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Contrary opinion--fallen man has no ability to obey the gospel. publish on this subject-no favorite views of my own to propagate. It has been my great desire to finish my course and keep the faith without any. The doctrines of free agency and natural ability, which I hold and advocate, have been the revealed doctrines of the church from the beginning. They are not new divinity, nor new school-and though I am compelled to admit that there are some in the church who, when they are correctly explained, do not hold them; the number in my belief is very small, who do not, when all misapprehension is removed, believe the doctrines just as I believe them. They are also fundamental doctrines, which, if misinterpreted, will always environ the Calvinistic system with invincible prejudice and odium without, and fill it with fierce conflicts within. But when correctly understood, will pour the stream of truth pure and full and clear as chrystal, through all the channels of the associated system.
The doctrine claimed by the prosecutor as the true doctrine of the Confession and the Bible is, that to fallen man there remains no ability of any kind or degree to obey the gospel--that though he is a free agent, it is a free agency which includes no ability of any kind to obey God—and that none is necessary to constitute perfect obligation to obey, and perfect accountability for disobedience. That the obligation to obey may be infinite, and the punishment for disobedience just and eternal, where the obedience claimed is a natural impossibility as really as the creation of the world, or the raising of the dead. That I may · not be supposed to mistake or misrepresent, I quote
Dr. Wilson's views of free
my own and the language of Dr. Wilson, as it occurred before Presbytery, and is correctly reported.
Dr. B.-—Dr. Wilson has made a distinct avowal, that free agency and moral obligation to obey law do not include any ability of any kind.'
Dr. W.- I limited that avowal to man in his fallen state.'
Dr. B.—Yes, so I understood it. We are talking about man in his fallen state. Dr. Wilson then admits, that it requires no ability of any sort in fallen man, to make him an accountable agent, and a subject of God's moral government.”
Dr. W.-With respect to fallen man, I do.'
Now it must be admitted, that in this avowal, Dr. Wilson has the merit of magnanimous honesty. He is fairly out on a subject where, with many a man for an opponent, I should have had to ferret him out. There can at least be no doubt as to what Dr. Wilson does hold. If we are to go to Synod, this point will be clear; and when the report is published, no man can misunderstand this part of it. It is seldom that we meet a man who would be willing to march right up to such a position, without winking or mystification. But Dr. Wilson has done it unflinchingly and thoroughly. He interprets the Confession of Faith and the Bible as teaching that God may and does command men to perform natural impossibilities; and justly punish them for ever, for not obeying! though they could no more obey than they could create a world! And he has riveted the matter by his mental philosophy of the will. Instead of supposing a mind Alleged heresy--possibility of obedience. with powers of agency, acting freely in view of motives, he supposes the will to be entirely dependent on the constitution and condition of body and mind, and external circumstances; and controlled by these as absolutely as straws on the bosom of a river are controlled by the motions of the water.*
It is claimed, then, by the prosecutor, that the Confession of Faith and the Bible teach, that fallen man has no ability of any kind to obey God, and that none is necessary to perfect obligation and the just desert of eternal punishment.
Now my alleged heresy consists in believing and teaching, that the constitutional powers of a free agent, including the possibility of their correct exercise in obedience, is necessary to moral obligation, and reward and punishment, under the benevolent, wise, and just government of God.
And I do hold and teach, that while to a just liability to all the consequences of the fall on our constitution and character, no ability of any kind on our part to prevent or avert the curse existed, or was necessary--the evil coming on us, his posterity, as the curse of his disobedience through our constituted relation
* Dr. Wilson has said that the reporter has not done him justice. How? Is not the dialogue verbatim as it took place? How has injustice been done? Does he hold, that fallen man .does possess ability of some kind to obey as the foundation of moral obligation? Then let him withdraw the charge of heresy on this point, for this is all I hold; and if he does not admit this, let him state in what respect he has been misrepresented—for it is a point on which there is no middle ground. But Dr. Wilson will not say that his dialogue, As reported, is not correct.
Faculties of a free agent.
to him as our federal head-yet, to a personal accountability to law and desert of punishment, ability of some kind or degree is certainly indispensable. Some possibility of obedience in adult man is indispensable to personal obligation and a just punishment for transgression. Liability to be involved in the consequences, natural and moral, of the conduct of those who represent us, is a law of human society, and probably a law of the social, intelligent universe --and as it existed and operated in the case of Adam and his posterity, is doubtless a wise, benevolent, and just constitution. But while a liability to suffer the consequences of another's conduct, on the ground of a just constitution of things, demands no ability to avert the evil; accountability for personal transgression does require some ability to refuse the evil and choose the good. There must be the faculties and powers of a free agent, bearing the relation of possibility to right action. Faculties that can do nothing, and powers that have no relation of a cause to its effect, in possible action, are nonentities. A free agency that cannot act at all in any way, is no free agency; and a free agency, that has no power of right action, is in that respect no free agency. There must be an agent qualified to act as he is required to act--something in his constitution which qualifies him to be governed by law, and rewards and punish
-as matter and animals are not qualified. There must be something which qualifies for obedience and creates obligation which renders obedience possible, and makes it reasonable that it should be rendered
Freedom of the will. Actual obedience not essential to free agency. and rewarded, and just that disobedience should be punished.
Now I have taught and I do hold, that the mind of man, though in a fallen state, is still endued by its Creator with that natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature'-nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes (i. e. the power of the soul to choose life or death in the view of motives,) taken away, but rather established. This is what I mean, and all I mean, by the natural ability of man to obey the gospel. Material causes, while upheld by heaven, are adequate to their proper effects; and the mind of man, though fallen, is, while upheld, a cause sufficient in respect to the possibility of obedience to create infinite obligation. The fall perverted, but did not destroy the free agency of man. Perverted the use of his powers in action, but did not destroy the existence of those powers which distinguish man as a subject of moral government from animals, and lie at the foundation of all obligation. This is my alleged heresy; and to decide that it is a heresy, is to decide that the Confession of Faith and the Bible teach, that to fallen man, no ability of any sort is necessary to constitute infinite obligation, and a just desert of eternal punishment.
But while I thus insist on the existence of the commensurate powers of an agent, as essential to free agency and accountability, I do not believe, and have never taught, that actual obedience is essential