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Calvin and Calvinism » Blog Archive » Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) on the Distinction Between Moral and Natural Inability





On this subject I find it difficult to collect the real sentiments of P[hilanthropos]. Sometimes, he seems to admit of the distinction, and allows that I have written upon it with”perspicuity.” (p. 63.) At other times, he appears utterly to reject it, and to reason upon the supposition of there being no difference between the one and the other; and that to command a person to perform any thing with which it is not in the power of his heart to comply, for this, he must know, is the only idea we have of moral inability, is as unreasonable, unless grace is bestowed, as to “command a stone to walk, or a horse to sing.”(p. 44.) If this is indeed the case, the distinction ought to be given up. Be that, however, as it may, whether there be any real difference between natural and moral inability, in point of blame-worthiness, or not, P. knows that I suppose there is: by what rule of fair reasoning, therefore, he could take the contrary for granted, is difficult to determine.

But, passing this, from the whole of what P. has written on this subject, I observe there are three things, which, somehow or other, either severally or jointly, are supposed to constitute even a moral inability blameless. One is, men could not avoid it; they were depraved and ruined by Adam’s transgression; another is, its being so great in degree, as to be insuperable; and the last is, if grace is not given, sufficient to deliver us from it.”If,”says he,”men could never avoid it, and cannot deliver themselves from it, and the blessed God will not deliver them; surely they ought not to be punished for it, or for any of its necessary effects.”(p. 67.)

The first two of these suppositions, be it observed, are admitted by P. as facts. Men are, he acknowledges, born in sin, and”their inability to do things spiritually good is real and total.”(pp. 44. 57.) They cannot love God, nor keep his holy law. Now, these facts either do excuse mankind in their want of conformity to the law, or they do not. If they do not, why are they produced? If they do, there is no need for what respects the last supposition. There is no need, surely, for grace to deliver men from a state wherein they are already blameless. The justice of God, one should think, would see to that, and prevent the innocent from being condemned. But let us give each of these subjects a separate consideration.

I. Men being BORN IN SIN, or inheriting their evil propensities from Adam’s fall. It has been observed already, that P. admits the fact: now, to admit this fact is, I should think, to admit a constituted union having taken place between Adam and his posterity. And yet the whole of what he says upon this subject proceeds from the supposition of no such union taking place; for he, all along, speaks of Adam and his descendants in a separate capacity. Thus he insists upon it, that”we could not be to blame for what we could not avoid;”with many passages of the like kind. Very true: but, if the notion of a union between Adam and his posterity be admitted, then it cannot properly be said, we could not avoid its for, in that case, he was the head, and we the members; the whole constituting one body, or, as it were, one person. A union of this nature must either be admitted, or denied; if admitted, why consider the descendants of Adam in a separate capacity?–If denied, why speak of inheriting any thing from him, unless it were by ill example?

Infants are not to blame in a personal capacity: but, if there be a union between the parent of mankind and his posterity, through which their depravity is derived, as it is supposed there is, they must be to blame relatively. No one, I suppose, can be to blame in a personal capacity, till he is capable of the knowledge of right and wrong; but it does not follow from thence, that, till then, he is, in every sense, blameless; for that would be the same thing as to be sinless: and if so, I see not how they can be said to be born in sin. If there is not blame somewhere, it will be very difficult to account for the misery and death to which infants are exposed; and for the apostle’s mode of reasoning, who first asserts, that before the Mosaic law sin was in the world, and then proves this assertion by the reign of death,”even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.”1

That this is a difficult and awful subject, is allowed; and so is the introduction of moral evil into the world, be it upon what hypothesis it may. It is a subject, however, which, in my apprehension, I must either admit, or reject the authority of the Bible: and when I had done that, my difficulties, instead of being diminished, would be abundantly increased. I therefore admit it, upon the credit of divine revelation; and herein, it seems, I have the happiness to agree with P. He admits that men become sinners in consequence of Adam’s fall. The question, then, between us seems to be this: Whether to be a sinner is the same thing as to be a subject of blame; or, whether there be a sort of sin which has nothing blameworthy in it, and a sort of sinners who, nevertheless, are blameless beings?

P. admits of our being born with impure propensities, and yet supposes these propensities in themselves to be blameless. He reckons the whole blame to lie, not in being the subject of these propensities, but in the exercise and indulgence of them, (pp. 65, 66.) I confess I cannot understand how this can consist either with his own sentiments, or with the nature of things. Not with his own sentiments; for he allows that “men are ruined and depraved by Adam’s fall.” But how can we be ruined and depraved by that which does not, in any sense, constitute us blameworthy? What though we derive impure propensities from him, yet, if these propensities are innocent, how can they ruin us? how can they deprave us? Our depravity must consist in, and our ruin arise from, that which constitutes blame, and that alone; and if blame lies merely in the indulgence of impure propensity, and not in being the subject of the thing itself, why, then, it is there we have to look for the beginning of depravity and ruin, and nowhere else. How far these sentiments will agree likewise with the doctrine of human depravity, which P. assures us he by no means intended to oppose, may deserve his attention.

Farther: I see not how the above sentiments can consist with the nature of things. If blame does not lie in being the subject of an evil disposition, because, as individuals, we could not avoid it; then, for the same reason, it cannot lie in the exercise of that disposition, unless that also can be avoided. And this is what P. seems to allow; for he extends blamelessness not only to evil dispositions, but to all their “necessary effects.”’ (p. 67.) Now, there is either a possibility of that exercise being totally avoided, or there is not: there is either a possibility, for instance, of a person living all his life without a foolish thought, or there is not. If there is, then there is a possibility of going through life in a sinless state; and if so, how are we depraved by Adam’s fall? If there is not, then, it must follow, that the exercise of evil dispositions may be blameless, as well as the dispositions themselves; and, contrary to the decision of holy scripture, that the thought of foolishness is not sin.

We may go on to distinguish an evil propensity from its exercise, till we use words without ideas; for what is an evil propensity, but an evil bias, or a bias of the soul towards evil? And whether it is possible to conceive of an inactive propensity in a rational being, is doubtful with me. But suppose we may, the common sense of mankind never teaches them so to distinguish them, as to excuse the one, and place all blameworthiness in the other. An impure propensity is an impure temper of mind; and a propensity to revenge is the same thing as a revengeful temper: but tempers of this description are so far from being excusable, that there is nothing mankind are more apt to censure. ‘Tis true they cannot censure them but as they see them discovered, because they have no other method of knowing the evil stock but by its evil branches; but, when they do discover them, they seldom fail to curse both root and branch.2

Neither do people think of excusing a churlish, haughty, or covetous temper in any man, because of his father’s being so before him. On the contrary, they often turn that very circumstance to his reproach. ‘You are a villain,’ say they, ‘by nature, and all your family were so before you.’ If men offend one against another, strict inquiry is made whether the offence proceeded from an evil disposition, or from mere inadvertency; and, according as this is found, allowances are made. But I know not that it is ever asked, how the party came by his evil disposition: that is a matter introduced into divinity, where God is the object offended; but it cannot be admitted, into the common affairs of life, between man and man. Now, if the common sense of mankind never leads them to take this circumstance into consideration in matters between themselves, it is, at least, a presumptive argument, that it will not bear advancing in matters of offence against God. Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee thou wicked servant.

That evil dispositions are, in themselves, blameworthy, notwithstanding their derivation from our first parents, not only accords with the common sense of mankind, but also with the word of God. The word of God requires us to love him with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength; but to love God in this manner supposes the absence of all evil propensity to rebel against him, and of every approach towards a spirit of contrariety to him. It must follow, then, so long as this holy law of God is allowed to be an”infallible test of right and wrong,” (p. 67.) that such a propensity is, in itself, sinful, being directly contrary to its righteous requirements. It is not merely a something which”leads to evil tempers,”(as P. speaks, p. 66.) but it is itself an evil temper of the mind; a temper that can take no delight in God, or in any thing that bears his holy likeness.

Farther; His idea of blameworthiness, if I understand it, agrees to nothing but positive acts of sin; the exercise or indulgence of an evil propensity can agree to nothing else. Now, according to this, there is no such thing as sin or blame in that universal want of love to God, which has place in all unregenerate men, and to an awful degree in good men; for that, strictly speaking, is not so much a positively evil disposition, as it is the absence of a good one. But, if the law of God is the “test of right and wrong,”this must, nevertheless, be found sinful; for it is the very reverse of what that law requires. If there is nothing blameworthy in the want of a heart to love God, nor even in a propensity to hate him, then, surely, the moral law must he abrogated by man’s apostasy; and can be no longer to us “the standard of right and wrong.”

The law is said to have entered, that the OFFENCE might abound; and by the law is the knowledge of sin.3 The only certain rule, therefore, of determining what is sin, is to in quire into the extent of that unerring rule. Now, the law, as given in the Decalogue, requires love to God with all the heart, without making any allowance for our being born destitute of a disposition so to do. It should seem, therefore, that God considered the want of a disposition to love him as offensive; and gave the law, which requires such a disposition, that that offence might abound, or be made manifest. But if there be nothing blameworthy in it, there can be nothing offensive; and if no offence exists, none can be made to abound.

P. allows my “reasonings on the extent of the moral law to be very conclusive.” This, I should think, is rather extraordinary; but this is not all: he thinks “it would most certainly contribute much, under the blessing of God, to the conversion of sinners, if a due regard were always paid to it.” (p. 67.) But, according to the reasoning above, I see no such tendency it could have. For the carnal mind of man is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither in deed can it be; and they were born in this condition. How, then, could it promote rational conviction? Whatever tendency it might have to bring them to love the Savior, it must be at the expense of their regard for the Lawgiver. Yea, it must fill them with greater enmity against him, to hear of his requiring that of them which is not reasonable, in their present circumstances, should be required. If they are taught to consider the Lawgiver of the world as resembling a cruel Egyptian task-master, and the Savior as one who came into the world to deliver them, by repealing his rigorous edicts; then they may love the one, and hate the other. But if the Savior is viewed in his true character, as not coming to abrogate the law, but to magnify, and make it honorable; to condemn the sinner’s conduct, while he saves his soul; then they cannot hate the one, without equally hating the other.

“I do not know,”says P. “that the scripture ever blames man, much less condemns him, because he is born impure, or because he is the subject of impure propensities.”(p. G5.) As to the actual execution of condemnation, it is not for me: to say, how far the mercy of God will be extended. If those who die before their evil propensities are reduced to action arc all saved, I suppose they are saved through the mediation of Christ, and not taken to heaven on the footing of personal innocency. But, in respect to blame-worthiness, I remember a man who once took blame and shame to himself for his original impurity; bringing it in amongst his penitential confessions, that he was shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin; and that, surely, with an intention not to excuse, but to aggravate his crimes. In the same Psalm, and in the next sentence, after acknowledging the depravity of his nature, the penitent Psalmist adds. Thou desires truth in the inward parts; which, I should think, must intend the opposite of that in which he had just confessed himself to have been conceived and shapen.4 Farther: we are said to have been, by nature, the children of wrath:5 but one should suppose, there could be wrath due to us, if no blame were found in us.

P. asserts, that, in respect of the impurity of our nature, we are under a natural inability of avoiding it; which, therefore, must be innocent, (p. 65.) But to call such an inability as this natural, is, I apprehend, to apply the term in such a manner as tends to produce a confusion of ideas. Whatever defect attends any man, which is simply natural, it must belong to some constituent part of his nature, or of that which constitutes him a man. If the definition which I have heretofore given of natural ability be just, (and this P. has fully acknowledged, p. 64.) it must be either a defect in ‘rational faculties, or bodily powers, or opportunity to put those faculties, or powers, in exercise.’ But neither purity nor impurity, come by them how we may, are any constituent parts of human nature; a defect, therefore, in that matter, cannot, with propriety, be called a natural defect. The depravity of our hearts is not owing to natural weakness, either of body or mind, nor yet to the want of opportunity to know and glorify God. When we speak of it as being the sin of our nature, we use the term in a very different sense from what we do, when speaking of natural inability. By the sin of our nature, we mean, not any thing which belongs to our nature as human, but what is, by the fall, so interwoven with it, as if it were, though, in fact, it is not, a part of it; and so deeply rooted, in our souls as to become natural, as it were, to us.

But it will be said, ‘It must be a natural inability; for it is not at our option whether we will be born pure or impure; it is, therefore, what we cannot avoid, in any sense whatever.’ To this it is replied, as before, There is no justice, or fairness, in considering mankind as united to Adam, or not united, just as it may serve a purpose. If they are not to be considered as one, why speak of inheriting impure propensities? If they are, why speak of them in a separate capacity? To admit of a union between Adam and his posterity, and, at the same time, keep exclaiming, ‘We could not avoid being sinners we are not to blame, and ought not to suffer;’ is as unreasonable as if a criminal should complain, at the hour of execution, that he was to be hanged by the neck, for what he had stolen with his hands. Whatever difficulty may attend us in this part, it is a difficulty that belongs not to the doctrine of natural and moral inability, but to that of original sin; a difficulty, therefore, which affects us no more than it does those who differ from us.

II. The next thing which P. considers as contributing to render even a moral inability blameless is, its being so great in degree, as to become insuperable. According to my principles, he says, our moral inability is invincible; and insists upon it, that, if so, it is excusable.”No man,”says he, blames a lion, because he has not the disposition of a lamb: and if a lion had the understanding of a man, yet, if he could not alter his native ferocity, he would certainly be as unblameable as he is without understanding.”The same reasoning holds good in all other instances, (p. 68.) To all which it is replied. If he mean that they cannot but sin, though they would do otherwise never so fain, it is granted all this reasoning is fair and just: it would then be a natural inability, and, therefore, excusable. But, if this were all he meant, it would amount to nothing. If he mean any thing to the purpose, any thing different from that which he opposes, it must be this: that, if their hearts are so set in them to do evil, that, though they could do otherwise, if they would, yet they will not, but will be sure, in every instance, to choose the wrong path; THEN they must, of course, be excusable. And, if this be what he maintains, his reasoning appears, to me, not only inconsistent, but extravagant.

P. must know, surely, that, when the terms cannot, inability, &c. are used in these connexions, they are used, not in a proper but in a figurative sense; that they do not express the state of a person hindered by something extraneous to his own will, but denote what we usually mean by the phrase. cannot find in his heart; that depravity is not natural to us, in the same sense as ferocity is to a lion; that it is rather the ruin and disgrace of our nature, than any part of it: and that, therefore, such comparisons are but ill adapted to illustrate the subject.

We suppose that the propensities of mankind to evil are so strong as to become invincible by every thing but omnipotent grace: but, whether that is allowed, or not, I think it must be allowed, that they are such as to render spiritual exercises very difficult; at least, they have some tendency that way. Now, if the above reasoning be just, it will follow, that, in proportion to the degree of that difficulty, the subjects thereof ought to be excused in the omission of spiritual exercises.

P. supposes, that, in this case, there is no difference between natural and moral inability; and his argument proceeds, ail along, upon this supposition. Now, we know, that in all cases where impediments are simply natural, it is not at all more evident than an entire inability amounts to a full excuse, than the a great difficulty excuses in a great degree. If, therefore, such reasoning be just, it must follow that men are excusable in exact proportion to the strength of their evil propensities; that is, they are excusable in just the same proportion as, according to the common sense of mankind, they are internally wicked, or culpable!

If we suppose a man, for example, in his younger years to have had but very little aversion from Christ, and his way of salvation: he is then exceedingly wicked for not coming to him. As he advances in years, his evil propensities increase, and his aversion becomes stronger and stronger; by this time, his guilt is greatly diminished. And, if it were possible for him to become so much of a devil as for his prejudices to be utterly invincible, he would then, according to P. be altogether innocent!6

P. thinks this matter so plain, it seems, that he even tells his correspondent, “neither he nor his friend (meaning me,) could imagine that a command given, and not obeyed, renders the subjects of such command criminal, unless these subjects have power, or might have power, to obey such command.” (p. 43 ) If by “power”he had meant natural ability, I should certainly have accorded with the sentiment; but it is very plain he means to apply it to moral, as well as natural ability; and then he is certainly mistaken. For I not only can imagine that to be the case, but do verily believe it. Yea, I can scarcely think that P. himself can believe the contrary; at least,’he will not, he cannot, abide by its just and necessary consequences. If what he says be true, it is either possible that no offences should come, or else no woe is due to those by whom they come.7 It must likewise follow, that every man has, or might have, power to live entirely blameless through life, both towards God and towards man; for be it so, that some degree of imperfection will continue to attend him, yet that imperfection, being supposed to be”a necessary effect” of the fall, cannot be blameworthy: (p. 67.) and so it is possible for a fallen son of Adam to live and die blameless, and, consequently, to appear in his own righteousness without fault before the throne of God. These consequences, however anti-scriptural and absurd, are no more than must inevitably follow from the position of Philanthropos.

“According to my principles,”I am told, “men’s moral inability is invincible.” (p. 68.) If I have used that term in the former treatise, or the present, it is for want of a better. It is easy to see, that my principles do not so much maintain that the moral inability of men is such as to render all their attempts to overcome it vain, as that sin hath such a dominion in their heart as to prevent any real attempts of that nature being made. If a whole country were possessed by a foreign enemy, and all its posts and avenues occupied by his forces, and all the inhabitants dead, that so much as wished to oppose him; in that case, to say, his power was become invincible by any opposition from that country would hardly be proper; seeing all opposition there is subdued, and all the country are of one side. Invincible is a relative term, and supposes an opposition made, though made in vain. But moral inability is of such a nature, where it totally prevails, as to prevent all real and direct opposition being made. It is the same thing as for the hearts of the sons of men to be fully set in them to do evil–to be full of evil, while they live; for every imagination of the heart to be only evil, and that continually.8 Now, if we say, this moral indisposition is invincible, it is for the want of a better term. What we affirm is this, rather; that, suppose it were conquerable, there is nothing of real good in the sinner’s heart to conquer it. If sin is conquered by any efforts of ours, it must be by such as are voluntary. It is not enough, that we are “rational beings,”and that conscience suggests to us what ought to be: (p. 66.) we must choose to go about it, and that in good earnest, or we shall never effect it. But where the thoughts of the heart are only evil, and that continually, it is supposing a plain contradiction, to suppose ourselves the subjects of any such volition, or desire.

III. But it will be said. Though moral inability is total, yet it is conquerable by the grace of God; and this grace is given to every man in the world, or would be given, were he to ask it: and this it is which renders men inexcusable, (p. 66.) Without this, P. avows, that”any man, be his practices as vile as they may, may excuse himself from blame; and all real good whatever may be denied to be the duty of an unprincipled mind.” (p. 59.) This seems to be his last and grand resort, and what he often dwells upon. The discussion of this subject will finish the present Section.

I bless God that moral inability is indeed conquerable by the grace of God, though I question whether it is, or ever was, conquered by what P. calls by that name. But suppose, for argument’s sake, we grant him his hypothesis, I question if it will answer his end. This grace is either actually given to all mankind, or would be given upon their application. If actually given, I should be glad to know what it is. Is it light in the understanding, or love in the heart? Is it any thing, or productive of any thing, that is truly good? If so, how does this accord with the description given of men, that their minds are darkness, their hearts enmity, and that there is none of them that does good, no not one?9 Or is it something for which there is no name, a sort of seed sown in the heart, which, if neglected, will perish, but, if watered by human industry, will be productive? If so the difficulty is not at all removed; for then the question is, Whether a mind so depraved as to be totally unable to do any thing spiritually good, will ever be inclined to improve that grace, to water the seed, so as that it may bring forth fruit?

If the last member of the position be adopted, viz. that all mankind might have grace sufficient to overcome their moral inability, if they would apply for it; still the question returns, will a mind totally destitute of any thing spiritually good, and fully set upon doing evil, apply to God for grace to such an end? Is it not inconsistent for a tree that is wholly evil, to bring forth good fruit? Or are we to imagine, after all, that Satan will rise up against himself? To apply to God in any right manner for grace for the cure of an evil propensity, must suppose a desire to have that propensity cured; but to suppose a person totally under the dominion of a propensity, and at the same time properly and directly desiring to have such propensity removed, is what some people would call by the hard name of self-contradiction.10

Farther; I query if the hypothesis of P. instead of answering his end, will not be found subversive of itself, and destructive of his main design. Making this supposed grace the only thing which constitutes men accountable beings, is making it DEBT, surely, rather than GRACE. I have too good an opinion of the humility and integrity of P. to imagine he intends merely to compliment the Almighty in calling it grace; but I think it becomes him to examine his scheme, and see whether it amounts to any thing less. Grace is free favour towards the unworthy. It supposes the subject destitute of all claim whatever, and the author to be free to give or to withhold. But all that this supposed grace amounts to is, not to prove that God has done any thing more than he was bound to do, but, barely, that he has done what he had a right to expect, or else to be at liberty to throw off his yoke with impunity. It does not, therefore, at all prove Jehovah to be gracious; if it serve for any thing, it can be only to justify his character from the imputation of injustice and cruelty, or from being what P. calls”a merciless tyrant.”(p. 88.)

But farther: I question if even this end will be answered by it. I question if it will not be found, upon the principles and reasonings of P. that this supposed grace, instead of being any real favour towards mankind, is the greatest curse that could ever befall them. If Christ had never come, and no grace had been given in him, then, according to the reasoning of P. men had never been responsible for any part of their conduct. They would, it is true, have been born depraved, and lived depraved; but, having no power to avoid it, or to free themselves from it, “where,” he asks,”would have been their criminality?” (pp. 44. h7.) He does not scruple to acknowledge, that, if no grace were provided,”any man, be his practices ^as vile as they might, might excuse himself from blame: and ail real good whatever might be denied to be the duty of an unprincipled mind.”(p. 59.) Now, if things are so, that men without the bestowment of grace, would have been free from criminality; surely the righteousness of God could never have suffered them to be sent to hell, and the goodness of God, we may suppose, would have raised them to eternal life; and so they might have been innocent and happy, if Jesus had never died: but now, alas 1 in consequence of his coming, and of grace being given them, to deliver them from something wherein they were never blameworthy; now they lie all exposed to inexcusable blame and everlasting ruin!!!11

P. speaks of the”almighty and all-gracious God being represented as contriving to make poor sinners miserable under the color of invitations,” &c. (p. 45.) I delight not in the use of such expressions; they appear to me, to say the least, as bordering on irreverence. But, if such language must be used, and such consequences urged, let the reader judge to whose sentiments they belong; to those of P. or mine.

That Christ died for our SINS, according to the scriptures, is allowed by P. and, I should think, by every Christian, to be a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, (p. 34. note.). The apostle, doubtless, considered this, and his resurrection from the dead, in such a light, when he concluded, that, if the opposite were true, the faith of the Corinthians was vain, and they were yet in their sins.12 But, fundamental as these sentiments are, if the scheme of P. be true, the first of them must, of necessity, be false. If his sentiments are true, Christ did not come into the world TO SAVE MEN, BUT RATHER TO PUT THEM INTO A CAPACITY OF SINNING; AS IT IS IN CONSEQUENCE OF HIS DEATH, AND THAT ALONE, THAT GUILT BECOMES CHARGEABLE UPON THEM. So far from being yet in their sins, if Christ had neither died for them, nor risen from the dead, they had then been incapable of sinning at all, and ought not to have been accountable to God, let their practices have been what they might!

It is possible the reader may be startled at the imputation of such consequences as the above; and, truly, they are of such a nature as ought to startle not the reader only. ‘But are not things carried to an extreme?’ If they are, it is unknown to me: but let us go over the ground again, and see. P. supposes, 1. That man was so reduced by the fall, as to be “really and totally unable to do good.” (p. 57.) 2. That, if he had been left in this condition, he would not have been to blame for not doing it, but that his inability would have been his excuse: (pp 44. 57. 59.) yea,”let his practices have been as vile as they might, he would have been excusable.” (p. 59.) But, 3. That God has not left him in this condition. He has sent his Son to die for all men universally; and, by giving, or, at least, offering, his Spirit to all men, he removes the inability which they derived from the fall; and from hence they become accountable beings, and are inexcusable, if they do not comply with things spiritually good. (p. 66.) If words have any meaning, I should think these are the real sentiments of P. Now, if these be true, it must follow, that Christ did not die for the sins of any man, except it were Adam; since none of the fallen race could have sinned, if he had never died. The reasonings of P. suppose that men are not chargeable with sin, or blameworthiness, independently of the death of Christ and the grace of the gospel: and, if so, it could not be to atone for sin that he laid down his life; for, prior to the consideration of this, there was no sin for which he could have to atone.

If I have unhappily adopted an indefensible mode of reasoning, let it be fairly confuted. Till I see that done, I shall continue to think the sentiments of P. on this subject eversive of one of the fundamental principles of Christianity.

There is a thought on which P. repeatedly insists. It is this, that,”supposing it to be just to punish men eternally for that depravity which they derive from their first parents, (this, however, is more than he in fact will allow,) yet it is very hard that any addition should be made to the obligations they lie under, and that punishments should be annexed to these obligations which they have no power either to regard or avoid.”(p. 45.) He often speaks of the injustice of punishing those who enjoy gospel-opportunities, and neglect them, “more severely than if they had never enjoyed them, if they had not fiower sufficient to have embraced them.”(p. 57.)

To all which I reply,

It seems, if men had but power to comply, all this injustice would subside. Well: we affirm they have power. They have the same natural ability to embrace Christ, as to reject him. They could comply with the gospel if they would. Is any thing more necessary to denominate them accountable beings? We believe not; and perhaps, in fact, P. believes the same. In some places, however, he appears to think there is. Well: what is it? If any thing, it must be an inclination, as well as an ability. Now, would P. be willing to have his objection thus stated: It is hard that new obligations should be laid upon persons who have no inclination to what they already lie under? If so, it will afford final unbelievers a powerful plea at the last day. ‘ No,’ it will be said, ‘ they might have had an inclination:’ if they would:’ but let it be considered, whether any thing like this is revealed in scripture, and whether it is not repugnant even to common sense. If they had been willing, they might, or would, have been willing: that is the amount of it, which is saying just nothing at all. But, passing this,

Whoever be right, he or I, neither of us ought to take our own hypothesis for granted, and proceed to charge the consequences upon the other. And yet this is what P. has done. The whole force of his reasoning in p. 45, and divers other places, rests upon the supposition of that being true which is a matter of dispute; viz. that natural power is not power, and is not sufficient to denominate men accountable beings. His statement of the above objection takes this for granted: whereas this is what we positively deny, maintaining that natural power is power, properly so called, and is, to ail intents and purposes, sufficient to render men accountable beings; that the want of inclination in a sinner is of no account with the Governor of the world; that he proceeds in his requirements, and that it is right he should proceed, in the same way as if no such disinclination existed. If this can be solidly disproved, let it: it will be time enough then to exclaim of injustice and cruelty, and to compare the Divine Being to an Egyptian taskmaster, or to “a wicked Rehoboam.”(p. 92.).13

The question appears, to me, to be this, Is it unrighteous in God to do rights because he knows men will be sure from thence to take occasion to do wrong, and aggravate their own destruction? God knew assuredly, that all the messages sent to Pharaoh would only harden his heart, and aggravate his ruin: I am sure, said Jehovah to his servant, that the king of Egypt will not let you go; no, not by a mighty hand: and yet he did not, in the least, hold himself obliged either to give him grace that should soften his heart, or to discontinue his messages, which, without such grace, were certain to issue in the aggravation of his ruin. ‘But Pharaoh could have complied, if he would.’ We grant it: and so could they who reject Christ. They are under no other necessity in the one case, than Pharaoh was in the other.

Whatever dissimilarity there may be between the condition of fallen angels and that of sinners in the present life, who will finally perish; the case of the former sufficiently serves to refute the supposition of P. The redemption of man has certainly been an occasion of a world of guilt to those revolted spirits. Had not Christ come, Satan could never have had an opportunity to have sinned in the manner he has, in tempting him, instigating his murderers, and, all along, opposing the spread of his kingdom. But would it be right, therefore, for Satan, in behalf of himself and his associates, to plead in this manner at the great assize–’Why were we not confined to the deep? Seeing no mercy was designed for us, where was the justice of suffering us to range in the world, where it was certain we should only increase our guilt, and so be punished the more severely; Surely our first revolt was enough for us, without being suffered to go any farther?’

If the reasoning of P. on this subject, particularly in p. 57, prove any thing, it will prove, not merely that sinners ought not to be punished more severely; but that, if it were not for grace provided for them, they ought not to be punished at all. In that case one should think, the greatest grace would have been to have let them alone, and left them under the ruins of the fall: then had they been blameless and harmless, without rebuke, and, consequently, unexposed to misery, either here or hereafter.

After all, I question if P. really means any thing more by his notion of grace, than we do by natural ability. We allow that men can come to Christ, and do things spiritually good, if they will. He is not satisfied, it seems, with this: they must have something of grace given, or offered, or otherwise they cannot be accountable beings. Well: what does it all amount to? Does he mean, that they must have something of real good and holy inclination in them? I question if he will affirm this. Does he mean, that this supposed grace does any thing effectual towards making them willing? No such thing, What, then, does he mean? Nothing, that I can comprehend, more than this–That men may come to Christ, if they will. His whole scheme of grace, therefore, amounts to no more than our natural ability. We admit that men in general are possessed of this ability; but, then, we have no notion of calling it grace. If we must be accountable beings, we apprehend this to be no more than an exercise of justice. And, in fact, our opponents, whatever terms they use, think the same; for, though they call it grace, and so would seem to mean that it is something for which we had no claim, yet the constant drift of their writings proves, that they mean no such thing; for they, all along, plead that it would be unjust and cruel in God to withhold it, and yet to treat them as accountable

beings. P. does not scruple to compare it to the conduct of an Egyptian task-master, who required brick without straw. What end, therefore, they can have in calling this power by the name of grace, it is difficult to say, unless it be to avoid the odium of seeming to ascribe to divine grace nothing at all.

For my part, I apprehend that, whatever grace is provided for, or bestowed upon men, they are altogether inexcusable, without any consideration of that nature whatever. Some of the principal reasons for which are as follow:–1. The term grace implies that the subject is totally unworthy, altogether inexcusable, and destitute of any claim; and all this, previous to, and independent of, its bestowment: otherwise grace is no more grace. 2. The heathen, in their ignorance of God, are said to be without excuse: and that, not from the consideration of grace bestowed upon them: unless by”grace” is meant simply the means of knowledge by the works of creation, answering to the testimony of conscience within them. That which may be known of God, says the Apostle, is manifest in them., for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal flower and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.14 3. The manner in which the godly have prayed for grace to fulfil their duty, and to preserve them from sin, shows that they considered themselves as obliged to duty, and as liable to sin. antecedently to its bestowment. Thou hast commanded us that we should keep, thy precepts diligently: O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!–We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself helps our infirmities.–Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.–that thou would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!–Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins: then shall I be innocent from the great transgression.15 4. Fallen angels are under a moral inability to love God, or to do any thing that is really good, and no grace is provided for them; yet they are without excuse.

P. informs us of some unsuccessful conferences which he has frequently had with unconverted sinners, in endeavoring, upon Calvinistic principles, to fix blame upon their consciences, (p. 60.) If I had had the pleasure of being a bystander in one or more of those conferences, I imagine I should have seen a very easy conquest: and no wonder; people seldom manage to the best advantage those principles which they do not believe. We too often see this exemplified, when a controversy is written in the form of a dialogue.

I do not apprehend that P. intended to plead the cause of the infernal legions in their continued enmity to, and rebellion against the Most High; but, if I am not greatly mistaken, the purport of his reasoning is fully of that tendency. There is only one particular wanting; viz. deriving their depravity from a predecessor, to render all their iniquities, according to his reasoning, entirely excusable. They cannot now find in their hearts to do aught but evil: and, no grace being bestowed upon them to deliver them, wherein can consist their blame! It is true, each of them brought his depravity upon himself, without deriving it from another; and this may prove them to have been to blame in their first revolt, but not in any thing that follows. They sinned, to be sure, at the beginning: but, if the reasoning of P. be just, I do not see how they can have sinned from it. He insists upon it, that, in these cases, there is no difference between a natural and moral inability;”for what we cannot do, we cannot do.”(p. 60.) Now, in all cases of natural inability, the party is excusable, even though he may, by his own fault, have brought that inability upon himself. If a man, by debauchery, or excess, bring upon himself an utter disability for all future employment; it is not then his duty to do the same business which it was before. It is true, it does not excuse his former intemperance; for in that he was to blame: but it excuses his present cessation from business: for that he is not to blame; nor can any person blame him. This will hold good in all cases of natural ability whatever; and, if there is no difference between that and what is of a moral nature, the same reasoning will apply to the fallen angels. They were certainly to blame for their first revolt, by which they contracted their inability; but how can they be to blame for continuing what they are? Their propensity to evil is now become invincible, and no grace is bestowed upon them, to deliver them from it;

how, then, can they be to blame? And if truth is of a like force in all places, and at all times, why should not the ploughboy’s argument, as it is called,”What we cannot do, we cannot do,” be as irrefragable in the language of an apostate angel, as of an apostate man? Andrew Fuller, “A Reply to the Obsservations of Philanthropos,” in The Works of Andrew Fuller (Philadelphia: Printed by Anderson and Meehan, for William Collier, 1820), 1:263-283. [Some reformatting, footnote values modernized; some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]



First, You inquire “whether any person by nature possesses that honest heart which constitutes the ability to comply with the invitations of the gospel?” I believe the heart of man to be by nature the direct opposite of honest. I am not aware, however, that I have any where represented an honest heart as constituting our ability to comply with gospel invitations, unless as the term is sometimes used in a figurative sense, for moral ability. I have said, “There is no ability wanting for this purpose in any man who possesses an honest heart.” If a person owed you one hundred pounds, and could find plenty of money for his own purposes, though none for you; and should he at the same time plead inability, you would answer, there was no ability wanting, but an honest heart: yet it would be an unjust construction of your words, if an advocate for this dishonest man were to allege that you had represented an honest heart as that which constituted the ability to pay the debt. No, you would reply, his ability, strictly speaking, consists in its being in the power of his hand, and this he has. That which is wanting is an honest principle; and it is the former, not the latter, which renders him accountable. It is similar with regard to God. Men have the same natural powers to love Christ as to hate him, to believe as to disbelieve; and this it is which constitutes their accountableness. Take away reason and conscience, and man would cease to be accountable; but if he were as wicked as Satan himself, in that case no such effect would follow.

Secondly, If no man by nature possess an honest heart, you inquire, “Whether, if I be not what you call an elect sinner, there are any means provided of God, and which I can use, that shall issue in that ‘honesty of heart’ which will enable me to believe unto salvation?” Your being an elect or a non-elect sinner makes no difference as to this question. The idea of a person destitute of honesty using means to obtain it is in all cases a contradiction. The use of means supposes the existence of an honest desire after the end. The Scriptures direct to the sincere use of means for obtaining eternal life; and these means are, “Repent, and believe the gospel;” but they no where direct to such a use of means as may be complied with without any honesty of heart, and in order to obtain it. Nothing appears to me with greater evidence than that God directly requires uprightness of heart, not only in the moral law, but in all the exhortations of the Bible, and not the dishonest use of means in order to obtain it. Probably you yourself would not plead for such a use of means, but would allow that even in using means to obtain an honest heart we ought to be sincere; but if so, you must maintain what I affirm, that nothing short of honesty of heart itself is required in any of the exhortations of Scripture; for a sincere use of means is honesty of heart. If you say, “No; man is depraved; it is not his duty to possess an honest heart, but merely to use means that he may possess it;” I answer, as personating the sinner, I have no desire after an honest heart. If you reply, “You should pray for such a desire,” you must mean, if you mean any thing, that I should express my desire to God that I may have a desire; and I tell you that I have none to express. You would then, sir, be driven to tell me I was so wicked that I neither was of an upright heart, nor would be persuaded to use any means for becoming so; and that I must take the consequences. That is, I must be exposed to punishment, because, though I had “a price in my hand to get wisdom, I had no heart to it.” Thus all you do is to remove the obstruction further out of sight: the thing is the same.

I apprehend it is owing to your considering human depravity as the misfortune, rather than the fault, of human nature, that you and others speak of it as you do. You would not write in this manner in an affair that affected yourself. If the debtor above supposed, whom you knew to have plenty of wealth about him, were to allege his want of an honest heart, you might possibly think of using means with him; but you would not think of directing him to use means to become what at present he has no desire to be—an honest man!

Thirdly, You inquire, if there be no means provided of God which I can use that shall issue in that honesty of heart which will enable me to believe unto salvation, “how can the gospel be a blessing bestowed upon me; seeing it is inadequate to make me happy, and contains no good thing which I can possibly obtain or enjoy?” If I be under no other inability than that which arises from a dishonesty of heart, it is an abuse of language to introduce the terms “possible, impossible,” &c., for the purpose of diminishing the goodness of God, or destroying the accountability of man. I am not wanting in power provided I were willing; and if I be not willing, there lies my fault. Nor is any thing in itself less a blessing on account of our unreasonable and wicked aversion to it. Indeed, the same would follow from your own principles. If I be so wicked as not only to be destitute of an honest heart, but cannot be persuaded to use means in order to obtain it, I must perish; and then, according to your way of writing, the gospel was “inadequate to make me happy, and was no blessing to me!” You will say, I might have used the means; that is, I might if I would, or if I had possessed a sincere desire after the end: but I did not possess it ; and therefore the same consequences follow your hypothesis as that which you oppose.

If these things be true, say you, we may despair. True, sir; and that is the point, in a sense, to which I should be glad to see you and many others brought. Till we despair of all help from ourselves, we shall never pray acceptably; nor, in my judgment, is there any hope of our salvation.

Let a man feel that there is no bar between him and heaven except what consists in his own wickedness, and yet that such is its influence over him that he certainly never will by any efforts of his own extricate himself from it, and he will then begin to pray for an interest in salvation by mere grace, in the name of Jesus—a salvation that will save him from himself; and, so praying, he will find it; and, when he has found it, he will feel and acknowledge that it was grace alone that made him to differ; and this grace he is taught in the Scriptures to ascribe to the purpose of God, given him in Christ Jesus before the world began.

Andrew Fuller, “Miscellaneous Essays,” in The Works of Andrew Fuller (Philadelphia: Printed by Anderson and Meehan, for William Collier, 1820), 8:255-258.

[Credit to Tony for the entry #2.]


1Rom.v. 13, 14.

2‘Tis true, there are certain propensities which constitute a part of our nature, as men, and which, therefore, are simply natural,- the excessive indulgence whereof is, nevertheless, sinful. Thus, emulation, in itself, is natural; but, carried to excess, it becomes pride. Thus, also, the love of pleasure is, in itself, natural; but, carried to excess, it becomes voluptuousness, &c. &c. But P. cannot justly pretend, that when he makes blame to consist not in the propensity itself, but in the exercise or indulgence of it, he means these natural propensities; because he speaks of them as derived from Adam’s fall, which these are not; and calls them impure, whereas these, in themselves considered, are a part of human nature in its purest state.

3Rom. v. 20, iii. 20.

4Psa. li. .5, 6.

5Ephes. ii. 3.

6See President Ed-wards on the mil, Part III. Sect- HI.

7Luke xvii. 1.

8Eccles. viii. 11. ix. 3. Gen. vi. 5,

9Ephes. v. 8. Rom. viii. 7. iii. 12.

10See President Edwards on the Will, Part III, Sect. V, on sincere endeavors.

11When I consider the above positions, I am entirely at a loss to understand the following passage: “It is granted, Sir, that God might justly have left man in the state he was born in, and brought into by Adam’s sin, whatever state that be.” (p. 57.) What such a state would have been P. does not determine: he seems here to consider it, however, as deserving some sort of punishment: otherwise there is no meaning in that comparative mode of speaking, which he so frequently uses, of being punished MORE severely. But does P. really mean what he writes? Compare this passage with what be has asserted in pages 44. 57. 59. and it amounts to nothing less than this–that it would have been just in God to have punished the human race by acquittingthem of all blarney and bringing them in guiltless!

12ICor. XV. 3—17.

13I wish P. had spoken of the Divine Being, here, and in some other places, in language more becoming a worm of the dust, I have no objection to the consequences of a sentiment being fairly pointed out, and thoroughly urged; but, suppose such a consequence as this had been just, it might have been urged in more sober language. Surely it is too much for a creature to talk of his Creator being wicked! But I have no conviction, at present, of such a consequence being just if it be, it must be upon this supposition, that not capacity and opportunity, but inclination to do good, is analogous to the straw with which the Israelites ought to have been furnished, for the making of brick.

14Rom. i. 19, 20.

15Psa. cxix. 4, 5 Rom. viii. 26, Psa. xvii. 5. 2 Chron. iv. 10. Psa. xix. 13.

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