For many years, the newsletters for Open Air Outreach were only published through email. Those newsletters were not posted online. We are now in the process of archiving these old newsletters online so that they are available to the body of Christ at large to read and be encouraged and edified by them.
The contents from this post was an email newsletter sent out on 8/12/2009
Man’s Ability to Obey God & Open Air Itinerary
Aug 12, 2009
This newsletter has no copy-right.
Feel free to share it by forwarding it on or by printing it off.
WE THANK GOD FOR ALL YOUR PRAYERS AND SUPPORT
I’ll be starting off my fall open air preaching tour in Los Angeles California. The Lord has opened up a door for me to go there from August 27th – September 3rd. I plan on preaching at Venice beach, Santa Monica, and UCLA. Then I’ll be flying back North to start traveling with the 5th wheel through Minnesota, etc.
If anyone is in Los Angeles or the surrounding area and want to get together, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The rest of our tour will consist of open air preaching in:
– South Carolina
– North Carolina
OUR NEW ADDRESS
Please make note of our new address:
Jesse & Krista Morrell
134 Williamstown Ct, Newington CT 06111
NEW VIDEO MESSAGES
We have recently been honored by speaking at a couple Churches and a Crusade. My prayer is that these messages will help edify the body of Christ.
THE NATURAL ABILITY OF MAN
TO OBEY THE LAW & THE GOSPEL
Explained & Defended
By Jesse Morrell
The sections of this article are as follows:
– Natural ability defined & explained
– God’s problem with sinners
– God’s means of solving the problem
– Explain John 6:44
– Explain 1 Corinthians 12:3
– Explain James 3:8-9
– Explain Romans 8:7
– Explain Jeremiah 13:23
– Man’s ability to obey the law
– Man’s ability to obey the Gospel
– Other verses that imply & teach man’s ability
Without definition there can be no effective or meaningful communication. Speaking, without being understood, is meaningless or pointless. Speaking, without being understood, defeats the purpose of speaking. Therefore definitions are where every discussion must start.
NATURAL ABILITY DEFINED & EXPLAINED:
Natural ability is the power of choice God has given man to obey or disobey His will, to embrace or reject the light that He gives us. It is the ability to determine whether you will submit to God or whether you will revolt or rebel against Him. It is the freedom or liberty to choose between two alternate or opposite choices.
Natural ability is synonymous with free will. Free will is not the ability to do whatever you want. That is omnipotence. Many seem to think that man does not have a free will because man is not omnipotent, because man is not free or does not have the power to do whatever He wants. I cannot fly to Mars just because I have a free will. But because I have a free will, I am free to want to fly to Mars. Free will has to do with the ability to want, no the ability to do or perform. It is the ability to will, not the ability to do. The ability to want or to will is moral; the ability to do or perform is physical. Free will is the power of contingent choice, the ability to determine what you want and what you do not want. Free will is not the physical ability to do whatever you want. Free will is the moral ability to decide what you want.
Free will includes the ability to obey the law of God, which requires us to love (a state of the will) God supremely and our neighbor equally. If we do not have the physical ability to promote the well-being of our neighbor, if we are handicapped for example, if we want to or if we will their well-being and would promote it if we could, we have fully obeyed our obligation. Physical inability does not bar a being from fulfilling their moral obligation of love, since love is an attitude of the heart; it is a committal of the will. The law requires us to have a certain state of will (benevolence) and free will or natural ability is the ability to be in that state or not.
Likewise, if a person does not have the physical ability to commit adultery, say they are in prison, but they want to commit adultery, they are already guilty of it (Matt. 5:28). The law commands and forbids states of the will, and free will is the ability to will what the law commands or to will what the law forbids.
Free will is also the ability to obey the Gospel. The Gospel commands men to repent of their sin and trust in Christ. Repentance and faith are choices of the will, or more specifically, they are states of the will. Free will, in regards to the ability to obey the Gospel, is the ability to choose to repent or remain in impenitence, and the ability to choose to believe or to remain in unbelief.
In summary, free will or natural ability is the power of choice to obey or disobey the requirements and demands of the law and the Gospel.
1. GOD’S PROBLEM WITH SINNERS
I want to start by arguing and stating that a sinner’s problem is not inability but unwillingness. A sinner’s problem is rebellion. The nature of rebellion is not inability but unwillingness. Rebellion or sin is moral not constitutional. The problem with a sinner is not his constitution; the problem with a sinner is his will. His problem is not the abilities that he has, but how he uses the abilities that he has. A sinner is a rebel because while he could obey God, he refuses to do so. The problem that God has with sinners is not that He has made them unable to obey (a problem with their nature), but that they have made themselves unwilling to obey (a problem with their will).
“If anyone is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice.” Ignatius 1
“The Scriptures…emphasize the freedom of the will. They condemn those who sin, and approve those who do right… We are responsible for being bad and worthy of being cast outside. For it is not the nature in us that is the cause of the evil; rather, it is the voluntary choice that works evil.” Origen 2
God’s problem with men is not with their constitutional abilities, but with how they are using their constitutional abilities. We see this in Luke 19:14, “But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, we WILL NOT have this man to reign over us.” They had rebellious hearts, that is, they had disobedient wills. Their problem was not their nature (their constitutional abilities). Their problem was their will. It is not that they could not obey God, but that they would not obey God. It was a moral not a constitutional problem. Men are sinners through the liberty of their will, not through a necessity of their nature.
We also read in Luke 19:27, “But those mine enemies, which WOULD NOT that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Jesus said that their problem was their will, not their nature. Their problem was not inability, but how they were using their ability. Jesus didn’t say that they “could not” but that they “would not”. That is precisely why it is just for Jesus to slay them. They could submit to his reign, but refuse to. Therefore they rightly and justly deserve punishment. But if they could not obey, it would not be right or just to command them to obey or to punish them for not doing so. It would be as cruel as punishing the lame for not walking, or the blind for not seeing. Sinners are objects of God’s wrath for sinning, because they choose to sin when they don’t have to. “As the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye WOULD NOT be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:20). Sinners are punishable, not because they were not capable of obeying God, but because they were not willing to obey God.
Justin Martyr said, “We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishment, chastisement, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is our own power. For if it is predestined that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise and the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions – whatever they may be … for neither would a man be worthy of praise if he did not himself choose the good, but was merely created for that end. Likewise, if a man were created evil, he would not deserve punishment, since he was not evil of himself, being unable to do anything else than what he was made for.” 3
Theodorite said, “For how can He punish [with endless torments] a nature which had no power to do good, but was bound in the hands of wickedness?” 4
Irenaeus said, “Those who do not do it [good] will receive the just judgment of God, because they had not work good when they had it in their power to do so. But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for they were created that way. Nor would the former be reprehensible, for that is how they were made. However, all men are of the same nature. They are all able to hold fast and to go what is good. On the other hand, they have the power to cast good from them and not to do it.” 5
John Fletcher said, “As to the moral agency of man, Mr. Wesley thinks it cannot be denied upon the principles of common sense and civil government; much less upon those of natural and revealed religion; as nothing would be more absurd than to bind us by laws of a civil or spiritual nature; nothing more foolish than to propose to us punishments and rewards; and nothing more capricious than to inflict the one or bestow the other upon us; if we were not moral agents.” 6
Consider God’s dealings with Israel. “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Romans 10:21). Why would God do this if they were not capable of obedience? Why would God make the effort of reaching out to them unless they were capable of doing what He wanted? Their problem was not that God didn’t want them to obey, or that God didn’t give them the ability to obey, but that they were choosing to be disobedient out of the freedom that God had granted them. Disobedience is not the fault of someone’s nature (inability). God determines what type of nature we have. Disobedience is the fault of someone’s will (unwillingness). They determine what type of choices they make. Rebellion is not a constitutional problem, cause by a fault in our design. Rebellion is a moral problem, caused by our own will.
We see this all throughout God’s dealings with Israel. He does not ever say, “They disobey me because they cannot obey me”. Neither does He say, “They cannot obey me because I took away their free will when Adam sinned.” God never says that Israel could not obey, but that they would not obey. He accuses them of not being willing to obey, which is the nature of rebellion.
“Notwithstanding ye WOULD NOT go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God” (Deut. 1:26).
“So I spake unto you; and ye WOULD NOT hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord…” (Deut. 1:43)
“As the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye WOULD NOT be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:20).
“And yet they WOULD NOT hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the Lord: but they did not so” (Judges 2:17).
“Notwithstanding they WOULD NOT hear, but hardened their necks, like the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:14).
“Because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and WOULD NOT hear them, nor do them” (2 Kings 18:12).
“That whosoever WOULD NOT seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death…” (2 Chronicles 15:13).
“Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the Lord; and they testified against them: but they WOULD NOT give ear” (2 Chronicles 24:19).
“And the Lord spake to Mannasseh, and to his people: but they WOULD NOT hearken” (2 Chronicles 33:10).
“And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdraw the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and WOULD NOT hear. Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet WOULD they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands” (Nehemiah 9:29-30)
“Because they turned back from him, and WOULD NOT consider any of his ways” (Job 34:27).
“But my people WOULD NOT hearken to my voice; and Israel WOULD none of me” (Psalms 81:11).
“To whom he said, this is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they WOULD NOT hear” (Isaiah 28:12).
“For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quitness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye WOULD NOT” (Isaiah 30:15).
“Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? Did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? For they WOULD NOT walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law” (Isaiah 42:24).
“For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord, that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they WOULD NOT hear” (Jeremiah 13:11).
“Because they have not hearkened to my words, saith the Lord, which I sent unto them by my servant the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but ye WOULD NOT hear, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:19).
“But they rebelled against me, and WOULD NOT hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt…” (Ezekiel 20:8).
“Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they WOULD NOT hear, so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 7:13).
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered they children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye WOULD NOT” (Matthew 23:37).
“To whom our fathers WOULD NOT obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt” (Acts 7:39).
It could not be any clearer that the problem God has with sinners is not that they could not obey Him, but that they would not obey Him. God wants men to obey Him, but men do not want to obey God. My point is that a sinner’s problem is not constitutional; otherwise he could blame God who forms us in the womb. The sinner’s problem is moral. Sin is his own fault because it is his own choice. God has given us the ability to obey or disobey Him. That is our own choice and therefore it is our own fault if we do not use our ability to obey Him. If the sinner’s problem is constitutional, he would be a cripple – someone who cannot obey God. But if the sinner’s problem is moral, he is a criminal – someone who doesn’t want to obey God. If sinners are cripples, they deserve pity. If sinners are criminals, they deserve punishment. It is abundantly clear from the Bible that God views sinners as criminals who are worthy of eternal punishment. Therefore God must view sinners as moral beings who are capable of obeying His law, but who refuse to do so.
2. GOD’S MEANS OF SOLVING THE PROBLEM
It is a self-evident truth that the nature of the desired object determines the nature of the means which will secure that end. Otherwise, there would be no relation between ends and means. If the end is spiritual, the means must be spiritual. If the end is moral, the means must be moral. If the end is physical, the means must be physical. The nature of the desired object determines the nature of the means which must be employed to secure that end. The desired object, or the end God has in mind, is a holy people (Eph. 1:4) who willingly obey Him. Therefore the means necessary to secure this end must respect the free will of man. If the means used to secure this end do respect man’s free will, then the end itself of free obedience would not be reached or secured.
God never wanted Heaven to be full of beings that have to love, worship, and serve Him. God wanted Heaven to be full of beings that want to love, worship, and serve Him. Love, worship, and service are only true and genuine if they are voluntarily. If the law of necessity, instead of the law of liberty, were the law of Heaven, than Heaven would empty, void, and barren of all true and genuine love, worship, and service. God could have created beings that were incapable of vice, but in doing so, He would have created beings that were incapable of virtue. Vice is when a being could do right, but chooses to do wrong. Virtue is when a being could do wrong, but chooses to do right. For this reason God took the risk of giving men and angels free will.
It does not glorify God’s nature and character to have beings serve Him who are nothing more than machines or puppets. But if beings, which have free will, choose to love, worship, and serve Him, when they don’t have to, than this truly magnifies and glorifies His nature and His character! How awesome of a God He must be, if free beings choose to love, worship, and serve Him! He must be truly worthy! For that reason he granted both men and angels free will and gave them the freedom to choose to be loyal to Him or to rebel against him.
With the freedom or liberty that God granted mankind, we have revolted. Now God wants to transform disobedient men, who have rebelled against Him out of their own freedom, and turn them into obedient men, who are faithful to Him out of their own freedom. Mankind’s freedom must be regarded by God when He employs means to bring them back to Him. God regards man’s free will in conversion, for the same reason that God granted man free will at creation.
It is only logical that the nature of the problem determines the nature of the solution. Since the sinners problem is not constitutional, but moral, the solution to this problem must not be constitutional, but moral. That is, man does not need a constitutional change in order to come to God, because his constitution is not keeping him back from God. Man needs moral influence to be brought to God, because it is his own unwillingness that is keeping him back.
Gordon Olson said, “Man cannot be regenerated or controlled by sheer force or by Divine omnipotence, but only by the application of appropriate means. We have seen that God’s great love has moved Him to make plans for man’s full reconciliation to Himself. Man is complete in his constitutional faculties by creation, so does not need any new ability to be added to his personality. But man has used his endowments wrongly and has brought defilement to his whole inner being…. We were to be “created” anew in the sense of being transformed or completely changed, the word meaning to make habitable, to reduce from a state of disorder to order. This great change is a moral change in which the subject himself has an active part. It is not a simple act of God’s power without man’s agency. Therefore some means must be brought into existence that both God and man can use in this complete inner renovation of personality.” 7
If regeneration were constitutional, it would be by force. The same type of power that God used in creating the universe, He would use in recreating man’s constitution. A constitutional change (making the incapable capable) would be brought about by irresistible force. God would be recreating the constitutional faulty of the will, granting him new abilities. But if regeneration is moral, it would be by moral influence or by moral force. If it is moral, it would by resistible influence. Since regeneration is a moral change, it is brought about by moral means.
Catherine Booth said, “The laws of mind are the same when operated upon by either God or man. This is not laying any necessity upon God any more than He has laid upon Himself. He has made us with a certain mental constitution, and therefore He must adapt the conditions and means of our salvation to that mental constitution, otherwise He would reflect upon His own wisdom in having given it to us at the first. Therefore when he purposes to save man He must save him as man, not as a beast or a machine!” 8
Man, as a moral being, is moved by motive not force. God does not govern moral beings the same way that he governs matter. God governs matter by cause and effect, but God governs minds by influence and response. In regeneration, God regards and treats men as moral beings. Therefore regeneration is not by cause and effect, or by force, but it is by influence and response, by truth. Regeneration is a moral change and therefore must include the will of man and must be brought about by moral means, which regard the will of man.
The means that God uses in saving souls from the practice and penalty of sin is the truth. Regeneration is through revelation. The Holy Spirit presents the truths of sin and the Savior to the mind of man, and these truths are what influences man to change his ways and follow Jesus Christ.
“Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he TEACH sinners in the way.” (Psalms 25:8);
“Then will I TEACH transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be CONVERTED unto thee.” (Psalms 51:13);
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, and they shall be all TAUGHT of God. Everyman therefore that hath HEARD, and hath LEARNED of the Father, cometh unto me.” (John 6:44-45);
“And ye shall KNOW the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you FREE.” (John 8:32);
“Now ye are CLEANE THROUGH THE WORD which I have SPOKEN unto you.” (John 15:3);
“SANCTIFY them THROUGH THY TRUTH: thy WORD is TRUTH.” (John 17:17);
“For though ye have ten thousand INSTRUCTORS in Christ, yet have yet not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have BEGOTTEN you through the GOSPEL.” (1 Corinthians 4:15);
“For the grace of God that BRINGETH SALVATION has APPEARED unto all men, TEACHING US that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” (Titus 2:11-12);
“Of his own will BEGAT he us WITH THE WORD OF TRUTH, that we should be a king of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18);
“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted WORD, WHICH IS ABLE TO SAVE YOUR SOULS. But be ye DOERS OF THE WORD, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:21-22);
“Seeing ye have PURIFIED your souls in OBEYING THE TRUTH through the Spirit. Being BORN AGAIN, not of corruptible seed, but of the incorruptible, BY THE WORD OF GOD, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1:22-23);
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:20);
Regeneration is through revelation. Transformation is through the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). This is precisely why we must be full of the Holy Spirit to effectively preach the Gospel (Luke 24:47-49), and why preaching the Gospel is so important (Romans 10:14), because is it the precious truths of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to brings sinners to repentance. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). “Show thy marvelous loving-kindness, O thou that savest” (Ps. 17:7). “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). It is a revelation of Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us, that turns the unwilling into the willing, that turns the rebellious into the submissive and obedient. The strongest moral influence that could ever be exerted upon the will of man is when the revelation of Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us, is presented to the mind of man. Truth presented to the mind influences the will. Regeneration is when the Holy Spirit brings men to repentance and faith through the means of the truth of the Gospel.
Harry Conn said, “The only means in all the universe to subdue the rebellious heart and uphold the moral government of God is the love shown for us on Calvary. It was the greatest and most profound event of all history. The death of the Lord Jesus did not render God merciful but was an expression of his mercy… It seeks to bring back wanderers by expressing God’s love and forgiveness, and that salvation is free for all men if they choose to available themselves of it.” 9
Charles Finney said, “The Spirit takes the things of Christ and shows them to the soul. The truth is employed, or it is truth which must necessarily be employed, as an instrument to induce a change of choice.” 10 He also said, “Truth; this must, from the nature of regeneration, be employed in effecting it, for regeneration is nothing else than the will being duly influenced by truth.” 11
Souls are won, not through the wisdom of words, but by the powerful influence of the preaching of the cross (1 Cor. 1:17). God brings men to repentance through the revelation of the truth. By presenting truth to their minds, God influences their will. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves: if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). It is through the instruction of the truth that God brings men to repentance. There is an “if”, not because there is any unwillingness on God’s part, but because there is a freedom of man’s part. Man may or may not obey the truth which God grants; therefore God may or may not bring men to repentance through the truth.
In Matthew 11:20 we read, “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his might works were done, because they repented not.” The might works Jesus had done should have brought them to repentance. Jesus went on to say in Matthew 11:21, “ Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the might works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” The mighty works of Jesus Christ, healing the sick and preaching the Gospel, gave men a revelation of God, giving them knowledge of God’s heart or character. This revelation is the influence God uses to bring us to repentance. Jesus rebuked these cities for not repenting, which implies that they had the ability, opportunity, and influences necessary to repent. Again, their problem was unwillingness, not inability. And it was through influence (the mighty works) which gave revelation of God which ought to have brought them to repentance.
God is trying to save all men (Jn. 3:16, 6:44-45, 12:32; 16:8; Mk. 16:15; Acts 17:30-31, 2 Pet. 3:9). That is why God gives light to all men (Jn. 1:9), why He is convicting all men (Jn. 16:8), why He is drawing all men (Jn. 6:44-45, 12:32), why is calling all men (Matt. 11:28, 22:9; Lk. 5:32; Acts 17:30; Rev. 22:17) and why His grace has appeared to all men (Rom. 5:15; Tit. 2:11-12). But many are unwilling to accept His offer (Isa. 30:9; 30:15-16; Jer. 8:5; Eze. 20:7-8; Matt. 11:20-21; 23:37, Mk. 6:6; 7:30; 13:34; 14:17-18; 19:14; 19:27; Lk. 14:16-24; Jn. 5:40; Acts 7:51; 17:27; Rev. 2:21). God is doing everything that He can for men to know Him, so if men do not know Him, it is their own fault (Acts 17:26-27; Rom. 1:19-21). Through the means of giving light, convicting, calling, and teaching, God is trying to bring man back to Himself.
My point is that sinners need the work of the Holy Spirit, not to make them capable since God has already done that at creation, but to make them willing. The Spirit makes men willing to do what God has already made them capable of doing. Sinners need the grace of God, not to make them able, but to make them willing.
Augustine said “I have tried hard to maintain the free choice of the human will, but the grace of God prevailed.” 12 This is because Augustine viewed the grace of God as bringing a constitutional change, instead of a moral change. He viewed grace as being a force, not an influence. The existence of free will is by no means inconsistent with the necessity of grace, as Augustine supposed. Grace is defined by Thayer as “his holy influence upon souls”13 and Strong’s defines grace as “the divine influence upon the heart”14. Grace is not a force that changes our constitution (making the incapable capable) but grace is the divine influence of God that changes our character (making the unwilling willing). Regeneration is not the constitutional change of a helpless cripple. Regeneration is the moral change of a deliberate criminal. The Holy Spirit brings us to a place where we start to use our free will rightly. Through the powerful influence of the truth of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit brings us to a place of total submission and surrender. That is true regeneration or true conversion.
Catherine Booth said, “God did not require to make any change in the make of us. A scheme of theology has been thrust upon mankind which implies that God must alter human nature in order to save it. I do not mean altering it in its moral quality – making it righteous instead of sinful – but altering its constitution, saving us not as men and women, having all the capacities, propensities, and affections of humanity; that we must, so to speak, be reorganized before God can save us. If I understand the Gospel, it makes no such assumptions, and comes to us with no such requirements.” 15
H. O. Wiley said, “Regeneration is a moral change wrought in the hearts of men by the Holy Spirit. This change is neither physical nor intellectual, although both the body and the mind my be affected by it. It is not a change in the substance of the soul, nor is it the addition of any new powers. Regeneration is not a metamorphosis of human nature. Man does not receive a new ego. His personal identity is the same in essence after regeneration as before. He has the same power of intellect, feeling and will, but these are given a new direction. God does not undue in the new creation what He did in the first creation. The change is, therefore, not in the natural constitution of man, but in his moral and spiritual nature. Furthermore, it is important to believe that the whole man, and not merely certain powers of his being, is the subject of this spiritual renewel.” 16
It is worth noting that holy men obeyed God before the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given (Job 1:8; Luke 1:6). The Holy Spirit at Pentecost gave men supernatural ability to do supernatural things (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor. 12:4-11), but God had already given men natural ability to do natural things. Obedience to God is a state of the will. The power to choose between obedience and disobedience is a normal ability. This is a normal function of the faculty of the will. Obedience to God does not require supernatural ability. It is not superhuman to obey God. But obedience to God does require supernatural or spiritual influence. The Holy Spirit does not give us gracious ability, but the Holy Spirit does give us gracious influence. Sinners could obey God, but they don’t obey God and they won’t obey God, therefore there is a necessity for grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings correction and conviction (John 16:8), illumination, enlightenment, and instruction (John 6:13, 15:26), encouragement and comfort (John 15:26; Ephesians 3:16), and guidance (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18). Again, the Holy Spirit does not change our constitution but changes our character. The Spirit changes our heart. He does not change our natural abilities; He changes how we use them. The Holy Spirit does not make men capable of obeying God, the Holy Spirit makes men willing to obey God. He does this by giving them a knowledge of Jesus Christ, a revelation of the Gospel.
The moral states of man have to do with the response of his will to the knowledge that his mind has. A sinner is someone who disobeys the knowledge that they have, specifically the knowledge of the law (John 9:41; Romans 1:19-21; James 4:17). Being a sinner is not a passive state, it is an active state. Sinfulness is not an involuntary state of our nature which we are helplessly born into. Sinfulness is a voluntary state of our will which we have all deliberately decided to have, by disobeying the natural knowledge we have of God’s moral law. Sinfulness is a selfish state if mind, which is contrary to the demands of the conscience. A Christian is someone who has been brought to repentance by the truth of the Gospel (Romans 2:4, 6:17; 1 John 4:19), they are someone who obeys the knowledge of the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). A Christian both believes and obeys the truth with all of their heart. A reprobate is someone who has fully and continually disobeyed and rejected the knowledge of the law and the knowledge of the Gospel, someone who has rejected a great deal of light (Hebrews 6:4-6). The reason that a person who has rejected a great deal of light is reprobated is because it is the light that God uses as a means to bring us to repentance. If a person resists all the light that God uses to bring men to repentance then their cause is hopeless, their salvation is impossible. God wisely gives up on them, for why should He waste His time and energy anymore, and thus they are reprobated. God can do nothing more to save them. They have reprobated themselves by hardening their heart so much against the truth, and God has reprobated them by ceasing to draw them through the increase and influence of the truth. They resist the truth and therefore God gives them over to a delusion (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). They resist the “truth”, through which they “might be saved”, and are therefore hopeless and abandoned.
Now that I have presented my case for what the sinner’s problem really is and what the solution is that the Holy Spirit brings, this will help you understand my view of the passages you have asked about.
3. NO MAN CAN COME TO THE SON WITHOUT TEACHING FROM THE FATHER
“No man can come to me, except the Father which sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:44
This passage must not be isolated or left alone because the following verse explains what it means. It is a sound principle of hermeneutics to allow the Bible to interpret itself. The context of a passage helps us to understand the passage itself. The following verse says, “It is written in the prophets, and they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” John 6:45
How then are men drawn by the Father? Are men drawn by a constitutional change? No. Men are drawn by moral means. Coming to Christ is a choice of the will, therefore the means used to bring about this choice are means which respect and regard the will of man. Coming to Christ is a choice of the will; therefore God brings men to Christ by influencing their will. God teaches men and this is what influences men to come to Jesus. The drawing of God is through revelation. This is no doubt how the Apostle Paul was converted (Acts 9:4), by a revelation of Jesus Christ. The Father draws men to His Son, by granting them a revelation of His Son and what He has done for us on the cross. “And if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).
If verse 44 was talking about a constitutional change, it could not be brought about by teaching as verse 45 says. Teaching has no tendency or ability to change the constitution of man. But if the drawing is brought about by teaching, as verse 45 says, than the drawing in verse 44 must be an influence upon the will of man. Truth influences the will and therefore teaching the truth has the ability to change the will of man.
I was pleased to find out that Albert Barnes also interpreted this passage the same way that I do. He said, “In the conversion of the sinner God enlightens the mind John 6:45, he inclines the will Psalms 110:3, and he influences the soul by motives, by just views of his law, by his love, his commands, and his threatenings; by a desire of happiness, and a consciousness of danger; by the Holy Spirit applying truth to the mind, and urging him to yield himself to the Saviour. So that, while God inclines him, and will have all the glory, man yields without compulsion; the obstacles are removed, and he becomes a willing servant of God”17. He goes on to say, “Shall be all taught of God – This explains the preceding verse. It is by the teaching of his Word and Spirit that men are drawn to God. This shows that it is not compulsory, and that there is no obstacle in the way but a strong voluntary ignorance and unwillingness.” 18
Regarding man’s natural ability, man is only able to obey the truth that he knows. If a man does not know about Jesus, he is not able to believe in Jesus or to follow Jesus. Natural ability is not the ability to obey truth that you do not know; natural ability is the ability to obey the truth that you do know. Natural ability is not the ability to do the impossible (obey what is not known) but it is the ability to do the possible (obey what is known). Natural ability is the ability to obey, or disobey, the light or revelation that has been revealed or given. This is clearly stated by the Apostle Paul, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). This shows, not only the necessity of open air preaching, but also the necessity for the work of the Spirit who takes the truth preached and presses it powerful upon the minds of men to influence their will to believe and call upon the Lord.
The point is that those who have not heard cannot believe, which explains why those who have not been taught by the Father cannot come to the Son. This perfectly explains why no man can come to the Son, unless He is drawn by the Father. Unless the Father first teaches sinners about His Son, they are not capable of believing in, coming to, or following the Son. And unless the Father first convicts men of their sin, they will not see their need of coming to the Savior. Teaching must always come before obedience. Knowledge, or truth, is a precondition or requisite for obedience. The will of man can only obey, or disobey, the knowledge that the mind has. Does man have the natural ability to believe in Jesus, whether they know about Jesus or not? The answer is of course not. Natural ability cannot do the impossible. But does man have the natural ability to believe in Jesus, come to Jesus, and follow Jesus, once the truth about Jesus is revealed to them? The answer is yes.
I would also quickly add that the mind operates under the law of necessity, but the will operates under the law of liberty. That is, the mind must affirm truth when it is presented, but the will can obey or disobey the truth that is affirmed by the mind. We see this with the crowd that Stephen preached to. “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10). Their minds, by necessity, affirmed the truth of what he preached. Their minds could not resist it. But it goes on to say, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit, as your Fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). Their will operated under liberty. Their will disobeyed and resisted the truth that their minds affirmed. The revelation that God grants is irresistible. Men cannot help but to know the truth, when God reveals it. But sinners reject and suppress the truth that they have (Romans 1:18). Yet, according to John 6:45, those who not only hear the truth, but actually learn from it, come to Jesus Christ. Those who do not learn from what they hear from the Father will not come to the Son. But those who hear from the Father, and choose to learn from it, will come to the Son. Men resist or yield to the drawing of God by choosing to learn from, or not learn from, the teaching that He gives them.
4. SPEAKING BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD
“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” 1 Corinthians 12:3
The question with this passage is, what does “speaking by the Spirit of God” mean? Does it mean that the Holy Spirit gives us a constitutional enabling? Or does it mean that men can speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit? I would say the latter. When a man is under or submitted to the influence of the Holy Spirit they will not call Jesus accursed. If a man calls Jesus accursed, that is proof that they are not submitted to the influence of the Spirit of God. But if a man truly confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, this is done under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Without the influence of the Holy Spirit, revealing to man the truth about Jesus Christ, man would never and could never confess Him as Lord. Man could never because without the Spirit revealing Jesus as Lord, how can they confess Him to be Lord? The Spirit must first reveal to man that Jesus is the Lord, before man could be capable of confessing Him as such. And man would never because man, on his own or without the influence of God, would never submit to the truth but would continue on in deception. Man is unwilling to obey God and to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Therefore man needs an influence, outside of himself, to bring him to submission and obedience. That outside influence is the working of the Holy Spirit. When a man is brought to submission to the Lordship of Christ, it is because of the working and influence of the Holy Spirit in his life.
The Spirit makes us willing to do, what God has already made us capable of doing. That is, the Holy Spirit makes us willing to obey God, by presenting powerful truths to our minds. And at creation, God made us constitutionally capable of obeying the truth that we know and receive, when He granted us a free will and made us in His image. At creation, God made us capable of obedience. At conversion, the Spirit makes us willing to obey.
5. TAMING THE TONGUE
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” James 3:8-9
Let’s take for granted or suppose as you said that the “expressed limitation must refer to the unregenerate”. If that is the case, here are my thoughts.
First, it is very worthy noting that this passage describes “men” as being “made after the similitude of God”. The so called “inability” of man is typically credited to the sin of Adam, saying that when Adam sinned the image of God in man was lost. Since the image of God in man was lost, man no longer has a free will. This is the common argument. However it is clear from this verse that the image of God in man has not been lost. Therefore any free will that man had at the beginning, because he was made in God’s image, he still has now. There are other passages, after Genesis 1:26-27, which describe man as being in the image of God, such as Genesis 9:6 and 1 Corinthians 11:7. That is because it is God who is still our maker, who still forms each individual in the womb (Gen. 4:1; Ex. 4:11; Isa. 27:11; 43:7; 49:5; 64:8; Jer. 1:5; Ps. 95:6; 139:13-14, 16; Ecc. 7:29; Job 10:9-11; 31:15; 35:10; Jn. 1:3). We are born precisely the way God wants us to be born. God is responsible for the condition that we are born into (Exodus 4:11). Since God forms us in the womb, God still forms us in His image.
Consider how God spoke to Cain, after the fall of Adam, has one who had the power of choice between obedience and disobedience. “And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (Gen. 4:6-7). Whatever the results upon all of mankind are, because of Adam’s sin, the loss of the image of God and the loss of free will certainly are not part of it.
Second, no man (no sinner) can tame the tongue unless he first changes his heart. “O generation of vipers, how CAN ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34). The reason that they cannot speak good things, according to Jesus, is because they have evil hearts. Again, “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doeth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit… A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:43, 45). The roots must change before the fruit can change. It is impossible to change the fruit if you do not first change the root. A sinner cannot tame his tongue. He must first change his heart. As long as He remains a sinner, that is, as long as he remains sinful in his heart, he cannot tame his tongue. That is because the heart is the cause, the action is the effect. You cannot change the effect without changing the cause. As long as the cause is the same, the effect will be the same. It is absolutely impossible to change the effect without first changing the cause. A sinner cannot speak differently, or act differently, until his heart is different. A sinner may, for a time, seem to control his tongue. But the overflow of his evil heart will eventually come out. Words and actions are nothing more but the outflow of the heart. Jesus said, “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matthew 23:26). That is why the Bible says, “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die…” (Ezekiel 18:31).
6. THE CARNAL MIND CANNOT OBEY
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7)
This passage would be completely without meaning or understanding if we do not define what the carnal mind is. Many have taken the liberty to define the carnal mind on their own but good hermeneutics says that we must allow the Bible to interpret itself, context gives us great insight. This verse is very commonly taken by itself when it was never meant to be. The two previous verses say: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6
The word “mind” in verse 5 and 6 is “phroneō” and according to Strongs means “intensively to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience): – set the affection on”19. The word “mind” is verse 7 is “phronema” and it means “to purpose”20. Therefore the carnal mind is when a person is choosing to interest themselves in carnality, to set their affections on their flesh, when they purpose to live for the gratification of themselves. It is when a sinner chooses to “mind the things of the flesh”, that is, when they choose to serve themselves and their own pleasures rather then serving God. The carnal mind is nothing more than a selfish state of mind.
The carnal mind is not a passive state but an active state. It is not a state that we are passively born into. It is a state that men choose to be in. The word “enmity” is “echthra” and means hostility or opposition 21. Hostility or opposition is an active state. The carnal mind is a mind that is in active hostility or opposition to God. It is when an individual is purposely and intentionally minding the things of the flesh. That is, they are living to please themselves in stead of living to please God.
Albert Barnes commented, “it means that the minding of the things of the flesh, giving to them supreme attention, is hostility against God”22. Charles Finney said, “The proper translation of this text is, the minding of the flesh is enmity against God. It is a voluntary state of mind. It is that state of supreme selfishness, in which all men are, previous to their conversion to God. It is a state of mind; in which, probably, they are not born, but into which they appear to fall, very early after their birth. The gratification of their appetites, is made by them, the supreme object of desire and pursuit, and becomes the law of their lives; or that law in their members, that wars against the law of their minds, which the apostle speaks. They conform their lives, and all of their actions to this rule of action, which they have established for themselves, which is nothing more nor less, than voluntary selfishness or a controlling and abiding preference of self-gratification, above the commandments, authority, and glory of God. It should be well understood, and always remembered, that the carnal mind, as used by the apostle, is not the mind itself but is a voluntary action of the mind. In other words, it is not any part of the mind, or body, but a choice or preference of the mind. It is a minding of the flesh. It is preferring self-gratification, before obedience to God.” 23
According to Thayer’s definitions, “echthra” could mean the “cause of opposition”24. In other words, the carnal mind is the cause of a sinners opposition to God. It is with the mind that choices are made. The will is a faculty of the mind. Because a sinner is choosing to serve his flesh, to “mind the things of the flesh”, he is in opposition to God, who commands him to deny himself (Matthew 16:24) and serve God (Exodus 20:3; 1 Corinthians 10:31). The cause of his enmity with God is his carnal mind, his choice to serve himself, his choice to be selfish. A sinner is in opposition to God and is in a state of hostility towards God’s law, because he is choosing to be selfish, he is minding the things of his flesh.
While a person is in this selfish state of mind, they cannot please God and they cannot obey the law. That is because God is not pleased with selfishness (Psalms 5:4) and the law requires benevolent motives, not selfish motives (Luke 10:27; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14). Therefore those who are carnally minded cannot please God and they cannot obey the law. As long as they are in this selfish state of mind, they cannot be pleasing to God, nor can they be in submission to the law.
It is impossible for a person, who has a carnal mind, to be pleasing to God or to be in submission to God, while they are in such a state of mind. They need to repent. Repent is “metanoeo” and it means to change your mind. To repent of your sin means that you change your mind about sinning, you make up your mind to obey the law of God. True repentance is when a person goes from being in a selfish state of mind (carnally minded) of choosing to serve him self (to live for self-gratification), to a loving state of mind of choosing to serve God supremely and love his neighbor equally. As long as a man is carnally minded, he cannot please God and he cannot obey the law. But if he changes his mind (repent), so that he is no longer choosing to live for himself but chooses to live for God, then he can be pleasing to God and he can obey the law. When the cause of his hostility towards God and His law is removed (the carnal mind), then He can be pleasing to God and in submission to His law. But if the cause of his hostility is not removed, he can do neither. As long as the will (a faculty of the mind) is in opposition to God, the will cannot be in submission to God. As long as the will of man is selfish, that man cannot be pleasing to God, because God cannot be pleased with selfishness.
This verse does not deal with the question of whether or not the carnally minded can change their mind, or whether they have the natural ability to repent. This verse simply says that while a person is in such a state of mind of carnality and selfishness, they cannot please God and they cannot truly obey the law. It would be equivalent to saying, “Those who have disobedient hearts cannot please God and they cannot obey the law.” That is, while their heart is disobedient, they cannot do such things. But if they change their heart, then they can. Such a statement does not say that they cannot change their heart, but it says that while their heart is in such a state, they cannot do such things. Likewise the statement about the carnally minded does not say that they cannot change their mind, it simply says that while their mind is in such a state, they cannot do such things.
I was pleased after writing the above to find that Albert Barnes and Charles Finney said that precise same thing. It is always a great relief to find out that you are not alone in your interpretation and understanding of the word of God. Charles Finney said, “The apostle does not affirm, that a sinner cannot love God, but that a carnal mind cannot love God; for, to affirm that a carnal mind can love God, is the same as to affirm that enmity itself can be love.”25 Albert Barnes said in his commentary, “But the affirmation does not mean that the heart of the sinner might not be subject to God; or that his soul is so physically depraved that he cannot obey, or that he might not obey the law. On that, the apostle here expresses no opinion. That is not the subject of the discussion. It is simply that the supreme regard to the flesh, to the minding of that, is utterly irreconcilable with the Law of God. They are different things, and can never be made to harmonize; just as adultery cannot be chastity; falsehood cannot be truth; dishonesty cannot be honesty; hatred cannot be love. This passage, therefore, should not be adduced to prove the doctrine of man’s inability to love God, for it does not refer to that, but it proves merely that a supreme regard to the things of the flesh is utterly inconsistent with the Law of God; can never be reconciled with it; and involves the sinner in hostility with his Creator.”26
Every call to repentance in the Bible which is directed towards man implies that man has the ability to change his mind. If the call to repentance does not imply that man can repent, then what in the entire Bible could ever imply that men could repent? Nothing could imply the ability to repent more than the command to repent. Why command men to do something if it is impossible? If men were incapable of repentance, God would have no reason to command them to repent. If God is good, why command repentance and punish impenitence, if repentance is impossible for some and impenitence is unavoidable for some? If God commands men to do something, He gives them the ability to do it. God calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31), which means that all men everywhere have the ability to change their mind. None need to change their mind but the carnally minded. Those who are spiritually minded do not need to change their mind, therefore God does not call the spiritually minded to repentance. It is only the carnally minded that God calls to repentance. Every call to repentance is directed to, and only to, the carnally minded. Therefore the carnally minded have the ability to change their mind.
Here is a logical syllogism:
– The command to repent implies the ability to repent (change your mind)
– The carnally minded are commanded to change their mind (repent)
– Therefore the carnally minded have the ability to change their mind (repent)
Men are commanded in the Bible to change their hearts, which implies that they have the ability to change their hearts. God, being a loving Ruler, does not command the impossible at the threat of severe punishment. The command of the ruler, without the ability of the subject, is tyranny. The command, if it comes from a good, just and reasonable Ruler, presupposes the power of choice. God commands men in the Bible to change their hearts, which implies that they have the ability to do so. “Wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (Jeremiah 4:14). “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die…” (Ezekiel 18:31). If men are incapable of obeying these commands, why give these commands at all? If these commands cannot be obeyed, they are useless, and God must never have even intended on them being obeyed at all. If God never intended on these commands being obeyed, then God does not really want them to be obeyed. And if God does not really want them to be obeyed, He is insincere in commanding them. If God wants these commands to be obeyed, and if He is sincere in His command, then these commands must be possible for men to obey.
The Bible also says, “Set your affections as things above, not on the things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). “Set your affections” is the same Greek word used for “mind” in Romans 8:5-7. Men have the choice of minding the flesh or of minding the spirit, of setting our affections on things above or things beneath. It is within our natural ability to choose who we will serve (Joshua 24:15), whether we will serve ourselves or serve God. We have the natural ability to choose what we will set our affections on, either on the flesh or on the Spirit.
Charles Finney said, “Some one may ask, Can the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, change itself? I have already said that this text in the original reads, “the minding of the flesh is enmity against God.’ This minding of the flesh, then, is the choice or preference to gratify the flesh. Now it is indeed absurd to say, that a choice can change itself; but it is not absurd to say, that the agent who exercises this choice, can change it. The sinner that minds the flesh, can change his mind, and mind God.” 27
7. ETHIOPIAN SKIN & LEOPARD SPOTS
Another passage that is commonly used against the doctrine of man’s natural ability to obey God is Jeremiah 13:23 which says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”
It should be remarked that this passage is talking about Israel during a certain period of time in their history. This passage is not talking about all sinners of all time. To apply this passage to all sinners of all time is to ignore the proper rules of hermeneutic interpretation, particularly context.
It should also be remarked that this passage is not talking about the way Israel was born. This passage is talking about the way Israel had become through their self-chosen habitual manner of living. The unchanging state of these people was a moral condition by choice, not a constitutional condition by birth.
Israel, at this point in their history, had resisted God for a long time. These men disobeyed God continually, after God had been reaching out to them time and time again. “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Romans 10:21). But despite all of the efforts of God, they were still wicked and evil. In fact, they were worst than when they started, because they had to continually harden their hearts as God was reaching out to them. They were well accustomed in doing evil.
They were so accustomed to do evil that their reformation would be comparable to a leopard changing his spots or an Ethiopian changing his skin. Through their habitual choice of disobedience, they made themselves reprobates. They resisted the influence of God to the point of no return. It was as likely to see an Ethiopian changing his skin, or a leopard changing his spots, as it would be to see these hardened reprobates changing their moral ways.
This passage was given to show Israel that they were without excuse, not with excuse. If they were born evil, had no choice in the matter, or truly could not obey God, they would have an excuse for being evil. In context God was revealing to them the justice of their punishment. “What will thou say when he shall punish thee?… And if thou say in thine heart, wherefore come these things upon me? For the greatness of thine iniquity… Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:21-22). They rightly deserved punishment because of their habitual and continual disobedience, because of their voluntary and well established custom in doing evil.
To use this passage to say that all sinners, of all times, are incapable of changing their ways, of repenting, or of obeying God, is to severely stretch and twist this passage, to change it’s actual meaning. This verse certainly does not support the idea that all men are incapable of changing their moral character, or that all the disobedient are incapable of obeying God.
8. MAN’S ABILITY TO OBEY THE LAW
The Holy Spirit has come to convict the world of their sin (Jn. 16:8). Sin is transgression of the law (1 Jn. 3:4). Therefore the Holy Spirit has come to convict men for their violations of God’s law. But if men are incapable of obeying God, how could they truly be convicted in their hearts for their sin? Conviction is when a person is convinced that they are guilty and deserve punishment. But how could they truly be convinced that they deserve eternal punishment, unless they are convinced that they are capable of obedience? They would, instead of feel conviction, feel justified and excused by inability. If men were conscious of inability, they would have an excuse for disobedience. But if they are capable of obedience, they have no excuse for disobedience. The Holy Spirit is able to convict men for their sin, because deep down they are conscious of having the ability to obey. No man could possible regret his past actions unless he presupposed that his past actions were avoidable. Winkie Pratney explains how all those who have ever been angry with themselves presupposed the liberty of will, assuming the power of contingent or alternative choice. “The reason you were angry with yourself was that you knew you were capable of better things, but did not do them.” Likewise, “God is angry with the wicked every day because He knows what they are capable of and to what depth they have fallen.” 28
Augustine taught that when Adam sinned, God punished all of mankind by removing their ability to obey Him. Augustine said, ‘By the greatness of the first sin, we have lost the freewill to love God.” He also said, “by subverting the rectitude in which he was created, he is followed with the punishment of not being able to do right” and “the freedom to abstain from sin has been lost as a punishment of sin.”29 In other words, God punishes mankind for Adam’s sin, by making sin unavoidable and by making obedience impossible. This makes no sense. If God wants men to obey Him, why would He remove from them the ability to obey? It makes no sense at all to punish disobedience by making disobedience unavoidable and obedience impossible. If God wants obedience, He would grant, not withhold, the ability to obey. Unless God wants men to sin, He would make sure that they always have a free will ability not to sin. Unless God wants men to sin, He would not take away their free will because of Adam’s sin.
We read about God being disturbed and upset with men for their sin throughout the Bible. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth…” (Gen. 6:5-7). Why would God be grieved over their sin and even repent of creating mankind, if He was the one who removed their free will when Adam sinned? Why would God be grieved over their sin and even repent of making them, if He knew all along that they were going to sin because He made obedience impossible? It only makes sense for God to be grieved (or angry) with sinners for sinning, if they are capable of not sinning.
We clearly see in Genesis 6:5-6 God’s great grief and disappointment with mankind because of their sin. Yet, if He was the one who made them all sin, by removing free will from mankind when Adam sinned, why does He seem so shocked at their behavior in this passage? Disappointment implies expectation. Disappointment is nothing more than failed expectations. The fact that God was disappointed with them for their sin teaches that God expected obedience from them. How could God, or why would God, expect obedience from them, if He had removed the ability to obey from them? The only way that God is reasonably and rationally disappointed with them for their sin, is if He knew that they were capable of not sinning.
God was also disappointed with Israel for their sin. God greatly wanted them to be obedient to Him and bemoaned their disobedience. “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!” (Ps. 81:13). Why would God bemoan the disobedience of Israel, unless they were capable of obedience? Why would God be grieved with their disobedience, if He was the one who made obedience impossible and disobedience unavoidable for mankind when Adam sinned? God takes for granted, or assumes, the ability of man in this passage.
Consider these logical syllogisms:
– Disappointment implies expectation
– God was disappointed over mankind’s disobedience
– Therefore God expected obedience from mankind
– Expecting obedience, if justified (reasonable and rational), implies the ability to obey
– God expected men to obey Him
– Therefore men had the ability to obey Him.
– If God wants men to obey Him, He will give them the ability to obey Him.
– God wants all men to obey Him.
– Therefore God has given all men the ability to obey Him.
The Bible says that God tests men, to see if they will obey His law or not (Gen. 22:12, Ex. 16:4, Deut. 8:2, Deut. 13:3, Jdg. 2:20-22, Jdg. 3:4, 2 Chron. 32:31). If this does not show that God believes men have the ability to obey Him, than nothing ever could show it. Why would God test men, to see whether they will obey Him or disobey Him, if it is already certain that they will not obey, or if they do not have the ability to do so? It is clear that men have the possibility of obeying God since God tests men to see if they will obey Him or not.
Consider another point. Imagine if a government made a law which stated, “Every citizen must have white skin. If anyone has a skin color other than white, they must immediately change their actual skin color. Anyone found with a skin color other than white will be publicly executed.” Such a law would be tyranny because such a law requires the impossible. Yet there are preachers, who say that God requires us not to sin, yet it is impossible for us to cease from sin or to avoid sinning. Yet they say that God is just in requiring this! The same injustice that would exist if the government of man executed a man for being black would also exist if the government of God sent sinners to hell forever for disobedience, if their disobedience was unavoidable or if their obedience was impossible. But the punishment that God threatens is worse than any punishment that men could threaten!
Now consider what the law actually requires from everyone, “He said unto him, what is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering said, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right…” (Luke 10:26-28).
Notice that God does not command that we love Him with faculties that we do not possess, but rather that we love Him with all that we currently possess, “with all thy,” as opposed to with that which is not currently yours. The commandments are directions to man as to how he is to use his ability. The commandments of God are not impossible, demanding that we love Him with a heart, soul, mind and strength that we do not have. Rather, it is possible to keep the law of God, which demands that we love Him with all of what we do have, with all that we are capable of, to the very highest of our ability, no more and no less. The God-given commandments and our God-given ability directly correspond with each other. The command of God is that we love to the very highest of our ability, no more and no less, and therefore we are able to keep the law of love; we are able to keep the commandments of Jesus (1 Jn. 2:3; 3:22; 5:2-3; Rev. 12:17; 14:12; 22:14). Obedience is always possible, and disobedience is never necessary or unavoidable. The law of God is the law of our ability, to love Him supremely and our neighbor equally, according to our ability, with all of our ability, “with all thy.”
Clemens of Alexandrinus said that the call of “the Divine word… requireth but that which is according to the ability and strength of every one.”30
Gordon Olson said, “The words ‘all thy’ express our obligation. It is the exertion of ‘thy’ personality and ability that is required – ‘all’ this ability.”31
Asa Mahan said, “the law, addressing men…requires them to love God with all their ‘mind and strength,’ that is…with the power they now actually possess.”32
Clement of Alexandria said, “What the commandments direct are in our own power…”33
Charles Finney said, “Entire obedience is the entire consecration of the powers, as they are, to God. It does not imply any change in them, but simply the right use of them.”34
Finney also said that the law “simply requires us to use what strength we have. They very wording of the law is proof conclusive, that it extents its demands only to the full amount of what strength we have. And this is true of every moral being, however great or small.”35
Again Finney logically said “entire obedience to God’s law is possible on the ground of natural ability. To deny this is to deny that man is able to do as well as he can. The very language of the law is such as to level its claims to the capacity of the subject, however great or small that capacity may be. “Thou shalt love he Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Deut 6:5). Here then it is plain, that all the law demands, is the exercise of whatever strength we have, in the service of God. Now, as entire sanctification is nothing more than the right use of whatever strength we have, it is, of course, forever settled, that a state of entire sanctification is attainable in this life, on the ground of natural ability.”36
God commands that you use “thy heart” and “thy soul” and “thy mind.” The command of God is directed towards our current faculties, and it does not exceed the limits of those faculties. We are to love him with “all” of these faculties, not with less or with more than those faculties are capable of. Man is not responsible for more than he can perform, and so man is not accountable for more than he can perform. Man’s responsibility is in accordance with all of his ability, and man’s accountability is according to his responsibility. Therefore, man will not be accountable for that which was beyond his power because man is not accountable beyond his responsibility, and his responsibility is never beyond his ability.
Even Augustine at one point said, “God does not demand impossibilities.”37
The extent of God’s commandments is the exact extent of man’s ability, and the extent of man’s ability is the extent of God’s commandments; each one establishes and determines the limitations and boundaries of the other, and since man will be judged by the commandments, the extent of man’s accountability will be the extent of man’s ability. A man will not be accountable for that which he was not capable of; he will not be judged for that which was outside of the realm of his control.
The law of God is therefore the law of our ability: to love Him supremely and our neighbor equally, according to our ability, with all of our ability, to the highest of our ability, no more and no less. There is, then, no inability in which a sinner can hide behind as an excuse, no commandment that a sinner can point to as tyrannical, since all the commandments of God can be kept, without exception.
Pelagius wisely said, “Nothing impossible has been commanded by the God of justice and majesty . . . Why do we indulge in pointless evasions, advancing the frailty of our own nature as an objection to the one who commands us? No one knows better the true measure of our strength than he who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than he who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has he who is just wished to command anything impossible or he who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what he could not avoid doing.”38
Even more passionately and brilliantly Pelagius said, “In the manner of good-for-nothing and haughty servants, we cry out against the face of God and say, ‘It is hard, it is difficult, we cannot do it, we are but men, we are encompassed by frail flesh!’ [The argument of the Gnostics] What blind madness! What unholy foolhardiness! We accuse God of a twofold lack of knowledge, so that he appears not to know what he has done, and not to know what he has commanded; as if, forgetful of the human frailty of which he is himself the author, he has imposed on man commands which he cannot bear. And, at the same time, oh horror!, we ascribe iniquity to the righteous and cruelty to the holy, while complaining, first, that he has commanded something impossible, secondly, that man is to be damned by him for doing things which he was unable to avoid, so that God – and this is something which even to suspect is sacrilege – seems to have sought not so much our salvation as our punishment!”39
E. M. Bounds asked, “Does God give commandments which men cannot obey? Is He so arbitrary, so severe, so unloving, as to issue commandments which cannot be obeyed? The answer is that in all of annals of Holy Scripture, not a single instance is recorded of God having commanded any man to do a thing, which was beyond his power. Is God so unjust and so inconsiderate as to require of man that which he is unable to render? To infer is to slander the character of God.”40
God is not a tyrant, and His laws are not tyrannical. Pharaoh commanded brick, but gave no straw, and then beat those who failed to perform the impossible. Pharaoh was a tyrant for doing such, and scripture assigns the fault to Pharaoh, not with those subservient to him (Ex. 5:16). The moral fault was with the commander, not with the command breakers. The infallible testimony of Divine Inspiration declares that when an impossible law is broken, the problem is not with the transgressor, the problem is with the law itself and with the one who issued the law.
That which is a vice in Pharaoh would not and could not be virtue in God. What scripture condemns in one is condemnable in all. What is a vice in one is a vice in all. The equality and impartiality of justice demands that what mars the character of one must mar the character of all, and that which is a blemish to one must be a blemish to all.
Tertullian said, God granted man the free will “that he might constantly be the master of his own conduct by voluntarily doing good, and by voluntarily avoiding evil: because, man being appointed for God’s judgment, it was necessary to the justice of God’s sentence that man should be judged according to the merits [or demerits] of his free will.” 41
God does not command obedience when He gives no ability to perform that which is commanded, only to punish with eternal torment those who do not obey when they had no ability to obey. The fault would, according to the Divine Scriptures, be with the commander, not with the transgressor, when the commands are broken. Sin would ultimately be the fault of the one who gave the unreasonable law, since sin is transgression of the law (1 Jn. 3:4), and there can be no transgression where there is no law (Rom. 4:15; 5:13; 1 Jn. 3:4). Therefore, transgression of the impossible law is the fault of the law itself, and the fault of the one who decreed the law.
When an impossible law is broken, transgression would not and could not be the fault of the one who broke the law because he naturally could not keep the law. The one who decrees an impossible law must be the ultimate author and actual cause of sin. The precious truth of revelation, however, is that God is not the author of sin; He is not the ultimate cause of transgression, because God’s moral laws are not unreasonable, but can, in fact, be kept. Natural revelation (conscience) and supernatural revelation (scripture) assign the fault of sin to sinful men; they are the cause of their own rebellion; they are the authors of their own sin.
Augustine said, “”In all laws, warnings, rewards, punishments, etc. there is no justice, if the will is not the cause of sin.” 42 Sinners are misusing and abusing their God-given free will. Tertullian said that the person who chooses to sin chooses to “make a bad use of his created constitution” 43 According to Dr. Wiggers, Pelagius said that sinners, “abuse the liberty granted to them” while the righteous are “rightly using freewill.” 44
God’s moral government, or moral Kingdom, is not a tyrannical one, but a reasonable and just one. God does not condemn the incapable for failure to perform the impossible, but condemns the able, those “who have received the law . . . but have not kept it” (Acts 7:53), for failure to perform the possible, for voluntarily and freely choosing darkness over the light (Jn. 3:19). Sinners abide under the wrath of God for being criminals by choice, not for being cripples by birth. The fault is with their own choices (Isa. 14:13-14; Lk. 19:14, 27; Jn. 5:40), not with their God-given constitution (Ecc. 7:29).
God’s execution of condemnation is justly exerted upon the capable for violation of commandments that could be kept. Condemnation for violation of commandments is justly deserved upon condition of capability, upon condition of being able to keep the commandments. Condemnation for breaking a law that could not be kept is unjust condemnation. Eternal damnation for breaking that which was unavoidably and inevitably to be broken is unjust eternal damnation. God does not send to hell those who are victims of their birth, victims of nature, victims of their parents, or victims of fate, who hadn’t any power, option, or ability of obeying all that was required of them. Rather, God sends deserving criminals and rebels to eternal hell (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8), those who freely, of their own accord, chose to walk contrary to the righteous demands of God’s reasonable and just commandments, when it was well within their power, well within their ability of will, to obey and conform to all of their moral obligations and requirements.
Winkie Pratney said, “Many sincere men are saying, ‘God gave us good laws to keep,’ and in the next breath saying, ‘we are actually unable to keep them!’ If this is true, then God’s laws are not good! No law is good that asks the impossible of its subjects. If God demands obedience to impossible laws then God is not just . . . If God demands such obedience under penalty of death, then God is not only unfair, but monstrous. What kind of being would pass laws upon his subjects they are unable to keep, and then condemn them to death for their failure to obey? This is a blasphemy on God’s character.” 45
To assume that God commands the impossible at the threat of eternal torment is to directly slander the character of God; it is to blame God for our sin rather than to rightly blame ourselves! Cruelty cannot be ascribed to God’s character because injustice cannot be ascribed to His government. The character of God does not allow anyone to go to hell for failure to perform moral impossibilities, but only for failure to perform moral possibilities, for being unwilling, but not unable.
Men cannot blame God or His laws for their own disobedience and rebellion. God is not responsible for the sin of the world because God’s has granted man a free will and has only decreed laws that are reasonable and good. All men who voluntarily choose to disobey God are responsible for their own sin. Sinners cannot blame God or His laws for sin. God blames them, that is, He blames their own will for their own sin.
John Fletcher asked “if you take away free will, how does he [God] judge the world?” 46
Justin Martyr said, “Unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions.”47 Again he said, “We [Christians] maintain that each man acts rightly or sins by free choice… Since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed.” 48
Origen said, “The Savior…declares that it lies with us to keep what is commanded and that we will reasonably be liable to condemnation if we transgress.” 49
Lactantius said, “And he [God] can give a punishment for those who do not obey – for it was in their power to obey if they so wished. 50
Clement of Alexandria said, “Each one of us who sins with his own free will, chooses punishment. So the blame lies with him who chooses.” 51 Again he said, “It is by one’s own fault that he does not choose what is best.: 52 And again, “If one chooses to continue in pleasures and to sin perpetually,… let him no longer blame either God, riches, or his having fallen. Rather, let him blame his own soul, which voluntarily perishes.” 53
Why would Jesus command men to be perfect (Matt. 5:48) if this wasn’t possible? Why would Jesus waste his breath to tell us to waste our time and energy? Some say, “You should try to be perfect” but what good is it to try to do the impossible? If it cannot be attained, why try? Trying would be a waste of time and energy. The Westminster Catechism says, “No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but does daily break them in word, thought, and deed.”54 But the Bible says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The former says “No man is able” while the latter says “ye are able”. Which one is right? Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30) and the Apostle told us, “His commandments are not grievous.” (1 Jn. 5:3)
It is very clear that the law of God is not impossible for man to keep because the Bible says that some men actually keep the law of God. “But they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). The Bible says “we keep his commandments” (1 John 3:22; 5:3) and therefore the commandments are not impossible to keep.
9. MAN’S ABILITY TO OBEY THE GOSPEL
The Gospel requires repentance and faith from men. Repentance is the hearts choice to turn from sin and obey God. Faith is the hearts choice to embrace the truth and trust in Christ. Both repentance and faith are states of the will. Therefore the Gospel requires states of the will. Under a good government, the command implies ability. Only under tyranny is this not true. God’s government is good and therefore in God’s government the command implies ability. We can conclude then that that which the Gospel requires of men, men are capable of doing. A sinner is capable of remaining in a disobedient state of mind, or of having an obedient state of mind through repentance. A sinner is capable of rejecting the truth and not trusting in Christ, or of embracing the truth and trusting in Christ. If men were not capable of it, they would not be commanded to do it.
The first public message that Jesus herald in public was “repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This was a command to men. Jesus didn’t say that God would repent and believe for them. Jesus didn’t say, wait for God to give you the ability to repent and believe. Jesus commanded them to simply repent and believe immediately, preaching in such a way that we can logically conclude that he assumed that they were capable of doing this. “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his might works were done, because they repented not” (Matt. 11:20). Why would Jesus be frustrated with them for not repenting if they were not capable of repenting? His frustration could only be logical or justified if they were capable of fulfilling his expectations. Jesus here assumed that they could have repented.
The disciples of the Lord “went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). Jesus also said to the Church, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Why should we preach the Gospel to all men, commanding them to repent and believe, unless all men are capable of this? To offer them hope through the Gospel, when they cannot obey the Gospel, is an offer that is nothing but a mockery! God would be insincere in commanding all to repent and believe, unless they all could do it. Why would God want all of the unsaved to hear the Gospel, unless once they hear it, they are capable of obeying it and being saved through it?
If the call to obey the Gospel does not imply that man can obey the Gospel, then what in the entire Bible could ever imply that men could obey it? If the command does not presuppose ability, what text ever could presuppose ability? Nothing could imply the ability to repent and believe more than the commands to do so.
– The command of a good ruler implies the ability of the subjects.
– God (a good Ruler) commands all men to obey the Gospel when they hear it.
– Therefore all men are able to obey the Gospel when they hear it.
When Stephen was open air preaching, he said to the crowd “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). Stephen was rebuking them for disobeying a specific commandment, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut. 10:16). Why would Stephen rebuke them, for being uncircumcised in their heart unless they were capable of circumcising their hearts? Why rebuke them for breaking a commandment unless they were capable of obeying the commandment? Why would he rebuke them for resisting the Holy Spirit unless they were capable of yielding to the Holy Spirit? Unless they were capable of doing these things, why rebuke them for not doing these things? Stephen seemed to take for granted or assume the ability of his audience.
Jesus said, “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not” (Revelation 2:21). Why would God give her time to repent, if she doesn’t have the ability to repent? Also, is it not clear that her impenitence was not God’s fault, but her own fault? But if God created her with the inability to repent, her impenitence would be His fault. But if God created her with the ability to repent, then her impenitence is her own fault. The blame of impenitence in this passage is clearly put upon her. God wants all men to repent (2 Peter 3:9), He calls all men to repent (Acts 17:30-31), and He blames them if they do not repent (Matt. 11:20, Matt. 23:37, Mk. 6:6, Lk. 7:30, 13:34, 14:17-18, 19:14, 19:27, Jn. 5:40, Rev. 2:21). This presupposes that they have the ability to repent.
Sin is a choice. It is a man’s own choice to be in a state of rebellion or sin, that is, it is a man’s own choice to be a sinner (Gen. 6:12, Ex. 32:7, Deut. 9:12, Deut. 32:5, Jdg. 2:19, Hos. 9:9, Ps. 14:2-3, Isa. 53:6, Ecc. 7:29, Rom. 3:23. 1 Jn. 3:4). Therefore reconciliation, or ceasing to be a sinner, also requires the choice of man (2 Corinthians 5:20). Repentance and impenitence are man’s own choice. Therefore man, not God, is responsible for the impenitence of the world. But if God makes men incapable of repenting and obeying, by either removing free will when Adam sinned or by withholding free will when He forms us, then God and not man is responsible for the disobedience and impenitence of the world. Therefore either man is capable of obeying and repenting or else God is the reason for the disobedience and impenitence of the world.
Consider how God treats those who disobey the Gospel. “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17). The Bible answers that question. “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Why would God punish men, for not obeying the Gospel, unless they were capable of obeying it? Is God so cruel, is God so unjust, as to command of them the impossible, only to punish them eternally for their failure to do what He created them incapable of doing?
In a good government, not only does the command imply ability, but punishment for failure to obey the command most definitely implies ability. God is just, good, reasonable, and loving. Therefore He commands the possible and only punishes men for doing what was avoidable.
John Fletcher said, “It is offering an insult to the only wise God to suppose . . . that he gave them the Gospel, without giving them power to believe it . . . With regards to repentance, ‘Then he began,’ says St. Matthew, ‘to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not.’ Merciful Savior, forgive us! We have insulted thy meek wisdom, by representing thee as cruelly upbraiding the lame for not running, the blind for not seeing, and the dumb for not speaking! . . . Suppose a schoolmaster said to his English scholars ‘Except you instantly speak Greek you shall all be severely whipped.’ You would wonder at the injustice of the school tyrant. But would not the wretch be merciful in comparison of a Savior, (so called) who is supposed to say to myriads of men, that can no more repent than ice can burn, ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all perish?’” 55
10. OTHER VERSES THAT IMPLY & TEACH MAN’S ABILITY
I have argued that if men cannot obey God, it is not their fault that they do not obey God. It is not their fault because they cannot choose what natural abilities they would or would not have. That is God’s choosing since He forms us in the womb. But if it is not their fault that they do not obey God, then they do not deserve punishment for their lack of obedience. If they do not deserve punishment, they do not need atonement, grace, or mercy. Therefore if the doctrine of inability is true, the doctrine of atonement, grace, and mercy cannot be true. But if men can obey God, it is their own fault if they don’t. If disobedience is their own fault, because it is their own free choice, than they deserve punishment. And if they deserve punishment, than they need atonement, grace, and mercy. Therefore the doctrine of atonement, grace, and mercy can only be true, if the doctrine of man’s natural ability is true. In this way, every passage that speaks about atonement, grace, and mercy, actually implies or presupposes the natural ability of man.
Here is this truth presented in logical syllogisms:
– Man only needs atonement, grace, and mercy if he deserves punishment.
– Man only deserves punishment for lack of obedience if he is capable of obedience.
– Therefore, man only needs atonement, grace, and mercy if he is capable of obedience.
– Man only needs atonement, grace, and mercy if he is capable of obedience.
– The Bible speaks of man’s need for atonement, grace, and mercy.
– Therefore the Bible implies or presupposes that man is capable of obeying.
I would also argue that just punishment for disobedience presupposes the ability to obey. Since the God of the Bible is just and since He punishes sinners, this implies or presupposes that they have the ability to obey. If men cannot obey God, yet God still requires it and punishes disobedience, then God’s law is tyranny and God’s punishments are cruel. Yet the Hosts of Heaven do not describe the judgments of God as tyrannical and cruel, but declare “true and righteous are thy judgments” (Revelations 16:7; 19:20). As I said earlier, sinners rightly and justly deserve to be punished for their disobedience, because God has given them the ability to obey, yet they have selfishly refused to do so.
Miner Raymond said, “It is axiomatic that that for which any agent is morally responsible must be within his control. If man be responsible for obedience or disobedience to the divine commands, then obedience and disobedience are both equally within his power. Which of them shall result is not determined by any thing external to him. His own power of choice selects the one, it being at the same time a power equally adequate to select the other. That for which an agent is morally responsible must be an election; that is, a selection with an alternative.” 56
L D. McCabe said, “Accountability necessitates the origination of choice between obedience and disobedience.” 57
It could also be argued that the working of the Holy Spirit presupposes the ability of man. The Bible says that the Spirit of the Lord strives with men (Genesis 6:3). To strive is to plead with. The only reason that the Holy Spirit would plead with men or influence men to obey, is because men are capable of obeying. If men are not capable of obeying, the Spirit strives in vain. But who would dare credit folly and foolishness to the Spirit of God? The Spirit of God is called the Spirit of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Isaiah 11:2). Either man is capable of obeying or else the Spirit of God is foolish. And if the Spirit is foolish, the Bible is wrong for calling Him the Spirit of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Therefore, either man is able to obey, or else the Spirit is foolish and the Bible is wrong.
Man’s ability is not only taught implicitly, but it is also taught explicitly. Jesus spoke of one individual who first said, “I will not,” when confronted with a command, but then “afterward repented” and did according to it. And there was another who first said he would, but afterward repented and did it not (Matt. 21:28-30). This clearly or explicitly shows that a man can change his mind about sinning even after formerly making up his mind to sin, and a man can change his mind about obeying even after formerly making up his mind to obey. Man can will contrary to his previous will, he can choose contrary to his habit of choice because the will is at all times a free faculty. The will, as a free faculty, means that it has the power of contrary choice. If this were not true, this parable could not be true. If this parable could not be true, Christ would be found a liar! And Christ is certainly not a liar! Therefore the will is free to choose and to change. In the parable of Christ, both sinners and saints have a free will. The disobedient (sinners) are free to choose to become obedient and the obedient (saints) are free to choose to become disobedient. Sinners and saints can both change their mind. Those who make up their mind to obey can later make up their mind to disobey. And those who make up their mind to disobey can later make up their mind to obey. “The righteous” have the freedom or ability to “turneth from his righteousness” and “the wicked” have the freedom or ability to “turn from his wickedness” (Ezekiel 3:20; 18:26-27; 33:18-19).
There are many other passages that teach implicitly or explicitly the ability of man to obey or disobey the law and the Gospel:
“And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (Gen. 4:6-7);
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life” (Deut. 30:19);
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deut. 8:2);
“Choose you this daywhom ye will serve” (Josh. 24:15);
“That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not” (Judges 2:22);
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14);
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13);
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 1:16-20);
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7);
“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap inmercy; break up your fallow ground” (Hos. 10:12);
“…wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (Jeremiah 4:14);
“And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death” (Jer. 21:8);
“Repent, and turnyourselves from allyour transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions . . . make you a new heart and a new spirit . . . For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Eze. 18:30-32);
“Return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good” (Jer. 18:11);
“Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you” (Jer. 26:13);
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17);
“And they went out, and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:12);
“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not” (Matthew 11:20);
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent…. For the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38);
“Saveyourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40);
“Repent, ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19);
“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22);
“God . . . commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30);
“Ye have obeyed from the heart” (Rom. 6:17);
“Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh” (2 Cor. 7:1);
“If a man therefore purge himself” (2 Tim. 2:21);
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sightof the Lord” (Jas. 4:7-10);
“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22);
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
SOURCE OF QUOTES
1. Ignatius (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume One, p. 61)
2. Origen (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 289, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
3. Justin Martyr (First Apology Chap. 43)
4. Theodorite (Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, pg 62, published by Truth in Heart)
5. Irenaeus (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 287, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
6. John Fletcher (Five Checks to Antinomianism, pg. 23).
7. Gordon Olson (Essentials of Salvation, p. 143)
8. Catherine Booth (Papers on Aggressive Christianity, Published in 1880, p. 19)
9. Harry Conn (Four Trojan Horses, Published by Mott Media, p. 81)
10. Charles Finney (Systematic Theology, pg 275)
11. Charles Finney (Systematic Theology, pg 275)
12. Augustine (Retractations (Retractiones) 2.1 in Augustine: Earlier Writings, ed. J. H. S. Burleigh (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), (CCL 57, pp. 89-90)
13. Thayer Definitions
14. Strong’s Definitions
15. Catherine Booth (Life & Death, Published in 1883, p. 86)
16. H. O. Wiley (Christian Theology, V.2, p. 419)
17. Albert Barnes (Commentary on John 6:44)
18. Albert Barnes (Commentary on John 6:45)
19. Strong’s Definitions
20. Strong’s Definitions
21. Strong’s Definitions
22. Albert Barnes (Commentary on Romans 8:7)
23. Charles Finney (Sermons on Important Subjects, Total Depravity)
24. Thayer’s Definitions
25. Charles Finney(Lectures on Important Subjects, Total Depravity)
26. Albert Barnes (Commentary on Romans 8:7)
27. Charles Finney (Sermons on Important Subjects, Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts)
28. Winkie Pratney (The Nature and Character of God, Bethany House Publishing, 1988, p. 167)
29. Augustine (An Historical Presentation of Augustinism and Pelagianism From The Original Sources” by Dr Wiggers, 1840 Edition, pages 128-129)
30. Clemens of Alexandrinus (An Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism by John Fletcher, Volume Two, p. 204, published by Carlton & Porter)
31. Gordon Olson (The Kindness of God Our Savior, p. 10, published by Revival Theology Promotion)
32. Asa Mahan (The Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 118, published by Truth in Heart)
33. Clement of Alexandria (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 295, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
34. Charles Finney (Finney’s Systematic Theology, 1878 Edition, p. 129, published by Bethany House)
35. Charles Finney (Finney’s Systematic Theology, 1878 Edition, p. 134, published by Bethany House)
36. Charles Finney (Lectures on Systematic Theology, 1851 Edition, p. 502)
37. Augustine (Joy and Strength, 1929 Edition, p. 192, published by Grosset & Dunlap)
38. Pelagius (The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, p. 53-54, published by The Boydell Press)
39. Pelagius (The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, p. 53, published by The Boydell Press)
40. E. M. Bounds (The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, p. 53; published by Baker Books)
41. Tertullian (An Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism by John Fletcher, Volume Two, p. 200, published by Carlton & Porter)
42. Augustine (An Historical Presentation of Augustinism And Pelagianism by G. F. Wiggers, p. 129)
43. Tertullian (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 285, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
44. Pelagius ( An Historical Presentation of Augustinism And Pelagianism by G. F. Wiggers, p. 223)
45. Winkie Pratney (The Nature of Sin, pg 5)
46. John Fletcher (An Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism, Volume Two, p. 206, published by Carlton & Porter)
47. Justin Martyr (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 285, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
48. Justin Martyr (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 285, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
49. Origen (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 289, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
50. Lactantius (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 293, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
51. Clement of Alexandria (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 287, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
52. (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 287, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
53. (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 288, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
54. Westminster Catechism
55. John Fletcher (Checks to Antinomianism by John Fletcher, Volume One, pg 142, 145, 146, published by Carlton & Porter)
56. Miner Raymond (Systematic Theology, Volume One, 1877 Edition, p. 520-521, published by Granston & Stowe)
57. L. D. McCabe (Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity, p. 67)
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