Thoughts On The Will


J. H. Oliphant



If one be required to lift a weight of four hundred and ten pounds, he being able to lift only four hundred pounds, he would be physically unable to obey and this inability would be a sufficient apology for not obeying the requirement. If he were commanded to raise a thousand pound weight he would be farther from being able to obey, and he would have a still better excuse for not obeying.

One feature of physical inability to obey is the farther one is from being able the better excuse he would have for not obeying.

If one is required to help the needy or aid a charitable undertaking, the poorer he is the better excuse he would have for not aiding. And so if one is required to instruct the ignorant, the less he is qualified for giving the instruction the better excuse he has for not giving it.

This principle may be illustrated in many ways. The greater one's physical inability the better would be his apology for not obeying; his excuse is clearer and more absolute, just in proportion to the degree of his inability.

Physical inability is a just and valid excuse for not performing the commands of those in a position to command us.

And I think too, that if the inability of men to obey God is physical, it would furnish a perfect excuse for disobedience.

But let us consider the nature of the inability of men to serve God, or let us again consider the nature of moral inability.

A disinclination to obey, or an inclination to do the reverse would constitute a moral inability to obey. Or both, an inclination to do wrong, and an aversion to doing right, both taken together may constitute a moral inability to do right. If one has an inclination to do wrong, and no inclination to do right, he is morally unable to do right. The fact that this inclination to do wrong, springs from the natural corruption of the heart is no apology for it.

We find some men more inclined to sin than others, and let it be remembered that a preponderance of inclination to sin constitutes an inability to do right. Some men are so inclined to sin that they give themselves up to its service in fraud and profanity; others are still more inclined to sin and give themselves up to its service in theft and robbery, and others are still more inclined to evil and give themselves up to the vilest lives of murder, rapine and every foul crime. It is plain
to every observer that some men are more inclined to evil than others, and hence farther from an ability to do right.

It is true that no one is by nature inclined to obey God, "All are gone out of the way," but some are more given up to sin, more corrupt in their lives. But an inclination to sin is no excuse for sin. The greater one's physical inability the better his excuse for not obeying, but the greater one's moral inability the more criminal he is.

As we increase in moral inability our guilt increases. It is the reverse from physical inability. As our physical inability increases our apology is made better, but as man's moral inability to do right is increased his guilt is more inexcusable and blameworthy.

My position has been all the time, that an inclination to evil is no excuse for it, and the stronger one is inclined to evil, the more absolute is his moral inability to holiness, and the more aggravated is his offense, and the more inexcusable he is for his sins. It is the reverse from physical inability, and the fact that this inability has its rise in the corruptions of the heart is no excuse whatever for it.

If we take such a view of "Absolute predestination" as would prompt men to act independently of their wills, we would have physical causes producing moral effects.

Sin ever grows out of the will or there is no sin only wilful sin, or I may say the will is ever connected with sin, or with righteousness. If I benefit my neighbor without willing to do so , it would not be a righteous deed; and so if I injure my neighbor without intention, I am not guilty of an evil deed. The absolute decree of God is concerned in our regeneration in a manner independent of our wills, and so we are born again in a manner wholly independent of our choice, but in every sin, the will is concerned. Sin is not forced on men whether they like or not, but it is ever acquiesced in by the choice.

The bible abounds with instances in which God has made bad men to be good, and where the tree has been made good we have seen good fruit grow on it as the result, but no instance is on record where men have been made to be bad by the Lord. There has ever been dispute as to whether moral force, instruction, exhortation, persuasion, &c., is sufficient to secure the eternal salvation of men. Those who believe this theory ignore what Flavel and others call a physical change, and urge that everything essential to eternal life can be produced by moral force, and thus go to an extreme that ignores the life-giving power of God as necessary to regeneration; while those who oppose this extreme are liable to ignore the use and place for exhortation entirely, and insist that God, by some physical power will press men into His service when He wants them, in some absolute way independent of moral suasion.

The new testament teems with exhortation, persuasion and instruction, in righteousness in all of which men are addressed as moral beings and are recognized as capable of listening to, and considering, what is duty and right, showing that moral force has an important end to accomplish in the matter of our duty.

There is, however, a point where moral force fails. The point of the introduction of life God has reserved to himself, but after this, teaching is important. The capacity to understand spiritual things is secured in one way, or rather is given in one way, and the presentation of truth in another, even by moral instruction. The importance of teaching, of persuasion, &c., ought not to be forgotten.

Prior to regeneration the wills of men may be influenced to a better life by moral force. The will is not "self determining" but is determined by the nature of man, and his own environment.

So men's conduct, morally, may be in some measure determined by exhortation. A proper understanding of the moral nature of man discloses the importance of instruction not only to the regenerated but to those who cannot understand spiritual things.

The church is a light to the world. Children favored with church privileges are liable to be morally better for having this privilege, and parents who try to bring up their children right are apt to see their children grow up with well established moral habits as a reward to them for their labors.

An intelligent man in seeking a wife, will prefer that one whose moral training has been good to that one who has had no right training.

So let us not ignore the use and importance of moral training, even for this world, and let us not forget the importance of exhorting one another to love and good works. It is good for men to appeal to them in hearty and warm exhortation to duty. Also let us not forget that there is a point in the eternal salvation of men where God only operates, independent of all instrumentalities, either human or angelic. Here is a point where moral force is as insufficient as it is to make a world; it is a creative work, the work of God.


Thoughts On The Will. J.H. Oliphant. Press of Moore & Langen Printing Co. Terre Haute, IN. 1899. Pages 117-122.