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sarily results from doing good ? I see not indeed how moral action can be excited, unless it be from some feeling of self-interest. Neither can I perceive how, in discharging our obligations to God, we can do more than to identify our concerns with his glory. Does he require more? Are not his promises and threatenings addressed to the feeling of selflove ? Has he not declared that he will reward his servants openly ? (Mat. vi. 4.)—that the righteous shall eat the fruit of their doings? (Isa. ii. 10.)—that the Son of man shall reward every man according to bis works? (Mat. xvi. 27.) Certainly, then, it is right to act in view of these promises. When Moses was choosing between the treasores of Egypt and the service of God, he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. (Heb. xi. 26.) Every christian ought to have respect to the same recompense of reward, ought to strive with a holy, ambition for “ an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and a brighter crown than the scarcely saved will be able to wear.' p. 41.
These views are unquestionably correct; nor did Dr. Hopkins; we apprehend, who has been sometimes supposed to inculcate an opposite sentiment, really differ from them. There is one expression, however, in the above extract, which is liable to misconstruction. Mr. Mitchell says, “I see not, indeed, how moral action can be excited, unless it be from some feeling of self-interest." Now an objector might ask, Is it true that the love of God is excited by mere self-interest ? Does not the christian love His character for its intrinsic excellence, and desire His happiness as in itself desirable ? Does not the author resolve virtue itself into the sinple act, (condemned by an apostle,) of “seeking one's own,' and confound virtue and vice, by reducing them to the same exercise of mind ? Not if we take the words in the sense intended by Mr. Mitchell. He had previously laid down the same proposition (p. 38.) in the following terms: “ The desire of happiness is the necessary incentive to moral action.”
This is unquestionably true : it is only in other words the statement of Edwards, that “the will is as the greatest apparent good," for what do we mean by good, except that which is adapted to promote happiness? But the word self-interest, in its ordinary acceptation, means more than this; it means, as Dr. Webster has defined it, "private interest;" some object which is sought as a separate advantage, and in contradistinction from the public good. It is properly something external to the mind, and hence we speak of acting from a view to self-interest. When used, (as it sometimes is in abbreviated expressions,) to describe a feeling of the mind, it denotes a voluntary act or preference, not a constitutional desire of our nature. It does not, therefore, in its strict acceptation, denote what Mr. Mitchell meant to express.
We should not have stopped to point out this inadvertence in the Vol. VI.
use of terms, where the sense is obvious, had we not seen how liable men are to be confused on this subject, even when the most exact phraseology is employed. Many persons insist, that the distinction between virtue and vice is entirely subverted by the doctrine, that “the desire of happiness is the necessary incentive to moral action ;" and they are led to this opinion, we believe, by confounding two distinct things, as Mr. Mitchell has accidentally done the words which denote them. Ask such persons whether a moral agent can, in the nature of things, ever act except in the view of motives, and they promptly answer, No. But what is a motive, except something which appears desirable, good, or, in other words, a means of happiness? Take this character from any object, and it ceases to be a motive. Take from man the desire of happiness, and all objects lose this character; they cease to be motives, and man himself ceases to be a moral agent. But they reply, if we act in every choice or preference, from “ a desire of happiness," do we not “ seek our own, and act wholly from a regard to “self,” in all our conduct, virtuous as well as vicious? By no means. The words own and self, in such a connection, like the term self-interest, as abore explained, always denote some object external to the mind, which is sought as a personal advantage, in distinction from the general good. The act of selecting such an object, and deciding to pursue it, is obviously an act of preference or choice, and totally distinct from the constitutional desires of our nature. If this personal good is in no degree opposed to the general interest, but is sought in strict consistency with it, the choice or determination to pursue such good, in a given case, is not wrong; it is plainly a duty, as shown by Mr. Mitchell in the extract given above. But when personal good is sought at the expense, or in disregard, of the general good, the choice or determination to do this, is what we mean by selfishness, and is the essence of all sin. Benevolence, on the contrary, consists in the choice of God and the interests of his kingdom, (not excluding ours as an integral part,) as our good—the object of our desire and affection. These two choices, then, (selfishness and benevolence, so far from being the same state of mind, are diametrically opposed to each other, like the objects on which they fasten; nor is this distinction in their nature at all affected (as some suppose) by the fact that both of them, like every other act of choice, are prompted by the desire of happiness. As well might it be said, that there can be no difference between virtue and vice, because they both arise from the acting of the same soul or spiritual essence.
Having considered the nature and extent of human depravity, Mr. Mitchell, after dwelling on the need of an atonement, states in his third chapter, the scriptural doctrine of repentance. In describing it, he adopts the definition of Locke.
Repentance is a hearty sorrow for our past misdeeds, and a sincere resolution and endeavor to the utmost of our power, to conform all our actions to the law of God; so that repentance does not consist in one single act of sorrow, (though that being the first and leading act, gives denomination to the whole,) but in doing works meet for repentance in a sincere obedience to the law of Christ, the remainder of our
The following is on the distinction between true and false repentance :
By thus observing the fruits of repentance unto life, we shall be able to distinguish it from the sorrow of the world which worketh death. The one flows from love to God, and a deep sense of the ingratitude of sin, and the mercy of forgiveness. While it breaks the heart with holy grief, it brings the soul into union with Christ, and sheds abroad an indescribable peace. The other arises from the fear of punishment, or the loss of some temporal good, and wastes away the health in inconsolable mourning, or, as in the case of Judas, leads to self-destruction. If the blessings lost could be restored, or the fear of divine wrath were removed, the cause of sorrow would cease to exist. But it is not so with godly sorrow. Neither relief from fear, nor the bestowment of earthly good, would prevent its exercise. Hatred of sin abides, for it has been committed against a God of holiness and truth ; and the riches of grace only can pardon it. This reflection will prevent from drying up the springs of holy sorrow.' p. 91.
After urging strongly the duty of repentance, Mr. Mitchell meets a very common objection of the sinner in the following manner :
But you may resist all these arguments, and seek the common refuge in the plea of inability. It cannot be my duty to repent, because I am unable. Why then does God command you to repent, under penalty of his everlasting displeasure for disobedience? If he is perfect in all his ways, this command must be reasonable, and if reasonable
you must have power to obey it. Do you say, then, that you cannot exercise godly sorrow for sin ? This seems to be a modern plea for the neglect of duty. No objection of this kind, against the requirements of the gospel, is answered in the scriptures. Had it been urged, some record of its existence might have been found, for almost every other objection is noticed which could be advanced by the unbelieving. But how shall I regard the plea of inability ? Must I admit it to be valid ? I dare not. It would subvert the whole foundation of the scriptures. The promises, entreaties, threatenings, commands, penalties, stand or fall with this position, that man is capable of doing his duty. The bible lays no stepping stone to repentance, or faith, or obedience. It Deither requires nor allows any thing but the knowledge of these duties preparatory to their performance. This knowledge obtained, the command is direct and immediate,Repent, believe. How then do you say, 'I cannot repent? Why not?' Suppose Joseph's brethren, who “ hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him,” had urged this a an excuse for neglecting brotherly kindness. How would you answe them? Could you tell them how to repent of their wickedness, an how to exercise brotherly love? Would you not say, The greater you hatred the greater your sin, and the more evident your duty ?' 103, 104.
This point Mr. Mitchell considers more at large in his chapte on the nature of inability. He there places distinctly before th reader two states or conditions of a moral being, -one, a want power, and the other, a want of will, or an aversion to a give act. The latter he admits is often called inability, but he think the term unhappily applied at the present day, because it has tendency to mislead the impenitent.
• Duty always presupposes natural power, and to speak of natura ability to do a moral, i: e. a virtuous thing, seems not to be a ver correct use of language. Now if the sinner needs, in order to reconcili ation with God," the implantation of a new principle,” strictly speak ing, or the creation of “ a new taste,” or “a physical renewal,” thi inability is natural, and it cannot be his duty to remove these insupera ble obstacles. But if God requires only submission to his righteous au thority, and the willing obedience of all the powers and faculties bu has given us, it is strictly our duty to obey his commands. If duty then, supposes natural power, why should we say that the sinner i morally unable to obey the divine requirements? Do we mean simpl that he is unwilling or has no disposition to obey? But he is require to have this disposition, and the disposition in fact is obedience, or sup poses it; for how can a man really desire to love God, without loving him, and how can he feel disposed to live to the glory of God, and no manifest the strength of his inclination in corresponding obedience? I it proper, therefore, to say that either natural or moral inability prevent men from doing their duty ? Is it true that sinners have not ability do that which they are under obligations to do? I object to the use o the word inability in relation to moral subjects. It corresponds neithe with the “ cannot” of the scriptures, nor the “cannot” in common use. pp. 237–239.
The question here, as far as most New-England divines are concerned, is a mere question respecting the use of language Mr. Mitchell agrees, that the sinner's aversion to his duty is se strong, that left to himself he never will subdue it; and this is con fessedly all that is meant by moral inability. If the term, however does mislead men at the present day, it may certainly be dropped with propriety, provided the fact which it describes is stated in its ful strength. But we wish that Mr. M. had followed up, by an examination of texts, his assertion, that “the use of the word inability in rela tion to moral subjects does not correspond with the cannot of the scriptures.” It is a fruitful field of investigation. We should like to
see every passage in the bible where this term is used strictly examined, and the several meanings of the word, as it there occurs, accurately classed. It would be found, we believe, that there is one use of the term which has been too generally overlooked, viz. the incompatibility of one state of mind, or course of conduct, with another. Thus, when it is said " the carnal mind—is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;" we understand the apostle to be stating an absolute impossibility, viz. that a carnal mind should obey God; the two states of mind, carnality and obedience, being incompatible in the nature of things. His object was not to describe, by a term, the strength of man's disinclination to his duty, but to point out the impossibility, in the nature of things, of obeying God while carnal affections have the ascendency in the Leart. He does not say that man as a moral being cannot obey the law, but that obedience is impossible while the mind remains carnal. And the very object of the passage is to induce men to fease to be carnal, and to enter on the service of God. We think, then, that in this passage, clearly, and the one in immediate connection, “ they that are in the flesh cannot please God,” the term in question is not used to describe what is commonly meant by moral inability, viz. strong disinclination, but incompatibility in the nature of things. It is a very interesting question, certainly, as to the use of theological terms, whether the same sense does not belong to all, or nearly all, of the passages in which the scriptures have applied this term to moral subjects.
On the nature of regeneration, and the agency of the Spirit in producing this change, Mr. Mitchell has the following remarks:
What, then, is the agency of the Spirit, and what are the means employed in accomplishing the new creation ? Are any new powers and faculties added to the soul, or are the already existing powers merely brought into the voluntary service of God? The latter only, if ORI own consciousness is competent to testify. Some of the disciples of John, who were true believers, said, We have not so uch as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. (Acts xix. 2.). There are many also who have been fully taught the existence and office of the Holy Spirit, and who have themselves experienced his renewing influence, without apprehending at the time the truth that they had passed from death to life.
Many a genuine convert to righteousLess, has, for this very reason, doubted the fact of his admission into the kingdom of God. Now, if there is any physical change, or renovation of constitutional properties in regeneration, it is rational to conclude that this must be a matter of consciousness. But no such thing comes within the range of our experience. We cannot detect the least suspension of voluntary agency. We are not conscious of any influence exerted upon us which supersedes the necessity or duty of reconciling ourselves to God. (2 Cor. v. 20.) If we had not heard whether there be any Holy Ghost, we should suppose that regeneration is