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On Impossibility. ' Sin proves the existence of a law; and a law given by a righteous and merciful God proves the possibility of obedience.'1
If this argument be conclusive, what did the apostle mean when he spake of “the impossibility of “ the law,” (Tò adúvalor të vous ;)“ because it was weak -“ through the flesh ?”? He could not speak of a law, which it was in every sense possible for fallen man to obey. It would be a vain speculation to inquire whether a perfect willingness through life being supposed, perfect obedience could be rendered by man : because this perfect willingness never existed in human nature, since the fall of Adam, except in him who was not born in sin even the holy Jesus.—The whole scripture implies, that “ the law worketh wrath ;" and this in the case of all men : so that “ as many as are under “ the law are under the curse.” Nay “the law “ entered that sin might abound.” And, “ if “ there had been a law given, which could have “ given life, verily righteousness had been by the “ law : but the scripture hath shut up all un“ der sin.”3 According to this, an impossibility of some kind must exist, either natural or moral, or both conjoined. To speak of the possibility of man's doing what no mere man, out of the unnum
* Rom. viii. 2.
bered millions of Adam's fallen race, ever yet did, would answer little purpose ; even if it could be proved as an abstract notion, like the infinite divisibility of matter. “ All have sinned and
come short of the glory of God;" all do sin ; and it will remain true to the end of time, that if a man “say he hath no sin, he deceiveth himself, " and the truth is not in him.”
Because we have said that the observance of 'the law is impossible, this must be explained and
confirmed at the same time in few words ; for it 'commonly uses to appear a most absurd opinion;
so that Jerome does not hesitate to denounce an - anathema against it. I do not stay to inquire - how it seemed to Jerome : let us search out 'what is true. I shall not here frame long and 'intricate speculations (haud texam longas am
bages) concerning the various kinds of possibilities. I call that impossible which hath never existed, and which by the appointment and will of God, is hindered from hereafter existing.'1
Every text of scripture, which declares that by “ the works of the law no flesh shall be justified in “ the sight of God,” proclaims at the same time “ the impossibility of the law :" so that the only way, in which they who deny this impossibility are able to support the argument with the least plausibility, is by lowering the demands of the law to the abilility or inclination of fallen man, by what they call a new law, or a remedial law.' This law may indeed be found in some modern books of religion ; but neither in the scriptures,
nor in the authorized books of our church. If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed goes to the mountain. If weighed in the balance of the sanctuary all be found wanting ; a more commodious or accommodating balance must be substituted, and according to that perhaps they are “weighed in the balance” and not “found
wanting.” But “what will they do in the end « thereof?"
God gave the law to fallen man for wise and holy purposes ; but that any of them should be justified, and obtain life according to it, was not one of those purposes. It is expressly and repeatedly excluded: nay his Lordship himself excludes it in stating the doctrine of justification. Was then a righteous and merciful God, to give a law holy, just, good, and perfect, worthy of himself, and of immutable obligations, and highly advantageous to men, in subserviency to his gospel ? Or was he to give an imperfect law, that is, a law in some degree unholy, to accommodate the depraved nature and enfeebled powers of self-ruined rebels and apostates ?-Do human legislators, if wise and equitable, lower the requirements of their laws, in proportion as a lowered state of morals, and the multiplication of criminals, and the prevalence of evil habits and propensities, render their laws. weak, so that the torrent bursts through them? In general, they regard it as necessary to strengthen the rampart, to add stricter laws and severer punishments. Why then should we suppose, “ that the one Law-giver” of heaven and earth should lower his claims, because of the rebellion and depravity of his creatures? If he had
at first made man what man now is, the argument would have been of some weight: and in fact it is never used, but when the wilful apostacy of man, and his ruined condition by the fall, are either for the moment lost sight of, or explained away.
But the impossibility extends also to our repenting and believing the gospel : and in this view it frequently is mentioned by our opponents. 'Im' possible conditions.'' 'How can we imagine, that
God calls on men to believe and obey the gos‘pel, under the penalty of eternal misery; when he denies them the possibility of belief and obedience?' 2
On this I shall not dwell long. It should be observed that the gospel finds men exposed to the penalty of eternal misery: and though their rejection of it increases their guilt and condemnation ; yet they were before exposed to wrath.3 Original sin, “in every person born into this world, deserveth God's wrath and damnation.'4 however, come in our way in another place to inquire, how far God is bound to help fallen man out of this wretched condition. And I shall here only observe, that, if the impossibility of believing and obeying the gospel were any other, than what arises from man's pride, love of sin, and enmity against God and holiness ; the ground on which we stand would be untenable ; but, if this be the only impossibility which we mean, his Lordship himself allows it. It is acknowledged, that man
1 Ref. 45.
2 Ref. 196, 197.
· has not the disposition, and consequently not the * ability, to do what in the sight of God is good, 'till he is influenced by the Spirit of God. “The 'firmest conviction of the truth of the gospel, the 'keenest sorrow for past offences, and the strongest
resolutions of amendment, will not in his fallen ' and degenerate state, enable him of himself to do
good works, pleasant and acceptable to God. ' His will must be guided, and his actions assisted ' by the Holy Spirit.'3 Now this “ want of dispo‘sition, and consequently of ability,' being total in fallen man, and to be removed by the grace of God alone, is the impossibility which Calvinists intend, and that which Calvin intended : and, without speculating on the impossible case, of a man having of himself without the grace of God, this willing mind ; and the question, whether in that case he would be able ; it is sufficient to warrant their language. “ How can ye believe, “ who receive honour one of another?” There“ fore, they could not believe." “ No man can
come to me, except the Father who hath sent
me draw him." The language of scripture is altogether as strong, as any which Calvinists use, on the subject. This will however, be more fully elucidated under our next topic.
1 Ref. 59-61.