By Rev. Charles G. Finney
MORAL ABILITY AND INABILITY.
I. WHAT CONSTITUTES MORAL INABILITY ACCORDING TO EDWARDS AND THOSE WHO HOLD WITH HIM.
I examine their views of moral inability, first in order, because from their views of moral inability we ascertain more clearly what are their views of moral ability. Edwards regards moral ability and inability as identical with moral necessity. Concerning moral necessity he says, Vol. ii, pp. 32,33, "And sometimes by moral necessity is meant that necessity of connection and consequence which arises from such moral causes as the strength of inclination or motives and the connection which there is in many cases between these and such certain volitions and actions. And it is in this sense that I shall use the phrase moral necessity in the following discourse. By natural necessity as applied to men I mean such necessity as men are under through the force of natural causes, as distinguished from what are called moral causes, such as habits and dispositions of the heart, and moral motives and inducements. Thus men placed in certain circumstances are the subjects of particular sensations by necessity. They feel pain when their bodies are wounded; they see the objects presented before them in a clear light when their eyes are open: so they assent to the truth of certain propositions as soon as the terms are understood; as that two and two make four, that black is not white, that two parallel lines can never cross one another; so by a natural necessity men's bodies move downwards when there is nothing to support them. But here several things may be noted concerning these two kinds of necessity. 1. Moral necessity may be as absolute as natural necessity. That is, the effect may be as perfectly connected with its moral cause, as a natural effect is with its natural cause. Whether the will is in every case necessarily determined by the strongest motive, or whether the will ever makes any resistance to such a motive, or can ever oppose the strongest present intention or not; if that matter should be controverted, yet I suppose none will deny, but that, in some cases a previous bias and inclination or the motive presented may be so powerful that the act of the will may be certainly and indissolubly connected therewith. When motives or previous bias are very strong, all will allow that there is some difficulty in going against them. And if they were yet stronger, the difficulty would be still greater. And, therefore, if more were still added to their strength to a certain degree, it would make the difficulty so great that it would be wholly impossible to surmount it, for this plain reason, because whatever power men may be supposed to have to surmount difficulties, yet that power is not infinite, and so goes not beyond certain limits. If a certain man can surmount ten degrees of difficulty of this kind, with twenty degrees of strength because the degrees of strength are beyond the degrees of difficulty, yet if the difficulty be increased to thirty or an hundred or to a thousand degrees, and his strength not also increased, his strength will be wholly insufficient to surmount the difficulty. As therefore it must be allowed that there may be such a thing as a sure and perfect connection between moral causes and effects; so this only is what I call by the name of moral necessity." Page 35, he says: "What has been said of natural and moral necessity may serve to explain what is intended by natural and moral inability. We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing when we can not do it if we will, because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the will, either in the faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external objects. Moral inability consists not in any of these things, but either in a want of inclination; or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary. Or both these may be resolved into one, and it may be said in one word that moral inability consists in the opposition or want of inclination. For when a person is unable to will or choose such a thing, through a defect of motives or prevalence of contrary motives, it is the same thing as his being unable through the want of an inclination, or the prevalence of a contrary inclination in such circumstances and under the influence of such views."
From these quotations, and much more that might be quoted to the same purpose, it is plain that Edwards, as the representative of his school, holds moral inability to consist either in an existing choice or attitude of the will opposed to that which is required by the law of God; which inclination or choice is necessitated by motives in view of the mind; or in the absence of such motives as are necessary to cause or necessitate the state of choice required by the moral law, or to overcome an opposing choice. Indeed he holds these two to be identical. Observe, his words are, "Or these may be resolved into one, and it may be said in one word that moral inability consists in opposition or want of inclination. For when a person is unable to will or choose such a thing, through a defect of motives, it is the same thing as his being unable through the want of an inclination, or the prevalence of a contrary inclination, in such circumstances and under the influence of such views," that is, in the presence of such motives. If there is a present prevalent contrary inclination, it is, according to him: 1. Because there are present certain reasons that necessitate this contrary inclination, and 2. Because there are not sufficient motives present to the mind to overcome these opposing motives and inclination, and to necessitate the will to determine or choose in the direction of the law of God. By inclination Edwards means choice or volition as is abundantly evident from what he all along says in this connection. This no one will deny who is at all familiar with his writings.
It was the object of the treatise from which the above quotations have been made to maintain that the choice invariably is as the greatest apparent good is. And by the greatest apparent good he means a sense of the most agreeable. By which he means, as he says, that the sense of the most agreeable and choice or volition are identical. Vol. ii, page 20, he says: "And therefore it must be true in some sense, that the will always is as the greatest apparent good is." "It must be observed in what sense I use the term 'good,' namely, as of the same import with agreeable. To appear good to the mind as I use the phrase is the same as to appear agreeable or seem pleasing to the mind." Again, pp. 21 and 22, he says: "I have rather chosen to express myself thus that the will always is as the greatest apparent good is, or as what appears most agreeable, than to say that the will is determined by the greatest apparent good, or by what seems most agreeable, because an appearing most agreeable to the mind and the mind's preferring, seem scarcely distinct. If strict propriety of speech be insisted on, it may more properly be said that the voluntary action which is the immediate consequence of the mind's choice is determined by that which appears most agreeable, than the choice itself." Thus it appears that the sense of the most agreeable and choice or volition, according to Edwards, are the same things. Indeed, Edwards throughout confounds desire and volition, making them the same thing. Edwards regarded the mind as possessing but two primary faculties, the will and the understanding. He confounded all the states of the sensibility with acts of will. The strongest desire is with him always identical with volition or choice, and not merely that which determines choice. When there is a want of inclination, or desire or the sense of the most agreeable, there is a moral inability according to the Edwardean philosophy. This want of the strongest desire, inclination or sense of the most agreeable, is always owing, 1. To the presence of such motives as to necessitate an opposite desire, choice, &c., and, 2. To the want of such objective motives as shall awaken this required desire, or necessitate this inclination or sense of the most agreeable. In other words, when volition or choice, in consistency with the law of God, does not exist, it is, 1. Because an opposite choice exists, and is necessitated by the presence of some motive, and, 2. For want of sufficiently strong objective motives to necessitate the required choice or volition. Let it be distinctly understood and remembered that Edwards held that motive and not the agent is the cause of all actions of the will. Will, with him, is always determined in its choice, by motives as really as physical effects are produced by their causes. The difference with him in the connection of moral and physical causes and effects "lies not in the nature of the connection but in the terms connected."
"That every act of the will has some cause, and consequently (by what has already been proved) has a necessary connection with its cause, and so is necessary by a necessity of connection and consequence, is evident by this, that every act of the will whatsoever is excited by some motive; which is manifest, because, if the mind, in willing after the manner it does, is excited by no motive or inducement, then it has no end which it proposes to itself, or pursues in so doing; it aims at nothing, and seeks nothing. And if it seeks nothing, then it does not go after any thing, or exert any inclination or preference towards any thing. Which brings the matter to a contradiction; because for the mind to will something, and for it to go after something by an act of preference and inclination are the same thing.
"But if every act of the will is excited by a motive, then that motive is the cause of the act. If the acts of the will are excited by motives, then motives are the causes of their being excited; or, which is the same thing, the cause of their existence. And if so, the existence of the acts of the will is properly the effect of their motives. Motives do nothing, as motives or inducements, but by their influence; and so much as is done by their influence is the effect of them. For that is the notion of an effect: something that is brought to pass by the influence of something else.
"And if volitions are properly the effects of their motives, then they are necessarily connected with their motives. Every effect and event being, as was proved before, necessarily connected with that which is the proper ground and reason of its existence. Thus it is manifest, that volition is necessary, and is not from any self-determining power in the will."--Vol. ii. pp. 86,87.
Moral inability, then, according to this school consists in a want or inclination, desire, or sense of the most agreeable, or the strength of an opposite desire or sense of the most agreeable. This want of inclination, &c., or this opposing inclination, &c., are identical with an opposing choice or volition. This opposing choice or inclination, or this want of the required choice, inclination or sense of the most agreeable is owing, according to Edwards, 1. To the presence of such motives as to necessitate the opposing choice; and, 2. To the absence of sufficient motives to beget or necessitate them. Here then we have the philosophy of this school. The will or agent is unable to choose as God requires in all cases when, 1. There are present such motives as to necessitate an opposite choice, and, 2. When there is not such a motive or such motives in the view of the mind as to determine or necessitate the required choice or volition, that is, to awaken a desire, or to create an inclination or sense of the agreeable stronger than any existing and opposing desire, inclination, or sense of agreeable. This is the moral inability of the Edwardeans.
II. THEIR MORAL INABILITY TO OBEY GOD CONSISTS IN REAL DISOBEDIENCE AND A NATURAL INABILITY TO OBEY.
1. If we understand Edwardeans to mean that moral inability consists,
[1.] In the presence of such motives as to necessitate an opposite choice; and,
[2.] In the want or absence of sufficient motives to necessitate choice or volition, or which is the same thing, a sense of the most agreeable, or an inclination, then their moral inability is a proper natural inability.
Edwards says he "calls it a moral inability because it is an inability of will." But by his own showing, the will is the only executive faculty. Whatever a man can do at all he can accomplish by willing, and whatever he can not accomplish by willing, he can not accomplish at all. An inability to will then must be a natural inability.
We are by nature unable to do what we are unable to will to do. Besides, according to Edwards, moral obligation respects strictly only acts of will, and willing is the doing that is prohibited or required by the moral law. To be unable to will then, is to be unable to do. To be unable to will as God requires, is to be unable to do what He requires, and this surely is a proper and the only proper natural inability.
2. But if we are to understand this school as maintaining that moral inability to obey God consists in a want of the inclination, choice, desire, or sense of the most agreeable that God requires, or in an inclination or existing choice, volition, or sense of the most agreeable, which is opposed to the requirement of God, this surely, is really identical with disobedience, and their moral inability to obey consists in disobedience. For, be it distinctly remembered, that Edwards holds as we have seen, that obedience and disobedience properly speaking, can be predicated only of acts of will. If the required state of the will exists, there is obedience. If it does not exist, there is disobedience. Therefore by his own admission and express holding, if by moral inability we are to understand a state of the will not conformed, or, which is the same thing, opposed to the law and will of God, this moral inability is nothing else than disobedience to God. A moral inability to obey is identical with disobedience. It is not merely the cause of future or present disobedience, but really constitutes the whole of present disobedience.
3. But suppose that we understand his moral inability to consist both in the want of an inclination, choice, volition, &c., or in the existence of an opposing state of the will, and also,
[1.] In the presence of such motives as to necessitate an opposite choice, and,
[2.] In the want of sufficient motives to overcome the opposing state and necessitate the required choice, volition, &c., then his views stand thus: moral inability to choose as God commands consists in the want of this choice, or in the existence of an opposite choice, which want of choice, or which is the same thing with him, which opposite choice is caused.
[1.] By the presence of such motives as to necessitate the opposite choice, and,
[2.] By the absence of such motives as would necessitate the required choice.
Understand him which way you will, his moral inability is real disobedience and is in the highest sense a proper natural inability to obey. The cause of choice or volition he always seeks, and thinks or assumes that he finds in the object or motive, and never for once ascribes it to the sovereignty or freedom of the agent. Choice or volition is an event and must have some cause. He assumed that the objective motive was the cause, when, as consciousness testifies, the agent is himself the cause. Here is the great error of Edwards.
Edwards assumed that no agent whatever, not even God himself, possesses a power of self-determination. That the will of God and of all moral agents is determined, not by themselves, but by an objective motive. If they will in one direction or another, it is not from any free and sovereign self-determination in view of motives, but because the motives or inducements present to the mind, inevitably produce or necessitate the sense of the most agreeable, or choice. If this is not fatalism or natural necessity, what is?
III. THIS PRETENDED DISTINCTION BETWEEN NATURAL AND MORAL INABILITY IS NONSENSICAL.
What does it amount to? Why this:
1. This natural inability is an inability to do as we will, or to execute our volitions.
2. This moral inability is an inability to will.
3. This moral inability is the only natural inability that has or can have anything to do with duty or with morality and religion; or, as has been shown,
4. It consists in disobedience itself. Present moral inability to obey is identical with present disobedience, with a natural inability to obey!
It is amazing to see how so great and good a man could involve himself in a metaphysical fog and bewilder himself and his readers insomuch that such an absolutely senseless distinction as the one now under consideration, should pass into the current phraseology, philosophy, and theology of the church, and a score of theological dogmas be built upon the assumption of this truth. Who does not know that this nonsensical distinction has been in the mouth of the Edwardean school of theologians, from Edward's day to the present? Both saints and sinners have been bewildered, and, I must say, abused by it. Men have been told that they are as really unable to will as God directs, as they were to create themselves, and when it is replied that this inability excuses the sinner, we are directly silenced by the assertion that this is only a moral inability, or an inability of will, and therefore that it is so far from excusing the sinner, that it constitutes the very ground, and substance, and whole of his guilt. Indeed! Men are under moral obligation only to will as God directs. But an inability thus to will consisting in the absence of such motives as would necessitate the required choice, or the presence of such motives as to necessitate an opposite choice, is a moral inability, and really constitutes the sinner worthy of an "exceeding great and eternal weight" of damnation! Ridiculous! Edwards I revere; his blunders I deplore. I speak thus of this Treatise on the Will because, while it abounds with unwarrantable assumptions, distinctions without a difference, and metaphysical subtleties, it has been adopted as the text book of a multitude of what are called Calvinistic divines for scores of years. It has bewildered the head, and greatly embarrassed the heart and the action of the church of God. It is time, high time that its errors should be exposed and so "shows up" that such phraseology should be laid aside, and the ideas which these words represent should cease to be entertained.
IV. WHAT CONSTITUTES AN ABILITY ACCORDING TO THIS SCHOOL.
It is of course the opposite of moral inability.
Moral ability according to them, consists in willingness with the cause of it. That is, moral ability to obey God consists in that inclination, desire, choice, volition, or sense of the most agreeable which God requires together with its cause. Or it consists in the presence of such motives as do actually necessitate the above named state or determination of the will. Or more strictly it consists in this state caused by the presence of these motives.
This is as exact a statement of their views as I can make.
According to this, a man is morally able to do, as he does, and is necessitated to do, or, he is morally able to will as he does will, and as he can not help willing.
He is morally able to will in this manner simply and only because he is caused thus to will by the presence of such motives as are, according to them, "indissolubly connected" with such willing by a law of nature and necessity. But this conducts us to the conclusion,
V. THAT THEIR MORAL ABILITY TO OBEY GOD IS NOTHING ELSE THAN REAL OBEDIENCE, AND A NATURAL INABILITY TO DISOBEY.
Strictly this moral ability includes both the state of will required by the law of God and also the cause of this state, to wit, the presence of such motives as necessitate the inclination, choice, volition or sense of the most agreeable, that God requires.
The agent is able thus to will because he is caused thus to will. Or more strictly, his ability and his inclination or willing are identical. Or still further, according to Edwards, his moral ability to thus will and his thus willing and the presence of the motives that cause this willing are identical. This is a sublime discovery in philosophy; a most transcendental speculation! I would not treat these notions as ridiculous, were they not truly so, or if I could treat them in any other manner and still do them any thing like justice. If, where the theory is plainly stated, it appears ridiculous, the fault is not in me, but in the theory itself. I know it is trying to you, as it is to me to connect any thing ridiculous with so great and so revered a name as that of President Edwards. But if a blunder of his has entailed perplexity and error on the church, surely his great and good soul would now thank the hand that should blot out the error from under heaven.
Thus, when closely examined, this long established and venerated fog-bank vanishes away; and this famed distinction between moral and natural ability and inability, is found to be "a thing of nought."