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Note [P]. page 68.
Inattention to the distinction between natural or physical, and moral inability, has occasioned many mistakes in the mode of stating divine truth, and dealing with men. It has too often been taken for granted that men are sincerely desirons of salvation, but find difficulties in the way which they cannot remove; and hence, instead of being warned and exhorted to repent, they have been recommended to wait, and attend upon divine ordinances, in the hope that God will in due time visit them. Thus the evil and danger of present unbelief are overlooked or softened down, and instead of the guilt being fastened on the creature, blame is indirectly thrown upon the Creator. It is supposed that the sinner is willing to be saved, and conceded that there is reason to doubt whether God be willing to save him. While the fact is, though the sinner may be willing to be saved in his own way, he is not willing to be saved in God's way. He has objections lo that, and yet vainly contends that the fault, if he is not saved, does not belong to him. If his inability be mere unwillingness to come to Christ, or to submit to God's method of salvation, the whole mystery is exposed, and every creature is brought in guilty before God.
The Scriptures furnish us with some illustrations of the two kinds of inability referred to. The one arising from physical causes, or unavoidable necessity, the other entirely from the state of the dispositions. The one constitutes misfortune, the other constitutes crime.
In the first chapter of Jonah, at the 15th verse, we are told “ That the mariners rowed hard to bring the ship to land ; but they could not; for the sea wrought and was tempestuous."
Here is an example of inability, arising from a physical cause, involving no crime in the individuals. They would most willingly have saved themselves and Jonah, but could not from the state of the sea. In Genesis xxxvii. 4. it is said, “When Joseph's brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.” Here is an example of inability, arising from a moral cause. The liatred of Joseph's brethren was their sin, their state of mind was the only reason of their inability to treat him kindly. If they are not allowed to justify the cause, they ought not to be permitted to excuse the effect.
In Isaiah xxix. 11, 12. it is said, “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee : and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.” Here two reasons for not reading the book are assigned, both constituting a sufficient plea, as they constitute natural inability. It is impossible to read a book while it is sealed, or to read it without being learned or instructed. But had the book been open, and the individual acquainted with the language in which it was written, but shut his eyes when asked to read it, the case would have been wholly different. When it is said, “ The carnal mind is enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,” Rom. viii. 7. the case is materially altered from the former; the reason why the natural mind cannot be subject to the law of God, or please God, is its enmity. But that is a moral reason implying the want of the principle of love, and the presence of hatred to God, which constitute the very crime of which the sinner is accused, and for the effect of which he cannot be allowed to apologize,
When it is said, John xxi. 6," the disciples were not able to draw the net for the multitude of fishes,” we acquit them of all blame. It was obviously not the want of will, but the want of power.
When it is said of certain men by Peter, 2nd Epistle, ii. 14, “ Having eyes full of adultery, they cannot cease from sin,” we condemn them, because it is not the want of natural power, but of moral disposition. When the Psalmist says xl. 12. I am not able to look up, we commiserate the sufferer. But when Christ says, “ It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” Luke xiv. 33 ; or, “ No man can come unto me, unless the Father who hath sent me draw him," John vi. 44. it is imputing the highest degree of blame. Nothing rendered it neccssary that the prophets should perish in Jerusalem, but the wickedness of the people. Nothing prevented the people coming unto Christ, but their own inveterate dislike to him ; which he, in the same chapter, expresses by the intelligible expression, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.”
This view of the matter fully meets the absurd doctrine, which has recently been presented to the world, with all the imposing recommendations of a superior eloquence and pretension to an enlarged and liberal philosophy :—“That man has no controul over his faith, or is not accountable for his belief.”
If the dispositions of the mind have a powerful influence on our views and estimate of moral truth, it is utterly im. possible that Mr. Brougham's doctrine can be defended. No two individuals can differ in opinion as to whether two and three make five, or that the whole is greater than any of its parts; because these are abstract propositions addressed merely to the intellect. But the nature of sin, and the duty of repentance necessarily relate to the dispositions ; so that one man fearing God, and another despising him, will form very diffe. rent ideas of evidence relative to these things. Mr. Brongham
seems to me to confound physical aad moral necessity together. The latter, I agree with Dr. Samuel Clarke, in considering no necessity at all. If man is a free agent, every thing he does, without physical compulsion, must be regarded as voluntary. Liberty consists in the power of acting differently from what we do; necessity is the opposite. We are all conscious of possessing the former, and this constitutes our accountability.
I should like to see Mr. Brougham try, or be tried by, his own doctrine in his own profession. Supposing that a man, put upon his trial for theft or for treason, were to plead, that after the fullest and most patient examination of the subject, and of all the evidence by which human opinion is formed, he had arrived at the strongest conviction that these crimes are perfectly justifiable or innoxious. Would Mr. Brougham allow him the benefit of such a plea; or how would he meet such a man upon his own principles? I am aware he might say, religious belief is only injurious to a man's self; and the other is injurious to society. I grant that this affects the object or degree of the evil; but I contend that it does not alter the nature of the principle. That remains the same, whether it affects myself or affects my neighbour. But on this subject I need not enter after the masterly manner in which it has been treated by Dr.Wardlaw; whose two discourses, I very earnestly recommend to the reader's attention. I would also recom. mend a careful perusal of the 4th Section in Part II. of Edwards's admirable Treatise on the Freedom of the will; which discusses “ The distinction of natural and moral necessity and inability.”
It is very extraordinary that so acute and distinguished a man as Professor Dugald Stewart, should deny the distinction for which we have contended, and which is so well under. stood in the ordinary affairs of life. “ The distinction between physical and moral necessity,” he says, “I conceive to be not less frivolous than the one to which the foregoing animad
versions relate. On this point I agree with Diderot, that the word necessity admits but of one interpretation.” The word necessity may bave but one meaning, while there may be various kinds of necessity. The distinction under considera. tion does not depend on different meanings of this word, but on the terms with which it is associated. A result may be the same, while the causes which produce it may be very different. Death inflicted by a man's own hand, or by the hand of another, is the same in itself; but what absurdity would it be to maintain that they were the same in the character of their cause? In that case a hatred of life, render. ing it intolerable, would justify taking it away.
An attempt has been made to confound the theological opinions of Edwards and his school, with the doctrine of philosophical necessity maintained by men of a very different stamp, and to answer very different purposes. When the writings of Hume and Kames on this and some other subjects, led to an effort to prosecnte the authors in the ecclesiastical courts of Scotland many years ago, Lord Kames endeavoured to show that there was little, if any difference between the sentiments of the philosophers on liberty and necessity, and those of the Calvinistic writers on predestination and free will. The attention of Jonathan Edwards was called to this use of his treatise on the “Freedom of the Will,” by his friend and correspondent, the late Dr. John Erskine, in consequence of which he addressed the masterly letter, which has been inserted in the works of Edwards, Vol. I. p. 426. This letter is one of the finest pieces of powerful and discriminative argument in the English language. He detects the sophistry of Lord Kames, in his “ Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion,” and illustrates most satisfactorily the difference between his sentiments and those of the sceptical philosophers; who had no objection to use the weapons of the divine when they suited their purpose, though they