any state of mind, that lies wholly beyond both the direct and the indirect
control of the will. Now this philosophy must not be allowed to beg the question
in debate. Let it be shown, if it can be, that the alleged truth is either a doctrine
of the Bible or a first truth of reason. Both reason and revelation do assert and
assume, that moral obligation and moral character extend to acts of will, and to
all those outward acts or mental states that lie within its direct or indirect control.
"But further these deponents say not." Men are conscious of moral obligation
in respect to these acts and states of mind, and of guilt when they fail in these
respects to comply with moral obligation. But who ever blamed himself for pain, when,
without his fault, he received a blow, or was seized with the tooth-ache, or a fit
of bilious cholic?
- 2. Let us inquire into the nature of this inability. Observe, it is admitted
by this school that a physical inability is inconsistent with moral obligation--in
other words, that physical ability is a condition of moral obligation. But what is
a physical inability? The primary definition of the adjective physical, given by
Webster, is, "pertaining to nature, or natural objects." A physical inability
then, in the primary sense of the term physical, is an inability of nature. It may
be either a material or a mental inability, that is, it may be either an inability
of body or mind. It is admitted by the school whose views we are canvassing, that
all human causality or ability resides in the will, and therefore that there is a
proper inability of nature to perform anything that does not come within the sphere
of the direct or indirect causality of, or control of the will. It is plain, therefore,
that the inability for which they contend must be a proper natural inability, or
inability of nature. This they fully admit and maintain. But this they do not call
a physical inability. But why do they not? Why, simply because it would, by their
own admissions, overthrow their favourite position. They seem to assume that a physical
inability must be a material inability. But where is the authority for such an assumption?
There is no authority for it. A proper inability of nature must be a physical inability,
as opposed to moral inability, or there is no meaning in language. It matters not
at all whether the inability belongs to the material organism, or to the mind. If
it be constitutional, and properly an inability of nature, it is nonsense to deny
that this is a physical inability, or to maintain that it can be consistent with
moral obligation. It is in vain to reply that this inability, though a real inability
of nature, is not physical but moral, because a sinful inability. This is another
begging of the question.
- The school, whose views I am examining, maintain, that this inability is founded
in the first sin of Adam. His first sin plunged himself and his posterity, descending
from him by a natural law, into a total inability of nature to render any obedience
to God. This first sin of Adam entailed a nature on all his posterity "wholly
sinful in every faculty and part of soul and body." This constitutional sinfulness
that belongs to every faculty and part of soul and body, constitutes the inability
of which we are treating. But mark, it is not physical inability, because it is a
sinful inability! Important theological distinction!--as truly wonderful, surely,
as any of the subtleties of the Jesuits. But if this inability is sinful, it is important
to inquire, Whose sin is it? Who is to blame for it? Why to be sure, we are told
that it is the sin of him upon whom it is thus entailed by the natural law of descent
from parent to child without his knowledge or consent. This sinfulness of nature,
entirely irrespective of and previous to any actual transgression, renders its possessor
worthy of and exposed to the wrath and curse of God for ever. This sinfulness, observe,
is transmitted by a natural or physical law from Adam, but it is not a physical inability.
It is something that inheres in, and belongs to every faculty and part of soul and
body. It is transmitted by a physical law from parent to child. It is, therefore,
and must be a physical thing. But yet we are told that it cannot be a physical inability,
because first, it is sinful, or sin itself; and, secondly, because a physical inability
is a bar to, or inconsistent with, moral obligation. Here, then, we have their reasons
for not admitting this to be a physical inability. It would in this case render moral
obligation an impossibility; and, besides, if a bar to moral obligation, it could
not be sinful. But it is sinful, it is said, therefore it cannot be physical. But
how do we know that it is sinful? Why, we are told, that the instinctive judgments
of men, and the Bible everywhere affirm and assume it. We are told, that both the
instinctive judgments of men and the Bible affirm and assume, both the inability
in question and the sinfulness of it; "that we ought to be able, but are not;"
that is, that we are so much to blame for this inability of nature entailed upon
us without our knowledge or consent by a physical necessity, as to deserve the wrath
and curse of God for ever. We are under a moral obligation not to have this sinful
nature. We deserve damnation for having it. To be sure, we are entirely unable to
put it away, and had no agency whatever in its existence. But what of that? We are
told, that "moral obligation is not limited by ability;" that our being
as unable to change our nature as we are to create a world, is no reason why we should
not be under obligation to do it, since "moral obligation does not imply ability
of any kind to do what we are under obligation to do!" . . . . I was about to
expose the folly and absurdity of these assertions, but hush! It is not allowable,
we are told, to reason on this subject. We shall deceive ourselves if we listen to
the "miserable logic of our understandings." We must fall back, then, upon
the intuitive affirmations of reason and the Bible. Here, then, we are willing to
lodge our appeal. The Bible defines sin to be a transgression of the law. What law
have we violated in inheriting this nature? What law requires us to have a different
nature from that which we possess? Does reason affirm that we are deserving of the
wrath and curse of God for ever, for inheriting from Adam a sinful nature?
What law of reason have we transgressed in inheriting this nature? Reason cannot
condemn us, unless we have violated some law which it can recognize as such. Reason
indignantly rebukes such nonsense. Does the Bible hold us responsible for impossibilities?
Does it require of us what we cannot do by willing to do it? Nay, verily; but it
expressly affirms, that "if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according
to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." The plain meaning
of this passage is, that if one wills as God directs, he has hereby met all his obligation;
that he has done all that is naturally possible to him, and therefore nothing more
is required. In this passage, the Bible expressly limits obligation by ability. This
we have repeatedly seen in former lectures. The law also, as we have formerly seen,
limits obligation by ability. It requires only that we should love the Lord with
all our strength, that is, with all our ability, and our neighbour as ourselves.
Does reason hold us responsible for impossibilities, or affirm our obligation to
do, or be, what it is impossible for us to do and be? No indeed. Reason never did
and never can condemn us for our nature, and hold us worthy of the wrath and curse
of God for ever for possessing it. Nothing is more shocking and revolting to reason,
than such assumptions as are made by the philosophy in question. This every man's
consciousness must testify.
But is it not true that some, at least, do intelligently condemn themselves for their
nature, and adjudge themselves to be worthy of the wrath and curse of God for ever
for its sinfulness? The framers of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith made this
affirmation in words, at least; whether intelligently or unintelligently, we are
left to inquire. The reason of a moral agent condemning himself, and adjudging himself
worthy of the wrath and curse of God for ever, for possessing a nature entailed on
him by a natural law, without his knowledge or consent! This can never be.
But is it not true, as is affirmed, that men instinctively and necessarily affirm
their obligation to be able to obey God, while they at the same time affirm that
they are not able? I answer, no. They affirm themselves to be under obligation simply,
and only, because deeply in their inward being lies the assumption that they are
able to comply with the requirements of God. They are conscious of ability to will,
and of power to control their outward life directly, and the states of the intellect
and of their sensibility, either directly or indirectly, by willing. Upon this consciousness
they found the affirmation of obligation, and of praise and blame-worthiness in respect
to these acts and states of mind. But for the consciousness of ability, no affirmation
of moral obligation, or of praise or blame-worthiness, were possible.
But do not those who affirm both their inability and their obligation, deceive themselves?
I answer, yes. It is common for persons to overlook assumptions that lie, so to speak,
at the bottom of their minds. This has been noticed in former lectures, and need
not be here repeated.
It is true indeed that God requires of men, especially under the gospel, what they
are unable to do directly in their own strength. Or more strictly speaking, he requires
them to lay hold on his strength, or to avail themselves of his grace, as the condition
of being what he requires them to be. With strict propriety, it cannot be said that
in this, or in any case, he requires directly any more than we are able directly
to do. The direct requirement in the case under consideration, is to avail ourselves
of, or to lay hold upon his strength. This we have power to do. He requires us to
lay hold upon his grace and strength, and thereby to rise to a higher knowledge of
himself, and to a consequent higher state of holiness than would be otherwise possible
to us. The direct requirement is to believe, or to lay hold upon his strength, or
to receive the Holy Spirit, or Christ, who stands at the door, and knocks, and waits
for admission. The indirect requirement is to rise to a degree of knowledge of God,
and to spiritual attainments that are impossible to us in our own strength. We have
ability to obey the direct command directly, and the indirect command indirectly.
That is, we are able by virtue of our nature, together with the proffered grace of
the Holy Spirit, to comply with all the requirements of God. So that in fact there
is no proper inability about it.
But are not men often conscious of there being much difficulty in the way of rendering
to God all that we affirm ourselves under obligation to render? I answer, yes. But
strictly speaking, they must admit their direct or indirect ability, as a condition
of affirming their obligation. This difficulty, arising out of their physical depravity
(See distinction between moral and physical depravity, Lecture XXXVIII. II), and
the power of temptation from without, is the foundation or cause of the spiritual
warfare of which the Scriptures speak, and of which all Christians are conscious.
But the Bible abundantly teaches, that through grace we are able to be more than
conquerors. If we are able to be this through grace, we are able to avail ourselves
of the provisions of grace, so that there is no proper inability in the case. However
great the difficulties may be, we are able through Christ to overcome them all. This
we must and do assume as the condition of the affirmation of obligation.
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE LI. Back
I. I WILL SHOW WHAT THOSE WHO USE THIS PHRASEOLOGY MEAN BY A GRACIOUS ABILITY.
II. THAT THE DOCTRINE OF A GRACIOUS ABILITY AS HELD BY THOSE WHO MAINTAIN IT IS AN
III. IN WHAT SENSE OF THE TERMS A GRACIOUS ABILITY IS POSSIBLE.
Grace is unmerited favour. Its exercise consists in bestowing that which, without
a violation of justice, might be withheld.
Ability to obey God, as we have seen, is the possession of power adequate to the
performance of that which is required. If, then, the terms are used in the proper
sense, by a gracious ability must be intended that the power which men at present
possess to obey the commands of God, is a gift of grace relatively to the command;
that is, the bestowment of power adequate to the performance of the thing required,
is a matter of grace as opposed to justice. But let us enter upon an inquiry into
the sense in which this language is used.
I. I will show what is intended by the term gracious ability.
The abettors of this scheme hold that by the first sin of Adam, he, together with
all his posterity, lost all natural power and all ability of every kind to obey God;
that therefore they were, as a race, wholly unable to obey the moral law, or to render
to God any acceptable service whatever; that is, that they became, as a consequence
of the sin of Adam, wholly unable to use the powers of nature in any other way than
to sin. They were able to sin or to disobey God, but entirely unable to obey him;
that they did not lose all power to act, but that they had power to act only in one
direction, that is, in opposition to the will and law of God. By a gracious ability
they intend, that in consequence of the atonement of Christ, God has graciously restored
to man ability to accept the terms of mercy, or to fulfil the conditions of acceptance
with God; in other words, that by the gracious aid of the Holy Spirit which, upon
condition of the atonement, God has given to every member of the human family, all
men are endowed with a gracious ability to obey God. By a gracious ability is intended,
then, that ability or power to obey God, which all men now possess, not by virtue
of their own nature or constitutional powers, but by virtue of the indwelling and
gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, gratuitously bestowed upon man in consequence
of the atonement of Christ. The inability, or total loss of all natural power to
obey God into which men as a race fell by the first sin of Adam, they call original
sin, &c., perhaps more strictly, this inability is a consequence of that original
sin into which man fell; which original sin itself consisted in the total corruption
of man's whole nature. They hold, that by the atonement Christ made satisfaction
for original sin, in such a sense, that the inability resulting from it is removed,
and that now men are by gracious aid able to obey and accept the terms of salvation.
That is, they are able to repent and believe the gospel. In short, they are able
by virtue of this gracious ability to do their duty, or to obey God. This, if I understand
these theologians, is a fair statement of their doctrine of gracious ability. This
II. To show that the doctrine of a gracious ability, as held by those who maintain
it, is an absurdity.
The question is not whether, as a matter of fact, men ever do obey God without the
gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. I hold that they do not. So the fact of the
Holy Spirit's gracious influence being exerted in every case of human obedience,
is not a question in debate between those who maintain, and those who deny the doctrine
of gracious ability, in the sense above explained. The question in debate is not
whether men do, in any case, use the powers of nature in the manner that God requires,
without the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, but whether they are naturally
able so to use them. Is the fact that they never do so use them without a gracious
divine influence, to be ascribed to absolute inability, or to the fact that, from
the beginning, they universally and voluntarily consecrate their powers to the gratification
of self, and that therefore they will not, unless they are divinely persuaded, by
the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, in any case turn and consecrate their
powers to the service of God? If this doctrine of natural inability and of gracious
ability be true, it inevitably follows:--
- 1. That but for the atonement of Christ, and the consequent bestowment of a gracious
ability, no one of Adam's race could ever have been capable of sinning. For in this
case the whole race would have been, and remained, wholly destitute of any kind or
degree of ability to obey God. Consequently they could not have been subjects of
moral government, and of course their actions could have had no moral character.
It is a first truth of reason, a truth everywhere and by all men necessarily assumed
in their practical judgments, that a subject of moral government must be a moral
agent, or that moral agency is a necessary condition of any one's being a subject
of a moral government. And in the practical judgment of men, it matters not at all
whether a being ever was a moral agent, or not. If by any means whatever he has ceased
to be a moral agent, men universally and necessarily assume, that it is impossible
for him to be a subject of moral government any more than a horse can be such a subject.
Suppose he has by his own fault made himself an idiot or a lunatic; all men know
absolutely, and in their practical judgment assume, that in this state he is not,
and cannot be a subject of moral government. They know that in this state, moral
character cannot justly be predicated of his actions. His guilt in thus depriving
himself of moral agency may be exceeding great, and, as was said on a former occasion,
his guilt in thus depriving himself of moral agency may equal the sum of all the
default of which it is the cause,--but be a moral agent, be under moral obligation
in this state of dementation or insanity, he cannot. This is a first truth of reason,
irresistibly and universally assumed by all men. If therefore Adam's posterity had
by their own personal act cast away and deprived themselves of all ability to obey
God, in this state they would have ceased to be moral agents, and consequently they
could have sinned no more. But the case under consideration is not the one just supposed,
but is one where moral agency was not cast away by the agent himself. It is one where
moral agency was never, and never could have been possessed. In the case under consideration,
Adam's posterity, had he ever had any, would never have possessed any power to obey
God, or to do anything acceptable to him. Consequently, they never could have sustained
to God the relation of subjects of his moral government. Of course they never could
have had moral character; right or wrong, in a moral sense, never could have been
predicated of their actions.
- 2. It must follow from this doctrine of gracious ability and natural inability,
that mankind lost their freedom, or the liberty of the human will in the first sin
of Adam; that both Adam himself, and all his posterity would and could have sustained
to God only the relation of necessary, as opposed to free agents, had not God bestowed
upon them a gracious ability.
- We have seen in a former lecture, that natural ability to obey God, and the freedom
or liberty of will, are identical. We have abundantly seen that moral law and moral
obligation respect strictly only acts of will; that hence, all obedience to God consists
strictly in acts of will; that power to will in conformity with the requirements
of God, is natural ability to obey him; that freedom or liberty of will, consists
in the power or ability to will in conformity or opposition to the will or law of
God; that, therefore, freedom or liberty of will, and natural ability to obey God,
are identical. Thus we see, that if man lost his natural ability to obey God in the
first sin of Adam, he lost the freedom of his will, and thenceforth must for ever
have remained a necessary agent, but for the gracious re-bestowment of ability or
freedom of will.
But that either Adam or his posterity lost their freedom or free agency by the first
sin of Adam, is not only a sheer but an absurd assumption. To be sure Adam fell into
a state of total alienation from the law of God, and lapsed into a state of supreme
selfishness. His posterity have unanimously followed his example. He and they have
become dead in trespasses and sins. Now that this death in sin either consists in,
or implies the loss of free agency, is the very thing to be proved by them. But this
cannot be proved. I have so fully discussed the subject of human moral depravity
or sinfulness on a former occasion, as to render it unnecessary to enlarge upon it
- 3. Again, if it be true, as these theologians affirm, that men have only
a gracious ability to obey God, and that this gracious ability consists in the presence
and gracious agency of the Holy Spirit, it follows that, when the Holy Spirit is
withdrawn from man, he is no longer a free agent, and from that moment he is incapable
of moral action, and of course can sin no more. Hence, should he live any number
of years after this withdrawal, neither sin nor holiness, virtue nor vice, praise
nor blame-worthiness could be predicated of his conduct. The same will and must be
true of all his future eternity.
- 4. If the doctrine in question be true, it follows, that from the moment of the
withdrawal of the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, man is no longer a subject
of moral obligation. It is from that moment absurd and unjust to require the performance
of any duty of him. Nay, to conceive of him as being any longer a subject of duty;
to think or speak of duty as belonging to him, is as absurd as to think or speak
of the duty of a mere machine. He has, from the moment of the withholding of a gracious
ability, ceased to be a free and become a necessary agent, having power to act but
in one direction. Such a being can by no possibility be capable of sin or holiness.
Suppose he still possesses power to act contrary to the letter of the law of God:
what then? This action can have no moral character, because, act in some way he must,
and he can act in no other way. It is nonsense to affirm that such action can be
sinful in the sense of blameworthy. To affirm that it can, is to contradict a first
truth of reason. Sinners, then, who have quenched the Holy Spirit, and from whom
he is wholly withdrawn, are no longer to be blamed for their enmity against God,
and for all their opposition to him. They are, according to this doctrine, as free
from blame as are the motions of a mere machine.
- 5. Again, if the doctrine in question be true, there is no reason to believe
that the angels that fell from their allegiance to God ever sinned but once. If Adam
lost his free agency by the fall, or by his first sin, there can be no doubt that
the angels did so too. If a gracious ability had not been bestowed upon Adam, it
is certain, according to the doctrine in question, that he never could have been
the subject of moral obligation from the moment of his first sin, and consequently,
could never again have sinned. The same must be true of devils. If by their first
sin they fell into the condition of necessary agents, having lost their free agency,
they have never sinned since. That is, moral character cannot have been predicable
of their conduct since that event, unless a gracious ability has been bestowed upon
them. That this has been done cannot, with even a show of reason, be pretended. The
devils, then, according to this doctrine, are not now to blame for all they do to
oppose God and to ruin souls. Upon the supposition in question, they cannot help
it; and you might as well blame the winds and the waves for the evil which they sometimes
do, as blame Satan for what he does.
- 6. If this doctrine be true, there is not, and never will be, any sin in hell,
for the plain reason, that there are no moral agents there. They are necessary agents,
unless it be true, that the Holy Spirit and a gracious ability be continued there.
This is not, I believe, contended for by the abettors of this scheme. But if they
deny to the inhabitants of hell freedom of the will, or, which is the same thing,
natural ability to obey God, they must admit, or be grossly inconsistent, that there
is no sin in hell, either in men or devils. But is this admission agreeable, either
to reason or revelation? I know that the abettors of this scheme maintain, that God
may justly hold both men, from whom a gracious ability is withdrawn, and devils,
responsible for their conduct, upon the ground that they have destroyed their own
ability. But suppose this were true--that they had rendered themselves idiots, lunatics,
or necessary as opposed to free agents, could God justly, could enlightened reason
still regard them as moral agents, and as morally responsible for their conduct?
No, indeed. God and reason may justly blame, and render them miserable, for annihilating
their freedom or their moral agency, but to hold them still responsible for present
obedience, were absurd.
- 7. We have seen that the ability of all men of sane mind to obey God, is necessarily
assumed as a first truth of reason, and that this assumption is, from the very laws
of mind, the indispensable condition of the affirmation, or even the conception,
that they are subjects of moral obligation; that, but for this assumption, men could
not so much as conceive the possibility of moral responsibility, and of praise and
blame-worthiness. If the laws of mind remain unaltered, this is and always will be
so. In the eternal world and in hell, men and devils must necessarily assume their
own freedom or ability to obey God, as the condition of their obligation to do so,
and, consequently to their being capable of sin or holiness. Since revelation informs
us that men and devils continue to sin in hell, we know that there also it must be
assumed as a first truth of reason, that they are free agents, or that they have
natural ability to obey God.
- 8. But that a gracious ability to do duty or to obey God is an absurdity, will
further appear, if we consider that it is a first truth of reason, that moral obligation
implies moral agency, and that moral agency implies freedom of will; or in other
words, it implies a natural ability to comply with obligation. This ability is necessarily
regarded by the intelligence as the sine quà non of moral obligation, on the
ground of natural and immutable justice. A just command always implies an ability
to obey it. A command to perform a natural impossibility would not, and could not,
impose obligation. Suppose God should command human beings to fly without giving
them power, could such a command impose moral obligation? No, indeed. But suppose
he should give them power, or promise them power, upon the performance of a condition
within their reach, then he might in justice require them to fly, and a command to
do so would be obligatory. But relatively to the requirement, the bestowment of power
would not be grace, but justice. Relatively to the results or the pleasure of flying,
the bestowment of power might be gracious. That is, it might be grace in God to give
me power to fly, that I might have the pleasure and profit of flying, so that relatively
to the results of flying, the giving of power might be regarded as an act of grace.
But, if God requires me to fly as a matter of duty, he must in justice supply the
power or ability to fly. This would in justice be a necessary condition of the command,
imposing moral obligation.
- Nor would it at all vary the case if I had ever possessed wings, and by the abuse
of them had lost the power to fly. In this case, considered relatively to the pleasure,
and profit, and results of flying, the restoring of the power to fly might and would
be an act of grace. But if God would still command me to fly, he must, as a condition
of my obligation, restore the power. It is vain and absurd to say, as has been said,
that in such a case, although I might lose the power of obedience, this cannot alter
the right of God to claim obedience. This assertion proceeds upon the absurd assumption
that the will of God makes or creates law, instead of merely declaring and enforcing
the law of nature. We have seen in former lectures, that the only law or rule of
action that is, or can be obligatory on a moral agent, is the law of nature, or just
that course of willing and acting, which is for the time being, suitable to his nature
and relations. We have seen that God's will never makes or creates law, that it only
declares and enforces it. If therefore, by any means whatever, the nature of a moral
agent should be so changed that his will is no longer free to act in conformity with,
or in opposition to, the law of nature, if God would hold him still obligated to
obey, he must in justice, relatively to his requirement, restore his liberty or ability.
Suppose one had by the abuse of his intellect lost the use of it, and become a perfect
idiot, could he by any possibility be still required to understand and obey God?
Certainly not. So neither could he be required to perform anything else that had
become naturally impossible to him. Viewed relatively to the pleasure and results
of obedience, his restoring power would be an act of grace. But viewed relatively
to his duty or to God's command, the restoring of power to obey is an act of justice
and not of grace. To call this grace were to abuse language, and confound terms.
But this brings me to the consideration of the next question to be discussed at present,
III. In what sense a gracious ability is possible.
- 1. Not, as we have just seen, in the sense that the bestowment of power to render
obedience to a command possible, can be properly a gift of grace. Grace is undeserved
favour, something not demanded by justice, that which under the circumstances might
be withholden without injustice. It never can be just in any being to require that
which under the circumstances is impossible. As has been said, relatively to the
requirement and as a condition of its justice, the bestowment of power adequate to
the performance of that which is commanded, is an unalterable condition of the justice
of the command. This I say is a first truth of reason, a truth everywhere by all
men necessarily assumed and known. A gracious ability to obey a command, is an absurdity
and an impossibility.
- 2. But a gracious ability considered relatively to the advantages to result from
obedience is possible.
- Suppose, for example, that a servant who supports himself and his family by his
wages, should by his own fault render himself unable to labour and to earn his wages.
His master may justly dismiss him, and let him go with his family to the poor-house.
But in this disabled state his master cannot justly exact labour of him. Nor could
he do so if he absolutely owned the servant. Now suppose the master to be able to
restore to the servant his former strength. If he would require service of him, as
a condition of the justice of this requirement, he must restore his strength so far
at least as to render obedience possible. This would be mere justice. But suppose
he restored the ability of the servant to gain support for himself and his family
by labour. This, viewed relatively to the good of the servant, to the results of
the restoration of his ability to himself and to his family, is a matter of grace.
Relatively to the good or rights of the master in requiring the labour of the servant,
the restoration of ability to obey is an act of justice. But relatively to the good
of the servant, and the benefits that result to him from this restoration of ability,
and making it once more possible for him to support himself and his family, the giving
of ability is properly an act of grace.
Let this be applied to the case under consideration. Suppose the race of Adam to
have lost their free agency by the first sin of Adam, and thus to have come into
a state in which holiness and consequent salvation were impossible. Now, if God would
still require obedience of them, he must in justice restore their ability. And viewed
relatively to his right to command, and their duty to obey, this restoration is properly
a matter of justice. But suppose he would again place them in circumstances to render
holiness and consequent salvation possible to them:-- viewed relatively to their
good and profit, this restoration of ability is properly a matter of grace.
A gracious ability to obey, viewed relatively to the command to be obeyed, is impossible
and absurd. But a gracious ability to be saved, viewed relatively to salvation, is
There is no proof that mankind ever lost their ability to obey, either by the first
sin of Adam, or by their own sin. For this would imply, as we have seen, that they
had ceased to be free, and had become necessary agents. But if they had, and God
had restored their ability to obey, all that can be justly said in this case, is,
that so far as his right to command is concerned, the restoration of their ability
was an act of justice. But so far as the rendering of salvation possible to them
is concerned, it was an act of grace.
- 3. But it is asserted, or rather assumed by the defenders of the dogma under
consideration, that the Bible teaches the doctrine of a natural inability, and of
a gracious ability in man to obey the commands of God. I admit, indeed, that if we
interpret scripture without regard to any just rules of interpretation, this assumption
may find countenance in the word of God, just as almost any absurdity whatever may
do, and has done. But a moderate share of attention to one of the simplest and most
universal and most important rules of interpreting language, whether in the Bible
or out of it, will strip this absurd dogma of the least appearance of support from
the word of God. The rule to which I refer is this, "that language is always
to be interpreted in accordance with the subject-matter of discourse."
- When used of acts of will, the term "cannot" interpreted by this rule,
must not be understood to mean a proper impossibility. If I say, I cannot take five
dollars for my watch, when it is offered to me, every one knows that I do not and
cannot mean to affirm a proper impossibility. So when the angel said to Lot, "Haste
thee, for I cannot do anything until thou become thither," who ever understood
him as affirming a natural or any proper impossibility? All that he could have meant
was, that he was not willing to do anything until Lot was in a place of safety. Just
so when the Bible speaks of our inability to comply with the commands of God, all
that can be intended is, that we are so unwilling that, without divine persuasion,
we, as a matter of fact, shall not and will not obey. This certainly is the sense
in which such language is used in common life. And in common parlance, we never think
of such language, when used of acts of will, as meaning anything more than unwillingness,
a state in which the will is strongly committed in an opposite direction.
When Joshua said to the children of Israel, "Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he
is a holy God," the whole context, as well as the nature of the case, shows
that he did not mean to affirm a natural, nor indeed any kind of impossibility. In
the same connexion, he requires them to serve the Lord, and leads them solemnly to
pledge themselves to serve him. He undoubtedly intended to say, that with wicked
hearts they could not render him an acceptable service, and therefore insisted on
their putting away the wickedness of their hearts, by immediately and voluntarily
consecrating themselves to the service of the Lord. So it must be in all cases where
the term "cannot," and such-like expressions which, when applied to muscular
action, would imply a proper impossibility, are used in reference to acts of will;
they cannot, when thus used be understood as implying a proper impossibility, without
doing violence to every sober rule of interpreting language. What would be thought
of a judge or an advocate at the bar of an earthly tribunal, who should interpret
the language of a witness without any regard to the rule, "that language is
to be understood according to the subject-matter of discourse." Should an advocate
in his argument to the court or jury, attempt to interpret the language of a witness
in a manner that made "cannot," when spoken of an act of will, mean a proper
impossibility, the judge would soon rebuke his stupidity, and remind him that he
must not talk nonsense in a court of justice; and might possibly add, that such nonsensical
assertions were allowable only in the pulpit. I say again, that it is an utter abuse
and perversion of the laws of language, so to interpret the Bible as to make it teach
a proper inability in man to will as God directs. The essence of obedience to God
consists in willing. Language, then, used in reference to obedience must, when properly
understood, be interpreted in accordance with the subject-matter of discourse. Consequently,
when used in reference to acts of will, such expressions as "cannot," and
the like, can absolutely mean nothing more than a choice in an opposite direction.
But it may be asked, Is there no grace in all that is done by the Holy Spirit to
make man wise unto salvation? Yes, indeed, I answer. And it is grace, and great grace,
just because the doctrine of a natural inability in man to obey God is not true.
It is just because man is well able to render obedience, and unjustly refuses to
do so, that all the influence that God brings to bear upon him to make him willing,
is a gift and an influence of grace. The grace is great, just in proportion to the
sinner's ability to comply with God's requirements, and the strength of his voluntary
opposition to his duty. If man were properly unable to obey, there could be no grace
in giving him ability to obey, when the bestowment of ability is considered relatively
to the command. But let man be regarded as free, as possessing natural ability to
obey all the requirements of God, and all his difficulty as consisting in a wicked
heart, or, which is the same thing, in an unwillingness to obey, then an influence
on the part of God designed and tending to make him willing, is grace indeed. But
strip man of his freedom, render him naturally unable to obey, and you render grace
impossible, so far as his obligation to obedience is concerned.
But it is urged in support of the dogma of natural inability and of a gracious ability,
that the Bible everywhere represents man as dependent on the gracious influence of
the Holy Spirit for all holiness, and consequently for eternal life. I answer, it
is admitted that this is the representation of the Bible, but the question is, in
what sense is he dependent? Does his dependence consist in a natural inability to
embrace the gospel and be saved? or does it consist in a voluntary selfishness--in
an unwillingness to comply with the terms of salvation? Is man dependent on the Holy
Spirit to give him a proper ability to obey God? or is he dependent only in such
a sense that, as a matter of fact, he will not embrace the gospel unless the Holy
Spirit makes him willing? The latter, beyond reasonable question, is the truth. This
is the universal representation of scripture. The difficulty to be overcome is everywhere
in the Bible represented to be the sinner's unwillingness alone. It cannot possibly
be anything else; for the willingness is the doing required by God. "If there
is but a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according
to what he hath not."
But it is said, if man can be willing of himself, what need of divine persuasion
or influence to make him willing? I might ask, suppose a man is able but unwilling
to pay his debts, what need of any influence to make him willing? Why, divine influence
is needed to make a sinner willing, or to induce him to will as God directs, just
for the same reason that persuasion, entreaty, argument, or the rod, is needed to
make our children submit their wills to ours. The fact therefore that the Bible represents
the sinner as in some sense dependent upon divine influence for a right heart, no
more implies a proper inability in the sinner, than the fact that children are dependent
for their good behaviour, oftentimes upon the thorough and timely discipline of their
parents, implies a proper inability in them to obey their parents without chastisement.
The Bible everywhere, and in every way, assumes the freedom of the will. This fact
stands out in strong relief upon every page of divine inspiration. But this is only
the assumption necessarily made by the universal intelligence of man. The strong
language often found in scripture upon the subject of man's inability to obey God,
is designed only to represent the strength of his voluntary selfishness and enmity
against God, and never to imply a proper natural inability. It is, therefore, a gross
and most injurious perversion of scripture, as well as a contradiction of human reason,
to deny the natural ability, or which is the same thing, the natural free agency
of man, and to maintain a proper natural inability to obey God, and the absurd dogma
of a gracious ability to do our duty.
- 1. The question of ability is one of great practical importance. To deny the
ability of man to obey the commandments of God, is to represent God as a hard master,
as requiring a natural impossibility of his creatures on pain of eternal damnation.
This necessarily begets in the mind that believes it hard thoughts of God. The intelligence
cannot be satisfied with the justice of such a requisition. In fact, so far as this
error gets possession of the mind and gains assent, just so far it naturally and
necessarily excuses itself for disobedience, or for not complying with the commandments
- 2. The moral inability of Edwards is a real natural inability, and so it has
been understood by sinners and professors of religion. When I entered the ministry,
I found the persuasion of an absolute inability on the part of sinners to repent
and believe the gospel almost universal. When I urged sinners and professors of religion
to do their duty without delay, I frequently met with stern opposition from sinners,
professors of religion, and ministers. They desired me to say to sinners, that they
could not repent, and that they must wait God's time, that is, for God to help them.
It was common for the classes of persons just named to ask me, if I thought sinners
could be Christians whenever they pleased, and whether I thought that any class of
persons could repent, believe, and obey God without the strivings and new-creating
power of the Holy Spirit. The church was almost universally settled down in the belief
of a physical moral depravity, and, of course, in a belief in the necessity of a
physical regeneration, and also of course in the belief, that sinners must wait to
be regenerated by divine power while they were passive. Professors also must wait
to be revived, until God, in mysterious sovereignty, came and revived them. As to
revivals of religion, they were settled down in the belief to a great extent, that
man had no more agency in producing them than in producing showers of rain. To attempt
to effect the conversion of a sinner, or to promote a revival, was an attempt to
take the work out of the hands of God, to go to work in your own strength, and to
set sinners and professors to do the same. The vigorous use of means and measures
to promote a work of grace, was regarded by many as impious. It was getting up an
excitement of animal feeling, and wickedly interfering with the prerogative of God.
The fact is, that both professors of religion and non-professors were settled down
upon their lees, in carnal security. The abominable dogmas of physical moral depravity,
or a sinful constitution, with a consequent natural, falsely called moral, inability,
and the necessity of a physical and passive regeneration, had chilled the heart of
the church, and lulled sinners into a fatal sleep. This is the natural tendency of
- 3. Let it be distinctly understood before we close this subject, that we do not
deny, but strenuously maintain, that the whole plan of salvation, and all the influences,
both providential and spiritual, which God exerts in the conversion, sanctification,
and salvation, of sinners, is grace from first to last, and that I deny the dogma
of a gracious ability, because it robs God of his glory. It really denies the grace
of the gospel. The abettors of this scheme, in contending for the grace of the gospel,
really deny it. What grace can there be, that should surprise heaven and earth, and
cause "the angels to desire to look into it," in bestowing ability on those
who never had any, and, of course, who never cast away their ability to obey the
requirements of God? According to them all men lost their ability in Adam, and not
by their own act. God still required obedience of them upon pain of eternal death.
Now he might, according to this view of the subject, just as reasonably command all
men, on pain of eternal death, to fly, or undo all that Adam had done, or perform
any other natural impossibility, as to command them to be holy, to repent and believe
the gospel. Now, I ask again, what possible grace was there, or could there be, in
his giving them power to obey him? To have required the obedience without giving
the power had been infinitely unjust. To admit the assumption, that men had really
lost their ability to obey in Adam, and call this bestowment of ability for which
they contend, grace, is an abuse of language, an absurdity, and a denial of the true
grace of the gospel not to be tolerated. I reject the dogma of a gracious ability,
because it involves a denial of the true grace of the gospel. I maintain that the
gospel, with all its influences, including the gift of the Holy Spirit, to convict,
convert, and sanctify the soul, is a system of grace throughout. But to maintain
this, I must also maintain, that God might justly have required obedience of men
without making these provisions for them. And to maintain the justice of God in requiring
obedience, I must admit and maintain that obedience was possible to man. But this
the abettors of this scheme deny, and maintain, on the contrary, that notwithstanding
men were deprived of all ability, not by their own act or consent, but by Adam, long
before they were born, still God might justly, on pain of eternal damnation, require
them to be holy, and that the giving them ability to obey is a matter of infinite
grace; not, as they hold, the restoring of a power which they had cast away, but
the giving of a power which they had never possessed. This power or ability, viewed
relatively to the command to obey on pain of eternal death, a gift of grace! This
baffles, and confounds, and stultifies the human intellect. The reason of a moral
agent cannot but reject this dogma. It will, in spite of himself, assume and affirm,
the absence of ability being granted, that the bestowment of an ability, viewed relatively
to the command, was demanded by justice, and that to call it a gracious ability is
an abuse of language.
- Let it not be said then, that we deny the grace of the glorious gospel of the
blessed God, nor that we deny the reality and necessity of the influences of the
Holy Spirit to convert and sanctify the soul, nor that this influence is a gracious
one; for all these we most strenuously maintain. But I maintain this upon the ground,
that men are able to do their duty, and that the difficulty does not lie in a proper
inability, but in a voluntary selfishness, in an unwillingness to obey the blessed
gospel. I say again, that I reject the dogma of a gracious ability, as I understand
its abettors to hold it, not because I deny, but solely because it denies the grace
of the gospel. The denial of ability is really a denial of the possibility of grace
in the affair of man's salvation. I admit the ability of man, and hold that he is
able, but utterly unwilling, to obey God. Therefore I consistently hold, that all
the influences exerted by God to make him willing, are of free grace abounding through
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE LII. Back to Top
THE NOTION OF INABILITY.
PROPER METHOD OF ACCOUNTING FOR IT.
I have represented ability, or the freedom of the will, as a first truth of reason.
I have also defined first truths of reason to be those truths that are necessarily
known to all moral agents. From these two representations the inquiry may naturally
arise, How then is it to be accounted for that so many men have denied the liberty
of the will, or ability to obey God? That these first truths of reason are frequently
denied is a notorious fact. A recent writer thinks this denial a sufficient refutation
of the affirmation, that ability is a first truth of reason. It is important that
this denial should be accounted for. That mankind affirm their obligation upon the
real, though often latent and unperceived assumption of ability, there is no reasonable
ground of doubt. I have said that first-truths of reason are frequently assumed,
and certainly known without being always the direct object of thought or attention;
and also that these truths are universally held in the practical judgments of men,
while they sometimes in theory deny them. They know them to be true, and in all their
practical judgments assume their truth, while they reason against them, think they
prove them untrue, and not unfrequently affirm, that they are conscious of an opposite
affirmation. For example, men have denied, in theory, the law of causality, while
they have at every moment of their lives acted upon the assumption of its truth.
Others have denied the freedom of the will, who have, every hour of their lives,
assumed, and acted, and judged, upon the assumption that the will is free. The same
is true of ability, which, in respect to the commandments of God, is identical with
freedom. Men have often denied the ability of man to obey the commandments of God,
while they have always, in their practical judgments of themselves and of others,
assumed their ability, in respect to those things that are really commanded by God.
Now, how is this to be accounted for?
1. Multitudes have denied the freedom of the will, because they have loosely confounded
the will with the involuntary powers--with the intellect and the sensibility. Locke,
as is well known, regarded the mind as possessing but two primary faculties, the
understanding and the will. President Edwards, as was said in a former lecture, followed
Locke, and regarded all the states of the sensibility as acts of the will. Multitudes,
nay the great mass of Calvinistic divines, with their hearers, have held the same
views. This confounding of the sensibility with the will has been common for a long
time. Now everybody is conscious, that the states of the sensibility or mere feelings
cannot be produced or changed by a direct effort to feel thus or thus. Everybody
knows from consciousness that the feelings come and go, wax and wane, as motives
are presented to excite them. And they know also that these feelings are under the
law of necessity and not of liberty; that is, that necessity is an attribute of these
feelings, in such a sense, that under the circumstances, they will exist in spite
of ourselves, and that they cannot be controlled by a direct effort to control them.
Everybody knows that our feelings, or the states of our sensibility can be controlled
only indirectly, that is, by the direction of our thoughts. By directing our thoughts
to an object calculated to excite certain feelings, we know that when the excitability
is not exhausted, feelings correlated to that object will come into play, of course
and of necessity. So when any class of feelings exist, we all know that by diverting
the attention from the object that excites them, they subside of course, and give
place to a class correlated to the new object that at present occupies the attention.
Now, it is very manifest how the freedom of the will has come to be denied by those
who confound the will proper with the sensibility. These same persons have always
known and assumed, that the actions of the will proper were free. Their error has
consisted in not distinguishing in theory between the action of the proper will,
and the involuntary states of the sensibility. In their practical judgments, and
in their conduct, they have recognized the distinction which they have failed to
recognize in their speculations and theories. They have every hour been exerting
their own freedom, have been controlling directly their attention and their outward
life, by the free exercise of their proper will. They have also, by the free exercise
of the same faculty, been indirectly controlling the states of their sensibility.
They have all along assumed the absolute freedom of the will proper, and have always
acted upon the assumption, or they would not have acted at all, or even attempted
to act. But since they did not in theory distinguish between the sensibility and
the will proper, they denied in theory the freedom of the will. If the actions of
the will be confounded with desires and emotions, as President Edwards confounded
them, and as has been common, the result must be a theoretical denial of the freedom
of the will. In this way we are to account for the doctrine of inability, as it has
been generally held. It has not been clearly understood that moral law legislates
directly, and, with strict propriety of speech, only over the will proper, and over
the involuntary powers only indirectly through the will. It has been common to regard
the law and the gospel of God, as directly extending their claims to the involuntary
powers and states of mind; and, as was shown in a former lecture, many have regarded,
in theory, the law as extending its claims to those states that lie wholly beyond,
either the direct or indirect control of the will. Now, of course, with these views
of the claims of God, ability is and must be denied. I trust we have seen in past
lectures, that, strictly and properly speaking, the moral law restricts its claims
to the actions of the will proper, in such a sense that, if there be a willing mind,
it is accepted as obedience; that the moral law and the lawgiver legislate over involuntary
states only indirectly, that is, through the will; and that the whole of virtue,
strictly speaking, consists in good-will or disinterested benevolence. Sane minds
never practically deny, or can deny, the freedom of the will proper, or the doctrine
of ability, when they make the proper discriminations between the will and the sensibility,
and properly regard moral law as legislating directly only over the will. It is worthy
of all consideration, that those who have denied ability, have almost always confounded
the will and the sensibility; and that those who have denied ability, have always
extended the claims of moral law beyond the pale of proper voluntariness; and many
of them even beyond the limits of either the direct or the indirect control of the
But the inquiry may arise, how it comes to pass that men have so extensively entertained
the impression, that the moral law legislates directly over those feelings, and over
those states of mind which they know to be involuntary? I answer, that this mistake
has arisen out of a want of just discrimination between the direct and indirect legislation
of the law, and of the lawgiver. It is true that men are conscious of being responsible
for their feelings and for their outward actions, and even for their thoughts. And
it is really true that they are responsible for them, in so far as they are under
either the direct or indirect control of the will. And they know that these acts
and states of mind are possible to them, that is, that they have an indirect ability
to produce them. They, however, loosely confound the direct and indirect ability
and responsibility. The thing required by the law directly and presently is benevolence
or good-will. This is what, and all that the law strictly, presently or directly
requires. It indirectly requires all those outward and inward acts and states that
are connected directly and indirectly with this required act of will, by a law of
necessity; that is, that those acts and states should follow as soon as by a natural
and necessary law they will follow from a right action of the will. When these feelings,
and states, and acts do not exist, they blame themselves generally with propriety,
because the absence of them is in fact owing to a want of the required act of the
will. Sometimes, no doubt, they blame themselves unjustly, not considering that,
although the will is right, of which they are conscious, the involuntary state or
act does not follow, because of exhaustion, or because of some disturbance in the
established and natural connection between the acts of the will and its ordinary
sequents. When this exhaustion or disturbance exists, men are apt, loosely and unjustly,
to write bitter things against themselves. They often do the same in hours of temptation,
when Satan casts his fiery darts at them, lodging them in the thoughts and involuntary
feelings. The will repels them, but they take effect, for the time being, in spite
of himself, in the intellect and sensibility. Blasphemous thoughts are suggested
to the mind, unkind thoughts of God are suggested, and in spite of one's self, these
abominable thoughts awaken their correlated feelings. The will abhors them and struggles
to suppress them, but for the time being, finds itself unable to do anything more
than to fight and resist.
Now, it is very common for souls in this state to write the most bitter accusations
against themselves. But should it be hence inferred that they really are as much
in fault as they assume themselves to be? No, indeed. But why do ministers, of all
schools, unite in telling such tempted souls, You are mistaken, my dear brother or
sister, these thoughts and feelings, though exercises of your own mind, are not yours
in such a sense that you are responsible for them. The thoughts are suggested by
Satan, and the feelings are a necessary consequence. Your will resists them, and
this proves that you are unable, for the time being, to avoid them. You are therefore
not responsible for them while you resist them with all the power of your will, any
more than you would be guilty of murder should a giant overpower your strength, and
use your hand against your will to shoot a man. In such cases it is, so far as I
know, universally true, that all schools admit that the tempted soul is not responsible
or guilty for those things which it cannot help. The inability is here allowed to
be a bar to obligation; and such souls are justly told by ministers, You are mistaken
in supposing yourself guilty in this case. The like mistake is fallen into when a
soul blames itself for any state of mind whatever that lies wholly and truly beyond
the direct or indirect control of the will, and for the same reason, inability in
both cases is alike a bar to obligation. It is just as absurd, in the one case as
in the other, to infer real responsibility from a feeling or persuasion of responsibility.
To hold that men are always responsible, because they loosely think themselves to
be so is absurd. In cases of temptation, such as that just supposed, as soon as the
attention is directed to the fact of inability to avoid those thoughts and feelings,
and the mind is conscious of the will's resisting them, and of being unable to banish
them, it readily rests in the assurance that it is not responsible for them. Its
own irresponsibility in such cases appears self-evident to the mind, the moment the
proper inability is considered, and the affirmation of irresponsibility attended
to. Now if the soul naturally and truly regarded itself as responsible, when there
is a proper inability and impossibility, the instructions above referred to could
not relieve the mind. It would say, To be sure I know that I cannot avoid having
these thoughts and feelings, any more than I can cease to be the subject of consciousness,
yet I know I am responsible notwithstanding. These thoughts and feelings are states
of my own mind, and no matter how I come by them, or whether I can control or prevent
them or not. Inability, you know, is no bar to obligation; therefore, my obligation
and my guilt remain. Woe is me, for I am undone. The idea, then, of responsibility,
when there is in fact real inability, is a prejudice of education, a mistake.
The mistake, unless strong prejudice of education has taken possession of the mind,
lies in overlooking the fact of a real and proper inability. Unless the judgment
has been strongly biassed by education, it never judges itself bound to perform impossibilities,
nor even conceive of such a thing. Who ever held himself bound to undo what is past,
to recall past time, or to substitute holy acts and states of mind in the place of
past sinful ones? No one ever held himself bound to do this; first, because he knows
it to be impossible; and secondly, because no one that I have heard of ever taught
or asserted any such obligation; and therefore none have received so strong a bias
from education as loosely to hold such an opinion. But sometimes the bias of education
is so great, that the subjects of it seem capable of believing almost anything, however
inconsistent with the intuitions of the reason, and consequently in the face of the
most certain knowledge. For example, President Edwards relates of a young woman in
his congregation, that she was deeply convicted of being guilty for Adam's first
sin, and deeply repented of it. Now suppose that this and like cases should be regarded
as conclusive proof that men are guilty of that sin, and deserve the wrath and curse
of God for ever for that sin; and that all men will suffer the pains of hell for
ever, except they become convinced of their personal guilt for that sin, and repent
of it as in dust and ashes! President Edwards's teaching on the subject of the relation
of all men to Adam's first sin, it is well known, was calculated in a high degree
to pervert the judgment upon that subject; and this sufficiently accounts for the
fact above alluded to. But apart from education, no human being ever held himself
responsible for, or guilty of, the first or any other sin of Adam, or of any other
being, who existed and died before he himself existed. The reason is that all moral
agents naturally know, that inability or a proper impossibility is a bar to moral
obligation and responsibility; and they never conceive to the contrary, unless biassed
by a mystifying education that casts a fog over their primitive and constitutional
2. Some have denied ability because they have strangely held, that the moral law
requires sinners to be just in all respects what they might have been had they never
sinned. That is, they maintain that God requires of them just as high and perfect
a service as if their powers had never been abused by sin; as if they had always
been developed by the perfectly right use of them. This they admit to be a natural
impossibility; nevertheless they hold that God may justly require it, and that sinners
are justly bound to perform this impossible service, and that they sin continually
in coming short of it. To this sentiment I answer, that it might be maintained with
as much show of reason, and as much authority from the Bible, that God might and
does require of all sinners to undo all their acts of sin, and to substitute holy
ones in their places, and that he holds them as sinning every moment by the neglect
to do this. Why may not God as well require one as the other? They are alike impossibilities.
They are alike impossibilities originating in the sinner's own act or fault. If the
sinner's rendering himself unable to obey in one case does not set aside the right
of God to command, so does it not for the same reason in the other. If an inability
resulting from the sinner's own act cannot bar the right of God to make the requisition
in the one case, neither can it for the same reason in the other. But every one can
see that God cannot justly require the sinner to recall past time, and to undo past
acts. But why? No other reason can be assigned than that it is impossible. But the
same reason, it is admitted, exists in its full extent in the other case. It is admitted
that sinners, who have long indulged in sin, or who have sinned at all, are really
as unable to render as high a degree of service as they might have done had they
never sinned, as they are to recall past time, or to undo all their past acts of
sin. On what ground, then, of reason or revelation does the assertion rest, that
in one case an impossibility is a bar to obligation, and not in the other? I answer,
there is no ground whatever for the assertion in question. It is a sheer and an absurd
assumption, unsupported by any affirmation of reason, or any truth or principle of
But to this assumption I reply again, as I have done on a former occasion, that if
it be true, it must follow, that no one on earth or in heaven who has ever sinned
will be able to render as perfect a service as the law demands; for there is no reason
to believe, that any being who has abused his powers by sin will ever in time or
eternity be able to render as high a service as he might have done had he at every
moment duly developed them by perfect obedience. If this theory is true, I see not
why it does not follow that the saints will be guilty in heaven of the sin of omission.
A sentiment based upon an absurdity in the outset, as the one in question is, and
resulting in such consequences as this must, is to be rejected without hesitation.
3. A consciousness of the force of habit, in respect to all the acts and states of
body and mind, has contributed to the loose holding of the doctrine of inability.
Every one who is at all in the habit of observation and self-reflection is aware,
that for some reason we acquire a greater and greater facility in doing anything
by practice or repetition. We find this to be true in respect to acts of will as
really as in respect to the involuntary states of mind. When the will has been long
committed to the indulgence of the propensities, and in the habit of submitting itself
to their impulses, there is a real difficulty of some sort in the way of changing
its action. This difficulty cannot really impair the liberty of the will. If it could,
it would destroy, or so far impair, moral agency and accountability. But habit may,
and, as every one knows, does interpose an obstacle of some sort in the way of right
willing, or, on the other hand, in the way of wrong willing. That is, men both obey
and disobey with greatest facility from habit. Habit strongly favours the accustomed
action of the will in any direction. This, as I said, never does or can properly
impair the freedom of the will, or render it impossible to act in a contrary direction;
for if it could and should, the actions of the will, in that case, being determined
by a law of necessity in one direction, would have no moral character. If benevolence
became a habit so strong that it were utterly impossible to will in an opposite direction,
or not to will benevolently, benevolence would cease to be virtuous. So, on the other
hand, with selfishness. If the will came to be determined in that direction by habit
grown into a law of necessity, such action would and must cease to have moral character.
But, as I said, there is a real conscious difficulty of some sort in the way of obedience,
when the will has been long accustomed to sin. This is strongly recognized in the
language of inspiration and in devotional hymns, as well as in the language of experience
by all men. The language of scripture is often so strong upon this point, that, but
for a regard to the subject-matter of discourse, we might justly infer a proper inability.
For example, Jer. xiii. 23: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard
his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." This and
similar passages recognize the influence of habit. "Then may ye who are accustomed
to do evil:" custom or habit is to be overcome, and, in the strong language
of the prophet, this is like changing the Ethiop's skin or the leopard's spots. But
to understand the prophet as here affirming a proper inability were to disregard
one of the fundamental rules of interpreting language, namely, that it is to be understood
by reference to the subject of discourse. The latter part of the seventh chapter
of Romans affords a striking instance and an illustration of this. It is, as has
just been said, a sound and most important rule of interpreting all language, that
due regard be had to the subject-matter of discourse. When "cannot," and
such like terms, that express an inability are applied to physical or involuntary
actions or states of mind, they express a proper natural inability; but when they
are used in reference to actions of free will, they express not a proper impossibility,
but only a difficulty arising out of the existence of a contrary choice, or the law
of habit, or both. Much question has been made about the seventh of Romans in its
relation to the subject of ability and inability. Let us, therefore, look a little
into this passage, Romans vii. 15-23: "For that which I do, I allow not; for
what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which
I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that
do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth
no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good
I find not. For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that
I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth
in me. I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For
I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members,
warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of
sin which is in my members." Now, what did the Apostle mean by this language?
Did he use language here in the popular sense, or with strictly philosophical propriety?
He says he finds himself able to will, but not able to do. Is he then speaking of
a mere outward or physical inability? Does he mean merely to say, that the established
connexion between volition and its sequents was disturbed, so that he could not execute
his volitions? This his language, literally interpreted, and without reference to
the subject-matter of discourse, and without regard to the manifest scope and design
of the writer, would lead us to conclude. But whoever contended for such an interpretation?
The apostle used popular language, and was describing a very common experience. Convicted
sinners and backslidden saints often make legal resolutions, and resolve upon obedience
under the influence of legal motives, and without really becoming benevolent, and
changing the attitude of their wills. They, under the influence of conviction, purpose
selfishly to do their duty to God and man, and, in the presence of temptation, they
constantly fail of keeping their resolutions. It is true, that with their selfish
hearts, or in the selfish attitude of their wills, they cannot keep their resolutions
to abstain from those inward thoughts and emotions, nor from those outward actions
that result by a law of necessity from a selfish state or attitude of the will. These
legal resolutions the apostle popularly calls willings. "To will is present
with me, but how to do good I find not. When I would do good, evil is present with
me, so that the good I would I do not, and the evil I would not that I do. If then
I do the evil I would not, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in
me. I delight in the law of God after the inner man. But I see another law in my
members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the
law of sin which is in my members," &c. Now, this appears to me to be descriptive
of a very familiar experience of every deeply convicted sinner or backslider. The
will is committed to the propensities, to the law in the members, or to the gratification
of the impulses of the sensibility. Hence, the outward life is selfish. Conviction
of sin leads to the formation of resolutions of amendment, while the will does not
submit to God. These resolutions constantly fail of securing the result contemplated.
The will still abides in a state of committal to self-gratification; and hence resolutions
to amend in feeling or the outward life, fail of securing those results.
Nothing was more foreign from the apostle's purpose, it seems to me, than to affirm
a proper inability of will to yield to the claims of God. Indeed, he affirms and
assumes the freedom of his will. "To will," he says, "is present with
me;" that is, to resolve. But resolution is an act of will. It is a purpose,
a design. He purposed, designed to amend. To form resolutions was present with him,
but how to do good he found not. The reason why he did not execute his purposes was,
that they were selfishly made; that is, he resolved upon reformation without giving
his heart to God, without submitting his will to God, without actually becoming benevolent.
This caused his perpetual failure. This language, construed strictly to the letter,
would lead to the conclusion, that the apostle was representing a case where the
will is right, but where the established and natural connexion between volition and
its sequents is destroyed, so that the outward act did not follow the action of the
will. In this case all schools would agree that the act of the will constitutes real
obedience. The whole passage, apart from the subject-matter of discourse, and from
the manifest design and scope of the writer, might lead us to conclude, that the
apostle was speaking of a proper inability, and that he did not therefore regard
the failure as his own fault. "It is no more I, but sin that dwelleth in me.
O wretched man that I am," &c. Those who maintain that the apostle meant
to assert a proper inability to obey, must also admit that he represented this inability
as a bar to obligation, and regarded his state as calamitous, rather than as properly
sinful. But the fact is, he was portraying a legal experience, and spoke of finding
himself unable to keep selfish resolutions of amendment in the presence of temptation.
His will was in a state of committal to the indulgence of the propensities. In the
absence of temptation, his convictions, and fears, and feelings were the strongest
impulses, and under their influence he would form resolutions to do his duty, to
abstain from fleshly indulgences, &c. But as some other appetite or desire came
to be more strongly excited, he yielded to that of course, and broke his former resolution.
Paul writes as if speaking of himself, but was doubtless speaking as the representative
of a class of persons already named. He found the law of selfish habit exceedingly
strong, and so strong as to lead him to cry out, "O wretched man," &c.
But this is not affirming a proper inability of will to submit to God.
4. All men who seriously undertake their own reformation find themselves in great
need of help and support from the Holy Spirit, in consequence of the physical depravity
of which I have formerly spoken, and because of the great strength of their habit
of self-indulgence. They are prone, as is natural, to express their sense of dependence
on the Divine Spirit in strong language, and to speak of this dependence as if it
consisted in a real inability, when, in fact, they do not really consider it as a
proper inability. They speak upon this subject just as they do upon any and every
other subject, when they are conscious of a strong inclination to a given course.
They say in respect to many things, "I cannot," when they mean only "I
will not," and never think of being understood as affirming a proper inability.
The inspired writers expressed themselves in the common language of men upon such
subjects, and are doubtless to be understood in the same way. In common parlance,
"cannot" often means "will not," and perhaps is used as often
in this sense as it is to express a proper inability. Men do not misinterpret this
language, and suppose it to affirm a proper inability, when used in reference to
acts of will, except on the subject of obedience to God; and why should they assign
a meaning to language when used upon this subject which they do not assign to it
But, as I said in a former lecture, under the light of the gospel, and with the promises
in our hands, God does require of us what we should be unable to do and be, but for
these promises and this proffered assistance. Here is a real inability to do directly
in our own strength all that is required of us, upon consideration of the proffered
aid. We can only do it by strength imparted by the Holy Spirit. That is, we cannot
know Christ, and avail ourselves of his offices and relations, and appropriate to
our own souls his fulness, except as we are taught by the Holy Spirit. The thing
immediately and directly required, is to receive the Holy Spirit by faith to be our
teacher and guide, to take of Christ's and show it to us. This confidence we are
able to exercise. Who ever really and intelligently affirmed that he had not power
or ability to trust or confide in the promise and oath of God?
Much that is said of inability in poetry, and in the common language of the saints,
respects not the subjection of the will to God, but those experiences, and states
of feeling that depend on the illuminations of the Spirit just referred to. The language
that is so common in prayer and in the devotional dialect of the church, respects
generally our dependence upon the Holy Spirit for such divine discoveries of Christ,
as to charm the soul into a steadfast abiding in him. We feel our dependence upon
the Holy Spirit so to enlighten us, as to break up for ever the power of sinful habit,
and draw us away from our idols entirely and for ever.
In future lectures I shall have occasion to enlarge much upon the subject of our
dependence upon Christ and the Holy Spirit. But this dependence does not consist
in a proper inability to will as God directs, but, as I have said, partly in the
power of sinful habit, and partly in the great darkness of our souls in respect to
Christ and his mediatorial work and relations. All these together do not constitute
a proper inability, for the plain reason, that through the right action of our will
which is always possible to us, these difficulties can all be directly or indirectly
overcome. Whatever we can do or be, directly or indirectly, by willing, is possible
to us. But there is no degree of spiritual attainment required of us, that may not
be reached directly or indirectly by right willing. Therefore these attainments are
possible. "If any man," says Christ, "will do his will," that
is, has an obedient will, "he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God."
"If thine eye be single," that is, if the intention or will is right, "thy
whole body shall be full of light." "If any man love me, he will keep my
words, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him."
The scriptures abound with assurances of light and instruction, and of all needed
grace and help, upon condition of a right will or heart, that is, upon condition
of our being really willing to obey the light, when and as fast as we receive it.
I have abundantly shown on former occasions, that a right state of the will constitutes,
for the time being, all that, strictly speaking, the moral law requires. But I said,
that it also, though in a less strict and proper sense, requires all those acts and
states of the intellect and sensibility which are connected by a law of necessity
with the right action of the will. Of course, it also requires that cleansing of
the sensibility, and all those higher forms of Christian experience that result from
the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is, the law of God requires that these attainments
shall be made when the means are provided and enjoyed, and as soon as, in the nature
of the case, these attainments are possible. But it requires no more than this. For
the law of God can never require absolute impossibilities. That which requires absolute
impossibilities, is not and cannot be moral law. For, as was formerly said, moral
law is the law of nature, and what law of nature would that be that should require
absolute impossibilities? This would be a mockery of a law of nature. What! a law
of nature requiring that which is impossible to nature, both directly and indirectly!
LECTURE LIII. Back to Top
[There is no Lecture LIII in the printed book. The lectures are incorrectly numbered.
In the Contents of the printed book, the next
five lectures are numbered LIII-LVII. Then there are two entries for 'Entire sanctification
is attainable in this life' numbered LVIII
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE LIV. Back to Top
REPENTANCE AND IMPENITENCE.
In the discussion of this subject I shall show,--
I. WHAT REPENTANCE IS NOT.
II. WHAT IT IS.
III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN IT.
IV. WHAT IMPENITENCE IS NOT.
V. WHAT IT IS.
VI. SOME THINGS THAT ARE IMPLIED IN IMPENITENCE.
VII. NOTICE SOME OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OR EVIDENCES OF IMPENITENCE.
I. I am to show what repentance is not.
- 1. The Bible everywhere represents repentance as a virtue, and as constituting
a change of moral character; consequently, it cannot be a phenomenon of the intelligence:
that is, it cannot consist in conviction of sin, nor in any intellectual apprehension
of our guilt or ill-desert. All the states or phenomena of the intelligence are purely
passive states of mind, and of course moral character, strictly speaking, cannot
be predicated of them.
- 2. Repentance is not a phenomenon of the sensibility: that is, it does not consist
in a feeling of regret or remorse, of compunction or sorrow for sin, or of sorrow
in view of the consequences of sin to self or to others, nor in any feelings or emotions
whatever. All feelings or emotions belong to the sensibility, and are, of course,
purely passive states of mind, and consequently can have no moral character in themselves.
- It should be distinctly understood, and always borne in mind, that repentance
cannot consist in any involuntary state of mind, for it is impossible that moral
character, strictly speaking, should pertain to passive states.
II. What repentance is.
There are two Greek words which are translated by the English word, repent.
- 1. Metamelomai, "to care for," or to be concerned for one's self; hence
to change one's course. This term seems generally to be used to express a state of
the sensibility, as regret, remorse, sorrow for sin, &c. But sometimes it also
expresses a change of purpose as a consequence of regret, or remorse, or sorrow;
as in Matt. xxi. 29, "He answered and said, I will not; but afterwards he repented
and went." It is used to represent the repentance of Judas, which evidently
consisted of remorse and despair.
- 2. Metanoeo, "to take an after view;" or more strictly, to change one's
mind as a consequence of, and in conformity with, a second and more rational view
of the subject. This word evidently expresses a change of choice, purpose, intention,
in conformity with the dictates of the intelligence.
- This is no doubt the idea of evangelical repentance. It is a phenomenon of will,
and consists in the turning or change of the ultimate intention from selfishness
to benevolence. The term expresses the act of turning; the changing of the heart,
or of the ruling preference of the soul. It might with propriety be rendered by the
terms "changing the heart." The English word "repentance" is
often used to express regret, remorse, sorrow, &c., and is used in so loose a
sense as not to convey a distinct idea to the common mind of the true nature of evangelical
repentance. A turning from sin to holiness, or more strictly, from a state of consecration
to self to a state of consecration to God, is and must be the turning, the change
of mind, or the repentance that is required of all sinners. Nothing less can constitute
a virtuous repentance, and nothing more can be required.
III. What is implied in repentance.
- 1. Such is the correlation of the will to the intellect, that repentance must
imply reconsideration or after-thought. It must imply self-reflection, and such an
apprehension of one's guilt as to produce self-condemnation. That selfishness is
sin, and that it is right and duty to consecrate the whole being to God and his service,
are first truths of reason. They are necessarily assumed by all moral agents. They
are, however, often unthought of, not reflected upon. Repentance implies the giving
up of the attention to the consideration and self-application of these first truths,
and consequently implies conviction of sin, and guilt, and ill-desert, and a sense
of shame and self-condemnation. It implies an intellectual and a hearty justification
of God, of his law, of his moral and providential government, and of all his works
- It implies an apprehension of the nature of sin, that it belongs to the heart,
and does not essentially consist in, though it leads to, outward conduct; that it
is an utterly unreasonable state of mind, and that it justly deserves the wrath and
curse of God for ever.
It implies an apprehension of the reasonableness of the law and commands of God,
and of the folly and madness of sin. It implies an intellectual and a hearty giving
up of all controversy with God upon all and every point.
It implies a conviction, that God is wholly right, and the sinner wholly wrong, and
a thorough and hearty abandonment of all excuses and apologies for sin. It implies
an entire and universal acquittal of God from every shade and degree of blame, a
thorough taking of the entire blame of sin to self. It implies a deep and thorough
abasement of self in the dust, a crying out of soul against self, and a most sincere
and universal, intellectual, and hearty exaltation of God.
- 2. Such, also, is the connexion of the will and the sensibility, that the turning
of the will, or evangelical repentance, implies sorrow for sin as necessarily resulting
from the turning of the will, together with the intellectual views of sin which are
implied in repentance. Neither conviction of sin, nor sorrow for it, constitutes
repentance. Yet from the correlation which is established between the intelligence,
the sensibility, and the will, both conviction of sin, and sorrow for it, are implied
in evangelical repentance, the one as necessarily preceding, and the other as often
preceding, and always and necessarily resulting from repentance. During the process
of conviction, it often happens, that the sensibility is hardened and unfeeling;
or, if there is much feeling, it is often only regret, remorse, agony, and despair.
But when the heart has given way, and the evangelical turning has taken place, it
often happens that the fountain of the great deep in the sensibility is broken up,
the sorrows of the soul are stirred to the very bottom, and the sensibility pours
forth its gushing tides like an irresistible torrent. But it frequently happens,
too, in minds less subject to deep emotion, that the sorrows do not immediately flow
in deep and broad channels, but are mild, melting, tender, tearful, silent, subdued.
- Self-loathing is another state of the sensibility implied in evangelical repentance.
This state of mind may, and often does, exist where repentance is not, just as outward
morality does. But, like outward morality, it must exist where true repentance is.
Self-loathing is a natural and a necessary consequence of those intellectual views
of self that are implied in repentance. While the intelligence apprehends the utter,
shameful guilt of self, and the heart yields to the conviction, the sensibility necessarily
sympathizes, and a feeling of self-loathing and abhorrence is the inevitable consequence.
It implies a loathing and abhorrence of the sins of others, a most deep and thorough
feeling of opposition to sin--to all sin, in self and everybody else. Sin has become,
to the penitent soul, the abominable thing which it hates.
- 3. It implies a holy indignation toward all sin and all sinners, and a manifest
opposition to every form of iniquity.
- Repentance also implies peace of mind. The soul that has full confidence in the
infinite wisdom and love of God, in the atonement of Christ, and in his universal
providence, cannot but have peace. And further, the soul that has abandoned all sin,
and turned to God, is no longer in a state of warfare with itself and with God. It
must have peace of conscience--and peace with God. It implies heart-complacency in
God, and in all the holy. This must follow from the very nature of repentance.
It implies confession of sin to God and to man, as far as sin has been committed
against men. If the heart has thoroughly renounced sin, it has become benevolent,
and is of course disposed, as far as possible, to undo the wrong it has committed,
to confess sin, and humble self on account of it, before God and our neighbour, whom
we have injured. Repentance implies humility, or a willingness to be known and estimated
according to our real character. It implies a disposition to do right, and to confess
our faults to God and man, as far as man has a right to know them. Let no one who
has refused, and still refuses or neglects to confess his sins to God, and those
sins to men that have been committed against them, profess repentance unto salvation;
but let him remember that God has said, "He that covereth his sins shall not
prosper; but whose confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy:" and again,
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be
Repentance implies a willingness to make restitution, and the actual making of it
as far as ability goes. He is not just, and of course is not penitent, who has injured
his neighbour in his person, reputation, property, or in anything, and is unwilling
to make restitution. And he is unwilling to make restitution who neglects to do so
whenever he is able. It is impossible that a soul truly penitent should neglect to
make all practicable restitution, for the plain reason that penitence implies a benevolent
and just attitude of the will, and the will controls the conduct by a law of necessity.
Repentance implies reformation of outward life. This follows from reformation of
heart by a law of necessity. It is naturally impossible that a penitent soul, remaining
penitent, should indulge in any known sin. If the heart be reformed, the life must
be as the heart is.
It implies a universal reformation of life, that is, a reformation extending to all
outward sin. The penitent does not, and remaining penitent, cannot, reform in respect
to some sins only. If penitent at all, he must have repented of sin as sin, and of
course of all sin. If he has turned to God, and consecrated himself to God, he has
of course ceased from sin, from all sin as such. Sin, as we have seen on a former
occasion, is a unit, and so is holiness. Sin consists in selfishness, and holiness
in disinterested benevolence: it is therefore sheer nonsense to say that repentance
can consist with indulgence in some sins. What are generally termed little, as well
as what are termed great sins, are alike rejected and abhorred by the truly penitent
soul, and this from a law of necessity, he being truly penitent.
- 4. It implies faith or confidence in God in all things. It implies, not only
the conviction that God is wholly right in all his controversy with sinners, but
also that the heart has yielded to this conviction, and has come fully over to confide
most implicitly in him in all respects, so that it can readily commit all interests
for time and eternity to his hands. Repentance is a state of mind that implies the
fullest confidence in all the promises and threatenings of God, and in the atonement
and grace of Christ.
IV. What impenitence is not.
- 1. It is not a negation, or the mere absence of repentance. Some seem to regard
impenitence as a nonentity, as the mere absence of repentance; but this is a great
- 2. It is not mere apathy in the sensibility in regard to sin, and a mere want
of sorrow for it.
- 3. It is not the absence of conviction of sin, nor the consequent carelessness
of the sinner in respect to the commandments of God.
- 4. It is not an intellectual self-justification, nor does it consist in a disposition
to cavil at truth and the claims of God. These may and often do result from impenitence,
but are not identical with it.
- 5. It does not consist in the spirit of excuse-making, so often manifested by
sinners. This spirit is a result of impenitence, but does not constitute it.
- 6. Nor does it consist in the love of sin for its own sake, nor in the love of
sin in any sense. It is not a constitutional appetite, relish, or craving for sin.
If this constitutional craving for sin existed, it could have no moral character,
inasmuch as it would be a wholly involuntary state of mind. It could not be the crime
V. What impenitence is.
- 1. It is everywhere in the Bible represented as a heinous sin, as in Matt. xi.
20-24: "Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works
were done, because they repented not. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!
for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it
shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you. And
thou Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell; for
if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would
have remained until this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable
for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee." Here, as elsewhere,
impenitence is represented as most aggravated wickedness.
- Impenitence is a phenomenon of the will, and consists in the will's cleaving
to self-indulgence under light. It consists in the will's pertinacious adherence
to the gratification of self, in despite of all the light with which the sinner is
surrounded. It is not, as has been said, a passive state nor a mere negation, nor
the love of sin for its own sake; but it is an active and obstinate state of the
will, a determined holding on to that course of self-seeking which constitutes sin,
not from a love to sin, but for the sake of the gratification. This, under light,
is of course, aggravated wickedness. Considered in this view, it is easy to account
for all the woes and denunciations that the Saviour uttered against it. When the
claims of God are revealed to the mind, it must necessarily yield to them, or strengthen
itself in sin. It must, as it were, gird itself up, and struggle to resist the claims
of duty. This strengthening self in sin under light is the particular form of sin
which we call impenitence. All sinners are guilty of it because all have some light,
but some are vastly more guilty of it than others.
VI. Notice some things that are implied in impenitence.
As it essentially consists in a cleaving to self-indulgence under light, it implies,--
- 1. That the impenitent sinner obstinately prefers his own petty and momentary
gratification to all the other and higher interests of God and the universe; that
because these gratifications are his own, or the gratification of self, he therefore
gives them the preference over all the infinite interests of all other beings.
- 2. It implies the deliberate and actual setting at naught, not only of the interests
of God and of the universe, as of no value, but it implies also a total disregard,
and even contempt, of the rights of all other beings. It is a practical denial that
they have any rights or interests to be promoted.
- 3. It implies a rejection of the authority of God, and contempt for it, as well
as a spurning of his law and gospel.
- 4. It implies a bidding defiance to God, and a virtual challenge to him to do
- 5. It implies the utmost fool-hardiness, and a state of utter recklessness of
- 6. It implies the utmost injustice and disregard of all that is just and equal,
and this, be it remembered, under light.
- 7. It implies a present justification of all past sin. The sinner who holds on
to his self-indulgence, in the presence of the light of the gospel, really in heart
justifies all his past rebellion.
- 8. Consequently present impenitence, especially under the light of the glorious
gospel, is a heart-justification of all sin. It is taking sides deliberately with
sinners against God, and is a virtual endorsing of all the sins of earth and hell.
This principle is clearly implied in Christ's teaching, Matt. xxiii. 34-36: "Wherefore,
behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye
shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and
persecute them from city to city; that upon you may come all the righteous blood
shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias,
son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily, I say unto
you, All these things shall come upon this generation."
- 9. Present impenitence, under all the light and experience which the sinner now
has, involves the guilt of all his past sin. If he still holds on to it, he in heart
justifies it. If he in heart justifies it, he virtually recommits it. If in the presence
of accumulated light, he still persists in sin, he virtually endorses, recommits,
and is again guilty of all past sin.
- 10. Impenitence is a charging God with sin; it is self-justification, and consequently
it condemns God. It is a direct controversy with God, and a denial of his right to
govern, and of the sinner's duty to obey.
- 11. It is a deliberate rejection of mercy, and a virtual declaration that God
is a tyrant, and that he ought not to govern, but that he ought to be resisted.
- 12. It implies a total want of confidence in God; want of confidence in his character
and government; in his works and ways. It virtually charges God with usurpation,
falsehood, and selfishness in all their odious forms. It is a making war on every
moral attribute of God, and is utter enmity against him. It is mortal enmity, and
would of course always manifest itself in sinners, as it did when Christ was upon
the earth. When he poured the light upon them, they hardened themselves until they
were ripe for murdering him. This is the true nature of impenitence. It involves
the guilt of a mortal enmity against God.
VII. Notice some of the characteristics or evidences of impenitence.
- 1. A manifested indifference to the sins of men is evidence of an impenitent
and sin-justifying state of mind. It is impossible that a penitent soul should not
be deeply and heartily opposed to all sin; and if heartily opposed to it, it is impossible
that he should not manifest this opposition, for the heart controls the life by a
law of necessity.
- 2. Of course a manifest heart-complacency in sin or in sinners is, sure evidence
of an impenitent state of mind. "He that will be the friend of the world is
the enemy of God." Heart-complacency in sinners is that friendship with the
world that is enmity against God.
- 3. A manifest want of zeal in opposing sin and in promoting reformation, is a
sure indication of an impenitent state of mind. The soul that has been truly convinced
of sin, and turned from sin to the love and service of God, cannot but manifest a
deep interest in every effort to expel sin out of the world. Such a soul cannot but
be zealous in opposing sin, and in building up and establishing righteousness in
- 4. A manifest want of sympathy with God in respect to his government, providential
and moral, is an evidence of impenitence of heart. A penitent soul, as has been said,
will and must of course justify God in all his ways. This is implied in genuine repentance.
A disposition to complain of the strictness and rigour of God's commandments--to
speak of the providence of God in a complaining manner, to murmur at its allotments,
and repine at the circumstances in which it has placed a soul, is to evince an impenitent
and rebellious state of mind.
- 5. A manifest want of confidence in the character, faithfulness, and promises
of God, is also sure evidence of an impenitent state of mind. A distrust of God in
any respect cannot consist with a penitent state of heart.
- 6. The absence of peace of mind is sure evidence of an impenitent state. The
penitent soul must have peace of conscience, because penitence is a state of conscious
rectitude. It also must have peace with God, in view of, and through confidence in,
the atonement of Christ. Repentance is the turning from an attitude of rebellion
against God, to a state of universal submission to his will, and approbation of it
as wise and good. This must of course bring peace to the soul. When therefore there
is a manifest want of peace, there is evidence of impenitence of heart.
- 7. Every unequivocal manifestation of selfishness is a conclusive evidence of
present impenitence. Repentance, as we have seen, consists in the turning of the
soul from selfishness to benevolence. It follows of course that the presence of selfishness,
or a spirit of self-indulgence, is conclusive evidence of an impenitent state of
mind. Repentance implies the denial of self; the denial or subjection of all the
appetites, passions, and propensities to the law of the intelligence. Therefore a
manifest spirit of self-indulgence, a disposition to seek the gratification of the
appetites and passions, such as the subjection of the will to the use of tobacco,
of alcohol, or to any of the natural or artificial appetites under light and in opposition
to the law of the reason, is conclusive evidence of present impenitence. I say, "under
light, and in opposition to the law of the reason." Such articles as those just
named, are sometimes used medicinally, and because they are regarded as useful, and
even indispensable to health under certain circumstances. In such cases their use
may be a duty. But they are more frequently used merely to gratify appetite, and
in the face of a secret conviction that they are not only unnecessary, but absolutely
injurious. This is indulgence that constitutes sin. It is impossible that such indulgence
should consist with repentance. Such a mind must be in impenitence, or there is no
such thing as impenitence.
- 8. A spirit of self-justification is another evidence of impenitence. This manifestation
must be directly the opposite of that which the truly penitent soul will make.
- 9. A spirit of excuse-making for neglect of duty is also a conclusive evidence
of an impenitent heart. Repentance implies the giving up of all excuses for disobedience,
and a hearty obedience in all things. Of course, where there is a manifest disposition
to make excuses for not being what and all God requires us to be, it is certain that
there is, and must be an impenitent state of mind. It is war with God.
- 10. A fearfulness that implies a want of confidence in the perfect faithfulness
of God, or that implies unbelief in any respect, is an indication of an impenitent
state of mind.
- 11. A want of candour upon any moral subject relating to self, also betrays an
impenitent heart. A penitent state of the will is committed to know and to embrace
all truth. Therefore a prejudiced, uncandid state of mind must be inconsistent with
penitence, and a manifestation of prejudice must evince present impenitence.
- 12. An unwillingness to be searched, and to have all our words and ways brought
into the light of truth, and to be reproved when we are in error, is a sure indication
of an impenitent state of mind. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light,
neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth
truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought
- 13. Only partial reformation of life, also indicates that the heart has not embraced
the whole will of God. When there is a disposition manifested to indulge in some
sin, no matter how little, it is sure evidence of impenitence of heart. The penitent
soul rejects sin as sin; of course every kind or degree of iniquity is put away,
loathed, and abhorred. "Whoso keepeth the whole law and yet offends in one point,
is guilty of all;" that is, if a man in one point unequivocally sins or disobeys
God, it is certain that he truly from the heart obeys him in nothing. He has not
an obedient state of mind. If he really had supreme respect to God's authority, he
could not but obey him in all things. If therefore it be found, that a professor
of penitence does not manifest the spirit of universal obedience; if in some things
he is manifestly self-indulgent, it may be known that he is altogether yet in sin,
and that he is still "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity."
- 14. Neglect or refusal to confess and make restitution, so far as opportunity
and ability are enjoyed, is also a sure indication of an unjust and impenitent state
of mind. It would seem impossible for a penitent soul not at once to see and be impressed
with the duty of making confession and restitution to those who have been injured
by him. When this is refused or neglected, there must be impenitence. The heart controls
the life by a law of necessity; when, therefore, there is a heart that confesses
and forsakes sin, it is impossible that this should not appear in outward confession
- 15. A spirit of covetousness, or grasping after the world, is a sure indication
of impenitence. "Covetousness is idolatry." It is a hungering and thirsting
after, and devotion to this world. Acquisitiveness indulged must be positive proof
of an impenitent state of mind. If any man love the world, how dwelleth the love
of God in him?
- 16. A want of interest in, and compassion for, sinners, is a sure indication
of impenitence. If one has seen his own guilt and ruin, and has found himself sunk
in the horrible pit and miry clay of his own abominations, and has found the way
of escape, to feel deeply for sinners, to manifest a great compassion and concern
for them, and a zeal for their salvation, is as natural as to breathe. If this sympathy
and zeal are not manifested, we may rely upon it that there is still impenitence.
There is a total want of that love to God and souls that is always implied in repentance.
Seest thou a professed convert to Christ whose compassions are not stirred, and whose
zeal for the salvation of souls is not awakened? Be assured that you behold a hypocrite.
- 17. A disposition to apologize for sin, to take part with sinners, or a want
of fulness and clearness in condemning them, and taking sides altogether with God,
is evidence of an impenitent state of mind. A hesitancy, or want of clearness in
the mind's apprehension of the justice of God in condemning sinners to an eternal
hell, shows that the eyes have not yet been thoroughly open to the nature, guilt,
and desert of sin, and consequently this state of spiritual blindness is sad evidence
of an impenitent heart.
- 18. A want of moral or spiritual perception, is also an indication of impenitence.
When an individual is seen to have little or no conscience on many moral questions,
can use tobacco, alcohol, and such like things, under the present light that has
been shed on these practices; when self can be indulged without compunctions, this
is a most certain indication of an impenitent heart. True repentance is infallibly
connected with a sensitive and discriminating conscience. When, therefore, there
is a seared conscience, you may know there is a hard and impenitent heart.
- 19. Spiritual sloth or indolence is another evidence of an impenitent heart.
The soul that thoroughly turns to God, and consecrates itself to him, and wholly
commits itself to promote his glory in the building up of his kingdom, will be, must
be, anything but slothful. A disposition to spiritual idleness, or to lounging or
indolence of any kind, is an evidence that the heart is impenitent. I might pursue
this subject to an indefinite length; but what has been said must suffice for this
course of instruction, and is sufficient to give you the clue by which you may detect
the windings and delusions of the impenitent heart.
I must conclude this discussion with several
- 1. Many confound conviction of sin, and the necessarily resulting emotions of
remorse, regret, and sorrow, with evangelical repentance. They give the highest evidence
of having fallen into this mistake.
- 2. Considering the current teaching upon this subject, and the great want of
discrimination in public preaching, and in writings on the subject of repentance,
this mistake is natural. How few divines sufficiently discriminate between the phenomena
of the intelligence, the sensibility, and the will. But until this discrimination
is thoroughly made, great mistakes upon this subject may be expected both among the
clergy and the laity, and multitudes will be self-deceived.
- 3. It is of the highest importance for the ministry to understand, and constantly
insist in their teaching, that all virtuous exercises of mind are phenomena of the
will, and in no case merely passive states of mind; that therefore they are connected
with the outward life by a law of necessity, and that therefore when there is a right
heart, there must be a right life.
- 4. It is a most gross, as it is a very common delusion, to separate religion
from a pure morality, and repentance from reformation. "What God," by an
unalterable law of necessity, "has joined together, let not man put asunder."
- 5. It is also common to fall into the error of separating devotion from practical
benevolence. Many seem to be striving after a devotion that is not piety. They are
trying to work their sensibility into a state which they suppose to be devotion,
while they retain selfishness in their hearts. They live in habitual self-indulgence,
and yet observe seasons of what they call devotion. Devotion is with them mere emotion,
a state of feeling, a phenomenon of the sensibility, a devotion without religion.
This is a grievous delusion.
- 6. The doctrine of repentance, or the necessity of repentance as a condition
of salvation, is as truly a doctrine of natural as of revealed religion. It is a
self-evident truth, that the sinner cannot be saved except he repents. Without repentance
God cannot forgive him; and if he could and should, such forgiveness could not save
him; for, in his sins, salvation is naturally impossible to him. Without just that
change which has been described, and which the Bible calls repentance, and which
it makes a condition of pardon and salvation, it is plainly, naturally, and governmentally
impossible for any sinner to be saved.
- 7. Repentance is naturally necessary to peace of mind in this life. Until the
sinner repents he is at war with himself, and at war with God. There is a mutiny,
and a struggle, and a controversy, going on within him. His conscience will not be
satisfied. Though cast down from the throne of government and trampled under foot,
it will mutter, and sometimes thunder its remonstrances and rebukes; and although
it has not the power to control the will, still it will assert the right to control.
Then there is war within the breast of the sinner himself, and until he repents he
carries the elements of hell within him; and sooner or later they will take fire,
and burst upon his soul in a universal and eternal conflagration.
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE LV. Back
FAITH AND UNBELIEF.
I. WHAT EVANGELICAL FAITH IS NOT.
II. WHAT IT IS.
III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN IT.
IV. WHAT UNBELIEF IS NOT.
V. WHAT IT IS.
VI. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN UNBELIEF.
VII. CONDITIONS OF BOTH FAITH AND UNBELIEF.
VIII. THE GUILT OF UNBELIEF.
IX. NATURAL AND GOVERNMENTAL RESULTS OF EACH.
I. What evangelical faith is not.
- 1. The term faith, like most other words, has diverse significations, and is
manifestly used in the Bible sometimes to designate a state of the intellect, in
which case it means an undoubting persuasion, a firm conviction, an unhesitating
intellectual assent. This, however, is not its evangelical sense. Evangelical faith
cannot be a phenomenon of the intellect, for the plain reason that, when used in
an evangelical sense, it is always regarded as a virtue. But virtue cannot be predicated
of intellectual states, because these are involuntary, or passive states of mind.
Faith is a condition of salvation. It is something which we are commanded to do upon
pain of eternal death. But if it be something to be done--a solemn duty, it cannot
be a merely passive state, a mere intellectual conviction. The Bible distinguishes
between intellectual and saving faith. There is a faith of devils, and there is a
faith of saints. James clearly distinguishes between them, and also between an antinomian
and a saving faith. "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without
thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is
one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know,
O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified
by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith
wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was
fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness;
and he was called the friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified,
and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works,
when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the
body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."--James
ii. 17-26. The distinction is here clearly marked, as it is elsewhere in the Bible,
between intellectual and saving faith.
- One produces good works or a holy life; the other is unproductive. This shows
that one is a phenomenon of the intellect merely, and does not of course control
the conduct. The other must be a phenomenon of the will, because it manifests itself
in the outward life. Evangelical faith, then, is not a conviction, a perception of
truth. It does not belong to the intellect, though it implies intellectual conviction,
yet the evangelical or virtuous element does not consist in it.
- 2. It is not a feeling of any kind; that is, it does not belong to, and is not
a phenomenon of, the sensibility. The phenomena of the sensibility are passive states
of mind, and therefore have no moral character in themselves. Faith, regarded as
a virtue, cannot consist in any involuntary state of mind whatever. It is represented
in the Bible as an active and most efficient state of mind. It works and "works
by love." It produces "the obedience of faith." Christians are said
to be sanctified by the faith that is in Christ.
- Indeed the Bible, in a great variety of instances and ways, represents faith
in God and in Christ as a cardinal form of virtue, and as the mainspring of an outwardly
holy life. Hence, it cannot consist in any involuntary state or exercise of mind
II. What evangelical faith is.
Since the Bible uniformly represents saving or evangelical faith as a virtue, we
know that it must be a phenomenon of will. It is an efficient state of mind, and
therefore it must consist in the embracing of the truth by the heart or will. It
is the will's closing in with the truths of the gospel. It is the soul's act of yielding
itself up, or committing itself to the truths of the evangelical system. It is a
trusting in Christ, a committing the soul and the whole being to him, in his various
offices and relations to men. It is a confiding in him, and in what is revealed of
him, in his word and providence, and by his Spirit.
The same word that is so often rendered faith in the New Testament is also rendered
commit; as in John ii. 24, "But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because
he knew all men." Luke xvi. 11, "If, therefore, ye have not been faithful
in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" In
these passages the word rendered commit is the same word as that which is rendered
faith. It is a confiding in God and in Christ, as revealed in the Bible and in reason.
It is a receiving of the testimony of God concerning himself, and concerning all
things of which he has spoken. It is a receiving of Christ for just what he is represented
to be in his gospel, and an unqualified surrender of the will, and of the whole being
III. What is implied in evangelical faith.
- 1. It implies an intellectual perception of the things, facts, and truths believed.
No one can believe that which he does not understand. It is impossible to believe
that which is not so revealed to the mind, that the mind understands it. It has been
erroneously assumed, that faith did not need light, that is, that it is not essential
to faith that we understand the doctrines or facts that we are called upon to believe.
This is a false assumption; for how can we believe, trust, confide, in what we do
not understand? I must first understand what a proposition, a fact, a doctrine, or
a thing is, before I can say whether I believe, or whether I ought to believe, or
not. Should you state a proposition to me in an unknown tongue, and ask me if I believe
it, I must reply, I do not, for I do not understand the terms of the proposition.
Perhaps I should believe the truth expressed, and perhaps I should not; I cannot
tell, until I understand the proposition. Any fact or doctrine not understood is
like a proposition in an unknown tongue; it is impossible that the mind should receive
or reject it, should believe or disbelieve it, until it is understood. We can receive
or believe a truth, or fact, or doctrine no further than we understand it. So far
as we do understand it, so far we may believe it, although we may not understand
all about it. For example: I can believe in both the proper divinity and humanity
of Jesus Christ. That he is both God and man, is a fact that I can understand. Thus
far I can believe. But how his divinity and humanity are united I cannot understand.
Therefore, I only believe the fact that they are united; the quo modo of their union
I know nothing about, and I believe no more than I know. So I can understand that
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. That the Father is God, that the Son
is God, that the Holy Spirit is God; that these three are Divine persons, I can understand
as a fact, that each possesses all divine perfection. I can also understand that
there is no contradiction or impossibility in the declared fact, that these three
are one in their substratum of being; that is, that they are one in a different sense
from that in which they are three; that they are three in one sense, and one in another.
I understand that this may be a fact, and therefore I can believe it. But the quo
modo of their union I neither understand nor believe: that is, I have no theory,
no idea, no data on the subject, have no opinion, and consequently no faith, as to
the manner in which they are united. That they are three, is as plainly taught upon
the face of inspiration as that Peter, James, and John were three. That each of the
three is God, is as plainly revealed as that Peter, James, and John were men. These
are revealed facts, and facts that any one can understand. That these three are one
God, is also a revealed fact. The quo modo of this fact is not revealed, I cannot
understand it, and have no belief as to the manner of this union. That they are one
God is a fact that reason can neither affirm nor deny. The fact can be understood,
although the how is unintelligible to us in our present state. It is not a contradiction,
because they are not revealed as being one and three in the same sense, nor in any
sense that reason can pronounce to be impossible. Faith, then, in any fact or doctrine,
implies that the intellect has an idea, or that the soul has an understanding, an
opinion of that which the heart embraces or believes.
- 2. Evangelical faith implies the appropriation of the truths of the gospel to
ourselves. It implies an acceptance of Christ as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification,
and redemption. The soul that truly believes, believes that Christ tasted death for
every man, and of course for it. It apprehends Christ as the Saviour of the world,
as offered to all, and embraces and receives him for itself. It appropriates his
atonement, and his resurrection, and his intercession, and his promises to itself.
Christ is thus presented in the gospel, not only as the Saviour of the world, but
also to the individual acceptance of men. He is embraced by the world no further
than he is embraced by individuals. He saves the world no further than he saves individuals.
He died for the world, because he died for the individuals that compose the race.
Evangelical faith, then, implies the belief of the truths of the Bible, the apprehension
of the truths just named, and a reception of them, and a personal acceptance and
appropriation of Christ to meet the necessities of the individual soul.
- 3. It implies the unreserved yielding up of the mind to Christ, in the various
relations in which he is presented in the gospel. These relations will come under
review at another time: all I wish here to say is, that faith is a state of committal
to Christ, and of course it implies that the soul will be unreservedly yielded to
him, in all his relations to it, so far and so fast as these are apprehended by the
- 4. Evangelical faith implies an evangelical life. This would not be true if faith
were merely an intellectual state or exercise. But since, as we have seen, faith
is of the heart, since it consists in the committal of the will to Christ, it follows,
by a law of necessity, that the life will correspond with faith. Let this be kept
in perpetual remembrance.
- 5. Evangelical faith implies repentance towards God. Evangelical faith particularly
respects Jesus Christ and his salvation. It is an embracing of Christ and his salvation.
Of course it implies repentance towards God, that is, a turning from sin to God.
The will cannot be submitted to Christ, it cannot receive him as he is presented
in the gospel, while it neglects repentance toward God; while it rejects the authority
of the Father, it cannot embrace and submit to the Son.
- 6. Evangelical faith implies a renunciation of self-righteousness. Christ's salvation
is opposed to a salvation by law or by self-righteousness. It is therefore impossible
for one to embrace Christ as the Saviour of the soul, any further than he renounces
all hope or expectation of being saved by his own works, or righteousness.
- 7. It implies the renunciation of the spirit of self-justification. The soul
that receives Christ must have seen its lost estate. It must have been convinced
of sin, and of the folly and madness of attempting to excuse self. It must have renounced
and abhorred all pleas and excuses in justification or extenuation of sin. Unless
the soul ceases to justify self, it cannot justify God; and unless it justifies God,
it cannot embrace the plan of salvation by Christ. A state of mind therefore that
justifies God and condemns self, is always implied in evangelical faith.
- 8. Disinterested benevolence, or a state of good-will to being, is implied in
evangelical faith; for that is the committal of the soul to God and to Christ in
all obedience. It must, therefore, imply fellowship or sympathy with him in regard
to the great end upon which his heart is set, and for which he lives. A yielding
up of the will and the soul to him, must imply the embracing of the same end that
- 9. It implies a state of the sensibility corresponding to the truths believed.
It implies this, because this state of the sensibility is a result of faith by a
law of necessity, and this result follows necessarily upon the acceptance of Christ
and his gospel by the heart.
- 10. Of course it implies peace of mind. In Christ the soul finds its full and
present salvation. It finds justification, which produces a sense of pardon and acceptance.
It finds sanctification, or grace to deliver from the reigning power of sin. It finds
all its wants met, and all needed grace proffered for its assistance. It sees no
cause for disturbance, nothing to ask or desire that is not treasured up in Christ.
It has ceased to war with God--with itself. It has found its resting-place in Christ,
and rests in profound peace under the shadow of the Almighty.
- 11. It implies hope, as soon as the believing soul considers what is conveyed
by the gospel, that is, a hope of eternal life in and through Christ. It is impossible
that the soul should embrace the gospel for itself, and really accept of Christ,
without a hope of eternal life resulting from it by a necessary law.
- 12. It implies joy in God and in Christ. Peter speaks of joy as the unfailing
accompaniment of faith, as resulting from it. Speaking of Christians, he says, 1
Pet. i, 5-9, "Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,
ready to be revealed in the last time: wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for
a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the
trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though
it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the
appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye
see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, receiving
the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."
- 13. It implies zeal in the cause of Christ. Faith in Christ implies fellowship
with him in the great work of man's redemption, and of course, must imply zeal in
the same cause for which Christ gave up his life.
- 14. Evangelical faith must imply a general sympathy with Christ in respect to
the affairs of his government. It must imply sympathy with his views of sin and of
holiness--of sinners and of saints. It must imply a deep affection for, and interest
in, Christ's people.
- 15. It must imply a consecration of heart, of time, of substance, and of all
to this great end.
- 16. It must imply the existence in the soul of every virtue, because it is a
yielding up of the whole being to the will of God. Consequently, all the phases of
virtue required by the gospel must be implied as existing, either in a developed
or in an undeveloped state, in every heart that truly receives Christ by faith. Certain
forms or modifications of virtue may not in all cases have found the occasions of
their developement, but certain it is, that every modification of virtue will manifest
itself as its occasion shall arise, if there be a true and a living faith in Christ.
This follows from the very nature of faith.
- 17. Present evangelical faith implies a state of present sinlessness. Observe:
faith is the yielding and committal of the whole will, and of the whole being to
Christ. This, and nothing short of this, is evangelical faith. But this comprehends
and implies the whole of present, true obedience to Christ. This is the reason why
faith is spoken of as the condition, and as it were, the only condition, of salvation.
It really implies all virtue. Faith may be contemplated either as a distinct form
of virtue, and as an attribute of love, or as comprehensive of all virtue. When contemplated
as an attribute of love, it is only a branch of sanctification. When contemplated
in the wider sense of universal conformity of will to the will of God, it is then
synonymous with entire present sanctification. Contemplated in either light, its
existence in the heart must be inconsistent with present sin there. Faith is an attitude
of the will, and is wholly incompatible with present rebellion of will against Christ.
This must be true, or what is faith?
- 18. Faith implies the reception and the practice of all known or perceived truth.
The heart that embraces and receives truth as truth, and because it is truth, must
of course receive all known truth. For it is plainly impossible that the will should
embrace some truth perceived for a benevolent reason, and reject other truth perceived.
All truth is harmonious. One truth is always consistent with every other truth. The
heart that truly embraces one, will, for the same reason, embrace all truth known.
If out of regard to the highest good of being any one revealed truth is truly received,
that state of mind continuing, it is impossible that all truth should not be received
as soon as known.
IV. What unbelief is not.
- 1. It is not ignorance of truth. Ignorance is a blank; it is the negation or
absence of knowledge. This certainly cannot be the unbelief everywhere represented
in the Bible as a heinous sin. Ignorance may be a consequence of unbelief, but cannot
be identical with it. We may be ignorant of certain truths as a consequence of rejecting
others, but this ignorance is not, and, we shall see, cannot be unbelief.
- 2. Unbelief is not the negation or absence of faith. This were a mere nothing--a
nonentity. But a mere nothing is not that abominable thing which the scriptures represent
as a great and a damning sin.
- 3. It cannot be a phenomenon of the intellect, or an intellectual scepticism.
This state of the intellect may result from the state of mind properly denominated
unbelief, but it cannot be identical with it. Intellectual doubts or unbelief often
results from unbelief properly so called, but unbelief, when contemplated as a sin,
should never be confounded with theoretic or intellectual infidelity. They are as
entirely distinct as any two phenomena of mind whatever.
- 4. It cannot consist in feelings or emotions of incredulity, doubt, or opposition
to truth. In other words, unbelief as a sin, cannot be a phenomenon of the sensibility.
The term unbelief is sometimes used to express or designate a state of the intellect,
and sometimes of the sensibility. It sometimes is used to designate a state of intellectual
incredulity, doubt, distrust, scepticism. But when used in this sense, moral character
is not justly predicable of the state of mind which the term unbelief represents.
- Sometimes the term expresses a mere feeling of incredulity in regard to truth.
But neither has this state of mind moral character; nor can it have, for the very
good reason that it is involuntary. In short, the unbelief that is so sorely denounced
in the Bible, as a most aggravated abomination, cannot consist in any involuntary
state of mind whatever.
V. What unbelief is.
The term, as used in the Bible, in those passages that represent it as a sin, must
designate a phenomenon of will. It must be a voluntary state of mind. It must be
the opposite of evangelical faith. Faith is the will's reception, and unbelief is
the will's rejection, of truth. Faith is the soul's confiding in truth and in the
God of truth. Unbelief is the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God
of truth. It is the heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by
it. It is the will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence
presented. Intellectual scepticism or unbelief, where light is proffered, always
implies the unbelief of the will or heart. For if the mind knows, or supposes, that
light may be had, on any question of duty, and does not make honest efforts to obtain
it, this can be accounted for only by ascribing it to the will's reluctance to know
the path of duty. In this case light is rejected. The mind has light so far as to
know that more is proffered, but this proffered light is rejected. This is the sin
of unbelief. All infidelity is unbelief in this sense, and infidels are so, not for
want of light, but, in general, they have taken much pains to shut their eyes against
it. Unbelief must be a voluntary state or attitude of the will, as distinguished
from a mere volition, or executive act of the will. Volition may, and often does,
give forth, through words and deeds, expressions and manifestations of unbelief.
But the volition is only a result of unbelief, and not identical with it. Unbelief
is a deeper and more efficient and more permanent state of mind than mere volition.
It is the will in its profoundest opposition to the truth and will of God.
VI. What is implied in unbelief.
- 1. Unbelief implies light, or the perception of truth. If unbelief were but a
mere negation, an absence of faith, a quiescent or inactive state of the will, it
would not imply the perception of truth. But since unbelief consists in the will's
rejection of truth, the truth rejected must be perceived. For example: the heathen
who have never heard of the gospel are not properly guilty of unbelief in not embracing
it. They are indeed guilty of unbelief in rejecting the light of nature. They are
entirely without the light of the gospel; therefore they cannot reject it. The unbelief
so much complained of in the Bible, is not ignorance, but a rejection of truth revealed,
either by the light of nature, or by Providence or inspiration.
- 2. It implies obstinate selfishness. Indeed it is only one of the attributes
of selfishness, as we have seen on a former occasion. Selfishness is a spirit of
self-seeking. It consists in the will's committing itself to self-gratification or
self-indulgence. Now unbelief is only selfishness contemplated in its relations to
the truth of God. It is only the resistance which the will makes to those truths
that are opposed to selfishness. It is the will's stern opposition to them. When
these truths are revealed to the intellect, the will must either yield to them and
relinquish selfishness, or it must resist them. Remain indifferent to them it cannot.
Therefore, unbelief always implies selfishness, because it is only selfishness manifesting
itself, or acting like itself, in the presence of truth opposed to it.
- 3. Unbelief implies a state of present total depravity. Surely there can be nothing
but sin in a heart that rejects the truth for selfish reasons. It is naturally impossible
that there should be any conformity of heart to the will and law of God, when unbelief,
or resistance to known truth, is present in the soul.
- 4. Unbelief implies the rejection of all truth perceived to be inconsistent with
selfishness. The unbelieving soul does not, and, remaining selfish, cannot receive
any truth, but for selfish reasons. Whatever truth is received and acted upon by
a selfish soul, is received for selfish reasons. But this is not faith. Whatever
truth the selfish soul cannot apply to selfish purposes, it will reject. This follows
from the very nature of selfishness.
- 5. On a former occasion it was shown, that where any one attribute of selfishness
is, there must be the presence of every other attribute, either in a developed state,
or waiting for the occasion of its developement. All sinners are guilty of unbelief,
and have this attribute of selfishness developed, in proportion to the amount of
light which they have received. Heathens reject the light of nature, and sinners
in Christian lands reject the light of the gospel. The nature of unbelief proves
that the unbelieving heart is not only void of all good, but that every form of sin
is there. The whole host of the attributes of selfishness must reside in the unbeliever's
heart, and only the occasion is wanting to bring forth into developement, and horrid
manifestation, every form of iniquity.
- 6. The nature of unbelief implies that its degree depends on the degree of light
enjoyed. It consists in a rejection of truth perceived. Its degree or greatness must
depend upon the degree of light rejected.
- 7. The same must be true of the guilt of unbelief. The guilt must be in proportion
to light enjoyed. But as the guilt of unbelief is to come up for distinct consideration,
I waive the further discussion of it here.
- 8. Unbelief implies impenitence. The truly penitent soul will gladly embrace
all truth when it is revealed to it. This follows from the nature of repentance.
Especially will the true penitent hail with joy, and embrace with eagerness the blessed
truths of the glorious gospel. This must be from the very nature of repentance. When
unbelief is present in the heart, there must be impenitence also.
- 9. Unbelief is enmity against God. It is resistance to truth, and of course to
the character and government of the God of truth.
- 10. It implies mortal enmity against God. Unbelief rejects the truth and authority
of God, and is, of course, and of necessity, opposed to the very existence of the
God of truth. It would annihilate truth and the God of truth, were it possible. We
have an instance and an illustration of this in the rejection and murder of Jesus
Christ. What was this but unbelief? This is the nature of unbelief in all instances.
All sinners who hear and reject the gospel, reject Christ; and were Christ personally
present to insist upon their reception of him, and to urge his demand, remaining
unbelieving, they would of course, and of necessity, sooner murder him than receive
him. So that every rejecter of the gospel is guilty of the blood and murder of Christ.
- 11. Unbelief implies supreme enmity to God. This follows from the nature of unbelief.
Unbelief is the heart's rejection of and opposition to truth. Of course, the greater
the light, unbelief remaining, the greater the opposition. Since God is the fountain
of truth, opposition to him must be supreme. That is, it must be greater to him than
to all other beings and things.
- 12. Unbelief implies a degree of wickedness as great as is possible for the time
being. We have seen that it is resistance to truth; that it implies the refusal to
receive for benevolent reasons any truth. Entire holiness is the reception of, and
conformity to, all truth. This is, at every moment, the highest degree of virtue
of which the soul for the time being is capable. It is the entire performance of
duty. Sin is the rejection of the whole truth, this is sin in the form of unbelief.
The rejection of all known truth, or of all truth perceived to be inconsistent with
selfishness, and for that reason, must be present perfection in wickedness. That
is, it must be the highest degree of wickedness of which the soul with its present
light is capable. It is the rejection of the whole of duty. It is a trampling down
of all moral obligation.
- 13. Unbelief implies the charging God with being a liar. "He that believeth
not God hath made him a liar, because he hath not believed the record that God gave
of his Son." Unbelief is the treatment of truth as if it were falsehood, and
of falsehood as if it were truth. It is the virtual declaration of the heart, that
the gospel is not true, and therefore that the Author of the gospel is a liar. It
treats the record as untrue, and of course God, the author of the record, as a liar.
- 14. Unbelief implies lying. It is itself the greatest of lies. It is the heart's
declaration, and that too in the face of light, and with the intellectual apprehension
of the truth, that the gospel is a lie, and the Author of it a liar. What is lying,
if this is not?
- 15. It implies a most reckless disregard of all rights and of all interests but
those of self.
- 16. It implies a contempt for, and a trampling down of, the law and demands of
the intelligence. Intelligence in its relations to moral truths is only a trouble
to the unbeliever. His conscience and his reason he regards as enemies.
- 17. But before I dismiss this part of the subject, I must not omit to say that
unbelief also implies the will's embracing an opposite error and a lie. It consists
in the rejection of truth, or in the withholding confidence in truth and in the God
of truth. But since it is naturally impossible that the will should be in a state
of indifference to any known error or truth that stands connected with its duty or
its destiny, it follows that a rejection of any known truth implies an embracing
of an opposing error.
- There are multitudes of other things implied in unbelief; but I cannot with propriety
and profit notice them in this brief outline of instruction. I have pursued this
subject thus far, for the purpose of showing the true and philosophical nature of
unbelief; that whosoever will steadily contemplate its nature, will perceive, that
being what it is, it will and must develope, as occasions occur in the providence
of God, every form of iniquity of which man is capable, or in other words, that where
unbelief is, there is the whole of sin.
VII. Conditions of both faith and unbelief.
- 1. The possession of reason. Reason is the intuitive faculty of the soul. It
is that power of the mind that makes those à priori affirmations concerning
God, which all moral agents do and must make, from the very nature of moral agency,
and without which neither faith as a virtue, nor unbelief as a sin, were possible.
For example: suppose it admitted that the Bible is a revelation from God. The question
might be asked, why should we believe it? Why should we receive and believe the testimony
of God? The answer must be, because veracity is an attribute of God, and his word
is to be accredited because he always speaks the truth. But how do we know this?
This we certainly cannot know barely upon his testimony, for the very question is,
why is his testimony worthy of credit. There is no light in his works or providence
that can demonstrate that veracity is an attribute of God. His claiming this attribute
does not prove it, for unless his truthfulness be assumed, his claiming this attribute
is no evidence of it. There is no logical process by which the truth of God can be
demonstrated. The major premise from which the truthfulness of God could be deduced
by a syllogistic process, must itself assume the very truth which we are seeking
to prove. Now there is no way for us to know the truthfulness of God, but by the
direct assumption, affirmation, or intuition of reason. The same power that intuits
or seizes upon a major premise, from which the truthfulness of God follows by the
laws of logic, must and does directly, irresistibly, necessarily, and universally,
assume and affirm the fact, that God is truth, and that veracity must be an attribute
- But for this assumption the intellect could not affirm our obligation to believe
him. This assumption is a first-truth of reason, everywhere, at all times, by all
moral agents, necessarily assumed and known. This is evident from the fact, that
it being settled, that God has declared anything whatever, there is an end of all
questioning in all minds whether it be true or not. So far as the intellect is concerned,
it never did, and never can question the truthfulness of God. It knows with certain
and intuitive knowledge, that God is true, and therefore affirms universally and
necessarily, that he is to be believed. This assumption, and the power that makes
it, are indispensable conditions of faith as a virtue, or of unbelief as a vice.
It were no virtue to believe or receive anything as true, without sufficient evidence
that it is true. So it were no vice to reject that which is not supported by evidence.
A mere animal, or an idiot or lunatic, is not capable either of faith or of unbelief,
for the simple reason that they do not possess reason to discern the truth, and obligation
to receive it.
- 2. A revelation in some way to the mind of the truth and will of God must be
a condition of unbelief. Be it remembered, that neither faith nor unbelief is consistent
with total ignorance. There can be unbelief no further than there is light.
- 3. In respect to that class of truths which are discerned only upon condition
of divine illumination, such illumination must be a condition both of faith and unbelief.
It should be remarked, that when a truth has been once revealed by the Holy Spirit
to the soul, the continuance of the divine light is not essential to the continuance
of unbelief. The truth, once known and lodged in the memory, may continue to be resisted,
when the agent that revealed it is withdrawn.
- 4. Intellectual perception is a condition of the heart's unbelief. The intellect
must have evidence of truth as the condition of a virtuous belief of it. So the intellect
must have evidence of the truth, as a condition of a wicked rejection of it. Therefore,
intellectual light is the condition, both of the heart's faith and unbelief. By the
assertion, that intellectual light is a condition of unbelief is intended, not that
the intellect should at all times admit the truth in theory; but that the evidence
must be such, that by virtue of its own laws, the mind or intellect could justly
admit the truth rejected by the heart. It is a very common case, that the unbeliever
denies in words and endeavours to refute in theory, that which he nevertheless assumes
as true, in all his practical judgments.
VIII. The guilt and ill-desert of unbelief.
We have seen, on a former occasion, that the guilt of sin is conditionated upon,
and graduated by, the light under which it is committed. The amount of light is the
measure of guilt in every case of sin. This is true of all sin. But it is peculiarly
manifest in the sin of unbelief; for unbelief is the rejection of light; it is selfishness
in the attitude of rejecting truth. Of course, the amount of light rejected, and
the degree of guilt in rejecting it, are equal. This is everywhere assumed and taught
in the Bible, and is plainly the doctrine of reason.
Light is truth; light received, is truth known or perceived. The first truths of
reason are universally known by moral agents, and whenever the will refuses to act
in accordance with any one of them, it is guilty of unbelief. The reason of every
moral agent intuits and assumes the infinite value of the highest well-being of God
and of the universe, and of course the infinite obligation of every moral agent to
embrace the truth as the necessary condition of promoting this end. Viewed in this
light, unbelief always implies infinite guilt and blame-worthiness.
But it is a doctrine of mathematics, that infinites may differ. The meaning of the
term infinite is simply the negation of finite. It is boundlessness, unlimitedness.
That is, that which is infinite is unlimited or boundless, in the sense in which
it is infinite. But infinites may differ in amount. For example: the area contained
between two parallel lines of infinite length must be infinite in amount, however
near these lines are to each other. There is no estimating the superficial amount
of this area, for, in fact, there is no whole to it. But we may suppose parallel
lines of infinite length to be placed at different distances from each other; but
in every case, the enlargement or diminution of the distances between any two such
lines would, accordingly, vary the space contained between them. The superficial
contents would, in every case, be infinite, and yet they would differ in amount,
according to the distances of the lines from each other.
In every case, unbelief involves infinite guilt in the sense just explained; and
yet the guilt of unbelief may differ, and must differ, in different cases, indefinitely
The guilt of unbelief under the light of the gospel must be indefinitely greater,
than when merely the light of nature is rejected. The guilt of unbelief, in cases
where special divine illumination has been enjoyed, must be vastly and incalculably
greater, than where the mere light of the gospel has been enjoyed, without a special
enlightening of the Holy Spirit.
The guilt of unbelief in one who has been converted, and has known the love of God,
must be greater beyond comparison, than that of an ordinary sinner. Those things
that are implied in unbelief show that it must be one of the most provoking abominations
to God in the universe. It is the perfection of all that is unreasonable, unjust,
ruinous. It is infinitely slanderous and dishonourable to God and destructive to
man, and to all the interests of the kingdom of God.
IX. Natural and governmental consequences of both faith and unbelief.
By natural consequences are intended consequences that flow from the constitution
and laws of mind, by a natural necessity. By governmental consequences are intended
those that result from the constitution, laws, and administration of moral government.
- 1. One of the natural consequences of faith is peace of conscience. When the
will receives the truth, and yields itself up to conformity with it, the conscience
is satisfied with its present attitude, and the man becomes at peace with himself.
The soul is then in a state to really respect itself, and can, as it were, behold
its own face without a blush. But faith in truth perceived is the unalterable condition
of a man's being at peace with himself.
- A governmental consequence of faith is peace with God:--
(1.) In the sense that God is satisfied with the present obedience of the soul. It
is given up to be influenced by all truth, and this is comprehensive of all duty.
Of course God is at peace with the soul, so far as its present obedience is concerned.
(2.) Faith governmentally results in peace with God, in the sense of being a condition
of pardon and acceptance. That is, the penalty of the law for past sins is remitted
upon condition of true faith in Christ. The soul not only needs present and future
obedience, as a necessary condition of peace with self; but it also needs pardon
and acceptance on the part of the government for past sins, as a condition of peace
with God. But since the subject of justification or acceptance with God is to come
up as a distinct subject for consideration, I will not enlarge upon it here.
- 2. Self-condemnation is one of the natural consequences of unbelief. Such are
the constitution and laws of mind, that it is naturally impossible for the mind to
justify the heart's rejection of truth. On the contrary, the conscience necessarily
condemns such rejection, and pronounces judgment against it.
- Legal condemnation is a necessary governmental consequence of unbelief. No just
government can justify the rejection of known truth. But, on the contrary, all just
governments must utterly abhor and condemn the rejection of truths, and especially
those truths that relate to the obedience of the subject, and the highest well-being
of the rulers and ruled. The government of God must condemn and utterly abhor all
unbelief, as a rejection of those truths that are indispensable to the highest well-being
of the universe.
- 3. A holy or obedient life results from faith by a natural or necessary law.
Faith is an act of will which controls the life by a law of necessity. It follows
of course that, when the heart receives or obeys the truth, the outward life must
be conformed to it.
- 4. A disobedient and unholy life results from unbelief also by a law of necessity.
If the heart rejects the truth, of course the life will not be conformed to it.
- 5. Faith will develope every form of virtue in the heart and life, as their occasions
shall arise. It consists in the committing of the will to truth and to the God of
truth. Of course as different occasions arise, faith will secure conformity to all
truth on all subjects, and then every modification of virtue will exist in the heart,
and appear in the life, as circumstances in the providence of God shall develope
- 6. Unbelief may be expected to develope resistance to all truth upon all subjects
that conflict with selfishness; and hence nothing but selfishness in some form can
restrain its appearing in any other and every other form possible or conceivable.
It consists, be it remembered, in the heart's rejection of truth, and of course implies
the cleaving to error. The natural result of this must be the developement in the
heart, and the appearance in the life, of every form of selfishness that is not prevented
by some other form. For example, avarice may restrain amativeness, intemperance,
and many other forms of selfishness.
- 7. Faith, governmentally results in obtaining help of God. God may and does gratuitously
help those who have no faith. But this is not a governmental result or act in God.
But to the obedient he extends his governmental protection and aid.
- 8. Faith is a necessary condition of, and naturally results in, heart-obedience
to the commandments of God. Without confidence in a governor, it is impossible honestly
to give up the whole being in obedience to him. But implicit and universal faith
must result in implicit and universal obedience.
- 9. Unbelief naturally, because necessarily, results in heart-disobedience to
- 10. Faith naturally and necessarily results in all those lovely and delightful
emotions and states of feeling, of which they are conscious whose hearts have embraced
Christ. I mean all those emotions that are naturally connected with the action of
the will, and naturally result from believing the blessed truths of the gospel.
- 11. Unbelief naturally results in those emotions of remorse, regret, pain, and
agony which are the frequent experience of the unbeliever.
- 12. Faith lets God into the soul to dwell and reign there. Faith receives, not
only the atonement and mediatorial work of Christ as a Redeemer from punishment,
but it also receives Christ as king to set up his throne, and reign in the heart.
Faith secures to the soul communion with God.
- 13. Unbelief shuts God out of the soul, in the sense of refusing his reign in
- It also shuts the soul out from an interest in Christ's mediatorial work. This
results not from an arbitrary appointment, but is a natural consequence. Unbelief
shuts the soul out from communion with God.
These are hints at some of the natural and governmental consequences of faith and
unbelief. They are designed not to exhaust the subject, but merely to call attention
to topics which any one who desires may pursue at his pleasure. It should be here
remarked, that none of the ways, commandments, or appointments of God are arbitrary.
Faith is a naturally indispensable condition of salvation, which is the reason of
its being made a governmental condition. Unbelief renders salvation naturally impossible:
it must, therefore, render it governmentally impossible.
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE LVI. Back to Top
CHRIST is represented in the gospel as sustaining to men three classes of relations.
1. Those which are purely governmental.
2. Those which are purely spiritual.
3. Those which unite both these.
We shall at present consider him as Christ our justification. I shall show,--
I. WHAT GOSPEL JUSTIFICATION IS NOT.
II. WHAT IT IS.
III. POINT OUT THE CONDITIONS OF GOSPEL JUSTIFICATION.
IV. SHOW WHAT IS THE FOUNDATION OF GOSPEL JUSTIFICATION.
I. I am to show what gospel justification is not.
There is scarcely any question in theology that has been encumbered with more injurious
and technical mysticism than that of justification.
Justification is the pronouncing of one just. It may be done in words, or, practically,
by treatment. Justification must be, in some sense, a governmental act; and it is
of importance to a right understanding of gospel justification, to inquire whether
it be an act of the judicial, the executive, or the legislative department of government;
that is, whether gospel justification consists in a strictly judicial or forensic
proceeding, or whether it consists in pardon, or setting aside the execution of an
incurred penalty, and is therefore properly either an executive or a legislative
act. We shall see that the settling of this question is of great importance in theology;
and as we view this subject, so, if consistent, we must view many important and highly
practical questions in theology. This leads me to say,--
That gospel justification is not to be regarded as a forensic or judicial proceeding.
Dr. Chalmers and those of his school hold that it is. But this is certainly a great
mistake, as we shall see.
The term forensic is from forum, "a court." A forensic proceeding belongs
to the judicial department of government, whose business it is to ascertain the facts
and declare the sentence of the law. This department has no power over the law, but
to pronounce judgment, in accordance with its true spirit and meaning. Courts never
pardon, or set aside the execution of penalties. This does not belong to them, but
either to the executive or to the law-making department. Oftentimes, this power in
human governments is lodged in the head of the executive department, who is, generally
at least, a branch of the legislative power of government. But never is the power
to pardon exercised by the judicial department. The ground of a judicial or forensic
justification invariably is, and must be, universal obedience to law. If but one
crime or breach of law is alleged and proved, the court must inevitably condemn,
and can in no such case justify, or pronounce the convicted just. Gospel justification
is the justification of sinners; it is, therefore, naturally impossible, and a most
palpable contradiction, to affirm that the justification of a sinner, or of one who
has violated the law, is a forensic or judicial justification. That only is or can
be a legal or forensic justification, that proceeds upon the ground of its appearing
that the justified person is guiltless, or, in other words, that he has not violated
the law, that he has done only what he had a legal right to do. Now it is certainly
nonsense to affirm, that a sinner can be pronounced just in the eye of law; that
he can be justified by deeds of law, or by the law at all. The law condemns him.
But to be justified judicially or forensically, is to be pronounced just in the judgment
of law. This certainly is an impossibility in respect to sinners. The Bible is as
express as possible on this point. Romans iii. 20,--"Therefore by the deeds
of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the
knowledge of sin."
It is proper to say here, that Dr. Chalmers and those of his school do not intend
that sinners are justified by their own obedience to law, but by the perfect and
imputed obedience of Jesus Christ. They maintain that, by reason of the obedience
to law which Christ rendered when on earth, being set down to the credit of elect
sinners, and imputed to them, the law regards them as having rendered perfect obedience
in him, or regards them as having perfectly obeyed by proxy, and therefore pronounces
them just, upon condition of faith in Christ. This they insist is properly a forensic
or judicial justification. But this subject will come up more appropriately under
II. What is gospel justification.
It consists not in the law pronouncing the sinner just, but in his being ultimately
governmentally treated as if he were just, that is, it consists in a governmental
decree of pardon or amnesty--in arresting and setting aside the execution of the
incurred penalty of law--in pardoning and restoring to favour those who have sinned,
and those whom the law had pronounced guilty, and upon whom it had passed the sentence
of eternal death, and rewarding them as if they had been righteous. It is an act
either of the law-making or executive department of government, and is an act entirely
aside from, and contrary to, the forensic or judicial power or department of government.
It is an ultimate treatment of the sinner as just, a practical, not a literal, pronouncing
of him just. It is treating him as if he had been wholly righteous, when in fact
he has greatly sinned. In proof of this position, I remark,--
- 1. That this is most unequivocally taught in the Old Testament scriptures. The
whole system of sacrifices taught the doctrine of pardon upon the conditions of atonement,
repentance, and faith. This, under the old dispensation, is constantly represented
as a merciful acceptance of the penitents, and never as a forensic or judicial acquittal
or justification of them. The mercy-seat covered the law in the ark of the covenant.
Paul informs us what justification was in the sense in which the Old Testament saints
understood it, in Rom. iv. 6-8:--"Even also as David describeth the blessedness
of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are
they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man
to whom the Lord will not impute sin." This quotation from David shows both
what David and what Paul understood by justification, to wit, the pardon and acceptance
of the penitent sinner.
- 2. The New Testament fully justifies and establishes this view of the subject,
as we shall abundantly see under another head.
- 3. Sinners cannot possibly be justified in any other sense. Upon certain conditions
they may be pardoned and treated as just. But for sinners to be forensically pronounced
just, is impossible and absurd.
III. Conditions of justification.
In this discussion I use the term condition in the sense of a sine quà non,
a "not without which." This is its philosophical sense. A condition as
distinct from a ground of justification, is anything without which sinners cannot
be justified, which, nevertheless, is not the procuring cause or fundamental reason
of their justification. As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is
but one ground, of the justification of sinners. The application and importance of
this distinction we shall perceive as we proceed.
As has been already said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense,
but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This
is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification
of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They
hold to the legal maxim, that what a man does by another he does by himself, and
therefore the law regards Christ's obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed
for us. To this I reply,--
- 1. The legal maxim just repeated does not apply, except in cases where one acts
in behalf of another by his own appointment, which was not the case with the obedience
of Christ; and,--
- 2. The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ's obedience to the
law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption;
to wit, that Christ owed no obedience to the law in his own person, and that therefore
his obedience was altogether a work of supererogation, and might be made a substitute
for our own obedience; that it might be set down to our credit, because he did not
need to obey for himself.
- I must here remark, that justification respects the moral law; and that it must
be intended that Christ owed no obedience to the moral law, and therefore his obedience
to this law, being wholly a work of supererogation, is set down to our account as
the ground of our justification upon condition of faith in him. But surely this is
an obvious mistake. We have seen, that the spirit of the moral law requires good-will
to God and the universe. Was Christ under no obligation to do this? Nay, was he not
rather under infinite obligation to be perfectly benevolent? Was it possible for
him to be more benevolent than the law requires God and all beings to be? Did he
not owe entire consecration of heart and life to the highest good of universal being?
If not, then benevolence in him were no virtue, for it would not be a compliance
with moral obligation. It was naturally impossible for him, and is naturally impossible
for any being, to perform a work of supererogation; that is, to be more benevolent
than the moral law requires him to be. This is and must be as true of God as it is
of any other being. Would not Christ have sinned had he not been perfectly benevolent?
If he would, it follows that he owed obedience to the law, as really as any other
being. Indeed, a being that owed no obedience to the moral law must be wholly incapable
of virtue, for what is virtue but obedience to the moral law?
But if Christ owed personal obedience to the moral law, then his obedience could
no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us. He was bound for himself
to love God with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and his neighbour
as himself. He did no more than this. He could do no more. It was naturally impossible,
then, for him to obey in our behalf. This doctrine of the imputation of Christ's
obedience to the moral law to us, is based upon the absurd assumptions, (1.) That
the moral law is founded in the arbitrary will of God, and (2.) That of course, Christ,
as God, owed no obedience to it; both of which assumptions are absurd. But if these
assumptions are given up, what becomes of the doctrine of an imputed righteousness,
as a ground of a forensic justification? "It vanishes into thin air."
There are, however, valid grounds and valid conditions of justification.
1. The vicarious sufferings or atonement of Christ is a condition of justification,
or of the pardon and acceptance of penitent sinners. It has been common either to
confound the conditions with the ground of justification, or purposely to represent
the atonement and work of Christ as the ground, as distinct from and opposed to a
condition of justification. In treating this subject, I find it important to distinguish
between the ground and conditions of justification, and to regard the atonement and
work of Christ not as a ground, but only as a condition of gospel justification.
By the ground I mean the moving, procuring cause; that in which the plan of redemption
originated as its source, and which was the fundamental reason or ground of the whole
movement. This was the benevolence and merciful disposition of the whole Godhead,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This love made the atonement, but the atonement did
not beget this love. The Godhead desired to save sinners, but could not safely do
so without danger to the universe, unless something was done to satisfy public, not
retributive justice. The atonement was resorted to as a means of reconciling forgiveness
with the wholesome administration of justice. A merciful disposition in the Godhead
was the source, ground, mainspring, of the whole movement, while the atonement was
only a condition or means, or that without which the love of God could not safely
manifest itself in justifying and saving sinners.
Failing to make this distinction, and representing the atonement as the ground of
the sinner's justification, has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many. Indeed,
the whole questions of the nature, design, extent, and bearings of the atonement
turn upon, and are involved in, this distinction. Some represent the atonement as
not demanded by, nor as proceeding from the love or merciful disposition, but from
the inexorable wrath of the Father, leaving the impression that Christ was more merciful,
and more the friend of sinners than the Father. Many have received this impression
from pulpit and written representations, as I well know.
Others, regarding the atonement as the ground as opposed to a condition of justification,
have held the atonement to be the literal payment of the debt of sinners, and of
the nature of a commercial transaction: a quid pro quo, a valuable consideration
paid down by Christ, by suffering the same amount as was deserved by the whole number
of the elect; thus negativing the idea of a merciful disposition in the Father, and
representing him as demanding pay for discharging and saving sinners. Some of this
class have held, that since Christ has died, the elect sinner has a right to demand
his justification, on the ground of justice, that he may present the atonement and
work of Christ, and say to the Father, "Here is the price; I demand the commodity."
This class, of course, must hold to the limited nature of the atonement, or be universalists.
While others again, assuming that the atonement was the ground of justification in
the sense of the literal payment of the debt of sinners, and that the scriptures
represent the atonement as made for all men, have very consistently become universalists.
Others again have given up, or never held the view that the atonement was of the
nature of the literal payment of a debt, and hold that it was a governmental expedient
to reconcile the pardon of sin with a wholesome administration of justice: that it
was sufficient for all as for a part of mankind: that it does not entitle those for
whom it was made to a pardon on the score of justice, but that men are justified
freely by grace through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus, and yet they inconsistently
persist in representing the atonement as the ground, and not merely as a condition
Those who hold that the atonement and obedience of Christ were and are the ground
of the justification of sinners, in the sense of the payment of their debt, regard
all the grace in the transaction as consisting in the atonement and obedience of
Christ, and exclude grace from the act of justification. Justification they regard
as a forensic act. I regard the atonement of Christ as the necessary condition of
safely manifesting the benevolence of God in the justification and salvation of sinners.
A merciful disposition in the whole Godhead was the ground, and the atonement a condition
of justification. Mercy would have saved without an atonement, had it been possible
to do so. But see my lectures on Atonement.-- Lecture XXXIV, et seq.
That Christ's sufferings, and especially his death, were vicarious, has been abundantly
shown when treating the subject of atonement. I need not repeat here what I said
there. Although Christ owed perfect obedience to the moral law for himself, and could
not therefore obey as our substitute, yet since he perfectly obeyed, he owed no suffering
to the law or to the Divine government on his own account. He could therefore suffer
for us. That is, he could, to answer governmental purposes, substitute his death
for the infliction of the penalty of the law on us. He could not perform works of
supererogation, but he could endure sufferings of supererogation, in the sense that
he did not owe them for himself. The doctrine of substitution, in the sense just
named, appears everywhere in both Testaments. It is the leading idea, the prominent
thought, lying upon the face of the whole scriptures. Let the few passages that follow
serve as specimens of the class that teach this doctrine:
Lev. xvii. 11. "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given
it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood
that maketh an atonement for the soul."
Isa. liii. 5, 6, 11. "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised
for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes
we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his
own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He shall see of the
travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous
servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."
Matt. xx. 18. "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to
minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Matt. xxvi. 28. "For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for
many for the remission of sins."
John iii. 14. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so
must the Son of man be lifted up: 15. That whosoever believeth in him should not
perish, but have eternal life."
John vi. 51. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man
eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh,
which I give for the life of the world."
Acts xx. 28. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over
the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which
he hath purchased with his own blood."
Rom. iii. 24. "Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that
is in Christ Jesus. 25. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith
in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past,
through the forbearance of God. 26. To declare, I say at this time his righteousness;
that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
Rom. v. 6. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for
the ungodly. 7. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for
a good man some would even dare to die. 8. But God commendeth his love toward us,
in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9. Being now justified by
his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 11. And not only so, but we
also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the
atonement. 18. Therefore, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to
condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men
unto justification of life. 19. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners,
so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."
1 Cor. v. 7. "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us."
1 Cor. xv. 3. "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures."
Gal. ii. 20. "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but
Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith
of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
Gal. iii. 13. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made
a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. 14.
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the gentiles through Jesus Christ; that
we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
Eph. ii. 13. "But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made
nigh by the blood of Christ."
Eph. v. 2. "And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself
for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour."
Heb. ix. 12. "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood,
he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
13. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling
the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; 14. How much more shall the
blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God,
purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 22. And almost all
things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
23. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should
be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices
than these. 24. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which
are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence
of God for us; 25. Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest
entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26. For then must he
often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the end of
the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27. And as
it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; 28. So Christ
was once offered to bear the sins of many."
Heb. x. 10. "By the which we are sanctified through the offering of the body
of Jesus Christ once for all. 11. And every priest standeth daily ministering, and
offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12. But
this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right
hand of God; 13. From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
14. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. 19.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus;
20. By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail,
that is to say, his flesh."
1 Pet. i. 18. "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible
things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from
your fathers: 19. But with the precious blood of Christ."
1 Pet. ii. 24. "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree,
that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye are
1 Pet. iii. 18. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the
unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened
by the Spirit."
1 John i. 7. "But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship
one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."
1 John iii. 15. "And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins."
1 John iv. 9. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to
be the propitiation for our sins."
These and many such like passages establish the fact beyond question, that the vicarious
atonement of Christ is a condition of our pardon and acceptance with God.
2. Repentance is also a condition of our justification. Observe, I here also use
the term condition, in the sense of a "not without which," and not in the
sense of a "that for the sake of which" the sinner is justified. It must
be certain that the government of God cannot pardon sin without repentance. This
is as truly a doctrine of natural as of revealed religion. It is self-evident that,
until the sinner breaks off from sins by repentance or turning to God, he cannot
be justified in any sense. This is everywhere assumed, implied, and taught in the
Bible. No reader of the Bible can call this in question, and it were a useless occupation
of time to quote more passages.
3. Faith in Christ is, in the same sense, another condition of justification. We
have already examined into the nature and necessity of faith. I fear that there has
been much of error in the conceptions of many upon this subject. They have talked
of justification by faith, as if they supposed that, by an arbitrary appointment
of God, faith was the condition, and the only condition of justification. This seems
to be the antinomian view. The class of persons alluded to speak of justification
by faith, as if it were by faith, and not by Christ through faith, that the penitent
sinner is justified; as if faith, and not Christ, were our justification. They seem
to regard faith not as a natural, but merely as a mystical condition of justification;
as bringing us into a covenant and mystical relation to Christ, in consequence of
which his righteousness or personal obedience is imputed to us. It should never be
forgotten, that the faith that is the condition of justification, is the faith that
works by love. It is the faith through and by which Christ sanctifies the soul. A
sanctifying faith unites the believer to Christ as his justification; but be it always
remembered, that no faith receives Christ as a justification, that does not receive
him as a sanctification, to reign within the heart. We have seen that repentance,
as well as faith, is a condition of justification. We shall see that perseverance
in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification. Faith is often
spoken of in scripture as if it were the sole condition of salvation, because, as
we have seen, from its very nature it implies repentance and every virtue.
That faith is a naturally necessary condition of justification, we have seen. Let
the following passages of scripture serve as examples of the manner in which the
scriptures speak upon this subject.
Mark xvi. 15. "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the
gospel to every creature. 16. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved;
but he that believeth not, shall be damned."
John i. 12. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons
of God, even to them that believe on his name."
John iii. 16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 36.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the
Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him."
John vi. 28. "Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work
the works of God? 29. Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God,
that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. 40. This is the will of him that sent me,
that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life;
and I will raise him up at the last day."
John viii. 24. "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. 44.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do; he was
a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth; because there is no truth
in him. 47. He that is of God, heareth God's words; ye therefore hear them not, because
ye are not of God."
John xi. 25. "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life; he that
believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; 26. And whosoever liveth,
and believeth in me, shall never die."
Acts x. 43. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever
believeth in him shall receive remission of sins."
Acts xvi. 31. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and
Rom. iv. 5. "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth
the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
Rom. x. 4. "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one
Gal. ii. 16. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but
by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might
be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the
works of the law shall no flesh be justified."
2 Thess. ii. 10. "And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that
perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe
a lie; 12. That they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure
Heb. ii. 6. "Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh
to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently
1 John ii. 23. "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father; but
he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also."
1 John v. 10. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself;
he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record
that God gave of his Son. 11. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal
life; and this life is in his Son. 12. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that
hath not the Son of God, hath not life. 13. These things have I written unto you
that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal
life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God."
4. Present sanctification, in the sense of present full consecration to God, is another
condition, not ground, of justification. Some theologians have made justification
a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification.
But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject. The mistake is founded
in a misapprehension of the nature both of justification and of sanctification. They
make sanctification to consist in something else than in the will's entire subjection
or consecration to God; and justification they regard as a forensic transaction conditionated
on the first act of faith in Christ. Whole-hearted obedience to God, or entire conformity
to his law, they regard as a very rare, and many of them, as an impracticable attainment
in this life. Hence they conditionate justification upon simple faith, not regarding
faith as at all implying present conformity of heart to the law of God. It would
seem from the use of language that they lay very little stress upon personal holiness
as a condition, not ground, of acceptance with God. But on the contrary, they suppose
the mystical union of the believer with Christ obtains for him access and acceptance
by virtue of an imputed righteousness, not making his present obedience a condition
in the sense of a sine quà non, of his justification. A recent American writer
(Dr. Duffield. See Appendix.) says, "It is not the believer's own personal obedience
to the law, which, properly speaking, forms the condition of justification before
God." "Some writers," he says, "use the term 'condition' in a
philosophical sense, meaning by it simply the state or position in which things stand
connected with each other, as when having said that faith and holiness are conditions
of salvation; and when called upon to explain themselves, affirm that they by no
means intend that these are the meritorious grounds, but merely that they will be
found invariably connected with, as they are the indispensable evidences of, a state
of justification." Here this writer confounds the distinction between the grounds
and conditions of justification. And he does more, he represents present faith and
holiness as merely the evidences, and not as a sine quà non of justification.
So this writer cannot admit that faith is "a that without which" a sinner
cannot be justified! I say that faith is not the meritorious ground, but insist that
it is a proper condition or sine quà non, and not a mere evidence of justification.
It is an evidence, only because it is a condition, of justification, and must therefore
exist where justification is.
If his view of the subject be correct, it follows that God justifies sinners by his
grace, not upon condition of their ceasing to sin, but while they continue to sin,
by virtue of their being regarded by the law as perfectly obedient in Christ, the
covenant and mystical head; that is, that although they indulge in more or less sin
continually, and are never at any moment in this life entirely obedient to his law,
yet God accounts them righteous because Christ obeyed and died for them. Another
class of theologians hold, not to an imputed righteousness, but that God pardons
and accepts the sinner not upon condition of present entire obedience, which obedience
is induced by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, but upon the condition that he believes
in Christ. Neither of these classes make present sanctification, or entire present
obedience a condition of justification; but on the contrary, both regard and represent
justification as a condition of sanctification. We have seen what justification is;
let us inquire in a few words what sanctification is.
To sanctify is to set apart, to consecrate to a particular use. To sanctify anything
to God is to set it apart to his service, to consecrate it to him. To sanctify one's
self is voluntarily to set one's self apart, to consecrate one's self to God. To
be sanctified is to be set apart, to be consecrated to God. Sanctification is an
act or state of being sanctified, or set apart to the service of God. It is a state
of consecration to him. This is present obedience to the moral law. It is the whole
of present duty, and is implied in repentance, faith, regeneration, as we have abundantly
Sanctification is sometimes used to express a permanent state of obedience to God,
or of consecration. In this sense it is not a condition of present justification,
or of pardon and acceptance. But it is a condition of continued and permanent acceptance
with God. It certainly cannot be true, that God accepts and justifies the sinner
in his sins. I may safely challenge the world for either reason or scripture to support
the doctrine of justification in sin, in any degree of present rebellion against
God. (See argument, Lecture XV. II.) The Bible everywhere represents justified persons
as sanctified, and always expressly, or impliedly, conditionates justification upon
sanctification, in the sense of present obedience to God. 1 Cor. vi. 11; "And
such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified,
in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." This is but a
specimen of the manner in which justified persons are spoken of in the Bible. Also,
Rom. viii. 1; "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ
Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." They only are justified
who walk after the Spirit. Should it be objected, as it may be, that the scriptures
often speak of saints, or truly regenerate persons, as needing sanctification, and
of sanctification as something that comes after regeneration, and as that which the
saints are to aim at attaining, I answer, that when sanctification is thus spoken
of, it is doubtless used in the higher sense already noticed; to wit, to denote a
state of being settled, established in faith, rooted and grounded in love, being
so confirmed in the faith and obedience of the gospel, as to hold on in the way steadfastly,
unmovably, always abounding in the work of the Lord. This is doubtless a condition
of permanent justification, as has been said, but not a condition of present justification.
By sanctification being a condition of justification, the following things are intended.
(1.) That present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and his
service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present
acceptance with God.
(2.) That the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration
continues. If he falls from his first love into the spirit of self-pleasing, he falls
again into bondage to sin and to the law, is condemned, and must repent and do his
"first work," must return to Christ, and renew his faith and love, as a
condition of his salvation. This is the most express teaching of the Bible, as we
shall fully see.
5. Perseverance in faith and obedience, or in consecration to God, is also an unalterable
condition of justification, or of pardon and acceptance with God. By this language
in this connexion, you will of course understand me to mean, that perseverance in
faith and obedience is a condition, not of present, but of final or ultimate acceptance
Those who hold that justification by imputed righteousness is a forensic proceeding,
take a view of final or ultimate justification, according with their view of the
nature of the transaction. With them, faith receives an imputed righteousness, and
a judicial justification. The first act of faith, according to them, introduces the
sinner into this relation, and obtains for him a perpetual justification. They maintain
that after this first act of faith it is impossible for the sinner to come into condemnation;
that, being once justified, he is always thereafter justified, whatever he may do;
indeed that he is never justified by grace, as to sins that are past, upon condition
that he ceases to sin; that Christ's righteousness is the ground, and that his own
present obedience is not even a condition of his justification, so that, in fact,
his own present or future obedience to the law of God is, in no case, and in no sense,
a sine quà non of his justification, present or ultimate.*
*Dr. Duffield, a recent expounder of what, he is pleased to insist, is the only orthodox
view of the subject, says:--"The sacred Scriptures clearly teach, that God,
by one gracious act, once passed, and for ever immutable, releases the sinner who
believes, so effectually and fully from the penalty of the law, that he is removed
from under its dominion, and never more comes into condemnation. Justification is
an act of God's free grace, which takes immediate effect in this mortal life, and
by which the relation of the sinner who believes on Jesus Christ, is so thoroughly
changed to the law, that through the actings of his faith he passes from under the
condemnation, and penalty of the law, and being accepted as righteous, only for the
righteousness of Christ, is adopted into the family of God's children. It is one
act of God, once done and for ever, and begins immediately to produce its fruits."
Indeed, Christian, what do you think of this? One act of faith, then instantly justified,
once and immutable, you can never by any possibility need pardon again. No, the law
has perished as it respects you. Faith has made it void, for that is no law that
has no penalty. Then you can no more sin, for you have no law. "For where there
is no law, there is no transgression." "Sin is not imputed where there
is no law." So if you do sin, your sin is not imputed, and you need no pardon.
What an infinite mistake are Christians labouring under, according to this theory,
when they ask for a pardon of their sins committed after this immutable act of justification.
And further: live as you may, after once believing, you must be saved, your justification
is immutable. What say you to this?
Now this is certainly another gospel from the one I am inculcating. It is
not a difference merely upon some speculative or theoretic point. It is a point fundamental
to the gospel and to salvation, if any one can be. Let us therefore see which of
these is the true gospel.
I object to this view of justification:--
1. That it is antinomianism. Observe: they hold that upon the first exercise
of faith, the soul enters into such a relation to Christ, that with respect to it
the penalty of the Divine law is for ever set aside, not only as it respects all
past, but also as it respects all future acts of disobedience; so that sin does not
thereafter bring the soul under the condemning sentence of the law of God. But a
precept without a penalty is no law. Therefore, if the penalty is in their case permanently
set aside or repealed, this is, and must be, a virtual repeal of the precept, for
without a penalty it is only counsel, or advice, and no law.
2. But again: it is impossible that this view of justification should
be true; for the moral law did not originate in the arbitrary will of God, and he
cannot abrogate it either as to its precept or its penalty.* He may for good and
sufficient reasons dispense in certain cases with the execution of the penalty. But
set it aside in such a sense, that sin would not incur it, or that the soul that
sins shall not be condemned by it, he cannot--it is naturally impossible! The law
is as unalterable and unrepealable, both as to its precept and its penalty, as the
nature of God. It cannot but be, in the very nature of things, that sin in any being,
in any world, and at any time, will and must incur the penalty of the moral law.
God may pardon as often as the soul sins, repents, and believes but to prevent real
condemnation where there is sin, is not at the option of any being.
*Dr. Duffield holds that the moral law originated in the sovereign will of God, and
of course he can set it aside. See my review of him in Appendix.
3. But again: I object to the view of justification in question, that
it is of course inconsistent with forgiveness or pardon. If justified by imputed
righteousness, why pardon him whom the law accounts as already and perpetually, and
perfectly righteous? Certainly it were absurd and impossible, for the law and the
law-giver judicially to justify a person on the ground of the perfect obedience of
his substitute, and at the same time pardon him who is thus regarded as perfectly
righteous. Especially must this be true of all sin committed subsequently to the
first and justifying act of faith. If when once the soul has believed, it can no
more come into condemnation, it certainly can no more be forgiven. Forgiveness implies
previous condemnation, and consists in setting aside the execution of an incurred
4. If the view of justification I am opposing be true, it is altogether out
of place for one who has once believed, to ask for the pardon of sin. It is a downright
insult to God, and apostacy from Christ. It amounts according to their view of justification,
to a denial of perpetual justification by imputed righteousness, and to an acknowledgment
of being condemned. It must therefore imply a falling from grace, to pray for pardon
after the soul has once believed. But upon their view falling from grace is impossible.
5. According to this view of justification, all the prayers offered by the
saints for the pardon of sins committed after their first act of faith, not even
excepting the Lord's prayer, have all been wrong and impious, and have all been a
virtual denial of a fundamental truth of the gospel. Shame on a theory from which
such consequences irresistibly follow! The soul cannot be pardoned unless it be condemned;
for pardon is nothing else than setting aside the condemning sentence of the divine
6. But this view of justification is at war with the whole Bible. This everywhere
represents Christians as condemned when they sin--teaches them to repent, confess,
and pray for pardon--to betake themselves afresh to Christ as their only hope. The
Bible, in almost every variety of manner, represents perseverance in faith, and obedience
to the end, as a condition of ultimate justification and final salvation. Let the
following passages serve as examples of the manner in which the Bible represents
Ezek. xviii. 24. "But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness,
and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked
man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned;
in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them
shall he die."
Ezek. xxxiii. 13. "When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live;
if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness
shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die
Matt. x. 22. "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake; but he that
endureth to the end shall be saved." [Matt. xxiv. 13.]
John xv. 6. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is
withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
Rom. ii. 4. "Who will render to every man according to his deeds." 7. "To
them who by patient endurance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immortality;
1 Cor. ix. 27. "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest
that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
1 Cor. x. 12. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he
2 Cor. vi. 1. "We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that
ye receive not the grace of God in vain."
Col. i. 23. "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved
away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to
every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister."
Heb. iii. 6. "But Christ as a Son over his own house; whose house are we, if
we hold fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end."
12. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief,
in departing from the living God." 13. "But exhort one another daily, while
it is called to-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
14. "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence
steadfast unto the end."
Heb. iv. 1. "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering
into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 11. Let us labour therefore
to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."
2 Pet. i. 10. "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling
and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall."
Rev. ii. 10. "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the
devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have
tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of
life. 11. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches;
He that overcometh, shall not be hurt of the second death. 17. He that hath an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will
I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone
a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. 26. And he
that overcometh, and, keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over
the nations; 27. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter
shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received of my Father."
Rev. xxi. 7. "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his
God, and he shall be my son."
Observe, I am not here calling in question the fact, that all true saints do persevere
in faith and obedience to the end; but am showing that such perseverance is a condition
of salvation, or of ultimate justification. The subject of the perseverance of the
saints will come under consideration in its proper place.--(See "Perseverance.")
7. The view of justification which I am opposing is contradicted by the consciousness
of the saints. I think I may safely affirm, that the saints in all time are very
conscious of condemnation when they fall into sin. This sense of condemnation may
not subject them to the same kind and degree of fear which they experienced before
regeneration, because of the confidence they have that God will pardon their sin.
Nevertheless, until they repent, and by a renewed act of faith lay hold on pardon
and fresh justification, their remorse, shame, and consciousness of condemnation,
do in fact, if I am not much deceived, greatly exceed, as a general thing, the remorse,
shame, and sense of condemnation, experienced by the impenitent. But if it be true,
that the first act of faith brings the soul into a state of perpetual justification,
so that it cannot fall into condemnation thereafter, do what it will, the experience
of the saints contradicts facts, or, more strictly, their consciousness of condemnation
is a delusion. They are not in fact condemned by the moral law as they conceive themselves
8. Christ has taught the saints to pray for forgiveness, which implies that
when they sin they are condemned. There can be no pardon except there be condemnation.
Pardon, as has been said, consists in setting aside the execution of the penalty
of law upon the sinner. If therefore the law and the lawgiver do not condemn him,
it is absurd to pray for pardon. The fact therefore that inspired saints prayed repeatedly
for the pardon of sin committed subsequent to their regeneration; that Christ taught
his disciples to pray for forgiveness; that it is natural to saints to pray for pardon
when they have sinned; also, that the Bible expressly asserts that if a righteous
man forsake his righteousness and sin, his righteousness shall not be remembered,
but he shall be condemned for sin; and also that the human intellect affirms that
this must be so: these facts render it plain, that perseverance in faith and obedience
must be a condition of final justification and of eternal life.
9. If I understand the framers of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, they
regarded justification as a state resulting from the relation of an adopted child
of God, which state is entered into by faith alone, and held that justification is
not conditionated upon obedience for the time being, but that a person in this state
may, as they hold that all in this life in fact do, sin daily, and even continually,
yet without condemnation by the law, their sin bringing them only under his fatherly
displeasure, and subjecting them to the necessity of repentance, as a condition of
his fatherly favour, but not as a condition of pardon or of ultimate salvation. They
seem to have regarded the child of God as no longer under moral government, in such
a sense that sin was imputed to him, this having been imputed to Christ, and Christ's
righteousness so literally imputed to him that, do what he may after the first act
of faith, he is accounted and treated in his person as wholly righteous. If this
is not antinomianism, I know not what is; since they hold that all who once believe
will certainly be saved, yet that their perseverance in holy obedience to the end
is, in no case, a condition of final justification, but that this is conditionated
upon the first act of faith alone. They support their positions with quotations from
scripture about as much in point as is common for them. They often rely on proof-texts
that, in their meaning and spirit, have not the remotest allusion to the point in
support of which they are quoted. I have tried to understand the subject of justification
as it is taught in the Bible, without going into laboured speculations or to theological
technicalities. If I have succeeded in understanding it, the following is a succinct
and a true account of the matter:
The Godhead, in the exercise of his adorable love and compassion, sought the salvation
of sinners through and by means of the mediatorial death and work of Christ. This
death and work of Christ were resorted to, not to create, but, as a result of the
merciful disposition of God, and as a means of securing the universe against a misapprehension
of the character and design of God in forgiving and saving sinners. To Christ, as
Mediator between the Godhead and man, the work of justifying and saving sinners is
committed. He is made unto sinners "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and
redemption." In consideration of Christ's having by his death for sinners secured
the subjects of the Divine government against a misconception of his character and
designs, God does, upon the further conditions of a repentance and faith, that imply
a renunciation of their rebellion and a return to obedience to his laws, freely pardon
past sin, and restore the penitent and believing sinner to favour, as if he had not
sinned, while he remains penitent and believing, subject however to condemnation
and eternal death, unless he holds the beginning of his confidence steadfast unto
the end. The doctrine of a literal imputation of Adam's sin to all his posterity,
of the literal imputation of all the sins of the elect to Christ, and of his suffering
for them the exact amount due to the transgressors, of the literal imputation of
Christ's righteousness or obedience to the elect, and the consequent perpetual justification
of all that are converted from the first exercise of faith, whatever their subsequent
life may be--I say I regard these dogmas as fabulous, and better befitting a romance
than a system of theology.
But it is said, that the Bible speaks of the righteousness of faith. "What shall
we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained
to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith."--Rom. ix. 30. "And
be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that
which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."--Phil.
iii. 9. These and similar passages are relied upon, as teaching the doctrine of an
imputed righteousness; and such as these: "The Lord our righteousness;"
"Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength."
By "the Lord our righteousness," we may understand, either that we are
justified, that is, that our sins are atoned for, and that we are pardoned and accepted
by, or on account of the Lord, that is, Jesus Christ; or we may understand that the
Lord makes us righteous, that is, that he is our sanctification, working in us to
will and to do of his good pleasure; or both, that is, he atones for our sins, brings
us to repentance and faith, works sanctification or righteousness in us, and then
pardons our past sins, and accepts us. By the righteousness of faith, or of God by
faith, I understand the method of making sinners holy, and of securing their justification
or acceptance by faith, as opposed to mere works of law or self-righteousness. Dikaiosune,
rendered righteousness, may be with equal propriety, and often is rendered justification.
So undoubtedly it should be rendered in 1 Cor. i. 30. "But of him are ye in
Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification,
and redemption." The meaning here doubtless is, that he is the author and finisher
of that scheme of redemption, whereby we are justified by faith, as opposed to justification
by our own works. "Christ our righteousness" is Christ the author or procurer
of our justification. But this does not imply that he procures our justification
by imputing his obedience to us.
The doctrine of a literal imputation of Christ's obedience or righteousness is supported
by those who hold it, by such passages as the following: Rom. iv. 5-8. "But
to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith
is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the
man, unto whom God imputed righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they
whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to
whom the Lord will not impute sin." But here justification is represented only
as consisting in forgiveness of sin, or in pardon and acceptance. Again, 2 Cor. v.
19, 21. "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,
not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the
righteousness of God in him." Here again the apostle is teaching only his much-loved
doctrine of justification by faith, in the sense that upon condition or in consideration
of the death and mediatorial interference and work of Christ, penitent believers
in Christ are forgiven and rewarded as if they were righteous.
IV. Foundation of the justification of penitent believers in Christ. That is,
what is the ultimate ground or reason of their justification.
- 1. It is not founded in Christ's literally suffering the exact penalty of the
law for them, and in this sense literally purchasing their justification and eternal
salvation. The Presbyterian Confession of Faith affirms as follows: chapter on Justification,
section 3--"Christ by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt
of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction
to his Father's justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father
for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely,
not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the
exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners."
If the framers of this confession had made the distinction between the grounds and
conditions of justification, so as to represent the gracious disposition that gave
the Son, and that accepted his obedience and satisfaction in their stead, as the
ground or moving cause, and the death and work of Christ as a condition or a means,
as "that without which" the benevolence of God could not wisely justify
sinners, their statement had been much improved. As it stands, the transaction is
represented as a proper quid pro quo, a proper full payment of the debt of the justified.
All the grace consisted in giving his Son, and consenting to the substitution. But
they deny that there is grace in the act of justification itself. This proceeds upon
the ground of "exact justice." There is then according to this, no grace
in the act of pardon and accepting the sinner as righteous. This is "exact justice,"
because the debt is fully cancelled by Christ. Indeed, "Christian, what do you
think of this?" God has, in the act of giving his Son and in consenting to the
substitution, exercised all the grace he ever will. Now your forgiveness and justification
are, according to this teaching, placed on the ground of "exact justice."
You have now only to believe and demand "exact justice." One act of faith
places your salvation on the ground of "exact justice." Talk no more of
the grace of God in forgiveness! But stop, let us see. What is to be understood here
by exact justice, and by a real, full satisfaction to his Father's justice? I suppose
all orthodox Christians to hold, that every sinner and every sin, strictly on the
score of justice, deserves eternal death or endless suffering. Did the framers of
this confession hold that Christ bore the literal penalty of the law for each of
the saints? or did they hold that by virtue of his nature and relations, his suffering,
though indefinitely less in amount than was deserved by the transgressors, was a
full equivalent to public justice, or governmentally considered, for the execution
of the literal penalty upon the transgressors? If they meant this latter, I see no
objection to it. But if they meant the former, namely, that Christ suffered in his
own person the full amount strictly due to all the elect, I say:--
- (1.) That it was naturally impossible.
(2.) That his nature and relation to the government of God was such as to render
it wholly unnecessary to the safe forgiveness of sin, that he should suffer precisely
the same amount deserved by sinners.
(3.) That if, as their substitute, Christ suffered for them the full amount deserved
by them, then justice has no claim upon them, since their debt is fully paid by the
surety, and of course the principal is, in justice, discharged. And since it is undeniable
that the atonement was made for the whole posterity of Adam, it must follow that
the salvation of all men is secured upon the ground of "exact justice."
This, as has been said, is the conclusion to which Huntington and his followers came.
This doctrine of literal imputation, is one of the strongholds of universalism, and
while this view of atonement and justification is held they cannot be driven from
(4.) If he satisfied justice for them, in the sense of literally and exactly obeying
for them, why should his suffering be imputed to them as a condition of their salvation?
Surely they could not need both the imputation of his perfect obedience to them,
so as to be accounted in law as perfectly righteous, and also the imputation of his
sufferings to them, as if he had not obeyed for them. Is God unrighteous? Does he
exact of the surety, first, the literal and full payment of the debt, and secondly,
perfect personal obedience for and in behalf of the sinner? Does he first exact full
and perfect obedience, and then the same amount of suffering as if there had been
no obedience? And this, too, of his beloved Son?
(5.) What Christian ever felt, or can feel in the presence of God, that he has a
right to demand justification in the name of Christ, as due to him on the ground
of "exact justice." Observe, the framers of the Confession just quoted,
studiously represent all the grace exercised in the justification of sinners, as
confined to the two acts of giving his Son and accepting the substitution. This done,
Christ fully pays the debt, fully and exactly satisfies his Father's justice. You
now need not, must not conceive of the pardon of sin as grace or favour. To do this
is, according to the teaching of this Confession, to dishonour Christ. It is to reject
his righteousness and salvation. What think you of this? One act of grace in giving
his Son, and consenting to the substitution, and all forgiveness, all accepting and
trusting as righteous, is not grace, but "exact justice." To pray for forgiveness,
as an act of grace, is apostacy from Christ. Christian! Can you believe this? No;
in your closet, smarting under the sting of a recently committed sin, or broken down
and bathed in tears, you cannot find it in your heart to demand "exact justice"
at the hand of God, on the ground that Christ has fully and literally paid your debt.
To represent the work and death of Christ as the ground of justification in this
sense, is a snare and a stumbling-block. If this is the true account of it, antinomianism
must be the true gospel, than which a more false and licentious dogma never existed.
But this view that I have just examined, contradicts the necessary convictions of
every saint on earth. For the truth of this assertion I appeal to the universal consciousness
of saints. Whose business is it to cry heresy, and sound the alarm of error through
- 2. Our own works or obedience to the law or to the gospel, are not the ground
or foundation of our justification. That is, neither our faith, nor repentance, nor
love, nor life, nor anything done by us or wrought in us, is the ground of our justification.
These are conditions of our justification, in the sense of a "not without which,"
but not the ground of it. We are justified upon condition of our faith, but not for
our faith; upon condition of our repentance, love, obedience, perseverance to the
end, but not for these things. These are the conditions, but not the reason, ground,
or procuring cause of our justification. We cannot be justified without them, neither
are we or can we be justified by them. None of these things must be omitted on pain
of eternal damnation. Nor must they be put in the place of Christ upon the same penalty.
Faith is so much insisted on in the gospel as the sine quà non of our justification,
that some seem disposed, or at least to be in danger of substituting faith in the
place of Christ; of making faith instead of Christ the Saviour.
- 3. Neither is the atonement, nor anything in the mediatorial work of Christ,
the foundation of our justification, in the sense of the source, moving, or procuring
cause. This, that is the ground of our justification, lies deep in the heart of infinite
love. We owe all to that merciful disposition that performed the mediatorial work,
and died the accursed death to supply an indispensable condition of our justification
and salvation. To stop short in the act which supplied the condition, instead of
finding the depths of a compassion as fathomless as infinity, as the source of the
whole movement, is to fail in discrimination. The work, and death, and resurrection,
and advocacy of Christ are indispensable conditions, are all-important, but not the
fundamental reason of our justification.
- 4. Nor is the work of the Holy Spirit in converting and sanctifying the soul,
the foundation of our justification. This is only a condition or means of bringing
it about, but is not the fundamental reason.
- 5. But the disinterested and infinite love of God, the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit, is the true and only foundation of the justification and salvation of sinners.
God is love, that is, he is infinitely benevolent. All he does, or says, or suffers,
permits or omits, is for one and the same ultimate reason, namely, to promote the
highest good of universal being.
- 6. Christ, the second person in the glorious Trinity, is represented in scripture,
as taking so prominent a part in this work, that the number of offices and relations
which he sustains to God and man in it are truly wonderful. For example, he is represented
as being: 1. King. 2. Judge. 3. Mediator. 4. Advocate. 5. Redeemer. 6. Surety. 7.
Wisdom. 8. Righteousness. 9. Sanctification. 10. Redemption. 11. Prophet. 12. Priest.
13. Passover, or Lamb of God. 14. The bread and water of life. 15. True God and eternal
life. 16. Our life. 17. Our all in all. 18. As the repairer of the breach. 19. As
dying for our sins. 20. As rising for our justification. 21. As the resurrection
and the life. 22. As bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. 23. As he, by whose
stripes we are healed. 24. As the head of his people. 25. As the bridegroom or husband
of his church. 26. As the shepherd of his flock. 27. As the door by which they enter.
28. As the way to salvation. 29. As our salvation. 30. As the truth. 31. As being
made sin for us. 32. That we are made the righteousness of God in him. 33. That in
him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead. 34. That in him all fulness dwells. 35.
All power in heaven and earth are said to be given to him. 36. He is said to be the
true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 37. Christ in us the
hope of glory. 38. The true vine of which we are the branches. 39. Our brother. 40.
Wonderful. 41. Counsellor. 42. The mighty God. 43. The everlasting Father. 44. The
prince of peace. 45. The captain of salvation. 46. The captain of the Lord's host.
- These are among the official relations of Christ to his people, and to the great
work of our justification. I shall have frequent occasion to consider him in some
of these relations, as we proceed in this course of study. Indeed, the offices, relations,
and work of Christ, are among the most important topics of Christian theology.
Christ is our Justification, in the sense that he carries into execution the whole
scheme of redemption devised by the adorable Godhead. To him the scriptures everywhere
direct the eyes of our faith and of our intelligence also. The Holy Spirit is represented
not as glorifying himself, but as speaking of Jesus, as taking of the things of Christ
and showing them to his people, as glorifying Christ Jesus, as being sent by Christ,
as being the Spirit of Christ, as being Christ himself dwelling in the hearts of
his people. But I must forbear at present. This subject of Christ's relations needs
elucidation in future lectures.
The relations of the old school view of justification to their view of depravity
is obvious. They hold, as we have seen, that the constitution in every faculty and
part is sinful. Of course, a return to personal, present holiness, in the sense of
entire conformity to the law, cannot with them be a condition of justification. They
must have a justification while yet at least in some degree of sin. This must be
brought about by imputed righteousness. The intellect revolts at a justification
in sin. So a scheme is devised to divert the eye of the law and of the lawgiver from
the sinner to his Substitute, who has perfectly obeyed the law. But in order to make
out the possibility of his obedience being imputed to them, it must be assumed, that
he owed no obedience for himself; than which a greater absurdity cannot be conceived.
Constitutional depravity or sinfulness being once assumed, physical regeneration,
physical sanctification, physical divine influence, imputed righteousness, and justification,
while personally in the commission of sin, follow of course.
This lecture was given to us by Dennis Carroll.
LECTURE LVII. Back to Top
In discussing this subject I will--
I. GIVE SOME ACCOUNT OF THE RECENT DISCUSSIONS THAT HAVE BEEN HAD UPON THIS QUESTION.
II. REMIND YOU OF SOME POINTS THAT HAVE BEEN SETTLED IN THIS COURSE OF STUDY.
III. DEFINE THE PRINCIPAL TERMS TO BE USED IN THIS DISCUSSION.
IV. SHOW WHAT THE REAL QUESTION NOW AT ISSUE IS.
V. THAT ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION IS ATTAINABLE IN THIS LIFE.
VI. POINT OUT THE CONDITIONS OF THIS ATTAINMENT.
VII. ANSWER OBJECTIONS.
VIII. CONCLUDE WITH REMARKS.
I. I am to give some account of the recent discussions that have been had upon
the subject of entire sanctification in this life.
When lecturing and writing on polemic theology, it is important and even indispensable,
that we should entertain just ideas of the views and arguments of our opponents.
In entering upon the discussion of the question before us, it seems impossible to
proceed without noticing the recent discussions that have been had, and without giving
you the substance of the principal things that have been said of late in opposition
to our views. This will prepare the way for a fuller and more intelligent examination
of the question under consideration, than could be otherwise had. I shall therefore
make no apology for introducing in this place a brief history of the discussions
alluded to, although they have so recently appeared in print.
About the year 1832 or 1833, the sect called Antinomian Perfectionists, sprang up
at about the same time, in several places in New York and New England. We have in
their leading organ, "The Perfectionist," published at New Haven, Ct.,
their articles of belief, or their Confession of Faith, as it professes to have been
carefully prepared and published by request. It is as follows:--
- WHAT WE BELIEVE.
1. We believe that God is the only rightful interpreter of the Bible, and teacher
of theological truth; hence--
2. We believe that no doctrine can become an article of true faith, which is not
recognized by the believer as an immediate revelation to him from God; yet--
3. We believe that God, "who worketh all in all," can and does teach his
own truth, through his written word, and through the testimony of his sons; therefore--
4. We believe it is proper that we should state, as witnesses for God, the fundamental
articles of our own faith.
5. We believe "there is none good but one, that is God;" that all the righteousness
in the universe is God's righteousness.
6. We believe that God's righteousness may be revealed in his creatures, as a man's
spirit is revealed in the motions of his body.
7. We believe that "the works of the flesh [that is, human nature], are adultery,
uncleanness, envyings, strife, and such like" only.
8. We believe that all attempts to produce better results from human nature, by instruction
and legal discipline, only increase the evil--inasmuch as they refine and disguise
without removing it.
9. We believe that the Son of God was manifested in human nature for the purpose
of destroying (not reforming), the works of the flesh, and revealing the righteousness
10. We believe that the righteousness of God was never revealed in human nature till
the birth of Jesus Christ.
11. We believe that the object of all God's dealings with the human race, before
the birth of Christ, was not to promote the righteousness of the flesh, that is,
self-righteousness, that is, the perfection of sin; but to prepare the way for the
manifestation of his own righteousness through Jesus Christ; hence--
12. We believe that the righteousness of the saints, under the law before Christ,
was only "a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things,"
bearing a relation to the true righteousness of God, like that of a type to its anti-type.
13. We believe that the servants of God under the law, by submission to the discipline
of the dispensation in which they lived, were prepared for and became heirs of the
righteousness of God, afterward revealed by Jesus Christ.
14. We believe that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,"--that
the union of human and divine nature in him, made the righteousness of God accessible
to all men.
15. We believe that Christ is properly called the second Adam, and as the human race
in spirit is one body, that he became, by his incarnation, "the light that lighteth
16. We believe that all who are apprized by the gospel of the fact that the Son of
God has come, are thereby called to choose, whether they will hold the fallen or
the risen Adam as their head.
17. We believe that faith alone receives, and unbelief rejects, the blessings given
to man by the second Adam; by faith men awake to a perception of the truth as it
is in Christ; unbelief is the devil's dream.
18. We believe that Christ, as he is in his resurrection and glory, is given to every
member of the human race.
19. We believe that all the faith, righteousness, liberty, and glory of the risen
Son of God, are given to every man.
20. We believe that Christ, in his incarnation was "made under the law,"
and that the Christian dispensation did not commence, in any sense, till he ascended
up on high.
21. We believe that none are Christians, in any sense, till they receive Christ in
his resurrection; hence--
22. We believe that the disciples of Christ, during his personal ministry in the
flesh, were not Christians.
23. We believe that Christ, in the resurrection, is free from sin, from the law,
from all ordinances, and from death: hence, all who are subject to any of these are
not properly called Christians, as not having attained the hope of their calling.
24. We believe that the history which the Bible contains of the church after Christ's
ascension, commonly called the primitive church, is a history rather of the latter-day
glory of Judaism, than of the commencement of Christianity.
25. We believe that the apostles and primitive believers, so far as they were subject
to sin, law, and death, were Jews, and not Christians.
26. We believe that Christ plainly and repeatedly promised to his disciples, that
he would come to them a second time, and complete their salvation within the life-time
of some of his immediate followers.
27. We believe that the primitive church, living in the transition period, from the
first to the second coming of Christ, were more or less partakers of the resurrection,
holiness, liberty, and glory of Christ, according to their faith.
28. We believe, that at the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the Jewish dispensation,
Christ came to believers the second time according to his promise.
29. We believe, that, at the period of the second coming of Christ, Christianity,
or the kingdom of heaven, properly began.
30. We believe, that this was the period of the full developement of the NEW COVENANT,
(Heb. viii.,) which secures to believers perfect and eternal salvation from sin,
full freedom from written law and human instruction.
31. We believe, that the whole body of Christ, that is, the church, attained the
perfect resurrection of the spiritual body at his second coming.
32. We believe, that antichrist, at the same period, attained the perfect resurrection
33. We believe, that this was the period of the commencement of the judgment, (CRISIS,
see the Greek,) of this world.
34. We believe, that after this period, the salvation given to all men in Jesus Christ,
included nothing less than a perfect and eternal salvation from sin, a perfect redemption
from the law and legal instruction--a perfect resurrection of the spiritual body,
and a standing on the plain of eternity beyond the judgment."
In the winter of 1836-7, I preached a course of lectures to Christians, in the
church of which I was then pastor, in the city of New York, which were reported by
the editor of the New York Evangelist, and published in his paper. Soon after they
were published in that form, they were published in a volume, and went into extensive
circulation, both in Europe and America. Among these lectures were two on the subject
of Christian perfection, or entire sanctification, from Matt. v. 48--"Be ye
therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
In the first of these lectures I endeavoured to show,
- 1. What perfection the text does not, and what it does require.
2. That this perfection is a duty.
3. That this perfection is attainable in this life.
4. I proceeded to answer objections.
I regarded the perfection demanded by the text as consisting in entire obedience
of heart and life to the law of God. And so I taught. I then proceeded to show, that
this state of obedience is attainable in this life. The remainder of this and the
following lecture were occupied in answering objections to the doctrine of the first
discourse. These lectures were soon spread before thousands of readers. Whatever
was thought of them, I heard not a word of objection to the doctrine from any quarter.
If any was made, it did not, to my recollection, come to my knowledge.
In the year 1840, President Mahan published a small work on the subject of Christian
perfection. Several pieces had previously been published by him and myself in the
"Oberlin Evangelist," upon the same subject. Prof. Cowles, about the same
time, published a series of articles in the "Oberlin Evangelist," upon
the subject of the holiness of Christians in this life, which were, soon after their
first appearance, collected and published in a small volume. Nearly at the same time
I published a course of lectures in the same paper, which were soon also put into
a volume by themselves. All three of us gave a definition of Christian perfection,
or entire sanctification, amounting in substance to the same thing, making it to
consist in entire consecration to God, and entire obedience to the law, and supported
the attainability of this state in this life, by substantially the same course of
argument. We agreed in stating the attainability of this state, as the thing which
we proposed to prove, and to the proof of which we shaped our whole course of argument.
The attainability of this state we attempted to establish by many arguments, among
which are the following:--
- 1. We argued the possibility of attaining this state from the fact, that God
expressly commands it.
2. From the fact that man, by virtue of his moral agency, is naturally able fully
to obey God.
3. From the fact, that provisions are made in the gospel for the entire sanctification
of believers in this life.
4. From the fact, that we are commanded to pray in faith for the entire sanctification
of believers in this life.
5. From the fact, that Christ and the apostles prayed for this.
6. From the fact, that the entire sanctification of believers in this life is expressly
promised in scripture.
Pres. Mahan and myself, especially, urged the attainability of this state, not
only from the foregoing and many other considerations, but also from the fact, that
this state has been attained, and instanced Paul the apostle, as an example of this
Immediately upon the publication of the above-named works, the public journals opened
a battery upon us, strangely, and I must say, unaccountably confounding our views
with those of the antinomian perfectionists. What analogy was discernible between
our views, as set forth in our writings, and those of the antinomian perfectionists,
as expressed in their own formula of doctrine, as above given, I am utterly at a
loss to understand. But it was insisted, that we were of that school and denomination,
notwithstanding the greatest pains-taking on our part to make the public acquainted
with our views. Many honest ministers and laymen, in this country and in Europe,
were doubtless misled by the course pursued by the public press. Some of the leading
religious journals refused to publish our articles, and kept their readers in ignorance
of our real views. They gave to the public, oftentimes, the grossest misrepresentations
of our views, and refused to allow our replies a place in their columns. The result
for sometime was a good deal of misapprehension and alarm, on the part of many Christians
who had been among our warmest friends. Soon after the publication of President Mahan's
work, above alluded to, it was reviewed by Dr. Leonard Woods, of Andover Theological
Seminary. Dr. Woods committed in his review four capital errors, which laid his review
open to a blow of annihilation, which was in due time levelled against it by President
Mahan. The president had defined what he intended by Christian perfection, or entire
sanctification, and had also stated what he did not understand it as implying. He
defined it to consist in a state of entire conformity of heart and life to the law
of God, or in consecration of the whole being to God. He very expressly took issue
upon the question of the attainability of this state in this life, and was at special
pains to guard against the true point at issue being mistaken, and protested against
any one's making a false issue. Dr. Woods noticed this, and his first error consisted
in assuming, that the real point at issue between him and President Mahan was just
what he, Dr. Woods, chose to make it. Hence, secondly, Dr. Woods proceeded to take
issue with the author he was reviewing, not upon the possibility of attaining the
state in question in this life, which was the proposition stated and defended by
his author, but upon the fact of this state having been attained in this life. This
was the doctor's second error. His third error consisted in the fact, that having
made a false issue, he replied to the arguments of his opponent, as if they had been
designed to establish, not the attainability, but the actual attainment of this state
in this life.
He certainly had a right to controvert, if he chose, the fact of actual attainment,
or to deny any other argument President Mahan used to prove the attainability of
this state. But he had no right, and it was utterly absurd and unjust, to make a
false issue, to take issue upon the fact of attainment, and represent the president's
argument, as adduced to sustain that position, when in fact it was framed in support
of a totally different position; and this Dr. Woods knew full well.
But the doctor fell into a fourth error as fatal to his object as either of the preceding.
He did not at all define his views of what constitutes Christian perfection or entire
sanctification, nor did he notice his opponent's definition. We are therefore left
to the necessity of inferring what he understands by entire sanctification or Christian
perfection from his course of argument.
From this we learn, that he founded his argument against the fact of attainment,
which was the point that he aimed to overthrow, upon a grossly false assumption,
in respect to the nature of Christian perfection. The following are specimens of
his course of reasoning: He denied that any Christian had ever attained to a state
of entire sanctification in this life, because the Bible requires Christians in all
their earthly course to grow in grace. Now it will be seen at once, that this argument
is good for nothing, unless it be assumed, as a major premise, that Christian perfection
or entire sanctification implies the impossibility of further progress in holiness.
The argument in syllogistic form would stand thus:--
"Christian perfection or entire sanctification implies the impossibility of
further progress in holiness. The Bible requires all Christians in all time to progress
in holiness, which implies the possibility of their doing so. Therefore, no Christian
is in this life entirely sanctified."
The assumption of a grossly false major premise alone gives his argument the colour
of relevancy or plausibility. But suppose any one should pursue the same course of
argument, in respect to total depravity, and insist that no sinner is ever totally
depraved in this life, because the Bible represents wicked men and seducers as waxing
worse and worse; would Dr. Woods, or those who agree with him, acknowledge the conclusiveness
of such an argument? But if total depravity does not imply, as every one knows that
it does not, the impossibility of further progress in sin, so neither for the same
reason does entire or total sanctification imply the impossibility of further progress
But President Mahan had expressly excluded from his definition of Christian perfection
the idea of its implying a state in which no higher attainments in holiness were
possible. He had insisted that the saints may not only always in this life grow in
holiness, but that they must for ever grow in grace or holiness as they grow in knowledge.
How strange, then, that Dr. Woods should not only make a false issue, but also proceed
to sustain his position, by assuming as true what his author had expressly denied!
There was not even the shadow of disagreement between him and his opponent, assuming
as he did, that Christian perfection implied the impossibility of further progress
in holiness. President Mahan as much abhorred the idea of the actual or possible
attainment of such a state in this or any other life, as the doctor did himself.
The doctor had no right to represent him as holding to Christian perfection, in any
such sense as that he was controverting. In the face of President Mahan's disavowal
of such a sentiment, the doctor shaped his argument to overthrow a position which
the president never maintained. Having created his own issue, and supported it by
his own assumption, he was pronounced by multitudes to have gained a complete victory.
Again: Dr. Woods denied that Christian perfection ever was or ever will be
attained in this life, because the Bible represents Christians in all time as engaged
in the Christian warfare. Here again we get at the doctor's view of Christian perfection;
to wit, that it implies the cessation of the Christian warfare. But what is the Christian
The doctor plainly assumes, that it consists in warring with present sin. Yet he
holds all sin to be voluntary. His assumption then that the Christian warfare consists
in a warfare with present sin, represents the will as opposing its present choice.
Choice warring with choice. But the Christian warfare implies no such thing. It is
a warfare or contest with temptation. No other warfare is possible in the nature
of the case. Christ was a subject of it. He was tempted in all points as we are,
yet without sin. While our circumstances remain what they will always be in this
world, we shall be subject to temptation, of course, from the world, the flesh, and
Satan. But Christian perfection is not at all incompatible with the existence of
this strife with temptation. This argument of the doctor was based wholly, like the
preceding, upon the begging or assumption of a totally false major premise. He made
an issue between himself and President Mahan, when there was none. The president
no more held than he did, that such a state ever was or will be attained in this
life, as implies the cessation of the Christian warfare, properly so called. Thus
Dr. Woods set out without giving his readers any definition of Christian perfection,
and stumbled and blundered through his whole argument, totally misrepresenting the
argument of the author whom he reviewed, and sustaining several of his own positions
by sheer assumptions.
The applause with which this review was received by the great mass of ministers and
by many laymen, shows the deep darkness in which this whole question was and had
been for a long time enveloped. We shall see, in its proper place, that the erroneous
view of nearly the whole church upon this subject, was the legitimate result of a
totally false philosophy of moral depravity. The review of Dr. Woods was looked upon
very extensively as a complete using up of President Mahan's book. It was soon published,
by request, in a separate volume. But the president's answer appeared in due time,
and, so far as I know, was universally regarded by those who candidly read it, as
a complete refutation of Dr. Woods's review.
The doctor admitted in his review, that entire sanctification was attainable in this
life, both on the ground of natural ability, and also because the gospel has made
sufficient provision for this attainment. But with his assumed definition of entire
sanctification, he should not have admitted the possibility of such attainment. For
surely it is not possible, on the ground of natural ability, to attain such a state,
either in this life or in any other, that no further advances can be made. Nor has
the gospel made provision to render such attainment possible in this life. Nor is
it possible, either on the ground of natural ability, or through the provisions of
grace, to attain a state in this life, in which the warfare with temptation will
cease. It is difficult to conceive how Dr. Woods, with his ideal of entire sanctification,
could admit the possibility of attaining this state in this life. Certainly there
was no consistency in making both the assumption and the admission. If he assumed
the one, he should have denied the other. That is, if, in his view, entire sanctification
implied a state in which there could be no further advances in holiness, or in which
there could be no further war with temptation, he should have denied the possibility
of the attainment in this life, at least.
Nearly at the same time with the review of Dr. Woods, just named, the presbytery
of Troy, New York, by a committee appointed for that purpose, issued a review of
our opinions, and, as I suppose, intended especially as a reply to my work already
The letter or review of the presbytery was published in the "New York Evangelist,"
and, I believe, in most of the leading public journals of the day. I replied, but
my reply was not admitted into the columns of the journals that published the review.
This fact seems to demand, that both the letter of the presbytery and my reply should
have a place in this account of the discussion. I therefore here give them entire.
- "ACTION OF THE TROY PRESBYTERY.
"Statement of Doctrine.
"In the progress of human investigation, it not unfrequently happens, that truth
and error are so connected, that the work of distinction becomes as indispensable
as that of refutation. In this form, error is always the most dangerous, not only
because it is the least likely to be perceived, but because from its relation, it
is liable to share in that confidence which the mind is accustomed to assign to admitted
truth. In this form, also, it is often, relatively to our perceptions, the same as
truth; but the moment this unnatural union of repellent elements is sundered, both
assume their distinctive and peculiar marks.
"These prefatory thoughts find an ample illustration in the present state of
opinion, in some sections of the church, relative to the doctrine of 'Christian Perfection.'
That all the sentiments of this system are false, it would be difficult to show;
and as difficult to show their entire truth. The system is a subtle combination of
truth and error. Any partial prevalence that it may have had, is easily explained
on this principle. Where the truth is made most prominent, the whole assumes an imposing
aspect; but an inversion of this error will as signally mark its defects. The work,
therefore, of exposing the one, without injury to the other, becomes a duty with
every devout and honest inquirer. This is what your committee purpose to undertake;
and for this purpose it will be sufficient to answer the two following questions:--
"1. What is the controverted point in this system?
"2. What is truth in relation to that point?
"Let us take up these questions in the above order.
- "1. In the first place, What is the controverted point--what is the real
- "That there is some issue, admits of no doubt. What is it? It is not, whether
by the requirement of the moral law, or the injunction of the gospel, men are commanded
to be perfectly holy; not whether men are under obligations to be thus holy; not
whether, as moral agents, such a state is to them a possible state; not whether the
gospel system is competent to secure actual perfection in holiness, if its entire
resources be applied; not whether it is the duty and privilege of the church, to
rise much higher in holy living, than it has ever yet done in our world. To join
issue on any or all of these points, is to make a false issue; it is to have the
appearance of a question without its reality. Some or all of these points form a
part of the scheme of 'Christian Perfection,' but certainly they do not invest it
with any peculiar character; for they involve no new sentiment differing from the
ground taken by the great body of orthodox Christians in every age. It cannot be
supposed that their advocacy has led to the various and fearful solicitudes of learned
and pious men in regard to the truth and tendency of this system. It must therefore
be fraught with some other element. What is that element? The assertion, that Christian
men do attain in some cases during the present life, to a state of perfect holiness,
excluding sin in every form, and that for an indefinite period they remain in this
state. This position requires a moment's analysis, that it may neither suffer nor
gain by an ambiguous use of terms.
"(1.) A state of perfect holiness is the general thing affirmed under several
relations--such holiness, as leaves not a solitary point of the divine requirements,
either in kind or degree, that is not absolutely and completely met by the subject
of this predicate--such holiness as involves entire conformity to God's law, and
excludes all sin. Anything short of this, is not perfect holiness, even at the time
when its possession is alleged; such a state would be one of imperfect or incomplete
sanctification. In establishing the reality of this assumed attainment, it is not
allowable to abate or decrease the purity and rigour of the divine law--this would
at once change the nature of both categories involved in this question, that is,
sin and holiness. We must take the law as it is, and use it as the infallible standard
"(2.) This affirmation of a fact is made under several relations. The first
is one of speciality, that is, that some Christians have reached this state. It is
not contended that it is the state of all Christians, and by consequence, that none
are Christians but those who are perfectly sanctified. The second involves two relations
of time, that is, that this attainment has been made in the present life, and that
it has remained the permanent state for a period more or less indefinite--a day,
a week, a month, a year, or years. It is not denied that it is a state in which defection
is possible; hence a Christian in this state may relapse into one of imperfect sanctification.
Such a phenomenon would be apostacy from perfect to imperfect holiness, and might
be succeeded by a return to the former state. These relapses and restorations may
be of an indefinite number, for they admit of no necessary limitation but the life
of the individuals. They are not however to be confounded with that theory of moral
actions, which regards each as wholly good or wholly bad, for they contemplate a
longer period of time than is assigned to the production of any given moral act.
"Such is the real question at issue--such is the import of 'Christian perfection,'
so far as it has any peculiarity. This is the question to be decided; to argue any
other, is to lose sight of the real one--it is to meet an opponent where there is
no debate, but entire agreement.
- "2. In the second place it is proposed to inquire--What is truth in relation
to this point?
- "It is obvious that the burden of proof lies with him who affirms the truth
of this sentiment. He must moreover direct his proof to the very thing affirmed,
and not to something else. It is easy to carry a question by stating one proposition
and proving another. If the proposition in debate be established, the discussion
is at an end, the doctrine of Christian perfection must be acknowledged.
"(1.) It may be well, therefore, in the first place, to insist on our logical
rights, and inquire, 'has the proposition yet been proved?' This question involves
a variety of subordinate ones, a brief allusion to which is all that can be made.
"(i.) It has sometimes been urged, that because perfection in holiness
is attainable in this life, therefore it is actually attained. How much validity
this argument possesses, we shall be able to judge, if we state it in a syllogistic
form. It would be thus: whatever is attainable in this life, is actually attained
in this life; a state of perfect holiness is attainable in this life; therefore it
is actually attained in this life. It must be confessed that this syllogism has the
attribute of logical conclusiveness, but ere we grant the truth of the inference,
it may be well to decide the truth of the premises. Is the first or major premise
true? If so, then every sinner who hears the gospel, must attain to actual salvation;
then not some, but all believers must be perfectly sanctified in the present life:
then every man actually reaches, in the present life, the highest possible intellectual
and moral good of his being. It must be palpable to every discriminating mind, that
this reason takes for granted a false premise; and although conformable to the rules
of logic, it is liable to prove an untruth; it confounds the broad distinction between
what is merely possible and what is actual.
"(ii.) Again, it is urged in defence of this system, that the
gospel contains adequate provisions for the perfect sanctification of believers in
this life, and therefore some believers are thus sanctified. The logical formula
will place this reasoning in its true light. It will stand thus: Whatever is possible
by the provisions of the gospel in this life, will take place in this life; the perfect
sanctification of some believers in this life is possible by these provisions; therefore
it will take place in this life. This is a most extraordinary method of reasoning.
With some slight changes, it will prove what even the advocate of perfection will
be slow to admit. In the second or minor proposition, substitute the word 'all' for
'some,' and then it proves that all believers are perfectly sanctified in this life.
Again, in place of 'some' or 'all believers,' insert the words 'all men,' then it
proves that all are perfectly sanctified in this life. There must therefore be some
radical difficulty in the first or major proposition. What is that difficulty? It
lies in a limitation which is not expressed, but which, the moment it is seen, overturns
the whole argument. The provisions of the gospel are sufficient for perfect sanctification
at any time and place, if they be fully applied, and not otherwise. Their partial
or full application contemplates the action of a rational and voluntary agent. Hence,
while competent, they may fail of this effect, owing to the non-application, and
not to any fault in the provisions themselves. Before therefore this argument is
entitled to the least weight, it must be proved that some believers, or all, fully
appropriate these provisions in the present life. This being done, then all is clear.
This has never yet been done; but it has been lately assumed, as if it were an undisputed
truth. The main argument of President Mahan on Perfection is embarrassed with this
"(iii.) Again, in support of this scheme, much use has been made
of the commands, promises, and prayers, recorded in the Bible.
"In relation to the commands, it will be sufficient to say, that although the
Bible does command a state of perfect holiness in this life, it does not follow that
the command is in any instance fully obeyed on earth. Before we can arrive at this
conclusion, we must adopt the following principle; that is, that whatever is commanded
in the Bible is actually performed by the subjects of that command. This would exclude
the existence of all sin from the world; it would prove all men to be holy, without
a single exception; it would establish the perfect sanctification, not of some, but
of all believers. It is certainly a most formidable engine of demonstration, too
potent for an ordinary hand to wield.
"So also the argument based on the promises of God involves fallacies of reasoning
not less apparent. It is a glorious truth, that God has promised to all believers
a final victory over sin, which undoubtedly will be accomplished at some period of
their history. But does it follow then, because believers are to be perfectly sanctified
at some time and somewhere, the present life will be the time and place of this perfect
sanctification? Let a promise be adduced, if it can be, that fixes the period of
this event to the present life. The divine promises, like the provisions of the gospel,
are conditioned as to the degree of their results, by appropriative acts on the part
of the believer. Hence the fallacy of the argument is apparent, in that it takes
for granted that some believers in the present life do fully comply with all the
conditions contemplated in the promises themselves. Without this assumption it proves
nothing. Besides, it is not to be forgotten that the promises are general, addressed
alike to all believers; and hence the rules of reasoning by which they are made to
prove the perfect sanctification of some Christians in the present life, equally
prove that of all in every period of time, past, present, and future. The argument
from promises has no relation to, or limitation by, any specific time. But two alternatives
seem to be possible; either the reasoning must be abandoned as not valid, or we must
admit that every regenerated man is sinless, and that too from the moment of his
"Similar defects characterize the arguments drawn from the prayers which the
Bible records, as well as those which it authorizes Christians to make. It is true
that Christ prayed for his disciples in language the most elevated,--'Sanctify them
through thy truth.' The same may be said of the great apostle when he prayed,--'And
the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.' We are directed to pray that God's will
may be done on earth as in heaven; and in general authorized to pray for a perfect
victory over all sin at every time. These are the facts; now what is the inference?
The advocate of perfection responds, that some believers are perfectly sanctified
in the present life. These and kindred facts we offer, to prove this conclusion.
Is there, then, between the two a certain connexion? If we admit the one, must we
logically admit the other? Facts speak a very different language. Were those included
in the prayer of Christ thus sanctified, and that from the moment of its utterance?
Was the same true of all the Christians of Thessalonica? Has the will of God yet
been done on earth, as perfectly as in heaven? Has every believer who has hungered
and thirsted after righteousness, attained to sinless perfection in this life? Did
not Paul most fervently pray for the salvation of Israel, and have not thousands
of Jews died since, in their sins? Did he not pray that the thorn in his flesh might
be removed? and was it removed? The grand mistake in this reasoning is, that it fixes
what the nature and terms of prayer do not fix; that is, the time when, and the place
where, the sought blessing shall be obtained. Applied as evidence to any believer
who claims to be wholly sanctified, it would prove his sanctification an hour, a
week, month, or year, before he was thus sanctified, as really as at the moment in
which he professed to have made this high attainment. Contemplated in its most general
form, it would prove that everything which is a proper object of prayer, and which
will be obtained in some state of being, will actually be obtained in the present
life. There is a vast abyss between the facts and conclusion, which the utmost ingenuity
is unable to remove.
"(iv.) Finally, on this branch of the argument, a variety of proof-texts
has been summoned to the service of this system. A critical examination of all these
is inconsistent with the limits of the present statement. It will be sufficient to
advert to the false principles of interpretation to which they have been subjected.
These are three in number:--
"(a.) The first consists in a misapplication of passages; as when Paul
says, 'I take you to record this day, that I am free from the blood of all men'--or
when Zacharias and Elisabeth are spoken of as 'walking in all the commandments and
"(b.) The second consists in regarding certain terms as proofs of perfection
in holiness, which are merely distinctive of Christian character, as contrasted with
the state of the unregenerate. These are such words as 'holy, saints, sanctified,
blameless, just, righteous, perfect, entire,' &c. That these and kindred terms
are designed to be characteristic, and not descriptive of the degrees of holiness,
is proved by the fact that they are indiscriminately appropriated to all Christians,
and that in many cases they are applied, when the context absolutely charges sin
upon their subjects.
"(c.) The third false principle consists in interpreting certain passages
in an absolute and unrestricted sense, where evidently they are designed to have
a qualified sense. This error may perhaps be illustrated by a single passage. Take
that remarkable saying of the apostle John: 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit
sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.'
Stronger language or a better proof-text cannot well be conceived. In an unrestricted
sense, it affirms not only that every regenerated man is sinless, but an impossibility
that it should be otherwise; it dislodges all sin and moral agency from a converted
mind at a single blow. What will the advocate of perfection do with this passage?
Will he acknowledge either or both of these consequences? This can hardly be supposed.
How then will he escape them? There is but one way for him; this lies in placing
a restricted and qualified sense upon the passage, and in a moment all is plain and
harmonious. But why subject so plain a passage to this law of interpretation, and
deny it to others less harmonious and decisive? No reason can be perceived but the
one which grows out of the necessities of a favourite theory. Indeed, there is logically
no stopping place to this system short of the bold affirmation, that all believers
are perfectly sinless from the moment of conversion. Every argument in its last analysis
must terminate in this extraordinary result. To arrest the inference at any other
point is to betray a logical inconsistency. Are the advocates of perfection prepared
for this bold and unbiblical doctrine? If not, it is time they had reviewed their
arguments, and abandoned principles fraught with such a conclusion. Their weapons
of defence are not less destructive than constructional in their character.
"(2.) Having tried the merits of the positive testimony on this subject, we
remark in the second place, that in the present state of the question, the position
is absolutely incapable of proof. When a man affirms his own sinless perfection for
any given period, as a day, a week, or a year, he affirms his own infallible knowledge
on two points; that is, that at the present moment he can recall every moral exercise
during that period, every thought, feeling, desire, purpose, and that he does infallibly
judge of the moral character of each exercise. Will any pretend to this knowledge?
To do so, manifests the last degree of presumption, as well as ignorance, both of
facts and the truths of mental science. Every effort to recall the whole of our mental
exercises for a single day, must always be a failure; it can only be partially successful.
This shows how little weight is due to the testimony of a man who asserts his own
perfection; he may be honest, but this is no proof of the truth of his statement.
If a case of 'perfection' were admitted to be real, still it is impossible, in the
present state of our faculties, to find and predicate certain knowledge of it. The
evidences of 'Christian perfection,' are then not only inconclusive, but its main
proposition is absolutely unknowable to us.
"(3.) In the third place we remark, that this proposition is disproven by an
amount of evidence that ought to be conclusive. To secure the greatest brevity of
statement, this evidence may be condensed into the following series of propositions:--The
Bible records defects in the characters of the most eminent saints, whose history
it gives; it speaks in moderate terms of the attainments of the pious, when put in
contrast with those of Christ, who hence is an exception to our race; it points the
believer to the heavenly world as the consummation of his hopes, and exemption from
all sin and sorrow; it describes the work of grace as going forward by successive
and progressive stages, and fixes no limit to these stages, antecedent to the period
of death; it speaks of those as being self-deceived who deny their own sinfulness--'If
we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;' it
represents Christians here as in an imperfect state--'For in many things we offend
all' [the word 'all' in the original qualifies 'we' and not 'things;'] it exhorts
Christians to lowly and humble views of their own attainments; it declares Christians
in the present life to be under a process of providential discipline, the object
of which is to make them more fully partakers of God's holiness; the most eminent
saints that have ever lived since the days of the apostles, have uniformly expressed
a painful consciousness of remaining sin, and spoken of their attainments in language
far different from that of self-confidence; the higher Christians have risen in holiness,
the more deeply have they been humbled with their own sinful imperfections, owing
to a clearer discernment both of God and themselves. These propositions might each
of them be amplified into as many arguments. Taken together, they seem conclusively
to set aside the pretensions of any class of men who claim for themselves sinless
perfection in the present life. We cannot but think, that however sincere such persons
may be, they labour under a most dangerous delusion. With them we have no controversy;
our controversy is with their system. It appears to us in no other light than that
of a system, totally disconnected with its proposed evidence, demonstrably unknowable
by the present state of our faculties, and in direct contravention to an amount of
proof, biblical and experimental, that must for ever discredit its claims.
"1. Resolved, That in the judgment of this Presbytery, the doctrine of 'Christian
perfection' in this life, is not only false, but calculated in its tendencies, to
engender self-righteousness, disorder, deception, censoriousness and fanaticism.
"2. Resolved, That it is contrary to the Confession of Faith adopted by the
Presbyterian church in the United States. See chap. 12, sec. 2.
"3. Resolved, That it is the duty of all orthodox ministers to acquaint themselves
with this error, and at such times and in such measures as may seem to them most
expedient, to instruct the people on this point.
"4. Resolved, That we view with regret and sorrow, the ground taken on this
subject by the theological professors at Oberlin.
"5. Resolved, That we hail with joy every improvement in human opinion that
conforms to the Bible, and promises, in its practical tendency, to decrease the sins,
or increase the moral purity, of the church.
"6. Resolved, That the above statement and resolutions be signed by the Moderator
and Stated Clerk, and published in the New York Evangelist, New York Observer, the
Christian Observer, and the Presbyterian.
"Fayette Shipherd requested that his dissent from the above report of the Committee
be appended to it, entered on the records of the Presbytery, and published with it.
All the other members present voted in the affirmative.
- "THOMAS J. HASWELL, Moderator.
"Troy, June 29, 1841.
" N. S. S. BEMAN, Stated Clerk.
- "TO THE TROY [N. Y.] PRESBYTERY.
"Permit me to make a few remarks upon your report on the subject of Christian
perfection. I have read with attention most that has come to hand upon the subject
of your report, and have thought it of little use to reply, until some opponent of
our views should throw his objections into a more tangible form than any one had
hitherto done. Your report embraces, in a condensed form, almost all that has been
said in opposition to our views. For this reason, as well as for the reason that
I have a high respect and fervent love for those of your number with whom I am acquainted,
I beg leave to be heard in reply.
"What I have said was prepared for, and should have been published in the 'New
York Evangelist.' I wrote to the editor, making the request to be heard through his
columns; to which he made no reply. I still hope he will not fail to do me, yourselves,
and the church the justice to give this article a place in his columns. The truth
demands it. (Since changed Editors.) For no other reason, I am sure, than to subserve
the interests of truth would I say one word. Without further preface, I quote your
statement of the real point at issue. You say,--
"'That there is some issue, admits of no doubt. What is it? It is not, whether
by the requirements of the moral law, or the injunctions of the gospel, men are commanded
to be perfectly holy; not whether men are under obligations to be thus holy; not
whether as moral agents, such a state is to them a possible state; not whether the
gospel system is competent to secure actual perfection in holiness, if its entire
resources be applied; not whether it is the duty and privilege of the church to rise
much higher in holy living, than it has ever yet done in this world. To join issue
on any, or all of these points, is to make a false issue; it is to have the appearance
of a question without its reality. Some, or all of these points, form a part of the
scheme of 'Christian perfection;' but certainly they do not invest it with any peculiar
character, for they involve no new sentiment differing from the ground taken by the
great body of orthodox Christians in every age. It cannot be supposed 'that their
advocacy has led to the various and fearful solicitudes of learned and pious men,
in regard to the truth and tendency of this system. It must, therefore, be fraught
with some other element. What is that element? The assertion that Christian men do
attain in some cases, during the present life, to a state of perfect holiness, excluding
sin in every form, and that for an indefinite period may remain in this state.'
"Upon this I remark:--
- "1. You have made a false issue. Proof:--
- "(1.) What our position is. It is, and always has been, that entire sanctification
is attainable in this life, in such a sense as to render its attainment a rational
object of pursuit, with the expectation of attaining it.
"This proposition, it would seem, you admit; but on account of 'the various
and fearful solicitudes of learned and pious men,' you take it for granted, there
must be a heresy somewhere, and accordingly proceed to take issue with us, upon one
of the arguments we have used in support of our proposition; and reply to our other
arguments, as if they had been adduced by us in support of the proposition, upon
which you have erroneously made up the issue.
"(2.) Some of the arguments by which we have attempted to establish this proposition
"(i.) That men are naturally able to obey all the commandments of God.
"(ii.) That this obedience is without qualification demanded of men in
"(iii.) That the gospel proffers sufficient grace to secure their entire
sanctification in this life; and that nothing is wanting but 'appropriative acts,'
on the part of Christians, to realize this result.
"(iv.) That the entire sanctification of Christians in this life was
made the subject of prayer by inspired men, and also that Christ taught his disciples
to pray for it.
"(v.) That this state has actually been attained.
"These are among our arguments; and as they are the only ones to which you have
professed to reply, I will mention no others.
"(3.) I will put our arguments in the form of syllogisms in their order.
"(i.) Whatever is attainable in this life, on the ground of natural ability,
may be aimed at with a rational hope of success. A state of entire sanctification
in this life is attainable, on the ground of natural ability. Therefore, it may be
aimed at with a rational hope of success.
"Again. Whatever men are naturally able to do in this life, they may aim at
doing, with a rational hope of success. Men are naturally able to do all their duty,
which is to be entirely sanctified. Therefore, they may aim at entire sanctification
with a rational hope of being entirely sanctified.
"You admit both the major and minor premises in these syllogisms. Can the conclusion
"(ii.) Whatever God commands to be done by men in this life, may be done
by them. God commands men to be entirely holy in this life. Therefore, a state of
entire holiness in this life is possible. You admit both the major and minor premises.
Can the conclusion be avoided?
"(iii.) Whatever attainment the gospel proffers sufficient grace to secure
in this life, may be made. The gospel proffers sufficient grace, should any one 'apply
its entire resources,' to secure a state of entire sanctification in this life. Therefore
this state may be secured, or this attainment may be made. Here again you admit both
premises. Can the conclusion be denied?
"(iv.) Whatever was made the subject of prayer by the Spirit of inspiration
may be granted. The entire sanctification of the saints in this life was prayed for
by the Spirit of inspiration. Therefore, Christians may aim at and pray for this
state, with the rational expectation of being entirely sanctified in this life.
"Again. What Christ has made it the universal duty of the church to pray for,
may be granted. He has made it the duty of all Christians to pray for the entire
sanctification of the saints in this life. Therefore, these petitions may be presented,
and Christians may expect to be entirely sanctified in this life. Both premises in
these syllogisms are admitted. Are not the conclusions inevitable?
"(v.) Whatever men have done, men can do. Men have been entirely sanctified
in this life. Therefore they may be so sanctified. The minor premise in this syllogism
you deny; and, strange to tell, you affirm, over and over again, that this one argument
of ours is the main proposition to be established! And you reply to all our other
arguments in support of the main proposition, as if they had been adduced to prove
this! Now it would have been equally fair, and just as much in point, so far as our
argument in support of the main proposition is concerned, if you had made an issue
with us on any other argument adduced by us in support of that proposition--insisted
that that was the main question--and replied to our arguments as if they had been
adduced in support of that.
"You misrepresent our logic. Assuming that the fact of actual attainment is
the main proposition which we are labouring to establish, and in support of which
we adduce the fact of actual attainment only as an argument, you misrepresent our
reasoning. To put this matter in the clearest light, I will place side by side, the
syllogisms which you put in our mouths, and our own syllogisms.
"YOUR SYLLOGISMS IMPUTED TO US. "OUR OWN SYLLOGISMS.
" 1. 'Whatever is attainable in "1. Whatever is attainable in this this
life, is actually attained in life, may be aimed at, with the this life. A state
of perfect rational hope of attaining it: holiness is attainable in this entire sanctification
is attainable life; therefore it is actually in this life; therefore the attained.'
attainment of this state may be aimed at with a rational hope of
" 2. 'Whatever is possible by the "2. Whatever attainment is possible,
provisions of the gospel in this by the provisions of the gospel, in life, will take
place in this life; this life, may be aimed at by those the perfect sanctification
of all under the gospel, with a rational believers is possible by those hope of attaining
it; the perfect provisions; therefore it will sanctification of believers is actually
take place in this life.' possible by these provisions; therefore believers may aim
making this attainment, with a
rational hope of success.
" 3. 'In relation to the commands "3. Whatever the Bible commands to it
will be sufficient to say, that be done in this life, may be done; although the Bible
does command a the Bible commands Christians to be state of perfect holiness in the
perfect in this life; therefore they present life, it does not follow may be perfect
in this life. that the command is in any instance obeyed fully on earth. Before we
can arrive at this conclusion, we must adopt the following principle; that is, that
whatever is commanded in the Bible is actually performed "Now, brethren, I ask
if you will by the subjects of that command.' deny the major premise, the minor premise,
or the conclusion in either "The syllogism would stand thus: of the above syllogisms?
You cannot deny either. I beseech you then to "Whatever is commanded by God,
is consider what injustice you have actually performed; perfect done to yourselves,
to us, your holiness is commanded; therefore brethren, and to the cause of truth,
all men are perfectly holy. by such an evasion and misrepresentation of our logic.
"(4.) What your logic must be to meet our argument as we have stated it. If
you would state in syllogistic form an argument that shall meet and set aside our
reasoning, it must stand thus: That a thing is attainable in this life, is no proof
that it can be attained. This must be assumed as a major premise, by any one who
would answer our logic. But who does not see, that this amounts to a denial of an
identical proposition? The same as to say, that a thing being attainable in this
life, is no proof that it is attainable in this life. But to waive this consideration,
and state the argument as it must stand in syllogistic form; to meet and refute our
logic, it must stand thus: 'That a thing is attainable in this life is no proof that
it can be attained. Entire sanctification is attainable in this life. Therefore,
its attainability is no proof that it can be attained.' Who does not see, that the
major premise is false, and that therefore the conclusion is? Now observe: we admit,
that its attainability is no proof that it will be attained. But we insist, that
its attainability is proof that the attainment may be aimed at, with a rational hope
"Again: would you meet our second argument with a syllogism, it must
stand thus: 'That God commands a state of entire sanctification in this life, is
no proof that such a state is attainable in this life. God does command a state of
entire sanctification in this life. Therefore the command is no proof that such a
state is attainable.' Brethren, this argument would have the attribute of logical
conclusiveness, if the major premise were not false. The very same course must be
pursued by you, would you meet and set aside our reasoning in respect to our other
arguments. This is so manifest, that I need not state the syllogisms.
- "2. In respect to our inference in favour of the doctrine of entire sanctification
in this life, drawn from the prayers of inspiration, and the fact that all Christians
are commanded to pray for the entire sanctification of believers in this life, you
say as follows:--
- "'Similar defects characterize the arguments drawn from the prayers which
the Bible records, as well as those which it authorizes Christians to make. It is
true, that Christ prayed for his disciples in language the most elevated: 'Sanctify
them through the truth.' The same may be said of the great Apostle, when he prayed:
'And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.' We are directed to pray that God's
will may be done on earth as in heaven, and in general authorized to pray for a perfect
victory over all sin at every time. These are the facts. Now, what is the inference?
The advocate of 'perfection' responds--that some believers are perfectly sanctified
in the present life. These, and kindred facts we offer, to prove this conclusion.
Is there then between the two a certain connexion? If we admit the one, must we logically
admit the other? Facts speak a very different language. Were those included in the
prayer of Christ thus sanctified, and that from the moment of its utterance? Was
the same true of all the Christians of Thessalonica? Has the will of God yet been
done on earth as perfectly as in heaven? Has every believer who has hungered and
thirsted after righteousness, attained to sinless perfection in this life? Did not
Paul most fervently pray for the salvation of Israel, and have not thousands of Jews
since died in their sins? Did he not pray that the thorn in his flesh might be removed,
and was it removed? The grand mistake in this reasoning is, that it fixes what the
nature and terms of prayer do not fix; that is, the time when, and the place where,
the sought blessing shall be obtained.'
"On this I remark:--
"This appears to me a most remarkable paragraph. Here you quote a part of 1
Thess. v. 23. 'And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly,' and then stop, assuming
that nothing can be affirmed in respect to the time when the apostle prayed that
this blessing might be granted. Now, beloved brethren, why did you not quote the
whole passage, when it would have been most manifest, that the apostle actually prayed
for the blessing to be granted in this life? I will quote it, and see if this is
not so: "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole
spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus
"As the sanctification of the 'body,' as well as the soul and spirit, is prayed
for, and that the whole being may be 'preserved blameless unto the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ,' how can you say as you do--'The grand mistake in this reasoning
is, that it fixes what the nature and the terms of prayer do not fix, that is, the
time when, and place, here, the sought blessing shall be obtained?' Does not this
prayer contemplate the bestowment of this blessing in this life? Who can reasonably
deny it? Again: You say, 'We are directed to pray that God's will may be done on
earth as in heaven, and in general authorized to pray for a victory over all sin
at every time.' Now, how can you make this admission, and still add the assertion
just quoted, that 'prayer does not fix the time when this blessing is to be expected?'
Certainly, the time when, is, in this prayer, limited to this life. In order to meet
our argument, based upon the prayer of the apostles and the injunction of Christ,
to pray for the entire sanctification of believers in this life, you must argue as
follows. Here again I put the syllogisms into separate columns, that you may see
them in contrast.
"YOUR REASONING PUT IN SYLLOGISTIC "OUR SYLLOGISMS. FORM.
"That the Spirit of inspiration "Whatever state was prayed for by prayed
for the entire the Spirit of inspiration, sanctification of believers in this Christians
may aim at with a life, is no evidence that an answer rational hope of attaining;
the to this prayer may be expected by Spirit of inspiration prayed for the saints
in this life. Paul, under entire sanctification of saints in the spirit of inspiration,
did pray this life. Therefore, Christians may for the entire sanctification of aim
at this attainment with the the saints in this life. Therefore, expectation of success.
this prayer is no evidence that
saints may aim at being entirely
sanctified in this life, with a
rational hope of being so
"Again: That Christ has made it the "Again: Whatever state
Christians universal duty of saints to pray are required to pray for in this for
the entire sanctification of life, they may pray for with the Christians in this
life, is no expectation of being heard and evidence that they may offer this answered.
Christians are required to prayer, with a rational expectation pray for a state of
entire of being answered. Christ has made sanctification in this life. it the universal
duty of Christians Therefore, they may pray for this to pray for entire sanctification
attainment with the expectation of in this life. Therefore, this is no being heard
and answered in this evidence that they may offer this life. prayer with the rational
being heard and answered.
"Now, brethren, whose logic is most conclusive?
- "3. In one paragraph of your report, you admit and deny at the same breath,
that entire sanctification is promised in this life. You say--
- "'It is a glorious truth, that God has promised to all believers a final
victory over sin, which undoubtedly will be accomplished in some period of their
history. But does it follow, that because believers are to be perfectly sanctified
at sometime and somewhere, the present life will be the time and place of this perfect
sanctification? Let a promise be adduced, if it can be, that fixes the period of
this event to the present life. The divine promises, like the provisions of the gospel,
are conditioned as to the degree of their results, by appropriative acts on the part
of the believer. Hence, the fallacy of the argument is apparent, in that it takes
for granted that some believers in the present life do fully comply with all the
conditions contemplated in the promises themselves. Without this assumption it proves
"In the first part of this paragraph, you deny that God, anywhere in the Bible,
promises a state of entire sanctification in this life, and request that one promise
be adduced, that fixes this event to the present life. And then you seem immediately
to admit that the blessing is promised, on the condition of 'appropriative acts on
the part of the believer.' This you must intend to admit, inasmuch as you have before
admitted, that 'should a believer avail himself of all the resources of the gospel,
he might make this attainment.' Certainly you will not pretend to have any authority
for such an admission, unless the promises when fairly interpreted do proffer such
a state to Christians upon condition of 'appropriative acts.' How shall we understand
such a denial and admission at the same breath, as this paragraph contains?
"But you request that one promise may be adduced that fixes the period of entire
sanctification to the present life. I might quote many: but as you ask for only one,
I will quote one, and the one, a part of which you have quoted--1 Thess. ii. 23,
24. 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit,
and soul, and body, be preserved blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.'
"That this prayer and promise relate to this life, I think cannot consistently
be questioned. The prayer is, that the 'body,' as well as the 'spirit and soul,'
be wholly sanctified, and 'be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ.' Then the promise--'Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.'
Does not this relate to this life?
- "4. You deny that Christians can know that they are in a state of entire
- "You say, 'If a case of perfection were admitted to be real, still it is
impossible, in the present state of our faculties, to find and predicate certain
knowledge of it.'
"Here, assuming as you do, that the main proposition respects the fact of actual
attainment, you insist that this fact, did such cases exist, would be entirely insusceptible
of proof. Indeed! Does God command man to do what he cannot know that he does, even
if he does it? This would be passing strange. You admit that God requires men to
be entirely sanctified, condemns them if they are not, but yet deny that they could
know that they obeyed, if they did. This would indeed be a singular requirement--to
command a man on pain of eternal death to do that which he could not possibly know
that he did, even if he did it. This denial of ability to know, whether we are in
a state of entire sanctification, is a total denial of the doctrine of natural ability,
as I presume it is held by every member of your body. Does not every one of you,
my brethren, hold that natural ability to obey a command is the sine quà non
of moral obligation to obey it? Do not you hold that a man cannot be under a moral
obligation to do what he cannot understand--to use a power which he does not know
himself to possess--to employ his faculties in any kind or degree of service, which
he cannot know to be his duty? Now if a man does all that he is able to know himself
capable of doing, is he under a moral obligation to do anything more? But if he is
unable to know that he falls short of his duty, does he fall short of it? Brethren,
will you give us light upon this subject? Do you, will you seriously maintain, that
a man is naturally unable to know whether he obeys the commands of God, and yet,
that he is condemned and liable to be damned for coming short, when he could not
know that he came short? Brethren, will you maintain this?
- "5. Your answer to our proof-texts is a very summary one. It consists simply
in affirming that we have misapplied them--that we regard certain terms as proofs
of perfection, which are only distinctive of Christian character,--and, that we interpret
them in an absolute and unrestricted sense--without so much as naming one of them.
You have, indeed, quoted one passage, and affirmed that 'a better proof-text cannot
well be conceived.' But we have never regarded nor quoted it as a proof text at all.
Your disposal of our proof-texts is really a short-hand method of getting over them.
But there was one difficulty in the way of your quoting and answering them--which
was that had you quoted them, it would have appeared to everybody, that they were
used by us to prove another proposition than that which you were controverting.
- "6. Our arguments in support of the fact of attainment you have passed over
almost in silence. At the same time, you have taken our arguments adduced to prove
the practical attainability, and replied to them, as if adduced to prove the fact
of actual attainment. Brethren, we think we have reason to feel grieved with this.
- "7. You find yourselves obliged to be exceedingly indefinite in regard to
the measure of attainment which Christians may rationally hope to make in this life.
You say, 'The question is not whether it is the duty and privilege of the church
to rise much higher in holy living than it has ever yet done in this world.' Now,
brethren, I ask how much higher attainments Christians may make in this world, than
they have ever yet made? This is, with us, and must be with the church, a question
of all-absorbing interest. Do you answer to this question, that Christians may make
indefinitely higher attainments than they have yet made? I ask again, on what authority
is this affirmation made? Do you argue it from the fact, that the gospel has promised
sufficient grace to Christians on condition of appropriative acts, to secure in them
a higher state of holiness than has yet been attained? But if Christians may rationally
hope to attain a higher state of holiness, than has ever yet been attained, by appropriating
to themselves promises which proffer entire sanctification in this life, why may
they not rationally aim at attaining all that the gospel has promised to them? Brethren,
will you answer this question?
- "Appended to your report is a resolution, expressing 'regret and sorrow
at the ground taken on this subject by the theological professors at Oberlin.' Will
you permit us to reciprocate your regret and sorrow, and express our deep grief,
that the presbytery of Troy have taken such ground upon this subject, and so misapprehended,
and of course misrepresented the arguments of their brethren?
"I must close this communication with a few
"1. We admit you had a right to take issue with us on the question of actual
attainment, if you were dissatisfied with our course of argument on that position.
But you had no right to represent our argument in support of another position as
you have done. You had no right to represent our argument in favour of the practical
attainability, as having been adduced in support of the fact of actual attainment.
This you have done, and by so doing, you have done your brethren and the cause of
truth great injustice.
"2. To what I have said in this article, you may reply, that you never denied
the practical attainability of a state of entire sanctification, and that therefore
on that question you have no controversy with us. Why, then, my brethren, did you
not admit that in our main position you agree with us, and that you only deny one
of the arguments by which we attempted to support that position? This, as Christian
men, you were bound to do. But instead of this, you have said nothing about admitting
our main position; but made the transfer of our arguments to the support of the one
upon which you take issue, and thus represent our logic as absurd and ridiculous.
We shall be happy to discuss the question of actual attainment with our brethren,
when they ingenuously admit, that the main position we have taken, namely, the practical
attainability of a state of entire sanctification in this life, is a truth of the
"3. Permit me to ask, my brethren, what opponent or course of argument might
not be rendered ridiculous by the course you have taken, that is, by stating another
proposition than that intended to be supported, and then representing the whole course
of argument as intended to support the substituted proposition?
"4. Should you say that your report was not intended as a reply to our argument,
I ask, who has ever argued in support of this doctrine in the manner you represent?
Who ever inferred, that because men have natural power to obey God, therefore they
do obey him? I have read with attention almost everything that has come to hand upon
this subject, and I never saw or heard of any such mode of argumentation as that
to which you profess to reply.
"5. Will your presbytery, in reply to what I have written, excuse themselves
by saying, that their treatment of our argument was an oversight--that they had supposed
us to reason in the way they have represented us as reasoning? To this I must reply,
that you were bound to understand our argument before you replied to it, in your
public or any other capacity. And especially were you under this obligation, inasmuch
as I had twice written to a leading member of your body, beseeching him, in the bowels
of Christian love, to examine this subject, and to be sure he did it in a spiritual
frame of mind, before he committed himself at all upon the question.
"6. Will you, dear brethren, permit me to ask how long the opposers of the doctrine
of entire sanctification in this life, expect to retain the confidence of the church,
and prevent their understanding and believing this doctrine, by such a course of
procedure as this? You are no doubt aware, that your course is not a novel one, but
that it has been substantially pursued by several other opposers of this doctrine.
"And now, beloved brethren in the Lord, do not understand me as entering into
a war of words with you, or as entertaining the least unkind feeling in my heart
towards you. I most cheerfully leave to your deliberate and prayerful consideration,
the remarks I have freely made on your report. I cannot, however, refrain from saying,
that when I saw the name of one whom I greatly loved, and with whom I had often taken
sweet counsel, attached to that report, my heart felt a kind of spontaneous gushing,
and I almost involuntarily exclaimed, 'Et tu, Brute!'
"Yours in the bonds of Christian love,
"C. G. FINNEY."
Since these replies were published, nothing worthy of notice has appeared in opposition
to them that has fallen under my observation, but the policy seems to have been adopted
of preventing further inquiry upon the subject. Nevertheless the agitation of the
question in the minds and hearts of private Christians and of many ministers, is
going steadily, and, in many places, rapidly forward, as I have good reason to know.
Indeed it is manifest, that there is increasing light and interest upon the subject,
and it is beginning, or, I should say, fast coming to be better understood, and its
truthfulness and its importance appreciated. No thanks, however, are due to some
of the leading journalists of the day, if this blessed and glorious truth be not
hunted from the world as a most pernicious error. Nothing could have been more unfair
and unjust than the course pursued by some of them has been. May the blessed Lord
bring them to see their error and forgive them, not laying this sin to their charge.
It may doubtless appear unaccountable to the public in general, both in this country
and elsewhere, that no objection was made to the doctrine of entire sanctification,
when published in the "New York Evangelist," and afterwards in the form
of a volume, and so extensively circulated, and that the same doctrine should excite
so much alarm when published in the "Oberlin Evangelist." It may also appear
strange, that such pains should have been taken to confound our views with those
of antinomian perfectionists, when every one can see, that there is no more analogy
between their views, as set forth in their Confession of Faith, and our views, than
between them and anything else. This they have all along alleged, and consequently
have been amongst our bitterest opposers. Perhaps it is not desirable that the public
should be made acquainted with the springs of influence that have stirred up, and
put in motion all this hurricane of ecclesiastical and theological opposition to
Oberlin. It is unpleasant to us to name and disclose it, and perhaps the cause of
truth does not, at present at least, demand it.
Introduction ---New Window
LECTURES 1-7 of page 1
LECTURES 8-16 of page 2 ---New Window
LECTURES 17-30 of page 3 ---New Window
LECTURES 31-38 of page 4 ---New Window
LECTURES 39-47 of page 5 ---New Window
LECTURES 48-57 of page 6 (this page)
LECTURES 58-67 of page 7 ---New Window
LECTURES 68-74 of page 8 ---New Window
LECTURES 75-80 of page 9 ---New Window
LECTURES 81-83 of page 10 ---New Window
APPENDIX on page 11 ---New Window
RELATED STUDY AIDS:
Section Sub-Index for Finney: Voices