RPM Volume 17, Number 1, December 28, 2014 to January 3, 2015
By R. L. DABNEY, D. D., LL. D.
Chapter 22: Effectual Calling
Application of Redemption by Holy Spirit. Sin Necessitates the Call. Common and
Effectual Calling. Designs of God in Common Call; His Sincerity therein. Scripture
Argument Objections considered. Agent and Instrument of Regeneration. Pelagian and
Semi–Pelagian View of Regeneration. Correct View Sustained. Is the Operation of the
Spirit Mediate? Dick’s View. Definition of Doctrine. Argument. How Moral Opinions
Arise. [Lectures 46.& 47]
Section Two—Basic Doctrines of the Faith
Chapter 22: Effectual Calling
Syllabus for Lectures 46 & 47:
1. How are we made partakers of the Redemption purchased by Christ?
See. Conf of Faith, ch. 9 Cat. Qu. 29.
2. Whence the Necessity of a Call to man?
Dick, Lecture 65. Hill, bk. 5, ch. 1.
3. How many calls does God give to men? And what is the difference between Common
and Effectual Calling?
Shorter Cat. Qu. 31. Larger Cat. Qu. 68. Turrettin, Loc. xv, Qu. 1, 4. Hill, bk. 5, ch. 1.
Ridgley, Qu. 67. Knapp, Sect. 129.
4. What then can be God’s true Design in the "Common Call" of non-elect Men, and
How may His sincerity therein be cleared?
Turrettin, , Loc. xv, Qu. 2. Howe’s Works, "Reconcilableness of God’s prescience, etc.,
with the Wisdom and Sincerity of His Counsels." Works of Andrew Fuller. Gospel
Worthy of all acceptation, pt. 3. Arminian and Socinian Polemics. Passim . Hodge’s
Theol. pt. iii, ch. 14.
5. Who is the Agent, and what the customary Instrument in Effectual Calling?
Turrettin, Loc. 14., Qu. 4, (especially Sect. 23, etc.) Hill, bk. 5, ch. 1. Dick, Lecture 65.
Knapp, sect. 130, 131.
6. Prove, against Socinians and semi-Pelagians, that in the Effectual Call, regeneration
is not merely by moral Suasion of truth and inducement, but by the Supernatural Power
of the Holy Spirit.
Turrettin, Loc. 14. Qu. 4, (especially sect. 28 to end), and Qu. 6. Hodge’s Theol. pt. iii,
ch. 14. Hill, bk. 5, ch. 1, and bk. 4, ch. 8. Dick, Lecture 65. Ridgley, Qu. 67, 68, So.
Presb. Rev. Art. 1., of July and Oct. 1877. Knapp, Sect. 132, 133. Aristotle,
Nichomachian Ethics, bk. 2, sect. 1. Watson’s Theo. Inst. ch. 24. Dr. Jas. Woods, "Old
and New Theo."
7. Does the Holy Spirit work Regeneration immediately, or only mediately through the
Turrettin, as above. Alexander’s Religious Experience, Letters 5-6. Dick, Lecture 66.
Review of Hodge So. Presb. Rev., April, 1877. Chaufepie. Dict. Hist. et Crit, Art. Pajon.
1. Application of Redemption By Holy Spirit.
“We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual
application of it to us by Christ’s Holy Spirit." We now come to the great branch of
Theology—The Application of Redemption—in which the kingdom founded by Jesus
Christ’s humiliation is set up and carried on. In this work, His priestly office is only
exercised in heaven, by His intercession. It is His prophetic and kingly which He
exercises on earth. And the person of the Trinity now brought into discussion is the Holy
Spirit, which proceeds from the Father through the Son. As the doctrines of Creation
Providence, the Law, chiefly concerned the Father; that of atonement and priesthood
chiefly concerned the Son; so this brings into view chiefly the Holy Spirit. This would,
therefore, be the most natural place to bring into view the doctrine of the Spirit’s
personality, nature, and agency, but as you have already attended to these, I proceed.
2. Sin Necessitates the Call.
The great necessity for the effectual calling of man is in his original sin. Were he not by
nature depraved, and his disposition wholly inclined to ungodliness, the mere mention of
a plan, by which deliverance from guilt and unholiness was assured, would be enough;
all would flock to embrace it. But such is man’s depravity, that a redemption must not
only be provided, but he must be effectually persuaded to embrace it. Now since our
effectual calling is the remedy for our original sin; as is our conception of the disease,
such will be our conception of the remedy. Hence, in fact, all men’s theology is
determined hereupon by their views of original sin. We, who believe the unconverted
will to be certainly determined to ungodliness, by ungodly dispositions, therefore believe
in an effectual and supernatural call. John 3:5 and 6.
3. Call Either Common or Effectual.
Calvinists admit only two kinds of call from the gospel to man-the common and the
effectual. They deny that there is any natural call uttered by the voice of nature and
Natural Theology, for the simple reason that whatever information it might give of the
being and government of God, of His righteousness, and of His punishments for sin, it
holds out no certain warrant that He will be merciful to sinners, nor of the terms whereon
He can be so. Where there is no revealed gospel, there is no gospel call. And this is
only to say, that Natural Theology is insufficient to salvation.The common call consists
of the preached word, addressed to men’s ears and souls, together with (in most, at
least), the common convincing operations of the Holy Spirit. This call is made generally
to the whole human race in Scripture, and specifically to each adult to whom the gospel
comes. The effectual call, we hold, consists of these elements, and also of a work of the
Holy Spirit, "whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the
knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to
embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel." Arminians, indeed, assert that
the call is one and the same, so far as God’s dispensation towards men is concerned, to
all under the gospel, and that it only differs by its results in different cases, which
difference is made only by man’s free will. This we shall more fully disprove when we
come to show the nature of regeneration, but it may now be disproved briefly by these
thoughts. (a). That a difference is asserted between the nature of God’s calls; in
Scripture, Matt. 20:16; John 6:44, 45. (b). That the effectual calling is a result of
election; but the event proves that all are not elect. See Rom. 8:28; 11:29; 8:30; Acts
13:48. (c). If the call only differed in the answer made to it by man’s free will, 1 Cor. 4:7,
would not remain true; nor Rom. 9:16.
4. Designs of God In Common Call. To Gather Elect.
God’s design in the common call of the unconverted may be said to be threefold. First, it
is His appointed and proper means for saying from among them, the elect. And He
either must have adopted this generality in the outward call, or else He must have
adopted one of two expedients. He must have actually saved all, or He must have
separated the non-elect wholly from the participation of the common call. Had He
adopted the latter plan, surely those who now complain of partiality would then have
complained far more loudly. Had He adopted the former, where would have been His
manifestation of His sovereignty, and where that evidence of regular customary
connection between means and ends, conduct and destiny, on which He has seen fit to
found His government?
To Express His Benevolence.
God’s second design in making the common call universal was the exercise of the
general holiness goodness, and compassion of His nature, (which generally regard all
His creatures), in dissuading all from sin and self destruction. God’s holiness, which is
universally opposed to sin, makes it proper that He shall dissuade from sin, every
where, and in all sinners. God’s mercy and goodness, being made possible towards the
human race by their being under a gospel dispensation, make it proper that He shall
dissuade all from self destruction. And this benevolence not only offers a benefit to
sinners generally, but actually confers one—i. e., a temporary enjoyment of a
dispensation of mercy, and a suspension of wrath, with all the accompanying mercies,
and the offer itself of salvation. This offer is itself a benefit, only man’s perverseness
turns it into a curse. Blessed be God, His word assures us that this common call is an
expression of sincere benevolence towards all sinners, elect and non-elect, (a
compassion whose efficient outgoing is, however, conditioned, as to all, on faith and
penitence in them). Ezek. 33:11; Ps. 81:13; 1 Tim. 2:4.
To Clear Himself.
God’s third design in making the common call universal is that when men ruin
themselves, as He foresaw they would, His holiness, goodness, compassion and truth
may be entirely cleared, in their fate, before heaven and earth. It was a part of His
eternal plan, to magnify His own goodness, by offering to human sinners a provision for
salvation so complete, as to remove every obstacle arising out of His justice and law; so
that in their final damnation all the universe may see how lovely God is; and how
desperate an evil sin is. And this is properly God’s highest end.
Is the Common Call Insincere?
It has been often charged that, if God makes an internal difference in sinners hearts,
between the common call and the effectual, His wisdom, or His sincerity, in extending
that common call to all, is tarnished.
In defending God’s sincerity and wisdom in this matter, let us make this preliminary
remark. That we have discarded the Thomist proposition which asserts God’s efficient in
the sinful acts of men. The student may recall our grounds, in the twenty-fifth Lecture,
for disencumbering God’s providence of that dogma. Hence, we have not to account
here for any praecursus of God’s, in those unbelieving acts of the sinner under the
gospel, by which he resists its gracious invitations and commands. All we have to
account for is God’s prescience and permission of the unbelief and disobedience. So
that the problem we have to discuss is exactly this. Is God both wise and sincere, in
inviting and commanding to gospel duty, such sinners as He foresees will neglect it,
while His own purpose is distinctly formed, not to put forth His omnipotent Spirit, to
cause them to submit? That He is wise in doing so, follows without difficulty, from the
positions already laid down assigning the several consistent ends God has in view in
His dealings with unbelievers. If that part of these ends, which does not include their
own redemption is wise, then the providence is wise.
Scripture Orders It.
In reply we assert, First, the Scriptures explicitly direct the common call to be extended
to all; e. g., Mark 16:15. They assert that God does efficaciously persuade some, and
not others, to embrace it. Rom. 9:16; 11:7. And they also say that God is both wise and
sincere in His offers and dealings, Ezek. 33:11; Luke 19:42; 2 Tim. 2:19. Now, in any
other science than theology, when facts are ascertained on valid evidence, they are all
admitted, whether they can be reconciled or not. I remark further, that to deny the
doctrine of effectual calling does not much relieve the subject; for God’s prescience of
the actual results of His universal call involve very much the same difficulties as to His
wisdom and sincerity.
Scriptures Assert the Very Cases.
Second, the objector says that God cannot have done the thing Calvinists represent
Him as doing, because incompatible with His sincerity. But what if we find Him saying
that He does this very thing? This is precisely the case. In His Scriptures He represents
Himself as giving unquestionable admonitions and invitations to men whom, He
expressly declares at the time, He intends to permit to destroy themselves. Compare,
for instance, Ex. 5:1, with 7:3, 4. In the one text God says to Pharaoh. "Let my people
go," while in the other, He informs Moses, "He will not hearken, that I may lay my hand
upon Egypt." In Isaiah 6:9, Jehovah commissions Isaiah to preach to Judea, and the
tenor of his preaching may be seen in Chap, 1:18; which is a gracious offer of
cleansing. But in Ch. 6:11, Isaiah is informed that his preaching is destined to harden
his countrymen to their almost universal destruction. Ezek. 3:7, 11, presents the very
same case. One is presented in Matt. 23:33-35, with 37, which is, if possible, still
stronger. These cases end the debate, so far as the question of fact goes. My point is,
that God here avows the doing of the very thing the Arminians say He must not do. This
is a perfect proof, at least, that their difficulty has not arisen from any Calvinistic
misstatement of God’s plan. We might then, dismiss the debate, and leave them to
settle their controversy with God, as best they may.
Providence Involves the Same Question.
Third, the course of God’s providence in natural things is liable to the same difficulty. He
spares sinners. "He sends His rain on the just and unjust; and causeth His sun to rise
on the good and evil." See Acts 14:17. Now Peter (Eph. 3:15) tells us that the "long
suffering of our God is salvation." If His admitting sinners to the gospel call, whom He
yet foresees to be bent on their own destruction is insincere; and the reality of His
benefit therein is doubted, because He never efficaciously purposed to make them
repent, His providential goodness also is no true goodness. But what sinner believes
this? We have here every feature, in which, Arminians say, their difficulty inheres.
These earthly blessings are overtures of mercy, and are intended as such. God
foresees their neglect, and the continued impenitence of the recipients. Physically, He is
able to add to these suasives the other means, and the efficacious grace, which would
certainly bring the recipients to repentance. But He does not see fit to add them.
God’s Infinite Goodness Regulated By Wisdom.
In the fourth place, we find the explanation of the common call in the views expounded
in the remarks upon the design of the sacrifice of Christ. The student was there
advertised that we should find another application for those important ideas. That
subject, and the one now in hand, are obviously cognate. The purpose of God in
Christ’s sacrifice, and in His offer of its benefits, must be guided by the same attributes
of wisdom, benevolence and righteousness. We there saw that the executive volition
which is wise and good, is prompted in God, (as in a lower manner in any righteous
creature,) by comprehensive deliberation, and is not the result of an insulated principle,
but of all the right principles of the Agent’s nature harmonized under His best wisdom.
We saw how a good man may have sympathy with a calamity, which he may yet, for
wise reasons, freely determine not to relieve. And we raised the question. Since he
really has that sympathy, why may he not give candid expression to it in other forms
than acts of rescue? Thus, the good and consistent human magistrate makes overtures
of mercy to a criminal on given terms, and yet he is well aware that the criminal’s malice
and contumacy are such, that the terms will be refused; and he is equally fixed in his
mind not to degrade the majesty of the law, by pardoning on any lower terms. No one
charges this ruler with insincerity or folly. Why may not our God do the parallel thing?
We have seen how the extremists, Arminian and ultra-Calvinist, meet in a common
ground of cavil that the difference is; God is able to renew the criminal’s heart, so as to
ensure his complying with the requisite terms, the human magistrate is not. I reply, that
while God has the dunami" , the spiritual might, adequate to renew Satan or Judas, He
has not the sanction of His own comprehensive wisdom for doing it. I ask with
emphasis. May not God see, amidst the multifarious relations of His vast kingdom,
many a valid reason which we have not surmised for determining that it is not best for
Him to do a certain act, to which He feels His power competent? To deny this is insane
arrogance. The Calvinist need not fear, lest the Arminian here triumph in representing
God’s desires as crossed by the invincibility of the creature’s perverse free will. My view
represents His desires and actions as regulated only by His own perfection’s, but by all
His perfection’s harmoniously combined. It may perhaps be objected farther, that such a
picture of the co-action of God’s active principles and of the rise of His volition, cannot
be correct, because it would represent His purposes as emerging out of a state of
internal struggle, during which God would be drawn different ways by competing
motives, like a poor mortal. Such a picture, they exclaim, is unworthy both of the
majesty and blessedness, and the immutability of God. The sufficient answer is
contained in the remark already made in the previous lecture. That God’s active
principles are not passions. They are principles of action, but they exist in Him in their
unchangeable vigor, without agitation, and without passionate access or recess. Hence
their co-action in the deliberations of the infinite Mind are without struggle. That this may
be so, may be illustrated in some small degree, even to our feeble apprehension. We
have adduced the example of the great Washington, contemplating the fate of Andre
with profound compassion, and yet with a firm and wise determination to give justice its
awful dues. This implied of course, some struggle in Washington’s heart. But it is
equally obvious, that had it been the lower and feeble nature of a Gates or a Schuyler,
(both also sincere and honest patriots) which was called to this solemn task, he would
have performed it at the cost of much greater disturbance to his equanimity. Why would
this have occurred? Not because their natures were, really, more compassionate than
Washington’s but because his, while capable of a more profound compassion
thantheirs, was cast in a grander mold, and regulated by a higher virtue and wisdom. It
is strength which gives equanimity. Take this instance, which is infinitesimally humble
beside God’s majesty, and it will assist us to apprehend how His infinite wisdom may
regulate the several infinite activities of His nature, absolutely without a struggle. And let
the student bear in mind, that my attempt is not to bring down the actions of the divine
Spirit to man’s comprehension, they are ineffable, but to prevent other men from
cramping, within the trammels of their human logic, the incomprehensible, but blessed,
workings of infinite goodness.
Common Call Always Conditioned.
Fifth, when we assert this sincere compassion of God in His common calls to the nonelect, we do not attribute to Him anything futile, or insincere, because, in the
expressions of this compassion, He always makes an implied or expressed condition
that they shall turn. He does not say anywhere that He has any desire to see any one
saved while continuing a rebel. Nor does He say anywhere that it is His unconditioned
purpose to compel all to turn. But He says, He would like to see all saved provided they
all turned. So that His will in the universal call is not out of harmony with His prescience.
And last, God’s invitations and warnings to those who He foresees, will reject them, are
the necessary expressions of His perfection’s. The circumstance that a given sin is
foreseen, does not rob it of its moral character, and hence should constitute no reason
why a righteous God shall forbear to prohibit and warn against it. That God shall yet
permit creatures to commit this sin against His invitations, is therefore just the old
question about the permission of evil, not a new one.
5. Agent and Instrument of Regeneration.
The Scriptures always speak of the Holy Spirit as the efficacious Agent of effectual
calling. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit," John 3:5. "It is the Spirit that
quickeneth," 6:63. See, also, 2 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 4:30. But this proposition will be
supported by the whole subsequent argument. It is also very important that we assert,
against Mystics and Fanatics, the counterpart truth, that His customary instrument (in all
cases except the redemption of infants and idiots) is the Word. If we allow any other
standard or instrumentality of regeneration than the Word, there will be no barrier to the
confounding of every crude impulse of nature and Satan, with those of the Holy Spirit.
The work of grace is the work of the divine Spirit. The Word is also His, and He always
works His works in accordance with, and through His word, because He is a wise and
unchangeable Agent. Such is the uniform teaching of Scripture, confirmed by
experience. Christians are "born again, not of the corruptible seed, but of incorruptible,
by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever," 1 Pet. 1:23. The Holy Spirit
renovates the mental vision; the word of God alone furnishes the luminous medium
through which the renovated vision sees. Here is the only safe middle ground between
Rationalism on the one hand, and Fanaticism on the other. To give up the first truth is to
surrender the whole doctrines of grace. To forsake the second is to open the floodgates
to every wild delusion.
6. Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian View of Regenernation.
There are two grades of Pelagian view, as to the nature and agency of regeneration.
Both regard it as only a change of purpose in the sinner’s mind, whereas Calvinism
regards it as a revolution of the moral dispositions which determine the purpose of the
mind; accompanied with an enlightening of the understanding in spiritual things. The
ancient, thorough Pelagian taught a regeneration produced, in the baldest sense, by
mere moral suasion—i. e., by the mere force of moral inducements, operating according
to the laws of mind. In his mouth, converting grace meant nothing more than God’s
goodness in revealing the moral inducements of the Scriptures; in endowing man with
reason and conscience, and in providentially bringing those revealed encouragements
into contact with his sane understanding. See Histories of Doctrines. But the New
England Pelagian attributes to the Holy Spirit some indirect agency in presenting moral
truths with increased energy to the soul. Still, he denies a proper supernatural agency
therein; teaches that the office of the Holy Spirit is only suasive through the truth, and
not renovating, and makes His work the same generically, only vastly stronger in
degree, with that of the minister who holds forth the gospel to his fellow men. It was
said, for instance, that Dr. Duffield said, "The only reason I cannot convert a sinner with
gospel truth, like the Holy Spirit, is that I am not as eloquent as He is."!
Regeneration Properly Defined.
Now, if we disprove this higher theory, the lower is of course disproved along with it. But
we prove that regeneration is not a mere change of the human purpose, occurring in
view of motive, but a supernatural renovation of the dispositions which determine the
moral purpose, and of the understanding in the apprehension of moral and spiritual
truth, the whole resulting in a permanent and fundamental conversion in the actings of
the whole man as to sin and holiness: the flesh and God. To such a change the human
will is utterly inadequate and irrelevant, because the change goes back of the will. It is
therefore a divine and almighty work of the Father and Son through the Holy Spirit, as
Their Agent. And this conception of regeneration is in strict conformity with that view of
the nature of the will, which we saw a correct psychology dictate. It distinguishes
properly between motive and inducement, the former being subjective, the latter
objective; the former being the efficient, the latter only the occasion, of rational volition.
So, our view recognizes the practical truth, that the subjective disposition is decisive of
all rational volition—i. e., that the free agent chooses according to his moral nature,
because his own moral nature decides how he shall view inducements. And we also
concur with that practical view, which regards subjective character as a permanent and
uniform cause, communicating regularly its own quality to the series of moral volition.
This character is, in the sinner, carnal. To make the conduct spiritual, the character
must be renewed.
Proved. 1st. By Man’s Failures In Moral Revolutions.
(a) Our view is probably proved by the fact that, while man shows so much efficiency in
all his physical exploits, especially where combined power is applied, his moral
enterprises are so feeble and futile. He can bridge mighty floods, navigate the trackless
seas, school the elements, renovate the surface of the globe; but how little can he do to
ameliorate moral evils by all his plans! Where are all his reformed drunkards, savages
civilized, races elevated, without divine grace? If his external works of moral renovation
are so scanty, we may expect his internal to be so.
Every instance of the permanent change of a hardened sinner to godliness, bears, to
the experienced eye, the appearance of a power above man’s, because we see so few
men make otherwise a radical change of habits and principles, after these are fully
formed. The wise observer of the world will tell you that few men, except under this
peculiar power of Christianity, change their course after they pass the age of thirty
years. Those who are indolent then, do not become systematically industrious. Those
who are then intemperate, rarely become sober. The radically dishonest never become
trustworthy. It is also happily true that good principles and habits then well established
usually prove permanent to the end of life. But, as it is easier for feeble man to
degenerate than to improve, the few instances in which this rule does not hold, are
cases of changes from the better to the worse. When, therefore, I see, under the
gospel, a permanent change of a hardened sinner for the better, my experience inclines
me to believe that he has felt some power above that of mere nature.
2nd. By Different Effects of Truth In Same Subjects.
(b) I argue that the new birth is the exceeding greatness of God’s power, because of the
different effects which accompany the preaching of the gospel to different men, and to
the same men at different times. Were the power only the natural influence of the truth,
these diverse effects could not be explained consistently with the maxim that "like
causes produce like effects." The same gospel inducements are offered to a
congregation of sinners, and "some believe the things which are spoken and some
believe not." It is not always the most docile, amiable, or serious mind that yields, such
unbelievers often remain callous to its appeals, while some ignorant, stubborn and
hardened sinner is subdued. How is this? If the whole influence were in the truths
preached, should not the effects show some regular relation to the cause? Should not
the truth prevail where the natural obstacles are least, if it prevailed at all? Why do we
see cases in which it fails before the weaker, and triumphs over the stronger
resistance? It is because, in one case, "the exceeding greatness of God’s power" is
behind that truth, and in the other case, is absent.
But if you deny the sovereign agency of the Holy Spirit in the new birth, you have a
more impracticable case to explain. It is the case of him who had resisted this gospel for
twenty, thirty, or fifty years, and has yet been subdued by it at last. If the truth had
natural power within itself to persuade this soul, why did it not effect it at first? If it lacked
that power, how does it come to effect the work at last, after so many failures? This
mystery is enhanced by two great facts. The one is, that the futile presentation of this
gospel truth for so many years must, in accordance with the well known law of habit,
have blunted the sensibilities of the soul, and rendered the story of redemption trite and
stale. If you know anything of human nature, you cannot but admit this result. Repetition
must make any neglected story dull. That which at first somewhat excited the attention
and sensibilities, urged so often in vain, must become as "Irksome as a twice told tale,
vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man."
Familiarity and inattention must blunt the feelings toward such a story. The man who
first approaches Niagara has his whole ear filled with that mighty, sullen roar of the
waters, which shakes the very ground beneath his feet. The dwellers at the spot are so
habituated to it by use, that they forget to hear it at all! The ingenuous boy almost
shudders at the first sight of blood, though it be only that of the bird he has brought
down in his sport. See that person, when hardened by frequent scenes of carnage and
death into the rugged soldier, insensible to the fall of the comrade by his side, and
planting his foot with a jest upon human corpses, as he mounts to the "imminent, deadly
The other fact that you must take into the account is, that while the sinner is growing
more callous to sacred truth by its neglect, every active principle of ungodliness within
him must be growing by its indulgence. Is any one ignorant of this law, that a propensity
indulged is thereby strengthened? Need I bring instances to prove or illustrate it? How
else does any man grow from bad to worse; how does the temperate drinker grow into a
drunkard; the card player into a gambler, save by the force of this law? It must be then,
that while the sinner is neglecting the gospel, at the bidding of ungodliness, the love of
the world, avarice, sensual lusts, self-will, pride, ambition, false shame, with every evil
outward habit are growing into giant strength.
This, then, is the case which you have to solve. Here is an influence, the natural force of
sacred truth, which was fully plied to overcome the unbelief of the young heart, with
every advantage of fresh interest, the tenderness of maternal love, the gentle and
venerable authority of a father amidst the sweet sanctities of home; plied when the soul
was still unformed, and in the plastic gristle of its childhood. But even in this tender
heart, the inborn power of ungodliness was too strong; the application utterly failed. But
now, after this truth has been exhausted of its power by twenty, thirty, or it may be, fifty
years of useless presentation, and after this native ungodliness, too strong in its infancy,
has been hardened by as many years of sin into the rugged bone of manhood, lo! the
powerless truth suddenly becomes powerful! The stubborn sinner listens, feels, and
submits! Natural agencies cannot account for this. The finger of God is there. Let me
suppose a parallel case. Years ago, suppose, when the trees which embower this
Seminary, were lithe saplings, and I in the vigor of my first prime, you saw me lay hold
of one of them with my hands, and attempt to tear it from its seat. But, though a sapling,
it was too strong for me. Now years have rolled around, that tree has grown to a giant of
the forest and I return, no longer in the pride of youth, but a worn and tottering old man,
and you, the same spectators, are here again. You see me go to that very tree, and
attempt to wrench it from its place. You laugh scornfully, you say, "Does the old fool
think he can pull up that sturdy oak? He was unable to do it before, when it was a
sapling, and he was strong." Yes, but suppose the tree came up in his feeble hand?
You would not laugh then! You would stand awe struck, and say, "Something greater
than nature is here."
And so say I, when I see the sturdy old sinner, hardened by half a century of sins and
struggles against the truth, bow before the same old gospel story, which he had so often
spurned. When I see the soul which was by nature dead in trespasses and sins, and
which has been stiffening and growing more chill, under the appliances of human
instruction and persuasion, at the last, when the zeal and hope and strength of man are
almost spent, suddenly quickened under our hands, I know that it is "the exceeding
greatness of God’s power (not ours) according to the working of His mighty power which
He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead."
Does any one attempt to escape this conclusion by saying that the new efficacy of the
truth may have been derived from the superior force or eloquence of the orator who
preached it on this occasion, or from the advantage of some such circumstance? I have
two answers. One is that there are no circumstances so auspicious, and no eloquence
so persuasive as those which this soul has already resisted as an impenitent child.
What eloquence is equal to that of the Christian mother, as she draws her beloved son
to her knee, and tells him the history of Jesus’ love, in accents tremulous with
unutterable tenderness? The other answer is that the plain facts and persuasions of the
gospel are, in themselves too infinite to receive any appreciable weight from the trivial
incidents of a perspicuous statement and an eloquent tongue. In the simple story of the
cross, with divine love there dying a shameful and bitter death for its guilty enemies; in
the offer of a heaven of everlasting and unspeakable bliss, and the threat of an eternal
and remediless hell; even if they be but intelligibly lisped in the feeble voice of a child,
there should be a weight so immense, that beside it, all the enlargements of human
rhetoric would be as naught.
Man’s skill of speech does not weigh where Christ and eternity prove too light. It is as
though a great mountain had been put in the balance against the mightier strength of
ungodliness, but could not counterpoise it. And then I come and with my puny hand,
cast one little stone at the mountain’s base and say, "There; I have added to its weight;
it will no longer prove too light." Such folly is it to expect that man can convert. Where
the story of the cross has been resisted, naught can do it, "save the exceeding
greatness of His power."
3rd. Nature Cannot Revolutionize Itself.
But, (c), when we consider what the change in the new birth is, and what the heart to be
changed is, we plainly see that the work is above nature. The soul of a man has its
natural laws, as truly as the world of matter. In both worlds, we learn these laws by the
uniformity of our experience. Because all men have ever seen water run down hill,
therefore, we say that this is the law of its gravitation. And, therefore, when the waters
of Jordan stood on a heap while the ark of God and Israel passed through its channel,
men knew it was a miracle. The sun and the moon have always proceeded regularly
from their rising to their setting. Hence, when their motion ceased at the word of Joshua,
it was plainly a miracle.
Now universal observation proves that ungodliness is the natural law of man’s soul, as
the Scriptures declare. This heart is, in different degrees and phases, universal among
natural men, in all races and ages, under all religions and forms of civilization, whatever
religious instincts men may have, and to whatever pious observances they may be
driven by remorse, or self-righteousness, or spiritual pride. We perceive that this
disposition of soul begins to reveal itself in all children as early as any intelligent moral
purpose is disclosed. We observe that while it is sometimes concealed, or turned into
new directions by the force of circumstances, it is always latent, and is a universal and
controlling principle of conduct towards God. We find that it holds its evil sway in spite of
all light, and rational conviction in men’s own minds, and of inducements drawn from
conscience and heaven and hell, which ought to be omnipotent. Such is every man’s
inward history, until grace reverses his career.
Now, I claim that these facts of experience authorize me in regarding this ungodly
disposition in man as natural and fundamental. How do we learn more certainly that any
other native trait or affection belongs to the constitution of his soul? It is plain that since
Adam’s fall, ungodliness is as radically a native disposition of man’s soul, as the desire
of happiness, or the fear of pain (John 3:6).
But here I remind you, that no man ever reverses or totally eradicates, or revolutionizes
any material or fundamental disposition of soul, by his own purpose or choice; nor can
any mere inducement persuade him to do so. Look and see. These principles may be
bent, they may be concealed, they may be turned into new channels by self interest, or
by education, or by restraint. The same selfishness which in the season of heady youth
prompted to prodigality, may in thrifty age inspire avarice, but it is never eradicated by
natural means. Hunger is a natural appetite. Should a physician tell you that he had a
patient with a morbid appetite, but that by his eloquent pictures of the dangers of
relapse and death from the imprudent indulgence in food, he had actually caused the
man no longer to be hungry, you would tell him, "Sir, you deceived yourself; you have
only persuaded him to curb his hunger; he feels it just as before." Suppose this
physician told you, that he had plied his patient’s mind with such arguments for the
utility of a certain nauseous drug, that it had actually become sweet to his palate? Your
good sense would answer, "No, sir; it is in itself bitter to him as before; you have only
induced him by the fear of death-a more bitter thing-to swallow it in spite of its
Try my assertion again, by some of the instinctive propensities of the mind, instead of
these animal appetites, and you will find it equally true. The distinction of meum and
tuum is universal in human minds, and the love of one’s own possessions is instinctive
in men’s hearts. Can you then argue or persuade a man into a genuine and absolute
indifference to his own? This was one of the things which monasticism professed to do.
Monks were required to take the three vows of "obedience, chastity and poverty." Many
devout and superstitious persons, upon entering monasteries, reduced themselves to
absolute and perpetual poverty, by giving their goods to the Church or the poor, and
forswore forever the pursuits by which money is acquired. But was the natural love of
possession really eradicated? The notorious answer was, No, every one of these monks
was as ready as any other man to contest the possession of his own cell, his own pallet,
his own gown and cowl, his own meager food. And for the common wealth of their
monastery and order, they uniformly contended with a cunning and greediness which
surpassed all others, until they engrossed to themselves half the wealth of Europe.
The love of applause is native to man. Can reasoning or persuasion truly extinguish it?
These may correct, direct, or conceal this passion; they can do no more. The hermit
professed to have extinguished it. He hid himself in deserts and mountains from the
society of men, and pretended that he was dead to their praise and their attractions,
dead to all but heaven. But he who sought out this hermit and conversed with him, soon
detected in him an arrogance and spiritual pride above those of all others, and the chief
reason why he was content to dwell in savage solitude, was that the voice of fancy
brought to his soul across the wastes which sundered him from the haunts of men, their
applause for his sanctity, in strains sweeter to his pride than the blare of bugles and the
shouts of the multitude.
I return, then, to my point. There is, there can be, no case, in which mere inducements
work in man a permanent purpose, contrary to the natural dispositions of his soul. But
ungodliness is a native, a universal, a radical propensity. Hence, when we see such a
revolution in this as the Gospel requires in the new birth, we must believe that it is
above nature. This great change not only reforms particular vices, but revolutionizes
their original source, ungodliness. It not only causes the renewed sinner to submit to
obedience, as the bitter, yet necessary medicine of an endangered soul, it makes him
prefer it for itself, as his daily bread. It not only refrains from sin which is still craved; as
the dyspeptic refuses to himself the dainties for which he longs, lest his indulgence
should be punished with the agonies of sickness; it hates sin for its own sake. The holy
and thorough submission to God’s will, which the convert before dreaded and resisted,
he now loves and approves. Nothing less than this is a saving change. For God’s
command is, "My son, give me shine heart." He requireth truth in the inward parts, and
in the hidden pasts He shall make us to know wisdom. Says the Savior, "Either make
the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt."
Such is the change which makes e real Christian.
By Consistent View of the Will.
This is also more than an argument of experience. By all sound mental science, man’s
moral spontaneity, while real, puts itself forth according to law. That law is found in the
natural state of his dispositions, i. e., the dispositions direct the will. Man is free. His
soul is (wherever responsible) self- determined, but it is the dispositions which
determine the will. Now, it is preposterous to expect the will to renovate the original
dispositions; the effect to determine its own cause. Nor can the presentation of
inducement alone change those dispositions, because the influence, which external
objects shall have as inducements, is itself dependent on the state of the dispositions.
For illustration, what would be thought of an attempt to revolutionize the tastes of the
palate for the sweet, by presenting the bitter as attractive? It is the state of that palate
by nature which determines the attraction to be in the sweet, and only repulsion in the
bitter. A direct physiological agent must be applied.
By Scripture Figures.
(d) We argue this truth from the tenour of Scripture. First, man’s natural condition is said
to be one of blindness, of deadness, of impotency, of bondage, of stony-heartedness.
Rev.3:17; Eph. 2:1; Rom. 5:6; Acts 8:23; Ezek. 11:19. Now, these are figures, but if
there is any accuracy or justice in the Bible use of figures, they must be incompatible
with the idea that light alone causes vision in the blind eye, or truth and inducement
alone, motion in the dead, bound, helpless soul. Next, the proper supernatural character
of regeneration is proved by the Bible accounts of the work itself. It is a new creation:
Ps. 51:10; Eph. 2: A new birth: John 3:5; Titus 3:5: A resurrection from death: Eph. 2:14, 5: A giving of a fleshly in place of a stony heart: Ezek. 36:26. An opening of blind
eyes: 2 Cor. 4:6. Here again the creature cannot create itself, the child beget itself, the
dead body reanimate itself, the stony heart change itself, the darkness illuminate itself
at the prompting of inducements. An external and almighty power is requisite. Again do
we urge that if these tropes are not false rhetoric (which none can charge on the Holy
Spirit without profanity) they cannot convey less meaning than this, that in this change
an external power is exerted on the soul, which the latter can have no share in
originating, even as the material, however susceptible of becoming an organism,
cannot, as material, participate in the initial, fashioning act. We find a third and large
class of Scriptures, which speak of the renewing grace as in order to the characteristic
acts of conversion. Such are Ps. 119:18; Prov. 16:1; Jer. 31:19; 32:40; Ezek. 26:7; Acts
13:48; 16:14; John 6:44, 45; Phil. 2:13. According to the first of these texts, the opening
of the eyes is in order to vision. Then the light, which enters by vision, cannot be the
original, opening agent. Again, we have a number of Scriptures, in which the power of
the Holy Spirit working in us is distinguished from the Word. See 1 Cor. 2:4, 5; 1 Thess.
1:5, 6; 1 Cor. 3:6, 9. Last, the immediate operation of God is asserted in sundry places,
in the most discriminating forms of speech possible. Such are John 1:12, 13; Eph. 1:19,
and 2:10. Further Scriptural and logical proofs will appear under the next head; which
will reinforce the present argument, while bearing especially upon their own proposition.
By Absurd Consequences.
(e) If regeneration were by moral inducement, man would be his own savior in a sense,
excluded by the Scriptures. as in 1 Cor. 4:7. If it were by moral incitement, of course
regenerating grace would always be vincible, and, consequently, believers would have
no sufficient warrant to pray to God for salvation. There would be only a probability at
best, that God could save them, and to the mind taking an impartial survey of the
relative numbers who have ever resisted the Gospel, that probability would not appear
strong. If the change were by moral suasion only, we should have no difference of kind
between this divine work and the human work of the teacher in training his pupils to
right habits, and the temperance lecturer in persuading people away from drunkenness.
Can any one believe that the Scriptures mean no more than this by all their strong
assertions of the divine power in effectual calling? But worse than this, we should leave
no generic difference between the renewing work of God and the seductive work of the
devil. He decoys men to their ruin, by the suasive influence of objective inducements.
God allures them to salvation by the suasive influence of an opposite sort of
inducements. Thus we should degrade God’s almighty work of grace, into an equal
contention between Him and His doomed rebel slave, Satan, in which the latter
succeeds at least as often as God!
Is the Operation of the Spirit Mediate? Dick’s View.
7. There is a sense in which the Holy Spirit is said to operate regeneration only
mediately, through the truth, which is held not by Pelagians, but by Calvinists.
But that we may do no injustice, let us distinguish. Among those who explain depravity
and regeneration by Gospel light, there appear to be four grades of opinion. The lowest
is that of the Pelagian, who denies all evil habitue of will, regards regeneration as a
mere self determination to a new purpose of living, and holds that it is wrought simply by
the moral suasion of the truth. This virtually leaves out the Holy Spirit. The second is
that of the semi-Pelagian, who holds that the will is not indeed dead in sin, but that it is
greatly corrupted by evil desires, cares of this world, bad example, and evil habits con
not habitus . Hence, Gospel truth never engages the soul’s attention strongly enough to
exert an efficacious moral suasion, until the Holy Spirit calms and fixes the mind upon it
by His gracious, suasive influence. The truth, thus gaining access to the soul,
regenerates it. The third class, disclaiming all semi-Pelagianism, hold that the truth
ought to, and would control the will, if clearly and fully seen; but that in virtue of the
natural blindness of the understanding (which regard, as the source of depravity) the
truth cannot be thus seen, until the mind is divinely illuminated; and this illumination, a
true, gracious, spiritual and efficacious work, is regeneration. As soon as that is done,
the truth spiritually seen, revolutionizes the will by its natural power; for the will must
always follow the prevalent dictate of the understanding. Such was most probably the
scheme of Claude Pajon. The fourth class is that of Dr. Alexander, Dr. Dick, and we
presume, of Dr. Hodge. Holding that the rudiments of our depravity are in the blinded
understanding primarily, and in the perverted will derivatively, they also hold that
illumination is regeneration, but they add that, in order for this illumination, a
supernatural operation on the mind itself is necessary. And that operation is the
causative source of conversion. This distinguishes their scheme from that of Pajon. This
also saves their orthodoxy; yet, we repeat, it seems to us an inconsistent orthodoxy in
one particular. We ask them, is that immediate operation of the Holy Spirit-that
prerequisite of illumination-the sovereign and immediate revolution in the habitus of the
will? And they answer, no, for that would imply the view which we hold, and they
disclaim it, as to the radical source of moral quality in the soul. What then is the
operation? They reply, we do not know; it is inscrutable, being back of consciousness.
But to us it appears, that if illumination of the understanding is the whole direct
efficiency of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, it is more natural and consistent to stop
where Pajon stops, with a mediate conversion through the truth.
Another consequence of this view must be to modify the definition of saving faith. If
blindness of mind is the ultimate element of spiritual death, and illumination the primary
element in regeneration, then faith ought to be defined, as Dr. Alexander does (Relig.
Exp.) as being simply a hearty mental conviction of truth. A third result must be to
decide the order in which repentance and faith are related in their generics. From the
same premises it must follow, that faith is in order to repentance, instead of repentance
being implicit in the first movement of faith and motive thereto, as Scripture seems to
teach. This question, then, is by no means a mere logomachy, or a psychological
curiosity. It carries grave results. These divines would by no means teach that
regeneration is not a divine, supernatural and invincible work of grace. But they
suppose that the essential change is in the illumination of the understanding, which
God’s Spirit indeed almightily effects; but, to effect which, nothing more is needed than
to secure for the truth a true spiritual apprehension by the understanding. The truth
being truly apprehended, they suppose the renovation of the will follows as a necessary
result, without further supernatural agency, because, according to our Calvinistic
psychology, the soul’s emotions are governed by its views of the objects thereof; and
the will always follows the latest and most decisive conviction of the understanding.
They claim the order of phrases in the Catechism, question 31. They sometimes
describe the alternative doctrine, as teaching that depravity is in the feelings as
distinguished from the intelligence; that the only inability of the sinner is his
disinclination to good; that the understanding follows the will, instead of the will’s
following the understanding; that regeneration is only a change in the feelings; and that
it affects only a part (the emotive) and not the whole of the soul. Much stress is laid by
them on the fact that the soul is a monad, and its faculties not divisible parts, but only
modes of function in the monadic spirit; that both depravity and regeneration are not by
patches, but of the soul as a soul.
Definition of Doctrine.
But we beg leave to restate our view in our own way. The soul is a unit, a monad, not
constituted, as material things are, of parts, or members, but endowed with faculties
which are distinct modes of its indivisible activity. These, according to the psychology of
the Bible and of common sense, fall into the three divisions of intelligence, will, and
sensibility-the latter class being passive powers. By the word "will," in this discussion,
we mean, not the specific power of volition, but that which the Reformed divines and our
Confession mean by it, the whole active power of man’s spontaneity; what Sir William
Hamilton terms "the conative powers," i. e., the whole faculty of active desire and
purpose. While the soul is simply passive only in its sensibilities, and its functions of
intelligence are its own self directed functions, yet it is by its will, or conative powers,
that it is an agent, or puts forth its spontaneity. Now, the soul is depraved as a soul, and
is regenerated as a soul, not by patches or parts, seeing it has no parts. But we
conceive that this obvious fact is entirely consistent with the proposition, that sin (or
holiness) affects the soul as to one of its faculties more primarily than the others. And let
us remark here once for all, that it is entirely inconsistent in Dr. Hodge, to object the
simplicity of the soul to those who think with us, that sin affects the soul rudimentary in
the faculty of will, and consequently in those of understanding and sensibility; when he
himself teaches, vice versa , that sin affects it rudimentary in the faculty of intelligence,
and consequently in those of will and sensibility. For, if the fact that the soul is a unit
refutes us, it equally refutes him. Both opinions would in that case be out of the question
equally, and the debate impossible. Again, Dr. Hodge, and those who think with him,
dwell much on the complexity of the soul’s acts, as involving at once two or more of its
faculties or modes of function. They tell us that an act of understanding accompanies
every act of desire or choice. True, but they themselves go on to assert a relation of
causation between the intellective element and the conative element as to the
production, or rise of the concrete act of soul. Why, then, may not we assign a causative
relation to the one or the other of these two elements, as to the moral quality of that
concrete act of soul? We shall tend the divines we indicate (as Chalmers, A. Alexander,
and Hodge), when hardly bestead to sustain their peculiar views on this point, resorting
very freely to the statements that the soul is a unit; that it is depraved or regenerated as
a unit; that it acts as a unit; that it performs one concrete function often through two or
more faculties, which act not separately as members, but only distinguishably as modes
of function. We repeat, all this is granted; but it is irrelevant. For it would, if it proved
anything in the case, as much preclude the one causative order as the other. It would
be as unreasonable to say "the understanding guides the will," as to say "the will sways
the understanding." Let this be remembered.
We have thus disencumbered the issue which we wish to examine. It is this. In defining
depravity, are we to place the rudimentary element of the sinful nature, in the blinded
understanding, misleading the spontaneity, and thus qualifying the soul as a whole
morally evil? Such is the view of the divines named. Or, are we to find it rudimentary in
the perverted habitus of the will, causally corrupting and blinding the understanding, and
thus qualifying the soul as a whole morally evil? Such is our understanding of the
Scriptures, and the Reformed theology.
In support of this, we advance this simple argument. By its function of intelligence the
soul sees; by its will it acts. Now, does not common sense teach us, that moral
responsibility attaches to those acts and states of soul which it puts forth from itself, by
its spontaneity, more primarily than to those with which it is affected by causes out of
itself? Witness the fact, that multitudes of precepts and concepts affect our minds,
without any movement of desire or volition whatever; the former from objective sources,
the latter from the instinctive law of suggestion. This is the decisive feature which,
according to common sense, forbids our regarding the cognitive acts of the soul as
those by which it is primarily qualified with moral character.
It is true, that conscience is the faculty, which is our moral guide, but then our moral
quality as persons is in our conformity or enmity to that guidance. What is it, in us, that
is conformed or opposed to that guidance? Primarily, the will. And this brings our
debate, it appears to us, up to that scriptural test, which is the decisive one. It so
happens that the Holy Spirit has given us an exact definition of the idea of sin. H
amartia estin h anomia , (1 John 3:4) which our Catechism imitates. The nomo" , the
standard is, first, the law of our moral nature written on our hearts by our Creator, and,
secondly, His revealed precepts taught to our intellects. The sin consists, according to
St. John, in lack of conformity to that standard. We repeat the question. What is it in
sinful man which is not conformed to that standard? Every sinner’s consciousness
answers, partially the reason, but chiefly and primarily the will, and thence,
consequently, the animal appetites and bodily members. This scriptural view is
confirmed by one remark. Let any one collect as many as he can, of those acts of men,
to which the Scriptures and theologians appeal, as a posteriori proofs of native
depravity, and he will find that they all fall under this common predication: that in them
the will opposes itself obstinately to the soul’s own moral judgments. This, in fine, is the
analytic statement of that universal fact, in which the moral disorder and ruin of man’s
soul manifests itself.
The reasoning which we have attempted to answer seem to us to involve this illusion
that because man is a reasonable agent, his spontaneity is but a modification of his
reason. But is this so? Is not this sufficiently refuted, by the fact which Dr. Hodge cites
against us, that other creatures have a spontaneity, which have no reason? In truth,
spontaneity is an ultimate fact of human consciousness, and an ultimate power of the
soul, as much so as reason. It is coordinate in primariness and simplicity with the power
of reason. It has its own original habitus , its "disposition," which reacts on the reason as
truly as it is acted on. Against this view some may cry out, "Then the action of a man’s
spontaneity might be no more a rational action, than the pulsation of his heart!" We
reply, the instance is unfair because the will is not a separate member like that muscle
called "heart" in the body, but it is a mode of function of the soul, a spiritual unit. And
that soul which wills is a rational unit. So that all action of will is the action of a rational
agent. But we concede that spontaneity is sometimes unconsciously irrational; and that
is lunacy. Oftentimes it is contrarational, and that is sinfulness. Sometimes, by God’s
grace, we find it truly conformed to reason, and that is holiness.
How Moral Opinions Arise.
But the favorite plea of the fathers who differ with us is that it is the recognized doctrine
of all sound philosophers, that the will follows the prevalent judgment of the intellect.
They say, "Man feels as his mind sees; the view of the mind therefore must direct or
govern the feeling; and the prevalent last judgment must decide the will." It is from this
statement Dr. Hodge infers that depravity and holiness must be ultimately traced to the
intellect; Dr. Dick infers that the revolution of the will, in effectual calling, is the natural
effect of true illumination; and Dr. Alexander infers that a faith which is simply full
conviction of the truth, is all we need to make the soul embrace salvation and duty. This
psychological law we fully admit; it is what defines man as a reasonable agent. That is,
granted that the prevalent judgment of the intellect be of a given nature on a specific
subject, then the feeling and choice of the soul on that subject will of course correspond.
But the analysis stops one step too short. Whence the kind of view and judgment which
the intellect is found to have on that given subject? Is it always of a purely intellectual
origin? This is tacitly assumed, but erroneously. Let the subject be one of a moral
nature, involving an object of choice or desire, and it will be found that there the heart
has taught the head; the opinion is the echo of the disposition; the power of spontaneity,
coordinate with that of intelligence, has announced its own original habitus . Let us
explain. A child tastes experimentally, candies, sweetmeats, honey, sugar. In each case
his palate is gratified. On this similarity of power to gratify the palate, his mind
constructs a generalization, forms the class of "sweet things," and concludes the
general judgment; "Sweet things are good." Now, this general judgment may be as truly
and purely accounted an intellectual process, as the arithmetical one that a larger
subtrahend must make a smaller remainder. And it may be said that, in every
subsequent desire and purpose to seek the "sweet things," the child’s will follows this
intellectual judgment. Very true. And yet it is none the less true, that the judgment is
itself a generalization of a series of acts of appetency; the mere echo of the instinctive
verdict of an animal appetite. So that in its last analysis, the causation of the choice is
traced up through the intellect, to a law of the spontaneity.
Moral Opinions Follow the Heart.
We shall be reminded that the instance we have chosen gives us only an animal
appetite, a phenomenon of animal spontaneity; whereas the thing in debate is moral
emotion and choice, which is always rational emotion and choice. This we fully admit,
and we advance the instance only for an illustration. Perhaps it is a clumsy one. But has
not the will as real, and as original, appetencies, as the palate? When we call the former
rational, moral desires, what do we mean? That disposition is nothing but a modification
of thought? We apprehend that our meaning is this; the intellect is the faculty by which
we conceive the object of the moral appetency, as, in the case of the animal appetite,
the nerves of sensation are the medium by which we perceive the sweet object. Yet in
the moral phenomenon, there is an original disposition of will, which is as truly a spiritual
appetency, as the bodily appetite is an animal appetency. If we are correct in this, we
shall find that the judgments generalized in the mind, as to the desirableness of moral
good or evil, however purely intellectual, when abstracted from their source are yet but
the echoes of the original, or regenerated appetencies of the will. Let us now apply this
analysis to the sinner’s conversion. Why does the renewed sinner embrace Christ as a
Savior from sin, by his faith, and new obedience instead of sin, by his repentance?
Because his understanding illuminated by grace, now judges clearly that salvation and
new obedience are not only the obligatory, but the preferable good. Such is our
brethrens’ answer, and we fully assent. Were it not so, the new choice would not be
rational, and so, not spiritual. But now, one question more. How came this illuminated
intellect to judge the salvation from sin, and the new obedience, the preferable good;
when the original, native disposition of the will was to prefer the sin, and dislike the
obedience? It was only because the Holy Spirit sovereignly revolutionized the
disposition of will. This was the primary cause; illumination the immediate consequence;
and faith and repentance the practical result. Thus the profound Paschal (Pensees , ire
Partie. sect. 3), "God alone can put divine truths into the soul, and by the mode which
pleases Him." I know He hath willed them to enter from the heart into the mind, and not
from the mind into the heart, in order to humble the proud power of reasoning, which
presumes to be judge of the things the will chooses, and in order to heal this infirm will,
which has wholly corrupted itself by its unworthy attachments. And hence it results, that
while in speaking of human affairs, men say. One must know in order to love, which
hath passed into a proverb; the saints on the contrary say, in speaking of divine things.
"One must love in order to know."
Argument From Scripture.
But the decisive appeal should be, not to philosophy, but to the Scriptures. These would
seem to sustain our view in a multitude of places; where sin and depravity are traced to
an "evil heart," a "hardened heart," and holiness to a "pure heart;" or where
regeneration is a cleansing of the heart, a giving of a fleshly heart.
But there are Scriptures which not only do this, but do also assign an order, and with
reference to moral objects, the order of relation is from the heart to the head. Here we
claim all the texts already cited touching the relation of repentance to faith. We claim
also, Mark 3:5, where Jesus disapproved the Pharisees’ theory of Sabbath observance,
and this because He was "grieved at the hardness of their heart." So, in Eph. 4:18,
Gentiles "have the understanding (dianoia ) darkened, being alienated from the life of
God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness (or hardness
pwrwsi" ) of their heart." Here the Apostle distinctly traces sinful ignorance to the heart
for its source. Nor can this be evaded by saying that heart here means "soul," "mind."
For this would be flagrantly violent exegesis. When the Apostle has purposely
introduced a distinct reference to the state of the cognitive faculty, by his own, most
discriminative word, kardia and then, evidently, designs to refer to the conative faculties
of the soul, by the recognized word for them. dianoia will any one say he shall not teach
what he aims to teach? Had he still meant "understanding," we presume He would have
still said "dianoia " in the last member of the verse. Permit such interpretation, and next,
we shall meet this fate, viz, that when we are trying our best to say that in spiritual
things, "the heart leads the head," we shall be told, "No, you do not mean that; you use
the word ’heart’ in the comprehensive sense of ’soul’; you mean that the head leads the
Other Scriptures Reconciled.
We are also referred to many passages, where, as our brethren understand them,
regeneration is described as illumination, and depravity as blindness. "To turn them
from darkness to light." "God," says Paul, "was pleased to reveal His Son in me." "The
eyes of the understanding being enlightened." "Sanctify them through thy truth."
"Renewed in knowledge after the image," etc. "God hath shined in our hearts, to give
the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ." We reply that
regeneration doubtless includes illumination as an essential and glorious part thereof.
But it is a different thing to say that regeneration is only illumination. Should we force
the Scriptures to assert the latter, we should only make the Bible contradict itself, when
it describes a quickening or revolutionizing work of divine grace, which is in order to
illumination, and therefore prior in causation.
This Psychology Applied To the Question.
We are thus led back to that application of our theory, which is at once its best
illustration and most important use; its bearing upon the doctrine that the Holy Spirit in
regeneration operates, not only mediately through the Word, but also immediately and
(a.) Because the Scriptures often speak of a spiritual power precedaneous to the truth,
on the operation of which power, the saving apprehension of truth is conditioned. See
Ps. 119:18. The opening is the precedent cause; the beholding of wonderful things out
of the law, the consequence. As the eye closed by cataract cannot be restored to vision
by any pouring of beams of light on it, however pure and condensed, so the soul does
not acquire spiritual vision by bringing the truth alone in any degree of spiritual contact.
The surgeon’s knife goes before, removing the obstruction, then, on the presentation of
light, vision results. Both must concur. Let the student examine, in the same way, Luke
24:45; Eph. 1:11, 18; Acts 15:14; 1 Cor. 3:6, 7, 9; Jer. 31:33.
(b.) We argue, secondly, against this conception of depravity and regeneration, and in
favor of the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit, that were the former scheme true
(even as set forth by Dr. Dick), faith would be in order to the regeneration of the will.
However he might eliminate any sequence of time, if "this gracious knowledge
necessarily leads the will from the world to God," it remains clear, that faith as cause
must precede this first renewal of the will. But the Scriptures make faith the fruit of
renewal. The other view is Arminian.
(c.) The analytical exposure of the absurdity of the Pelagian scheme, regeneration by
moral suasion, results ultimately in this, namely; that the state of disposition, determines
a priori , whether any given object presented to the soul shall be of the nature of
objective inducement or not. Moral suasion is that influence over the will, which objects
of natural or moral excellence, presented from without, are supposed to have as
inducements to right feeling and choice. Now, any object whatsoever is not inducement
to any being whatsoever. One cannot attract a hungry horse with bacon, nor a hungry
man with hay. Whether the object shall be inducement, depends upon its relation to the
existing appetency of the being to be influenced. And that state of appetency is
obviously related, as cause, to the influence of the inducement as occasion. Hence, if
the sinner’s will is naturally indisposed and disabled to all spiritual good, that good
cannot exert moral suasion over that will for the simple reason that the effect cannot
reverse its own cause. Such is the argument, and it is exhaustive. But now, who does
not see that this analysis proceeds upon our theory, that the will has its own disposition,
original, characteristic? If the habitus of the will is nothing else than a modification of the
intelligence, and the sinner’s intellect is adequate to the more intellectual apprehension
of moral truth (as it is), we see no reason why moral suasion might not be expected to
"lead the will necessarily from the world to God."
(d.) Dr. Hodge expounds, with peculiar force and fullness, the solemn fact that there is a
"common grace" of the Holy Spirit (which is not "common sufficient grace" convincing
men of sin and misery up to a certain grade but not renewing them). Now, this partial
spiritual light in unrenewed minds must be correct light as far as it goes; for it is the
Spirit’s. Yet it does not even partially subdue the enmity of those minds to God and
duty. The usual effect is to inflame it. See Rom. 7:8, 9. It appears, then, that light,
without immediate grace revolutionizing the will, does not effect the work. Nor is the
evasion just, that this conviction of duty inflames the carnal enmity, only because
depravity has made it a distorted and erroneous view of duty. We assert that convicted,
but unrenewed souls fight against God and duty, not because He is misconceived, but
because He begins to be rightly conceived. There is, of course, distortion of mental view
concerning him as long as sin reigns, but He is now feared and hated, not only because
of that error of view, rather is He the more feared and hated, because the sinful soul
now begins to see Him with less error, as a sovereign, holy, just, pure Being.
(e) We infer the same view of sin and new birth from the regeneration of infants. They
cannot be renewed by illumination, because their intellects are undeveloped. Yet they
are renewed. Now, we grant that there is a wide difference in the circumstances and
means of their redemption, and that of adults. Yet are they delivered from a state of
original sin generically the same with ours, and delivered by the same Redeemer and
Sanctifier. Must not the method of the renewing power be the same intrinsically? Luke
Doctrine True, Because It Explains Carnal Blindness.
(f.) This view gives us a consistent rationale of that impotency of the natural man to
receive the things of the Spirit of God, which are foolishness unto him, described in 1
Cor. 2:14, and elsewhere. This impotency too plainly exists. Dr. Dick cannot define
wherein it consists. See his 66th Lecture. Does it consist in the absence of any
substantive revelation, which the believer gains? No; this would be perilous fanaticism.
Does it consist in the hiding of any esoteric sense of the Word to which the believer has
the key? No; this would be Origenism. Does it consist in the loss of a cognitive faculty
by the fall? No; that would suspend his responsibility. Whence this impotency? They
have no answer.
But we have one. The will has its own habitus , regulative of all its fundamental acts,
which is not a mere modification of the intelligence, but its own coordinate, original
character; a simple, ultimate fact of the moral constitution. Hence an interaction of will
and intellect. On moral and spiritual subjects the practical generalizations of the intellect
are founded on the dictates of the disposition of the will. But now these practical
judgments of the sinner’s understanding, prompted by the carnal disposition, contradict
certain propositions which are premises to the most important gospel conclusions and
precepts. No wonder, then, that such a mind cannot apprehend them as reasonable!
For example, the sinner’s real opinion, taught by a carnal heart, is that sin in itself, apart
from its penalty which self love apprehends as an evil, would be the preferred good. A
gospel is now explained to him, proposing deliverance from this sin, through the
instrumentality of faith. But the plan postulates the belief that the sin is per se so great
an evil, that deliverance from it is a good greatly to be desired! No wonder, then, that, as
this postulate breaks upon the understanding of the sinner, he is obfuscated, stumbled,
dumb-founded! He is required to act on a belief which his carnal heart will not let him
believe. His action, to be reasonable, must assume sin to be hateful. But he loves it! He
feels that he naturally loves it, and only hates its consequences. "He cannot know the
truth, for it is spiritually discerned." Were a sprightly child allured to approach the reader
by the promise of "something good," and told that he should have it upon holding out his
hand for it, and were he to perceive, just then, that the thing you held out was a
nauseous medicine, of whose utility to himself he was ignorant, he would be struck with
a similar "inability." There would be a sense in which he would become unable to hold
out his hand even. he would not know how to do it. He would stand confused. Now, this
child is not becoming idiotic, but his native appetencies repel that which you propose as
an attraction, and, hence, his obstinate apprehension of the unreasonableness of your
Thus, as it appears to us, the simple psychology, which is assumed in the Bible, is
found to be the truest philosophy, and throws a flood of light upon the doctrines held in
common by us and by all Calvinists.
This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries. If you
have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor. If you
would like to discuss this article in our online community, please visit our
Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is
published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each
article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself,
subscriptions are free. To subscribe to RPM, please select this link.