« Prev Chapter IX. Free Agency. Next »

CHAPTER IX.

FREE AGENCY.

§ 3. Certainty Consistent with Liberty.

In all discussions concerning sin and grace, the question concerning the nature and necessary conditions of free agency is of necessity involved. This is one of the points in which theology and psychology come into immediate contact. There is a theory of free agency with which the doctrines of original sin and of efficacious grace are utterly irreconcilable, and there is another theory with which those doctrines are perfectly consistent. In all ages of the Church, therefore, those who have adopted the former of these theories, reject those doctrines; and, on the other hand, those who are constrained to believe those doctrines, are no less constrained to adopt the other and congenial theory of free agency. Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, and Remonstrants are not more notoriously at variance with Augustinians, Lutherans, and Calvinists, on the doctrines of sin and grace, than they are on the metaphysical and moral question of human liberty. In every system of theology, therefore, there is a chapter De libero arbitrio. This is a question which every theologian finds in his path, and which he must dispose of; and on the manner in which it is determined depends his theology, and of course his religion, so far as his theology is to him a truth and reality.

It may seem preposterous to attempt, in the compass of a few pages, the discussion of a question on which so many volumes have been written. There is, however, this important difference between all subjects which relate to the soul, or the world within, and those which relate to the external world: with regard to the former, all the materials of knowledge being facts of consciousness, are already in our possession; whereas, in regard to the latter, the facts have first to be collected. In questions, therefore, which relate to the mind, a mere statement of the case is often all that is required, and all that can be given. If that statement be correct, the facts of consciousness spontaneously arrange themselves in order around it; if it be incorrect, they obstinately refuse to be thus marshalled. If this be so, why is it that men differ so much about these questions? To this it may be answered, —

1. That they do not differ so much as they appear to. When 279the mind is left undisturbed, and allowed to act according to its own laws, men, in the great majority of cases, think alike on all the great questions about which philosophers are divided. It is only when they stir up the placid lake, and attempt to sound its depths, to analyze its waters, to determine the laws of its currents, and to ascertain its contents, that they see and think so differently. However men may differ in their speculative opinions as to the ultimate nature of matter, they all practically feel and act in the same way in everything which concerns its application and use. And however they may differ as to the question of liberty or necessity, they agree in regarding themselves and others as responsible agents.

2. On no subject is the ambiguity of language a more serious impediment, in the way of conscious agreement, than in reference to this whole department, and especially in regard to the question of free agency. The same statement often appears true to one mind and false to another, because it is understood differently. This ambiguity arises partly from the inherent imperfection of human language. Words have, and must have more than one use; and although we may define our terms, and state in which its several senses we use a given word, yet the exigencies of language, or inattention, almost unavoidably lead to its being employed in some other of its legitimate meanings. Besides, the states of mind which these terms are employed to designate, are themselves so complex that no words can accurately represent them. We have terms to express the operations of the intellect, others to designate the feelings, and others again for acts of the will; but thousands of our acts include the exercise of the intellect, the sensibility, and the will, and it is absolutely impossible to find words for all these complex and varying states of mind. It is not wonderful, therefore, that men should misunderstand each other, fail in their most strenuous efforts to express what they mean so that others shall attach precisely the same sense to the words which they use.

3. There is another reason for the diversity of opinion which has ever prevailed on all subjects connected with free agency. Although the facts which should determine the questions discussed are facts of consciousness common to all men, yet they are so numerous and of such different kinds, that it is hard to allow each its place and importance. From habit, or mental training, or from the moral state of mind, some men allow too much weight to one class of these facts, and too little to another. Some are governed 280by their understanding, others by their moral feelings. In some the moral sensibilities are much more lively and informing than in others. Some adopt certain principles as axioms to which they force all their judgments to conform. It is vain to hope, therefore, that we shall ever find all men of one mind, on even the plainest and most important questions relating to the constitution and laws of their own nature. There is but one sure guide, and but one path to either truth or unity, the Spirit and word of God; and happy are those who submit to be led by that guide, and to walk in that path.

« Prev Chapter IX. Free Agency. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |