Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



It is urged that if there be such a bias to sin as to make sure of a sinful life, or such a bias to holiness as to make sure of a holy life, that in the one case it would be inconsistent with blame and in the other it would be inconsistent with virtue or praise. They urge that the will must be poised in its conduct in order that vice or virtue attend its actions. Is it a better and a more virtuous frame of mind for one to be at a "stand still" or in "equilibro" in regard to theft, or the murder of his neighbors, or is it infinitely more worthy and virtuous that he be so "determined" as to render him incapable of meditating such a thing? Shall we say that that man who habitually inclines to do his neighbor's good and renders good for evil; who is "determined" in honesty, truthfulness, integrity, &c., that habitually takes the right side of every question involving right and wrong; shall we say there is no virtue in this man on account of the strength of his bias to holiness; or shall we say that all liberty of will is destroyed on account of his bias to holiness? This I understand to be the Arminian ground, but I am sure that every dictate of sound reason would say that the more one is biased to uprightness the more virtuous and praiseworthy he is, and the more nearly one is at a stand still between right and wrong the less virtuous he is. In fact, it is a very sinful state of mind for one to be in to be perfectly undetermined between the murder of a neighbor and the not doing so. To be "poised" in mind about it is to be next door to it, and does not common sense say this is a sinful state of the mind to be in? So the "poised" state of mind for which they plead is itself a sinful state. Suppose one has five degrees of inclination to do a murder, would he have more liberty of will in the deed than he would have if he had five hundred degrees of inclination to do so? It seems clear to me that as the inclination to do the deed is strengthened, the freedom in doing it is also strengthened, and also the greater degree of wickedness. There is surely more sin in being fully inclined to sin than in being only slightly inclined to sin.

I think these considerations will enable the reader to see that an inclination to sin, be it ever so great, does not in the least degree whatever lessen the guilt, but on the contrary aggravates it, and also, that the strongest possible inclination to sin, does not in the least interfere with liberty of will in sin; also that a poised state of the mind is a sinful state, that persons being most worthy and virtuous, whose inclination to holiness is strongest. The wife whose inclination to virtue is absolute and perfect, is most virtuous, and that one whose inclination to virtue is feeblest, is least virtuous, and so that one whose inclination is strongest to infidelity, is the most vicious and blameworthy.

A failure to distinguish between natural and moral inability leads to confusion. A law requiring men to pluck the stars or deface the skies would be foolish, and men would be unblamable for failing to do as it required. Natural inability is a perfect excuse for non-compliance.

But where a law exists, reasonable in its demands, moral inability to obey would not be a just excuse. Remember that moral inability consists in an inclination to do that which is forbidden or not to do that which is required or both.

In short, moral inability in no degree releases one from obligation, nor does it form a good reason why men should not be called on to do right.

A citizen could not justly plead that his inclination to do wrong exempts him from the duty of obedience, or the penalty for disobedience. Let those who say that a "determined" state of the will to sin would put aside all idea of vice; I say let them show how it is that an inclination to sin
releases the sinner from all blame, or renders it unreasonable to execute the penalty for disobedience. If we take that position we would have no place or use for law "human or divine."

The doctrine of total depravity, usually held by our people consists largely in this: That men, all the race, are inclined to sin, that an inclination to sin, constitutes a moral inability to do right.

Where one is inclined to sin, where the choice is that way, it constitutes moral inability to do right, and this is total depravity. I say it constitutes moral inability to do right at least during the time that the choice is to do wrong, for as before remarked, If a man's choice be sin there is a reason for that choice and that cause is in operation while the choice is sin. Now to say a man under these circumstances can choose holiness would be to say he can choose what he does not choose, and this is absurd.

This is a moral inability to do right, and does not in the least excuse one from sin or render him blameless, but on the contrary, the more firmly fixed, and permanent, the determination to sin be, the more guilty, and justly condemned; and so on the other hand that neighbor who is most inclined to do right about everything, in all the relations of life, whose every day life evinces that there is in his heart a determination to the right, so that it is impossible for him to do a little mean act, I say that man is most praiseworthy and virtuous. His inability to do a mean act is the chief of his virtues, and the grounds upon which he should be most esteemed.

I have noticed some discussion in regard to the cause of this inclination to sin among men. All must admit that this inclination is universal.

It is urged that if this inclination be hereditary, that this fact would form an apology for sin.

The usage in criminal courts is, that if the criminal be guilty of the deed and wilfully so, this is sufficient to convict without considering whether the criminal gained this tendency to sin by the influence of others, or whether it was bred and born in him to be wicked.

Certainly no jury would conclude the penalty should be less because the criminal was naturally inclined to the deed. On the contrary, where the criminal is shown to be naturally inclined to evil deeds, that his record in general shows that he is in heart a bad man, that there is a determination to evil in his very nature, that his ancestry was bad in general; all these things on the Arminian theory, would tend to excuse him from sin, and form an apology for his conduct, but the very reverse is true; and all these things instead of apologizing for the deed would aggravate the offense, and so court usage would rather increase the penalty than lessen it on account of these circumstances.

I will not enter into the investigation of the subject-matter of original sin, but certainly those who plead that a determined state of mind to evil destroys liberty of action, removes blame for sin, and renders one unfit for moral government and obligations, will find nothing to support that view in the question of hereditary sin.

When David made confession of his sin in the case of Uriah's wife he used every expression possible to set forth his crime in the strongest light. This is found in Ps. 51, read down to fifth verse, where he says, "Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me." This language was not designed to apologize for his sin but rather to set it forth in a deeper and more aggravated way.

So this universal tendency to sin and corruption of nature and life, establishes "moral inability" to holiness, and is the sum and substance, of total depravity, and is in no sense an excuse for sin; nor does it destroy or lessen "liberty of will," or render one unsuitable to be governed by moral law, or to be punished for sin, nor does it destroy the propriety of pointing out the duty of men to them.

Cruden on the will says, "It is that faculty of the soul, whereby we freely choose or refuse things." "It is of the nature of the will, to will freely whatever it wills, for the will cannot be compelled." Gill remarked, "The will can not but be free." Cruden goes on, "But it is unable, till it be changed by grace, to move itself towards God, and to will any thing pleasing to him."

I said in a previous chapter that the nature of man and his environments determines his choice. In Rev., last chapter, Ver. 17, "And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." This text refers to those who are willing, but does not inform us how they became willing. To be willing in the sense of this text carries with it the idea of hating evil, for he that wills or chooses God hates sin, and so is loyal to God, and has in himself the elements of loyalty, but this text does not even suggest how men become willing.

So the words "If any man will be my disciple," &c. This text calls attention to what the will or choice is without suggesting anything as to how this will was produced. So the words "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness. To hunger after righteousness is to choose it, and so to will it. Jesus informs us that such a man is BLESSED.

It does not tell us what is required to make a man choose or will righteousness, but only tells us that such a man is blessed. The blessing does not follow after the choosing, but it occurs to me that that which makes one choose, or that which establishes this choice for holiness, whatever it is, is what blesses. So the text, " We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren."

This text does not tell us what is required in our passing from death unto life, nor does it tell us how to pass, but it gives one evidence that a man has passed. To love the brethren is to choose them and their good, and he that does that is passed.

Also the words, " In this the children of God are manifested, and the children of the devil. Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God." Here we learn that doing righteousness manifests us as the children of God, but it leaves the real cause of our being so concealed. Again, "If ye know that He is righteous ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of Him." Here again we are taught to believe and know that he that doeth righteousness is born of God. This text only tells us how to know that one is born of God without telling us how or by what means one is born of God. So the words, " By their fruits ye shall know them." No intimation in this text as to how the tree becomes good, but only how we are to know a good tree. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous." Abel's offering evidenced that he was righteous; it was not the cause of it, but the evidence of it. What it really was that made him righteous is left out of this text. So, "He that loveth is born of God." To love God is to choose Him. This text tells us the condition of every one that loves God. He tells us they are born of God, but fails to tell us what it is to be born of God, or how it is effected; it only gives an evidence of its having been done.

"When on the boughs rich fruit we see
Tis then we cry a goodly tree."

The bible will not allow works to be the cause of that change, whatever it is. Works is not the cause of our being "of God" or "born of God," &c., but good works are the evidence. To love God is not the cause but the evidence. How that mysterious border line between the state and condition, of the unloving and disloyal, on the one hand, and the loyal and loving on the other hand, I say how this is crossed is not explained, in these texts; and it is hard to understand how it is done, but it is easy to discover the evidence that this line has been crossed. In our judgment of our neighbors we act on the same principles. Where we find one true and reliable, we judge him by this to be a good citizen, but we never once think that the exercise of those qualities makes him a trusty and reliable man. It is hard to tell just what it is that makes him a good citizen, but it is easy to tell what proves him to be such.

Sincerity is one of the brightest jewels ever seen by mortal man. We know not how to produce it, but we may be able to detect the evidences of it.

So there is something in religion, that stands back out of sight, hard to understand, hard to discover or explain, that appears to be the cause of it. There are scores of evidences pointed out in the bible by which we may know of its presence.

It is certain there is something, not produced by teaching, instruction, or any kind of exhortation, or examples. It is as hard to understand as life and requires the same power to produce it.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. Terre Haute, IN. 1899. Pages 80-89.