by Charles Hodge
The third great point included in the Scriptural doctrine of original sin, is the inability of fallen man in his natural state, of himself to do anything spiritually good. This is necessarily included in the idea of spiritual death. On this subject it is proposed: (1.) To state the doctrine as presented in the symbols of the Protestant churches. (2.) To explain the nature of the inability under which the sinner is said to labour. (3.) To exhibit the Scriptural proofs of the doctrine; and (4.) To answer the objections usually urged against it.
The Doctrine as stated in Protestant Symbols
There have been three general views as to the ability of fallen man, which have prevailed in the Church. The first, the Pelagian doctrine, which asserts the plenary ability of sinners to do all that God requires of them. The second is the Semi-Pelagian doctrine (taking the word Semi-Pelagian in its wide and popular sense), which admits the powers of man to have been weakened by the fall of the race, but denies that he lost all ability to perform what is spiritually good. And thirdly, the Augustinian or Protestant doctrine which teaches that such is the nature of inherent, hereditary depravity that men since the fall are utterly unable to turn themselves unto God, or to do anything truly good in his sight. With these three views of the ability of fallen men are connected corresponding views of grace, or the influence and operations of the Holy Spirit in man's regeneration and conversion. Pelagians deny the necessity of any supernatural influence of the Spirit in the regeneration and sanctification of men. Semi-Pelagians admit the necessity of such divine influence to assist the enfeebled powers of man in the work of turning unto God, but claim that the sinner coöperates in that work and that upon his voluntary coöperation the issue depends. Augustinians and Protestants ascribe the whole work of regeneration to the Spirit of God, the soul being passive therein, the subject, and not the agent of the change; although active and coöperating in all the exercises of the divine life of which it has been made the recipient.
The doctrine of the sinner's inability is thus stated in the symbols of the Lutheran Church. The "Augsburg Confession" says: "Humana voluntas habet aliquam libertatem ad efficiendam civilem justitiam et deligendas res rationi subjectas. Sed non habet vim sine Spiritu Sancto efficiendæ justitiæ Dei, seu justitiæ spiritualis, quia animalis homo non percepit ea quæ sunt Spiritus Dei (1 Cor. 2:14); sed hæc fit in cordibus, cum per verbum Spiritus Sanctus concipitur. Hæc totidem verbis dicit Augustinus; est, fatemur, liberum arbitrium omnibus hominibus; habens quidem judicium rationis, non per quod sit idoneum, quæ ad Deum pertinent, sine Deo aut inchoare ant certe peragere: sed tantum in operibus vitæ presentis, tam bonis, quam etiam malis."
"Formula Concordiæ:" "Etsi humana ratio seu naturalis intellectus hominis, obscuram aliquam notitiæ illius scintillulam reliquam habet, quod sit Deus, et particulam aliquam legis tenet: tamen adeo ignorans, cœca, et perversa est ratio illa, ut ingeniosissimi homines in hoc mundo evangelium de Filio Dei et promissiones divinas de æterna salute legant vel audiant, tamen ea propriis viribus percipere, intelligere, credere et vera esse, statuere nequeant. Quin potius quanto diligentius in ea re elaborant, ut spirituales res istas suæ rationis acumine indagent et comprehendant, tanto minus intelligunt et credunt, et ea omnia pro stultitia et meris nugis et fabulis habent, priusquam a Spiritu Sancto illuminentur et doceantur." Again,3 "Natura corrupta viribus suis coram Deo nihil aliud, nisi peccare possit."
"Sacræ literæ hominis non renati cor duro lapidi, qui ad tactum non cedat, sed resistat, idem rudi trunco, interdum etiam feræ in domitæ comparant, non quod homo post lapsum non amplius sit rationalis creatura, aut quod absque auditu et meditatione verbi divini ad Deum convertatur, aut quod in rebus externis et civilibus nihil boni aut mali intelligere possit, aut libere aliquid agere vel omittere queat."
"Antequam homo per Spiritum Sanctum illuminatur, convertitur, regeneratur et trahitur, ex sese, et propriis naturalibus suis viribus in rebus spiritualibus, et ad conversionem aut regenerationem suam nihil inchoare, operari, aut coöperari potest, nec plus, quam lapis, truncus, aut limus."
The doctrine of the Reformed churches is to the same effect. "Confessio Helvetica II.:" "Non sublatus est quidem homini intellectus, non erepta ei voluntas, et prorsus in lapidem vel truncum est commutatus: cæterum illa ita sunt immutata et inminuta in homine, ut non possint amplius, quod potuerunt ante lapsum. Intellectus enim obscuratus est: voluntas vero ex libera, facta est voluntas serva. Nam servit peccato, non nolens, sed volens. Etenim voluntas, non noluntas dicitur.…
"Quantum vero ad bonum et ad virtutes, intellectus hominis, non recte judicat de divinis ex semetipso.… Constat vero mentem vel intellectum ducem esse voluntatis, cum autem cœcus sit dux, claret quousque et voluntas pertingat. Proinde nullum est ad bonum homini arbitrium liberum, nondum renato; vires nullae ad perficiendum bonum.… Cæterum nemo negat in externis, et regenitos et non regenitos habere liberum arbitrium.… Damnamus in hac causa Manichæos, qui negant homini bono, ex libero arbitrio fuisse initium mali. Damnamus etiam Pelagianos, qui dicunt hominem malum sufficienter habere liberum arbitrium, ad faciendum præceptum bonum."
"Confessio Gallicana:" "Etsi enim nonnullam habet boni et mali discretionem: affirmamus tamen quicquid habet lucis mox fieri tenebras, cum de quærendo Deo agitur, adeo ut sua intelligentia et ratione nullo modo possit ad eum accedere: item quamvis voluntate sit præditus, qua ad hoc vel illud movetur, tamen quum ea sit penitus sub peccato captiva, nullam prorsus habet ad bonum appetendum libertatem, nisi quam ex gratia et Dei dono acceperit." "Articuli XXXIX:" "Ea est hominis post lapsum Adæ conditio, ut sese naturalibus suis viribus et bonis operibus ad fidem et invocationem Dei convertere ac præparare non possit. Quare absque gratia Dei quæ per Christum est nos præveniente, ut velimus et cooperante dum volumus, ad pietatis opera facienda, quæ Deo grata sunt ac accepta, nihil valemus."3
"Opera quæ fiunt ante gratiam Christi, et Spiritus ejus afflatum, cum ex fide Christi non prodeant minime Deo grata sunt.… Immo, cum non sint facta ut Deus illa fieri voluit et præcepit, peccati rationem habere non dubitamus."
"Canones Dordrechtanæ," "Omnes homines in peccato concipiuntur, et filii iræ nascuntur, inepti ad omne bonum salutare, propensi ad malum, in peccatis mortui, et peccati servi; et absque Spiritus Sancti regenerantis gratia, ad Deum redire, naturam depravatam corrigere, vel ad ejus correctionem se disponere nec volunt, nec possunt."
"Residuum quidem est post lapsum in homine lumen aliquod naturæ, cujus beneficio ille notitias quasdam de Deo, de rebus naturalibus, de discrimine honestorum et turpium retinet, et aliquod virtutis ac disciplinæ externæ studium ostendit: sed tantum abest, ut hoc naturæ lumine ad salutarem Dei cognitionem pervenire, et ad eum se convertere possit, ut ne quidem eo in naturalibus ac civilibus recte utatur, quinimo qualecumque id demum sit, id totum variis modis contaminet atque in injustitia detineat, quod dum facit, coram Deo inexcusabilis redditur."
"Westminster Confession." Original sin is declared in sections second and third to include the loss of original righteousness, and a corrupted nature; "whereby," in section fourth, it is declared, "we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil."
"Their (believers') ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ."
Effectual calling "is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it."
The Nature of the Sinner's Inability
It appears from the authoritative statements of this doctrine, as given in the standards of the Lutheran and Reformed churches, that the inability under which man, since the fall, is said to labour, does not arise:—
Inability does not arise from the Loss of any Faculty of the Soul
1. From the loss of any faculty of his mind or of any original, essential attribute of his nature. He retains his reason, will, and conscience. He has the intellectual power of cognition, the power of self-determination, and the faculty of discerning between moral good and evil. His conscience, as the Apostle says, approves or disapproves of his moral acts.
Nor from the Loss of Free-agency
2. The doctrine of man's inability, therefore, does not assume that man has ceased to be a free moral agent. He is free because he determines his own acts. Every volition is an act of free self-determination. He is a moral agent because he has the consciousness of moral obligation, and whenever he sins he acts freely against the convictions of conscience or the precepts of the moral law. That a man is in such a state that he uniformly prefers and chooses evil instead of good, as do the fallen angels, is no more inconsistent with his free moral agency than his being in such a state as that he prefers and chooses good with the same uniformity that the holy angels do.
Inability not mere Disinclination
3. The inability of sinners, according to the above statement of the doctrine, is not mere disinclination or aversion to what is good. This disinclination exists, but it is not the ultimate fact. There must be some cause or reason for it. As God and Christ are infinitely lovely, the fact that sinners do not love them is not accounted for by saying that they are not inclined to delight in infinite excellence. That is only stating the same thing in different words. If a man does not perceive the beauty of a work of art, or of a literary production, it is no solution of the fact to say that he has no inclination for such forms of beauty. Why is it that what is beautiful in itself, and in the judgment of all competent judges, is without form or comeliness in his eyes? Why is it that the supreme excellence of God, and all that makes Christ the chief among ten thousand and the one altogether lovely in the sight of saints and angels, awaken no corresponding feelings in the unrenewed heart? The inability of the sinner, therefore, neither consists in his disinclination to good nor does it arise exclusively from that source.
It Arises from the Want of Spiritual Discernment
4. According to the Scriptures and to the standards of doctrine above quoted, it consists in the want of power rightly to discern spiritual things, and the consequent want of all right affections toward them. And this want of power of spiritual discernment arises from the corruption of our whole nature, by which the reason or understanding is blinded, and the taste and feelings are perverted. And as this state of mind is innate, as it is a state or condition of our nature, it lies below the will, and is beyond its power, controlling both our affections and our volitions. It is indeed a familiar fact of experience that a man's judgments as to what is true or false, right or wrong, are in many cases determined by his interests or feelings. Some have, in their philosophy, generalized this fact into a law, and teach that as to all æsthetic and moral subjects the judgments and apprehensions of the understanding are determined by the state of the feelings. In applying this law to the matters of religion they insist that the affections only are the subject of moral corruption, and that if these be purified or renewed, the understanding then apprehends and judges rightly as a matter of course. It would be easy to show that this, as a philosophical theory, is altogether unsatisfactory. The affections suppose an object. They can be excited only in view of an object. If we love we must love something. Love is complacency and delight in the thing loved, and of necessity supposes the apprehension of it as good and desirable. It is clearly impossible that we should love God unless we apprehend his nature and perfections; and therefore to call love into exercise it is necessary that the mind should apprehend God as He really is. Otherwise the affection would be neither rational nor holy. This, however, is of subordinate moment. The philosophy of one man has no authority for other men. It is only the philosophy of the Bible, that which is assumed or presupposed in the doctrinal statements of the Word of God, to which we are called upon unhesitatingly to submit. Everywhere in the Scriptures it is asserted or assumed that the feelings follow the understanding; that the illumination of the mind in the due apprehension of spiritual objects is the necessary preliminary condition of all right feeling and conduct. We must know God in order to love Him. This is distinctly asserted by the Apostle in 1 Cor. 2:14. He there says, (1.) That the natural or unrenewed man does not receive the things of the Spirit. (2.) The reason why he does not receive them is declared to be that they are foolishness unto him, or that he cannot know them. (3.) And the reason why he cannot know them is that they are spiritually discerned. It is ignorance, the want of discernment of the beauty, excellence, and suitableness of the things of the Spirit (i.e., of the truths which the Spirit has revealed), that is the reason or cause of unbelief. So also in Eph. 4:18, he says, The heathen (unconverted men) are "alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them." Hence his frequent prayers for the illumination of his readers; and the supplication of the Psalmist that his eyes might be opened. Hence, also, true conversion is said to be effected by a revelation. Paul was instantaneously changed from a persecutor to a worshipper of Christ, when it pleased God to reveal his Son in him. Those who perish are lost because the god of this world has blinded their eyes so that they fail to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is in accordance with this principle that knowledge is essential to holiness, that true religion and life everlasting are said to consist in the knowledge of God (John 17:3); and that men are said to be saved and sanctified by the truth. It is therefore the clear doctrine of the Bible that the inability of men does not consist in mere disinclination or opposition of feeling to the things of God, but that this disinclination or alienation, as the Apostle calls it, arises from the blindness of their minds. We are not, however, to go to the opposite extreme, and adopt what has been called the "light system," which teaches that men are regenerated by light or knowledge, and that all that is needed is that the eyes of the understanding should be opened. As the whole soul is the subject of original sin the whole soul is the subject of regeneration. A blind man cannot possibly rejoice in the beauties of nature or art until his sight is restored. But, if uncultivated, the mere restoration of sight will not give him the perception of beauty. His whole nature must be refined and elevated. So also the whole nature of apostate man must be renewed by the Holy Ghost; then his eyes being opened to the glory of God in Christ, he will rejoice in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory. But the illumination of the mind is indispensable to holy feelings, and is their proximate cause. This being the doctrine of the Bible, it follows that the sinner's disability does not consist in mere disinclination to holiness.
Inability Asserted only in Reference to the "Things of the Spirit."
5. This inability is asserted only in reference to "the things of the Spirit." It is admitted in all the Confessions above quoted that man since the fall has not only the liberty of choice or power of self-determination, but also is able to perform moral acts, good as well as evil. He can be kind and just, and fulfil his social duties in a manner to secure the approbation of his fellow-men. It is not meant that the state of mind in which these acts are performed, or the motives by which they are determined, are such as to meet the approbation of an infinitely holy God; but simply that these acts, as to the matter of them, are prescribed by the moral law. Theologians, as we have seen, designate the class of acts as to which fallen man retains his ability as "justitia civilis," or "things external." And the class as to which his inability is asserted is designated as "the things of God," "the things of the Spirit," "things connected with salvation." The difference between these two classes of acts, although it may not be easy to state it in words, is universally recognized. There is an obvious difference between morality and religion; and between those religious affections of reverence and gratitude which all men more or less experience, and true piety. The difference lies in the state of mind, the motives, and the apprehension of the objects of these affections. It is the difference between holiness and mere natural feeling. What the Bible and all the Confessions of the churches of the Reformation assert is, that man, since the fall, cannot change his own heart; he cannot regenerate his soul; he cannot repent with godly sorrow, or exercise that faith which is unto salvation. He cannot, in short, put forth any holy exercise or perform any act in such a way as to merit the approbation of God. Sin cleaves to all he does, and from the dominion of sin he cannot free himself.
In one Sense this Inability is Natural
6. This inability is natural in one familiar and important sense of the word. It is not natural in the same sense that reason, will, and conscience are natural. These constitute our nature, and without them or any one of them, we should cease to be men. In the second place, it is not natural as arising from the necessary limitations of our nature and belonging to our original and normal condition. It arises out of the nature of man as a creature that he cannot create, and cannot produce any effect out of himself by a mere volition. Adam in the state of perfection could not will a stone to move, or a plant to grow. It is obvious that an inability arising from either of the sources above mentioned, i.e., from the want of any of the essential faculties of our nature, or from the original and normal limitations of our being, involves freedom from obligation. In this sense nothing is more true than that ability limits obligation. No creature can justly be required to do what surpasses his powers as a creature.
On the other hand, although the inability of sinners is not natural in either of the senses above stated, it is natural in the sense that it arises out of the present state of his nature. It is natural in the same sense as selfishness, pride, and worldly mindedness are natural. It is not acquired, or super-induced by any ab extra influence, but flows from the condition in which human nature exists since the fall of Adam.
In another Sense it is Moral
7. This inability, although natural in the sense just stated, is nevertheless moral, inasmuch as it arises out of the moral state of the soul, as it relates to moral action, and as it is removed by a moral change, that is, by regeneration.
Objections to the Popular Distinction between Natural and Moral Ability
In this country much stress has been laid upon the distinction between moral and natural ability. It has been regarded as one of the great American improvements in theology, and as marking an important advance in the science. It is asserted that man since the fall has natural ability to do all that is required of him, and on this ground his responsibility is made to rest; but it is admitted that he is morally unable to turn unto God, or perfectly keep his commandments. By this distinction, it is thought, we may save the great principle that ability limits obligation, that a man cannot be bound to do what he cannot do, and at the same time hold fast the Scriptural doctrine which teaches that the sinner cannot of himself repent or change his own heart. With regard to this distinction as it is commonly and popularly presented, it may be remarked:—
1. That the terms natural and moral are not antithetical. A thing may be at once natural and moral. The inability of the sinner, as above remarked, although moral, is in a most important sense natural. And, therefore, it is erroneous to say, that it is simply moral and not natural.
2. The terms are objectionable not only because they lack precision, but also because they are ambiguous. One man means by natural ability nothing more than the possession of the attributes of reason, will, and conscience. Another means plenary power, all that is requisite to produce a given effect. And this is the proper meaning of the words. Ability is the power to do. If a man has the natural ability to love God, he has full power to love Him. And if He has the power to love Him, he has all that is requisite to call that love into exercise. As this is the proper meaning of the terms, it is the meaning commonly attached to them. Those who insist on the natural ability of the sinner, generally assert that he has full power, without divine assistance, to do all that is required of him: to love God with all his soul and mind and strength, and his neighbour as himself. All that stands in the way of his thus doing is not an inability, but simply disinclination, or the want of will. An ability which is not adequate to the end contemplated, is no ability. It is therefore a serious objection to the use of this distinction, as commonly made, that it involves a great error. It asserts that the sinner is able to do what in fact he cannot do.
3. It is a further objection to this mode of stating the doctrine that it tends to embarrass or to deceive. It must embarrass the people to be told that they can and cannot repent and believe. One or the other of the two propositions, in the ordinary and proper sense of the terms, must be false. And any esoteric or metaphysical sense in which the theologian may attempt to reconcile them, the people will neither appreciate nor respect. It is a much more serious objection that it tends to deceive men to tell them that they can change their own hearts, can repent, and can believe. This is not true, and every man's consciousness tells him that it is untrue. It is of no avail for the preacher to say that all he means by ability is that men have all the faculties of rational beings, and that those are the only faculties to be exercised in turning to God or in doing his will. We might as reasonably tell an uneducated man that he can understand and appreciate the Iliad, because he has all the faculties which the scholar possesses. Still less does it avail to say that the only difficulty is in the will. And therefore when we say that men can love God, we mean that they can love Him if they will. If the word will, be here taken in its ordinary sense for the power of self-determination, the proposition that a man can love God if he will, is not true; for it is notorious that the affections are not under the power of the will. If the word be taken in a wide sense as including the affections, the proposition is a truism. It amounts to saying, that we can love God if we do love Him.
4. The distinction between natural and moral ability, as commonly made, is unscriptural. It has already been admitted that there is an obvious and very important distinction between an inability arising out of the limitations of our being as creatures, and an inability arising out of the apostate state of our nature since the fall of Adam. But this is not what is commonly meant by those who assert the natural ability of men to do all that God requires of them. They mean and expressly assert that man, as his nature now is, is perfectly able to change his own heart, to repent and lead a holy life; that the only difficulty in the way of his so doing is the want of inclination, controllable by his own power. It is this representation which is unscriptural. The Scriptures never thus address fallen men and assure them of their ability to deliver themselves from the power of sin.
5. The whole tendency and effect of this mode of statement are injurious and dangerous. If a sinner must be convinced of his guilt before he can trust in the righteousness of Christ for his justification, he must be convinced of his helplessness before he can look to God for deliverance. Those who are made to believe that they can save themselves, are, in the divine administration, commonly left to their own resources.
In opposition therefore to the Pelagian doctrine of the sinner's plenary ability, to the Semi-Pelagian or Arminian doctrine of what is called "a gracious ability," that is, an ability granted to all who hear the gospel by the common and sufficient grace of the Holy Spirit, and to the doctrine that the only inability of the sinner is his disinclination to good, Augustinians have ever taught that this inability is absolute and entire. It is natural as well as moral. It is as complete, although different in kind, as the inability of the blind to see, of the deaf to hear, or of the dead to restore themselves to life.
Proof of the Doctrine
1. The first and most obvious argument in support of the Augustinian or Orthodox argument on this subject is the negative one. That is, the fact that the Scriptures nowhere attribute to fallen men ability to change their own hearts or to turn themselves unto God. As their salvation depends on their regeneration, if that work was within the compass of their own powers, it is incredible that the Bible should never rest the obligation of effecting it upon the sinner's ability. If he had the power to regenerate himself, we should expect to find the Scriptures affirming his possession of this ability, and calling upon him to exercise it. It may indeed be said that the very command to repent and believe implies the possession of everything that is requisite to obedience to the command. It does imply that those to whom it is addressed are rational creatures, capable of moral obligation, and that they are free moral agents. It implies nothing more. The command is nothing more than the authoritative declaration of what is obligatory upon those to whom it is addressed. We are required to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. The obligation is imperative and constant. Yet no sane man can assert his own ability to make himself thus perfect. Notwithstanding therefore the repeated commands given in the Bible to sinners to love God with all the heart, to repent and believe the gospel, and live without sin, it remains true that the Scriptures nowhere assert or recognize the ability of fallen man to fulfil these requisitions of duty.
Express Declarations of the Scriptures
2. Besides this negative testimony of the Scriptures, we have the repeated and explicit declarations of the Word of God on this subject. Our Lord compares the relation between himself and his people to that which exists between the vine and its branches. The point of analogy is the absolute dependence common to both relations. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.… Without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:4, 5.) We are here taught that Christ is the only source of spiritual life; that those out of Him are destitute of that life and of all ability to produce its appropriate fruits; and even with regard to those who are in Him, this ability is not of themselves, it is derived entirely from Him. In like manner the Apostle asserts his insufficiency (or inability) to do anything of himself. Our "sufficiency," he says, "is of God." (2 Cor. 3:5.) Christ tells the Jews (John 6:44), "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." This is not weakened or explained away by his saying in another place, "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life." The penitent and believing soul comes to Christ willingly. He wills to come. But this does not imply that he can of himself produce that willingness. The sinner wills not to come; but that does not prove that coming is in the power of his will. He cannot have the will to come to the saving of his soul unless he has a true sense of sin, and a proper apprehension of the person, the character and the work of Christ, and right affections towards Him. How is he to get these? Are all these complex states of mind, this knowledge, these apprehensions, and these affections subject to the imperative power of the will? In Rom. 8:7, the Apostle says, "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." Those who are "in the flesh," are distinguished from those who are "in the Spirit." The former are the unrenewed, men who are in a state of nature, and of them it is affirmed that they cannot please God. Faith is declared to be the gift of God, and yet without faith, we are told it is impossible that we should please God. (Heb. 11:6.) In 1 Cor. 2:14, it is said, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The natural man is distinguished from the spiritual man. The latter is one in whom the Holy Spirit is the principle of life and activity, or, who is under the control of the Spirit; the former is one who is under the control of his own fallen nature, in whom there is no principle of life and action but what belongs to him as a fallen creature. Of such a man the Apostle asserts, first, that he does not receive the things of the Spirit, that is, the truths which the Spirit has revealed; secondly, that they are foolishness to him; thirdly, that he cannot know them; and fourthly, that the reason of this inability is the want of spiritual discernment, that is, of that apprehension of the nature and truth of divine things which is due to the inward teaching or illumination of the Holy Ghost. This passage therefore not only asserts the fact of the sinner's inability, but teaches the ground or source of it. It is no mere aversion or disinclination, but the want of true knowledge. No man can see the beauty of a work of art without æsthetic discernment; and no man, according to the Apostle, can see the truth and beauty of spiritual things without spiritual discernment. Such is the constant representation of Scripture. Men are everywhere spoken of and regarded not only as guilty and polluted, but also as helpless.
Involved in the Doctrine of Original Sin
3. The doctrine of the sinner's inability is involved in the Scriptural doctrine of original sin. By the apostasy of man from God he not only lost the divine image and favour, but sunk into a state of spiritual death. The Bible and reason alike teach that God is the life of the soul; his favour, and communion with Him, are essential not only to happiness but also to holiness. Those who are under his wrath and curse and are banished from his presence, are in outer darkness. They have no true knowledge, no desire after fellowship with a Being who to them is a consuming fire. To the Apostle it appears as the greatest absurdity and impossibility that a soul out of favour with God should be holy. This is the fundamental idea of his doctrine of sanctification. Those who are under the law are under the curse, and those who are under the curse are absolutely ruined. It is essential, therefore, to holiness that we should be delivered from the law and restored to the favour of God before any exercise of love or any act of true obedience can be performed or experienced on our part. We are free from sin only because we are not under the law, but under grace. The whole of the sixth and seventh chapters of the Epistle to the Romans is devoted to the development of this principle. To the Apostle the doctrine that the sinner has ability of himself to return to God, to restore to his soul the image of God, and live a holy life, must have appeared as thorough a rejection of his theory of salvation as the doctrine that we are justified by works. His whole system is founded on the two principles that, being guilty, we are condemned, and can be justified only on the ground of the righteousness of Christ; and, being spiritually dead, no objective presentation of the truth, no authoritative declarations of the law, no effort of our own can originate spiritual life, or call forth any spiritual exercise. Being justified freely and restored to the divine favour, we are then, and only then, able to bring forth fruit unto God. "Ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Rom. 7:4–6.) This view of the matter necessarily implies that the natural state of fallen men is one of entire helplessness and inability. They are "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good." The Bible, therefore, as we have already seen, uniformly represents men in their natural state since the fall as blind, deaf, and spiritually dead; from which state they can no more deliver themselves than one born blind can open his own eyes, or one corrupting in the grave can restore himself to life.
The Necessity of the Spirit's Influence
4. The next argument on this subject is derived from what the Scriptures teach of the necessity and nature of the Spirit's influence in regeneration and sanctification. If any man will take a Greek Concordance of the New Testament, and see how often the words Πνεῦμα and Τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον are used by the sacred writers, he will learn how prominent a part the Holy Spirit takes in saving men, and how hopeless is the case of those who are left to themselves. What the Scriptures clearly teach as to this point is, (1.) That the Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual life and all its exercises; that without his supernatural influence we can no more perform holy acts than a dead branch, or a branch separated from the vine can produce fruit. (2.) That in the first instance (that is, in regeneration) the soul is the subject and not the agent of the change produced. The Spirit gives life, and then excites and guides all its operations; just as in the natural world God gives sight to the blind, and then light by which to see, and objects to be seen, and guides and sustains all the exercises of the power of vision which He has bestowed. (3.) That the nature of the influence by which regeneration, which must precede all holy exercises, is produced, precludes the possibility of preparation or coöperation on the part of the sinner. Some effects are produced by natural causes, others by the simple volition or immediate efficiency of God. To this latter class belong creation, miracles, and regeneration. (4.) Hence the effect produced is called a new creature, a resurrection, a new birth. These representations are designed to teach the utter impotence and entire dependence of the sinner. Salvation is not of him that wills nor of him who runs, but of God who showeth mercy, and who works in us to will and to do according to his own good pleasure. These are all points to be more fully discussed hereafter. It is enough in this argument to say that the doctrines of the Bible concerning the absolute necessity of grace, or the supernatural influence of the Spirit, and of the nature and effects of that influence, are entirely inconsistent with the doctrine that the sinner is able of himself to perform any holy act.
The Argument from Experience
5. This is a practical question. What a man is able to do is best determined not by à priori reasoning, or by logical deductions from the nature of his faculties, but by putting his ability to the test. The thing to be done is to turn from sin to holiness; to love God perfectly and our neighbour as ourselves; to perform every duty without defect or omission, and keep ourselves from all sin of thought, word, or deed, of heart or life. Can any man do this? Does any man need argument to convince him that he cannot do it? He knows two things as clearly and as surely as he knows his own existence: first, that he is bound to be morally perfect, to keep all God's commands, to have all right feelings in constant exercise as the occasion calls for them, and to avoid all sin in feeling as well as in act; and, secondly, that he can no more do this than he can raise the dead. The metaphysician may endeavour to prove to the people that there is no external world, that matter is thought; and the metaphysician may believe it, but the people, whose faith is determined by the instincts and divinely constituted laws of their nature, will retain their own intuitive convictions. In like manner the metaphysical theologian may tell sinners that they can regenerate themselves, can repent and believe, and love God perfectly, and the theologian may, by a figure of speech, be said to believe it; but the poor sinners know that it is not true. They have tried a thousand times, and would give a thousand worlds could they accomplish the work, and make themselves saints and heirs of glory by a volition, or by the exercise of their own powers, whether transient or protracted.
It is universally admitted, because a universal fact of consciousness, that the feelings and affections are not under the control of the will. No man can love what is hateful to him, or hate what he delights in, by any exercise of his self-determining power. Hence the philosophers, with Kant, pronounce the command to love, an absurdity, as sceptics declare the command to believe, absurd. But the foolishness of men is the wisdom of God. It is right that we should be required to love God and believe his Word, whether the exercise of love and faith be under the control of our will or not. The only way by which this argument from the common consciousness of men can be evaded, is by denying that feeling has any moral character; or by assuming that the demands of the law are accommodated to the ability of the agent. If he cannot love holiness, he is not bound to love it. If he cannot believe all the gospel, he is required to believe only what he can believe, what he can see to be true in the light of his own reason. Both these assumptions, however, are contrary to the intuitive convictions of all men, and to the express declarations of the Word of God. All men know that moral character attaches to feelings as well as to purposes or volitions; that benevolence as a feeling is right and malice as a feeling is wrong. They know with equal certainty that the demands of right are immutable, that the law of God cannot lower itself to the measure of the power of fallen creatures. It demands of them nothing that exceeds the limitations of their nature as creatures; but it does require the full and constant, and therefore perfect, exercise of those powers in the service of God and in accordance with his will. And this is precisely what every fallen rational human being is fully persuaded he cannot do. The conviction of inability, therefore, is as universal and as indestructible as the belief of existence, and all the sophisms of metaphysical theologians are as impotent as the subtleties of the idealist or pantheist. Any man or set of men, any system of philosophy or of theology which attempts to stem the great stream of human consciousness is certain to be swept down into the abyss of oblivion or destruction.
Conviction of Sin
There is another aspect of this argument which deserves to be considered. What is conviction of sin? What are the experiences of those whom the Spirit of God brings under that conviction? The answer to these questions may be drawn from the Bible, as for example the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, from the records of the inward life of the people of God in all ages, and from every believer's own religious experience. From all these sources it may be proved that every soul truly convinced of sin is brought to feel and acknowledge, (1.) That he is guilty in the sight of God, and justly exposed to the sentence of his violated law. (2.) That he is utterly polluted and defiled by sin; that his thoughts, feelings, and acts are not what conscience or the divine law can approve; and that it is not separate, transient acts only by which he is thus polluted, but also that his heart is not right, that sin exists in him as a power or a law working in him all manner of evil. And, (3.) That he can make no atonement for his guilt, and that he cannot free himself from the power of sin; so that he is forced to cry out, O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death! This sense of utter helplessness, of absolute inability, is as much and as universally an element of genuine conviction as a sense of guilt or the consciousness of defilement. It is a great mercy that the theology of the heart is often better than the theology of the head.
6. The testimony of every man's consciousness is confirmed by the common consciousness of the Church and by the whole history of our race. Appeal may be made with all confidence to the prayers, hymns, and other devotional writings of the people of God for proof that no conviction is more deeply impressed on the hearts of all true Christians than that of their utter helplessness and entire dependence upon the grace of God. They deplore their inability to love their Redeemer, to keep themselves from sin, to live a holy life in any degree adequate to their own convictions of their obligations. Under this inability they humble themselves. They never plead it as an excuse or palliation; they recognize it as the fruit and evidence of the corruption of their nature derived as a sad inheritance from their first parents. They refer with one voice, whatever there is of good in them, not to their own ability, but to the Holy Spirit. Every one adopts as expressing the inmost conviction of his heart, the language of the Apostle, "Not I, but the grace of God which was with me." As this is the testimony of the Church so also it is the testimony of all history. The world furnishes no example of a self-regenerated man. No such man exists or ever has existed; and no man ever believed himself to be regenerated by his own power. If what men can do is to be determined by what men have done, it may safely be assumed that no man can change his own heart, or bring himself to repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. An ability which has never in the thousands of millions of our race accomplished the desired end, even if it existed, would not be worth contending for. There is scarcely a single doctrine of the Scriptures either more clearly taught or more abundantly confirmed by the common consciousness of men, whether saints or sinners, than the doctrine that fallen man is destitute of all ability to convert himself or to perform any holy act until renewed by the almighty power of the Spirit of God.
1. The most obvious and plausible objection to this doctrine is the old one so often considered already, namely, that it is inconsistent with moral obligation. A man, it is said, cannot be justly required to do any thing for which he has not the requisite ability. The fallacy of this objection lies in the application of this principle. It is self-evidently true in one sphere, but utterly untrue in another. It is true that the blind cannot justly be required to see, or the deaf to hear. A child cannot be required to understand the calculus, or an uneducated man to read the classics. These things belong to the sphere of nature. The inability which thus limits obligation arises out of the limitations which God has imposed on our nature. The principle in question does not apply in the sphere of morals and religion, when the inability arises not out of the limitation, but out of the moral corruption of our nature. Even in the sphere of religion there is a bound set to obligation by the capacity of the agent. An infant cannot be expected or required to have the measure of holy affections which fills the souls of the just made perfect. It is only when inability arises from sin and is removed by the removal of sin, that it is consistent with continued obligation. And as it has been shown from Scripture that the inability of the sinner to repent and believe, to love God and to lead a holy life, does not arise from the limitation of his nature as a creature (as is the case with idiots or brutes); nor from the want of the requisite faculties or capacity, but simply from the corruption of our nature, it follows that it does not exonerate him from the obligation to be and to do all that God requires. This, as shown above, is the doctrine of the Bible and is confirmed by the universal consciousness of men, and especially by the experience of all the people of God. They with one voice deplore their helplessness and their perfect inability to live without sin, and yet acknowledge their obligation to be perfectly holy.
We are responsible for external acts, because they depend on our volitions. We are responsible for our volitions because they depend on our principles and feelings; and we are responsible for our feelings and for those states of mind which constitute character, because (within the sphere of morals and religion) they are right or wrong in their own nature. The fact that the affections and permanent and even immanent states of the mind are beyond the power of the will does not (as has been repeatedly shown in these pages), remove them out of the sphere of moral obligation. As this is attested by Scripture and by the general judgment of men, the assumed axiom that ability limits obligation in the sphere of morals cannot be admitted.
Moral obligation being founded upon the possession of the attributes of a moral agent, reason, conscience, and will, it remains unimpaired so long as these attributes remain. If reason be lost all responsibility for character or conduct ceases. If the consciousness of the difference between right and wrong, the capacity to perceive moral distinctions does not exist in a creature or does not belong to its nature, that creature is not the subject of moral obligation; and in like manner if he is not an agent, is not invested with the faculty of spontaneous activity as a personal being, he ceases, so far as his conscious states are concerned, to be responsible for what he is or does. Since the Scriptural and Augustinian doctrine admits that man since the fall retains his reason, conscience, and will, it leaves the grounds of responsibility for character and conduct unimpaired.
It does not weaken the Motives to Exertion
2. Another popular objection to the Scriptural doctrine on this subject is, that it destroys all rational grounds on which rests the use of the means of grace. If we cannot accomplish a given end, why should we use the means for its accomplishment? So the farmer might say, If I cannot secure a harvest, why should I cultivate my fields? In every department of human activity the result depends on the coöperation of causes over which man has no control. He is expected to use the means adapted to the desired end, and trust for the coöperation of other agencies without which his own efforts are of no avail. The Scriptural grounds on which we are bound to use the means of grace are, (1.) The command of God. This of itself is enough. If there were no apparent adaptation of the means to the end, and no connection which we could discover between them, the command of God would be a sufficient reason and motive for their diligent use. There was no natural adaptation in the waters of the Jordan to heal the leprosy, or in those of the pool of Siloam to restore sight to the blind. It had, however, been fatal folly on the part of Naaman to refuse on that account to obey the command to bathe himself seven times; and in the blind man to refuse to wash in the pool as Jesus directed. (2.) If the command of God is enough even when there is no apparent connection between the means and the end, much more is it enough when the means have a natural adaptation to the end. We can see such adaptation in the department of nature, and it is no less apparent in that of grace. There is an intimate connection between truth and holiness, as between sowing the grain and reaping the harvest. Man sows but God gives the increase in the one case as well as in the other. (3.) There is not only this natural adaptation of the means of grace to the end to be accomplished, but in all ordinary cases, the end is not attained otherwise than through the use of those means. Men are not saved without the truth. Those who do not seek fail to find. Those who refuse to ask do not receive. This is as much the ordinary course of the divine administration in the kingdom of grace, as in the kingdom of nature. (4.) There is not only this visible connection between the means of grace and the salvation of the soul, as a fact of experience, but the express promise of God that those who seek shall find, that those who ask shall receive, and that to those who knock it shall be opened. More than this cannot be rationally demanded. It is more than is given to the men of the world to stimulate them in their exertions to secure wealth or knowledge. The doctrine of inability, therefore, does not impair the force of any of the motives which should determine sinners to use all diligence in seeking their own salvation in the way which God has appointed.
The Doctrine does not encourage Delay
3. Still another objection is everywhere urged against this doctrine. It is said that it encourages delay. If a man believes that he cannot change his heart, cannot repent and believe the gospel, he will say, "I must wait God's time. As He gives men a new heart, as faith and repentance are his gifts, I must wait until He is pleased to bestow those gifts on me." No doubt Satan does tempt men thus to argue and thus to act, as he tempts them in other ways to egregious folly. The natural tendency of the doctrine in question, however, is directly the reverse. When a man is convinced that the attainment of a desirable end is beyond the compass of his own powers, he instinctively seeks help out of himself. If ill, if he knows he cannot cure himself, he sends for a physician. If persuaded that the disease is entirely under his own control, and especially if any metaphysician could persuade him that all illness is an idea, which can be banished by a volition, then it would be folly in him to seek aid from abroad. The blind, the deaf, the leprous, and the maimed who were on earth when Christ was present in the flesh, knew that they could not heal themselves, and therefore they went to Him for help. No more soul-destroying doctrine could well be devised than the doctrine that sinners can regenerate themselves, and repent and believe just when they please. Those who really embrace such a doctrine would never apply to the only source whence these blessings can in fact be obtained. They would be led to defer to the last moment of life a work which was entirely in their own hands and which could be accomplished in a moment. A miser on his death-bed may by a volition give away all his wealth. If a sinner could as easily change his own heart, he would be apt to cleave to the world as the miser to his wealth, till the last moment. All truth tends to godliness; all error to sin and death. As it is a truth both of Scripture and of experience that the unrenewed man can do nothing of himself to secure his salvation, it is essential that he should be brought to a practical conviction of that truth. When thus convinced, and not before, he seeks help from the only source whence it can be obtained.
From: Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge