Page images

Obedience a reasonable service.

Nature of choice.

now be conceived, as entering into the constitution of a free agent capable of choosing life or death, or which did exist in Adam when he could and did obey, yet mutable, survive the fall. The intellect, the conscience, the susceptibilities of the soul to pleasure and pain, and the heart, including the will and affections of the soul—all these as certainly exist and as plainly exist as the five senses.

That nothing has been subtracted by the fall from the powers of agency requisite to the possibility of obedience, is strongly evident from the fact, that no one, by the most careful analysis of the mind, has ever been able to detect and name the fatal deficiency. The motive to make such an exculpatory discovery, and throw off hated obligation and feared punishment, has been as powerful as the terrors of eternity; and the effort as constant as the flow of ages—and urged with all that talent, and ingenuity, and learning could apply, and the wisdom from beneath inspire to establish the excusable impotency of man; and to this day the effort has been abortive. To appearance, the powers of the mind, and the law of God, and the glorious gospel, and the providence of God are, as they should be, to render obedience a reasonable service, and impenitence and unbelief

without excuse; and where, amid the constitutional E' powers of agency, the defect lies, has never been dis

covered—what it is, has never been told—or that there is any such defect, proved.

VI. Choice, in its very nature, implies the possibility of a different or contrary election to that which is

Fatality of choice.

Doctrine of the christian fathers. made. There is always an alternative to that which the mind decides on, with the conscious power of choosing either. In the simplest form of alternative, it is to choose or not to choose in a given way; but in most cases, the alternatives lie between two many objects of choice presented to the mind; and if you deny to mind this alternative power—if you insist that by a constitution anterior to choice, of the nature of a natural cause to its effect, the choice which takes place can come, and cannot but come into being, and that none other than this can by any possibility exist, you have as perfect a fatality of choice, as ever Pagan or Atheist, or Antinomian conceived. The question of free will is not whether man chooses

- this is notorious, none deny it; but, whether his choice is free as opposed to a fatal necessity—as opposed to the laws of instinct and natural causation; whether it is the act of a mind so qualified for choice, as to decide between alternatives, uncoerced by the energy of a natural cause to its effect; whether it is the act of an agent who might have abstained from the choice he made, and made one which he did not. To speak of choice as being free, which is produced by the laws of a natural necessity, and which cannot but be when and what it is, more than the effects of natural causes can govern the time, and manner, and qualities of their being, is a perversion of language. The doctrine of the christian fathers, and of Lutherand Calvin, and all the protestant confessions and standard writers, is not merely that men act by volition or choice, the choice being the effect of natural causes, as

Fatality of agency, illustrated.

really and entirely as the falling of rain, or the electric spark, or the involuntary shock that attends it. They meant and taught that the will is high above the coercion of natural causation, the fatality of the Stoics, Gnostics, Manicheans, or Epicureans; that it is the action of the mind of an intelligent agent, free as opposed to coercion or constraint; so that if the mental decision is right, it is properly associated with a reward, and if wrong, with punishment-an act which might, in possibility, have been refrained from, or resolved on when declined. This is what our Confession teaches and means, when it says that "God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil; and that God's decrees, which extend to every event, offer no violence to the will of the creature, and take not away, but rather establish the liberty and contingency of second causes?—meaning by contingency, as Dr. Twiss says every university scholar knows, things which come to pass avoidably, and with a possibility of not coming to pass.' This is the language of our own Confession in respect to the voluntary actions of men as contingent, i. e., as avoidable and with a possibility of not coming to pass. To illustrate the fatality of an agency, in which choice is the unavoidable effect of a natural constitutional and coercive causation, let us suppose an extended manufactory, all whose wheels, like those in Ezekiel's vision, were inspired with intelligence, and instinct with life,—some crying holy! holy! as

Edwards' view of free agency.

they rolled, and others aloud blaspheming God; all voluntary in their praises and blasphemies; but the volitions, like the motions of the wheels themselves, produced by the great water-wheel and the various bands which kept the motion, and the adoration, and the blasphemy agoing: how much accountability would attach to these voluntary praises and blasphemies produced by the laws of water power; and what would it avail to say, as a reason for justifying God in punishing these blasphemies—oh! but they are free, they are voluntary, they choose to blaspheme? Truly, indeed, they blaspheme voluntarily; but their choice to do so is necessary in the same sense that the motion of the great wheel which the water, by the power of gravity turns, is necessary, and just as destitute of accountability. In this account of free agency, the ablest writers

Edwards says, In every act of will whatever, the mind chooses one thing rather than another, the will's determining between the two is voluntary determining; and to act voluntarily, is to act electively where things are chosen. There are faculties of mind,' he says, “and capacity of nature, and every thing else sufficient but a disposition. Nothing is wanting but a will. A moral agent is a being that is capable of those actions that have a moral quality, and which can properly be denominated good or evil.' Edwards the younger says, “If by power, be meant natural power, I grant that we have such a power to choose, not only one


Buck's view of free agency.


of several things equally eligible, if any such there be, but one of things ever so unequally eligible, and to take the least eligible. • Liberty or freedom must mean freedom from something, if it be a freedom from coaction or natural necessity, that is what we mean by freedom.' Buck, on the article Necessity, says, “Necessity is, whatever is done by a cause or power that is irresistible, in which sense it is opposed to freedom. Man is a necessary agent, if all his actions be so determined by the causes preceding each action, that not one past action could possibly not have come to pass, or have been otherwise than it hath been, nor one future action can possibly not come to pass, or be otherwise than it shall be. On the other hand, it is asserted, that he is a free agent, if he be able at any time, under the causes and circumstances he then is, to do different things; or, in other words, if he be not unavoidably determined in every point of time by the circumstances he is in, and the causes he is under, to do any one thing he does, and not possibly to do any other thing.' And Dr. Woods says, The power of choosing right or wrong makes him (man) a moral agent; his actually choosing wrong, makes him a sinner.'

VII. Choice, without the possibility of other or contrary choice, is the immemorial doctrine of fatalism.

I say not that all who assert the natural inability of man are fatalists. I charge them not with holding or admitting the consequences of their theory—and I mean nothing unkind or invidious, in the proposition

« PreviousContinue »