Archive for the ‘The Distinction Between Natural and Moral Ability’ Category


5. It is no part of the doctrine of Election, that the non-elect cannot comply with the terms of the gospel. The efforts to vindicate the doctrine of election without separating it from this unscriptural notion, have not only proved futile, but done harm. There is but one thing that prevents the non-elect from accepting the offers of mercy, and that is their cherished enmity against God. We are well aware that the Scriptures represent it to be impossible for man to do what they are unwilling to do. Hence says our Saviour, “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” His idea doubtless is, that men cannot come to him, because they are unwilling to come; for he had just said, in the course of the same address, “And ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” He supposes that mere unwillingness renders it impossible for them to come. This mode of speaking not only runs thro’ the Bible, but is agreeable to the plainest dictates of reason and common sense. All the inability of the non-elect therefore to comply with the terms of the gospel, arise from their unwillingness to comply. Their inability is of a moral, and not a physical nature. It is a criminal impotence. It consists in nothing but their own voluntary wickedness. While, therefore, it is proper to say, that men cannot do what they are unwilling to do, it is also proper to say, that they can do what they are willing to do. It is no perversion of language to say, that a knave can be honest, or that a drunkard can be temperate; for every one knows that they could be, if they would. Hence it is no perversion to say, that a sinful man can become holy, or that the non-elect can comply with the terms of the gospel. Their unwillingness lays them under no natural inability, and may at any time be removed by their being willing. The non-elect are just as able to repent and believe the gospel as the elect, if they were but disposed to do so. They are capable of doing right as of doing wrong. The doctrine of election leaves them in full possession of all their powers as moral agents, and all possible liberty to choose or to refuse the offers of mercy. But for his voluntary wickedness, Judas was as able to accept the gospel as Paul. The non-elect are able to comply with the terms of the gospel, if they choose to do it. It is therefore their own choice, and not the decree of election, that shuts them out of the kingdom of heaven. All representations of the doctrine of election, therefore, that deny the non-elect natural power to comply with the overtures of mercy, form no part of that doctrine as exhibited in the Bible.

Gardner Spring, The Doctrine of Election (Boston: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1851), 5-54. Also published as: Gardiner Spring, The Doctrine of Election Illustrated and Established: In A Sermon Preached on the Evening of the Second Lord’s Day in December, 1816 (New-York : Printed by E.B. Gould, 1817), 9-12.


I would here have you especially notice the distinction between natural and moral inability, which clearly reconciles human responsibility with divine sovereignty. There are some who, feeling a difficulty here, bring this objection; It is, say they, in fact the same whether you make the limit in redemption or election, since; after all, it is only the elect that can be saved. We reply; It is not the same. There is all the difference between a natural and a moral inability; and moral inability is sin. If there were any for whom Christ did not die, it could not be, imputed to them as personally blame-worthy that they are not saved; for the hindrance would not be in themselves alone, but in God. The justice of God would form an impassable barrier to their entrance into life. On the other hand, granting that redemption is general, the work of Christ threw down that barrier, and now the only hindrance is in themselves. It is in their dislike to, enter. It is true that this dislike can only. be overcome by divine grace; but that does not render it less their own fault that they retain it. We will make this more plain by an illustration.

Suppose a man chained to the walls of a dungeon; you throw open the prison doors, and without removing his fetters, you tell him he is at liberty! Alas! you do but mock him; he may see the light, and long for liberty, but his fetters still bind him to his prison; and if the poor man die a captive, it does not prove his unwillingness to be free. But suppose you not only throw open the prison-doors, but also break his fetters, and tell him he is free; but the man still loiters amongst his prison companions, and takes such delight in their company and their avocations as to disregard the blessings of light and liberty; then it will be admitted it is his own fault that he does not enjoy liberty, and he could not more show himself unworthy of the privileges of a free man. Now this is what Christ has done for the world.

He has not only thrown open the doors of invitation, but he has broken the fetters; that is, he has removed every external hindrance; and the only impediment in the sinner’s way to liberty, is his love of spiritual slavery. It is true this love of slavery can only be overcome by divine power, and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in the elect; but this does not make it less blame-worthy in the sinner to retain it. This brings us to our third point.

William Dodsworth, General Redemption and Limited Salvation (London: James Nisbet, 1831), 59-62.


That Distinction well understood, which is must insisted on by the French Protestant Divines, would much conduce herein, namely the distinction of Natural and Moral Impotency.

And though many of Dr. Twisse’s Judgment in other things, oppose it, yet he himself in many places, when pressed with difficulties, fled to it as his chief Sanctuary, Vindic. grat. lib. 2. Errat. 9. Sect. 6. pag. (mihi) 211.

Joseph Truman, A Discourse of Natural and Moral Impotency (London: Printed for Robert Clavel; and are to be sold at the Sign of the Peacock in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1675), 3. [Some spelling modernized]

[Ripped from Tony.]


But the first determined and direct assault against the HyperCalvinistic and Antinomian views prevalent at the time amongst the Baptists was in a book published by Fuller in 1785 and entitled The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, or the Duty of Sinners to Believe in Jesus Christ. Indeed, on considering the eminently scriptural and evangelical tone of this book it is almost incredible that it was the cause of such controversy. His purpose is to prove the obligation upon all men to believe whatsoever God declares and to obey whatsoever he commands, so that the moral law obliges all to whom the gospel is preached to exercise faith in Christ insomuch that it demands obedience to every declaration by God of his will. As Fuller deals with this point, he shows that the inability of man to conform in all points to God’s will, and therefore to the commandment to believe, is entirely a moral inability arising only from the corrupt nature of his heart and his enmity towards God, and not from any deficiency in his faculties or in the necessary natural abilities. Instead of excusing man for his unbelief and disobedience and releasing him from any obligation, this failure therefore only serves to increase the atrocity of his behaviour and to augment his guilt. Having proved the obligation that lies upon all who have heard, or have had opportunity to hear, the gospel to believe it, he then proceeds to answer the objections which are often put forward against this view: objections arising from the nature of man’s original holiness; the nature of predestination and the election of grace; man’s inability; the activity of the Spirit; and the necessity of a divine principle in order to believe. He very ably argues that the correct scriptural understanding of all these points is consistent with a belief in the general invitation of the gospel and in the duty of all to believe it.

Owen Thomas, The Atonement Controversy in Welsh Theological Literature & Debate 1707-1841, tran. John Aaron (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2002), 131-132. [First published in 1874.]

Credit to Bob Schilling for the find.


1) Which common grace is either,

[1.] More general, to all men. Whereby those divine sparks in their understandings, and whatsoever is morally praiseworthy in them, is kept up by the grace of God, which was the cause that Christ tasted death for every man: Heb. ii. 9, “That he by the grace of God should taste death for every man;” whereby the apostle seems to intimate, that by this grace, and this death of Christ, any remainders of that honor and glory wherewith God crowned man at first are kept upon his head; as will appear, if you consider the eighth Psalm, whence the apostle cites the words which are the ground of his discourse of the death of Christ.

[2.] More particular common grace, to men under the preaching of the gospel. Which grace men “turn into wantonness” or lasciviousness, Jude 4. Grace they had, or the gospel of grace, but the wantonness of their nature prevailed against the intimations of grace to them. Besides this common grace, there is a more special grace to the regenerate, the more peculiar fruit of Christ’s mediation and death for them. All this, and whatsoever else you can conceive that hath but a face of comeliness in man, is not the birth of fallen nature abstracted from this mediation. Therefore when the Gentiles are said to “do by nature the things contained in the law,” it is not to be understood of nature merely as fallen, for that could do no such thing; but of nature in this new state of probation, by the interposition of Christ the mediator, whose powerful word upheld all things, and kept up those broken fragments of the two tables of law, though dark and obscure. And considering God’s design of setting forth the gospel to the world, there was a necessity of those relics, both in the understanding, and affections, and desire for happiness, to render men capable of receiving the gospel, and those inexcusable that would reject it. So that by this mediation of Christ, the state of mankind is different since the fall from that of the evil angels or devils. For man hath, first, a power of doing that which is in its own nature good; secondly, a power of doing good with a good intention; not indeed supremely for the glory of God, but for the good of his country, the good of his neighbors, the good of the world, which was necessary for the soldering together human societies, so that sometimes even in sins man hath good intentions. Whereas the devil doth always that which in its own nature is evil, and al ways sins with evil intentions.1 Without this mediation, every man had been as very a slave to sin as the devil; though he be naturally a slave to sin, yet not in that full measure the devil is, unless left in. a judicial manner by God upon high provocations. There is then a liberty of will in man; and some power there is left in man. And here I shall show,

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