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§ 6. Pelagian and Rationalistic Doctrine.

According to Pelagians and Rationalists man was created a rational free agent, but without moral character. He was neither righteous nor unrighteous, holy nor unholy. He had simply the capacity of becoming either. Being endowed with reason and free will, his character depended upon the use which he made of those endowments. If he acted right, he became righteous; if he acted wrong, he became unrighteous. There can be, according to their system, no such thing as concreated moral character, and therefore they reject the doctrine of original righteousness as irrational. This view of man's original state is the necessary consequence of the assumption that moral character can be predicated only of acts of the will or of the subjective consequences of such acts. This principle which precludes the possibility of original righteousness in Adam, precludes also the possibility of innate, hereditary depravity, commonly called original sin; and also the possibility of indwelling sin, and of habits of grace. It is a principle 107therefore which necessarily works an entire change in the whole system of Christian doctrine. It is not, however, an ultimate principle. It is itself an inference from the primary assumption that ability limits obligation; that a man can be neither praised nor blamed, neither rewarded nor condemned, except for his own acts and self-acquired character, which acts must be within the compass of his ability. What is either concreated or innate, inherent or infused, is clearly not within the power of the will, and therefore cannot have any moral character. As this principle is thus far-reaching it ought to be definitively settled.

Consciousness proves that Dispositions as distinguished from Acts may have Moral Character.

By the mere moral philosopher, and by theologians whose theology is a philosophy, it is assumed as an axiom, or intuitive truth, that a man is responsible only for what he has full power to do or to avoid. Plausible as this principle is, it is, —

1. Opposed to the testimony of consciousness. It is a fact of consciousness that we do attribute moral character to principles which precede all voluntary action and which are entirely independent of the power of the will. And it is a fact capable of the clearest demonstration that such is not only the dictate of our own individual consciousness, but also the conviction of all men. If we examine our own consciousness as to the judgment which we pass upon ourselves, we shall find that we hold ourselves responsible not only for the deliberate acts of the will, that is, for acts of deliberate self-determination, which suppose both knowledge and volition, but also for emotional, impulsive acts, which precede all deliberation; and not only for such impulsive acts, but also for the principles, dispositions, or immanent states of the mind, by which its acts whether impulsive or deliberate, are determined. When a man is convinced of sin, it is not so much for specific acts of transgression that his conscience condemns him, as for the permanent states of his mind; his selfishness, worldliness, and maliciousness; his ingratitude, unbelief, and hardness of heart; his want of right affections, of love to God, of zeal for the Redeemer, and of benevolence towards men. These are not acts. They are not states of mind under the control of the will; and yet in the judgment of conscience, which we cannot silence or pervert, they constitute our character and are just ground of condemnation. In like manner whatever If right dispositions or principles we discover within ourselves, whatever there is of love to God, to Christ, or to his people; whatever 108of humility, meekness, forbearance, or of any other virtue the testimony of consciousness is, that these dispositions, which are neither the acts nor products of the will, as far as they exist within us, constitute our character in the sight of God and man. Such is not only the testimony of consciousness with regard to our judgments of ourselves, but also as to our judgments of other men. When we pronounce a man either good or bad, the judgment is not founded upon his acts, but upon his character as revealed by his acts. The terms good and bad, as applied to men, are not used to express the character of particular actions which they perform, but the character of the abiding principles, dispositions, or states of mind which determine their acts, and give assurance of what they will be in future. We may look on a good man and know that there is something in him which constitutes his character, and which renders it certain that he will not blaspheme, lie, or steal; but, on the contrary, that he will endeavour in all things to serve God and do good to men. In like manner we may contemplate a wicked man in the bosom of his family, when every evil passion is hushed, and when only kindly feelings are in exercise, and yet we know him to be wicked. That is, we not only know that he has perpetrated wicked actions, but that he is inherently wicked; that there is in him an evil nature, or abiding state of the mind, which constitutes his real character and determines his acts. When we say that a man is a miser, we do not mean simply that he hoards money, or grinds the face of the poor, but we mean that he has a disposition which in time past has led to such acts and which will continue to produce them so long as it rules in his heart. The Pelagian doctrine, therefore, that moral character can be predicated only of voluntary acts, is contrary to the testimony of consciousness.

Argument from the General Judgment of Men.

2. It may, however, be said that our consciousness or moral judgments are influenced by our Christian education. It is there-fore important to observe, in the second place, that this judgment of our individual consciousness is confirmed by the universal judgment of our fellow-men. This is plain from the fact that in all known languages there are words to distinguish between dispositions, principles, or habits, as permanent states of the mind, and voluntary acts. And these dispositions are universally recognized as being either good or bad. Language is the product of the common consciousness of men. There could not be such terms as benevolence, justice, integrity, and fidelity, expressing principles 109which determine acts, and which are not themselves acts, if men did not intuitively recognize the fact that principles as well as acts may have moral character.

The Moral Character of Acts determined by the Principles whence they flow.

3. So far from its being true that in the judgment of men the voluntary act alone constitutes character, the very opposite is true. The character of the act is decided by the nature of the principle by which it is determined. If a man gives alms, or worships God from a selfish principle, under the control of a disposition to secure the applause of men, those acts instead of being good are instinctively recognized as evil. Indeed, if this Pelagian or Rationalistic principle were true, there could be no such thing as character; not only because individual acts have no moral quality except such as is derived from the principle whence they flow, but also because character necessarily supposes something permanent and controlling. A man without character is a man without principles; i.e., in whom there is nothing which gives security as to what his acts will be.

Argument from Scripture.

4. The Scriptures in this, as in all cases, recognize the validity of the intuitive and universal judgments of the mind. They everywhere distinguish between principles and acts, and everywhere attribute moral character to the former, and to acts only sc far as they proceed from principles. This is the doctrine of our Lord when he says, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for a tree is known by his fruit.” (Matt. xii. 33.) “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matt. vii. 18.) It is the inward, abiding character of the tree that determines the character of the fruit. The fruit reveals, but does not constitute, the nature of the tree. So it is, he tells us, with the human heart. “How can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.” (Matt. xii. 34, 35.) A good man, therefore, is one who is inwardly good: who has a good heart, or nature, something within him which being good in itself, produces good acts. And an evil man is one, whose heart, that is, the abiding, controlling state of has mind, being in itself evil, habitually 110does evil. It is out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. These terms include all voluntary acts, not only in the sense of deliberate self-determination, but also in the sense of spontaneous acts. They moreover include all conscious states of the mind. It is, therefore, expressly asserted by our Lord, that moral character attaches to what lies deeper than any acts of the will, in the widest sense of those words, but also to that which lies lower than consciousness. As the greater part of our knowledge is treasured up where consciousness does not reach, so the greater part of what constitutes our character as good or evil, is lower not only than the will but even than consciousness itself. It is not only however by direct assertion that this doctrine is taught in the Bible. It is constantly assumed, and is involved in some of the most important doctrines of the word of God. It is taken for granted in what is taught of the moral condition in which men are born into this world. They are said to be conceived in sin. They are children of wrath by nature. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, i.e., carnal, morally corrupt. The Bible also speaks of indwelling sin; of sin as a principle which brings forth fruit unto death. It represents regeneration not as an act of the soul, but as the production of a new nature, or holy principle, in the heart. The denial, therefore, that dispositions or principles as distinguished from acts, can have a moral character, subverts some of the most plainly revealed doctrines of the sacred Scriptures.

The Faith of the Church on this Subject.

5. It is fair on this subject to appeal to the universal faith of the Church. Even the Greek Church, which has the lowest form of doctrine of any of the great historical Christian communities, teaches that men need regeneration as soon as they are born, and that by regeneration a change of nature is effected, or a new principle of life is infused into the soul. So also the Latin Church, however inconsistently, recognizes the truth of the doctrine in question in all her teachings. All who die unbaptized, according to Romanists, perish; and by baptism not Only the guilt, but also the pollution of sin is removed, and new habits of grace are infused into the soul. It is needless to remark that the Lutheran and Reformed churches agree in holding this important doctrine, that moral character does not belong exclusively to voluntary acts, but extends to dispositions, principles, or habits of the mind. This is involved in all their authoritative decisions concerning original righteousness, original sin, regeneration, and sanctification.


The Moral Character of Dispositions depends on their Nature and not on their Origin.

The second great principle involved in the Scriptural doctrine on this subject is, that the moral character of dispositions or habits depends on their nature and not on their origin. There are some who endeavour to take a middle ground between the rationalistic and the evangelical doctrines. They admit that moral character may be predicated of dispositions as distinguished from voluntary acts, but they insist that this can only be done when such dispositions have been self-acquired. They acknowledge that the frequent repetition of certain acts has a tendency to produce an abiding disposition to perform them. This is acknowledged to be true not only in regard to the indulgence of sensual appetites, but also in regard to purely mental acts. Not only does the frequent use of intoxicating liquors produce an inordinate craving for them, but the frequent exercise of pride or indulgence of vanity, confirms and strengthens a proud and vainglorious spirit, or state of mind; which state of mind, when thus produced, it is admitted, goes to determine or constitute the man's moral character. But they deny that a man can be responsible for any disposition, or state of mind, which is not the result of his own voluntary agency. In opposition to this doctrine, and in favour of the position that the moral character of dispositions, or principles, does not depend upon their origin, that whether concreated, innate, infused, or self-acquired they are good or bad according to their nature, the arguments are the same in kind as those presented under the preceding head.

1. The first is derived from our consciousness. In our judgments of ourselves the question is what we are, and not how we became what we know ourselves to be. If conscious that we do not love God as we ought; that we are worldly, selfish, proud, or suspicious, it is no relief to the consciousness, that such has been our character from the beginning. We may know that we were born with these evil dispositions, but they are not on that account less evil in the sight of conscience. We groan under the burden of hereditary, or of indwelling sin, as deeply and as intelligently as under the pressure of our self-acquired evil dispositions. So also in our instinctive judgments of other men. if a man be addicted to frivolous pursuits, we pronounce him a frivolous man, without sopping to inquire whether his disposition be innate, derived by inheritance from his ancestors, or whether it was acquired. On the contrary, if he manifests from his youth a disposition for the 112acquisition of knowledge, he is an object of respect, no matter whence that disposition was derived. The same is true with regard to amiable or unamiable dispositions. It cannot be denied that there is a great difference in men in this respect. Some are morose, irritable, and unsocial in their dispositions, others are directly the reverse. The one class is attractive, the other repulsive; the one the object of affection; the other, of dislike. The instinctive judgment of the mind is the same with regard to dispositions more clearly moral in their nature. One man is selfish, another generous; one is malicious, another benevolent; one is upright and honourable, another deceitful and mean. They may be born with these distinctive traits of character, and such traits beyond doubt are in numerous cases innate and often hereditary, and yet we are conscious that our judgment regarding them and those to whom they belong is entirely independent of the question whether such dispositions are natural or acquired. It is admitted that nations as well as tribes and families, have their distinctive characteristics, and that these characteristics are not only physical and mental, but also social and moral. Some tribes are treacherous and cruel. Some are mild and confiding. Some are addicted to gain, others to war. Some are sensual, some intellectual. We instinctively judge of each according to its character; we like or dislike, approve or disapprove, without asking ourselves any questions as to the origin of these distinguishing characteristics. And if we do raise that question, although we are forced to answer it by admitting that these dispositions are innate and hereditary, and that they are not self-acquired by the individual whose character they constitute, we nevertheless, and none the less, approve or condemn them according to their nature. This is the instinctive and necessary, and therefore the correct, judgment of the mind.

This the Common Rule of Judgment.

2. As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man. What we find revealed in our own consciousness we find manifested as the consciousness of our fellow men. It is the Instinctive or intuitive judgment of all men that moral dispositions derive their character from their nature, and not from their origin. In the ordinary language of men, to say that a man is naturally proud or malicious is not an extenuation, but an aggravation. The more deeply these evil principles are seated in his nature, and the less they depend upon circumstances or voluntary action, the more profound is our abhorrence and the more severe is our condemnation. 113The Irish people have always been remarkable for their fidelity; the English for honesty; the Germans for truthfulness. These national traits, as revealed in individuals, are not the effect of self-discipline. They are innate, hereditary dispositions, as obviously as the physical, mental, or emotional peculiarities by which one people is distinguished from another. And yet by the common judgment of men this fact in no degree detracts from the moral character of these dispositions.

The Testimony of Scripture.

3. This also is the plain doctrine of the Bible. The Scriptures teach that God made man upright; that the angels were created holy, for the unholy angels are those which kept not their first estate; that since the fall men are born in sin; that by the power of God, and not by the power of the will, the heart is changed, and new dispositions are implanted in our nature; and yet the Bible always speaks of the sinful as sinful and worthy of condemnation, whether, as in the case of Adam, that sinfulness was self-acquired, or, as in the case of his posterity, it is a hereditary evil. It always speaks of the holy as holy, whether so created as were the angels, or made so by the supernatural power of the Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. And in so doing the Bible, as we have seen, does not contradict the intuitive judgment of the human mind, but sanctions and confirms that judgment.

The Faith of the Church.

4. It need hardly be added that such also is the faith of the Church universal. All Christian churches receive the doctrines of original in and regeneration in a form which involves not only the principle that dispositions, as distinguished from acts, may have a moral character, but also that such character belongs to them whether they be innate, acquired, or infused. It is, therefore, most unreasonable to assume the ground that a man can be responsible only for his voluntary acts, or for their subjective effects, when our own consciousness, the universal judgment of men, the word of God, and the Church universal, so distinctly assert the contrary. It is a matter of surprise how subtle is the poison of the principle which has now been considered. It is not only the fundamental principle of Pelagianism, but it is often asserted by orthodox theologians who do not carry it out to its legitimate results, but who, nevertheless, allow it injuriously to modify their views of some of the most important doctrines of the Bible. On the assumption that no man can be 114judged, can be either justified or condemned except on to ground of his self-acquired personal character, they teach that there can be no immediate imputation of the sin of Adam or of the righteousness of Christ; that the only ground of condemnation must be our self-acquired sinfulness, and the only ground of justification our subjective righteousness; thus subverting two of the main pillars of evangelical truth.

Objections Considered.

The difficulty on this subject arises in great measure from con-founding two distinct things. It is one thing that a creature should be treated according to his character; and quite another thing to account for his having that character. If a creature is holy he will be regarded and treated as holy. If he is sinful, he will be regarded and treated as sinful. If God created Adam holy He could not treat him as unholy. If He created Satan sinful, He would regard him as sinful; and if men are born in sin they cannot be regarded as free from sin. The difficulty is not in God's treating his creatures according to their true character, but in reconciling with his holiness and justice that a sinful character should be acquired without the creature's personal agency. If God had created Satan sinful he would be sinful, but we should not know how to reconcile it with the character of God that he should be so created. And if men are born in sin the difficulty is not in their being regarded and treated as sinful, but in their being thus born. The Bible teaches us the solution of this difficulty. It reveals to us the principle of representation, on the ground of which the penalty of Adam's sin has come upon his posterity as the reward of Christ's righteousness comes upon his people. In the one case the penalty brings subjective sinfulness, and in the other the reward brings subjective holiness.

It is a common objection to the doctrine that holiness can be concreated and sinfulness hereditary, that it makes sin and holiness substances. There is nothing in the soul, it is said, but its substance and its acts. If sin or holiness be predicated of anything but the acts of the soul it must be predicated of its substance; and thus we have the doctrine of physical holiness and physical depravity. The assumption on which this objection rests is not only an arbitrary one, but it is obviously erroneous. There are in the soul, (1.) Its substance. (2.) Its essential properties or attributes, as reason, sensibility, and will, without which it ceases to be a human soul. (3.) Its constitutional dispositions, or natural tendencies to exercise 115certain feelings and volitions, such as self-love, the sense of justice, the social principle, parental and filial affection. These, although not essential to man, are nevertheless found in all men, before and after the tall. (4.) The peculiar dispositions of individual men, which are accidental, that is, they do not belong to humanity as such. They may be present or absent; they may be innate or acquired. Such are the taste for music, painting, or poetry; and the skill of the artist or the mechanist; such also are covetousness, pride, vanity, and the like; and such, too, are the graces of the Spirit, humility, meekness, gentleness, faith, love, etc. As the taste for music is neither an act nor a substance, so pride is neither the one nor the other. Nor is the maternal instinct an act; nor is benevolence or covetousness. These are immanent, abiding states of the mind. They belong to the man, whether they are active or dormant, whether he is awake or asleep. There is something in the sleeping artist which renders it certain that he will enjoy and execute what other men can neither perceive nor do. And that something is neither the essence of his soul nor an act. It is a natural or acquired taste and skill. So there is something in the sleeping saint which is neither essence nor act, which renders it certain that he will love and serve God. As therefore there are in the soul dispositions, principles, habits, and tastes which cannot be regarded as mere acts, and yet do not belong to the essence of the soul, it is plain that the doctrine of original or concreated righteousness is not liable to the objection of making moral character a substance.

Pelagians teach that Man was created Mortal.

The second distinguishing feature of the Pelagian or Rationalistic doctrine as to man's original state, is that man was created mortal. By this it is meant to deny that death is the consequence or penalty of transgression; and to affirm that Adam was liable to death, and certainly would have died in virtue of the original constitution of his nature. The arguments urged in support of this doctrine are, (1.) That the corporeal organization of Adam was not adapted to last forever. It was in its very nature perishable. It required to be constantly refreshed by sleep and renewed by food, and would by a natural and inevitable process have grown old and decayed. (2.) That all other animals living on the earth evince in their constitution and structure that they were not intended by their Creator to live on indefinitely. They were created male and female, designed to propagate their race. This proves that a succession of individuals, and not the continued existence of the same individuals, was 116the plan of the Creator. As this is true of man as well as of other animals, it is evident, they say, that man also was from the beginning, and irrespective of sin, destined to die. (3.) An argument is drawn from what the Apostle teaches in 1 Cor. xv. 42-50. It is there said that the first man is of the earth earthy; that he had a natural body (a σῶμα ψυχικόν) as opposed to a spiritual body (the σῶμα πνευματικόν); that the former is not adapted to immortality, that flesh and blood, i.e., the σῶμα ψυχικόν, such as Adam had when created, cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. From this account it is inferred that Adam was not created for immortality, but was originally invested with a body from its nature destined to decay.

Answer to the Pelagian Arguments.

With regard to this subject it is to be remarked that there are two distinct points to be considered. First, whether Adam would have died had he not sinned; and second, whether his body as originally formed was adapted to an immortal state of existence. As to the former there can be no doubt. It is expressly asserted in Scripture that death is the wages of sin. In the threatening, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” it is plainly implied that if he did not eat he should not die. It is clear therefore from the Scriptures that death is the penal consequence of sin and would not have been inflicted, had not our first parents transgressed. The second point is much less clear, and less important. According to one view adopted by many of the fathers, Adam was to pass his probation in the earthly paradise, and if obedient, was to be translated to the heavenly paradise, of which the earthly was the type. According to Luther, the effect of the fruit of the tree of life of which our first parents would have been permitted to eat had they not sinned, would have been to preserve their bodies in perpetual youth. According to others, the body of Adam and the bodies of his posterity, had he maintained his integrity, would have undergone a change analogous to that which, the Apostle teaches us, awaits those who shall be alive at the second coming of Christ. They shall not die, but they all shall be changed; the corruptible shall put on incorruption, and the mortal shall put on immortality. Two things are certain, first, that if Adam had not sinned he would not have died; and secondly, that if the Apostle, when he says we have borne the image of the earthly, means that our present bodies are like the body of Adam as originally constituted, then his body no less than ours, required to be changed to fit it for immortality.

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