From “Calvinistic Controversy”
by Willbur Fisk, 1792-1839

Previously, I have attempted to prove that God created people with a spontaneous power of moral action; and that this was the only ground of their moral responsibility. It is now proposed to inquire how far this power has been affected by the fall of humanity and the subsequent provisions of grace. The doctrine of the Methodist Church on these points is very clearly expressed by the seventh and eighth articles of religion in its “Book of Discipline.”

  1. Original sin stands not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians vainly talk,) but it is the corruption of the nature of every person that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby people are very far gone from original righteousness and of their own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.
  2. The condition of human beings after the fall of Adam is such, that they cannot turn and prepare themselves by their own natural strength and works, to faith and calling upon God: wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, (going before to assist us,) that we may have a goodwill and working with us when we have that goodwill.

It is not pretended here that any intellectual faculties are lost by sin or restored by grace; but that the faculties that are essential to mind have become corrupted, darkened, debilitated, so as to render people utterly incapable of making a right choice without prevenient and cooperating grace. As muscular or nervous power in a limb, or an external sense, may be weakened or destroyed by physical disease, so the moral power of the mind or an inward sense may be weakened or destroyed by moral disease. And it is in perfect accordance with analogy, with universal language, and with the representations of scripture to consider the mind as susceptible, in its essential nature, to this moral deterioration. To put it simply, the soul has become essentially disordered by sin and as no one can prove the assertion to be unphilosophical or contrary to experience, so I think it may be shown from scripture that this is the real state of fallen human nature. And it may also be shown that this disorder is such as to mar our free agency. There is a sense, indeed, in which all voluntary preference may be considered as implying free agency. But voluntary preference does not necessarily imply such a free agency as involves moral responsibility. The mind may be free to act in one direction and yet it may so entirely have lost its moral equilibrium as to be utterly incapable, of its own nature, to act in an opposite direction and, therefore, not, in the full and responsible sense, a free agent. It is not enough, therefore, to say free agency (of a responsible kind) consists in the possession of understanding, conscience, and will, unless “by will” is meant the spontaneous power already alluded to. The understanding may be darkened, the conscience may be seared or polluted; the will, that is, the power of willing, may, to all good purposes, be inthralled; and this is what we affirm to be the true state and condition of unaided human nature.

It will be farther seen that the above account of human nature does not recognise the distinction between natural and moral ability. The fact is, our inability is both natural and moral; it is natural because it is constitutional and it is moral because it relates to the mind. To say those who are fallen have natural power to make the right choice because they have the faculties of their minds entire, is the same as to say that a paralytic man has the natural power to walk because he has his limbs entire. It appears to me that the whole of this distinction, and the reasoning from it, proceed on the ground of a most unphilosophical analysis of mind and an unwarranted definition of terms. The simple question is, have those who are fallen, on the whole, the power to make the right choice, or have they not? I say that without grace they have not. And therefore a fallen human being is not, in the responsible sense of that term, a free agent without grace.

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