« PreviousContinue »
Confession of Faith on the decrees of God. and every thing short of divine aid, is short of his necessity. Men are sometimes fully sensible of this. I have heard of a man, under the power of the habit of intemperance, who cried out to his friends, Help me! help me! wake me up! save me, or I fall!
The love of liquor had not destroyed his natural ability, But he felt that his moral ability-his ability of will to resist temptation-was gone. The distinction is plain and easy; and it is one that we can all understand in the every day affairs of life. If we see our friends in danger of being overcome by evil habit, we brace them against its power; we perceive their moral inability, and we bring them all the aid in our power. The phrase, "to incline and enable,' is just as consistent with a moral inability as it is with a natural. Our natural bondage is that into which we are born by nature. Our constitutional bias to evil is called original sin. And it is grace, and grace alone, that enables a man to resist and overcome it. This I believe; this I hold; this I have felt. We shall be inclined to good alone, only when we reach the state of glory.
This reasoning is corroborated by the doctrine of the Confession, in respect to God's decrees.
"God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.'
No violence done to the will by the decrees of God.
Here are two points of doctrine laid down. First, that by the decrees of God no violence is done to the will of the creature: its natural liberty is not invaded or destroyed. It is not in God's decree that it should be forced or divested of its natural power, but the contrary.
There is nothing in God's whole plan that amounts to the destruction of the natural liberty of the will. Now if I can show that on the contrary, his decrees confirm it, why then, I carry my exposition. But what says the chapter?
“God from all eternity, did freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.'
That God did ordain the fall, and all its connections and consequences, cannot then be denied. But how were these ordained? The Confession tells us how:
It was, so that no violence is offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.'
Here it is disclosed that the natural liberty of the will is not destroyed by the fall, but rather established; instead of taking away free agency, and the capacity of choice, God decreed to establish it. Whatever has been the wreck and ruin produced by the fall, the free agency originally conferred upon man, has not been knocked away. Therefore it was, that I pressed this book to my heart, because it assures me, that the righteous Governor of the world, has done no violence to these powers and faculties of man, on which his government rests.
But I am happy on this subject, in being able to adduce an authority altogether above my own. What did the Assembly of Divines mean by this word contingency? The celebrated Dr. Twiss, who was their prolocutor or moderator, must be high authority on that question. He says:
• Whereas we see some things come to pass necessarily, some contingently, so God hath ordained that all things shall come to pass: but necessary things necessarily, and contingent things contingently, that is, avoidably, and with a possibility of not coming to pass. For every university scholar knows this to be the notion of contingency.'-Chr. Spec. vol. vii. No. 1. p. 165.
Dr. Twiss is speaking of natural and moral events, the only events which exist in the universe; and he says that God decreed that all things should come to pass;
that natural events should come to pass necessarily; and that moral events, which are acts of will, and which he calls contingent things,' shall come to pass contingently; which he explains to mean avoidably and with a natural possibility of not coming to pass. He is speaking of the moral world, and he says that in the natural world all is necessary as opposed to choice; but that in the moral world all is free, as opposed to coercion, or natural necessity, or inability of choice; and that every act of will, though certain in respect to the decree, is yet free and uncoerced in respect to the manner of its coming to pass, and as to any natural necessity, always avoidablenot avoided, but according to the very nature of free
How God executes his decrees-Con. of Faith--Shorter Catechism. agency, always avoidable, in accordance with the language of the Confession, ch. ix. sec. 1. [quoted above.]
Now we shall show how God executes his decrees; and what says the Confession on this point? (See ch. v. sec. 2:)
• Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently:' i. e. the volitions of the mind come to pass freely, and as opposed to any natural necessity, avoidably.
The account given of the actual effects of the fall, is a still further confirmation of our exposition; ch. vi. sec. 2:
• By this sin, they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.'
Also Shorter Catechism, Ques, and Ans. 17, 18: Q. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into a state of sin and misery?
Q. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called Original Sin;
Natural powers perverted by the fall, not destroyed. together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.
If man lost the natural power of right choice, this answer should have been changed, and we ought to have been told, that the fall brought mankind into a state of natural impotency. But it says no such thing. It says it brought him into a state of sin. What! Can a man sin without being a free agent? The effects here stated are, the loss of holiness and the corruption of his nature. But surely the corruption of nature is not the annihilation of nature; his nature must still exist in order to be corrupt. What then is its corruption? It is deatin sin, not the death of its natural powers. There is no destruction of the agents. But there is a perversion of those powers which do constitute their agency. So much for the testimony of the Confession of Faith.
I said that in expounding a written instrument we are always to consider the attributes of the subject concerning which it speaks; that its language is to be expounded, in reference to the nature of the thing. The Confession teaches that man was endowed with a natural liberty of choice, and has suffered no perversion but that which consists in a wrong exercise of his will. Its natural liberty remains, but in regard to moral liberty, i. e. an unbiased will, the balance is struck wrong.
Such are my views of the natural ability of fallen man, and my evidence that they are just.
It is the ability of an intelligent, accountable agent