Page images
PDF
EPUB

Moral inability taught by the fathers--Clement-Origen.

manifestation of omnipotent energy that has ever been made by the Almighty. Nor do I ever expect to see anything in God's works that will rival the solemn majesty of that greatest of all his operations, which, silent as the spheres, moves on in its resistless strength, making the hearts of rebels yield before it.

The next point in the confirmation of my exposition of the doctrine of the Confession, touching the moral impotency of man, is to show, that what it affirms on that subject, has been the doctrine of the church of God in all ages. And I shall now attempt to show that the fathers, while they held free will, in opposition to necessity and blind fate, nevertheless taught the moral inability of man, and his dependence on the Holy Spirit, just as I teach it. The first authority I shall produce on this point is that of Clement of Alexandria.

Since some men are without faith and others contentious, all do not obtain the perfection of good. Nor is it possible to obtain it without our own exertion. The whole, however, does not depend upon our own will; for instance—our future destiny; for we are saved by grace, not indeed without good works.'

- Scott's Tomline, vol. 2, p. 56. Clement teaches in this passage man's natural ability and his moral inability with equal clearness.

Origen.-The virtue of a rational creature is mixed, arising from his own free will, and the divine power conspiring with him who chooses that which is good. But there is need of our own free will, and of divine cooperation which does not depend upon

Moral inability-Gregory Nazianzen-Jerome.

our will, not only to become good and virtuous, but also after we become so, that we may persevere in virtue.' p. 82.

I quoted him before, and showed that he was strong on the doctrine of free will, as opposed to fate. What I have now quoted may be considered as a good commentary upon the text: It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Gregory Nazianzen.-—“A right will stands in need of assistance from God; or rather the very desire of what is right is something divine, and the gift of the mercy of God. For we have need both of power over ourselves and of salvation from God. Therefore, says he, it is not of him that willeth, that is, not of him only that willeth, nor of him only that runneth, but of God that showeth. Since the will itself is from God, he with reason attributes every thing to God. However much you run, however much you contend, you stand in need of him who gives the crown.'

Gregory says that God is the author of faith-that he is the beginning of good in the soul; yet he is equally explicit on the doctrine of free will as opposed to fatalism. He holds that man has need of all that free agency.can do, and all that grace performs beside.

Jerome. For the freedom of the will is so to be reserved, that the grace of the Giver may excel in all things, according to the saying of the prophet, except the Lord build the house, their labor is but lost that Moral inability-Theodoret. build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.' p. 146.

He declares, then, that though man is a free agent, yet regeneration is not the effect of his agency, but of God's free grace: as the preservation of a city is not the result of the watchman's care, but of God's unsleeping providence. Unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

Theodoret.-Neither the grace of the Spirit is sufficient for those who have unwillingness; nor, on the other hand, can willingness, without this.

grace,

collect the riches of virtue.? p. 290.

Here we see that while the grace of the Spirit does not supersede .the necessity of earnest attention and striving on the part of man, yet that no strivings of man will ever issue in a saving result, without Almighty grace. And grace is not to be expected while a man wilfully indulges in sloth and sleep, and puts forth no effort for his own deliverance.

But, before adducing quotations further, I would remark:

1. That every one of these confessions recognizes the liberty of the will, as free from coercion.

2. They all uniformly ascribe its perverse action to the effect of the fall, in biasing, yet not in coercing the will.

3. They all teach expressly that the bondage is the influence of this evil bias, and not a natural necessity of sinning; and taken together, they make

Harmony of the Protestant Confessions. Early reformers. out a clear and consistent account of the natural ability of man, as a free agent and of his moral inability as a sinner, by reason of the bias of his will, as occasioned by the fall. If you shut your eyes and try their meaning only by your ear, you will hear it abundantly asserted, that man hath no liberty at all to desire good, and can of himself do nothing; but if you compare their own language with itself, you will perceive that they insist on the natural liberty of the will, which means natural ability, and teach only the impotence which results from the will itself, as biased and perverted by the fall, and that the distinction of man's natural ability as a free agent, and his impotency through the perversity of his will, runs through all the creeds, and is as plainly recognized in them as it is in our own Confession. It is this habit of interpreting by sound, which demands a running exposition, or I should need to say nothing in exposition of the quotations from the former of the creeds.

HARMONY OF THE PROTESTANT CONFESSIONS.

The doctrines of the early reformers in Europe were misunderstood by the Catholics, against whom they contended, who maintained that they were all a set of schismatics; that they were perpetually jangling among each other, so that no two of them could agree; and on this alledged fact, they strengthened the great argument of their church as to the necessity of having some head on earth to the visible church, whose decisions might settle controversies and give

Confession of Helvetia.

Man's inability, moral and voluntary.

uniformity to the faith. To meet this argument and repel it, the reformers got up this book, which is entitled, The harmony of the Confessions: the design of which was to show, by collating the Confessions of different evangelical churches, that the representation of their enemies was false; and that, in all fundamental points of faith, they were fully agreed.

From this book, I am about to show what the Protestant churches, just come out of the fiery furnace of Papal persecution, held on the subject of the moral inability of man. I have already shown what was the opinion of the fathers. I shall now show that of the reformers. And I begin with the Confession of Helvetia.

Confession of Helvetia. And we take sin to be that natural corruption of man, derived or spread from those our first parents unto us all, through which we being drowned in evil concupiscences, and clean turned away from God, but prone to all evil, full of all wickedness, distrust, contempt, and hatred of God, can do no good to ourselves, no not so much as think of any.' p. 58.

Here we see that man's inability does not consist in any want of understanding or conscience, or any other attribute or power of a free agent; but that it is the effect of that which is moral and voluntary; that it arises from the evil concupiscence of a corrupt nature, the willful unbelief of a wicked heart. Men cannot do what is good. Why? Because they have a moral inability to do it. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?. Again:

« PreviousContinue »