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THE NECESSITY OF THE INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TO ENABLE MEN TO BELIEVE—SEMI-ORTHODOX PREACHING—QUOTATION FROM DR. WARDLAW—NATURAL AND MORAL INABILITY.
JOHN iii. 5.—”Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
JOHN vi. 44.—”No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
HERE, then, are two Scripture witnesses, whose testimony we hesitate not to set in opposition to the two fallible witnesses whose report has been listened to in our previous discourse. The one witness declares that no man can come to Christ, or believe in him, without the drawing of the Father; the other witness declares that a sinner cannot see the kingdom of God, or be converted or born again, apart from the influence of the Spirit. These two statements of the Word of God are thus express and definite in their testimony in support of the absolute necessity of the Spirit to enable any man to believe.
Now we crave your attention to the one single point which needs here to be examined. It is not denied by 191 any man who supports the doctrine to which we now object, that the Spirit of God is needed to make the sinner willing to believe. And so, when we come to state such passages of Scripture in opposition to their doctrine, they explain away their import by affirming, that the only want experienced by men is a want of will. And so they would paraphrase the two Scripture proofs now under examination in the following way:—“No man will come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him,” although any man and every man is quite able to believe in me without the drawing of the Father. And again, “Except a man be born of the Spirit, he will not see the kingdom of God,” although any man has power enough to be born again, and to see the kingdom of God, and to enjoy its privileges without the Spirit!!!
Here, then, is the single point which you will require to keep before your minds, in order that you may arrive at a just and intelligent decision. Does the inability of men to believe, or to be born again into the family of God, without the Spirit, amount to a mere want of will and nothing more? The question is not, whether the sinner is naturally unwilling to believe—that is not the question, for that is most fully admitted. But granting that be is unwilling, the question remains, Has he perfect power to believe and be saved without the influence of the Spirit, so that he is able to become wise unto salvation, without any interposition on the part of the third person of the Godhead? Now, in answer to this question, we request you to observe, and 192 to remember well, the distinct assertions of the Word of God to which we have referred you; and we ask you, without any prejudice in your minds, to decide as to their plain and common-sense import. When you read the words, “No man can come to me except the Father draw him,” do you suppose, as honest and unprejudiced men and women, that you are at liberty to interpret these words so as to infer that any man is perfectly able to come to Jesus without the drawing of the Father? Would not such an interpretation amount to a contradiction of our Saviour’s statement? And when you read the words, “Except a man be born of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” would any of you think of saying, that you were bringing out the meaning of the solemn and emphatic declaration, by asserting that any man is perfectly able to see the kingdom of God without the Spirit? Yet such is the interpretation which is put upon such statements!! It is affirmed that such passages of Scripture do not assert a want of power on the part of the sinner to do well enough without the Spirit, but that they refer, simply and exclusively, to a want of will to exercise his powers in the right and proper direction. And we are referred to the obvious fact, that the Holy Spirit, in conversion, does not impart to the sinner any new faculties or powers of mind, and brethren erroneously conclude, that because the sinner does not get a set of new faculties or powers when he is converted, that therefore he is able to convert himself without the Spirit!!193
The error to which we now advert arises from an oversight of the fact, that the reason why every man is able to believe is, that every man is, in point of fact, drawn by God with the view of bringing him to the acceptance of a full and free salvation. But suppose that any sinner were not drawn by God, we submit that it would be impossible for him (even though he were willing) to believe in Jesus. We submit that, while every man is able to come with the drawing, and in consequence of the drawing, of the Father, no man is able to come, or could possibly be able to come without this drawing influence; and we hold that, when any man resolves this want of ability to be saved without the Spirit into a mere want of will, he is perverting and setting aside the infallible statements of the infallible Word.
We may here illustrate our doctrine by a parallel case. Take the supposition of a mighty prince, in a remote province of whose dominions the standard of rebellion has been erected, but who has resolved, in virtue of a satisfaction given to his government, to proclaim, in person, a free pardon to every one of his rebel subjects. You must suppose that the minds of the rebels are filled with hard and suspicious thoughts respecting their lawful sovereign. They know his power, but they are impressed with the idea that he is desirous only to exercise his power in oppressing and punishing them for their rebellion. He might send forth an ambassador to proclaim a pardon to the rebels and to invite them back again to their allegiance. But 194 he takes a different plan. He leaves his splendid palace; he goes forth himself with his own proclamation, and he himself announces it in person to the rebels; he goes in person from city to city, and from town to town, and from village to village, and from house to house; he announces, with his own lips, to every one of his rebel subjects the wonderful intelligence, that his own son—the heir of his kingdom and his throne—has voluntarily subjected himself to punishment in their room and stead; he announces to them the farther intelligence, that so desirous was he himself for their happiness, that he accepted of the substitution, of his son and heir in their stead, for the very purpose of enabling him consistently to offer them a free pardon, and save them from the punishment which their revolt had justly merited; he entreats and beseeches and implores the rebels, on his bended knees, to lay down their arms and submit to his government, and not to compel him, most reluctantly, to execute summary vengeance upon them, by persisting any longer in their rebellion! The result of all this personal entreaty is, that some of the rebels become subdued in their enmity by the wondrous condescension of the sovereign, and submit themselves to his sway, while the rest of them will not believe him, nor give him credit for his generosity and kindness, and therefore remain rebels, and are consequently treated as enemies, simply because they refuse to he reconciled.
In this case you will perceive, that the only reason why any one of these rebel subjects are not saved from 195 the consequences of their revolt, is, that they will not believe and trust the kindness of their sovereign, and refuse, consequently, to be at peace with him. It would be absurd to say that on such a supposition they could not believe. It was simply because they would not, and not because they could not. The self-same influence which was brought to bear upon those rebels who were induced to accept the pardon of their prince, was brought to bear upon those who obstinately persisted in their revolt, shutting their ears against the entreaties, and their eyes against the manifested kindness of their most gracious sovereign. The only difference between the two classes of individuals consisted in this—the one yielded to the drawing influence of their sovereign’s compassionate efforts, the other resisted the same drawing influence which was exerted equally upon them, with the view of winning them back to their allegiance.
But if you alter the supposition, and imagine to yourselves the sovereign of whom we have spoken, selecting from among these rebel subjects a few special favourites, and passing by all the rest, and condescending to visit in person only those houses or cities that happen to be inhabited by the favoured few—you entirely change the whole aspect of the case. You thereby render it absolutely impossible for the rebels who are passed by to believe in the gracious intentions of their sovereign—to accept his pardon, and to become reconciled to his person and his government. In the case already supposed, it was possible for them to be 196 reconciled, and it was sinful for them to remain in a position of hostility, because the drawing influence of their sovereign’s kindness was exerted equally upon them all. They had all of them evidence sufficient to convince them, and motive sufficient to induce them, to lay down their arms and be at peace. But in the case now supposed, they want the evidence necessary to convince them, and the motive necessary to induce them, and it is not because they have not the use of all their powers or faculties, but because they cannot possibly exercise their powers in the way of believing, without any evidence, or changing their minds without any motive, that it is utterly impossible for them to accept the pardon which the sovereign most graciously proclaims. In this case, what does the sovereign do? He passes them by—he does not condescend to speak to them—he does not deign to notice them. He knocks at the door of their neighbour’s house—he repairs to the gate of the adjoining city—and he pleads with his favourites, and his favourites alone. The rebels who are passed by do not, of course, believe that there is any pardon for them. They do not believe that their sovereign desires them to be at peace with him. They believe, on the other hand, that all that the man wants is, to get his pampered favourites induced to flee with him out of the scene of revolt, and that his determination is only the more unalterably fixed to take summary vengeance on all the rest, and in due time visit them, if he can, with fire and sword. They do not believe in his love to theme and they are not reconciled. 197 Now, the question which I propose to you is this—Whether is it because the men will not believe, or because they cannot believe, in the love of their sovereign to them that they remain rebels? Mark well the true position of affairs. The king passes by their door. He does not pass them by because he has no time to visit them. He does not pass them by because he falls into the mistake of ignorance, and does not know that their houses are inhabited. He came to the rebel province with an unalterable determination not to speak to them at all. Nay more, he knew that he needed only to pass them by in order to confirm and harden them in their rebellion; and because he determined to destroy them, he passed them by. This is what the men are told. This is what they are taught to believe. I ask any man of common sense to tell me, if, in this case, it be possible for the men to believe in the pardoning mercy of their prince, and to be reconciled? The visit of the king to his special favourites, is not, in this case, fitted to draw the rest; it is fitted to repel them. This special influence put forth upon some, it is evident, is not a drawing, but a repelling influence to all the rest. They cannot—it is not that they will not, but it is an absolute impossibility for them to believe in their sovereign’s love, because the sovereign does not seek to draw them.
The preachers of our day who hold the theory now under examination, preach a gospel to all men; but they tell all men, at the same time, that God has unalterably determined that all from whom the special 198 influence is withheld are doomed by God to unconditional damnation. Here, then, is the evidence—the only evidence which is presented before perishing thousands, Sabbath after Sabbath, and year after year. The question is very simple. Is it possible for any man to believe in the face of this evidence in the love of God to his soul, before he is quite sure that the special influence has visited him? It is perfectly plain, on their own principles, that until a man not only has the supposed special influence, but knows infallibly that he has it, the man would be believing in opposition to the plainest evidence, if he ventured to believe in the pardoning mercy of God as bringing to him a free salvation. But it is not possible for any man to believe in opposition to apprehended proof. It is not possible for a man, for example, to believe that it is midnight in the midst of the clearly perceived light of the meridian sun. If any man, therefore, believe that all are doomed to damnation who have not the thing which men call a special influence, he cannot, in the absence of that supposed influence from his soul, believe that salvation has come to him. It is, therefore, not only unscriptural, but absurd, in the supporters of a special influence, to maintain that any sinner is able to believe and to do all his duty without the Holy Spirit.
I am about to exhibit a specimen of such semi-orthodox preaching, from the “Discourses on the Nature and Extent of the Atonement,” by Dr. Wardlaw of Glasgow.
I may only premise, that it lacks but one element—the recognition of the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s 199 indispensable influence. This will appear very clearly at the close of this quotation.
“If there were a want of natural capacity for believing, there would be equally a want of natural capacity for disbelieving. If there were not this kind of ability to believe, there would be no guilt in unbelief.—O my fellow-sinners, deceive not yourselves, as multitudes have done before you, with this plea of inability. The plea is often advanced with a levity of spirit, that sufficiently indicates its origin. ‘We cannot, it seems, help ourselves,’—many have thought and said,—‘we have no ability to do anything; we cannot change our own hearts; we cannot atone for our sins; we cannot come to God; we cannot believe;—it is divine power, divine grace, that must do the work;—it is not ours;—and if God is not pleased to put forth the necessary power,—what can we do?—There is no help for us:—we must be damned!’—And with the last fearful link of the chain there is secretly associated a self-flattering hope,—a hope founded in the unreasonableness and unrighteousness of such a doom,—that it shall not be so. This, I apprehend, is uniformly involved in the real or affected carelessness with which the conclusion,—a conclusion in itself so unspeakably fearful,—is usually uttered. The mind rests its hope secretly on the unfairness that inability should incur condemnation. The inward surmise is:—‘if we really are unable, then every effort of ours must be unavailing; perdition is entailed upon us, and by nothing that we can do is it avoidable:—and yet—and yet—is this justice?—and—if it be not justice, can it be true?’
“Now, my fellow-sinners, this is all delusion. I come to the point at once; and, with all diffidence, yet with all confidence, I say to you,—if there were no ability, it would not be justice. But in the sense in which you urge the plea, and in which, perhaps, it has been put into your lips, there is no truth in it. In the sense in which you plead inability,—the only sense in which the plea could be of any avail,—you are not unable. So far from being unable in any sense that even palliates your 200 unbelief and impenitence,—your inability, rightly interpreted, resolves itself into the strongest mode of expressing your culpability and guilt. For what does the word mean?—simply, the strength of your antipathy to God and to goodness. Your inability to believe is only another phrase for your aversion to the truth of God. Your inability to ‘repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance,’ what else is it, less or more, than your fondness for the service of sin and of the world, and your unwillingness to relinquish it?—what is it, but that you cannot give up the world;—you cannot renounce your favourite sins;—you cannot abandon ’the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life;’ or you cannot bear the mortification of pride, the renunciation of your own righteousness, the crucifixion of self?—What is there in your cannot, but the want of will?—If you tell me you are willing but not able, you tell me what never has been, and never can be; what involves, indeed, a fiat and palpable contradiction; inasmuch as, the inability affirmed in Scripture being unwillingness, and nothing else whatever, it amounts to neither more nor less than saying that you are willing and unwilling at the same time. To say you would believe if you could,—is not only not true; it is the precise opposite of truth. The plain truth is, that you could believe if you would; there being no one thing whatever that prevents you from believing, but the want of will; nothing between you and pardon but the want of will to have it in God’s way,—that is, freely, and in connexion with holiness, with newness of life.—‘I would but can’t believe,’—‘I would but can’t repent,’—are, both of them, as unsound philosophy as they are unsound divinity. If in any instance either were true, there would, in that instance, be no guilt in unbelief and impenitence. It is the will that is wanting, and the will only. The will to believe is, virtually, faith; the will to repent is, virtually, penitence. There never has been the will to either, where there have not actually been both.
“In making the atonement, and in offering you pardon on account of it, if you are willing to accept the pardon on that 201 ground, God has put the blessing in your power. Who is to blame, if you have it not? Not He assuredly; but yourselves, and yourselves alone.—What would you have? You have all the natural faculties and powers, that are necessary to constitute a ground of accountableness. You have the natural powers required for considering, understanding, believing, choosing, loving and hating, speaking and acting;—and moreover for asking. The question, then, is, How comes it that these powers are not occupied about proper objects?—how comes it that they are not rightly directed?—Take them in order. You have the power of considering:—why is it that you do not consider the ’things that belong to your everlasting peace,’—the things which, of all others, you cannot but be sensible, ought, both in duty and in interest, to be considered by you?—You have the power of understanding!—how is it, that you do not understand the divine testimony;—that is, that you do not perceive and appreciate its excellence, and its adaptation both to God’s character and to man’s need? ‘Why, even of yourselves, judge ye not that which is right?’—You have the power of believing,—of crediting what is attested by sufficient evidence. You are practising this every day and every hour, on other subjects. How is it, that you do not believe the Word of God,—the glorious gospel,—‘the word of reconciliation,’ of peace with God through the atoning blood of the cross? Is it because you have examined its evidence, and satisfactorily proved it untrue? or is it because, in its humbling and holy character, it is not to your liking? Let conscience give a faithful answer. You have the power of choosing:—you are exercising it continually. How is it, that you do not, among the objects presented for your selection, ‘choose the good part that shall never be taken from you?’ You have the natural power of loving, and of hating:—how is it, that you do not love God, love Christ, love holiness?—and how is it, that you do not hate sin, and ‘abhor that which is evil’?—how is it that your love and your hatred are not in harmony with those of God, that you do not hate what he 202 hates, and love what he loves? You have the natural power of speaking and acting;—why is it, that you do not always speak and act aright? I have added to all these—You have the power of asking;—yes; and with the power, you have the liberty, in the quarter where most it behoves you to apply; and more even than liberty—earnest invitation, and all the encouragement of faithful promise:—how is it, then, that you do not ask of God?—how is it that you come not to him for the influences of his Spirit, and for the blessings of his salvation? how is it, that, when these blessings are set before you, on the ground of the atonement, in all their fulness and in all their freeness, you do not eagerly and gratefully accept them?—that when the way is opened to the mercy-seat, through the rending of the vail even the Redeemer’s flesh, you do not press towards it?—that when ‘in Christ’s reconciling the world unto himself,’ he beseeches you to be reconciled to him, you do not catch with all avidity at the gracious entreaty, and come into friendship with your justly offended God?—O delude not your own souls by talking of inability. Is there any other answer that can truly, in the tribunal of conscience, be given to such questions, but one—that you have ‘no heart’ to these things—to the truths, to the ways, to the service, or to the enjoyment of God? And if this aversion of heart, this perverseness of disposition, this want of will to that which is good, be not sinful, then is there no such thing as sin in the universe—no moral evil or criminal desert—nothing on account of which any creature can be condemned or punished.
“I again ask, what would you have? Every consideration that is calculated to influence and determine the choice of your mind, is set before you;—everything fearful on the one side, everything truly desirable on the other. The terrors of coming wrath are depicted, to induce you to flee from them, and effect a timely escape; and the way of escape is set open before you. All that is, or ought to be, attractive, in the beauties of holiness,—in the prospect of ‘fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore,’—in a God who ’delighteth in mercy,’ 203 and whose very nature is ‘love,’—in a Saviour as willing as he is able, and as able as he is willing, to ’save you to the utternmost,’—in an atonement whose infinite virtue is for all,—in the forgiveness of sin, fellowship with God, and the reciprocations of mutual love between the renewed soul and the divine source of all blessing;—in all that is comprehended in life eternal!—What would you have? The most sincere and earnest invitations are addressed to you, assuring you of the divine readiness to receive and to bless you: and every one of these invitations proceeds upon the assumption, that there is nothing between you and the enjoyment of the blessings to which you are invited, but your own will. Jehovah—the God with whom it is impossible to lie, swears to you by the certainty and necessity of his own being—‘As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his wicked way, and live: turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?’ and Jesus, the divine Saviour, pleads with, and entreats, and encourages you—‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’—What would you have? What more is necessary to constitute a valid ground of responsibility?—think,—and say,—what more is there required?—what is wanting?—There is nothing remaining, that I can conceive of, but your being made willing. Will you say that this is necessary to your accountableness? If you wish to retain your claim to rationality, you will never advance such a plea. Think a moment—a moment will be enough—of its self-contradictory absurdity: that it should be necessary for you to be made willing, in order to your becoming accountable for being unwilling!—that a right disposition requires to be imparted, in order to your being responsible for cherishing and indulging a wrong one! And yet, gross as is the absurdity of the sentiment, it is greatly to be feared that some impious surmise of this kind floats in many minds—that unless God give them a right disposition, they cannot help it. But the entire Bible proceeds on the assumption that the wrong disposition is your sin,—existing and operating 204 wilfully, resisting the inducements to its suppression and crucifixion, and neither desiring nor seeking divine aid to effect it.—What would you have? You are neither compelled to evil, nor forcibly restrained from good. You voluntarily choose the one; you voluntarily refuse the other. It is a matter of consciously spontaneous preference. What, then, I still urge upon you, would you have? You cannot be saved against your will. You cannot have your hearts changed against your will. You cannot be made willing against your will! You have all the powers before enumerated: you have all conceivable motives presented to you to exercise those powers aright—in the choice, the love, the pursuit, and the enjoyment of right and worthy objects: you are under no compulsory and no withholding power. Why, then, I repeat, do you remain at a distance from God, when he invites you to his presence and his favour? Why are you not interested in the virtue of the atonement, when you are assured that its virtue is free to you and to all Why are you not partakers of the blessings of God’s salvation, when these, in all the free munificence of the Godhead, are set before you, and pressed upon your acceptance? Why are you not in the way to heaven, when the gate is thrown wide, and entrance not permitted merely but urged? Who, let me ask, or what, prevents you? WHO? Not God: he invites, entreats, prays you, and, with the sceptre of his grace extended, waits for you, that you may touch it, and live. Not Christ. He has shed his blood for sinners, and for you among the rest,—he sets himself before you, crucified and slain—he shows you his hands and his side, and says, ‘Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.’ WHAT, then, prevents you? Nothing whatever, in the form of obstacle, lies in your way, save those which are thrown there by the devil, the world, and the flesh, operating upon your earthly and corrupt affections, and indisposing you to leave the broad way and enter the narrow; that is, there is nothing but the strong antagonist power of your inclination to sense and sin. The sole obstacle is to be found in the words—‘Ye will not.’ Do 205 not delude yourselves by fancying there is anything else. Cheat not your souls with words. Believe not those who would lay your consciences to sleep on the pillow of an imaginary inability. Unwillingness is the word. It is the inability of disinclination—of alienation of heart; moral inability. You can, but will not, is the truth; or, if you like it better, though it is the same thing, you cannot, because you will not.”—Pp. 146-155.
I have now done with the reading of the quotation, and I have one question to propose—Do you not perceive the important, the studied omission? The excellent author, from whose discourses we have read, is true to his system. But what has become of the special influence, for which he contends so zealously, and which he believes to be the saving influence of the Holy Spirit? What has he made of this? Is there any reference to its necessity, or—to the necessity of the Spirit of God in any form, or in any degree whatever, in order to the conversion of the sinner to God? It is painful, indeed, to differ on a point so very important from such a writer as this. But is it possible to agree, even with this revered servant of Jesus Christ, without committing ourselves to a denial of the necessity of Divine influence in order to the production of saving faith? He asks—“Who or what prevents you?” And mark his reply—“Not God: he invites, entreats, prays you; and, with the sceptre of his grace extended, waits for you, that you may touch it, and live. Not Christ. He has shed his blood for sinners, and for you among the rest—he sets himself before you, crucified and slain—he shows you his hands and his side, and says, ‘Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise 206 cast out.’ What, then, prevents you?” Our answer to this question is, “The Holy Spirit’s blessed influence is awanting still.” Is it possible that this writer could pen and preach the beautiful and striking appeal to sinners which we have quoted, and not think of this most important omission? Would that Dr. Wardlaw had added one single sentence more, just before asking the sinner, “What, then, prevents you?” Would that he had written down such a sentence as this—“Not the Holy Spirit: for thus it is written, ‘To-day, as the Holy Ghost saith, to-day, Oh that ye would hear his voice, and harden not your hearts.’ And again, ‘The Spirit, as well as the Bride, says Come.’ And, yet once more, every moment you remain unconverted, ‘Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.’” Would Dr. Wardlaw have compromised his system, had he appended such a sentence as this? Doubtless he would, and he knew it. But does not this only prove, even to a demonstration, that this system lacks “one thing needful” to be consistent with the Word of God—the recognition of the absolute necessity of the influence of the Spirit, in order to enable any sinner to believe in Christ, and to be saved? We pause for a reply.
We shall doubtless be referred to the distinction between natural and moral inability—a distinction which our brethren are in the habit of drawing with the view of evading the difficulty in which they are placed by their theory, and escaping the consequences to which it inevitably leads. Justice, therefore, to our subject, requires us to examine this point, before dismissing this part of our argument.207
What do brethren understand by moral and what by natural ability? The former implies the possession of the power or ability to will. The latter implies the possession of the power to act. It is admitted on all hands that the action is dependent upon the will. So dependent is the action upon the will, and so closely connected are they with each other, that, in the passage now quoted, Dr. Wardlaw says, that “the will to believe is virtually faith; the will to repent is virtually penitence. There never has been the will to either, where there have not actually been both.” This is a very strong assertion of what is called man’s natural ability to believe unto salvation. But while it is asserted that wherever there is the will to believe, faith is the invariable result, it is evidently, indeed necessarily, implied that faith cannot exist where the will to believe is awanting. Where the will exists, faith is said invariably to follow. But where the will is awanting faith will be admitted, as a matter of course, to be impossible. “You could believe if you would,” Dr. Wardlaw says. But it is no less true that you cannot believe, if you will not. The second statement is no less true than the first. They stand or fall together. But it is affirmed that men have not the power to will. This is affirmed by our brethren who have unanswerably demonstrated, and who glory in admitting, that men have the power to believe. Let us inquire, therefore, into the reason of their strong assertion of man’s power to believe. We take the statement of the excellent author from whom we have so largely quoted. He says truly—“if there were no ability it would not be 208 justice” to condemn any sinner on the ground of unbelief. Here, then, is one strong position which we occupy in asserting man’s perfect ability savingly to believe. The responsibility of the sinner is measured by his opportunity or his power. But the question arises—is the sinner not responsible for his determinations or volitions? Is he not responsible for the man. ner in which he exercises his will? Listen again to Dr. Wardlaw’s reply to this question—“If this aversion of heart—this perverseness of disposition—this want of will to that which is good, be not sinful, then is there no such thing as sin in the universe—no moral evil or criminal desert—nothing, on account of which any creature can be condemned or punished.” Here again we have the happiness of saying amen to the doctrine of Dr. Wardlaw. It is sinful—justly punishable—not to will in accordance with the will of God. Now comes our inquiry—why is the sinner justly punishable for not willing to believe? Will Dr. Wardlaw here withdraw his words—“If there were no ability it would not be justice”? Surely not. The assertion is just, and it is true that the measure of a man’s ability is the measure of his responsibility. But every man is responsible for the direction in which he wills. On Dr. Wardlaw’s own principle, therefore, the sinner must possess the power—the ability to will. It is upon the admission of this truth, and that alone, that our brethren can maintain their consistency. They cannot surely argue that it would be unjust in God to condemn the sinner who has no power to believe, because the man believes not; and at the same time affirm that it is 209 perfectly just in God to condemn the sinner who has no power to will because he wills not! If the want of power be the measure of just responsibility in the one case—it is the same in the other case. And therefore we submit with all deference to the venerated man from whom we have quoted, that the same principle whereby he establishes man’s natural ability to believe, proves beyond all reasonable question, that the sinner possesses the power or the ability to will, as well as the power or ability to do, consistently with the just and righteous command of God.
You must have noticed that, in the quotation already made, even Dr. Wardlaw expresses himself upon this point with evident inconsistency. He speaks, in the first place, as if any man in his senses ever dreamt of maintaining the absurdity that a sinner must be willing before he can be responsible for being unwilling! Did the doctor ever listen to the assertion of an absurdity such as this beyond the precincts of an asylum? Nay, verily. He accordingly says very truly, “If you wish to retain your claim to rationality, you will never advance such a plea. Think a moment—a moment will be enough—of its self-contradictory absurdity: that it should be necessary for you to be made willing in order to your becoming accountable for being unwilling!” The doctor is verily right in affirming that no sane man could possibly advance such a plea. “And yet, gross as is the absurdity of the sentiment, it is greatly to be feared [adds this writer] that some impious surmise of this kind floats in many minds—that unless God give them a right disposition, they cannot 210 help it.” Is it possible that Dr. Wardlaw could purposely set himself to practise a deception upon the minds of his readers? It is impossible. It is therefore very evident that the doctor is himself labouring under a gross misconception, when he confounds the act of willing with the power to will. It is absurd, indeed, to imagine, even for a moment, that the actual existence of the former is essential to responsibility; but it is not absurd to affirm that a man is not, and cannot be, justly held responsible, if the latter be indeed awanting. But any ignorant and unthinking individual who should happen to peruse or listen to the eloquent appeal of this writer, would imagine, and would be warranted to infer from the expressions we have quoted, that the doctor’s opponents must be irrational indeed! No man could imagine for a moment that the doctor is capable of, descending to an intentional misrepresentation; and few men have been accustomed to observe the egregious blunders into which even great and learned men constantly fall, when they are warped and entangled by an absurd and erroneous system of theology. And knowing that Dr. Wardlaw is morally incapable of misrepresentation, and fancying, moreover, that HE is intellectually incapable of falling into a very ridiculous mistake—most of his readers will doubtless imagine that the system which he aims at in the expressions now under consideration, actually proceeds upon the absurd conception, that the sinner must be “made willing” before he can be responsible for being unwilling! The followers of Dr. Wardlaw would be surprised, indeed, if Dr. Candlish or Dr. Marshall, or any of 211 the extreme men of Calvin, should try to argue against Dr. Wardlaw’s strong assertion of every sinner’s ability to believe, so that, “if there were no ability it would not be justice” to condemn him for unbelief, in the same style as Dr. Wardlaw has attempted to argue against the sinner’s ability to will. What if Dr. Wardlaw should be met by the following statements in the form of a refutation:—“If you, Dr. Ralph Wardlaw, wish to retain your claim to rationality, you will never advance such a plea. Think a moment—a moment will be enough—of its self-contradictory absurdity: that it should be necessary for you to be made to believe, in order to your becoming accountable for your unbelief! And yet, gross as is the absurdity of the sentiment, it is evident from your book that some impious surmise of this kind floats in your mind—that unless God constrain you to believe, it would not be justice to condemn you.” Would Dr. Wardlaw or his followers in his own Union, and also in the United Presbyterian Church, be satisfied with such a representation of their own sentiments? Would they not be very ready to detect the fallacy and cry out against the injustice? Would they not exclaim—“We never said that the sinner needed to be made to believe, but that the sinner must possess the power to believe before he can be justly punished for his unbelief; and you, Doctors Candlish and Marshall, confound the act of believing with the power to believe, and you thus misrepresent our doctrine when you try to fasten upon it such an absurdity”?—Would not this be Dr. Wardlaw’s reply to such an argument against his own doctrine—“that 212 a man is not responsible for not believing who wants the power to believe”? Such, then, is our reply to his argument against our doctrine, when we maintain “that a man is not responsible for being unwilling who wants the power to will.”
The ground occupied by Dr. Wardlaw, when he affirms that God cannot justly condemn any sinner for unbelief who has not the power to believe, is the exact foundation on which any man may take his stand and maintain the injustice of condemning any sinner for not willing to believe who wants the power to will. It is not the want of faith which would render it unjust in God to punish, but the want of power to exercise faith. How absurd to imagine that a man must have faith before he can be justly punished for the want of it! But does Dr. Wardlaw entertain such an absurd notion as this? He does, if his argument be worth anything, when he exclaims, “How absurd to imagine that a man must have the will to believe before he can be justly punished for the want of will!” Both absurdities are equally absurd. But if the last is necessarily implied in the doctrine, that the power to will is necessary to responsibility for unwillingness, the first is equally implied in the doctrine, that the power to believe is necessary to responsibility for unbelief. But Dr. Wardlaw does not entertain such an absurdity as that a man must believe in order to be justly punished for not believing! His argument, therefore, is not worth a straw against us when he speaks of “the self-contradictory absurdity—that it should be necessary for you to be made willing in order to your becoming accountable 213 for being unwilling!” The doctor has evidently been aiming at some system which has no “claim to rationality,” when he penned the sentences we have been examining. But we humbly submit, that the implied charge falls back upon his own theory. It is surely most irrational to affirm, that the want of power to discharge one obligation releases the sinner from just responsibility, while it is, at the same time, maintained, that the same want of power to discharge another obligation leaves the man accountable for its neglect. But the theory now under examination admits the injustice of punishing a man for not believing aright if the man wants the power to believe, while it affirms that there is no injustice whatever in punishing a man for not willing aright if the man wants the power to will!! Is not this inconsistent and irrational?
But no stronger reasoning can be advanced in favour of the vaunted distinction between natural and moral ability and inability. It is a distinction without a difference, and no solid argument can be based upon it. The self-same argument which establishes what is called man’s natural ability, or power to believe and to do his duty, demonstrates man’s moral ability or power to will, to believe, and to do his duty. And the same weapon whereby the one should be overthrown would destroy both, and that, too, at the same stroke.
Any man who peruses the long extract which we have quoted from Dr. Wardlaw might be led to inquire, whether the doctor seriously believes the theory which he has set himself to maintain. Does the doctor not assure the sinner, that he has the power not only 214 of considering, understanding, believing, but also of “choosing”? To this we say, amen. But what says the system which is based upon the imaginary distinction between natural and moral ability—the system which affirms that man has no power of choice? Have I not quoted the doctor’s express words, when I have written down the following—“What would you have? You are neither compelled to evil, nor forcibly restrained from good. You voluntarily choose the one; you voluntarily refuse the other. It is a matter of consciously spontaneous preference. What then, I still urge upon you, would you have? You cannot be saved against your will. You cannot have your hearts changed against your will! You cannot be made willing against your will! You have all the powers before enumerated.” And now we again ask, Has not Dr. Wardlaw himself expressly mentioned, among the number of man’s natural powers, the power of choice? And what is the power to choose but the power to determine or to will in one direction rather than in any other? And has not the doctor appealed to every man’s consciousness in support of this great truth? And if, in support of this great truth, every man’s consciousness decides, what have we but an infallible decision against the system which affirms the want of the power to will or to choose in the absence of a special influence for which this writer has been wont to contend?
When it is demanded of us now, “What, then, would you have?” we think we are fully warranted to reply, “We would have the honest consistency of truthful and truth-loving men.” We would have anything rather 215 than a system of shuffling and shifting and popularity-hunting expediency. We would have a consistent advocacy of the glorious and soul-saving truth by brethren who have much to answer for at the judgment-seat of God, seeing that to whomsoever much talent and much influence is given, of them much shall be required. We would have the esteemed and eloquent writer from whom we have quoted, and our very esteemed friends of the United Presbyterian Church, to lead forward and advance the mighty movement which has been begun in our land, instead of frowning upon it and retarding it, and doing all in their power to crush and annihilate it. Or, if we cannot have this, we would have the opposite consistent alternative. Let them stand by Dr. Marshall and his party. Let us have the consistency of error rather than this truckling and halting expediency, and we shall know how to deal with it. But when we have at one time, and in one sentence, the confession of the truth, and, in the very next sentence or discourse, the exhibition of opposing error; when now we have Jesus Christ, and, in a short time, John Calvin, exhibited as an authority; when we have, in one page, the assertion that man has no power to will without the special, indefinable, irresistible influence of an ideal theology, and, in another page, the affirmation of man’s perfect power to will as well as to believe, without the Holy Spirit at all; when we have the one or the other—error or truth, truth or error, or truth and error, both together, jumbled and hashed up in one heterogeneous mass, precisely as expediency may direct;—when we have such a state of things round about us, we are 216 almost confounded by the question, which is again and again pressed upon our notice,—“What would you have?”
But the plea which is founded upon the distinction between natural and moral inability, is evidently unsound and untenable, not only for the reason already stated, but for another reason, with the statement of which we shall now conclude this discourse. It is admitted that men cannot be saved against their will, or have their hearts changed against their will, or consider, or ask, or perform one single duty against their will; and yet they are informed by these sapient teachers, that they have the power to believe and to be saved, while they are at the same time warned not to believe “the heresy” which assures them that they possess the power to will! Without their will, they are not able to believe or to do their duty, but they are quite able to believe and to do their whole duty, although they have no power or command over their will! Is not this a palpable absurdity? How can sinners be possessed of natural ability, or the power to act aright, if they have no power to will aright, when the doing is admittedly dependent upon the previous willing? How is it possible for any man to take the second step, when it is not possible for him so much as to attempt the first step, it being admitted that the former is necessarily dependent upon the latter? Does not this absurd philosophy mar the beauty, and take the heart and soul out of the glorious gospel, with which it has been unnaturally linked? What is the gospel which our brethren present, Sabbath after Sabbath, before their 217 congregations? It is the mere dead carcase of Christianity. It is Christianity divested of its energy and its power. It is the merest mockery of human wretchedness. Is this an uncharitable announcement? Look at it and judge for yourselves. We look them once more in the face, and ask our brethren—Do you not say to the sinner that he is perfectly able to believe and to be saved? Do you not tell him that it would be unjust in God to condemn him, if he had not the power savingly to believe? Do you not assure him that he possesses “all the powers required for considering, understanding, believing, choosing, [?] loving and hating, speaking and acting; and, moreover, for asking”? But when the sinner comes to be wrought upon by such statements as these, so as to find himself most uneasy in the midst of his remaining unbelief, and would instantly flee to Jesus for safety, what do you not say to him?—in what way do you set the man’s conscience at rest for time, and leave him waiting and waiting and waiting, under the conviction that it is his duty to wait on, without the possession of perfect and solid peace with God? You inform him that he wants the power to will to believe! You tell him, that when you spoke of ability, it was not moral, but only natural ability to which you referred; and by your misty metaphysical distinction, you cloud and obscure the poor man’s soul—you hide from his eye the sun of righteousness, by this metaphysical mist which you throw around the sphere of his mental vision! To what does this vaunted distinction, after all, amount? Like every other distinction got up for the purpose of mere evasion, 218 we have a distinction without a difference. We have the same thing presented before us under a different name. Under the title of “moral inability,” the sinner is informed that he has no power to believe; while, under the title, “natural ability,” the man is forthwith instructed that he possesses full power to believe; and that God himself could not justly punish him for unbelief, if he could not believe. Must we be charged with being uncharitable, because we call this a manifest contradiction? Is it uncharitable to speak the truth in love? We feel it to be painful, but we do not admit it to be uncharitable, to speak of that whereby esteemed brethren are themselves deceived, and whereby they most unintentionally deceive and ruin immortal souls, and to call it by its proper name. We use the words of the most charitable among living divines when we say to our fellow-sinners—“This is all delusion—cheat not your souls with words—believe not those who would lay your consciences to sleep on the pillow of an imaginary inability.”
The esteemed writer from whom these words are again quoted, immediately adds, “Unwillingness is the word.” Here is “the word”—What means this “word”? Dr. Wardlaw means by it inability to will. But while the doctor evidently refers to “beloved Ultra-Calvinistic brethren,” against whose teaching he warns his fellow-sinners, when he says, “believe not those who would lay your consciences to sleep on the pillow of an imaginary inability;” and while we admit that there is ample room for the faithful warning, ought we not to say to the doctor—“Physician heal thyself”? 219 Does he not differ from those divines against whose pernicious doctrine he so faithfully warns men only in words—mere words? What is the alteration which the doctor proposes? It is the change of a word! “Unwillingness [says he] is the word.” The brethren against whose teaching Dr. Wardlaw lifts his faithful voice inculcate the notion of inability to do. Dr. Wardlaw himself inculcates the sinner’s inability to will to do. No wonder that the same “Alliance,” styled “Evangelical,” can contain them both. They can shake hands over the inability! But we humbly submit that if this inability be, as this doctor says it is, in the one case “imaginary,” it is no less imaginary in both cases. Dr. Candlish very justly observes respecting it, somewhere in his attempts to combat Dr. Wardlaw’s unanswerable arguments in favour of a universal atonement, that this is merely removing the inability into “a niche farther back.” It is merely assigning to it a different position in the unbroken and indestructible chain of necessity! Call it natural, or call it moral, or call it by any fine name you choose—it is inability after all—“an imaginary inability.”
If we were, therefore, unhappily compelled to make our choice between two evils, we should choose the least, and adhere the rather to Dr. Candlish and “those” against whose pernicious teaching Dr. Wardlaw lifts his warning voice. We hesitate not to say to our semi-brethren—pernicious as the out-and-out orthodox teaching admittedly is, it is not by any means so pernicious as your own; and the reason is, that it is far more honest and consistent with itself, and far less truckling 220 and deceptive, than is that half-and-half Calvinism which a miserable expediency has originated and patronized. Your system is a mere catch-penny system—it is no system at all. It wants the consistency even of error, and down it must speedily fall of its own accord. It has already slipped away out of the hands of all those who have preceded the Congregationalists and the “United Church” in their march out of Calvin-land, and it is our happiness to anticipate the time when it will be no longer expedient for the expediency brethren to retain it.
What is YOUR gospel, which you call it uncharitable to denounce as an imposition and a cheat? You go to the dungeon of the condemned man, and you tell him that you are the bearers of good news—“good tidings of great joy.” You say to him that he has perfect freedom to enter the palace of his sovereign, and ask and obtain whatever he desires. And at this announcement the poor man’s heart begins to leap for gladness. But you point him instantly to the bolts and bars and heavy chains which bind him to his prison-house, and you remind him that he has not the power to move, and you have no authority to set him free from the spot to which he is bound! And yet you say to him that he has the power to enter the palace, and you entreat him to enter, and you rebuke him because he is not found at the foot of the throne asking and obtaining whatever his heart desires!! Is not this the very essence of absurdity? Does it not amount to the most deliberate cruelty thus to insult and mock 221 and tantalize the miserable and the unfortunate? WHY? Simply because you know that the poor man has not the power to move from his dungeon, and you admit he must first of all walk outside of that dungeon before it is possible for him to approach the palace of his sovereign. True, indeed, IF the poor man were once disengaged from his fetters and out of his prison-house, he has the power to walk up to the palace. And YOUR gospel depends upon this miserable “IF”!! The man has the power to take the second step, IF the first step were once accomplished! But the first step he has no power to take! Why, then, not deal HONESTLY with the poor man at once, and say plainly to him that you have NO GOSPEL to him at all?
But such is the sum and substance of the gospel which you have for sinners of the human race. It sounds at first like music from on high. It falls upon the ears of your hearers like sounds of sweetest melody. It is so free!—it is so full! It takes within its ample grasp the world—the whole world “without distinction and without exception!” But examine it—and what is there in it all for any sinner to cling to in the hour of need? Simply an assurance that the man is able to save himself without the Holy Spirit! Here is one side of your vaunted gospel, and looking at it in this, its most unlimited aspect, it amounts to a downright falsehood. But turn round the other side which embraces not the world, but takes in exclusively “the special few,” and what does this “gospel” say? It assures men that they have no power to will—no power to 222 take the first, the essential step back again to God—no power to will even to consider what the Holy Ghost says unto them—but that an iron chain of necessity binds their will down to the dark prison of their unbelief, until a special, direct, mystical, irresistible, and inexplicable influence shall, somehow or other, burst their fetters and set them free! Here, then, is the other aspect of what you call gospel, and looking at it in this “special reference” we find it to involve another falsehood, no less destructive than the former.
“Now, my fellow-sinners, this is all delusion.” So truly has Dr. Wardlaw spoken of the system which has been examined in the first four of the Lectures, which we have been privileged to deliver in your hearing. We think we are warranted to apply the doctor’s own expressive words to his own theology; and while we do so, we trust that while we condemn the system of this excellent writer no less strongly than he himself condemns the system of those whom he still loves as brethren, we shall not be awanting in cultivating towards him, and all from whom we differ, the same spirit of expansive charity. But we want more than mere verbal charity;—we want charity in deed; and we are therefore desirous that our brethren who are most industrious in circulating against us the slanderous charge of denying the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s needful influence, would be so charitable as gird themselves to the task of proving what they gratuitously assert, and charitably pointing out to all men, if they can, from the Word of God, that the truth which we 223 maintain involves the error which they are pleased calumniously to charge against it. We have ventured to show our brethren what we deem an example of charity, when we have not only asserted, but endeavoured at great length to prove, that the system which they themselves patronize involves a denial of the great truth for which all Christian men must ever be forward earnestly to contend.
We have most gratefully availed ourselves of the admissions which our brethren have made, as the result of Scripture examination and clear and solid proof which has not been, and cannot be, successfully met and overthrown. They have proved that Jesus died for all men, and that all men without exception are able to believe. This they have proved,—this we have admitted; and so far we have gratefully and joyfully accepted of their Scriptural and enlightened concessions. But when they come in with their “special influence,” we ask them, how they reconcile this with what they have proved to be true in reference to every sinner’s perfect ability to believe, and we are informed in reply, that the sinner is able to believe without it. We then ask, what they mean by this special influence. They inform us that they mean to describe thereby the influence which precedes the sinner’s will, and must needs take the precedency of the sinner’s will, before the sinner can believe—the influence of the Holy Ghost. Here it is that we pause and take leave to dispute with our brethren the truthfulness of their theory. We admit that the Holy Spirit’s 224 influence must needs precede the sinner’s will before it is possible for the man either to will aright or to believe aright; but it is evident that this influence, whatever be its nature, cannot be “special” or exclusively restricted to the elect alone, unless it be true that the elect only are possessed of the ability to believe. But our brethren have proved that all men, without exception, are able to believe, and are therefore justly punishable for unbelief. We leave them therefore to take their choice between the denial of what they have proved to be true; or the denial of the necessity of the Holy Spirit in order to the production of faith; or the abandonment of their theory of election, whereby the influence of the Spirit is falsely imagined to be specially and exclusively confined to the elect. Our heart’s desire and prayer for our brethren is, that they may speedily abandon this last-mentioned error, and come forth consistently in the strength of the Lord, to the acknowledgment of THE WHOLE TRUTH.225
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