February 1, 2011

Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) on Moral Inability


First, You inquire "whether any person by nature possesses that honest heart which constitutes the ability to comply with the invitations of the gospel?" I believe the heart of man to be by nature the direct opposite of honest. I am not aware, however, that I have any where represented an honest heart as constituting our ability to comply with gospel invitations, unless as the term is sometimes used in a figurative sense, for moral ability. I have said, "There is no ability wanting for this purpose in any man who possesses an honest heart." If a person owed you one hundred pounds, and could find plenty of money for his own purposes, though none for you; and should he at the same time plead inability, you would answer, there was no ability wanting, but an honest heart: yet it would be an unjust construction of your words, if an advocate for this dishonest man were to allege that you had represented an honest heart as that which constituted the ability to pay the debt. No, you would reply, his ability, strictly speaking, consists in its being in the power of his hand, and this he has. That which is wanting is an honest principle; and it is the former, not the latter, which renders him accountable. It is similar with regard to God. Men have the same natural powers to love Christ as to hate him, to believe as to disbelieve; and this it is which constitutes their accountableness. Take away reason and conscience, and man would cease to be accountable; but if he were as wicked as Satan himself, in that case no such effect would follow.

Secondly, If no man by nature possess an honest heart, you inquire, "Whether, if I be not what you call an elect sinner, there are any means provided of God, and which I can use, that shall issue in that 'honesty of heart' which will enable me to believe unto salvation?" Your being an elect or a non-elect sinner makes no difference as to this question. The idea of a person destitute of honesty using means to obtain it is in all cases a contradiction. The use of means supposes the existence of an honest desire after the end. The Scriptures direct to the sincere use of means for obtaining eternal life; and these means are, "Repent, and believe the gospel;" but they no where direct to such a use of means as may be complied with without any honesty of heart, and in order to obtain it. Nothing appears to me with greater evidence than that God directly requires uprightness of heart, not only in the moral law, but in all the exhortations of the Bible, and not the dishonest use of means in order to obtain it. Probably you yourself would not plead for such a use of means, but would allow that even in using means to obtain an honest heart we ought to be sincere; but if so, you must maintain what I affirm, that nothing short of honesty of heart itself is required in any of the exhortations of Scripture; for a sincere use of means is honesty of heart. If you say, "No; man is depraved; it is not his duty to possess an honest heart, but merely to use means that he may possess it;" I answer, as personating the sinner, I have no desire after an honest heart. If you reply, "You should pray for such a desire," you must mean, if you mean any thing, that I should express my desire to God that I may have a desire; and I tell you that I have none to express. You would then, sir, be driven to tell me I was so wicked that I neither was of an upright heart, nor would be persuaded to use any means for becoming so; and that I must take the consequences. That is, I must be exposed to punishment, because, though I had "a price in my hand to get wisdom, I had no heart to it." Thus all you do is to remove the obstruction further out of sight: the thing is the same.

I apprehend it is owing to your considering human depravity as the misfortune, rather than the fault, of human nature, that you and others speak of it as you do. You would not write in this manner in an affair that affected yourself. If the debtor above supposed, whom you knew to have plenty of wealth about him, were to allege his want of an honest heart, you might possibly think of using means with him; but you would not think of directing him to use means to become what at present he has no desire to be—an honest man!

Thirdly, You inquire, if there be no means provided of God which I can use that shall issue in that honesty of heart which will enable me to believe unto salvation, "how can the gospel be a blessing bestowed upon me; seeing it is inadequate to make me happy, and contains no good thing which I can possibly obtain or enjoy?" If I be under no other inability than that which arises from a dishonesty of heart, it is an abuse of language to introduce the terms "possible, impossible," &c., for the purpose of diminishing the goodness of God, or destroying the accountableness of man. I am not wanting in power provided I were willing; and if I be not willing, there lies my fault. Nor is any thing in itself less a blessing on account of our unreasonable and wicked aversion to it. Indeed, the same would follow from your own principles. If I be so wicked as not only to be destitute of an honest heart, but cannot be persuaded to use means in order to obtain it, I must perish; and then, according to your way of writing, the gospel was "inadequate to make me happy, and was no blessing to me!" You will say, I might have used the means; that is, I might if I would, or if I had possessed a sincere desire after the end: but I did not possess it ; and therefore the same consequences follow your hypothesis as that which you oppose.

If these things be true, say you, we may despair. True, sir; and that is the point, in a sense, to which I should be glad to see you and many others brought. Till we despair of all help from ourselves, we shall never pray acceptably; nor, in my judgment, is there any hope of our salvation.

Let a man feel that there is no bar between him and heaven except what consists in his own wickedness, and yet that such is its influence over him that he certainly never will by any efforts of his own extricate himself from it, and he will then begin to pray for an interest in salvation by mere grace, in the name of Jesus—a salvation that will save him from himself; and, so praying, he will find it; and, when he has found it, he will feel and acknowledge that it was grace alone that made him to differ; and this grace he is taught in the Scriptures to ascribe to the purpose of God, given him in Christ Jesus before the world began.
Andrew Fuller, "Answers to Queries: Moral Inability," in The Complete Works of Rev. Andrew Fuller (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1845), 3:768–769. Also in The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, rev. by Joseph Belcher, D. D. (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 3:768–769.


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