The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY'S
I. I WILL SHOW WHAT THOSE WHO USE THIS PHRASEOLOGY MEAN BY A GRACIOUS ABILITY.
II. THAT THE DOCTRINE OF A GRACIOUS ABILITY AS HELD BY THOSE WHO MAINTAIN IT IS AN ABSURDITY.
III. IN WHAT SENSE OF THE TERMS A GRACIOUS ABILITY IS POSSIBLE.
Grace is unmerited favour. Its exercise consists in bestowing that which, without a violation of justice, might be withheld.
Ability to obey God, as we have seen, is the possession of power adequate to the performance of that which is required. If, then, the terms are used in the proper sense, by a gracious ability must be intended that the power which men at present possess to obey the commands of God, is a gift of grace relatively to the command; that is, the bestowment of power adequate to the performance of the thing required, is a matter of grace as opposed to justice. But let us enter upon an inquiry into the sense in which this language is used.
I. I will show what is intended by the term gracious ability.
The abettors of this scheme hold that by the first sin of Adam, he, together with all his posterity, lost all natural power and all ability of every kind to obey God; that therefore they were, as a race, wholly unable to obey the moral law, or to render to God any acceptable service whatever; that is, that they became, as a consequence of the sin of Adam, wholly unable to use the powers of nature in any other way than to sin. They were able to sin or to disobey God, but entirely unable to obey him; that they did not lose all power to act, but that they had power to act only in one direction, that is, in opposition to the will and law of God. By a gracious ability they intend, that in consequence of the atonement of Christ, God has graciously restored to man ability to accept the terms of mercy, or to fulfil the conditions of acceptance with God; in other words, that by the gracious aid of the Holy Spirit which, upon condition of the atonement, God has given to every member of the human family, all men are endowed with a gracious ability to obey God. By a gracious ability is intended, then, that ability or power to obey God, which all men now possess, not by virtue of their own nature or constitutional powers, but by virtue of the indwelling and gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, gratuitously bestowed upon man in consequence of the atonement of Christ. The inability, or total loss of all natural power to obey God into which men as a race fell by the first sin of Adam, they call original sin, &c., perhaps more strictly, this inability is a consequence of that original sin into which man fell; which original sin itself consisted in the total corruption of man's whole nature. They hold, that by the atonement Christ made satisfaction for original sin, in such a sense, that the inability resulting from it is removed, and that now men are by gracious aid able to obey and accept the terms of salvation. That is, they are able to repent and believe the gospel. In short, they are able by virtue of this gracious ability to do their duty, or to obey God. This, if I understand these theologians, is a fair statement of their doctrine of gracious ability. This brings us,--
II. To show that the doctrine of a gracious ability, as held by those who maintain it, is an absurdity.
The question is not whether, as a matter of fact, men ever do obey God without the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. I hold that they do not. So the fact of the Holy Spirit's gracious influence being exerted in every case of human obedience, is not a question in debate between those who maintain, and those who deny the doctrine of gracious ability, in the sense above explained. The question in debate is not whether men do, in any case, use the powers of nature in the manner that God requires, without the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, but whether they are naturally able so to use them. Is the fact that they never do so use them without a gracious divine influence, to be ascribed to absolute inability, or to the fact that, from the beginning, they universally and voluntarily consecrate their powers to the gratification of self, and that therefore they will not, unless they are divinely persuaded, by the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, in any case turn and consecrate their powers to the service of God? If this doctrine of natural inability and of gracious ability be true, it inevitably follows:--
1. That but for the atonement of Christ, and the consequent bestowment of a gracious ability, no one of Adam's race could ever have been capable of sinning. For in this case the whole race would have been, and remained, wholly destitute of any kind or degree of ability to obey God. Consequently they could not have been subjects of moral government, and of course their actions could have had no moral character. It is a first truth of reason, a truth everywhere and by all men necessarily assumed in their practical judgments, that a subject of moral government must be a moral agent, or that moral agency is a necessary condition of any one's being a subject of a moral government. And in the practical judgment of men, it matters not at all whether a being ever was a moral agent, or not. If by any means whatever he has ceased to be a moral agent, men universally and necessarily assume, that it is impossible for him to be a subject of moral government any more than a horse can be such a subject. Suppose he has by his own fault made himself an idiot or a lunatic; all men know absolutely, and in their practical judgment assume, that in this state he is not, and cannot be a subject of moral government. They know that in this state, moral character cannot justly be predicated of his actions. His guilt in thus depriving himself of moral agency may be exceeding great, and, as was said on a former occasion, his guilt in thus depriving himself of moral agency may equal the sum of all the default of which it is the cause,--but be a moral agent, be under moral obligation in this state of dementation or insanity, he cannot. This is a first truth of reason, irresistibly and universally assumed by all men. If therefore Adam's posterity had by their own personal act cast away and deprived themselves of all ability to obey God, in this state they would have ceased to be moral agents, and consequently they could have sinned no more. But the case under consideration is not the one just supposed, but is one where moral agency was not cast away by the agent himself. It is one where moral agency was never, and never could have been possessed. In the case under consideration, Adam's posterity, had he ever had any, would never have possessed any power to obey God, or to do anything acceptable to him. Consequently, they never could have sustained to God the relation of subjects of his moral government. Of course they never could have had moral character; right or wrong, in a moral sense, never could have been predicated of their actions.
2. It must follow from this doctrine of gracious ability and natural inability, that mankind lost their freedom, or the liberty of the human will in the first sin of Adam; that both Adam himself, and all his posterity would and could have sustained to God only the relation of necessary, as opposed to free agents, had not God bestowed upon them a gracious ability.
We have seen in a former lecture, that natural ability to obey God, and the freedom or liberty of will, are identical. We have abundantly seen that moral law and moral obligation respect strictly only acts of will; that hence, all obedience to God consists strictly in acts of will; that power to will in conformity with the requirements of God, is natural ability to obey him; that freedom or liberty of will, consists in the power or ability to will in conformity or opposition to the will or law of God; that, therefore, freedom or liberty of will, and natural ability to obey God, are identical. Thus we see, that if man lost his natural ability to obey God in the first sin of Adam, he lost the freedom of his will, and thenceforth must for ever have remained a necessary agent, but for the gracious re-bestowment of ability or freedom of will.
But that either Adam or his posterity lost their freedom or free agency by the first sin of Adam, is not only a sheer but an absurd assumption. To be sure Adam fell into a state of total alienation from the law of God, and lapsed into a state of supreme selfishness. His posterity have unanimously followed his example. He and they have become dead in trespasses and sins. Now that this death in sin either consists in, or implies the loss of free agency, is the very thing to be proved by them. But this cannot be proved. I have so fully discussed the subject of human moral depravity or sinfulness on a former occasion, as to render it unnecessary to enlarge upon it here.
3. Again, if it be true, as these theologians affirm, that men have only a gracious ability to obey God, and that this gracious ability consists in the presence and gracious agency of the Holy Spirit, it follows that, when the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from man, he is no longer a free agent, and from that moment he is incapable of moral action, and of course can sin no more. Hence, should he live any number of years after this withdrawal, neither sin nor holiness, virtue nor vice, praise nor blame-worthiness could be predicated of his conduct. The same will and must be true of all his future eternity.
4. If the doctrine in question be true, it follows, that from the moment of the withdrawal of the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, man is no longer a subject of moral obligation. It is from that moment absurd and unjust to require the performance of any duty of him. Nay, to conceive of him as being any longer a subject of duty; to think or speak of duty as belonging to him, is as absurd as to think or speak of the duty of a mere machine. He has, from the moment of the withholding of a gracious ability, ceased to be a free and become a necessary agent, having power to act but in one direction. Such a being can by no possibility be capable of sin or holiness. Suppose he still possesses power to act contrary to the letter of the law of God: what then? This action can have no moral character, because, act in some way he must, and he can act in no other way. It is nonsense to affirm that such action can be sinful in the sense of blameworthy. To affirm that it can, is to contradict a first truth of reason. Sinners, then, who have quenched the Holy Spirit, and from whom he is wholly withdrawn, are no longer to be blamed for their enmity against God, and for all their opposition to him. They are, according to this doctrine, as free from blame as are the motions of a mere machine.
5. Again, if the doctrine in question be true, there is no reason to believe that the angels that fell from their allegiance to God ever sinned but once. If Adam lost his free agency by the fall, or by his first sin, there can be no doubt that the angels did so too. If a gracious ability had not been bestowed upon Adam, it is certain, according to the doctrine in question, that he never could have been the subject of moral obligation from the moment of his first sin, and consequently, could never again have sinned. The same must be true of devils. If by their first sin they fell into the condition of necessary agents, having lost their free agency, they have never sinned since. That is, moral character cannot have been predicable of their conduct since that event, unless a gracious ability has been bestowed upon them. That this has been done cannot, with even a show of reason, be pretended. The devils, then, according to this doctrine, are not now to blame for all they do to oppose God and to ruin souls. Upon the supposition in question, they cannot help it; and you might as well blame the winds and the waves for the evil which they sometimes do, as blame Satan for what he does.
6. If this doctrine be true, there is not, and never will be, any sin in hell, for the plain reason, that there are no moral agents there. They are necessary agents, unless it be true, that the Holy Spirit and a gracious ability be continued there. This is not, I believe, contended for by the abettors of this scheme. But if they deny to the inhabitants of hell freedom of the will, or, which is the same thing, natural ability to obey God, they must admit, or be grossly inconsistent, that there is no sin in hell, either in men or devils. But is this admission agreeable, either to reason or revelation? I know that the abettors of this scheme maintain, that God may justly hold both men, from whom a gracious ability is withdrawn, and devils, responsible for their conduct, upon the ground that they have destroyed their own ability. But suppose this were true--that they had rendered themselves idiots, lunatics, or necessary as opposed to free agents, could God justly, could enlightened reason still regard them as moral agents, and as morally responsible for their conduct? No, indeed. God and reason may justly blame, and render them miserable, for annihilating their freedom or their moral agency, but to hold them still responsible for present obedience, were absurd.
7. We have seen that the ability of all men of sane mind to obey God, is necessarily assumed as a first truth of reason, and that this assumption is, from the very laws of mind, the indispensable condition of the affirmation, or even the conception, that they are subjects of moral obligation; that, but for this assumption, men could not so much as conceive the possibility of moral responsibility, and of praise and blame-worthiness. If the laws of mind remain unaltered, this is and always will be so. In the eternal world and in hell, men and devils must necessarily assume their own freedom or ability to obey God, as the condition of their obligation to do so, and, consequently to their being capable of sin or holiness. Since revelation informs us that men and devils continue to sin in hell, we know that there also it must be assumed as a first truth of reason, that they are free agents, or that they have natural ability to obey God.
8. But that a gracious ability to do duty or to obey God is an absurdity, will further appear, if we consider that it is a first truth of reason, that moral obligation implies moral agency, and that moral agency implies freedom of will; or in other words, it implies a natural ability to comply with obligation. This ability is necessarily regarded by the intelligence as the sine quà non of moral obligation, on the ground of natural and immutable justice. A just command always implies an ability to obey it. A command to perform a natural impossibility would not, and could not, impose obligation. Suppose God should command human beings to fly without giving them power, could such a command impose moral obligation? No, indeed. But suppose he should give them power, or promise them power, upon the performance of a condition within their reach, then he might in justice require them to fly, and a command to do so would be obligatory. But relatively to the requirement, the bestowment of power would not be grace, but justice. Relatively to the results or the pleasure of flying, the bestowment of power might be gracious. That is, it might be grace in God to give me power to fly, that I might have the pleasure and profit of flying, so that relatively to the results of flying, the giving of power might be regarded as an act of grace. But, if God requires me to fly as a matter of duty, he must in justice supply the power or ability to fly. This would in justice be a necessary condition of the command, imposing moral obligation.
Nor would it at all vary the case if I had ever possessed wings, and by the abuse of them had lost the power to fly. In this case, considered relatively to the pleasure, and profit, and results of flying, the restoring of the power to fly might and would be an act of grace. But if God would still command me to fly, he must, as a condition of my obligation, restore the power. It is vain and absurd to say, as has been said, that in such a case, although I might lose the power of obedience, this cannot alter the right of God to claim obedience. This assertion proceeds upon the absurd assumption that the will of God makes or creates law, instead of merely declaring and enforcing the law of nature. We have seen in former lectures, that the only law or rule of action that is, or can be obligatory on a moral agent, is the law of nature, or just that course of willing and acting, which is for the time being, suitable to his nature and relations. We have seen that God's will never makes or creates law, that it only declares and enforces it. If therefore, by any means whatever, the nature of a moral agent should be so changed that his will is no longer free to act in conformity with, or in opposition to, the law of nature, if God would hold him still obligated to obey, he must in justice, relatively to his requirement, restore his liberty or ability. Suppose one had by the abuse of his intellect lost the use of it, and become a perfect idiot, could he by any possibility be still required to understand and obey God? Certainly not. So neither could he be required to perform anything else that had become naturally impossible to him. Viewed relatively to the pleasure and results of obedience, his restoring power would be an act of grace. But viewed relatively to his duty or to God's command, the restoring of power to obey is an act of justice and not of grace. To call this grace were to abuse language, and confound terms. But this brings me to the consideration of the next question to be discussed at present, namely,--
III. In what sense a gracious ability is possible.
1. Not, as we have just seen, in the sense that the bestowment of power to render obedience to a command possible, can be properly a gift of grace. Grace is undeserved favour, something not demanded by justice, that which under the circumstances might be withholden without injustice. It never can be just in any being to require that which under the circumstances is impossible. As has been said, relatively to the requirement and as a condition of its justice, the bestowment of power adequate to the performance of that which is commanded, is an unalterable condition of the justice of the command. This I say is a first truth of reason, a truth everywhere by all men necessarily assumed and known. A gracious ability to obey a command, is an absurdity and an impossibility.
2. But a gracious ability considered relatively to the advantages to result from obedience is possible.
Suppose, for example, that a servant who supports himself and his family by his wages, should by his own fault render himself unable to labour and to earn his wages. His master may justly dismiss him, and let him go with his family to the poor-house. But in this disabled state his master cannot justly exact labour of him. Nor could he do so if he absolutely owned the servant. Now suppose the master to be able to restore to the servant his former strength. If he would require service of him, as a condition of the justice of this requirement, he must restore his strength so far at least as to render obedience possible. This would be mere justice. But suppose he restored the ability of the servant to gain support for himself and his family by labour. This, viewed relatively to the good of the servant, to the results of the restoration of his ability to himself and to his family, is a matter of grace. Relatively to the good or rights of the master in requiring the labour of the servant, the restoration of ability to obey is an act of justice. But relatively to the good of the servant, and the benefits that result to him from this restoration of ability, and making it once more possible for him to support himself and his family, the giving of ability is properly an act of grace.
Let this be applied to the case under consideration. Suppose the race of Adam to have lost their free agency by the first sin of Adam, and thus to have come into a state in which holiness and consequent salvation were impossible. Now, if God would still require obedience of them, he must in justice restore their ability. And viewed relatively to his right to command, and their duty to obey, this restoration is properly a matter of justice. But suppose he would again place them in circumstances to render holiness and consequent salvation possible to them:-- viewed relatively to their good and profit, this restoration of ability is properly a matter of grace.
A gracious ability to obey, viewed relatively to the command to be obeyed, is impossible and absurd. But a gracious ability to be saved, viewed relatively to salvation, is possible.
There is no proof that mankind ever lost their ability to obey, either by the first sin of Adam, or by their own sin. For this would imply, as we have seen, that they had ceased to be free, and had become necessary agents. But if they had, and God had restored their ability to obey, all that can be justly said in this case, is, that so far as his right to command is concerned, the restoration of their ability was an act of justice. But so far as the rendering of salvation possible to them is concerned, it was an act of grace.
3. But it is asserted, or rather assumed by the defenders of the dogma under consideration, that the Bible teaches the doctrine of a natural inability, and of a gracious ability in man to obey the commands of God. I admit, indeed, that if we interpret scripture without regard to any just rules of interpretation, this assumption may find countenance in the word of God, just as almost any absurdity whatever may do, and has done. But a moderate share of attention to one of the simplest and most universal and most important rules of interpreting language, whether in the Bible or out of it, will strip this absurd dogma of the least appearance of support from the word of God. The rule to which I refer is this, "that language is always to be interpreted in accordance with the subject-matter of discourse."
When used of acts of will, the term "cannot" interpreted by this rule, must not be understood to mean a proper impossibility. If I say, I cannot take five dollars for my watch, when it is offered to me, every one knows that I do not and cannot mean to affirm a proper impossibility. So when the angel said to Lot, "Haste thee, for I cannot do anything until thou become thither," who ever understood him as affirming a natural or any proper impossibility? All that he could have meant was, that he was not willing to do anything until Lot was in a place of safety. Just so when the Bible speaks of our inability to comply with the commands of God, all that can be intended is, that we are so unwilling that, without divine persuasion, we, as a matter of fact, shall not and will not obey. This certainly is the sense in which such language is used in common life. And in common parlance, we never think of such language, when used of acts of will, as meaning anything more than unwillingness, a state in which the will is strongly committed in an opposite direction.
When Joshua said to the children of Israel, "Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God," the whole context, as well as the nature of the case, shows that he did not mean to affirm a natural, nor indeed any kind of impossibility. In the same connexion, he requires them to serve the Lord, and leads them solemnly to pledge themselves to serve him. He undoubtedly intended to say, that with wicked hearts they could not render him an acceptable service, and therefore insisted on their putting away the wickedness of their hearts, by immediately and voluntarily consecrating themselves to the service of the Lord. So it must be in all cases where the term "cannot," and such-like expressions which, when applied to muscular action, would imply a proper impossibility, are used in reference to acts of will; they cannot, when thus used be understood as implying a proper impossibility, without doing violence to every sober rule of interpreting language. What would be thought of a judge or an advocate at the bar of an earthly tribunal, who should interpret the language of a witness without any regard to the rule, "that language is to be understood according to the subject-matter of discourse." Should an advocate in his argument to the court or jury, attempt to interpret the language of a witness in a manner that made "cannot," when spoken of an act of will, mean a proper impossibility, the judge would soon rebuke his stupidity, and remind him that he must not talk nonsense in a court of justice; and might possibly add, that such nonsensical assertions were allowable only in the pulpit. I say again, that it is an utter abuse and perversion of the laws of language, so to interpret the Bible as to make it teach a proper inability in man to will as God directs. The essence of obedience to God consists in willing. Language, then, used in reference to obedience must, when properly understood, be interpreted in accordance with the subject-matter of discourse. Consequently, when used in reference to acts of will, such expressions as "cannot," and the like, can absolutely mean nothing more than a choice in an opposite direction. But it may be asked, Is there no grace in all that is done by the Holy Spirit to make man wise unto salvation? Yes, indeed, I answer. And it is grace, and great grace, just because the doctrine of a natural inability in man to obey God is not true. It is just because man is well able to render obedience, and unjustly refuses to do so, that all the influence that God brings to bear upon him to make him willing, is a gift and an influence of grace. The grace is great, just in proportion to the sinner's ability to comply with God's requirements, and the strength of his voluntary opposition to his duty. If man were properly unable to obey, there could be no grace in giving him ability to obey, when the bestowment of ability is considered relatively to the command. But let man be regarded as free, as possessing natural ability to obey all the requirements of God, and all his difficulty as consisting in a wicked heart, or, which is the same thing, in an unwillingness to obey, then an influence on the part of God designed and tending to make him willing, is grace indeed. But strip man of his freedom, render him naturally unable to obey, and you render grace impossible, so far as his obligation to obedience is concerned.
But it is urged in support of the dogma of natural inability and of a gracious ability, that the Bible everywhere represents man as dependent on the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit for all holiness, and consequently for eternal life. I answer, it is admitted that this is the representation of the Bible, but the question is, in what sense is he dependent? Does his dependence consist in a natural inability to embrace the gospel and be saved? or does it consist in a voluntary selfishness--in an unwillingness to comply with the terms of salvation? Is man dependent on the Holy Spirit to give him a proper ability to obey God? or is he dependent only in such a sense that, as a matter of fact, he will not embrace the gospel unless the Holy Spirit makes him willing? The latter, beyond reasonable question, is the truth. This is the universal representation of scripture. The difficulty to be overcome is everywhere in the Bible represented to be the sinner's unwillingness alone. It cannot possibly be anything else; for the willingness is the doing required by God. "If there is but a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not."
But it is said, if man can be willing of himself, what need of divine persuasion or influence to make him willing? I might ask, suppose a man is able but unwilling to pay his debts, what need of any influence to make him willing? Why, divine influence is needed to make a sinner willing, or to induce him to will as God directs, just for the same reason that persuasion, entreaty, argument, or the rod, is needed to make our children submit their wills to ours. The fact therefore that the Bible represents the sinner as in some sense dependent upon divine influence for a right heart, no more implies a proper inability in the sinner, than the fact that children are dependent for their good behaviour, oftentimes upon the thorough and timely discipline of their parents, implies a proper inability in them to obey their parents without chastisement.
The Bible everywhere, and in every way, assumes the freedom of the will. This fact stands out in strong relief upon every page of divine inspiration. But this is only the assumption necessarily made by the universal intelligence of man. The strong language often found in scripture upon the subject of man's inability to obey God, is designed only to represent the strength of his voluntary selfishness and enmity against God, and never to imply a proper natural inability. It is, therefore, a gross and most injurious perversion of scripture, as well as a contradiction of human reason, to deny the natural ability, or which is the same thing, the natural free agency of man, and to maintain a proper natural inability to obey God, and the absurd dogma of a gracious ability to do our duty.
1. The question of ability is one of great practical importance. To deny the ability of man to obey the commandments of God, is to represent God as a hard master, as requiring a natural impossibility of his creatures on pain of eternal damnation. This necessarily begets in the mind that believes it hard thoughts of God. The intelligence cannot be satisfied with the justice of such a requisition. In fact, so far as this error gets possession of the mind and gains assent, just so far it naturally and necessarily excuses itself for disobedience, or for not complying with the commandments of God.
2. The moral inability of Edwards is a real natural inability, and so it has been understood by sinners and professors of religion. When I entered the ministry, I found the persuasion of an absolute inability on the part of sinners to repent and believe the gospel almost universal. When I urged sinners and professors of religion to do their duty without delay, I frequently met with stern opposition from sinners, professors of religion, and ministers. They desired me to say to sinners, that they could not repent, and that they must wait God's time, that is, for God to help them. It was common for the classes of persons just named to ask me, if I thought sinners could be Christians whenever they pleased, and whether I thought that any class of persons could repent, believe, and obey God without the strivings and new-creating power of the Holy Spirit. The church was almost universally settled down in the belief of a physical moral depravity, and, of course, in a belief in the necessity of a physical regeneration, and also of course in the belief, that sinners must wait to be regenerated by divine power while they were passive. Professors also must wait to be revived, until God, in mysterious sovereignty, came and revived them. As to revivals of religion, they were settled down in the belief to a great extent, that man had no more agency in producing them than in producing showers of rain. To attempt to effect the conversion of a sinner, or to promote a revival, was an attempt to take the work out of the hands of God, to go to work in your own strength, and to set sinners and professors to do the same. The vigorous use of means and measures to promote a work of grace, was regarded by many as impious. It was getting up an excitement of animal feeling, and wickedly interfering with the prerogative of God. The fact is, that both professors of religion and non-professors were settled down upon their lees, in carnal security. The abominable dogmas of physical moral depravity, or a sinful constitution, with a consequent natural, falsely called moral, inability, and the necessity of a physical and passive regeneration, had chilled the heart of the church, and lulled sinners into a fatal sleep. This is the natural tendency of such doctrines.
3. Let it be distinctly understood before we close this subject, that we do not deny, but strenuously maintain, that the whole plan of salvation, and all the influences, both providential and spiritual, which God exerts in the conversion, sanctification, and salvation, of sinners, is grace from first to last, and that I deny the dogma of a gracious ability, because it robs God of his glory. It really denies the grace of the gospel. The abettors of this scheme, in contending for the grace of the gospel, really deny it. What grace can there be, that should surprise heaven and earth, and cause "the angels to desire to look into it," in bestowing ability on those who never had any, and, of course, who never cast away their ability to obey the requirements of God? According to them all men lost their ability in Adam, and not by their own act. God still required obedience of them upon pain of eternal death. Now he might, according to this view of the subject, just as reasonably command all men, on pain of eternal death, to fly, or undo all that Adam had done, or perform any other natural impossibility, as to command them to be holy, to repent and believe the gospel. Now, I ask again, what possible grace was there, or could there be, in his giving them power to obey him? To have required the obedience without giving the power had been infinitely unjust. To admit the assumption, that men had really lost their ability to obey in Adam, and call this bestowment of ability for which they contend, grace, is an abuse of language, an absurdity, and a denial of the true grace of the gospel not to be tolerated. I reject the dogma of a gracious ability, because it involves a denial of the true grace of the gospel. I maintain that the gospel, with all its influences, including the gift of the Holy Spirit, to convict, convert, and sanctify the soul, is a system of grace throughout. But to maintain this, I must also maintain, that God might justly have required obedience of men without making these provisions for them. And to maintain the justice of God in requiring obedience, I must admit and maintain that obedience was possible to man. But this the abettors of this scheme deny, and maintain, on the contrary, that notwithstanding men were deprived of all ability, not by their own act or consent, but by Adam, long before they were born, still God might justly, on pain of eternal damnation, require them to be holy, and that the giving them ability to obey is a matter of infinite grace; not, as they hold, the restoring of a power which they had cast away, but the giving of a power which they had never possessed. This power or ability, viewed relatively to the command to obey on pain of eternal death, a gift of grace! This baffles, and confounds, and stultifies the human intellect. The reason of a moral agent cannot but reject this dogma. It will, in spite of himself, assume and affirm, the absence of ability being granted, that the bestowment of an ability, viewed relatively to the command, was demanded by justice, and that to call it a gracious ability is an abuse of language.
Let it not be said then, that we deny the grace of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, nor that we deny the reality and necessity of the influences of the Holy Spirit to convert and sanctify the soul, nor that this influence is a gracious one; for all these we most strenuously maintain. But I maintain this upon the ground, that men are able to do their duty, and that the difficulty does not lie in a proper inability, but in a voluntary selfishness, in an unwillingness to obey the blessed gospel. I say again, that I reject the dogma of a gracious ability, as I understand its abettors to hold it, not because I deny, but solely because it denies the grace of the gospel. The denial of ability is really a denial of the possibility of grace in the affair of man's salvation. I admit the ability of man, and hold that he is able, but utterly unwilling, to obey God. Therefore I consistently hold, that all the influences exerted by God to make him willing, are of free grace abounding through Christ Jesus.
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