Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

language. It is common to say, that we cannot do things, which nothing hinders us from doing, except an indisposition of mind. We say of a drunken sof, that he cannot leave his cups, and of a niggard, that he is incapable of a generous action. But in these cases, we do not think of inventing an excuse for drunkenness, or for niggardness.

Where now is Mr. B's difficulty of reconciling these wo things together; a natural ability to do that which there is a moral inability to do? He says, " To say that men have power naturally to love God, while they have a moral inability, is a manifest contradiction.”How is the contradiction manifest? If there be no dis. tinction between a natural and a moral inability, we acknowledge there is a manifest contradiction. To say, that a man is able, and unable, in the same sense, to do the same thing, would be contradictory. Thus, to say, that a man is able as it respects his bodily strength to labor, and that in the same sense he is not able to labor, would be absurd. But to say, that a man is, in one sense, able to labor, and that in another sense, he is unable, would not necessarily be absurd; for he might be able to labor, as his strength and health are respected, and be unable to labor, as it respects the disposition of his mind. In other words, a strong able-bodied man may be prevented from labor only by an indolent mind. If it should be said, that indolence is no inability; let it be remembered, it is what we mean by moral inability:—and it is just such a kind of inability as Joseph's brethren labored under when they could not speak peaceably to him." Now, if this incolent man were indolent to perfection, so that he would starve sooner than he would work, still it would not change the nature of his inability from moral to natural. And if this indolent spirit were born with him, (which is apt to be the case with such characters,) yet it would not change its nature-It would still be a moral incapacity, tho' a moral incapacity which was entirely natural to him. It would still be speaking correctly, to say, that the man was naturally very capable of hard labor, but that he was under a dreadful inability of the moral kind, to perform the labor of a single day.

If there be no foundation for the distinction which we have made between an inability to love God, which arises from a want of the natural powers and faculties of a moral agent, and the inability which arises from the want of an upright frame of heart, then there is a want of consistency in our telling sinners, that they have a natural ability to obey, while they are totally depraved, and, in a spiritual sense, without strength." But we are persuaded, that no theologian can get along without making the distinction which we have made, whether he makes use of the same terms to note this distinction or not. And if this distinction is founded in truth, then we are not guilty of the inconsistency with which Mr. B. has charged us. He 66 says, Inability supposes a want of power: and therefore to say that a man has power to do a thing, and at the same time contend that there is an inability to do that thing, is saying that a man has power, and yet has not power." To this difficulty I reply; An inability, if it be of the moral kind, does not by any means suppose the want of natural power. It supposes the want of no other power, except what belongs to that particular kind of inability. Thus, when we speak of the inability of the indolent man to work, it does not necessarily suppose any deficiency of natural power. His moral inability to labor, may be complete, and his natural ability for the same thing, as complete. In like manner, we may labor under a total moral inability to love our Creator, allowing our natural powers and faculties, which constitute our natural ability to love, be not at all impaired.

Mr. B's representation of our sentiments on the subject of the sinner's having a natural ability to do what he has no moral ability to do, is calculated to puzzle the mind of that reader, who is not in the habit of weighing what he reads. The words which are used, as making a true representation of our sentiments, seem to have such a strange clashing with each other, that the inattentive reader would be led to imagine, that none but men more fit for a mad-house, than to be christian teachers, could ever believe and propagate such self-contradictory doctrines. Mr. B. makes our doc

"3

trine to say, "A man has power, and yet has not power.ď It is devoutly to be wished that none may be misled by the mere sounds of words. Let it now be understood, that we do not hold to a sentiment so self-contradictory as this; That in the same sense, in which men have flower, they have not power, to do their duty. But this sentiment we hold and seek to inculcate; that while by the fall we have lost the holy image of God, and have no heart to return to him, we have not lost the faculties necessary for moral agency, and are therefore under perfect obligation to make a proper use of these faculties, which would certainly imply a return to him from whom we have revolted. If by the fall we had been changed into brutes, instead of sinners, the Saviour would not say. "Come unto me, and I will give you rest. And if by the fall we had not become so totally depraved, as to have no heart to accept this gracious invitation, the Son of God would not have said, No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me, draw him :" nor would he have taught the necessity of the power of the Holy Ghost to change our hearts, as preparatory to our accepting of gospel offers, and becoming interested in the benefits of his death. Here then is a natural ability to return to God, and a moral inability to return. In other words; Here is a rational creature, who has power to perform inoral actions, who is at the same time perfectly wicked, and therefore morally or spiritually disabled from doing right. Should this creature be made the subject of a moral change, he will frankly say, By the grace of God I am what I am." I should never, without the special power of the Spirit, have got rid of this moral inability, and found it in my heart to submit to the righteousness of God. And yet, every tear of repentance which he sheds, is proof that he is fully convinced that he was possessed of a natural ability to do this, and that his moral inability was "no cloke for his sin;" but that it was a wicked heart, holding fast deceit and refusing to return. The penitent feels ashamed of his past life. He is convinced that he has acted a most impious and foolish part, in so long living without God in the world. This necessarily implies a conviction,

((

that he was always possessed of natural ability to live a life of piety towards God, as well as a life of uprightness towards men. At the same time he has a conviction, which is equally clear, that nothing short of the conquering power of the king of saints, would ever have made him submit. Is not then this alleged contradiction harmonized in the experiences of every true penitent? That it may be thus harmonized in every mind, should be the prayer of the writer, and of all his readers.

CONCLUDING REMARKS.

IN my reply to Mr. Bangs' objections against Calvinistic doctrines, I have not taken notice of every thing which threw itself in my way: yet I have detained my reader longer than I intended when I first took up my pen. The controversial part of my book will now be concluded, by a few brief remarks.

1. It is of great importance, that we should all seek to obtain the most clear and definite ideas, which we possibly can, concerning the leading doctrines of the gospel. It is not enough, that we believe there is à God; we ought to obtain just views of his character. We cannot fully comprehend his na tural or moral perfections; but we can obtain consistent and correct views of them. If we do not entertain sentiments about the Divine Being, which are essentially correct, our religion will be no better than that of the men of Athens, who erected an altar to the unknown God. It is not enough, that we adopt the belief of human depravity; we ought to study to form a definite idea of the nature, and extent of this depravity. It is not enough, that we believe that there is such a thing as holi-, ness: We ought to form a distinct idea of holiness, and know what is the specific difference between holiness and sin. These remarks will apply with force to the law of God, the ground of obligation in creatures to obey, the doctrine of atonement, regeneration, &c. On none of these fundamental points, ought. we to content ourselves with vague, indistinct notions. It is by knowing the truth that we are to be made free. See Joh. viii. 32. The Saviour prayed for his disciples, that they might. be sanctified through the truth. But surely we are not sanctihed, merely by having the word of truth lie by us in our

houses neither are we sanctified by knowing the names of the christian doctrines; nor can we be sanctified by erroneous and false views of these doctrines. Such views of gospel doctrines are represented in the scriptures, as tending to corrupt the mind, and to produce a most pernicious effect on the heart and life. It is the very truth, which tends to make us free. It is by loving and obeying the truth, that our hearts are purified. The importance of clear, definite, and correct sentiments about the fundamental truths of the gospel, is very great. A child ought not to be destitute of this: But it is utterly inexcusable, for those who have come to mature age, and who live in this land of Bibles and of Sabbaths, to be ignorant of “ the first principles of the doctrine of Christ." But it is most of all inexcusable, and criminal, in the teachers of this religion, to be either ignorant or erroneous.

2. We would remark on the importance of the unlearned reader's being on his guard against receiving every learned criticism, on the mere credit of the critic. We would not despise all learned criticisms: but it would be very dangerous for the common reader to form his sentiments concerning any leading doctrine of the gospel, on the mere authority of some learned critic, who is acquainted with the Hebrew and Greek languages. Such a reader may generally satisfy himself concerning the correctness of a criticism, which affects a fundamental doctrine, without having recourse to any learned man, or to any book but the English Bible. Let us take for example three different criticisms, which are found in the book that has called forth the preceding Vindication. The first is found in the Letters, p. 32. It is Mr. Bangs' own criticism on Luke xxii. 22. There needs nothing to relieve the mind of the mere English scholar, only to compare his criticism with the pas. sages in the other Evangelists, where the same thing is brought into view. The second example which I shall introduce, is Mr. Fletcher's criticism on Acts iv. 27, 28. It is found in the Letters, pp, 39, 40. This needs nothing to do away its force, only to be placed by the side of the second Psalm, from whicй the words in Acts were quoted. The third example shall be Dr. A. Clarke's criticism on Exod. iv. 21. This will be found in the Appendix to the Letters, pp. 303-306. The passage is concerning the Lord's hardening the heart of Pharaoh. After making some other observations on the text, Dr. C. says,

The verb chazak, which we translate harden, literally signifies to strengthen, confirm, make bold or courageous: and is. often used in the sacred writings, to excite to duty, perseverance, Ge." Now, tho' the common reader cannot dispute the learned critic, about the repeated application of this Hebrew word to an excitement to do good; yet common sense, unaided by literature, and unbiassed by pre-conceived opinions, can clearly discern, that the word is not used in such a sense in this place. All which follows in the ten succeeding chapters, is directly in opposition to the force of the criticism. Besides, the plain

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »