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Free agency does not prevent sin, nor ensure obedience.
• We are to consider, what man was after his fall. His understanding indeed was not taken from him, neither was he deprived of will, and altogether changed into a stone or stock. Nevertheless, these things are so altered in man, that they are not able to do now, that which they could not do before his fall. For his understanding is darkened, and his will, which before was free, is now become a servile will: for it serveth sin, not nilling, but willing: for it is called a will, and not a nilling. Therefore, as touching evil or sin, man does evil, not compelled either by God or the Devil, but of his own accord; and in this respect he hath a most free will. p. 60.
The fall is here said not to have deprived man of free agency; not to have turned him into a stock or a stone; but that his free agency, as it did not suffice to keep him from sinning, does not suffice to raise him from the ruins of the fall. Again, let us listen to the same Confession.
• The regenerate, in the choice and working of that which is good, do not only work passively, but actively. For they are moved of God, that themselves may do that which they do. And Augustine doth truly alledge that saying, that God is said to be our helper. For no man can be helped, but he, that doth somewhat. The Manichees did bereave man of all action, and made him like a stone and a block.
Here we find that no man is helped by grace as a mere passive impotent machine; that he acts in working out his salvation; and that God helps him as a
Confession of Belgia.
free agent, and not as a mass of lead. A piece of lead cannot be helped to rise. It may be lifted. But it cannot be helped. And for the simple reason, that it hath no agency of its own to be helped.
The French Confession. Also, though he be endued with will, whereby he is moved to this or that, yet insomuch as that is altogether captivated under sin, it hath no liberty at all to desire good, as of itself, but such as it hath received by grace and of the gift of God. We believe that all the offspring of Adam is infected with this contagion, which we call original sin, that is, a stain spreading itself by propagation, and not by imitation only, as the Pelagians thought, all whose errors we do detest. Neither do we think it neces. sary to search, how this sin may be derived from one unto another. For it is sufficient that those things which God gave unto Adam, were not given to him alone, but to all his posterity: and therefore we in his person being deprived of all those good gifts, are fallen into all this misery and curse.' pp. 68, 89.
This Confession begins with the natural liberty of will to choose this way or that, and asserts only its moral impotence, as swayed by this bias of our constitution as affected by the fall.
Confession of Belgia.—Therefore whatever things are taught, as touching man's free will, [i. e. unbiased will,] we do worthily reject them, seeing that man is the servant of sin, neither can he do any thing of himself, but as it is given him from heaven: for who is so bold as to brag that he is able to perform whatever he listeth, when as Christ himself saith, no man can
Augsburgh Confession.-Sinner morally dead, notin natural powers. come unto me except my Father which hath sent me do draw him?
From the context of this verse, and the Catechism, it appears, that this drawing is accomplished by divine teaching, the reading and preaching of the word, made effectual by his Spirit.
The Augsburgh Confession.— And this corruption of man's nature comprehendeth both the defect of original justice, integrity, or obedience, and also concupiscence. This defect is horrible blindness, and disobedience, that is, to wit, to want that light and knowledge of God, which should have been in our nature being perfect, and to want that uprightness, that is, that perpetual obedience, that true, pure, and chief love of God, and those other gifts of perfect nature.
We have seen that Luther, the author of this confession, teaches the natural ability of man, as a free agent—that all actual sin is voluntary: and every term employed here implies a moral, not a natural defect, the want of holiness, and the power of evil desire.
All these witnesses of the truth hold to the freedom of the will as opposed to coercion or necessity, but deny its right inclination: and thus, while they justify God's requirements, they throw the sinner at the feet of sovereign grace. There he lies dead, hopelessly dead, not in body, not in natural power; but dead in sins, dead morally, dead in hatred to God, dead in unbelief, dead in willful and obstinate disobedience. And this distinction, once rightly apprehended and firmly fixed in the mind, is equal to twenty
Difference between natural and moral inability. thousand candles lighted up and carried through the Bible.
The demand, however, is often made—what difference does it make whether the inability of the sinner is natural or moral, since the certainty of his destruction without the Holy Ghost is just as great in one case as the other? and of what consequence is an ability never exerted, and a power that is never employed?
It might as well be said that muscular power unexerted, is as if it were not; that intellect perverted, is the same as idiocy; and conscience seared, is the same as if none had been given; that bread rejected to starvation, is the same as inevitable famine—as to say,
, that the voluntary perversion of all the competent powers of free agency, is the same thing as their nonexistence.
Does it amount to the same thing, whether a man cannot be temperate, or can be and will not? cannot be honest, or can be and will not? A man as a free agent, may indeed make his own destruction as certain as if he could not help it. But does it make no difference as to his character and desert, whether he perishes from the natural impossibility of being saved, or from a voluntary obstinacy in rejecting salvation? And does it amount to the same thing, in respect to the character of God, and the equity of his government, whether sinners fall under the operation of its penalties from a natural impossibility of laying hold on the provision for escaping them by a timely repentance, or by a voluntary obstinacy in despising the riches of his goodness? Provided a man, as a matter
Difference between the natural and moral government of God.
of certainty, will die at a given time—does it amount to the same thing, whether he was killed unavoidably or committed suicide? was thrust off a precipice against his will, or threw himself off? was poisoned unwittingly, or purposely poisoned himself? was assassinated by the dagger of another, or thrust a dagger
into his own bosom? The difference between ability and inability in the subject, is the difference between the natural and moral government of God; in one of which his
power, and wisdom, and goodness, are displayed in the superintendence of animals and instincts—in the other,in the administration of law, and the government of the immortal mind-in which his justice, and the richness of his goodness, and the exceeding greatness of his mercy are to shine forever. But does it make no difference, whether his justice is illustrated in punishing the impotent, or the unwilling? and his mercy in forgiving the nonperformance of impossibilities? or the wilful disobedience of reasonable requirements? It makes the difference between fatalism and free agency-confounding the pretension of the atheist to a temporary animalism, and compelling him to tremble under the responsibilities of an everlasting accountability, guilt and punishment.
It stops the pestilent breath of sceptics and cavillers, by which thousands of youthful minds are perverted—reasoning minds perplexed-pious minds distressed and dissolute minds comforted with the hope of impunity in sin--because God is just, and sin is unavoidable.