WE have shown in the preceding lecture, that the Arminian notion of a dispensation of the Spirit to all men, or of common grace conferred upon all men, to enable them to secure their salvation, does really involve in it the doctrine of election; and, further, that it does not sufficiently guard the doctrine of salvation by grace. I now proceed,

Thirdly, to observe, that this notion of common or universal grace is, as held by them, and as far as they have explained it, a self-contradictory, not to say, an absurd notion. It restores to man the ability (such is the view they give of it) to obey God’s law, to believe the gospel, and so to work out his own salvation. “Man,” says Bishop Tomline, “cannot, by his natural faculties and unassisted exertions, so counteract and correct the imperfection and corruption derived from the fall of Adam, as to be able of himself to acquire that true and lively faith which would secure his salvation.” He proceeds to state, in substance, that, as it would not be just in God to do more with a view to effect the salvation of one man than another, this ability to acquire true and lively faith is actually communicated to all men,–to those who believe not the gospel, and never will believe it, as well as to those who cordially receive it. In short, though his Lordship is not a proficient in the art of presenting an idea in a few unambiguous words, he evidently means that man has lost by the fall, not merely his disposition to do what God commands, and to believe what God reveals; but, in the true, and proper, and literal sense of the term, his power also. This is much more fully and distinctly stated by Mr. Watson, who, in perspicacity, infinitely surpasses the bishop, though, I fear, not in candor, especially when Calvinism rises upon his view, which almost invariably produces misrepresentations so gross, that, if the “Theological Institutes” have exalted my estimate of the intellect of the Writer, I am constrained to add–and I do it with deep and unaffected sorrow–they have diminished my previous conceptions of the moral dignity of his character.

I have hinted at an ambiguity which lurks in the words, power, ability, &c., when used in reference to man, and to what God requires of him. It may be expedient briefly to illustrate this point, before I lay before the reader the statements of Mr. Watson, as that illustration is adapted to show the inconsistent nature of those statements. A man then, let it be observed, may be destitute of power to perform a certain action, in two radically different senses;–in the sense of being destitute of the physical capacity of performing the action; and in the sense of wanting the disposition to perform it. A man who has not money, cannot give it to the destitute; a man who has not the present disposition to be liberal, cannot give it either, but the cannot in the two cases is radically different. No entreaties, or promises, are in the slightest degree adapted to remove the former, but they are eminently fitted to remove the latter, cannot; and may, accordingly, be consistently employed. Everyone recognizes and acts upon this distinction in the everyday occurrences of life; we require, therefore, that it should be recognized in religious subjects. The generality of Calvinistic divines make this distinction. They maintain that the power to obey God’s laws, of which unconverted men are destitute, is not physical capacity, but disposition. They affirm, that the Scriptures address no command to the human family at large, with which any man, unless he be an idiot or a madman, would be unable to comply, provided he had the disposition to comply. They hold, that all that Adam lost, for himself and his posterity, was the disposition, and not the physical capacity, i. e., power, in the proper sense of the word, to do what God commands: and, on the affirmed fact, that the human race, after the fall, retain their physical power to obey God’s law, though they may not choose to obey, they found their belief in the great doctrine of human accountability.

Mr. Watson, on the other hand, supposes that the race lost more than disposition–that they lost power, in the proper sense of the term, to obey; that this power is re-communicated to them by what we have designated common grace; and that this imparted grace is the foundation of accountability. 1 refer to the following passages in proof of these statements. ” All men, in their simply natural state, are dead in trespasses and sins, and have neither the will nor the power to turn to God.” (Vol. iii., p. 193.) In an attempt to show that absolute and unconditional reprobation (which doctrine 1 reprobate as strongly as does Mr. Watson) is contrary to the justice of God, he takes the ground, that “the reprobates must have been destroyed for a pure reason of sovereignty or for the sin of Adam–or for personal faults, resulting from a corruption of nature, which they brought into the world with them, and which they have no power to correct.” (Vol. iii., p. 69.) “All except Adam and Eve have come into the world with a nature which, left to itself, could not but sin.” (Vol. iii., p. 61.) Again, he tells us that the promise of the Spirit finds man “without the inclination, or the strength, to avail himself of proclaimed clemency.” (Vol. i., p.242.) Further; we are assured, (Vol. ii., p. 261,) “That a power of consideration, prayer, and turning to God, are the gifts of the Spirit; of course it does not exist in the simply natural state of man.” Now let it not be said that these statements of Mr. Watson contain no more than we every day assert, when w, say that man has lost his power to obey God’s law; because every reflecting Calvinist, at least, understands the term power in a sense different from that in which it is used by Mr. Watson. With the latter, the loss of power means, if not the loss of physical capacity, (I use this phraseology for a reason which will appear presently), at least more than the loss of disposition. With the former, it is the loss of disposition, and the loss of disposition only. Yet power to obey God’s law must be possessed by man, even in the opinion of Mr. Watson, for the unconverted, he himself tells us, “cannot be guilty of rejecting the gospel, if they have no power to embrace it;.” (Vol. iii., p. BO.) And, again, the unconverted are required to believe for their salvation; he consequently infers that they must have power to believe. (Vol. iii., p. 4.) This power common grace communicates, and its communication forms, as I have said, in Mr. Watson’s system, the ground of human accountability. The following extracts establish both these points. “The Scripture treats all men to whom the gospel is preached as endowed with power, not indeed from themselves, but from the grace of God, to turn at his reproof,” &c. (Vol. iii., p. Ill.) ” It follows, then, that the doctrine of the impartation of grace to the unconverted, in a sufficient degree to enable them to embrace the gospel, must be admitted,” &e. (Ibid.) “In consequence of the atonement of Christ, offered for all, the Holy Spirit is administered to all,” &c. (Vol. ii., p. 259.) “The presence of the Holy Spirit is now given to man, not as a creature; but is secured to him by the mercy and grace of a new and a different dispensation, under which the Spirit is administered,” not on the ground of our being creatures, but as redeemed from the curse of the law by him who became a curse for us.” (Vol. ii., p.257.) The virtues of the unregenerate are not, he says, “from man, but from God, whose Holy Spirit has been vouchsafed to the world through the atonement;.” (Ibid., p.261.) “It is thus,” he adds, finally, i. e., on account of the universal dispensation of the Spirit, “that one part of Scripture is reconciled to another, and both to fact; the declaration of man’s corruption, with the presumption of his power to return to God, to repent, to break off his sins, which all the commands and invitations to him, from. the gospel, imply;” without which power, thus communicated by grace, Mr. Watson imagines, these commands and entreaties could not be addressed to him.

Now it has been said, (page 69,) that the Arminian notion of common grace, imparted for the purpose of communicating power to man to obey God’s law, is self-contradictory, if not absurd. In support of this assertion, I request the attention of the reader to the following remarks. First, Mr. Watson’s notion supposes that Adam could lose, and actually did lose, his power to obey God’s law, (understanding the term power to mean more than inclination, disposition, or will), without losing his responsibility. I do not know precisely, indeed, what he meant by the term power in this connexion. There is reason to think he had not well defined it even to himself; but it is abundantly manifest that he comprehended in it more than disposition to do what God commands; and that he regarded it as essential to accountability. But how could Adam lose for himself, and for the race, what was essential to accountability? He might lose, and he did lose, chartered blessings–blessings which flowed from sovereignty. Thus he lost sovereign, sustaining grace: but surely he could not lose anything that was essential to accountability; at least he could not lose it, and retain his accountability. Mr. Watson’s principles throw him upon this dilemma: He must maintain, either that when Adam fell he continued a responsible being, without the essential requisites of responsibility; or, that he ceased to be a responsible being, on his melancholy lapse, and remained irresponsible, till common grace had restored what is essential to responsibility. Secondly, The Arminian notion is burdened with the self-evident absurdity, that it is grace which bestows what is necessary to accountability. No intelligent man, whose mind is unperverted by system, can fail to perceive that the essential requisites of responsibility flow from equity. There is no grace whatever in their bestowment. God requiring, as he does, the being to give an account of his conduct, is bound to impart them. Now if it be of debt, it is not of grace. Mr. Watson says, that man? lost, by the fall, the power to obey God’s law. This power is, however, he thinks, necessary to accountability; so that it must, consequently, be re-communicated to him. He further declares that it has been so; but the most surprising thing of all, to me at least, is, that he should represent its re-impartation as an act of common grace. Common grace! How could any thing but system veil from the conception of this perspicacious writer, that it must have been, even on his own principles, and on any principles, an act of common justice, and not of grace? Suppose the Divine Being should determine to elevate an animal to the dignity of a responsible agent, must he not bestow upon him rationality? And would the bestowal of rationality be an act of grace? Could the gift be equitably withdrawn while the moral governor continued to demand from the animal an account of his conduct? Surely not. Adam could not lose what is essential to accountability; nor can it be bestowed by grace.

There remains but one more observation to be made upon the attempts of the Arminians to evade the difficulties which attach to the notion of election to the mere enjoyment of external privileges. This constitutes the Fourth observation, viz., that neither Bishop Tomline, nor Mr. Watson, has given us a distinct account of what they mean by that power to obey God’s law which, as they teach, was lost by the fall, and which is re-communicated by grace. My decided impression is, that neither they, nor the Arminians in general, attach, as I have already said, any definite meaning to the term. They write as if their conceptions were very loose and indefinite, and yet as if they did not suspect this to be the case,–an evil into which all writers are in danger of falling. Because a word is familiar, and we are at no loss in regard to its general meaning, we . are apt to employ it in a statement of great importance, it may be, without being aware that even we do not understand it in that particular connexion. These are not the times, however, in which indefinite and ambiguous words, or statements, can be permitted to go unexamined and unsifted. Certainly, Mr. Watson’s must not thus be permitted to pass. Lamenting, I can truly say, as much as his friends, that I cannot put the question to himself, I ask his brethren, then, what was the power to obey God’s law which was lost by the fall? If they intend by the term more than disposition to do what the moral governor required, I respectfully request them to specify distinctly what that term more comprehends. I can conceive of two senses only, in which the term power can be used in this connexion; if there are more than two, I shall consider myself much indebted to any individual who will point them out. The two senses of which only. I am at present cognizant are those which have been more than once referred to, viz., disposition and physical capacity. When, therefore, Mr. Watson affirms that man has lost both his will and his power to obey God, the language is, to my apprehension, equivalent with the declaration, that he has lost his disposition and his physical capacity to obey God. Now, it has been shown, that if he really did lose his physical capacity, he must have lost his responsibility; just as accountability ceases, in any individual, when madness supervenes. But I now seek for information, whether, in the judgment of the Arminian, Adam did lose his physical capacity to obey his Creator? Should he reply in the negative, then I would further inquire–since the loss was, by hypothesis, more than disposition, and yet was not physical power–,what is that strange tertium quid, between will and physical power–partaking of the properties of neither, or rather, perhaps, being an unnatural mixture of both–which completes the amount of his loss? Will anyone attempt to explain it? Is it explicable? Can it even be conceived? Should the reply be in the affirmative, should it be said that he lost physical power, I would ask whether he lost the whole of his physical powers, or some of them only? Had the former been the case, i. e., had he lost sensation, memory, judgment, volition, &c., he must have ceased to be a man; he must have sunk. even below a brute. If it be said that he lost some of them only, I ask, which? Was it the understanding, the memory, the judgment, the conscience, &c.? Experience proves that they all remain. Degraded as man is, he has suffered no loss of any physical power essential to obedience; for there is nothing which God commands him to do which he could not do if he would. He has not lost the power of loving God; for the power of loving God is the physical capability of experiencing the emotion of love, and which is called into exercise when an unconverted man loves the world. He has not lost the power of believing the gospel; for the power of believing the gospel is that physical constitution of mind which renders him capable, in distinction from brutes, of crediting testimony in general, and which is developed every day of his life. Ten thousand absurdities have been uttered on this subject by those who have theological words, without theological ideas; whose creed is a creed of symbols, rather than things. It is high time to begin to believe in things, rather than in words; and there can be little doubt, that all who do this will be prepared to admit that the loss which Adam sustained was a moral loss exclusively. The extinction of any of the powers to which” reference was made a short time ago, would have been a physical loss, converting Adam into a totally different being, in a physical point of view, and rendering it necessary that he should be subjected to a different kind of government. Besides, that which is restored to “man, when he is born again, is moral, not physical, in its nature. Regeneration does not implant new physical powers; it communicates “knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness.” The loss of these was, then, that which Adam sustained by the fall.

I have further to ask. the Arminian, what h~ means by the power to obey God’s law, and to believe the gospel, which he says was re-imparted by common grace. It is not power in the sense of physical capacity; for Adam, as we have just proved, did not lose power in this sense of the term; and all his posterity, even previously to their conversion, enjoy it. Again, it is not power in the sense of diaposition to obey and believe; for, in this sense of the term, no man possesses power till he is renewed in the spirit of his mind. “Y e will not come unto me,” said our Lord, “that ye might have life.” “And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” The Arminian, indeed, practically admits this; for the struggling against conviction by which, as he imagines, the influences of the Holy Spirit are rendered ineffectual to conversion, is surely the result of the want of a disposition to do what God requires. In short, that power to obey, and believe, which, in the creed of the Arminian, was lost by the fall, and restored again by the dispensation of common grace, resolves itself into those physical capacities, means, opportunities, &c., which, in the creed of a Calvinist, are essential to accountability. An opponent, incautiously setting himself to prove that it comprehends more, would find himself, when brought to the question, engaged in an enterprise as difficult as to find his way to the moon.

George Payne, Lectures on Divine Sovereignty, Election, the Atonement, Justification, and Regeneration (London: James Dinnis, 62, Paternoster Row, 1838), 69-77.

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