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It takes away one of the most prevalent temptations to the infidelity and atheism of the present day. In reading the works of atheists and infidels, and in attending to the objections of perverted minds, the exciting and exasperating cause seems to be, the supposition of accountability, associated with a constitutional, involuntary, unavoidable impotency. It is the belief that the Bible and the Calvinistic Con. fessions attach accountability and punishment to a natural impotency, which provokes and sustains three-fourths of the atheism and infidelity of our nation. They would admit the equity of a govern. ment, requiring according to what a man hath—but are provoked and enraged at the supposed injustice of punishment, unconnected with the possibility of obedience in the subject, and understanding, and being assured by masters in Israel, that the Bible and our Confession teach this, they turn and rend the Bible. The distinction between natural and moral inability, counteracts the antinomian perversions of the Calvinistic system. Through all periods of the church since the reformation, there have been antinomian Calvinists, and eras of outbreaking antinomian ultraism; and it has arisen from giving to the decrees of God and their execution, the force of irresistible causes, and to man the action of a passive machine; and though in some it has stopped in the frozen regions of intellectual formality and presumptuous reliance on God's efficiency, without human instrumentality-in the less intellectual and more heated and fanatical, it has degenerated not unfre
Difference between ancient and modern antinomianism.
quently into the most reckless licentiousness. So the same opinions operated among the Jews, as we learn by the terrible interrogations of the prophet “Will ye lie, and steal, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and come into this house which is called by my name, and say we are delivered to do all these abominations? We have no power over ourselves. We do but obey the irresistible laws of our nature. We are delivered by the constitution God has given us, to do all these things. The only difference between these ancient and modern licentious antinomians is, that the ancient denied accountability entirely; while the latter attach it to fatality, and bring in the grace of God to deliver from a natural impotency. All these obliquities of abused Calvinism have been pushed out, as I believe, by the system of a supposed fatality of will to evil.
The one is the occasion of great perplexity and suffering to the pious, and not unfrequently to christian ministers. They submit to it as very right, because God does it. But it is a dark and painful subject-they are embarrassed with it in their preaching, and still more embarrassed in their attempts to meet and answer the objections it creates, and at times are excruciated with its bearings on their common sense and feelings.
These different theories manifest their different results in preaching. The one tends to the earnest inculcation of immediate, spiritual obedience, after the example of prophets, apostles, and the whole
Confession of Faith misunderstood and misrepresented. Bible. The other to the substitution of unregenerate prayers and strivings, with promises of gracious aid; instead of commanding and entreating all men every where to repent and fly to the Savior, by the wrath of God abiding on them, and the terrors of the Lord coming on them.
The different effects of our Confession, when ex. pounded, as teaching a real free agency, or a real fatality, cannot be concealed or denied. By very large portions of the community, the construction of natural inability in our Creed, is supposed to teach fatality, associated with accountability, environing our church with the most rancorous hostility and immoveable prejudice, and raising up between ourselves and other denominations an impassable barrier, and giving them motive and opportunity to impede and annoy us. The most successful means employed againt our church in many places, have been the printing and circulation of our Confession, as a text book for comment. They do, indeed, misunderstand and misinterpret its meaning, but perhaps honestly, inasmuch as they are sustained by the exposition of some of the ministers of our own church and should the highest judicature of our church pronounce the exposition correct, it would no doubt greatly facilitate their labor.
In addition to the Christian fathers and the Protestant Confessions, on the subject of moral inability, I refer to every one of the authorities I have quoted, to Luther, Calvin, Turretine, Witherspoon, Edwards, Bellamy, Hopkins, Dwight, Spring (father and son,)
Dr. Greene's and Dr. Witherspoon's views of moral inability. Wilson of Philadelphia, Woods, Tyler and Dr. Matthews, as teaching the moral inability of man as consisting in an uncoerced voluntary aversion to spiritual obedience, not merely in consecutive volition, but in a permanent character, which is voluntary and culpable, because, as Turretine says, 6 founded in a habit of corrupt will.' I close the quotations with Dr. Greene's account of moral inability.
• I conclude the present lecture with a quotation from Dr. Witherspoon, in which my own views of the topic before us are correctly expressed—“ As to the inability of man to recover himself by his own power, though I would never attempt to establish a metaphysical system of NECESSITY, of which infidels avail themselves in opposition to all religion, nor presume to explain the influence of the Creator on the creature; yet nothing is more plain, from scripture, or better supported by daily experience, than that man by nature is in fact incapable of recovery, without the power of God specially interposed. I will not call it a necessity arising from the irresistible laws of nature. I see it is not a necessity of the same kind as constraint; but I see it an impossibility, such as the sinner never does overcome.” —Christ. Advocate, 1831; p. 349.
If there be any doubt of Dr. Witherspoon's and Dr. Greene's meaning, the following exposition of Witherspoon himself may throw some light on the subject.
In this passage, Witherspoon, speaking the ap
Inability only moral, and lies in aversion of the heart to God.
proved sentiments of Dr. Greene, disclaims the infidel system of natural necessity, asserts an incapacity in man to recover himself to holiness without the power of God-not, however arising from the irresistible laws of nature, not a necessity of the same kind as constraint, but such an impossibility as the sinner never does overcome. This is correct, and is a good statement of natural ability and moral inability.
Since mention has been made of perfect conformity to the will of God, or perfect obedience to his law, as the duty of man, which is indeed the foundation of this whole doctrine, I think it necessary to observe, that some deny this to be properly required of man, as his duty in the present fallen state, because he is not able to perform it. But such do not seem to attend either to the meaning of perfect obedience, or to the nature or cause of this inability. Perfect obedience is obedience by any creature, to the utmost extent of his natural powers. Even in a state of innocence, the holy dispositions of Adam would not have been equal in strength and activity to those of creatures of a higher rank: but surely to love God, who is infinitely amiable, with all the heart, and above all, to consecrate all his powers and faculties, without exception, and without intermission, to God's service, must be undeniably the duty of every intelligent creature. And what sort of inability are we under to pay this? Our natural faculties are surely as fit for the service of God as for any
purpose: THE INABILITY IS ONLY MORAL, AND LIES WHOLLY IN THE AVERSION
Does this then
OF OUR HEARTS FROM SUCH EMPLOYMENT.