Andrew Fuller Friday: On Man’s Inability to do God’s Will

The second general subject in debate respects the nature of that inability of which mankind are the subjects, in respect of compliance with the will of God; or, more particularly, original sin, human depravity, and the grace of God. On these subjects Mr. T. has written his Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Letters. He sets out with an observation on free agency, which discovers, in my opinion, the ground of a great many other of his mistakes. He supposes that a moral, as well as natural, ability to comply with the commands of God is necessary to render us free agents. Hence he does not seem to consider man as a free agent in respect to keeping, or not keeping the law, but barely “with regard to those objects which God in his gospel presents to him, as a fallen creature, to recover him from his fallen state” (XIII. 36); and yet he speaks, in the same page, of his thus being a “subject of God’s moral government.” Strange, indeed, that he should not be a free agent in respect of the moral law, and yet that he should be a subject of God’s moral government; yea, and that the moral law should, notwithstanding, be to him “a rule of life,”—XIII. 61. If we are not free agents in respect of the moral law, we cannot be the subjects of God’s moral government, but, rather, of some supposed evangelical government.

A free agent is an intelligent being, who is at liberty to act according to his choice, without compulsion or restraint. And has not man this liberty in respect of the law as well as of the gospel? Does he, in any instance, break the law by compulsion, or against his will? Surely not. It is impossible the law should be broken in such a way; for where any thing is done without or against volition, no equitable law, human or Divine, will ever blame or condemn. Mr. T.’s great mistake in these matters lies in considering a bias of mind as destructive of free agency. If a bias of mind to evil, be it ever so deep-rooted and confirmed, tends to destroy free agency, then the devil can be no free agent, and so is not accountable for all his enmity against God. The same may be said of those who are, as Mr. T. expresses it, become “unimpressible,” (XIII. 28,) and cannot cease from sin. It is not sufficient to say that “they had power to receive the word till they wilfully resisted and rejected the truth;” if Mr. T.’s notion of free agency be just, they ought to have had power at the time, or else not to have been accountable. Mr. T. constantly reasons from natural to moral impotency, and, in these cases, admits of no difference between them; but he knows that, in respect of the former, if a man is unable to perform any thing that is required of him at the time, he is, to all intents and purposes, excusable; yea, though he may have brought his impotency upon himself by his own crimes. If, for example, a man destroys both health and reason by mere debauchery and wickedness, so as to become a poor ghastly idiot, can any one suppose that, in that state of mind, it is just to require him to perform the business of a man, or to punish him for his omission, under the pretence that he once had reason and strength, but, by his wickedness, had lost them. No: far be it from either God or man to proceed in this manner! If, then, there is no difference between natural and moral impotency, those who are become “unimpressible,” and are given up of God to sin, (as were Judas and the murderers of our Lord,) are not free agents, and so are not accountable beings.

Further, If a bias of mind to evil, be it ever so confirmed, tends to destroy the free agency of the subject, the same would hold true of a bias to good; which Mr. T. indeed seems to allow; for he asks, (XIII. 51,) “Are not free agents capable of sinning?” as if it were essential to free agency to be capable of doing wrong. But has Mr. T. forgot that neither God, nor Christ, (even when upon earth,) nor saints in glory, are capable of doing wrong? The bias of their minds is so invariably fixed to holiness, that it is impossible they should, in any instance, deviate from it; and yet will he deny them to be the subjects of free agency?

Mr. T.’s ideas of free agency have probably led him into some others, respecting the nature of that sin which men commit as the effect of Adam’s transgression,—XIII. 52. His language on that subject, all along, implies that all the sin which men commit as the effect of Adam’s transgression must be involuntary; as though it were something that operated within them, entirely against, or at least without, their consent. If this supposition were true, I should not wonder at his pleading for its innocence. If men were under such a necessity as this of sinning, I should coincide with Mr. T. in denying that they were accountable for that part of their conduct. But the truth is there is no such sin in existence. Sins of ignorance, under the law, were not opposed to voluntary, but to presumptuous sins, Numb. 15:27–31. There are many sins that men commit which are not presumptuous, but none which are, in every sense, involuntary. Mr. T. perhaps will allege the apostle’s assertions, in Rom. 7, that what he would not, that he did. He makes much ado (XIII. 42) about this, and my supposed inconsistency, but all he there says was, I think, sufficiently obviated in my first treatise. After all, Mr. T. does not really think there are any sins besides what are voluntary. Though he talks of believers being guilty of such sins, and of Christ’s dying to atone for them, (XIII. 52,) yet he would not allow it to be just for any man, in his own person, either to be blamed or punished for them: no; he contends that it is the concurrence of our wills that denominates us blameworthy (XIII. 41); which is undoubtedly true in respect of all personal blame.

When Mr. T. reviewed my first publication, he spoke much in praise of the distinction between natural and moral inability, and of the perspicuity of the manner of stating it,—IX. 9, 63, 64. Surely he must not, at that time, have understood what he applauded; and having since discovered this sword to have two edges, the one equally adapted to cut up Arminianism as the other is to destroy Antinomianism, he has now changed his mind, and is striving to prevent its efficacy by giving another meaning to the terms, and thus involving the subject in darkness and confusion.*

By natural power, Mr. T. now understands a power that is barely adapted to the performance of natural things; and by moral power, a power for moral things,—Letter VI. But natural power, as I, and all others who have heretofore written upon the subject, have used it, is as much conversant with spiritual as with natural things; yea, and as much with wicked things as with either of them. It requires the same members, faculties, and opportunities to do good as to do evil; to perform spiritual as to perform natural actions. To pretend, therefore, to distinguish the use of these terms by the objects with which they are conversant, can answer no end but to perplex the subject.

But is natural power sufficient for the performance of moral and spiritual actions? Mr. T. says no; and so say I in one respect. But he concludes, therefore, that if God require any thing of a moral or spiritual nature of any man, it is but right that he should furnish him with moral power for the performance of it. Thus he all along represents moral ability as if it were some distinct faculty, formed by the Creator for the performance of moral actions, while natural power is given for the performance of natural actions; and thus the reader is led to imagine that God is as much obliged to furnish sinful men with the one as with the other, in order to render them accountable beings. Whereas moral power is not power, strictly speaking, but a heart to use the power God has given us in a right manner. It is natural power, and that only, that is properly so called, and which is necessary to render men accountable beings. To constitute me an accountable being, it is not necessary that I should be actually disposed to holy actions, (which is the same thing as possessing a moral ability,) but barely that I could do such actions if I were disposed. Indeed, notwithstanding all that Mr. T. has written to the contrary, and by whatever names he calls this power, natural or moral, he himself means nothing more. He does not mean to plead for its being necessary that men should be actually possessed of holiness, in order to their being free agents, but merely that they might, possess it if they would. He only pleads, in fact, for what I allow; and yet he thinks he pleads for something else, and so goes on, and loses himself and his reader in a maze of confusion. It is not enough for Mr. T. that I allow men may return to God if they will; they must have the power of being willing if they will (XIII. 57); but this, as we shall soon see, is no more than having the power of being what they are! I represented this matter in as forcible a manner as I could in my Reply (p. 482); and it is a poor answer that Mr. T. makes to it, (XIII. 58,) as though I were out of my province in writing about the meaning of my opponent. Surely it is a lamentable thing if the meaning of an author cannot be come at by all he writes upon a subject. If what I imputed to him was not his meaning, why did he not give it in his next performance? “Is it uncandid to conclude he had no other meaning to give?”

Excerpt from: The Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace, with the Certain Success of Christ’s Kingdom, considered in A Series of Letters: containing Remarks Upon the Observations of the Rev Dan. Taylor on mr. Fuller’s Reply to Philanthropos By Agnostos, “Letter III.”

Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Controversial Publications. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 519–521). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

By |July 9th, 2021|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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